Albert's Real Jamaican Foods 558 Queen W, at Bathurst, 416-304-0767.
Lineups of taxi drivers and club kids snake out the front door late into the night for Albert's famous takeout jerk chicken dinners. Delicately spiced, the fowl comes bone-in, Island-style, and is ladled over a mess of rice 'n' pigeon peas with four styles of gravy. Decor is minimal -- the obligatory Bob Marley poster, natch -- and the drink of choice is the JA soda dubbed Ting. Although there's a small stand-up counter that opens to the street, most do takeout. Bonus: DIY roti skins for sale. Other locations: 542 St. Clair W, at Vaughan, 416-658-9445. Best: slowly stewed bone-in Island-stylee 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 gravy ('juice'); to drink, Albert's carrot juice; in summer, fresh sugar cane juice and ginger beer; for the home cook, takeout containers of oxtail gravy.
Complete meals for $13, including all taxes and a bottle of Ting. Average main $9. Open Tuesday 11:30 am to 1:30 am, Wednesday 11:30 am to 2:30 am, Thursday 11:30 am to 3:30 am, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 4 am, Sunday 11:30 am to 1:30 am (Queen); Sunday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 1 am, Thursday 11:30 am to 2 am, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 4 am (St. Clair). Closed Monday (Queen). Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms (Queen); one step at door, no washrooms (St. Clair).
Ali's Roti Shop 1446 Queen W, at Close, 416-532-7701.
Recently expanded at the rear, Ali Aligour's atypical tropical roti parlour has been one of the west side's favourites for years.For good reason, too: all of Ali's fab Trinidadian fillings are available with three different wraps: lentil-laced dahlpuri roti, absorbant paratha rotis (called buss-up-shut back home because they resemble a ripped-up shirt) or sada breakfast roti. Bonus: no MSG. Best: said rotis stuffed with spicy exotica like roast duck topped with curried mango chutney, Caribbean conch, shrimp or veggie-only pumpkin, eggplant, channa and potato; jerk chicken dinners with rice 'n' peas; for the homesick sweet tooth, sugar-soaked cornmeal and cassava pone; currant rolls and house-made soursop ice cream help to control the afterburn.
Complete meals for $13 per person, including all taxes. Average main $8. Open Monday to Friday 10:30 am to 10:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Bacchus Roti 1376 Queen W, at Brock, 416-532-8191.
This Guyanese take-away may do things a little differently than its competitors (cheese on a roti?), but its legions of fans consider its wraps some of the best in the city. Bonus: create your own multi-culti version with takeout baked-to-order wheat shells. Best: to start, doubles made of turmeric-tinted pastry stuffed with curried chickpeas; the legendary house roti stuffed with shrimp, spinach, squash and -- if you insist -- cheddar; others of curried chicken, beef or boneless goat topped with lettuce, onion, tomato and an X-rated hot sauce that's sold by the bottle; strictly vegan takes stuffed with sweet summer squash, green beans, cabbage, okra, channa, potato, eggplant or meatloaf-like tofu; on the side, crisp deep-fried plantain, creamy cole slaw and sweet potato fries; to finish, coconut cream pie and apple crumble.
Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Average main $8. Open Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 9 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
Caribbean Dutchpot 1560 Queen E, at Ashdale, 416-405-8944.
Those who presume the 'dutchie' that Musical Youth 'pass on the left-hand side' has something to do with a cigarette of an exotic nature will be disappointed to learn that the illicit item in question is a dutchpot, or communal casserole, used throughout the islands. However, this cheery low-key east-side spot complete with patio has much to attract the yout', including discounted lunch and after-shool specials. Best: Jamaican-style boneless jerk and chicken mixed with cubes of curried potato, cabbage and carrot; salt fish and ackee or oxtail dinners over rice 'n' peas sided with caramelized plantain, nutty house slaw, salty codfish fillets and plain ol' boiled dumplin'; jerk chicken salad sandwiches; for dessert, booze-soaked fruitcake; to drink, fresh soursop juice.
Complete meals for $17 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Average main $8. Open Monday to Friday 9 am to 9 pm, Saturday noon to 9 pm, Sunday 1 to 7 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Caribbean Roti Palace 744 Bathurst, at Bloor, 416-533-7466.
This long, narrow fast food joint in the shadow of Honest Ed's has been serving up Trini-style roti -- and roti alone -- since 1988. Owners Yaseen and Iqbal Hosein keep the open kitchen working at speed, particularly around dinner hour when hungry queues are common. Best: from a very straightforward lineup, substantial dhalpoori wraps stuffed with shrimp, boneless chicken, beef or goat; first-rate veggie combos of squash, eggplant and spinach; for the frugal traditionalist, basic potato or chickpea channa in curried gravy; for those who dare, hellishly hot and salty Chinese-style hot sauce.
Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Ting. Average main $6. Open Monday to Wednesday 11 am to 9 pm, Thursday and Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday 11 am to 9 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Delivery. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement.
Coconut Grove 183 Dundas W, at Chestnut, 416-348-8887.
Since it moved from its original digs at Dundas and Yonge, this bright white fluorescently lit take-away has become one of the most popular inexpensive eateries in the downtown core. Though lineups are often lengthy at lunch, they move fairly quickly unless some boor is ordering for the entire office. Bonus: $2.99 jerk chicken dinners of spicy leg section, mildly curried lentil dahl, iceberg lettuce and carrot julienne over rice 'n' peas. Warning: the house's watery hot sauce may not look like much, but it packs a wallop. Best: although they're considerably smaller than most, the Grove's roti -- boneless chicken or goat in barely curried gravy, roughly puréed butternut squash, spice-charged eggplant -- are a third the price of those sold elsewhere; butter chicken stewed in what tastes like cardamom-laced Campbell's cream of tomato soup over plain rice and plainer salad.
Complete meals for $8 per person, including all taxes and a bottle of ginger beer. Average main $5. Open Monday to Friday 10 am to 7:30 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Fish Shak 193-1/2 Baldwin, at Augusta, 416-599-7425.
Sandwiched between punky Planet Kensington and stoner central (aka Hot Box Café), Melvin Laidlaw's laid-back island eatery finally finds its feet after two failed attempts on Augusta. Offering a stylin' front room with window seats that overlook the passing parade and a 70s disco soundtrack as well as a secluded backyard hideaway that's also conveniently downwind from the popular pot-smoker's patio, this shak is crucial Kensington cuisine. Best: incredibly fresh Atlantic red snapper and butter fish or Georgian Bay perch, pickerel and lake trout served fried in coconut oil or pepper pickle, steamed and stuffed with callaloo, curried yard-style or stewed in gravy, all sided with long-grain rice strewn with red kidney beans, basic salad and stir-fried carrot and broccoli; organic oxtail stewed with chunky lima beans; vegetarian sandwiches of sliced avocado, ripe tomato and sweet plantain on coco bread smeared with hemp pesto; side orders of sweet potato frites, fried polenta and steamed bammy (cassava bread); to drink, organic apple cider and raw chocolate, banana and hempseed smoothies.
Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a squeezed-to-order juice. Average main $10. Open Tuesday to Sunday noon to 7 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
Gandhi 554 Queen W, at Bathurst, 416-504-8155.
Call it East Indian meets West Indies. The winner of countless Readers Polls for T.O.'s favourite roti, Avtar Singh's grungy sibling to nearby Babur and New York Subway as well as Parkdale's Mother India creates its crowd-pleasing wraps in a decidedly unorthodox manner. Starting with dahlpuri roti it makes to order on a pizza press, the kitchen then fills them with north-Indian-style curries that range from milquetoast to omigod. No wonder celebrity chef Greg Couillard counts himself a convert! Warning: even if you're clever enough to call in your order way in advance, you'll still wait in line even if you show up late. Best: the legendary -- and pricy! -- boneless butter chicken in sweet tomato curry; tender lamb with spicy potato and chickpea channa; boneless chicken jalfrezi with cauliflower and green peas; saag paneer with puréed spinach and tofu-like cheese; to start, plump veggie samosas dunked in sweet tamarind dip.
Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of juice. Average main $11. Open daily 11:30 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms.
Garvey's Jerk 1104 Bloor W, at Dufferin, 416-538-1257.
Since winning NOW's first Jerk Off three years ago, this garishly lit west-side storefront has grown into one of downtown's favourite Jamaican chicken shacks. Bonus: a non-stop crazy-quilt soundtrack that runs the gamut from retro rock steady to German polka. Best: marvellously tender and especially delish jerk roasted birds over nutty rice 'n' kidney beans sided with springy cabbage-and-carrot slaw and slender slices of corn on the cob; bone-in home-style curried chicken and potato rotis upgraded with optional squash, chickpea channa or spinach; on the side, sweet caramelized plantain, old-school macaroni salad and jerked home fries.
Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottled juice. Average main $7. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 1 am. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, no washrooms.
Ghali Kitchen 4 Greenwood, at Queen, 416-466-5140.
Toronto's only Jamaican pizzeria, this eclectically decorated east-side take-away fuses Italian technique with Caribbean ingredients and spicing. The result, a truly unique multiculti menu of pies with aggressive flavour. Warning: gentle stomachs may want to stock up on Bromo-Seltzer beforehand. Best: Shiraz jerk pork pizza, a thin-crusted pie piled with pink-centred tenderloin, wilted spinach, grilled caramelized onion, sweet red pepper, basil-scented olive oil and shaved Parmesan spritzed with fruity plonk; oxtail, salt fish and ackee pasta, a delicious collision of garlicky tomato sauce, fresh basil, cheddar cheese and rigatoni with tender-sweet 'tail on the bone, shredded salt cod and slippery ackee finished with more quality oil; vegetarian Rasta Pasta, grilled veggies and greens in curried olive oil; side them with the house salad of radicchio, arugula, iceberg and buttery Boston bibb tossed with grilled and lightly marinated Mediterranean-style veg in peppery pesto vinaigrette.
Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a soda. Average main $8. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 3 pm, dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 9 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Delivery. Access: four steps at door, washroom on same floor.
Irie Food Joint 745 Queen W, at Tecumseth, 416-366-4743.
Despite the initial confusion over its name, the two Carls' -- owners Cassell and Allen -- restaurant named Irie has established itself as one of Toronto hippest island getaways. A terrific backyard terrace, stylish digs complete with a wall of back-lit bottles of Red Stripe, and a more than competent kitchen make this one of the busiest restos on the strip. Best: to start, spicy pepper-pot bisque with callaloo served with thyme-kissed coco bread; jerk chicken salad -- a heap of iceberg, red cabbage and romaine topped with sprouts and deep-fried threads of caramelized sweet potato in creamy mango dressing; mains like rasta-coloured fusilli with grilled tiger shrimp layered with sweet red-pepper coulis and spinach; Gandhi-style butter chicken roti zapped with apple chutney and house slaw; jerked pork loin chops sided with honey-glazed veggies and plain jasmine rice or spuds mashed with sweet kernelled corn.
Complete dinners for $40 per person (lunches $25), including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Average main $18/$10. Open Monday 5 to 11 pm, Tuesday to Thursday noon to 11 pm, Friday to Sunday noon to midnight; bar till 2 am nightly. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Irie I 2516 Eglinton W, at Glen Haven, 416-653-4825.
Not much more than a storefront decked out in posters of the Rastafari Holy Trinity -- Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley -- and a lot of potted plants, this mostly vegetarian rasta resto offers a very limited takeout-only lineup. Best: massive styrofoam containers of rice and pigeon peas layered with an Ital-style stew of spuds, onion and carrot, TVP, squash, buttery cabbage, tomato, al dente steamed okra, cauliflower and green beans; vegan callaloo patties; fried dumpling served with veggies galore; vegan macaroni pie; lentil, red bean and gongo pea soup; for pescophiles, red snapper stewed in brown gravy; to finish, sweet potato bread pudding; to drink, strawberry and mango smoothies.
Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a juice. Average main $10. Open Monday to Saturday 10:30 am to 8 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms.
Island Foods 1182 King W, at Dufferin, 416-532-6298.
Though it doesn't produce the best roti in town -- that honour goes to the inestimable Vena's at Bloor and Lansdowne -- this long-lasting fast food resto is certainly one of Toronto's best loved. Since 1974, this very busy spot has been efficiently pumping out its fiery fare assembly-line-style. Sadly, a long line of ravenous customers at lunch and dinner doesn't make it move any faster. Bonus: check out the Island Foods booth in the CNE's food buiding, the only edible grub at the entire fair other than the butter sculpture. Warning: wimpy hot sauce. Other locations: 751 Mount Pleasant, at Eglinton E, 416-487-7717; Village by the Grange food court, 275 Dundas W, at St. Patrick, 416-599-9339. Best: boneless chicken roti packed with equal amounts of curried greens and potato; an all veggie version with sliced 'n' curried carrot, cauliflower, chickpeas and sweet bell pepper; mid-range jerk chicken or pork over regulation red rice 'n' peas; slow-stewed oxtail dinners with curried spuds and mixed veggies; to finish, coconut gizzarda tarts.
Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Ting. Average main $6. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 9 pm (King W); Monday to Saturday 11 am to 9 pm (Mount Pleasant) Monday to Friday 11 am to 9 pm (Dundas). Closed Sunday, holidays (King and Mount Pleasant); Saturday, Sunday, holidays (Dundas). Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free.
Island Thyme 872 Bathurst, at London, 416-538-9729.
A laid-back Caribbean eat-in café and take-away just north of Honest Ed's and the Bloor subway station, this attractive if compact space complete with a handful of linen-covered tables offers creative, reasonably priced takes on familiar island-style grub. No worries for those not in a hurry. What's the rush when affable owner/chef Marcia Marquez easily executes some of the tastiest island-stylee dishes in the GTA? Best: slow-cooked young goat (so tender it falls from the fork) in subtle gravy with fabulous shoestring sweet-potato frites doused with house mango hot sauce; home-style oxtail with lima beans; for the vegetarian, escovitch of marinated tofu and onions in spicy sugar cane vinaigrette, sided with okra, chickpea and cho-cho chayote curry; dhalpoori roti with spinach, squash and chickpea channa; all mains served with nutty rice 'n' peas and tangy citrus slaw; for dessert, pineapple upside-down cake or bread 'n' butter pudding.
Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Ting. Average main $8. Open Tuesday to Wednesday noon to 8 pm, Thursday to Saturday noon to 9 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: four steps at door, another to washroom on same floor.
Mr. Jerk 209 Wellesley E, at Bleecker, 416-961-8913.
The jumpin'est joint in all of St. James Town, this bare-bones eat-out eatery causes slow-moving lineups round the clock, especially at lunch and after school. Bonus: jerk by the pound! Other locations: 1552 Eglinton West, at Oakwood, 416-783-1367; 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 $10 per person, including, all taxes, tip and a juice. Average main $7. Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, Sunday 1 to 9 pm (Wellesley); Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10:30 pm, Friday 11 am to midnight, Saturday 11 am to 11 pm (Eglinton); Monday to Thursday 10:30 am to 9:45 pm, Friday 10:30 am to 10:45 pm, Saturday 10:30 am to 9:45 pm, Sunday noon to 7 pm (Don Mills); daily 10 am to 10 pm (Morningside); Monday to Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday 11 am to midnight, Saturday noon to 11 pm (Derry). Closed some Sundays (Eglinton); Sunday (Derry). Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms.
Planet Crystal 225 Church, at Dundas, 416-601-9666.
Steps from Toronto's Times Square (how's that for a pull quote?), this easy-going island-themed bar takes its name from its sister restaurant on Vaughan. A big favourite of the nearby NOW office gang, the dark burgundy-hued room sports a polished bar complete with brass rail, a glass garage door that opens to the street and a TV permanently tuned to the game. Other locations: 632 Vaughan, at Oakwood, 416-656-6632. Best: sweet, slow-cooked oxtail in tomato gravy; subtly jerked chicken that neither wimps out nor overpowers -- a succulent leg and thigh brushed with mid-range spice; stew peas, cubes of fall-from-the-bone stewing beef cooked with red bell pepper, kidney beans and gnocchi-like dumplings; vegetarian dinners of curried broccoli, peppers and onion sided with carrot 'n' celery in tomato sauce and additional steamed veggies over rice 'n' peas; beefy curried chicken roti sided with additional veg du jour; to finish, dark wedges of boozy house-baked rum cake.
Complete dinners for $25 per person (lunches $18), including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Average main $10. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm (Church); Monday to Saturday 11 am to midnight (Vaughan). Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.
Real Jerk 709 Queen E, at Broadview, 416-463-6055.
An Island oasis in south Riverdale, this long-running cavernous tropical retreat offers groovy grub with groovesome dub. A former bank, the two-level space is decked out in corrugated tin, palm fronds and Christmas lights year round. Bonus: Jerk aficionados can recreate the experience at home with owner/chefs Ed and Lili Potingers' Real Jerk cookbook, hot sauce and seasoning mix. Best: moist, partially deboned fiery jerk chicken with nutty red beans 'n' rice and cooling cole slaw; smashed banana fritters; jerk shrimp over greens in tamarind vinaigrette; Mannish Water goat soup; vegetarian Rasta Pasta linguini with tropical veggies in coconut sauce; weekends-only Island Pizza; takeout jerk by the pound.
Complete meals for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Average main $15. Open Monday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Tuesday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Wednesday and Thursday 11:30 am to midnight, Friday 11:30 am to 1 am, Saturday 2 pm to 1 am, Sunday 3 to 11 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Ritz Caribbean 10 Roy's Sq, 416-972-7480.
What started as a simple back-alley takeout cafeteria has grown into a chain with four outlets, five if you count the summer-only food counter at the Docks. Bonus: daily $3.99 jerk chicken lunch special till 3 pm. Other locations: 450 Yonge, at College, 416- 934-1480; 606 Yonge, at Wellesley, 416-966-2005; 45 Overlea, at Millwood, 416-425-3221. Best: slow-roasted and shredded on-the-bone jerk chicken over aromatic rice 'n' beans sided with sweet green cabbage, carrot and Spanish onion slaw; 20-ounce veggie rotis stuffed with spicy minced callaloo, soft onion and red chilies; veggie dinners of waxy potato and al dente chickpeas in very curried gravy, coupled with boiled donut-like dumplings, peeled 'banana' plantain and a lettuce, tomato and cuke salad doused appropriately in bottled-tasting Italian dressing; to finish, nutty potato pudding or dark wedges of potent rum cake.
Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and a peanut punch. Average main $7. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 9 pm, Saturday 11 am to 6 pm (Roy's Sq); Monday to Wednesday 11 am to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, Sunday noon to 9 pm (450 Yonge); Monday to Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, Sunday noon to 9 pm (606 Yonge); Monday to Saturday 11 am to 9 pm (Overlea). Closed Sunday, holidays (Roys Sq/Overlea). Unlicensed. Delivery. Access: two steps at door, no washrooms (Roy's Sq); barrier-free, no washrooms (Yonge and Overlea).
Shanty's 1806 Eglinton W, at Dufferin, 416-785-1205.
Quite possibly Toronto's smallest jerk shack, Marcia Sterling's gaudily decorated take-away is also the most atmospheric, complete with lush vegetation, a clothesline hung with Jamaican tabloids and a mural of Haile Selassie. Though seating's limited to six tops, this tiny spot offers seriously spiced island fare. Best: fried red snapper escovitch soused in lime, onion, red and green pepper and carrot; cool shredded salt cod and scrambled-egg-like ackee with fried onion and sweet red pepper strips, sided with purposefully bland deep-fried doughnut dumpling; not-too-hot daily jerked chicken dinners with rice 'n' peas and cole slaw; to finish, intense dark rum cake with coconut icing or buttery coconut gizzarda tarts; to drink, squeezed-to-order organic carrot juice.
Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a juice. Average main $8. Open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 11 pm, Sunday 2 to 8 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms.
Wong's 930 Bathurst, at Follis, 416-532-8135.
Stop the presses! After more than 30 years serving a multiculti card of island-style Chinese food, this most modest of storefronts is finally being redecorated. Well, the drywall's up and the non-functioning jukebox has been ripped out, but the twin chandeliers overhead and the original menu -- 'special dishes on request' -- remain exactly the same. Best: house chop suey with shrimp, chicken, pork and veggies mixed in a slight soy-cornstarch sauce; choy fan -- ham, pork shoulder and stewed chicken in thyme gravy with rice 'n' red kidney beans; red pea soup with slow-stewed beef, onion, potato and leaden hockey-puck dumpling; slow-braised oxtail or curried goat over rice and peas; shrimp egg foo young; to drink, bottled passionfruit juice.
Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Red Stripe. Average main $7. Open Monday to Thursday noon to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to midnight. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.