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Toronto Hotels and Restaurants

MarionP from Toronto

I am a middle-aged self-employed management consultant who has lived in Toronto for 25 years. Out of curiosity, I checked the list of suggested Toronto hotels and restaurants on Frommers.com and Fodors.com and was appalled at some of their recommendations and decided to give Slow Travelers the opinion of a local.

Basic Orientation to Toronto

While we are a city of 4.5 million and the city geographically stretches from Lake Ontario to points far north, the vast majority of visitors will want to spend their time in the downtown core or in the midtown area. The Yonge Street subway line connects downtown to midtown in less than 10 minutes. Yonge Street divides the city into an east and west side. For the most part, what tourists want to see is on the west side of Front Street, King Street and Queen Street. Yonge Street is the longest street in the world. Unfortunately, it is pretty ugly in the downtown area, but improves considerably as you go further north.

What's in Downtown?

The CN Tower; the Financial District; the Hockey Hall of Fame; the Entertainment District (theatres, restaurants, bars, shopping); St. Lawrence Market; the Hummingbird Centre; the Islands; Harbourfront; the Skydome (recently renamed); and the Art Gallery of Ontario. For shopping, there is the Eaton Centre mall, miles and miles of underground shopping stores, and funky boutiques, bars and restaurants on Queen Street West.

What's in Midtown?

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM); the Gardiner Museum; Bata Shoe Museum; University of Toronto; etc. For shopping, the stretch of Bloor St. between Yonge and Avenue Road has Holt Renfrew and lots of very upscale stores; and the Yorkville area has small trendy boutiques, lots of restaurants and bars.

Hotels I Would Recommend to Clients and Friends

If it is your first visit to Toronto, and you primarily want to see the tourist sites, I would suggest picking a downtown hotel. If you want a more upscale location and plan to do a lot of shopping and browsing about, I would recommend a midtown hotel.

Downtown

The Fairmont Royal York: Gracious old hotel directly across the street from the train station and within walking distance of the CN Tower, the financial district, the Eaton Centre, theatres, The Hummingbird Centre, St. Lawrence Market, etc. The airport shuttle bus leaves from here. Also, the subway runs underneath the hotel so it is easy to get anywhere in Toronto from here.

Hotel Victoria: Around the corner and about two blocks north of The Fairmont Royal York, this is a little gem of a hotel, located right on Yonge St. in the heart of the Financial District. It is a very good value. Fairly basic place, but clean. Good budget option.

Cambridge Suites: This is worth checking out if you want some kitchen amenities and more space. It's in the heart of the Financial District.

Le Royal Meridian King Edward: Expensive, but a grand old hotel. I use the bar here fairly frequently because it is quiet and very elegant. (Pauline's note: I stayed here once and loved it, but only one room in the hotel has windows that open.)

Hotel Le Germain: A very pricey option, but this brand new small boutique hotel is getting rave reviews and I overheard someone saying that it is "much better than the Four Seasons". (This is the only hotel that I haven't stayed at or booked clients into yet.)

SoHo Metropolitan: Also expensive, but this is a lovely hotel. Good food here. Also has a wonderful spa. (Read Pauline's review - she loved it.)

Delta Hotel: This is a very large hotel that offers good value, particularly for families. They have lots of services directed at children. It is a busy hotel, but clients have been pleased with the service. It is the hotel closest to the Eaton Centre.

Downtown hotels I would not stay at: Hilton (getting too run down); Sheraton (boring big convention hotel and very poor food); Bond Place (would not let a dog stay there); any of the hotels near Harbourfront (because it is inconvenient getting to the downtown area because of stupid overhead highway); or any hotels on Jarvis (they say it's safe, but I don't like being around homeless drunks at night).

Midtown

Park Hyatt: At Avenue Road and Bloor St., across the street from the Four Seasons. They've renovated this hotel and it is now really lovely. The Stillwater Spa there is absolutely gorgeous. Nice rooftop bar.

Four Seasons: I used to absolutely love this hotel, but the decor was recently changed, and now I am not so sure. It is still my favorite place to have tea with clients. The bar remains one of the better spots in Toronto to people-watch.

Intercontinental Hotel: This hotel is about one block away from the Park Hyatt on Bloor St. It's pretty good value.

Howard Johnson Toronto Yorkville: An ugly looking and sterile place, but this is a good budget option if you want to stay in the Yorkville area. Very basic rooms, and should only be considered if you don't intend to spend much time at the hotel.

Midtown hotels I would not stay at: Windsor Arms (used to be terrific, but they have apparently developed some type of noise problem - I would go there, however, for afternoon tea, which is just lovely).

Where to Eat in Toronto

Because Toronto is the world's most multicultural city, we have an unbelievable range of restaurants. We are strong in Italian, Greek and Thai, but you can eat Egyptian, Ethiopian, Korean, Portuguese, Lebanese, South American and many other cuisines here.

Restaurants for Foodies

To whet your appetite, I highly recommend that you check out the website torontolife.com (they also have a magazine). Their annual list of the Top 10 restaurants is quite reliable, but every restaurant on this list is for serious foodies willing and able to pay the price. I've eaten at five of his selections, and my favorites are:

*The Fifth: Fine French food and Toronto's most romantic restaurant; on Duncan Street and King Street West (downtown).

*Susur: Highly innovative food pairings (downtown).

*Splendido: Solid cooking and excellent service (closer to midtown).

I would quibble with the author about whether Rain should be included on this Top 10 list. The food is very good, but I think that people go to Rain because of the decor - which is really striking.

If I were attending the Stratford Festival, Rundles is very good, but I wouldn't make a special trip.

I am dying to feast at Eigensinn Farm, but I think it takes about two years to get a reservation.

Mentioned in an article in the magazine, but not on the torontolife.com Top 10 list is my latest favorite new restaurant: Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. Excellent wines by the glass and superb small plates. Do save some room for Quebec cheeses. I like to sit at the bar and watch the food being prepared. It is a 10-minute walk from the Royal York Hotel, and is about a block away from St. Lawrence Market.

Restaurants in the Business District

The bank towers and stock exchange at King and Bay have some excellent restaurants that are full of Bay St. boys in suits at lunch. You can eat well at these upscale restaurants, but you might want to check out their menus and price range from the torontolife.com listings:

*Bymark: In the Toronto Dominion concourse.

*Canoe: Canadian cuisine and worth eating at for the 54th storey view.

*Far Niente: Less expensive than the others, and more Californian cuisine.

*Jump: I like the bar here, and the food is consistently good.

The low cost alternative is to stroll through the underground shops and find a fast food place that interests you.

Restaurants in the Midtown and Yorkville District

If you are staying at a midtown hotel and want to stroll to a good restaurant for dinner, my suggestions would be:

*Prego: Excellent Italian food (on Avenue Road at Bloor, two blocks south of Four Seasons Hotel).

*Boba: Small restaurant, but consistently good food (on Avenue Road, a couple of blocks north of the Four Seasons).

*Joso: For seafood (a good 15 minute stroll north of the Four Seasons).

*Flow: New and very "in" at the moment (in Yorkville).

*Il Posto: Good Italian food.

Areas To Stroll to Find Fun Restaurants and Bars

Eating in Toronto isn't just about the food, it's also about the ambience of the area or neighborhood. Toronto's charm is that there are so many different neighborhoods! If you want to experience more of Toronto, here are my suggestions of neighborhoods to explore.

Bloor/Danforth

For Greek restaurants, hop on the Bloor Street subway line and go to Bloor/Danforth area. This area is full of good Greek restaurants. My favorite is Avli (on Bloor at Chester). I can also highly recommend Allen's restaurant, which has a lovely backyard patio and a wide selection of Scotch. (It's not Greek, but it's in the neighborhood!)

College Street

For Italian restaurants, from Yonge St. and College, hop on the College Street streetcar and explore this bustling area. There are lots of good eating and drinking choices here. It's a party atmosphere, particularly on the weekends. A very good, but non-Italian choice in this neighborhood, is Zacutti. It is excellent for brunch on Sunday.

Queen Street West

For a little bit of everything, stroll Queen St. West, beginning at University Avenue. Don't just walk down Queen; also explore the little side streets which have small restaurants on them. In between Queen Street West and King Street West, there are oodles of bars and restaurants. If you use the torontolife.com website, ask for restaurant listings in "Queen Street West" to get some sense of the diversity of offerings. This is the nightlife district. I am getting too old to tell you where the hot spots are, but if you meander around here, you'll find whatever it is you are looking for! There is always a party on in this area.

Yonge and Eglinton

Yonge and Eglinton area, also known as "young and eligible", is also full of restaurants. Take the Yonge St. subway line to Eglinton and stroll about. Going south, literally one block from the subway, the best restaurant is Zucca, with wonderful Italian food, and further south is Grano, another consistently good Italian restaurant.

Going north, Grazie has a fun party atmosphere and good Italian pasta and pizza. (People drop in here for a drink after dinner to check out the eye candy.) There are two high end restaurants in the neighborhood: North 44, consistently one of Toronto's better restaurants, and Centro, which I haven't to since it was renovated earlier this year, but was always solid in the past. (I live in this neighborhood.)

Resources

Get more information from the Wikitravel Toronto Travel Guide.

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