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There are relatively affordable spots in the east-end suburb where the food scene is still tops
Scarborough real estate has hot pockets. Homes on Hill Crescent on the shore, on St. Andrews along Thompson Park and in the Rouge or the Guild have always been desirable. They’re also expensive. But WE Realty’s Odeen Eccleston, RE/MAX Hallmark Realty’s Meray Mansour and food writer Suresh Doss take us through neighbourhoods that still have relatively affordable options (for Toronto) and are bursting with promise and flavour.
The neighbourhood: According to Mansour, the Scarborough Bluffs area between the Upper Beach and Cliffside has had a rapid face lift in the past few years. Bungalows are being torn down and turned into suburban-style two-storey properties. Trendy townhomes and condos are sprouting up along Kingston, with cafes, bakeries and “funky” new businesses replacing old storefronts. The area is highly sought after for young professionals hoping to send their kids to the nearby schools while enjoying easily accessible parks in the Bluffs.
The food: A lot of old-school diners and fish-and-chip joints along Kingston are vanishing, but soul food is arriving. Art Of BBQ Smokehouse (2478 Kingston) serves up Carolina-style BBQ with some Grenadian spice. “The pork butt there is outstanding,” says Doss. He also notes that New Amma Takeout and Catering (516 Danforth Road) is a great spot to pick up proper Tamil snacks, rice and curry for those who don’t want to trek into deep Scarborough. Meanwhile Anna Roti House (2367 Kingston) serves up “Toronto-specific stuffed roti.” The restaurant from Gandhi Indian Cuisine cook John Xavier does a mean vindaloo and Madras masala, according to Doss. “It’s in a plaza where you can go to the Afghani grocery store next door and buy mango or get some kulfi on the way out. It’s got a bit of a scene there.”
The neighbourhood: The former home to the Weeknd is the point between some of Toronto’s most beautiful park space and coveted real estate: the Rouge and the Guild. But the area itself was once plagued with a bad rap. “People didn’t want to be around there,” says Eccleston. “Now all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘wait a minute, these lots are huge.’” There are a lot of cookie-cutter, two-storey suburban homes in West Hill, but there are also the sprawling custom builds that mix up the rustic and farmhouse styles with ultra-modern abodes.
The food: West Hill is a cultural explosion where you can grab Filipino hot counter meals at Kapit Bahay (4218 Lawrence East) and a mix of Nigerian and suya beef at the Suya Spot (269 Morningside). And, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, you can kick off your shoes and enjoy a traditional Afghani meal sitting cross-legged on the carpet at Afghan Kabob Restaurant (4379 Kingston). Doss dwells on the jollof rice at Suya Spot, a takeout restaurant where the Ghanian and Nigerian co-owners blend their national styles, finding a collaborative solution to a centuries-long argument about which country owns the dish. At Afghan Kabob, Doss suggests you settle into a dish of Afghan mantu, dumplings topped with a heaping serving of yogurt so that cool, hot and spice have a party in your mouth.
The neighbourhood: Toronto’s most affordable stretch runs alongside the Rouge National Urban Park, which is the largest urban park in North America. “It’s home to all kinds of wildlife,” says Eccleston, who grew up in the area. “There’s beautiful bike trails. The Toronto Zoo is a hop, skip and a jump away.” Malvern has a mix of 70s-style two-storey homes and townhomes. But new, modern townhome developments are entering the mix along Tapscott. And with the Scarborough LRT planning to make its last stop in the cultural hotspot, all eyes will turn to Malvern.
The food: You can take your pick when it comes to Caribbean and Filipino joints in Malvern, but Doss handpicks Sunrise Caribbean Restaurant (5107 Sheppard East) and Barrio Fiesta Restaurant (19 Lapsley). The former serves up jerk chicken, goat roti and curry shrimp without holding back on the spices. “The food tastes like it’s been cooking for hours,” says Doss. The latter is a Filipino takeout counter where you can grab fried fish, stewed oxtail, stewed beef or some great chicken wings. “It’s very homestyle.”
The neighbourhood: Agincourt is booming, says Eccleston. The large swath of Scarborough north is seeing bungalows turned into McMansions and Woodside Square torn down for a new block of condos, taking advantage of even more accessibility when the Scarborough subway hits that part of town.
The food: “Agincourt was the best place to get Chinese food for many years and it still is,” says Doss. He notes that a lot of great Asian cuisine has migrated to Markham and Richmond Hill, but Agincourt still has exciting classics like One2Snacks (8 Glen Watford), a mom-and-pop restaurants specializing in char kway teow (wok-fried noodles) and laksa (noodle soup). “It’s the best Malaysian place outside of Malaysia,” says Doss. He also recommends grabbing great quality barbecue pork and roast duck at East Court & Mike’s BBQ (4400 Sheppard East) and, when the pandemic is over, heading over to Xiaolongkan (3280 Midland) to enjoy communal hot pot dining. I’ll just add that the best pupusa in the city can be found at a little restaurant called El Pulgarcito (20 Nugget).
The neighbourhood: Families and developers alike love the quiet neighbourhood of cozy, post-war homes surrounding a quaint ravine near Scarborough Town Centre and another that runs through Thomson Memorial Park. St. Andrews Road has some of Scarborough’s most beautiful homes. But there’s opportunity to do more on tree-lined streets like Dorcot, Birkdale and Oakley. “They have some really interesting homes that have the high vaulted ceilings and the carport on the side,” says Mansour, adding the area is a major draw for custom builders. “They’re either side splits or back splits and they’re not like the cookie-cutter-type of house. You can do some pretty interesting architecture and design stuff.”
The food: Buckle in for some heavy eating, because Bendale is the heart of Scarborough food culture, home to classic haunts like Federick (1920 Ellesmere) and the dearly departed Madras Palace. Doss recommends getting a “bonkers” apple strudel and the best pumpkin or peach pie from Montmartre Bakery (105 Midwest), which is hidden on an industrial road. Stock up your freezer with spicy beefs from Patty Time (2919 Lawrence East). Pick up some roti at Bombay Foods (2875 Lawrence East), a grocery store with hot eats behind the counter.
Grab some faluuda or a mango shake on a warm Friday or Saturday evening at Paan City (2623 Lawrence East), which is ground zero for the local Sikh population and the Muslim community. “There’s an absolute scene,” says Doss, about the crowd that hangs out to catch sunsets in the plaza.
Across from Paan City, treat yourself to Toronto’s best doubles at ACR Hot Roti and Doubles.
“The barra texture is just right,” says Doss of the Scarborough staple, where he also goes for fried saheena, enjoying the right crunch ratio in this snack where heaps of spinach are tucked between batter. As a parting message, Doss gives us a warning: Protect ACR at all costs.
“ACR would be a good example of the things we will lose if we gentrify too fast,” says Doss, pointing out that the small takeout shop is in a low-rise commercial building that is catnip to a developer.
“If ACR closes down, we will never get an ACR again. In the history of migration in Canada, we are past that point. Trinidadian people are not moving here by the thousands to open new businesses and bust their ass for 18 hours a day to serve you doubles for a $1.50. It’s not going to happen anymore.”