Little Tehran is Toronto's hotbed for Iranian food and culture
If you're looking for a taste of Persian culture, look no further than a small strip of Yonge Street – nicknamed Little Tehran – which offers everything from juicy kebabs to pomegranate ice cream within a 900-metre radius.
Stretching towards Steeles and beginning just north of Finch, it's hard to tell where Little Tehran begins and its southerly neighbour, Koreatown North, ends.
Walking this part of Yonge can seem bewildering at first: everything from the sidewalks to the plazas seem far apart, and traffic here tends to zoom by at alarming speeds. The food, however, makes this 10-minute walk from Finch station totally worth it.
There are three major things to note in Little Tehran: phenomenal kebab joints, delicious pastries shops, and currency exchange stores, the latter of which there are plenty.
The Toronto Iranian Plaza is the central hub of Little Tehran. Open for over 20 years, this little strip mall at 6075 Yonge Street has evolved over the years to become the one-stop shop for the massive Persian community in the Willowdale neighbourhood.
If you don't have much time to explore, this small collection of markets and bakeries should be your one and only destination.
Start off at Super Arzon, the beating heart of the Iranian Plaza. Opened by Kiekavoss "Carl" Hosseinzadeh, this 24-hour supermarket was the first mainstay to transform the plaza into the Iranian-centric community mall it is today.
Enter through either of Arzon's doorways to access the grocery store or to head straight to the hot table area, where staff offer combos of gourmeh sabzi (the quintessential Iranian green stew) or bamieh (okra stew) for $9.99, plus skewers of delicious kebabs, made to order.
Just next door is another dinner go-to, Altona Kabob, which serves a full menu of kebab varieties with heaping piles of rice, paired with a duo of roasted tomatoes.
There's ample seating in this low-key takeout spot and it's open until 4 a.m. daily, making Altona an ideal nighttime spot to satisfy those late kebab cravings.
Steps down is BB Cafe, a sophisticated yet homey little place that's been serving pastries and coffee since 2007. With another location in Richmond Hill, you can dine-in or take an assortment of pistachio'd, rosewatery desserts or custom cakes to-go.
If you're looking for something quick on a hot day, BB has a small ice cream counter of mind blowingly delicious flavours like pomegranate and their signature pistachio-saffron; even their vanilla tastes better than average. They're generous with their samples so don't be shy.
They even offer tubs of their ice cream and their pocket-sized portions of their pistachio-saffron ice cream sandwiched between two waffles.
Hard to miss is the newer pastry shop Papa Cafe, a bright pink shop with an even pinker interior where they serve their house-made sweets.
Open since 2013, this bakery cafe gives a distinctly different vibe than BB Cafe but is a strong confectionery contender: a second floor boasts a spacious and elegant eating area with a little patio that gives a great view of the neighbouring Centre Park.
You can grab a cup of hot saffron tea to enjoy in all the store's pink glory, served with some rock candy for an extra sweet experience.
If you head outside the plaza and round the corner, you'll find Shabestan Cafe, which sits facing the more tranquil Centre Avenue. A lush walkway leads you to the entrance of this restaurant and humble banquet hall, with a small outdoor patio lined with flowers.
Cross the street to leave the Iranian Plaza and head toward Khorak Supermarket directly across from it. The most well-known Persian grocery store in the city, it has everything from imported Iranian honey comb to a delectable lunch counter.
To witness something totally unique, head to the back of store to watch as staff toss huge loaves of fresh-baked barbari flatbread from the subterraneous bakery. Grab one hot and bag it yourself for $1.99.
While Little Tehran isn't solely comprised of the Iranian Plaza and Super Khorak, those two destinations are undoubtedly the major attractions.
There are, however, plenty of restaurants that will provide a more formal sit-down experience, like Zaffron just north of Khorak, and Red Rose Patisserie with cases full of sharini tar and sharini khoshk: moist and dry sweets.
Continue past the bustling Centrepoint Mall to dine at North Restaurant or Shomal in Farsi, one of the best Persian restaurants in the city located in a plaza of mostly Korean restaurants, marking the unofficial edge of Little Tehran.
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