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Toronto, Ontario, Canada -- A Cosmopolitan City Just Across the Border

A recent trip to Toronto confirmed that it’s one of my favorite North American cities. Located just across Lake Ontario from the United States --but a world away--it has an international cosmopolitan feel that makes exploring its neighborhoods and restaurants feel like a trip around the globe.

Though the original purpose of my trip was to attend World Baseball Classic games (Toronto and Rogers Centre got rave reviews as hosts!), I had several free days to explore the city by foot (and fork). I found a city of distinct neighborhoods, as well as a culinary destination that ranks with some of my favorite foodie cities.

A tour with Toronto historian Bruce Bell is a great way to visit several of Toronto’s tasty areas. He took me to bustling St. Lawrence Market, where locals and veteran visitors know to head to Carousel Bakery for peameal bacon on a bun (a local ham-based delicacy that’s a Toronto breakfast and snack tradition). Bruce knows everyone in this tasty market and we even ran into the chef from the wonderful Fairmont Royal York--where they offer a great weekend program of morning shopping with the chef and then eating what he bought for dinner that night back at the hotel’s restaurant (this would make for a great feature story). We also took a quick cab ride out to the historic and revitalized Distillery District (think Canadian whiskey), where Mill Street Brew Pub is a popular place for local beers and food.

Bruce next took me over to the Kensington Market area, which is a cornucopia of small international shops and restaurants. It’s adjacent to Toronto’s large Chinatown, where I enjoyed a great dim sum lunch at Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant. Small carts carry a wide variety of dishes to your table and you pick-and-choose ‘til you’re full (I loved the fresh seafood and the dim sum “menu” that had pictures of each dish we might see on a cart).

This early focus on food was just the start of my tasty Toronto stay. Other food- and beverage-focused highlights have to include:

*Eating at the kitchen bar of Canoe, enjoying the view into the kitchen and out from the 54th floor of Toronto Dominion Bank Tower, superstar chef Anthony Walsh’s cooking, and impeccable wine pairings (including many Ontario vintages).

*Two excellent gallery restaurants (a trend recently covered in Food & Wine)--Art Gallery of Ontario’s FRANK restaurant (named for world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, who designed the unique expansion of the excellent art gallery and restaurant, which features Anne Yarymowich’s locally-driven menu and an all-Ontario wine list) and the chic c5 Restaurant Lounge at the Royal Ontario Museum.

*A tasting of Ontario ice wines at Vineyards Estate Wines down on Toronto’s harbourfront on Queen’s Quay West. I couldn’t make it out to Ontario wine country on this visit, so this was the next best thing (it’s a great shop!).

*Quaffing a locally-brewed Steam Whistle pilsner at the InterContinental’s popular restaurant and lounge, Azure, as well as enjoying the atmosphere and tapas in Ariba at the Renaissance Toronto Hotel Downtown at Rogers Centre (the restaurant and many hotel rooms overlook the stadium!).

*Some of the best hot dogs in the world from Toronto street vendors…they feature a variety of ingredients and toppings that a New York Times writer said beat Manhattan’s street versions.

When I wasn’t eating, watching baseball, or wandering the streets of the city, I went in search of dayspas to massage my weary feet and legs. I found one of the best dayspas I’ve ever visited (and I’ve been to dozens) at Elmwood Spa. Quite simply this modern multi-level dayspa is a true big city haven, thanks to a wide variety of treatments and services, wide-ranging facilities, and two dining possibilities--a spa café and the renowned and beautiful Bangkok Garden Thai restaurant. Over in Chinatown, I also found several hole-in-the-wall places that specialize in foot massage and reflexology--aahh!

As with most destinations, the excellent city gude from Lonely Planet led to many "insider" discoveries. I left Toronto with a ton of tasty new story angles and look forward to covering many of them in coming months.