Think of Kensington Market, which hides behind thoroughfares Dundas and College Streets, as Toronto’s belly. In its earlier days, it was home to Jewish immigrants that worked as shopkeepers (it’s where starchitect Frank Gehry grew up!). The grandchildren of some of these early denizens are returning to the area today to open artisan bakeries and destination-worthy restaurants, alongside a new wave of immigrants. It’s been designated a National Historical site, after all.
Don’t forget to explore Chinatown, which bleeds into Kensington, while in the area as well. You’ll probably want to stop by a bit later at night: Hong Shing, a delicious Chinese restaurant, is open until 4am and it is usually packed with off-duty chefs from around the city at that hour.
The clean and charming Baldwin Inn is a bed and breakfast with six bedrooms in a banana-colored Victorian house. The location, on lively Baldwin Street, puts you right in the centre of the Kensington action. In need of a bit of silence? Worry not! The inn itself is quiet and the lovely backyard patio turns out to be the ideal environment to enjoy a glass of wine in.
You might notice a craze for tacos while scouring the market, coupled with a growing interest in indigenous cuisine. Ojibway chef Sean Adler combines the two at his popular Pow Wow Cafe. Try the Indian tacos: made with bannock, traditional fried bread, they are astounding.
Cold Tea is a speakeasy marked by a red exterior light over the doorway that can be accessed through a modest storefront in Kensington Mall. Sing along to ‘90s hip-hop while the bar team prepares your hibiscus ale or a great cocktail made with ingredients purchased at the market. The venue’s name is a nod to the after-hours beer that was often served in teapots in Chinatown restaurants.
A food tour is the thing you want to do here. Culinary Adventure Co.’s Chinatown-Kensington Market food tour intersperses tastings while divulging the truth about the area’s history throughout three-hour sessions on the weekends.
If you do just one thing…
Head down what seem to be nondescript alleyways and expect them to be submerged with famous street art. You’ll definitely want to stop by Kensington Avenue, with its beautiful rows of 1870s bay-and-gable housing, a Victorian-inspired residential style destination that is unique to Toronto.