Little Manila is Toronto's home to Filipino food and culture
For decades, the intersection of Bathurst and Wilson has mostly been associated with a large pocket of Toronto's Jewish population. With Bathurst Manor and B'Nai B'rith are just blocks away, it's not hard to see why.
But over the past five years, this North York neighbourhood has begun to see a separate identity emerge, more formally recognized by another name: Little Manila.
Consisting mostly of restaurants and bakeries serving up lechon, pancit and snacks from the Philippines, Bathurst and Wilson is where you'll find the most Filipino-run businesses situated within walking distance of one another in the city.
According to business owners and locals, the Filipino community saw a major surge in the 1980s and 90s which led to the creation of Little Manila as we see it today.
Due to the now-terminated Live-In Caregiver Program that allowed many people — mostly women — to find jobs in Toronto, many immigrants were able to work and eventually bring their families to Canada.
The Wilson and Bathurst area became the perfect landing place: populated with an aging, mostly Jewish community in need of care, new immigrants were able to find work and homes outside of other Filipino-dominant areas like St. Jamestown and parts of Scarborough.
Now with the more recent addition of the Taste of Manila festival that draws thousands to the area every summer, the neighbourhood has officially established itself as the hotspot for all things pinoy.
According to Taste of Manila's founder Rolly Mangante, Little Manila today encompasses 47 Filipino-owned businesses with restaurants serving Filipino silog breakfasts now outnumbering Jewish institutions like the breakfast spot Bagel World and Amazing Donuts.
Located just beneath the 401 bridge, you'll find the Bathurst-Wilson Parkette which acts as a gathering place for the community during special events like Philippines Independence Day.
One of the most well-known restaurants in Little Manila right now is Wilson's Haus of Lechon, a purveyor of Cebu-style suckling pig and rotisserie chickens, with a stall outside for grilling.
A quintessential meal at family get-togethers, lechon is ordered whole or by the pound. There are a few other establishments roasting up lechon in the area, and around Toronto too, but Wilson's is by far the most popular.
In the same strip of businesses is also Da Best Filipino Bakery, a simple store that has stocked tons of Filipino goods, like Kare-Kare mix; dried chicharron (pork rinds) and instant pancit (noodles), for the past seven years.
The sweet scent of bread is the first thing you'll notice here: they sell bags of airy pandesal buns for $3.50, plus pan de coco and pan de buko.
Right next to it you'll also find Kabalen, a secondary location of the original down the street on Bathurst which specializes in Pampanga-style dishes like adobo to-go.
The restaurant Jollytops take a page from the book of the giant Filipino fried chicken empire Jollibee — now with a location in Toronto — selling student specials of fried chicken with spaghetti or palabok noodles.
At FV Foods, you'll find a hot table and baked goods, along with frozen empanadas made in-house. Not only that, the bakery also has a downstairs grocery store that looks barren, but actually has a decent number of staple items.
Shelves of Datu Puti soy sauce and classic snacks like Ding Dong and Boy Bawang corn nuts make up this sparse subterraneous space.
FV also sells the quintessential balikbayan boxes used by the majority of families to fill up with Canadian goods and send back home.
Further along Wilson you'll find Sampaguita Village, one of Little Manila's favourite restaurants among locals and tourists alike. For over 25 years this humble spot has been serving lechon kawali, sinigang and huge dishes of garlic fried rice for takeout or dine-in.
And closer to the main drag is Cusina Lounge, a buffet-meets-entertainment venue with an extensive bar and lunch buffets for $12 on weekdays, $15 on weekends. Coupled with karaoke parties, this spot is a guaranteed good time.
Right outside during the day you can grab chicken and beef skewers for $3 apiece. This outdoor grill is, for many, as reminiscent of the Philippines as Wilson Street can get.
Hector Vasquez and Tanya Mok
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