One of the largest of its kind outside of Asia, Toronto’s Chinatown is a vibrant neighbourhood consisting of dozens of Chinese and East Asian restaurants and businesses. From delicious Peking duck to beautiful Coconut buns, there’s tons to be discovered in this neighbourhood. The city’s main Chinatown, the one this post is focused on, is centred around Spadina and Dundas, though throughout the rest of Toronto and the GTA there are many other large East Asian communities. As I’m half Chinese, Chinatown is one of my favourite spots in the city as well as a place I’m often at, so I thought it’d be fun to write a neighbourhood guide about it, which is what this post is!
What to See
Just on the outskirts of Chinatown you’ll find the AGO, or Art Gallery of Ontario, Home to a huge collection of over 90,000 items, this museum is the second most visited in Canada after the nearby ROM. Despite it not having anything to do with Chinatown other than it’s location, I decided to include it in this post since it would make for a nice spot to check out after a yummy meal at a nearby restaurant or a cool place to snap a photo of while you’re in the area. I’ve actually never been in the museum before, so I can’t exactly recommend it to you, but if you’re into art I’m sure it’d also be a cool place to actually go inside and look around in.
Throughout Chinatown as well as Toronto in general you’ll find tons of murals and paintings on the sides of random buildings and shops. The art in Chinatown itself is quite unique as it is somewhat Chinese / Asian inspired, making it really interesting to seek out and admire. Just walking down a quarter of a block you’ll easily come across a few photo worthy backdrops and shots, similar to the ones shown above (or even those exact ones!).
If you’re looking to get a feel for what it’s like in China and many of its neighbouring countries, definitely pay a visit to Chinatown. Many parts of the neighbourhood wouldn’t look at all out of place in a city like Hong Kong, with the bright shop signs in Cantonese and Mandarin. Though Toronto’s Chinatown isn’t exactly like cities in China, it is pretty comparable and much more alike to Chinese cities then most other smaller Chinatowns throughout the rest of the world.
What to Do
The main reason most people come to Chinatown is to eat – nine out of ten times I’m going to Chinatown I’m heading there for a meal! This shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as there are dozens upon dozens of amazing restaurants in the neighbourhood. From scallion pancakes to chicken feet, Toronto’s Chinatown has some of the most authentic Chinese food you’ll find outside of China itself. For more specific recommendations on which restaurants in particular to eat at in Chinatown, keep reading!
In addition to restaurants, Chinatown has a huge selection of shops and stores. The neighbourhood is a great (and pretty popular) spot to grocery shop, as there are many fresh grocers there selling fresh fruit, veggies, and other Asian foods and snacks in their stores. It can also be a pretty interesting place to clothing shop, as there are quite a few stores with outdoor stands selling super cheap clothing as well as a couple of souvenir shops for tourists looking for something to remember their trip by. There are also two big malls in Chinatown, Dragon City Mall and Chinatown Centre, though they’re both pretty outdated.
Photograph / Film
All of Toronto’s neighbourhoods each have their own unique character, which is what makes the city so great. Chinatown in particular has a very special and interesting vibe, making it an awesome place to film and photograph. There’s tons of cool details in the neighbourhood, from the neon signs covered with characters to the colourful fruits arranged atop the stands outside the many grocery shops, which all make for perfect and unique photos. So, if you’re an aspiring photographer or videographer like me, definitely spend some time in Chinatown exploring and getting some cool shots and footage!
Where to Eat
Throughout Chinatown you’ll find dozens of small bakeries, all of which sell yummy traditional Chinese sweets. Since there’s so many bakeries in Chinatown, I don’t have any specific ones to recommend to you – as long as the buns look fresh and aren’t overprices, any bakery is great! From Pineapple to Coconut, Taro to Pumpkin, and Mooncakes to Egg Tarts, there’s tons to choose from in Chinese bakeries. With each sweet under a dollar each, it can be hard to choose just what treats to get. My personal favourites are the pineapple buns (菠萝包), coconut buns (椰子面包), spongecake (海绵蛋糕), and finally, the classic egg tarts (蛋挞), all of which I’d suggest if you’re new to Chinese treats.
Probably my favourite dim sum place in downtown Chinatown would have to be Dim Sum King, a medium sized restaurant right near Dundas and Huron. The interior of this restaurant is very well decorated, clean, and welcoming. The dishes shown above include __________, 肠粉 (rice noodles, chángfěn, chéungfán), and 虾饺 (shrimp dumplings, hā gáau/xiā jiǎo).Clearly, this restaurant’s speciality is dim sum – all of their dishes are very delicious, fresh, and well made, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out for some great dim sum!
Just down Dundas from Dim Sum King is House of Gourmet, a basic Chinese restaurant. At this restaurant you can get a few dim sum dishes (though they don’t come around in carts), as well as dishes like duck, congee, and much much more. Above is 鴨 (duck, yā), 米粥 (congee, mǐ zhōu), and 肠粉 (rice noodles, chángfěn, chéungfán) again! The menu here is huge and you’ll easily find tons of things you’d like to order right off the bat.
King’s Noodle Restaurant
King’s Noodle Restaurant, found north of the intersection of Dundas and Spadina, is another simple Chinese eatery. The restaurant is very nice and clean, and service is great. There are lots of options of their menu, and overall it isn’t too expensive for what you get and how good it is. Above is their delicious duck and rice, which makes me hungry just looking at it!
That’s all for my neighbourhood guide to Chinatown, I hope you enjoyed! Since a lot of this post has been about food, what’s your favourite Chinese dish? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!