Bite into history

T.O.’s loaded with great African and Caribbean spots


M&B Yummy Ethiopian Vegetarian Cuisine

1263 Queen W, at Brock, 416-516-2798. Zeni Ashine’s modest Parkdale café may not look like much from the street, but its barred storefront hides Toronto’s only vegetarian Ethiopian eatery. Once inside, find an offbeat ethno-accented room where the welcome is warm and the platters layered with injera flatbread range from gently spiced to incendiary. Best: massive veggie combos of faux “meat,” curried cabbage, beans with carrots, collard greens and lentil dahl all-day breakfasts like smoky fava bean foul topped with raw onion, tomato and chilies shiro fit-fit, a porridge of olive-oil-soaked injera flatbread laced with caramelized onion and jalapeño that’s said to cure hangovers. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and an organic lager. Average main $9. Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday noon to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 11 pm all-day brunch Sunday 11 am to 9 pm. Closed Tuesday and weekdays from 4 to 5 pm. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, three steps to washrooms. Rating: NNN


1178 Queen W, at Northcote, 647-351-6868. Open to the street through a wall of retractable glass, this bright and strikingly streamlined room puts the spotlight on owner/chef Nunu Ketgela’s contemporary spin on a very ancient cuisine. Think of her accommodating card as Ethiopian tapas: sharable mains heavy on the veggies that redefine finger food. Great first-date restaurant! Best: communal combo platters served on sour injera flatbread topped with lamb tibs slow-braised in berbere red pepper paste equally spicy fall-from-the-bone doro wat chicken slightly cooked kitfo steak tartare in clarified butter dressed with whole green chilies vegetarian mains like sweet keysir beets gently curried sun-dried shiro wat split peas gommen wat collard greens to finish, trifle, a fantasia of whipped cream, shortcake and sherry. Complete dinners for $28 per person (lunches/brunches $20), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Average main $10/$8. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to midnight, Monday 5 pm to midnight. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN


Albert’s Real Jamaican Foods

542 St. Clair W, at Vaughan, 416-658-9445. Launched back in 76, Albert Wiggan’s modest uptown hole in the wall has been a late-night feeding spot popular with cabbies and night owls ever since. Decor is minimal (the obligatory Bob Marley poster, natch) and the drink of choice is Ting. Best: slowly stewed bone-in island-style jerk chicken with allspiced rice ‘n’ peas and JA slaw or wrapped in a house-made roti melt-in-your-mouth oxtail dinners with caramelized plantain sides of salt cod fritters, gongo pea soup or dumplings with four types of gravy (“juice”) to drink, Albert’s carrot or sugar cane juice for DIY types, takeout containers of oxtail gravy and roti skins. Complete meals for $15, including all taxes and a bottle of Ting. Average main $9. Open Sunday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 1 am, Thursday 11:30 am to 2:30 am, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 4 am. Unlicensed. Cash only. Delivery. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN

Mr. Jerk

209 Wellesley E, at Bleecker, 416-961-8913. The jumpin’est joint in all of St. James Town, this bare-bones Jamaican take-away causes slow-moving lineups round the clock, especially at lunch and after school. Bonus: jerk by the pound! Also: 3050 Don Mills, at Van Horne, 416-491-3593 1166 Morningside, at Sheppard E, 416-724-9239 3417 Derry E, at Gateway, 905-673-5627. Best: industrial-strength jerked chicken and pork coupled with rice ‘n’ beans ladled with sauce and sided with slaw or wrapped in rotis curried potato, carrot and chickpea dinners over rice Chinese-style sweet and sour pork over soy-sauced chow mein and stir-fried veggies on the side, codfish fritters, sweet caramelized plantain, callaloo or meat loaf to finish, dark rum cake or sweet potato pudding to drink, soursop juice. Complete meals for $12 per person, including, all taxes, tip and a juice. Average main $8. Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, Sunday 1 to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNN



159 Augusta, at Dundas W, 416-849-9777. Located at the bottom of Kensington Market, Toronto’s only Senegalese restaurant specializes in massive West African meat-heavy mains that offer little green veggie relief. Friendly servers and a downtown Dakar disco vibe more than make up for the lack of roughage. Best: the uninitiated should start with yassa chicken, a grilled thigh and leg layered with lemony caramelized onion and whole cloves of mellow (!) garlic over a mountain of couscous thiebou djen, the national dish of grilled parsley-dressed grouper over tomato-flavoured short-grain rice topped with carrot, cassava and cabbage maffe, stewed beef and carrot in tomato sauce sided with sticky cassava fufu to drink, vodka and baobab cocktails. Complete dinners for $30 per person (lunches $25), including all taxes, tip and a baobab juice and vodka cocktail. Average main $15/$12. Open Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday 4 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 4 pm to 2 am. Closed Monday. Licensed. Cash only. Access: 20 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN


New Bilan

183 Dundas E, at Jarvis, 416-943-0330. Those who can get past this east African eatery’s grim inner-city exterior and confusing signage (yes, it’s an Internet café as well) will be rewarded with pan-global grub that melds Bangladeshi curries with East African stews and Middle Eastern spicing. In other words, a truly Toronto cuisine. Best: chargrilled king fish in a garlicky tomato sauce thick with minced onion and lemon, sided with biryani-style basmati rice strewn with plump raisins, roasted potato ‘n’ onion, basic iceberg salad in Kraft dressing and a bowl of curried goat soup, the lot spectacularly splashed with house-made green chili hot sauce chicken steak marinated in lemon, garlic, cardamom and vinegar tender on-the-bone roasted goat in tangy gravy to sop, flaky croissant-like chapati. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of fruit punch or tea. Average main $8. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: short step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN


One Love Vegetarian

854 Bathurst, at London, 416-535-5683. If you’ve ever had Ikeila and Iville Wright’s spicy vegan corn soup at Harbourfront, you’ll recognize the signature dish at their Annex take-away. The rest of their short Caribbean-style veggie card’s just as tasty, but because much of it’s made from scratch, it can sometimes be a long time coming. Historical note: their storefront was once home to Joyce’s, Toronto’s first Caribbean provisioner. Best: Funky House Pizza on whole wheat focaccia topped with peppers, mushrooms, artichoke heart, organic tomato sauce, basil pesto, scrambled tofu and diced Scotch bonnet peppers curried bean curd and lima beans with sliced avocado, caramelized plantain, basmati rice ‘n’ lentils and salad rotis – paratha, dahl puri or whole wheat – overstuffed with curried chickpeas. Complete dinners for $20 per person (lunches $15), including all taxes, tip and a freshly squeezed juice. Average main $10. Open Tuesday to Friday 11 am to 9 pm, Saturday 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN

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