Every neighbourhood changes over time, but few neighbourhoods change as often as Toronto’s Kensington Market! In the mid–the late 1990s, the market was filled with Asian shops and fishmongers and on a hot summer day, the smells wafting through the streets could knock you off your feet. Today, the neighbourhood has more of a boutique feel with shops selling artisanal products or funky second-hand items, ethnic grocery shops, colourful graffiti; butchers, bakers, and fishmongers; cafes and small restaurants that reflect the neighbourhood’s global cultures.
A LITTLE NEIGHBOURHOOD HISTORY
What started as a neighbourhood of Victorian homes in the 1870s and 1880–with residents hailing from Britain, Ireland and Scotland–over time the land plots grew smaller, making room for more housing and the area became known for its affordability.
In the 1910s a wave of Eastern European Jews moved into the neighbourhood and a transition began. What was once a neighbourhood made up solely of Victorian homes, the new residents, with a need for specialized goods like kosher meat, began selling goods by pushcart, and then built extensions onto the front of their homes to sell fresh fruit and vegetables –marking the birth of Toronto’s Jewish Market.
The Jewish community continued to grow, and two Jewish Synagogues were built, Kiever and Minsker.
The 1930s were a tense time in the neighbourhood, and due to its Jewish population, the neighbourhood was shunned by many in Toronto. No doubt, a reflection of the changing tides in Europe. At this time, small groups of Italians, Ukrainian and Hungarian immigrants and Afro-Canadians began moving into the neighbourhood, attracted to the close-knit community. A place where those who were new to the country and not fluent in English could feel accepted. At home.
The Jewish Market became known as Kensington Bazaar/Market and opened Thursdays and Fridays; and Saturdays from sundown to midnight.
After WWII the majority of Kensington Market’s Jewish community moved to bigger plots in other areas of the city, and in the 1950s a wave of Portuguese immigrants moved into the neighbourhood, living side-by-side with Brazilians, Hungarians and Afro-Canadians. While the Jewish community enjoyed solitude on Sundays, the Portuguese were more exuberant and on Sundays, it was common for men to be crowded around a radio outside the bookstore to listen to a soccer match. A slice of Portuguese culture in the heart of this small neighbourhood in Toronto.
Sunday soccer matches were not the only changes brought on by the Portuguese, they also introduced restaurants, laundromats and a billiard hall to the neighbourhood.
Over the years, each wave of immigrants would add a new layer of flavour and culture to the neighbourhood, and while each culture is quite different, they have consolidated and melded together quite beautifully, creating a neighbourhood bedrock that gets stronger each year.
Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino and Latin American immigrants moved into (and eventually out of) the neighbourhood, each leaving their mark. By the 1980s, hippies moved into the neighbourhood as well; including students looking for affordable housing.
Today, Kensington Market continues to thrive, and evolve.
A small neighbourhood, Kensington Market is a go-to destination for local chefs, graffiti-lovers, hippies, and tourists eager to experience the neighbourhood’s eclectic vibe. Whether you have a couple hours or an entire day, here is our Kensington Market Bucket List.
KENSINGTON MARKET & CHINATOWN
WALKING TOUR | URBAN ADVENTURES
Starting at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Dundas Street West, this is one of the best walking tours of Kensington Market and Chinatown. The guides are fun, engaging and a wealth of knowledge about everything from the neighbourhood’s history to its graffiti and global cultures. A wonderful introduction to the Kensington Market neighbourhood. Book tour here.
FOOD TOUR | SAVOUR TORONTO
Over the years several food tours have popped up in Kensington Market, but the Kensington Krawl by Savour Toronto is one of the best. Explore the neighbourhood, visiting local independent shops and restaurants, and eating along the way. Learn about the various cultures that call the neighbourhood home, and savour the flavours they bring with them. Book tour here.
KENSINGTON MARKET SHOPPING
BLACKBIRD BAKING CO.
BAKERY | 172 BALDWIN ST | BLACKBIRDBAKINGCO.COM
A favourite in the market, Blackbird Baking Co. sells freshly baked bread using as many locally sourced ingredients as they can find. Try their fruit and nut bread or sourdough or grab a breakfast bun with an egg nestled in the middle. Absolute perfection.
CARLOS’ HOUSE OF SPICE
SPICES | 190 AUGUSTA AVE | EHOUSEOFSPICE.COM
A neighbourhood institution for over forty years, Carlos’ House of Spice is one of the best places in Toronto to find spices from around the world. Pick up paprika from Hungaria, or spices needed for an authentic Ethiopian dish. Buy hot sauces from Mexico. A flavourful treasure trove.
CHEESE SHOP | 182 BALDWIN ST
One of two cheese shops in the market, Cheese Magic is easily a favourite with us. Family owned and filled with delightful cheeses from around the world. Of course, they also sell everything one needs to enjoy their delicious cheese selection, like gourmet crackers. Not sure which cheese to buy? Ask!
FONG ON FOODS
FRESH TOFU | 46 KENSINGTON AVE
Although you can grab a snack or Asian rice desserts, the highlight of Fong on Foods is their fresh tofu. Quite affordable at under $3 for about a half dozen cubes of fresh tofu.
LATIN AMERICAN GROCERIES | 247 AUGUSTA AVE
When cooking Latin American dishes at home, Perola’s should be one of your first stops for buying ingredients. Find spices, sauces and canned goods from Central and South Americas, as well as a fridge at the back stocked with all kinds of tortillas. They also have panela and cotija cheeses.
REG DRY FOODS
DRY FOODS | 202 BALDWIN ST
A small family-run dry goods shop on Baldwin, REG’s has bulk bins on the street outside the shop, filled with nuts, dried fruits, grains and more. Inside you’ll find homemade peanut butter and other non-perishable items. The owners are absolutely delightful.
SANAGAN’S MEAT LOCKER
BUTCHER | 176 BALDWIN ST | SANAGANSMEATLOCKER.COM
Easily the best butcher in the market, Sanagan’s Meat Locker is popular with locals, chefs, and tourists. Stop by for artisanal deli sandwiches or pick up a hot roasted chicken (or some ribs). Of course, you can also pick a wonderfully marbled steak and grill it later.
SUGAR & SPICE
HEALTH FOOD | 265 AUGUSTA AVE
Every neighbourhood should have a health food shop and in Kensington Market, it is Sugar & Spice. Shop the aisles for healthy grains, protein powders, dressings, sauces and more.
STATIONERY, BOOKS AND MORE!
GIFTS, GADGETS & MORE | 250 AUGUSTA AVE | BLUEBANANAMARKET.COM
A large boutique filled with gifts and souvenirs that cover almost every category: housewares, cooking, clothing, toiletries and more. A popular stop for tourists looking for something different.
COCKTAIL SUPPLIES | 20 KENSINGTON AVE | COCKTAILEMPORIUM.CA
One of two locations in the city, Cocktail Emporium sells exactly what you might think, cocktail mixers, shakers, glasses and more. A large selection of bitters rests on the wall beside the counter and fun tiki bar accessories in the back.
COURAGE MY LOVE
SECOND-HAND CLOTHING | 14 KENSINGTON AVE | PEANUTBREATH.COM
Our favourite second-hand clothing shop in Kensington Market, Courage My Love has been a neighbourhood staple since 1975. Pursue their large selection of denim and cowboy boots, buy some funky jewellery or just do a little window shopping.
COOKBOOKS & KITCHEN GADGETS | 267 AUGUSTA AVE | GOODEGG.CA
A bookshop that caters to those who like to eat is our kind of book shop! Pick up a few new cookbooks, as well as some new cooking gadgets and get ready to plan your next dinner party or just test out a few new recipes.
SCREEN PRINTING & STATIONERY | 205 AUGUSTA AVE | KIDICARUS.CA
A charming shop selling screen printed posters, as well as gift items created by local artisans. Choose from prints created in-house, including limited edition posters; as well as notebooks, pens and wonderfully unique greeting cards. Screen printing workshops are also available.
YARN | 86 NASSAU ST | YARNSUNTANGLED.COM
Naturally, there is a funky little yarn shop in Kensington Market. Pick up yarn that has been hand dyed in Toronto, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Take knitting, crochet, or needle felting classes.
KENSINGTON MARKET FOOD & DRINK
CAFES & COFFEE SHOPS
235 AUGUSTA AVE | $ | CASACOFFEE.CA
A neighbourhood institution, Casa Coffee has been perched on the corner of Augusta Avenue and Baldwin Street since 1963. In keeping with Kensington Market’s eclectic vibe, Casa Coffee is not only a coffee shop but a place to bulk candy, spices, and treats. They also serve ice cream in summer. Yum.
28 KENSINGTON AVE | $ | FIKA.CA
Quite possibly one of our favourite cafes in Kensington Market, Fika Cafe is nestled among second-hand clothing shops on Kensington Avenue. Fika, Swedish for ‘taking a coffee‘ has a large patio in the front and a small peaceful one out back. The coffee is good, as well as the lemonades and snacks. An ideal cafe for relaxing or doing a little work on your laptop.
I DEAL COFFEE
84 NASSAU ST | $ | IDEALCOFFEE.CA
Tucked down a somewhat quiet section of Nassau St, i deal coffee has been roasting organic fair-trade beans since 1999. One of three locations in the city, this cafe is hardcore when it comes to coffee – even their ice is made from coffee!
191 BALDWIN ST | $ | JIMMYSCOFFEE.CA
One of six locations in Toronto, Jimmy’s Coffee has been a part of Kensington Market since 2013. The cafe is long and narrow and has an artistic and cozy old library vibe – the bookcase wall and fireplace play a major role. Enjoy a coffee inside, or lounge on the back patio. A great place to relax between shopping or doing a little work. This is also a popular spot for the walking tours that take place in Kensington Market.
160 BALDWIN ST | $ | LITTLE-PEBBLES.COM
A cute little cafe, Little Pebbles serves good coffee and delicate Japanese desserts that will make you think you’re in Japan. Anything made with ceremonial matcha is an excellent choice!
254 AUGUSTA AVE | $ | LIVELIHOODPROJECT.ORG
A new cafe to the market, Livelihood Cafe is a cafe and social project. A pilot project for the Livelihood program, employees learn new skills that can help them move closer to their career goals. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, relax, do a little work, and help support this valuable project.
281 AUGUSTA AVE | $ | RICKSCAFEKENSINGTON.COM
A mico-cafe, Rick’s has a love for old films and good coffee. Sit by the window to do a little people watching or along the coffee bar to chat up the barista. Of course, you can always grab your coffee to go!
$ – main dish under $10
$$ – $10 to $25
$$$ – $25 and up
BANH MÌ BAR
BANH MÌ | $ | 189 AUGUSTA AVE
A small Vietnamese restaurant on Augusta Ave near Kid Icarus, Banh Mì Bar specializes in, you guessed it, Banh mì – as well as lemongrass pork chops and pho. Obviously, Banh mì is the real reason to come here. Choose your protein, toppings like pâte and sauces. Delish.
BIG FAT BURRITO
BURRITOS | $-$$ | 285 AUGUSTA AVE | BIGFATBURRITO.CA
It is hard to miss the colourful murals on the outside walls of Big Fat Burrito on Augusta Ave, and while the inside may look a little rough around the edges, the food more than makes up for it. Enjoy larger-than-life burritos stuffed with either steak, ground beef, chicken or pulled pork; along with a variety of toppings. Bring your appetite, vegetarian and vegan options available.
BURGERS | $-$$ | 269 AUGUSTA AVE | THEBURGERNATOR.COM
While the neighbourhood currently has a strong Latin American vibe, yummy burgers can be found at the Burgernator (Sorry, no Arnold here). Try the Atomic Burger or Captain Jerk. Of course, there are a couple of vegetarian burgers as well.
FRESCO’S FISH & CHIPS
FISH & CHIPS | $-$$ | 201 AUGUSTA AVE | FRESCOSFISHANDCHIPS.COM
We love that Fresco’s uses Ontario potatoes and sustainable seafood products. Grab some haddock and chips, a chili bowl or a Quebec-style poutine then head over to the park. Or, dine in. Either way, the food is fresh and delicious.
SEAFOOD | $$ | 199 AUGUSTA AVE | GREYGARDENS.CA
Grey Gardens offers an elevated dining experience in Kensington Market, a delight in a neighbourhood known for its street food type eats (which we also love!). Dine on albacore served with cucumber, seabeans and horseradish; or Mackerel served with salsa verde, cilantro and daikon.
LA CHILACA TAQUERIA
TACOS & BURRITOS | $ | 214 AUGUSTA AVE | LACHILACA.COM
Experience tacos and burritos the way they are made in Central Mexico (Guanajuato and Leon to be precise) with traditional sauces and salsas, crema (for the burritos), fresh cilantro and pickled onions. Try the chorizo or al pastor. So good.
PUPUSAS & TAMALES | $ | 243 AUGUSTA AVE
A small Latin American grocer on Augusta Avenue, Emporium Latino also serves up pupusa and tamale from their back kitchen. Everything is made to order, and take a few minutes, but is well worth the wait. Perfect foods to enjoy as you explore Kensington Market.
GLUTEN-FREE, VEGETARIAN & VEGAN | $ | 238 AUGUSTA AVE | HIBISCUSCAFE.CA
A charming little cafe, Hibiscus is located next to NU Bügel and serves up a light menu catering to those who are vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. Enjoy soups, salads, sweet or savoury crêpes and desserts. If you’re not hungry, stop by to enjoy coffee, tea, smoothies or kombucha.
CRÊPES & DESSERTS | $ | 161 BALDWIN ST | MILLIEDESSERTS.COM
A Japanese crêperie near the corner of Baldwin St and Spadina Ave, Millie is a lovely stop for a sweet or savoury snack as you explore the market or Chinatown (or both!). Crêpes are served up cone style (similar to egg waffles) and filled with things like smoked salmon and cream cheese or Nutella or pork belly.
HAWAIIAN POKÉ | $-$$ | 179 BALDWIN ST | NORTHPOKE.COM
A small poké shop near the corner of Baldwin St and Kensington Ave, North Poké serves up traditional Hawaiian poké as well as flavoured ice (a cool treat on a warm day). Snack on a poké bowl along one of the window seats or take it to go or buy freshly made poké and make your own bowl at home.
MONTREAL-STYLE BAGELS | $ | 240 AUGUSTA AVE | NUBUGEL.COM
Montreal will always be the best place to buy bagels in Canada, but NU Bügel in Kensington Market comes a close second! Stop by to enjoy a bagel onsite or grab a dozen (or more!) to go and enjoy them at home. Nu Bügel also serves up delicious bagel sandwiches – the Smoke Trout, and the Lox and Cream Cheese, top our list of favourites.
OTTO’S BERLIN DÖNER
BERLIN STYLE DONER | $-$$ | 256 AUGUSTA AVE | OTTOSDONER.COM
German street food, right in Kensington Market. Enjoy a delicious döner or currwurst while you walk, or dine in. The veal and lamb is quite good. They also have a vegetarian option.
POW WOW CAFE
NATIVE AMERICAN | $-$$ | 213 AUGUSTA AVE
Some of the best food comes from seriously tiny kitchens. There may be very few seats at Pow Wow (thankfully they have a patio in summer), but the Ojibway-style tacos are to die for. Served up on traditional frybread, the toppings vary, but all are delicious. Brunch is also available. Yum.
RAMEN | $$ | 421 COLLEGE ST | RAMENISSHIN.COM
One of the best ramen shops in Toronto, Ramen Isshin serves tonkotsu style ramen. Try one of their famous Red Miso Ramens or the Roasted Garlic Shoyu Ramen. Remember to come with an empty stomach as ramen can be quite filling!
JERK CHICKEN & PASTA | $ | 61 KENSINGTON AVE | EATRASTAPASTA.CA
Rasta Pasta is the quirky marriage between Jamaican and Italian cuisines that has us swooning. Try traditional Jamaican fare like jerk chicken, or indulge in a fusion dish like homemade pasta with tomato sauce and jerk meatballs. Yum.
TACOS | $ | 69 KENSINGTON AVE
A tiny taqueria on Kensington Ave, Seven Lives is one of the more popular Mexican restaurants in the market. Tacos are similar to those found in Baja – the Baja Fish taco is one of our favourites. They also serve vegetarian options, and a vegan-friendly Palenteria can be found across the street.
MEXICAN | $-$$ | 431 COLLEGE ST | SNEAKY-DEES.COM
A Toronto institution, Sneaky Dee’s is a popular restaurant and live music venue that use to be located near Honest Ed’s. Stop in for some Mexican style eats or for a show (or both), either way, good times are ahead at this family-owned joint.
TAQUERIA EL TROMPO
TACO BAR | $-$$ | 277 AUGUSTA AVE | ELTROMPTORONTO.CA
Run by the couple who own Perola’s Supermarket near the corner of Augusta Ave and Baldwin St, Taqueria El Trompo serves up Mexico City style tacos (each region of Mexico has its own flair when it comes to this delightful street food). Try chicken tinga or fajitas.
TORTERIA SAN COSME
MEXICAN TORTAS | $-$$ | 181 BALDWIN ST | SANCOSME.CA
Good news, you no longer need to travel to Mexico to enjoy flavourful tortas, now you can find them in the market! Grilled sandwiches packed with Latin American flavours, torta is better than a submarine sandwich. Try the Cubana or go a little more traditional with a Cochinita Pibil.
BARS & BREWERIES
RONNIE’S LOCAL 069
BAR | $ | 69 NASSAU ST
Quite possibly one of the smallest bars in Kensington Market, Ronnie’s is a local dive that serves local craft beers. Don’t bother bringing a credit card or bank card, they only take cash!
BAR | $-$$ | 303 AUGUSTA AVE | TRINITYCOMMON.COM
One of the best patios in the city, Trinity Common is a popular bar for local craft beer and live music as well. And while you’re at it, try some chicken and waffles or the buffalo fried cauliflower. Brunch is also quite good.
WHERE TO SLEEP
THE PLANET TRAVELER HOSTEL
HOSTEL | 357 COLLEGE ST | THEPLANETTRAVELER.COM
An eco-friendly hostel on the edges of Kensington Market, The Planet Traveler hostel is a popular choice in the city. Of course, its location is a major advantage. Dorm rooms sleep six, and the hostel comes with a communal kitchen, laundry room, and rooftop bar (a great view!).