Chinatown in Toronto
Chinatown runs along Spadina Street in downtown Toronto and is one of North America's largest Chinese districts.
This ever-expanding area is home to ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and elsewhere. A wealth of oriental shops and fruit markets spills out onto the street, and a vast selection of authentic Chinese restaurants feature such delicacies as dim sum. Toronto's second Chinatown is located in the Broadview/Gerrard area, and three other distinctive Chinatowns are located in the suburbs.
Drive in by car or take the King streetcar (number 504) to Spadina. From here it's a short walk 2 blocks north. You can also take the Dundas streetcar (506) or take the subway to St. Patrick station and walk west 2 blocks. The Spadina streetcar (510) runs right through Chinatown between Spadina and Union stations.
The intersection of Dundas and Spadina is the most visible symbol of a dynamic community. In fact, on weekends - especially, the sidewalks are crammed with open-air food stalls, vendors, and thousands of people from all backgrounds eager to shop, eat, and socialize.
Just walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds. In summer the smells can occasionally be a bit strong, but it's not really all that bad.
Stroll along Dundas between Spadina and Beverley. For two blocks you'll think you're in Shanghai.
Chinese Dragon Boat Festival – This exciting event takes place in the Toronto harbour every June, off the Toronto Islands. Each of the distinctive dragon boats is powered by more than a dozen rowers. The event is one of the biggest of the summer, attracting thousands of spectators.
Chinese New Year – With the large Chinese population in Toronto, this event grows every year. One of the most accessible ways to celebrate is to attend the Dragon Dance Parade, which winds through the Dundas St. Chinatown (end of Jan. or early Feb.). Colourful dragons, over 20 ft. long and supported by 12 or more people, dance through the streets to bless the shops and restaurants. Drummers, whose constant beat drives away evil spirits, accompany the dragons.
Street signs in the area are written in both English and Chinese, and there are two large shopping malls that cater to a large Chinese clientele – the Chinatown Centre and the Dragon City complex, both near Dundas and Spadina streets.
Located north of the strip at the intersection with College Street is one of the largest collection of cheap Computer, technology, and repair stores in Toronto. Computer parts sold there on average are cheaper than what you would find on big box stores.
Ten Ren’s Tea Shop – Tea lovers will be fascinated with this store, which offers an unsurpassed selection of teas (some unusual to Western tastes), and hundreds of beautifully handcrafted teapots. In addition to green teas, fermented black tea, and ginseng, one of the teas available is called “monkey pick” because it is grown on cliffs that are so inaccessible only trained monkeys can harvest it. (454 Dundas St. W. and elsewhere)
The restaurants are a big attraction to visitors, as the familiar "North American Chinese" menu is all but non-existent here. Instead, chefs in the area produce a variety of authentic cuisines, including Szechwan, Hunan, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Their ingredients are purchased fresh from the stalls lining the streets. And it's not unusual to pass dozens of shop windows lined with barbecued pork, duck, steamed buns, and other more exotic fare.
There is an immense (and frequently changing) selection of restaurants in Toronto's Chinatown. Most are cheap, and many use plastic tableclothes that are picked up by the corners along with all the dishes. They may look bad, but the food is frequently excellent. If you're on a tight budget, this is a good way to go. Bakeries are particularly cheap and filling, and do offer many meat and veg options.
- King's Noodle, Spadina and Dundas (north-west corner), an authentic Chinese noodle joint, great selection of congees, chow mein, fried noodle in generous portions. Sit at a big round table with a bunch of other patrons happily slurping and chewing. Open to 2AM.
- Sky Dragon, Spadina and Dundas (south-west corner) - top floor, one of the premier dim sum restaurants in Chinatown. Almost all dishes are quite good. Much larger variety than other smaller restaurants in Chinatown. (Note: for excellent, and pricier, dim sum, try Dragon Dynasty on Bloor or Lai Wah Heen in the Financial District).
- House of Gourmet, Spadina and Dundas (north-east corner just beyond the Royal Bank). A basic but good restaurant. Seafood is quite good here and many types of fish are available fresh from the tank at the back of the restaurant. If King's Noodle is full, this place is a good alternative.
- The Swatow, east side of Spadina north of Dundas, more upscale noodle joint, smaller better portions, same round tables, more crammed-in ambiance. Cantonese cuisine, rather than Szechuan, so not as spicy. Open to 3AM.
- Lucky Dragon, west side of Spadina, a bit south of College. Definitely looks dodgy, but the food is both cheap and great. Egg rolls and hot and sour soup -- often mediocre in otherwise good restaurants -- are always excellent here. Check out the various meal combos and specials. Open late.
- Rol San, east side of Spadina, one block north of Dundas. Popular both with Chinese families for dim sum lunches, and with inebriated university students for post-club snacking, Rol San has something for everyone. For dim sum, anything with shrimp is recommended. Open late.
- Peter's Chun King, south side of College just west of Spadina, best for lunch, great peanut chicken and ginger shrimp lunch for under C$6. Also famous for their orange beef (very spicy) and garlic eggplant (scary looking, but delicious).
- Kim Moon Bakery, on the north side of Dundas just east of Spadina, almost across the street from Melewa. Similar to Melewa, but has a seating area. If you sit, you can get more dim sum stuff than is available ordering at the counter.
- Yung Sing, another Chinese bakery on Baldwin street (about half way between College and Dundas on McCaul). Offers a very good selection of buns, some dim sum on weekends.
- Yiu Wah, a Hong-Kong trolley style dim sum restaurant that offers cheaper, sometimes grittier food. Full of locals, which is always a good sign, and the cheapest place to get your fill.
- Grossman's Tavern on Spadina, 3 blocks south of College St, on the east side, is a very unassuming hole-in-the-wall that hides it's truth as one of the most respected blues joints in Canada. Many legends have played this room. Live musicians play most nights of the week. Very casual, almost rustic, if an urban dive bar can be such. They also serve food that is extremely cheap and surprisingly good.
- The Silver Dollar Room on Spadina Ave just north of College St, is last but not least amongst bars catering to jazz and blues in downtown Toronto. The musical acts tend to range wider here, into folk and rock as well as the aforementioned. Live music most nights of the week. Note that this NW corner of the Spadina/College intersection can be somewhat off-putting due to the large contingent of homeless people congregating near the adjacent Scott Mission. Do not fear unnecessarily beyond normal caution, the homeless are almost invariably harmless. Instead, keep an eye on the patrons of the nearby Comfort Zone bar, who can be sometimes initially mistaken for homeless and can be extremely rowdy.
- Comfort Zone is perhaps the most notorious club in Toronto. Opening at 6AM Sa&Su, Comfort Zone is the home of the late late LATE night partiers, and some of Toronto's best tribal house music.
TravelLodge at King and Bathurst. This is a clean, budget hotel that offers free parking in their lot. The King streetcar (number 504) runs east-west and stops right across the street from the hotel. The Bathurst streetcar (511) runs north-south and is a few steps from the hotel. From this hotel, Chinatown is about 6 blocks distant. For the adventurous travelling on a shoestring, the Global Village Backpacker's Hostel at King and Spadina is a well-run, inexpensive alternative in a funky, multi-coloured former hotel.
- TravelLodge at King/ Bathurst was torn down spring of 2010**
The closest hotel to Chinatown is probably the Holiday Inn on King. This is a large hotel, centrally located in downtown. From the hotel, Chinatown is about 5 blocks distant.
A new Super 8 recently opened (June 07) and provides excellent quality, right on Spadina just south of Dundas (West side).
If you really want to splurge, try Hôtel Germain ($245-950 CAD/night) at 30 Mercer Street one block South of King St. at Blue Jay's Way. Nearby, there is also the luxurious Soho Metropolitan on Wellington St. (also one block South of King St.) at $150-550 CAD/night).