Neighbourhood spotlight: College St.

Here's our take on the best shopping, wining and dining on College St. right now.


It’s called Little Italy, but it’s not exactly the Mediterranean hub it was in the 1960s. That’s when Johnny Lombardi launched CHIN radio, Canada’s first multicultural station, and this strip of College, home to Italian newcomers since the 1920s, became the centre of T.O.’s vibrant Italian community, chock full of family-run businesses.

Slowly, Italian-Canadians started migrating to Corso Italia at St. Clair and Dufferin, and the neighbourhood vibe began to change. By the 90s, hip bars and restos dominated, decimating the old retail stores, and in the new millennium, hip became decidedly hipster.

You can still get a great espresso, gelato spots abound, and Cafe Diplomatico is going strong. But this is a neighbourhood that seems to be in constant flux.

Here’s our take on the best shopping, wining and dining right now.

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Where to shop

Think Little Italy and you think food, but in between the sandwich shops, restaurants and diners, you can go shopping for things that don’t need to be stored in a freezer or fridge. The stretch on College between Bathurst and Ossington has a lot of For Lease and Last Few Weeks signs, but the 15-minute walk reveals a kid-friendly neighbourhood where you can get a great hat that might make Sophie Grégoire Trudeau or Downton’s Dowager Countess very happy. 

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Tanja-Tiziana

Cool lids at LilLiput Hats.

We’re talking about Lilliput Hats (462 College, 416-536-5933, lilliputhats.com), which literally will have you covered (sorry). You can buy an off-the-rack felt or straw hat or a unique custom hat for $250 suitable for a wedding or the Queen’s Plate. Just down the street, consider an environmentally friendly alternative to the car and snap up a scooter at Motoretta (554 College, 416-925-1818, motoretta.ca).

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Tanja-Tiziana

Diverse gifts at Red Pegasus.

Further west are three baby stores: Jill & the Beanstalk (814 College, 647-748-2326, jillandthebeanstalk.ca), Baby’s Corner (762 College, 416-534-3166, babyscorner.ca) and Baby on the Hip (786 College, 647-427-1484, babyonthehip.ca). Jill & the Beanstalk has a play space where moms and their little ones can socialize. 

If you’ve got babies of the furry, four-legged kind, Pet Uno (675 College , 647-727-0758, petuno.com) is your go-to. And there’s not much fashion for women on this stretch, but guys can check out Pasqualino Menswear (654 College, 416-533-3923, pasqualino.ca).

If these names don’t ring a bell, it may be because the strip has very few chain retailers, besides Structube (507 College, 416-929-2423, structube.com) and a Sleep Country (750 College, 416-645-1881, sleepcountry.ca) for all your condo-sized needs. You can indulge your inner global hipster and buy gifts at Monocle (776 College, 647-694-2626, monocle.com) or at venerable but still hip gift store Red Pegasus (628 College, 416-536-3872, redpegasus.ca). 

Furnish your pad with MIQO lights from Ziggy’s at Home (794 College, 416-535-8728, ziggysathome.com). A few doors down, Rapp Optical (788 College, 416-537-6590, rappoptical.ca) has been specializing in stylin’ specs for nearly a quarter-century.

After shopping, stop at one of the many eating establishments for a snack and an espresso. It is Little Italy, after all.

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Jonathan Friedman

When Bar Raval first opened, it was a game-changer when it came to tapas, and it’s been rammed ever since.

Where to eat

Though it’s changed enormously over the last few years, Little Italy still offers some notable Italian eats. When it comes to local food options, a few classic red-sauce spots still dot the strip. The slices at Bitondo’s (11 Clinton, 416-533-4101) remain the stuff of legend, the pies at Vivoli (665 College, 416-536-7575, vivoli.ca) retain a local following, and the patio at Cafe Diplomatico (594 College, 416-534-4637, diplomatico.ca) is always rammed. 

But a slew of boldface names have moved into the area in recent years, and that change can be seen no more clearly than at College and Palmerston. Neatly lined up on a single block, you’ll find La Carnita (501 College, 416-964-1555, lacarnita.com), party-ready purveyors of tacos and strong cocktails omnivorous resto-bakery Woodlot (293 Palmerston, 647-342-6307, woodlotrestaurant.com) DaiLo (503 College, 647-341-8882, dailoto.com), where chef Nick Liu reimagines Hakka cuisine and of course, Bar Raval (505 College, 647-344-8001, thisisbarraval.com), Grant van Gameren’s game-changing tapas spot. The area certainly owes a percentage of its culinary renaissance to van Gameren, whose Spanish taverna Bar Isabel (797 College, 416-532-2222, barisabel.com) holds steady to the east.

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Tanja-Tiziana

And mammoth brunches at Easy.

Hip eats aside, brunch is still a popular draw for locals: notable are Easy (713 College, 416-535-2222, easyrestaurant.ca), where the huevos divorciados have quelled many a hangover, and the all-waffles, all-the-time menu at Starving Artist (810 College, 647-348-1133, starvingartistbar.com). 

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Tanja-Tiziana

The strip now goes beyond Italian with ice cream at The Big Chill.

Between meals, you might head to the Big Chill (367 Manning, 416-960-2455, thebigchill.ca) for a scoop of pomegranate or salted caramel ice cream. At YamChops (705 College, 416-645-0117, yamchops.com), you can pick up a vegan-friendly dinner or stock up on any meatless protein you can think of, and a few you probably haven’t.

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Tanja-Tiziana

Veggie foods at YamChops.

Fancy a nightcap? The local favourite has long been the cozy No One Writes to the Colonel (460 College, 416-928-6777, barcolonel.com), while newish café and cocktail bar the Walton (607 College, 647-352-5520, thewalton607.com) boasts a refined air.

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Drinks and games at Snakes And Lattes.

And, of course, you can’t beat 7,500 square feet of beer, brew and board games at Snake and Lattes College (489 College, 647-342-9229, snakesandlattes.com).

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