leslieville toronto

7 essential restaurants and shops in Leslieville that have stood the test of time

Toronto's Leslieville neighbourhood has seen a massive change in its culture, demographic and businesses since its early industrial days.

Particularly the last 20 years has seen the area become more "trendy" and gentrified, with an influx of young families.

But as the tides continue to change, there are still a number of successful businesses who have either stuck to their roots or adapted to the refashioning, proving they've stood the test of time.

Here's a closer look at some of them.

OK OK Diner

This classic diner at 1128 Queen Street East  has been open since 1952 and changed ownership 14 years ago and is run by Tom and his dedicated staff.

ok ok diner toronto

OK OK Diner is at the corner of Queen and Bertmount.

How has Leslieville changed since the restaurant opened?

The neighbourhood has changed a lot, for the better. Now I notice a lot of young families with small children, which is great.

This neighbourhood, when I first came to Canada a long time ago, it wasn't the same. This area was bad. Now it's great. People are very social, very nice. I'm 71, everyone tells me I should retire but I don't, I like it.

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The man behind the diner, Tom. 

How has the diner changed or stayed the same over the years?

COVID was a bit of a problem but we survived it, we're ok. A lot of places closed down. Now we have a problem with prices, so does everybody, it's not only us. I don’t believe you should cut down portions - I don't believe in that.

Because I feel if I go to a restaurant and it's not what I've ordered normally, I get really upset. If they're cutting down on things, that really kills me. I don't accept that and I keep telling my people, don't be cheap.

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Restaurant favourites include an affordable breakfast and authentic Greek souvlaki meal.

What does the future of the business look like? 

The future [of the restaurant industry] unless things change a little bit, it's going to be tough.People should realize one thing, it's going to go to the big corporations and then they're gonna see the prices and they're not going to like them. 

If the little guy goes away like me or the little restaurants, they're going to have to start paying $30 for breakfast. This neighbourhood supports small businesses, and I think if you [shop] in the neighbourhood, it helps the neighbourhood survive.

Com Tam 168

This low-key Vietnamese restaurant near Gerrard Square Mall at 1018 Gerrard Street East draws consistent crowds for lunch and dinner. Open since 2006, the restaurant is run by Thao Thuan and her daughter Sherry Ly.

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The outside of Com Tam 168.

How has the neighbourhood changed since opening? 

It's definitely a lot more populated in terms of people and businesses. If you look back 16 years ago there [wasn't much here].

Throughout the years they've added a lot of things, for example, the McDonald's down the street at Gerrard Square wasn't there and the Wal-Mart wasn't there either. So they've added a bunch more things just to make it more popularized and gentrification I guess.

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Com Tam owner Thao (right) and daughter Sherry. 

How has the restaurant changed or stayed the same? 

The owner has stayed the same, my mother, because she has been the one running the whole operation for the last 15, 16 years. So she's seen changes and all the differences.

The name has changed actually, it used to be called Peach Garden. The menu has changed, the food itself has been very similar throughout the years but we're [always tweaking it] and making things more exciting. Just keeping it new, keeping it fresh.

leslieville businesses

Com Tam's pho house special beef rice noodle soup is one of their best-sellers.

What does the future look like? 

We just want to continue to be here to represent the Vietnamese cuisine in Leslieville because that's something we're very proud of - to have a lot of people know that we're a Vietnamese restaurant down the street. We do plan on having another renovation. We're probably going to renovate the whole thing.

Tango Palace Coffee Company

This longstanding coffee shop near Queen and Jones at 1056 Queen Street East doesn't draw people in for latte art like other third wave cafes in the area but it's very rooted in the community and is known for keeping late hours. It opened in 1993 and is owned by Jeff Marsh.

leslieville businesses

Tango Palace sits next to a park near Queen and Jones.

How has the neighbourhood changed?

Well the neighbourhood is completely a different place now, 30 years-ago it was inexpensive real estate, rent, all of those things, it was a heavy artist population and there was also I would say, the lower run of the socio-economic scale permeated the neighbourhood and of course that's changed completely. We're now post-gentrification.

leslieville businesses

Tango Palace owner Jeff Marsh. Photo by Fareen Karim.

How has the business changed?

Well in [the last 30 years], we've really adjusted what we do. Of course, our old client base disappeared so our new client base, we've had to work on the gentrification people to get them to come through the door.

And it's still an on-going battle, you have to retire certain things, add new things in and I would say the amount of food we produce here has lowered for the sake of coffee production.

So there's been a real change as far as our equipment, I mean we've been updating - we started in 2017 - you know just after 25 years, everything from new heating, new cooling, new floor, new coffee production at the back. It's just so that we're still current and relevant with the new population, with the way coffee is brewed so on and so forth.

leslieville businesses

Now-a-days, Tango Palace focuses more on coffee creation than food.

What does the future look like?

It looks really good, I mean COVID was a challenge. We became less in-house sitting orientated but we've opened up the store more for takeout so we've really shifted our focus to that during COVID, which is part of why we're still here today. We've not completed that journey yet but I believe we're on the right track. 

Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant (The Nose)

The Italian restaurant at 1220 Queen Street East with the unmissable sign has been a neighbourhood stalwart for 21 years. It's owned by Talia Rana and the Rana family.

leslieville businesses

The Nose on Queen St. East.

How has the neighbourhood changed?

So much has changed, 20-years ago when my dad opened up here we didn't know why. Because there wasn't much here, it was like a pretty empty place. I think there was just something about this neighbourhood he liked and there was a charm to it, a grittiness to it that he really loved and appreciated.

Twenty-years later Leslieville is a really happening place, there's a lot of young families and young people, there's a lot of young business, which is really cool to see that. Especially us, because we were from "the nothing" to "the something."

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Talia Rana says she and her siblings are trying to keep the same great service and food that her parents made Gio's known for.

How has the restaurant changed?

I think every restaurant changes constantly, every service will add a layer to the restaurant's history and give a new identity to the place. I like to think we are pretty consistent.

My father, my parents had a pretty strong point of view and they wanted to offer something with good food, good time, good price, like a place you come to let loose and you don't have to worry about anything… and we try to maintain that.

leslieville businesses

Gio's serves up classic Italian dishes like this pappardelle and tomato sauce.

What does the future look like?

We obviously want to continue as long as we can and I think we want to supersede our parents.

Our parents built something that we really love and we're really passionate about - we grew up in this restaurant - and if we can do a quarter of what they did that's fantastic and if we can supersede what they did that would be even more amazing, but what that looks like I'm not sure. We're maintaining and trying to make it bigger and better.

The Original Chick N Joy

The famed chicken joint at 1483 Queen Street East near Greenwood has been around since 1977 and is known for their yellow gravy and affordable prices. It's owned by the Doufekas family, Dimitra and Bill Doufekas.

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Chick N Joy was opened in 1977 by John Doufekas and is still a family-run restaurant. 

How has the neighbourhood changed?

The neighbourhood is continuously changing. It's become more of a community atmosphere over the years so we've seen more families.

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Dimitra and Bill Doufekas, children of Chick N Joy founder, John Doufekas.

How has the restaurant stayed the same?

We've actually stayed the same in a lot of ways with our menu too. So we keep it basic; chicken, French fries and our iconic yellow gravy - so that's stayed the same.

The only thing I would say that's really changed is our prices, because everything goes up a little. But the look of the restaurant - we did a refresh about 10 years ago - we like to keep it old school, it's an old school feel.

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The famous Chick N Joy lunch special.

What does the future look like?

The future is the family keeps running it, so it's me (Dimitra) and my brother (Bill). We keep it going and we try to think of new ideas, like we had a chicken sandwich that we brought out.

We did chicken and waffles for Halloween, we have something for the holidays. We want a different menu item for each month.

Garden's Path Floral Design

This flower shop is tucked away next to Pilot Coffee near Queen and Pape at 983 Queen Street East. It's been in Leslieville for 12 years after moving from the Danforth. It's owned by John Schell.

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Before opening in Leslieville, Garden's Path was located near the Big Carrot.

How has the neighbourhood changed?

Well there's young families, there's a lot of really fun energy, people who are just starting out in life, which are in a good place so it's happy. When you walk down the street everyone's happy and smiling.

The area has seen a fair amount of changes, more stores, there's been a lot of cool places that opened up and there is a big community among the business owners.

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Garden's Path owner John Schell.

How has the business had to adapt, if at all?

We've had to adapt to basically not having anyone coming into the store, my assistant put us online to order online and that's the main way we've adapted.leslieville businesses

A good chunk of Garden's Path customers come from online sales.

What does the future look like?

The future looks good but with the whole economy thing, I'm very concerned, what's going on in the world too - but I've got confidence in the future and I'm going to hold on to that.

I've always had confidence with next year, things will still happen, we're still be here as long as we put our efforts into everything, it will happen.

Kristapsons Smoked Salmon

This shop at 1095 Queen Street East is famous for their smoked salmon and still draws customers from far and wide. It opened in 1953 and is owned by Alexis Fraser.

leslieville businesses

Kristapsons has been operating in Leslieville since 1953.

How has the neighbourhood changed?

Before it didn't have as many stores, it wasn't as clean and wasn't as vibrant. The stores weren't as trendy, up from the very late '80s and '90s. It was a very industrial area in the 1950s.

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Kristapsons owner Alexis Fraser.

How has the store changed?

We've expanded our hours on weekends and evenings for more foot traffic. There's just less parking now.

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Kristapsons also provides wholesale products.

What does the future hold?

We're gonna keep doing what we're doing, expand for more smoked fish options maybe. Continue making products that our customers love, keep the product quality the same given the environment.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim at Chicken Joy

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