Let’s bring the lunch back.
For too many years, we have been neglecting this meal, eating it hurriedly in front of a computer screen. We are spending far too little time indulging our epicurious side; our inner gourmands. We are spending far too little time slowing down.
Lunch in Toronto doesn’t have to come at a high price point. From a pile of lip-smacking ribs at Barque Smokehouse to vegetarian food done right at Planta, we have you covered. We have the burgers slathered in cheese, and the pizza slathered in…cheese. We have the spots where you can sit and linger, or the perfect places to grab and go and get on with your day. That fresh air will do you good either way.
From downtown Toronto to Roncesvalles, our picks transverse the city. It is hard to run a restaurant in Toronto and keep the customers interested. The ones that “make it” have inventive chefs, fresh food and energy that never wanes.
Whether you are solidifying a business deal or gossiping over illicit lunchtime drinks is your prerogative. Just step away from your desk, already. Right now you must tend to your stomach. That work will wait for you to return.
Photo courtesy of Yelp
You will be hardpressed to find a friend who will say no to a bowl of guacamole (and you must always be skeptical of these “friends”). Should you need to get your fix of healthy fats, Wilbur Mexicana is the place to go. Burritos and tacos are stuffed to the brim with sauces and toppings such as pineapple habanero, oaxaca cheese, chipotle cream and other things you didn’t dream existed, let alone belonged in your mouth. Salsas are made fresh daily and run the gamut from pico de Gallo to ghost. You can help yourself in the self-serve salsa bar, treading carefully when it comes to the heat.
Recommended for Lunch because: Tacos, burritos, quesadillas…what are you waiting for? Just go.
Courtney’s expert tip: Burritos come with a side of tortilla chips, because Wilbur Mexicana knows that most won’t turn down an offer of free chips.
Read more about Wilbur Mexicana →
Photo courtesy of Kelly Hunter
This is the real deal kind of pizza. You may find yourself enthusiastically affirming the taste of real Neopolitan Pizza at Pizzeria Libretto in Italian. Or, if words fail you, “Mmmm” works well in most languages. This pizza has a soft chewy crust that is beautifully blistered by the piping hot oven. Each pizza is made as a single serving and is not overwhelmed with toppings. Cheese and toppings such as buffala ricotta or house-made sausage accent the dough, allowing it to be melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The result is a lunch that feels lighter than it looks. Even people who are convinced they will just have a slice may find themselves downing a whole pizza. Perfect to eat and then take a nap. We mean…get back to work.
Recommended for Lunch because: This exceptionally fresh pizza will transport you to Italy, if only for your lunch hour.
Courtney’s expert tip: Eating with a crowd and like to share? Check out their family style menu, with appetizers, four pizzas and even a dessert board for as low as $35 a person.
Read more about Pizzeria Libretto →
Photo courtesy of Nam Ngo
If you are looking for a unique twist on a filling Vietnamese sandwich, you certainly can’t go wrong with Banh Mi Boys. On Queen and Spadina, this sandwich shop takes the Vietnamese construct and gives it multicultural twists, from Korean to Japanese. People line up out the door in anticipation, serving the grab-and-go style quite nicely. It is a skinny, hip and modern restaurant which serves its sandwiches on retro checkerboard paper. Banh Mi Boys was an overnight sensation for Toronto foodies who had no idea how great five-spice pork belly could taste. Other mouth-watering choices include duck confit or kimchi fries slathered in mayo, kimchi and slow roasted pulled pork. You may have a little bit of a food coma if you try everything, so order carefully.
Recommended for Lunch because: A gourmet lunch in Toronto can be had for less than $8, and the sky surprisingly has not fallen. Fresh, fast-moving, inexpensive and amazing.
Courtney’s expert tip: They have a secret menu, which you can find out if you ask the cashier. However, best to do this when the lineup is not cascading onto the street.
Read more about Banh Mi Boys →
Photo courtesy of Ian Irving
If you are looking for fast food that is made of ingredients that you can pronounce, in general, you are out of luck. However, chef Stephen Gardner foresaw a need and in 2005 opened up Urban Herbivore in a small restaurant in Kensington. They now have two popular restaurants, including in the Eaton Centre. Expect vegan, local and organic food that is made entirely from scratch. Custom build a salad or grain bowl on a bed of quinoa, lettuce or black and brown rice (among others). Toppings are substantial, from artichokes to kimchi cabbage to marinated mushrooms. Or indulge in a hearty stew or soup, with exotic curry spices or subtle vegetable flavour. Sandwiches are also phenomenal, and you will be in and out of the door in no time.
Recommended for Lunch because: From muffins to soups and rice bowls, this grab-and-go vegan cafe has a great menu with substantial portions to satisfy all kinds of herbivores.
Courtney’s expert tip: The 100% gluten free cupcakes are amazing. There is usually a seasonal flavour, and examples have included pink lemonade or candy cane.
Read more about Urban Herbivore →
Photo courtesy of Vancouver Bites
Mexican food is amazing with a beer and a patio and a hot summer day, but it is equally as satisfying when you can hide under a warm winter sweater and eat your weight in tacos. Grand Electric has amazing tacos (and other stuff) for reasonable prices, so as you can imagine its popularity. The menu is displayed brightly in chalk. You buy per taco and toppings are as tempting as beer battered white fish with cabbage and mayo or crispy cauliflower with cauliflower mole. You can also get your guacamole and chips and your tuna ceviche – in fact, this place is known for having killer seafood. Expect communal tables and no reservations, as well as great margaritas if you don’t have anything productive to do in the afternoon.
Recommended for Lunch because: Tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner is our motto, but since this list is only lunch, it fits the bill deliciously.
Courtney’s expert tip: Tacos can be on the small side, so start with four if you came ready to eat.
Read more about Grand Electric →
Photo courtesy of Neil Conway
When The Burger’s Priest opened in 2010, it catapulted in popularity. With restaurants opening all over Ontario, there is a cult following, because Torontonians love nothing better than overpopulating a hot spot. Luckily, the service is quick and even if it wasn’t, the wait would be worth it. The griddle-smashed 4-ounce burgers can be loaded up with toppings or doubled up, easily overtaking the small white bun. Veggie burgers are by no means healthy (fried cheese stuffed Portobello mushrooms) but definitely delicious. If you are extra hungry, try The Vatican: two grilled cheese sandwiches encasing two cheeseburgers. You may not be able to fit into your skinny jeans after this lunch, but you won’t be able to prevent a huge smile from overtaking your face.
Recommended for Lunch because: The Burger’s Priest serves the kind of burger you would imagine getting at an outdoor cookout, only perfectly cooked and unapologetically over the top.
Courtney’s expert tip: You could order from the standard menu, or you can go VIP and order from the secret menu. It’s not so secret – it is on their webpage (but not in their restaurant). You will be rewarded in the form of a cheesy tower of burger that makes the McDonalds nearby blush.
Read more about The Burger’s Priest →
Photo courtesy of Kupfert and Kim
The general mathematical rule is that the more kale a Toronto restaurant has, the more expensive it will be. Healthy doesn’t have to break the bank now that Kupfert & Kim have set up shop right in the heart of the financial district. Healthy gluten-free and meatless meals offer substantial fuel for long days at the office. A hearty breakfast option is the toasts, with avocado toast and blueberry avocado toast ready to start your day right. Lunches come in charming takeout boxes and are filled to the brim with good stuff like brown rice, beans and chia seeds. Expect fresh ingredients that change with the seasons and expect your digestive tract to be very happy indeed.
Recommended for Lunch because: Plant-based food that comes in a compostable container and can make you feel good about yourself on all fronts.
Courtney’s expert tip: If you have the time to eat your breakfast or lunch with a spoon, you must indulge in a smoothie bowl at Kupfert and Kim.
Read more about Kupfert and Kim →
Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com
With growing to-do lists, our brunch and newspaper-reading weekends may be replaced with visits to IKEA, the dry cleaner and the grocery store. It is no wonder that by the time Monday rolls around, we are grumpy. Maha’s is a restaurant designed to rectify your weekend wrongs, with an Egyptian brunch open all weekdays but Wednesday. Maha is owner Maha Barsoom who runs the restaurant with her family. The amazingly delicious food includes crispy-on-the-outside falafel paired with soft boiled eggs and cumin house fries and the Egyptian street staple, foole, which is made out of fava beans and is stick-to-your-ribs fantastic. Even grilled cheese is dolled up with dates, three cheeses and a drizzle of honey. Weekend do-over?
Recommended for Lunch because: Maha’s is a cozy Egyptian restaurant with simple flavours that translate into divine dishes.
Courtney’s expert tip: Try a honey-cardamom latte, but be warned that it may ruin you for all other lattes.
Read more about Maha’s →
Photo courtesy of Jill Chen
If you are a person who hears the words “baby back ribs” and salivates, you must make a trip over to Roncesvalles for a spectacular lunch. Lucky for us, owners and childhood friends Jonathan Persofsky and David Neinstein left the corporate world to dedicate more time to their passion of genuine pit BBQ. Every piece of meat is treated like a work of art, and the word succulent doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Nosh on the complementary popcorn with dipping sauces as you wait for the meal, and try your best not to drink the homemade BBQ sauce. Tuck into a sandwich with meats ranging from sliced smoked pork to blackened smoked chicken with candied smoked bacon. You may find yourself making socially awkward noises as you devour your sandwich, but it is rare that you find meat cooked to perfection. There is nothing wrong with enjoying it.
Recommended for Lunch because: The carefully marinaded and slowly cooked meats will satisfy a craving that you never knew existed.
Courtney’s expert tip: You have made the trek over, so invest in some takeout. The takeout menu is extensive and you will never regret the a la carte brisket.
Read more about Barque Smokehouse →
Take the “a” off of “Planta” and you will realize what this restaurant is all about (and it’s not the hokey pokey). Marketed as plant-based cuisine rather than vegan, this fresh and airy restaurant specializes in delicious food from around the globe that any meat-eater would be proud to chomp. Planta burgers have queso, pickles, buffalo aioli and spiced fries. Lentil pate is served with a generous helping of crostini, grainy mustard and pickles. Enjoy cashew mozzarella, ranch dressing and cauliflower on your pizza. The creative and innovative dishes are plated beautifully. Get your Instagram feed ready.
Recommended for Lunch because: Having a lunch that won’t make you feel badly about yourself for the rest of the afternoon is key. Planta gets this.
Courtney’s expert tip: The wine and beer list isn’t entirely vegan. Keep an eye out, veggie-loving friends.
Read more about Planta →