Running has propelled me to some pretty fabulous places in the last decade. In addition to the 20+ countries I visited during my Watson Fellowship year, I’ve raced all over the U.S. and in Bydgoszcz, Poland; Valencia, Spain; and London, England. Shockingly, until a few weeks ago, Canada was not on that list.
Last month’s Toronto Marathon offered the perfect excuse to head north, first to race and then to explore. Because it was the culmination of a long season that started several months prior, I was able to stick around Toronto for a couple days after the race before spending the rest of the week in Québec City. My husband took the week off from work, and my parents joined us for the Toronto leg. My little dream team!
Now that I’m back, I regret not getting up there sooner! (I have fond memories of childhood summers at my grandparents’ lake house in Ontario, but it had been a good 20 years since my last trip to Canada.) Toronto put on an outstanding race, blew me away with its fall foliage and natural beauty (Scarborough Bluffs!!), and won me over with its vibrant food and coffee scene. And Québec City, a 90-minute flight northeast of Toronto, was an awesome composite of old and new, urban and rural. Will and I loved the Saint-Roch neighborhood we stayed in, which had the city’s best restaurants and coffee shops and was a scenic half-hour walk to Old Québec and the Plains of Abraham.
BIG thanks to everyone who sent recommendations for both cities. We didn’t have nearly enough time or stomach space to hit them all, but we did squeeze in a respectable number and were so thankful for the helpful steering. Here are some photo highlights from our trip, followed by a list of stand-out restaurants and coffee shops. I’ll start with Toronto, end with QC, and get this out of the way now: no poutine places made the cut. 🙂
- Farm’r // Not only was this cute little farm-to-table lunch spot an easy walk from our hotel (near St. Lawrence Market), everything was fresh, tasty, and ideal for a post-travel, pre-race meal. I was very happy with my chili roasted broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes, and roasted chicken topped with citrus salsa verde.
- PAI // Several people and seemingly every Toronto Yelper recommended PAI for Thai food, and I am SO glad we followed their lead. I’m also glad I went with three other people because that meant more tastes of delicious things. I’m pretty sure I won dinner with my order: Panang Beef Curry (with kaffir lime leaves, basil, eggplant, red chilli, coconut milk, and jasmine rice). Best curry I’ve ever had. *Reservations are a must, even for a Monday!
- Fresh // It’s a good sign when you realize a restaurant is vegan only after eating there. My family had brunch at Fresh on Front Street, where I was equally impressed by the trendy decor and extensive, up-my-alley menu. My mom and I split the Banana Nut Pancakes (with four types of nuts!) and the Beach Bowl (with grilled red pepper, roasted sweet potato, avocado, sun-dried tomato, microgreens, and vegan feta)… because #balance.
- Cafe Oro di Napoli // On marathon eve eve, my parents and I ventured to Cafe Oro di Napoli and found just what I was craving: a solid Margherita pizza and a hearty salad made of kale, quinoa, green apple, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, and lemon champagne vinaigrette. Perfect for a crisp night, a good chat, and three hungry Texans!
- FIKA // I suspected from prior sleuthing that I would adore FIKA Cafe (Kensington Market area), and I totally did. Everything about this adorable converted house screams warm, cozy, and Scandinavian–one of my very favorite parts of the world. It’s one of those places that makes you want to slow down, snuggle up, and savor every sip and bite. The coffee was nice, the cardamom bun was divine, and the book wall was definitely Grammable.
- Dineen // A friend and Toronto coffee expert (shout-out Paddy!) suggested Dineen Coffee Company, where it seemed as if all of the young Toronto working crowd congregates on Monday mornings. My dad and I swiped the last table, and both enjoyed our drip coffees and blueberry scones in the friendly, buzzy environment. I almost forgot I was a visitor!
- Versus // I’m a sucker for snug, coffee-first cafes, and Versus definitely hit that mark. I thoroughly enjoyed my cappuccino (which says something, as I’d already lost count for the day by that point) and the bite I had of my mom’s house-made croissant. On a warmer day, their outdoor patio would have been prime seating.
Québec City Food
- Toro Ya Ramen // Our first dinner in QC was a homerun. What looks like a hole-in-the-wall ramen joint in Saint-Roch is one of the most highly touted restaurants in the city, and for good reason. The portions are generous, the ingredients are fresh, and the broth is heavenly (Will’s was soy sauce-based, mine was miso-based, and both were on point). *The table turnover is quick, but go early or prepared to wait in line.
- Chez Temporel // When Will declares something his “favorite XXX ever,” listen up. To my surprise, the best French (Quebecois?) onion soup he’s ever tasted–including the many bowls we had on our honeymoon in France–came from Chez Temporel, a 40-year-old restaurant in Old Québec. His only complaints were that the serving was too small and that it could have used more baguette slices.
- Hono Izakaya // Our second favorite Japanese meal in QC was at Honō Izakaya, a slightly upscale restaurant in Saint-Roch with a menu designed around lots of shared bites (kind of like Japanese tapas). The spicy edamame, sushi, and meat and fish skewers were all delicious, but the steamed dumplings filled with pumpkin and pork (separately) stole the show.
- DIY Charcuterie // This one’s not a restaurant, but is worthy of inclusion because it was one of my favorite meals of the trip. One night, a little over restaurant food and prices, Will and I wandered around Rue Saint-Joseph and gathered everything we’d need for a charcuterie dinner. We chose three local cheeses and two cured meats at Fromagerie des Grondines. Our Quebecois wine (which is a thing, I learned), dried fruit, and nuts came from La Place Boutique Gormande. We snagged a fresh baguette from La Boìte à Pain, which also makes a mean quiche. The supermarket filled in the gaps with crackers, carrots, and grapes. And our dessert came in the form of a handmade chocolate assortment from Champagne Chocolatier. We probably spent as much as we would have eating out, but were happy to curate every morsel and enjoy it all on a rare night in.
Québec City Coffee
- Café Saint-Henri // I’m a little bit obsessed with this place. It was just around the corner from our Airbnb in Saint-Roch, and Will and I went once or twice every day. It’s a humongous space with two long tables, lots of window seating, and a big corner dedicated to coffee roasting and tasting. While the from-scratch donuts were interesting but underwhelming (and were never served until after 9am), the fresh croissants and granola bowls were a steal, and the capps consistently delicious.
- Nektar Caféologue // Also located in Saint-Roch (cannot recommend it enough) is a neat cafe called Nektar, which captured me with its elevated corner nook, single brick wall, wooden benches, and Shazaam-worthy playlist. Its coffee was good, but the environment sealed the deal.
- Camellia Sinensis // Surprise! This one’s not coffee. Will and I stayed a few doors down from one of Canada’s three Camellia Sinesis Teahouses and were intrigued enough to stop in for an afternoon drink. Although the extensive menu was a little overwhelming to two non-tea experts, and I can’t remember what we ordered beyond a black and an herbal, Will and I enjoyed our experience so much that we left inspired to get more into tea.