At first glance, it may be hard to wrap your head around the vibe of Kensington Market–there is a graffiti-covered car filled with plants parked permanently on the main thoroughfare, a woman decked in neon clothing using a carrot for a microphone belting out song lyrics, and a park filled with equal amounts of children playing in the playground, as hippies on their bongo drums.But give yourself an afternoon and you’ll quickly begin to understand why Kensington Market may very well be one of Toronto's most unique neighbourhoods.
Sure it might be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s one of the only areas in town that has resisted any major big box development over the years. Unlike any typical ‘market’, Kensington is really just a network of streets, centered on Augusta Avenue, nestled in between Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little Portugal. It started as an immigrant neighbourhood in the late 1800s and has evolved into a culturally diverse mecca of food and drink, with some of the best specialty “one-off” shops, bars and eateries in the city. Just be sure to seek them out, tucked between open air fruit stalls, cheap clothing shops, and dry goods purveyors.
GRAB A BITE
Don’t let the lack of AC keep you away from this unassuming gem. Owned by Irene Morales, a Chilean native, Jumbo Empanadas’ menu is small but mighty. The empanadas are some of the most authentic we’ve found in the city, and her house made salsa will have you wishing you had ordered a large take away container.
This Jamaican and Italian restaurant is churning out both traditional and fusion dishes. You will not regret ordering their $5 jerk chicken lunch special -- cooked fresh on the barbecue right out front, and served with warm rice and beans and homemade slaw.
Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos
There’s quite a few mexican restaurants scattered throughout the market, but this one is definitely, hands down, the best place for tacos. Loaded with toppings and sauces, don’t let the double tortilla fool you, these will get messy, quickly! There will most likely be a line, just accept it and know that it will be worth it.
How can you deny any place that puts Miss Vickie’s potato chips in their batter? The fish is perfectly crispy on the outside, and flaky on the inside, and the chips (made with local Ontario grown potatoes), are the ideal size, just waiting to be doused in vinegar.
SUCH GOOD BREAD. Grab a crispy on the outside, bubbly on the inside baguette, to nosh on while you stroll through the market, or treat yourself to one of their many baked goods, their breakfast focaccia, or one of the many loaves of sourdough bread. If you happen to be there on a day that they’re selling their almond lemon cakes, consider yourself lucky.
Serving up traditional mexican street style sandwiches, nestled in a custom made bun from Blackbird Baking just across the street. All the meat, cheese and produce used in their sandwiches are sourced from within Kensington Market, putting a whole new twist on sourcing local.
GET A DRINK
Tucked at the back of a somewhat sketchy mall, if you can find the door to this place, please do venture in. With a secluded interior patio, and funky indoor seating, rain or shine you’ll be perfectly happy downing a beer or two here.
Ronnie’s Local 069
Whether you show up ready to hit the town, or just for a casual post-work pint on their picnic table filled patio, this low-key, unassuming bar will reel you in for the night. They have Delirium beer on tap, which at 8.5% will have you cozying up to the eclectic local crowd within no time.
Ontario’s craft beer scene has exploded over the last few years, and Trinity Common capitalized on that. Identifying themselves as a ‘craft beer hall,’ this is your one stop shop to try a variety of local beers. Grab a seat at the bar, chat beer with the bartender, and if you’re hungry, grab yourself a little snack from their extensive menu.
Though their dark and stormy is killer good, this place offers a lot more than just drinks. They have nightly entertainment, ranging from local DJs to live bands, to storytelling events or theme nights. Be sure to shimmy your way past the bar, as the space opens up to an intimate dance floor and cozy booths towards the back.
Have you ever wanted to learn how to silkscreen? If so, head to Kid Icarus -- who not only sell beauty stationary and Toronto themed knick knacks, but offer screen printing and linoleum carving workshops as well. Most of the store is stocked with Canadian-made products, so be sure to give yourself enough time for a thorough perusal.
Whether you’re searching for the perfect vintage piece to spice up your wardrobe, or a costume for a century-themed event, Courage my love, as well as several other vintage shops along Kensington Ave, will have everything you’re looking for, and more.
You will immediately fell in love with this charming little shop the moment you walk in. Lined with cookbooks, high-end baking ware, and the oh so trendy falcon enamelware, you won’t be able to step foot inside without convincing yourself you need a new cookbook, baking tin, or apron. God speed.
Stocked with exceptional Ontario meat and poultry, an artisanal deli counter, locally-sourced preserves and sauces, and a stellar lunch counter, Sanagan’s is not to be missed! The staff are super friendly and incredibly knowledgeable, and will happily help you choose your ideal cut of meat, and even throw in their tips for preparing it.
With an orange painted brick facade, and often smelling of roasting coffee beans, I Deal is hard to miss. You’ll rarely find anyone here on their laptop, as most people are here to just enjoy a really good cup of coffee.
With overly friendly baristas, unreal coffee and an adorable, secluded, backyard patio, this place makes for a great spot to simply grab a coffee, or settle in for the afternoon with a good book.
Don’t let the narrow storefront fool you, Cafe Pamenar is pumping out delicious coffees and memorable latte art. Their front patio is perfect for keeping an eye on your bike, or people watching along Kensington Market’s main drag.
Stop by Bellevue Square (a park), and read up on the history of the neighbourhood; or park yourself on a bench and enjoy whatever grub you picked up in the market.
Take a stroll along Spadina Ave, the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown, to experience some authentic Chinese food. Though the options are abundant, we’re partial to King’s Noodle. Bring some fellow food lovers, order a giant bowl of their wonton soup, a plate of roast pork and dig in.
If Chinese food isn’t your thing, just a few blocks north of King Noodle, is Pho Hung, some of the best Vietnamese cuisine in the area. If it’s chilly out, treat yourself to a very affordable bowl of Pho; in the summer months, their noodle bowls and fresh spring rolls can’t be beat.
Dailo, La Carnita & Bar Raval
Three of the most buzz-worthy restaurants in the City sit a short ten minute walk away from the Market. Dailo features french-inspired new chinese cuisine, La Carnita is all about the tacos, margaritas and paletas, and Bar Raval is an intimate spanish tapas bar, with a Gaudi-inspired wood interior and an extensive list of sherrys.
Map illustration by Charmagne Kringstein