The great strengths of this new breed of street-inspired eateries, aside from back-alley-inspired interiors teeming with life, are the individual gems found on every menu – rarer specialties from the blackened grills of market hawkers and roadside cooks that haven’t yet come to dominate Canadian kitchens. Here’s where you can take the culinary road less travelled.
Chef Ike Huang grew up in Taiwan, where snacking your way through one of the country’s 100-plus night markets is a national pastime. He packs his Cabbagetown bar with cheap thrills that either mimic or reinvent tradi-tional eats including pork-belly-stuffed bao and a cross-section of spiced, deep-fried munchies (chicken skin, popcorn chicken, squid, pork, tofu – even fish sticks). The budget Irish whiskey shots are not traditional but still welcome.
Roadside ramen is everywhere in Japan, and we’re lucky to have many regional styles represented here. But for more unusual street eats – say, deep-fried hot dogs on a bed of purple rice – your first stop should be this stall in Market 707. Take-away-friendly Japanese curries are popular, but preposterously large skewers of fried chicken and the aforementioned dogs (which, by the way, will blow any corn dog you’ve ever had out of the water) bring the fun factor.
Vietnam’s cuisine has largely been spared the snack bar treatment here in Toronto, though excellent versions of classic street eats like pho and bánh mì abound at countless mom-and-pop shops. If you want to expand your horizons a little, check out this Chinatown spot, where the lengthy menu is filled out by street vendor specialties like bún bò Hué (spicy beef noodle soup), deep-fried soft-shell crab and a shrimp-and-pork-studded bánh xèo crepe that earned the restaurant a rave review in the pages of Lucky Peach.
Decorating your Thai restaurant like it’s an actual night market (plastic furniture, colourful banners, raucous atmosphere) has become a bona fide trend in Toronto, but Queen West’s Nana proves its street-food cred with dishes rarely found elsewhere in the city. Most notable on Monte Wan’s menu is the boat noodle soup, which sets three cuts of beef -aswim in broth infused with anise, cinnamon and a touch of beef blood. True to its name, it was originally sold from boats that crawled the canals of Bangkok.
Pizza stalls are common in Italian cities, but a streetside staple in Naples is the friggitoria (literally, “place that sells fried stuff”). Wander up to the counter and walk away with a paper cone packed with golden-crusted delights. This new pizzeria on College keeps that tradition alive using a special round fryer to crank out pizzas built on fried dough rounds and seasonal fritti misti.
We might think of crepes as chi-chi café fare, but in Paris, you can get one fried and folded up fresh in a streetside stall. Montrealer Marc Perraut keeps the tradition alive in his stall at Market 707, where he fills crepes with both sweet and savoury toppings – prosciutto, brie and fig jam, anyone? – and folds them into squares for hand-held eating. It’s his standout poutines, though, that threaten to steal the show, authenticity be damned.
The taco, that best-known export of Mexico’s vibrant street food culture, has enjoyed recent ubiquity in Toronto. But this perma-rammed taqueria earns points for faithfully replicating both the street-eating experience (queue for as long as it takes, then hunt down a bench or curb where you can eat these messy monsters) and the seafood tacos of Baja California, including the marlin-and-shrimp Gobernador and spicy camarones al diablo. @sevenlivesto
Delhi native Sumit Kohli got so fed up with the lack of Indian-style grab-and-go eats in Toronto, he quit his marketing gig to open this kathi-focused takeout spot. (There’s now a second location in North York.) Freshly fried paratha flatbreads are rolled up with a litany of toppings, from butter chicken to mutton tikka to black-pepper paneer, for hand-held eating.
692 Yonge, at Isabella, 647-748-8573 (and other), thekathirollexpress.com, @tkretoronto
Döner is technically Turkish, but it found a second home in Germany as a favourite post-bar meal. Now, the meat-filled flatbread sandwich has come to Kensington, thanks to a quartet of party promoters who fell in love with the snack overseas. If you want to try something a little more authentically German, you’ll have to settle for the currywurst, a recent – but still universally beloved – creation of sliced hot dogs doused in curry ketchup.
This three-year-old Ossington joint may have been the very first to co-opt the “Asian street food” tag. Two of the four co-owners, Fred and Nick Laliberté (also of Poutini’s), were inspired after a trip zig-zagging through Singapore, and the menus are still written out longhand with carboard and Sharpie in a nod to the vendors that gave the place its name. You’ll of course find the staple Singaporean street food satay, but the runaway hit of the menu is undoubtedly the laksa, a gently spicy coconut and curry-based soup packed with noodles, eggplant and peppers.