In any number of ways, Toronto is a divided city: rich, poor, clean, dirty, cheap expensive, smart, stupid, progressive, traditional. But the more interesting divisions are along the lines of geography and community. For example: East end. West End. North of Eglinton. Cabbagetown. Little Italy. Greektown. Chinatown. Down by the beach. (Or if you remember the real name: the Beaches.) These divisions are not to be confused with ones that the various business improvement areas (BIAs) are introducing: Corktown, for example. Corktown? Is that because of the city’s Irish immigration? Goodness only knows.
Granted, Little Italy is hardly Italian now. And Little Italy Too — WAAAAY up in Maple has some good food, bad shopping and espresso but it’s a long way to go. Greektown has long been gentrified into the community known as Riverdale; few Greeks remain except some restaurants along the Danforth. An early Chinatown remains around Bay and Dundas and goes to Chestnut Street is really a sniff of its former self; the one that starts at Beverly + Dundas Streets is more interesting. In truth, there are about seven Chinatowns in the greater Toronto area. Then there’s Little India around Coxwell and Gerrard. Little Brazil, Little Portugal, are both in the West end, along with a few other Little Countries. There are many other Little Countries in this city. Suffice it to say that all are interesting in one way or the other, and part of what makes Toronto an amazing place.
But the Little Countries are not the only way to divide the city.
Consider the East/West demarcation. Yonge Street — North American’s longest street, serves as the dividing line in terms of east-west not only for the names of streets but city consciousness. The east side of Yonge Street starts the East enders’ world. The West side, the West enders’. The streets reflect the split. On the east side, you have Queen Street East, King Street East, Bloor Street East, etc., etc., and their equivalents on the west: Queen Street West, King Street West, Bloor Street West etc., etc., This is only slightly misleading. Downtown is an area unto itself. The East end proper does not begin until you are over the bridges and only goes up to O’Connor Drive. The West end proper does not really begin until you hit the west side of University Avenue.
There are cool(ish) places in the East end, but the edginess that comes from poor artists and tangential thinking is far less evident. The east end that goes to Victoria Park is a newer part of the city, more residential than the west end, that goes to Islington Avenue.
The consciousness? The West end is definitely the place to go for anything that wants to have any degree of an edgy cool factor attached to it. So Hip it Hurts is so stealth in its cool…! And has been for every of its 19 years. The West end has better more interesting and more numerous shops, art, restaurants, and cooler dog owners. Or maybe just more visible fetish wear. But I digress. The East end… is still trying to identify itself. There IS the beaches. There is laid-back cool Leslieville, and the Distillery. And the hidden gems along Kingston Road heading east. But the east end is mostly…residential.
Espresso stops along the way.
Truth be told, I might JUST border on being brutal in my assessment of espresso and its many makers. The best espresso — besides home — I have ever had was in London, England. The worst was in Sorrento, Italy.
The Beaver Cafe in the west end makes good espresso, but its best offering is the Americano. Best in the city that I have ever had. There are some good places along College between Spadina and Dufferin. One of which is home to the $15 cup of coffee, which is an experience. And the espresso, well, the espresso in some of those places places was not the hot swirl of a tasty heaven around my tongue that says YUM! Grace has superior food and espresso.
It used to be that the west end was where the best espresso places were hoarded. But thank goodness. No more. There’s Cafe b at Queen near Church street, near Henry’s Cameras. The staff there do a lovely heart in the crema. The Mercury Cafe…around Queen and Logan is very very cool and the espresso is quite good. Gio’s Really Really Nice Restaurant — The Nose — at Leslie and Queen has good espresso. And Table 17… is worth writing home about. Some good places can now be found on the Danforth as one wanders east from Greenwood over to Woodbine. It is oddly thrilling: some days, I never have to cross Broadview. That was unheard of two years ago.
The St. Clair easts and wests…are worth a walk around once a year. Past Oakwood to La Paloma (great gelati, non-descript espresso) it is possible to find good espresso, but it is inconsistent and no real standouts.
I confess to being biased about anything north of Eglinton. It has different climactic conditions and hair styles. There are some good restaurants, some interesting shops, and a few good places for espresso; for example, the cafe inside Elte Carpets but it isn’t consistent. So, for adventure and curiosity and interest, Toronto’s West end south of Bloor gets the winner’s ribbon. But for the best espresso, the winner of that — short or long — is the East end.
Speaking of dog owners, the BEST dog park is in the east end. And the owners are mostly cool.