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Go beyond patties and doubles at local restaurants, bakeries and food trucks that showcase the region's culinary diversity
Toronto and surrounding areas have the best Caribbean restaurants in the country, giving you an easy way to country-hop without using your passport. The Toronto Caribbean Carnival tried to embrace that spirit this year, hosting events at local restaurants like Scarborough’s Tropical Nights and Markham’s Nicey’s through their month-long Patio Lime series.
But if your familiarity with West Indian cuisine is limited to jerk chicken, patties and doubles, you’re not doing it right. Here are some of the dishes you need to try at restaurants showcasing the diversity Caribbean cuisine has to offer.
Imagine Poseidon pulled up in a truck. That’s the vibe with MOB Seafood & Tings, named for owner Monique Bernard, who just recently took her Brampton-based catering business on the road with a food truck. Take your pick of one of the boil dishes, with a combination of king crab, shrimp, lobster, and veggies – or try the fried lobster tails, deep-fried crab legs, or the ackee and saltfish plantain cups. Catch MOB during the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s weekend festivities at Scarborough Town Centre.
Tucked away in a small but bustling Scarborough plaza, Island Spice Flava draws lineups for its delicious jerk and stew chicken dishes. Don’t miss the near-perfect macaroni pie, with its light, crisp top hiding the depths of soft, warm comfort below. Aside from their mouth-watering Jamaican food, Island Spice Flava is known for its healthy serving sizes. If you grab lunch, you’ll most likely have enough for dinner, too.
365 Pitfield, instagram.com/islandspiceflava
Located in the same plaza as Island Spice Flava, Roti Hut has been a Scarborough mainstay for over 35 years. The name says it all. While there are Trinidadian offerings like pholourie (fluffy balls made of chickpeas) and three different types of doubles (a sandwich of fried bread called bara with spicy chickpeas, meat or pumpkin and spinach in between), the roti is what makes customers happy. Go for the thick and steamy boneless goat wrapped in the light and fluffy roti for some finger-licking goodness.
351 Pitfield, instagram.com/therotihut
For some of the best Guyanese-Chinese food in the city, head east to Scarlet Ibis. The homestyle restaurant has been going strong for two decades serving up dishes that highlight Guyana’s cultural blend – with heavy West African, Indian, and Chinese influences (like their Caribbean chow mein). Your taste buds will truly get an international experience. The pot roast goat is a spin on Guyana’s traditional pepperpot, an aromatic stew with tender meats slow-cooked in cassareep. It sings in your mouth.
30 Dean Park, instagram.com/scarletibisrestaurant
With three locations across the GTA, Scotty Bons has become a favourite among Toronto restaurants specializing in Caribbean fusion. Founder Kendell Garcia collaborated with friends to open the restaurant, bringing a new heat – literally – to the intersection of West Indian and Western food. The build-your-own jerk chicken bowl comes with flexible options of sides like rice and peas or Zafran rice, pineapple corn, jalapeno peppers and more. Scotty Bons also offers a wide selection of sandwiches and roti, so if you’re looking for a new spin on Caribbean spices, head east, west or downtown to get your fill.
402 Bloor West, 789 Warden and 148 West (Brampton), scottybonsgrill.com
Spence’s Bakery is one of those legendary mainstays on the Eglinton West strip, aka Little Jamaica, and for good reason. It’s located right beside the Green P carpark that has been converted to the Afro-Caribbean Farmers’ Market every Sunday until October. Spence’s is unmistakable due to the ever-present jerk drum pan out front, which is where the magic happens. Chicken that has been marinated for 24 hours hits the smoker and becomes a jerk dish that rivals the best Jamaica has to offer.
1539 Eglinton West, 416-782-7850
Previously located in Kensington Market, Maracas is now a travelling food truck reaching various parts of the GTA. Known for its fresh Trinidadian dishes, their most popular offering is likely the seafood delicacy of shark and bake. Imagine a thick and tender piece of shark meat in between pieces of fried dough and topped with lettuce, tomato, coleslaw, and mango chow. Named after the beach in Trinidad known for its shark and bake, Maracas brings the surf to Toronto. Catch the truck when you can.
Caribbean food isn’t just about its savoury offerings – baked goods have a big place in the cuisine as well. Sun-Light Bakery on Eglinton West has been in business for decades, and is the best place to buy fresh – as in still warm and soft from the oven – Jamaican hardo bread. Hardo bread is a staple for Jamaican breakfasts, sandwiches, or anything else you can use bread for, and Sun-Light is where to go for your fix.
2512 Eglinton West, 416-658-2846
A unique pop-up restaurant open only on weekends, Bajan Kitchen brings comfort food from the island straight to Toronto. Try Bajan classics like macaroni pie or black pudding and souse. And make sure you take home an order of Bajan fish cakes. The spicy golden fritters made with salted cod are simply heavenly. Visiting Bajan Kitchen also means you’ll do good as you dine good – proceeds from each purchase are donated to various charitable organizations, like supporting the medical equipment fund for Barbados’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
1686 Ellesmere, bajankitchen.ca
Chef Kareema’s tagline “Mom had me cooking since the 80s” speaks to the decades of culinary skill under her belt. Known for catering and pop-ups, the chef from Trinidad and Tobago now has a home on Dundas East where you can sample her curry channa, jerk chicken, jerk vegan lasagne or freshly made beverages like beet or carrot juice, peanut punch and sorrel. Go big with the escovitch snapper, a spicy and tart fried fish dressed with onions and peppers.
203 Dundas East, chefkareema.com