It might seem that way, but not all frugal foodie finds are located around the back of a bowling alley in some anonymous strip mall in a dodgy neighbourhood or in a gas station.
Epicures on a budget know there are bargains to be had at some of downtown's more expensive eateries, particularly at lunch.
Chris McDonald's Avalon (270 Adelaide West, at Simcoe, 416-979-9918) has long been regarded as one of Toronto's top dinner destinations - NOW's Restaurant of the Year 1996, no less - but who knew that the owner/chef does lunch on Thursdays, too? For less than half the price of a nighttime main course, one can dine on the house's upmarket version of bangers and mash, McDonald's own spicy Italian sausage lashed with Dijon and paired with polenta and braised escarole for $15.
Bay Street brokers are all abuzz about George , the pricey gastrodome that recently opened in an east-side spa. Those who can't afford to drop $200 a pop to be blown away by chef Lorenzo Loseto's Susur-inspired avant-garde grub can get a similar culinary high from his adjacent café, Verity (111 Queen East, at Mutual, 416-368-6006), where the same menu he serves to the ladies who lunch is available to the general public for a pittance. Love those reverse chocolate meringue tartlets ($1.25)!
The limited-run Winterlicious and Summerlicious programs have proven so popular at Focaccia (17 Hayden, at Yonge, 416-323-0179) that magnanimous owner Bill Iuele has extended ex-Xango chef Pedro Quintanilla's Latin-accented $30 three-course prix fixe deal through the foreseeable future.
I doubt there's another restaurant in town with as much history as the Peter Pan (373 Queen West, at Peter, 416-593-0917). The space opened as the Savoy in 1886 and in 1927 became the Peter Pan Lunch, one of Toronto's first Chinese chop suey house, before turning into Queen West's trendiest trat in 1976. Little has changed since - the art deco booths are as fabulously uncomfortable as ever, and the lunch card still features a $6.95 pasta and salad combo. A recent midday meal started with fresh house greens in a charming honey Dijon dressing, followed by skinny al dente linguine tossed with nicely spiced tomato purée, stoned kalamata olives, caramelized red onion and several heapings of Parmesan.