The Best Spots to Eat, Drink and Shop in Kensington Market
Welcome to a new series on The Full-Time Tourist! I thought that as I’ve explored many of Toronto’s neighbourhoods since moving here three years ago, I should make a guide to some of my favourite neighbourhoods! I mean, if The New York Times article named Toronto as the seventh-best city in the world to visit early this year and Vogue named Toronto’s Queen Street West as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world in 2014, it’s probably because of how unique Toronto’s neighbourhoods are. So let’s start with the most unique of them all- Kensington Market.
A Neighbourhood Guide to Kensington Market
Location: Chinatown, in between College and Dundas West Streets, and Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue
Subway Stop: Walking distance from St. Patrick’s Station or Queen’s Park Station
Kensington Market is the heart and centre of Toronto’s multiculturalism. In fact, the continuous waves of new immigrants calling Kensington home since the the early 1900s is why it’s a National Historic Site of Canada. The market saw its first influx of immigrants during the two World Wars, with close to 80 per cent of Toronto’s 40,000 Jewish immigrants living in Kensington. As Toronto businesses excluded them from the business community, Kensington Market transformed into the vibrant, outdoor market it is today. And when immigrants from Hungary, Portugal and Ukraine came to Toronto after the Second World War, they replaced a majority of the Jewish population who had earned enough money to move to wealthier neighbourhoods. Today, Kensington Market is a cultural hub for mostly young people and new immigrants.
Where to Brunch
28 Kensington Ave.
Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.; Sunday Brunch 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
If I could describe FIKA in one word, it would be Instagrammable. From the food to the interior decorations to the cute balcony leading up to the teal-coloured house, it’s Insta goals. And its food and coffee do not disappoint. Though there are very few gluten-free items on the menu, I had the beet avocado and kale salad (I passed along the croutons to my friend after taking the photo- note to self for next time) and there is a flourless espresso lavender brownie, which sounds tempting. I also had their iced coffee, which was surprisingly refreshing with cardamom bitters, simple syrup, almond mylk and mint.
238 Augusta Ave.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday; 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Hibiscus is easily my favourite brunch spot in the market. The interior is cute and cozy. Its walls are decorated with a rotating selection of paintings by local artists, and shelves of plants, local literature and old cameras peak out from behind the counter. Although the cafe has limited seating, I can assure you that it’s well worth the wait. As the restaurant is entirely gluten-free and vegan-friendly, gluten intolerants and vegans can enjoy brunch classics like crepes, soups and salads without facing a surcharge. I’d also recommend the matcha latte- somehow it tastes like warm ice cream (ice cream soup, anyone?).
180 Baldwin St.
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.; Closed on Wednesdays
Another go-to brunch place of mine is Our Spot. Located on the central strip in Kensington, it’s hard to miss. Our Spot is usually busy, but try to steal a spot on the patio if you can. The mural behind the picnic tables and the sunlight streaming in from the sunroof are staples of the Kensington Market vibe. They do ofter gluten-free toast for a surcharge, and you can substitute eggs for more beans, if you’re vegan.
Where to grab a pick-me-up
30 St. Andrew St.
Hours: 7:00 a.m. – 9 p.m. (10:00 p.m. during the summer)
With a large selection of brewed coffees, espresso-based drinks and over 30 types of loose leaf teas, Moonbeam will most likely have your drink of choice. Like most of the cafes in Kensington Market, Moonbeam is on the smaller side and will be fairly busy, but in the summer there is an outdoor patio at the front and back of the shop. I recommend sitting in the back room, if there’s space! If you’re in need of a little snack, Moonbeam also does gluten-free and vegan snacks!
The Organic Press
257 Augusta Ave.
Sometimes organic freshly pressed juices are the best way to wake up mid-day! Compared to other juiceries in the city, the prices aren’t as steep (keep in mind though that fresh pressed juices are usually fairly expensive).
The Witches Brew
160 Baldwin Street
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 12:00 p.m.- 8:00 p.m.; Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Apparently the witches’ brew of choice is kombucha! Although I’m new to the kombucha scene (I’m not entirely sold on the sediment that floats around on the bottom), it’s a surprisingly refreshing, slightly fizzy drink that is loaded with probiotics. I’d definitely recommend stopping in on a hot day for a little pick-me-up!
235 Augusta Ave.
Hours: 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Sometimes you just need some candy or ice cream to go with your coffee. Casa Coffee is your one-stop shop. With fresh bulk foods ranging from tea to coffee to candy to dried beans, it’s a treat for you and your pantry! In the summer, they have two windows where you can order coffee and ice cream from staff. Yum!
Where to shop
Bubble Gum Fashion
47 Kensington Ave.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m.; Saturday 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.- 6:00 p.m.
Every time I pass Bubble Gum Fashion, I instantly fall in love with all their displays and clothes. Their clothes are mostly imported from South Korea and Japan, so they are very feminine, with a boxy shape. And for the most part, it’s one size fits most.
273 Augusta Avenue
Hours: Monday-Friday 11:00 a.m.- 6:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 11:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m.
Bungalow is my miracle store. It seems like whenever I need something that would cost me an extravagant amount of money, Bungalow has it. Although I haven’t needed furniture quite yet, the store also sells secondhand designer clothing. This came in handy earlier this week, when I found out I needed a ballgown for an upcoming trip (… you’ll have to follow me on Instagram mid-May to read all about my event there). Thirty dollars later, I had a floor-length, black Ralph Lauren dress.
Kensington Market has a plethora of vintage and second-hand stores. Most of them are along Kensington Ave. and Augusta Ave. Usually, it’s fairly evident from the front of the store that they’re secondhand, but you never know what you might find! I came across a Chanel purse for a little over $300 before, so you never know what your luck might be like!
One of the perks of living so close to Kensington Market is the fresh produce during the summer. The particular store featured above is my go-to store at the intersection of Kensington Avenue and St. Andrew Street. The fruits and vegetables are always delicious and the price is ridiculously cheaper than prices at chain grocery stores. For about 2 weeks worth of fresh produce, I’ll spend less than $20. And for someone who basically subsists on fresh produce, this keeps my tummy and my wallet happy! No more of this…
Where to grab a drink
60 Kensington Ave
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-2:00 a.m.; Closed on Mondays
If the exterior of the building confused you a little, that’s part of the charm of Cold Tea. Tucked inside Kensington Mall at the end of a sketchy hall way is the blinking red light at the entrance of this secret bar. Most likely, the door will be closed. But on the other side of it is a woman making dumplings. Grab a couple and head to the back patio for a fun night!
Side note: This is a great place for a girl’s night if you’re trying to avoid douche-y guys. Just saying. For more bars like this, check out my favourite bars in the city here.
303 Augusta Avenue
Hours: Monday-Friday 3:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Voted one of the top 10 patios in Toronto, Trinity Common does not disappoint. With a large variety of craft beer (which I unfortunately can’t have due to allergies), food (including brunch!) and live music, it’s a great place to kick back and relax. If you’re there during the summer, they serve a killer watermelon cocktail and a mean avocado salad!
Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays
Last Sunday of May-October, weather permitting
Quite possibly one of my favourite events in Kensington Market is Pedestrian Sundays. The streets in the market are blocked to vehicles, except for people who live in the market. With no traffic, the streets are filled with people, buskers, musicians and fun games! Here is a glimpse into one of the Pedestrian Sundays I went to last year.
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Where are your favourite places to eat/drink/shop in Kensington Market? What makes them your favourite spots?
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