1. Hot Yam!
33 St George, at College, hotyam.ca.
Don't call this weekly café in U of T's International Student Centre a restaurant. It's a student-run vegan co-op, please! But where else will you find substantial lunches made from locally sourced organic ingredients - creamy potato salad with silken tofu followed by coleslaw in dilled dressing and green beans in basil pesto, with Ontario peaches in syrup and flaxseed cornbread to finish, say - for a $4 donation? Still out of your price range? The first Wednesday of the month, the Yam! is pay-what-you-can. Don't do lineups? Bring your own takeout container and cutlery and go to the front of the queue.
Lunch Wednesday noon to 2 pm only, starting September 19. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free.
2. Kinton Ramen
51 Baldwin, at Beverley, 647-748-8900, kintonramen.com.
The lineups at this 30-seat Japanese noodle house are so unruly, management has had to post rules of conduct, our favourite #5: "We may not be able to seat you if we run out of soup." Hope they don't. These massive bowls of house-made ramen dressed with blow-torched pork belly and runny-centred eggs ($9.50 to $10.80) are some of the best around. Noodle know-how: make sure to lift your bowl and drink every last drop of the complex broth; it's considered an insult to the chef not to do so.
Lunch daily 11:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
212 Queen W, at Duncan, 416-977-8778; 695 Yonge, at Charles, 416-966-2424; 355½ Yonge, at Elm, 416-694-3278; 521 Bloor W, at Borden, 416-536-3131; 546 Church, at Wellesley, 416-413-1053; 252 Carlton, at Parliament, 416-923-7979; 1985 Queen E, at Waverley, 416-694-3278; 1226 King W, at Dufferin, 416-536-8668, gingercuisine.ca.
With several convenient locations scattered across the city, this family-run cafeteria offers a ridiculously inexpensive carte of Vietnamese meal-in-one soups ($5.50 to $7.95) and Thai-style stir-fries with an emphasis on veggies and seafood ($6.50 to $13.50). Best bang for the buck: flaky banh mi baguettes filled with grilled beef, pork, chicken or tofu and sweetly pickled vegetables (all $3.50), hot sauce optional. And they deliver!
Daily 11 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free (Queen W).
4. Lou Dawg's Ryerson Pub
76 Gerrard E, at Church, 647-349-3294, loudawgs.com.
When NOW recently named the best rib joints in the GTA, this student boozer close to Ry High came in a surprising third behind big hitters Stockyards and Buster Rhino's, not what you'd expect from a bar with abandoned brassieres hanging from the ceiling. Don't let the ladies' underwear and the "blooz" on the sound system put you off. Stay for meaty racks of dry-rubbed St Louis-style ribs ($12.95 half/ $22.95 full) sided with stellar pork 'n' beans, seriously spicy coleslaw and mashed sweet potatoes with apples in maple syrup (all $2.99) that could double as dessert.
Daily 11 am to 4 am once school's in session. Licensed. Access: nine steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
504 Bloor W, at Bathurst, 416-537-4417, ghazale.ca.
661 College, at Beatrice, 416-534-7441; 78 Wellesley E, at Church, 416-922-4417; 3180 Lake Shore W, at Southdown, 416-252-4417, ghazale.ca
For more than a decade, the Ahmad family has been dishing up inexpensive Lebanese home cooking geared for the cash-strapped from a small take-away located just under the marquee of the Bloor Cinema. Despite the limited seating, regulars come for hefty made-to-order falafel in whole wheat pita lashed with tahini and hot sauce ($3.79), and mix 'n' match veggie mezes like grape leaves stuffed with rice and chickpeas and massive cabbage rolls in tomato sauce (both $2.99).
Sunday to Wednesday 9 am to 3:30 am, Thursday to Saturday 9:30 am to 4:30 am. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms (Bloor W).
6. Pizza Gigi
189 Harbord, at Borden, 416-535-4444, pizzagigi.ca.
The pizzeria that put NOW Magazine on the cover of virtually every newspaper on the planet a few years back, this old-school delivery joint still bakes one helluva pie, thick-crusted (none of yer fancy-pants thin-crust here) party-starters piled with enough retro toppings like pepperoni, green pepper and pineapple ($22.75 18-inch) to feed a frat house. Can't make up your mind? Go with several slices from more than a dozen options. Be sure to ask for extra "oregano" (wink wink).
Daily 4 pm to 4 am. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement.
7. Salad King
340 Yonge, at Elm, 416-593-0333, saladking.com.
Now in much larger digs just around the corner from its original location, Ernest and Linda Liu's stylish 160-seat Thai trat may not be one of the most authentic kitchens in town, but it's certainly one of the tastiest, something the crowds that pack this second-storey resto from opening till close will agree. And who's to argue with kaffir-scented lime chicken with snow peas, red peppers and chilies ($8.25) or vegetarian Evil Jungle Prince ($7.50) when you can adjust the heat using the King's legendary chili chart, one chili indicating "nice" while 20 "may cause stomach upset?"
Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday noon to 11 pm, Sunday and holidays noon to 9 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
8. Akram's Shoppe
191 Baldwin, at Kensington, 647-351-3116, akramsshoppe.com.
After closing for a planned two-month renovation that ended up taking three years, Akram and Hiyam Dow's Middle Eastern grocery-store-slash-cafeteria comes back better than ever. And what's not to love? Falafels in whole wheat pita pockets come dressed with a garden's worth of veggies and spicy pickles ($1.99), pizza slices get layered with spinach and haloumi cheese ($2.99), while small bowls of vegan lentil soup ($2) are sure to kill any imminent winter chill. Carnivores are also in for a treat: all the lamb the Dows grill for their kebabs ($3) comes from trendy Sanagan's across the steeet!
Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 9 pm, Sunday 1 to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Access: seven steps to counter, washroom barrier-free.
9. Kenzo Ramen
372 Bloor W, at Walmer, 416-921-6787; 138 Dundas W, at Elizabeth, 416-205-1155; 522 Yonge, at Maitland, 647-340-2112; 4860 Yonge, at Sheppard, 647-345-1871, kenzoramen.ca.
Daniel and Jane Park's Tokyo-centric noodle house may not be top of the heap now that Kinton - and upcoming Vancouver imports Raijin and Santouka - have muscled onto the ramen scene. But Kenzo has something Kinton doesn't attempt: tonkotsu ramen, the creamy pork-bone soup NOW once likened to "liquid pork chops." They've also added miso and shoyo versions (all $9.95).
Daily 11 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.
10. Country Style
450 Bloor W, at Albany, 416-536-5966.
Food doesn't come much bigger than this. Take the schnitzel platter ($39.95). Billed as enough for two, it could easily keep a four-person bobsled team happy. The Matterhorn of a meal arrives at table on a wooden cutting board groaning with doughy spaetzle, home fries and pickled beets layered with two schnitzels - one breaded, the other battered, both deep-fried - and a spiral of sausage, the lot pierced by a pair of wooden-handled steak knives. You'll need them, if only to fend off your fellow diners here at the last of the Hungarian goulash houses.
Daily 11 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, washrooms upstairs.
11. Ken's Snack Service
40 St George, at Russell, first truck north of College on the west side.
Although there are several cheap Chinese food trucks parked along U of T's main drag, only this long-running operation offers grub that tastes significantly better than the styrofoam containers it comes in. No-nonsense stir-fries like Cantonese chow mein with chicken and black bean sauce or sweet 'n' sour pork belie their $3.95 tax-inclusive price tag.
Monday to Friday 11 am to 3 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only.
12. Harvest Noon
16 Bancroft, at Spadina Circle, 416-978-5247, harvestnoon.com.
A spinoff of Hot Yam!, this student-run vegan co-op café on the top floor of U of T's Graduate Student Centre shares a similar socially minded philosophy. Witness locally sourced $5 meal deals like spicy stuffed bell peppers sided with organic microgreen salad, house-baked bread and bean dip. Save the planet - bring your own plate and cutlery.
Monday to Friday 10 am to 2 pm, lunch from 11:30 am till it sells out. Closed Saturday, Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Cash only. Access: 27 steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
13. Coffee Mill
99 Yorkville, at Bellair, 416-920-2108, coffeemillrestaurant.com.
Back in the 60s, this venerable Hungarian restaurant was the Drake of its day, a casual spot where both students and academics lingered over nourishing bowls of goulash ($6.50) and strong cups of Viennese coffee finished with whipped cream ($2.50) well into the night. Little wonder Margaret Atwood, Peter C. Newman and Barbara Amiel are regulars.
Monday to Thursday 10 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to midnight, Sunday and holidays noon to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: six steps to door, washrooms in basement.z
14. Pho Pasteur
525 Dundas W, at Spadina, 416-351-7188.
It's certainly not the most glamorous room in town - grim fluorescent lighting, bare formica tabletops, a radio tuned to the vapid pop of the day - but this open-round-the-clock Vietnamese soup kitchen more than makes up for it with its pho. We recommend the #06 Pho Tai Nam ($8.75 large), a heaping bowl of pure comfort thick with enough aromatic broth, rare roast beef, fatty brisket and chewy rice stick to keep you stuffed halfway to next Thursday.
24/7. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: steep ramp at door, washrooms on same floor.
15. Mother's Dumplings
421 Spadina, at College, 416-217-2008, mothersdumplings.com.
No longer an obscure hole-in-the-wall, Zen Feng and family's Chinese dumpling house deserves its wider audience. Show up early if you expect bargain-friendly plates like their signature da-lu noodles - a great whack of hand-pulled mein in smoky sesame broth with ground pork and baby bok choy ($7.99) - without the obligatory lineup.
Daily 11 am to "around" 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free.
356 College, at Brunswick, 416-500-3852, caplansky.com.
Zane Caplansky's retro resto's roots run deep. Located at the top of Kensington Market and just west of Spadina, this always busy 60-seat eatery harkens back to legendary and long-gone local delis like Switzer's and the Bagel. See the proof in thickly sliced and alarmingly fatty house-smoked brisket on Silverstein rye spread with spicy mustard and bubie-approved knishes in smoked meat gravy (both $8).
Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 10 pm, holidays 10 am to 8 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Patio.
17. Harbord Fish & Chips
147 Harbord, at Borden, 416-925-2225.
The menu at this tiny south Annex bunker claims that its $24.92 takeout special feeds two. Judging by its size - three fillets of Atlantic haddock in relatively grease-free batter, two tubs of creamy coleslaw, a half-dozen packets of commercial tartar sauce and a veritable mountain of hand-cut chunky fries - we're guessing Rob and Doug Ford. That leftovers are guaranteed goes without saying.
Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, no washrooms.
Get the sandwich of grilled vegetables and tofu on whole wheat ciabatta at Urban Herbivore.
18. Urban Herbivore
64 Oxford, at Augusta, 416-927-1231; 220 Yonge, at Dundas, 416-847-1007; 967 College, at Dovercourt, 416-515-8885, fressenrestaurant.com.
Local eco-minded vegan mini-chain known for its DIY salad bowls - lentil-studded quinoa topped with steamed squash, carrots and yams in spicy curried coconut milk, sided with crostini and purple cabbage coleslaw (all $11.25), perhaps? - and massive breakfast-sized muffins ($2.79). Martha would approve.
Daily 9 am to 7 pm (Augusta and College); Monday to Friday 10 am to 9 pm, Saturday 9:30 am to 7 pm, Sunday and holidays 11 am to 6 pm (Yonge). Unlicensed. Access: four steps at door, no washrooms (Augusta); barrier-free (College/Yonge).
19. Flip, Toss & Thai Kitchen
141 Harbord, at Brunswick, 416-966-6955; 330 Front, at Peter, 416-596-8880, fliptossthai.com.
If the menu at this Southeast Asian takeaway looks awfully familiar, that's because owner/chef Sushen Sun used to cook at Salad King back when it was still on Gould. Thus, ketchup-free pad thai bursting with shredded chicken breast, raw scallion and crushed peanuts ($8.29) and a Bangkok take on vegetarian chop suey replete with broccoli and baby corn ($6.79). Better yet, unlike the King, they deliver!
Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday noon to 10 pm, Sunday 4 to 10 pm. Delivery same hours. Closed holidays. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, no washrooms.
20. Kom Jug Yuen
371 Spadina, at Nassau, 416-977-4079.
Handily located next door to Grossman's, this dirt-cheap Cantonese cantina has been a favourite of the fiscally challenged since the draft-dodging 60s. And while new owners have boosted the prices somewhat - that famously $4 barbecued pork fried rice is now a whopping 5 bucks - they've wisely left the dingy room's plastic lanterns and psychedelic wallpaper alone.
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 11 am to 1 am, Tuesday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 4 am. Unlicensed. Access: three steps at door, washroom in basement.
70 Fraser, at Liberty, 416-588-0005, schooltoronto.com.
Not only is ex-Xacutti chef Brad "Spiceman" Moore's Liberty Village resto decorated in classroom kitsch - blackboards on the wall, clocks stuck at half-past 3, an apple on every table - but the menu comes on a clipbard as well. Shame no one's dressed like a Catholic schoolgirl. And while School's insanely popular no-reservations weekend brunch is a mob scene, show up every Tuesday through Thursday after 5 pm for Schoolicious and get any three courses on the dinner card for $30.
Monday 8 am to 4 pm, Tuesday 8 am to 10 pm, Wednesday to Friday 8 am to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 9:30 am to 4 pm, dinner Saturday to 11 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Patio.
2. Chefs' House
215 King E, at Princess, 416-415-2260, thechefshouse.com.
One of the biggest hits of both Summer- and Winterlicious, the flagship of George Brown's chef program is one of the biggest bargains in town any time of the year. In a high-tech room that looks like the set of some Gordon Ramsay TV show, students not only cook the food - four-course $30 prix fixe lunches like the inevitable beet salad followed by seasonal soup du jour, soy-braised pork belly with spaetzle and browned butter pie - but serve it as well. And because grades are being handed out, everyone's on best behaviour.
Monday to Friday for lunch with seatings from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, dinner 6 to 8 pm. Closed Saturday, Sundays, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.
3. Gallery Grill
7 Hart House Circle, at Wellesley, 416-978-2445.
If the 'rents are footing the bill for your higher education, a swanky lunch or brunch at chef Suzanne Baby's luxe resto in historic Hart House might be better payback than nachos at Sneaky Dee's. Under the vaulted arches, nibbling on the likes of grilled veal sweetbreads on wild mushroom toasts, they're sure to be convinced they're getting their money's worth. Need we add that reservations are essential?
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm starting Sept 5; brunch Sunday 11 am to 2 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.