This strip might be Toronto's most unique international food corner
Toronto is the world's most diverse city, and that means it also has a ton of restaurants serving up cuisines from countries far and wide.
Three new restaurants sandwiched beside each other on a somewhat downtown strip might qualify to be one of the city's more interesting one-stop hubs for international eats.
Chowpatty Culture, Limon and Tiflisi are dishing up Indian street snacks, Israeli plates and home-style Georgian eats, respectively, on Queen Street East in the Beaches. They're proving that even if customers are not familiar with these cuisines, the area will always support local businesses.
A newcomer to the strip, Tiflisi, is a prime example. The family-run business has been introducing the neighbourhood to badrijani, khinkali and khachapuri for a little over a year.
The Pkhakadze family specifically chose to open their restaurant in the Beaches neighbourhood to introduce more Toronto residents to the joys of Georgian cuisine. This is noteworthy because a majority of Georgian restaurants are located outside of the downtown core (aka in North York).
"This [restaurant] is really close to my heart and I wanted to make sure that Canadians were familiar with the Georgian culture. We made sure the interior was authentic, the food was traditional and we always have Georgian music playing to give that authentic experience," says Tamara Pkhakadze.
It's all hands on deck with Pkhakadze's mother and father lovingly creating their home country's dishes in the kitchen, while she and her brother work the front-of-house and are the friendly faces you'll spot when walking into the wooden, cabin-like spot.
Many of Tiflisi's customers look to Pkhakadze for recommendations and food suggestions and are very curious about what Georgian cuisine entails.
The badrijani, for example, is an appetizer hailing from central Georgia. The dish consists of tender-fried eggplant smeared with a luscious walnut paste that's made with four types of walnuts and is topped with pomegranate seeds.
Another item that's loved by everyone is the ever-popular khachapuri, a leavened bread boat that's filled to the brim with gooey cheese (including the famed Georgian sulguni) and topped with an egg and a slice of butter. This is the country's national dish.
Pkhakadze has seen regular customers return with friends, but this time they are armed with their own knowledge and are making the recommendations.
The restaurant has truly increased the community's awareness of the country, with Pkhakadze saying many clients tell her they now wish to travel to Georgia and experience it firsthand.
Meanwhile, Tifilsi's next-door neighbour, Limon, has been kicking around for almost three years under the leadership of the Mishaev brothers.
Delivering typical Israeli and Middle Eastern plates like labneh, falafel and lamb koftas, the brothers rebounded after their first space, Elm Tree Restaurant, shuttered during the pandemic.
In a very small span of time, Limon has already become a dinner favourite in the neighbourhood, especially with their summer patio.
Just like Tifisi, Limon's menu also offers punchy grilled kebabs - although these ones are spiced with sumac.
It also helps that the restaurant's refreshing blue and lemon-speckled exterior is impossible to miss.
The freshest spot on the block comes next door, Chowpatty Culture, which is named after Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai.
The name actually makes a lot of sense when you think of how some of India's best street eats are found around the beaches area, and, now, also the Toronto neighbourhood the restaurant calls home.
While most Toronto residents are familiar with Indian food, Chowpatty might throw you for a spin and introduce you to the world of Indian street eats from Mumbai, New Delhi and Punjab.
"Mostly, the customers know about traditional curries, traditional foods like butter chicken and chicken tikka, but haven't seen street foods," says owner Ripu Singh.
Wanting to really make a splash in the Beaches, Singh prides the restaurant on authentic dishes that don't hold back on flavour or taste. Here, everything is made in-house.
His spot focuses on typical snacks you would find on the streets of Mumbai like pani puri (or gol gappe) aka crispy, round bread balls (puri) stuffed with soft chickpeas and potatoes that are served with chutney or pav bhaji, a silky and fiery vegetable curry with pav (soft, buttery dinner roll-like bread).
Of course with the chilly winter season upon us, Singh says his customers are now seeking out dishes to warm them up from the cold, like the curry dishes found in Chowpatty's weekend special.
"[Residents of] the Beaches area love local [restaurants] and we want to focus on their love [to support] local," says Singh, who believes the restaurant benefits most by attracting neighbourhood locals to Chowpatty's unique culinary experience before reaching out for clientele from outside the immediate area.
Since many customers are not as familiar with their entire menu, Singh does not hesitate to suggest dishes and hand out samples.
"It's extremely important for us to have customers walk in so we can chit-chat and they can get to know us," he said.
Other Chowpatty fan-favourites are the karak masala chai (served with two biscuits) and mango lassi, with Singh sharing that the demand for the chai is "growing."
The success of these restaurants is a testament to the loyalty and kindness of Beaches residents. The operators had independently shared with blogTO that it's the community who are keen on supporting local businesses and are open to expanding their palate.
This pure goodwill is why there are so many stalwart businesses in the area that have been around for decades plus.
In the words of Pkhakadze, it's made a world of difference for Tiflisi.
"We knew that we wanted to start a place in the Beaches just because the first time we [visited] the community, everybody was so nice and friendly," she said.
Check out Chowpatty Culture, Limon and Tiflisi at 1966, 1968 and 1970 Queen Street East, respectively.
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