Downsview Park Merchant's Market is Toronto's most underrated food court
For lovers of antiques, farmers' markets and all things flea, the Downsview Park Merchant's Market is a weekend paradise.
It's been a decade since the market first took over a massive warehouse building on the Downsview Park site, and over the years this weekly enterprise has drawn thousands of price-minded patrons through its doors.
Within its cool, looming exterior hides a giant maze-like interior of shops that run the gamut of cheap, international goods, easily making it one of the most diverse markets in the city.
But beyond the bookstore piled wall-to-wall with vintage volumes, the shop selling dashikis and the Chinese medicine store is Downsview's most prized attraction: a food court with dozens of vendors serving up delicious international fare.
Open every weekend from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the parking lot is vast, with several entry points. I recommend entering through the discrete market entrance (not the antique or farmers' market doors) to start your quest.
Even before reaching the food court, a handful of food stalls off the main shopping paths line the way toward your final destination.
Marking the beginning of your culinary adventure is Yummy Bubble Tea, which you'll quickly spot on the corner, likely with a sizeable line. There's nothing fancy here, just simple boba at cheap prices in all your standard flavours.
At another corner, Samosa Palace marks the starting point of a succession of food stalls. You'll find this stall across from a lighting and appliance store, where you can grab a meat samosa for $1.25, or two vegetarian samosas for $1.25.
Right next door you'll find Pupusas Hot, a pupuseria that sells the popular El Salvadorean corn tortillas with a variety of fillings.
Continue walking through the market aisles past a used-parts bike shop and stores selling tons of "6ix" gear and you'll encounter a small seating area of sorts.
Not to be confused with the international food court, this makeshift food vendor zone is home to Carmen Y Pepe Peruvian Cuisine, a stall selling lomo saltado and civeche, and Minuet Cafe, which specializes in chocolate and strawberry cakes which you can buy whole or in slices.
At Angel Dusit International Vegetarian Cuisine, you'll likely find Angel herself stirring a pot of her self-proclaimed cancer-curing concoction, "Heaven Soup". Made of stewed veggies and yanang leaf, Angel offers cancer patients a bowl of her soup for free.
Past a gold shop, you'll find Icecream Paradise – a purveyor of iceys, banana royales and bubble tea – lining the outskirts of the market. A short walk will soon take you out of the merchants' area and out into the farmers' market hall.
Here is where you'll find Pita House, a stall sitting on a slightly elevated area that offers a beautiful vista of the giant market, likely to be bustling with shoppers as they peruse veggies and fruits offered by five separate grocers.
If you're feeling tuckered out from the walking you can grab an espresso from the friendly Greek owner of Pita House. For something more substantial grab a falafel for $5, or grab one of their giant jam-filled pastries for just $3.
While it may tempting to meander around a bit longer, it's important to keep your eye on the prize. Head back into the market from where you came from and you'll spot the sign that leads you to the food court in the back.
Once you see the strings of flags hanging from afar, you'll know you've found the international food court, Downsview Park Merchant's Market's secret gem.
Depending on how busy it is, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the multitude of options.
Trying to decide between the tacos from Tacontento Mexican Foods, the empanadas from Comida Ecuatoriana or the pupusas from Pupuseria Delicias will probably be the hardest decision to make all day. If you have a budget of $15, you can easily get something from all three stalls.
For Asian eats, Chinese & Vietnamese Food serves up exactly what its name suggests with cheap four-item combos of fried rice and sweet and sour chicken costing only $7. Further down, Saigon Quan has Vietnamese dishes like pho, spring rolls, and cheap daily specials.
If you're craving some typical food court fare, Tavga Pizza and Wings – situated in the corner of the food court – has slice and pop combos with fries, while Reber Poutine Fiesta does an original take on the classic Canadian comfort food but adding halal meat to it.
Dominating the space are Caribbean stalls serving up Jamaican and Trini favourites like oxtail, jerk and doubles. Roti Corner is a standout: despite having no sign, the stall is a family-run affair and serves some of the best doubles I've had, plus a killer pholourie.
Melo's Kitchen is another Trinidadian food spot that specializes in bake and sharks – the delicious baked bread sandwich with shark meat inside – and a big menu of other favourites like stewed chicken.
For dessert, Churro Zone offers a sweet Mexican treat option, with churros coming in all shapes and sizes, from drizzled and filled to ice-cream filled bowls and churro ice cream sandwiches.
There's also Sweetnuthin's Dessert Shoppe, one of the newest additions to the food court that's popular for its cheesecakes, pies, and funnel cakes ($6). They even have candied apples, if you really want to complete the whole market experience.
Regardless of what you choose to devour at the Downsview Park Merchant's Market, your food cravings and your wallet will be feeling satisfied and ready to return to this Toronto sanctuary next weekend.
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