istar toronto


Istar is a 24-hour Somali restaurant that's open year-round, with a banquet hall attached. 

Opened in 1999, this family-run staple has expanded from a simple hot table serving goat meat and fried chicken into a certified institution in the Somali community.

istar torontoWhen he took ownership from his mother in 2012, Mahamed Elmi expanded Istar's menu of pure Somali staples and extended the hours to all-day, every day. 

Taking over two units next door, he also launched a 2,500-square-foot banquet hall set up specifically for Somali weddings.

istar torontoAt its peak, the entire business (with the banquet hall and restaurant combined) can serve more than 500 people at a time. The sheer capacity, plus the fact it's 24/7, explains why Istar is a hub during the yearly soccer tournament Somali Week. 

istar torontoToday Istar's hot table is a delicious display of Somali, Indian, and other continental eats, with 25 different options refreshed daily from 11 a.m to 2 a.m 

istar torontoThe order that does gangbusters here are the wraps. I'm told the grilled salmon wrap ($13.28) is something special, but opt for the chicken ($10.62) instead. 

istar torontoThere's nothing plain about this wrap. Juicy chicken tikka is folded in a soft, housemade chapati with a slew of dressings before being pressed in the grill. It's saucy but it holds, and I can see why Elmi says they sell scores of these a day. 

istar torontoGoat meat is stewed and pan seared here ($17.26) and served with raisins and rice.

I recommend eating your goat with a dash of Somali's famous tomatillo-based hot sauce, basbaas.

istar torontoA salmon plate ($16.99) has your choice of sides like rice or pasta. There's also ugali, a ball of white cornmeal, served with a bowl of spinach stew. 

istar torontoThis starchy African staple takes many names across the continent — fufu (typically made from cassava) is the west African counterpart with the doughy base perfect for saucy sides.

istar torontoA platter of BBQ eats is more popular with the youngsters, says Elmi. Chicken tikka, BBQ ribs, and fried chicken are as good for lunch as they are for late night snacking. 

istar torontoIf you're just dropping by for a quick snack, maybe try a sambousa mandazi ($3 each).

This special sandwich of beef sambousa between two pieces of sweet, African bread is commonly eaten during Ramadan to break fast.  Get them between two pieces of kac kac (the harder Somali doughnuts) for more crunch.

istar torontoCoconut cakes and the essential tiramisu are all made in-house and incredibly delicious. 

istar torontoGrab sides of mango juice (with ice cream too), raisin juice or a fizzy lemonade drink.

istar toronto

Photos by

Hector Vasquez

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