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Best of Toronto

The Best New Cheap Eats in Toronto, 2008

Posted by Tim / January 8, 2009

Cheap Eats TorontoWhen it comes to cheap eats, it seems the past 12 months in Toronto were all about three things - burritos, burgers and poutine. Yup, this was the year that burgers went gourmet. We had hints of this in 2007 with the emergence of The Burger Shoppe in Riverside; but since then it seems that almost every downtown 'hood has claimed a Mcburger alternative of its own, from the bison variety in Parkdale to organic on King West to an Australian pineapple concoction in Cabbagetown.

And what better to pair with burgers than poutine! Was it me or did half the restaurants in the city scramble to add some variation of La Belle Province's gravy and curds staple to their menu? But none went as far as a new spot at Adelaide and Simcoe that features 15 different varieties including the gut busting butter chicken poutine.

And then there were the burrito wars. It wasn't too long ago that Toronto was a burrito depraved city where we had to settle for eating them with a knife and fork at Mexitaco. But I guess when Chipotle moves into Toronto Life Square and charges close to $10, the bells start ringing at MBA schools leading savvy local entrepreneurs to stake out turf for a hot burrito franchise of their own.

And let's not forget the Burrito Boyz drama which has brought us Burrito's and undoubtedly an even more cut throat burrito battle to come.

Despite the onslaught of burgers, burritos and poutine, some other offerings managed to find there way into the best new cheap eats of 2008. Here's a look at the top 10:

Manpuku photo by Squeakyrat on Flickr

Craft Burger

Craft Burger

Nothin' more complicated than well-sized burgers made from locally-sourced beef and seasoned just right. Keep it simple with the Organic Burger or dress things up with the Craft Bleu (topped with blue cheese and avocado). But the darkhorse here? The poutine. Made with giant cheese curds and perfect gravy it's one of the city's best. More »

Smoke's Poutinerie

Smoke's Poutinerie

Speaking of poutine, Craft Burger just won't do if you like your poutine 15 ways. There's nothing here but yummy, greasy, salty, meaty, artery-clogging, deliciously gluttonous stuff. The best bet is the bacon poutine; but the more adventurous might prefer the prime rib or nacho grande. More »

Caplansky's Deli

Caplansky's Deli

The new king of Toronto's delis is still trying to keep up with demand for its house-smoked and hand cut smoked meat sandwich. Found inside the Monarch Tavern on Clinton. It's just a matter of time before Zane Caplansky needs to find bigger digs. More »

Manpuku

Manpuku

Finally a Japanese restaurant that isn't about California rolls or some guy slicing steak at your table. This modern Japanese hangout across the street from OCAD makes excellent (and cheap) udon and must-have takoyaki. More »

Mission Burrito

Mission Burrito

In the same food court as Manpuku, Mission Burrito finally gives Toronto a burrito that's steamed, not grilled. While it's not quite up to par with the burritos found in the taquerias in San Francisco, it's easily one of Toronto's best, especially the fish burrito made fresh to order on Fridays. More »

Gourmet Burger Company

Gourmet Burger Company

Is that a pineapple on your burger? It sure is if you're eating the Aussie Burger from Cabbagetown's newest hole in the wall burger joint. In this variation, a juicy patty is served on a soft crusted egg bun with bacon, pineapple, braised beets, a fried egg, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and a creamy house mayonnaise. More »

Green Earth Vegetarian Cuisine

Green Earth Vegetarian Cuisine

In the sea of pho and meat that is East Chinatown, it's nice to have a place like Green Earth. As the name suggests, the entire menu is vegetarian. And what a menu! From tacos (interesting, but not necessarily recommended) to noodle dishes and big bowls of soup, the offerings here are cheap, healthy and 100% meat free. More »

Burger Shoppe Quality Meats

Burger Shoppe Quality Meats

Because what would Ossington be without a burger joint. From the owner who brought us the Burger Shoppe, this new outpost has more of a dine-in flare and an expanded menu including naturally raised beef steak, homemade style sausages and ribs. More »

Chino Locos

Chino Locos

This tiny spot in Leslieville does burritos a bit differently. On the menu here are options like the Swweeet burrito filled with Asian slow roast pork and green onion ginger relish and The Finest - a burrito stuffed with fish and chipotle chino black bean sauce. More »

Discussion

37 Comments

matts / January 8, 2009 at 10:56 am
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There are some excellent choice on the list - well done! Caplansky is a true gem, for one.

I guess ACME Burger on Bloor and Bathurst was too new to make the list but has anyone tried it yet?
Steve Keys replying to a comment from matts / January 8, 2009 at 11:19 am
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BlogTO previously had a review for ACME Burger: http://www.blogto.com/restaurants/acme . It was pretty decent when I went.

As for Craft Burger, when I was there it was anything but "cheap".


Steve Keys replying to a comment from Steve Keys / January 8, 2009 at 11:23 am
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I should mention, that review was for the Queensway location, but the same applies.
frank replying to a comment from matts / January 8, 2009 at 11:24 am
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I believe it's a new outpost of the ACME burger on the Queensway. The burgers there are excellent.

http://www.blogto.com/restaurants/acme
Shawn / January 8, 2009 at 11:27 am
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IMO Smoke's is overrated. My poutine tasted and smelled a lot like the cardboard box it was in and the fries were extremely stiff despite still being rather hot.

And aren't #4 and #5 in the Grange building near 52 division? I've never tried it because the food court there looks kind of cheap and shady to me.
Wooden_Tofu / January 8, 2009 at 11:57 am
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Nice post, but *typo note:
Under Manpuku - "or some guy slicing streak at your table". perhaps what is meant here is some guy going on a steak slicing streak. mmm.... alliteration.
badbhoy replying to a comment from Shawn / January 8, 2009 at 12:13 pm
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If they are in the Grange building this must be the best food court in the city (for whatever that is worth). Island Foods is there as well.
jen / January 8, 2009 at 12:33 pm
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I tried Smoke's recently...it was okay, but not sure it was good enough to make me go back.
Gloria / January 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm
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@Shawn: It kind of is, but there are some serious gems there. Manpuku is a fave of mine; the pork udon is seriously tasty. Mission Burrito is OK, but Burrito Boyz beats it out of the park.

Wikki Hut there isn't really "cheap" cheap (about $8 for a basic combo with meat), but it serves a decent make-your-own-combo of rice/noodles, veggies, and meat. The grilled chicken and the shrimp there are quite good and better than the other Chinese fast food places in there.

Tons of students and office workers eat there every day. Can't all be wrong.
langford / January 8, 2009 at 12:42 pm
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a little further out, but everyone has to try magoo's once in their life. (@royal york and dundas west)
keven / January 8, 2009 at 01:13 pm
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I tried Chino Loco's when they first opened. Rather disappointing to myself and my wife. Partially our fault though as I didn't realize it was an asian burrito (chow mein burrito).

The burrito itself was <i>okay</i> but nothing to write home about for my personal tastes.
jen / January 8, 2009 at 01:34 pm
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Oh, and burgers and burritos? How about some HEALTHY cheap eats? That's what I have a hard time finding.
Shawn replying to a comment from Gloria / January 8, 2009 at 02:51 pm
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Thanks. I guess I'll check it out tomorrow.
Michelle / January 8, 2009 at 02:59 pm
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Re. healthy cheap eats, my favourite downtown is East West Cafe in the food court at the Power Building at University and College. For $5 you can get a gigantic salad comprised of whatever you want from a selection of at least 15 different things. "Salad" is different there, because it's not like a salad bar sort of deal. They have interesting things, like rapini sauteed with garlic, and snow peas tossed with ginger dressing. It's great. For a bit more you can get it with grilled chicken, salmon or whatever meat they have going that day. If you work in the area try to get there early because the line can get long, but it does go pretty fast.
Michelle / January 8, 2009 at 03:01 pm
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Oh yeah, I feel like I keep reading about the same places on here. Like sometimes I feel like I'm reading the same lists repeatedly. A little more research and variety would be nice. Like I'm sure we all know about the poutine place by now. :)
Heather replying to a comment from Shawn / January 8, 2009 at 03:32 pm
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Yes they are.

And yes, they are cheap, but nothing shaddy about it. I went to Manpuku on Tuesday and it was delish!

Plus, my boss, who loves to whine about how Toronto burritos can never compare to the Mission District of SF has been quieted by her visit to Mission Burrito.
Heather replying to a comment from Michelle / January 8, 2009 at 03:34 pm
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you realize the list is created by suggest/votes of the readers of BlogTO right?

Tim just writes it up and adds the flair.
bored replying to a comment from Heather / January 8, 2009 at 03:42 pm
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Whatever, a while ago this blog decided that instead of producing interesting content they would just spin out endless top 10 lists with interchangeable fifty word blurbs to fill the front page. Whether it is voted on by the readership or not, its boring.
TCL replying to a comment from jen / January 8, 2009 at 04:22 pm
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I have to agree with jen, at least for the sake of variety (cuz I loves me some good greasy food). May I suggest a part 2 of healthier or alternative options?
mr. hood / January 8, 2009 at 05:15 pm
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theres a new burrito joint on king now near the bell light box

forget the name, but it looks really sterile
o_O / January 8, 2009 at 06:07 pm
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For what you get, Smoke's isn't cheap at all and you're hungry in an hour. It's void of virtually all nutrition.
jack / January 8, 2009 at 08:23 pm
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"When it comes to cheap eats, it seems the past 12 months in Toronto were all about three things - burritos, burgers and poutine"

LOL, according to who?? not sure why it is always about burritos on blogto.. someone has a hidden agenda here..

I think it is time for review of restaurants for Indonesian food, Chinese desserts, Taiwanese desserts, etc
Jay / January 8, 2009 at 09:33 pm
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Surprised that no specific hot dog vendors made the list. If i'm looking for a great cheap eat, you can't get any better than a fantastic piece of street meat.
jack / January 9, 2009 at 12:11 am
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i am hoping the city will allow street vendors to sell pig's blood soup, deep fried pig intestine, pig skin, deep fried fermented stinky tofu here in toronto.. now that's going to be great cheap eat
BigBang / January 9, 2009 at 12:23 am
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Chalk another one up there to the list against Smokes. After about two bites the regular poutine tasted like a wet sock. If they can't even handle the basics wtf is going on there?
EricH replying to a comment from jack / January 9, 2009 at 02:16 pm
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Ahh Taiwanese night market dishes.... From a Taiwanese person in T.O's perspective, some items will have to struggle for acceptance. Not just from denizens, but from City Hall as well.

And City Hall is notorious for being resistant to change.
hahahahaha / January 10, 2009 at 02:53 pm
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you put a 10 dollar pile of fries in best cheap eats. brilliant
Paul replying to a comment from hahahahaha / January 12, 2009 at 09:17 am
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I believe you mean to say "you put a 10 dollar pile of overhyped stiff fries with cardboard flavoured gravy in best cheap eats." :)

I was really disappointed with Smokes. I never thought I'd say it but New York Fries is cheaper and better tasting.

And IMO cheap eats is around 5 dollars or less.
Heather replying to a comment from bored / January 19, 2009 at 01:30 pm
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Actually not whatever. To say reading Top 10 lists is boring is fully different from saying a reader generated content is boring.

If you're sick of the Top 10 lists - fair enough. But if the readership keeps voting on the same things, that's not really blogTO's fault is it?
lolita / February 3, 2009 at 07:23 am
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I really don't know if u guys check the blogs from all categories of cheap eats.
I posted already on TO Blog about this new delicious and (Cheap is not the word to describe it).
Karine's by Maggie's in the Village by the Grange.
Original. Restaurant servings. Beautiful presentation and most of all The Best Prices ever.
Fresh, Fresh, Fresh....
Weekend brunch extravaganza. Seating capacity plenty.
Full breakfast with Free Unlimited coffee or tea only $5.00
sue / February 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm
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Again, there seems to be an incredible vacuum of references east of Yonge St.
Ethiopian restaurants, for example, serve communal plates that serve 2 - 4 people for a cost of under $5.00 per person..
Take a walk to Dukem at 950 Danforth Ave. near Donlands for excellent affordable meals.
Dan Contogiannis / August 6, 2009 at 04:54 pm
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I think we need an updated article on the BEST NEW CHEAP EATS!
I was very surprised to see Craft Burger top of the list. It is one of my fav joints in the city but only someone working on Bay St. would call it a "cheap" place to eat. A normal lunch runs just under or over $10 per person.

There is a not so new but kinda new place right beside Craft Burger called REGGIES!!! and it's amazing. Their homemade ketchup is something worth writing home about.
Ryan I. / August 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm
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I cant believe what happened someone told me about the grenadier
super breakfast special i went on a wednesday service was alright
considering their was about 20 people lined up. whats the commotion.
bacon, sausage or ham & 3 eggs homefries brown toast !!!$2.99.
MY FRIEND HAD A STEAK & 3 eggs """""""""""""""""""""" !!!$6.99.
the steak was huge about 1/2 lb wow located in high park
Leo / November 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm
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Good selection. Though I must add a new pizza place called Amaro at Broadview subway station. 3.50 for a huge slice of pizza (about one fourth of the pizza). It s worth checking !
Loissa / February 25, 2010 at 04:55 am
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Just want to say that Chipotle is the best! All of us from http://forexobroker.com love them and enjoy their food almost every day!
Ryan L / October 25, 2011 at 02:17 pm
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I tried Chino Loco's when they first opened. Rather disappointing to myself and my wife. Partially our fault though as I didn't realize it was an asian burrito (chow mein burrito).

The burrito itself was okay but nothing to write home about for my personal tastes.
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm
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Good selection. Though I must add a new pizza place called Amaro at Broadview subway station. 3.50 for a huge slice of pizza (about one fourth of the pizza). It s worth checking !

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