The pandemic has ripped through the restaurant industry not once but multiple times now, with each successive wave pummeling their well-being and ability to survive. These aren’t just businesses, they are the embodiment of people’s dreams, of their sweat, blood and tears. We often frame our memories with our experiences with food, and for owners, employees, and customers, that favourite restaurant or cafe can hold a rich array of memories and associations. When they shutter, their absence can really resonate deeply.
The good news is that many vegan restaurants in Toronto seemed to have managed to hold on, even amidst the chaos and non-existent government support and in fact several new plant-based food ventures have opened up in the last year. While we continue to mourn for such favourites as Apiecalypse Now, knowing that that pizza sized hole in our hearts will never be filled, we can take some consolation from these exciting and delicious new options that deserve our support.
Haven Plant Based Eatery/Stacked by Haven (366 Bloor Street West)
Haven has been around for about a year now, and has become one of my favourites, but they recently branched off from their Asian inspired comfort food to create Stacked, a plant-based soup and sandwich menu that puts a veganized spin on classic meaty sandwiches like the cheesesteak hoagie. Haven is from the kitchen wizards behind the much-missed Toronto institution Vegetarian Haven, so you know you’re in for treat with this food.
Happy Taco (454 Bloor Street West)
Eva’s Original never seemed like it was the kind of restaurant that would evolve into a vegan powerhouse. Sure they had amazing vegan options for their trademark Chimney Cones, but who’d have imagined they’d start not one, but two additional vegan delivery/takeaway businesses under their banner. First came Guerilla Burger (formerly Big Poppa’s), and now Happy Taco, a gourmet taco shop that offers several kit options to build your own taco at home. Toppings include Beyond Beef, BBQ pulled jackfruit, kimchi, and crispy onions. They also have Mac n Cheeze Quesadillas and a Loaded Nacho Box.
Jinglepear Deli (245 Greenwood Ave.)
I’m a dedicated east-ender and there’s many great things about living on this side of the city, but the dearth of vegan restaurants and plant-based options is not one of them. So when new businesses do come to this neck of the woods, it’s a cause for much celebration. I was particularly excited when I heard that Jinglepear Deli was opening near Greenwood and Gerrard, at the heart of one of my favourite neighbourhoods, Little India. Jinglepear specializes in prepared foods and grab n’ go meals, but they also have a pantry section and a selection of produce. They also have a delivery options that covers a substantial part of the city.
Tsuchi Cafe (688 College Street)
To be honest, I find that Toronto’s vegan food scene can be a little bit redundant. Yes, we’re spoiled by so many options across the city, but there’s a lot of similar food in circulation. I’ve lost track of the number of vegan restaurants who now sell the same Beyond/Impossible Burger. I love a good burger, but I also crave diversity and think that vegan cuisine needs to be constantly evolving and pushing boundaries, the same way the non-plant based culinary world does. Tsuchi Cafe is one of the more innovative plant-based offerings to come along in the city for quite some time. From their elevated and elegant packaging, to the unique selection of condiments and meals, and the delightful treats like the Hojicha Cheesecake and Matcha Tiramisu, Tsuchi Cafe is unlike is anything else you’ll find in Toronto’s vegan food scene.
Tenon Vegan Sushi (487 Bloor Street West)
The Annex is becoming quite the vegan hotspot. Tenon is actually not new – they’ve been operating for years in Markham as Tenon Vegetarian Cuisine – but the downtown location is new, and it’s an exciting addition. Their menu is an appetizing selection of classic veganized sushi dishes and platters, but they also have curries, soups, Thai dishes and more!
Yaowarat (557 Mount Pleasant Rd)
I love Thai food and can never get enough. It tends to be a vegan friendly cuisine and so there’s no shortage of plant-based options across the city, but Yaowarat, even among such stellar company, really stands out. They focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients and you can really taste the amount of care and quality control that has gone into each dish. They even came up with a vegan egg topper that really add to the authenticity factor.
Harlem Bodega (1307 Dundas Street West)
Harlem Bodega brings a classic and delicious staple of New York to Toronto. Chopped cheese bodega sandwiches are usually made with ground beef and melted cheese, but these plant-based versions are no less delicious and bursting with the same kind of savoury, simple indulgent flavours that you expect from this kind of comfort food. Aside from the sandwiches, they have a few other specials on rotation. I haven’t had a chance to try it, but I’ve heard the Carne Guidada (Puerto Rican “Beef” Stew) is pretty magical.
La Bartola (588 College Street)
The popularity of vegan Mexican food in Toronto seems to have really exploded over the last year, and La Bartola is leading the pack with their innovative and authentic plant-based take on Mexican cuisine. Chef Ivan Casta delivers colourful, flavour packed dishes that conjures the spirit and culinary prowess of the nation. Check out their Dinner Experience Boxes, “a curated multicourse menu to explore the different regions of Mexico,” which will be available in April.
Planta Cocina (10 Temperance Street)
Planta Cocina is the latest offering in the growing Planta brand with this incarnation focusing on a Mexican inspired menu. The have a enticing taco selection that includes options like Baja Mushroom, Potato Chorizo, and Squash Pipian, but they also have burritos, quesadillas, empanadas and fully loaded nachos. Like most of Planta’s restaurants, it is a bit expensive, but you can expect the chain’s usual commitment to high quality food made with the finest and freshest ingredients.
Stefano’s Sandwiches/Ufficio (1214 Dundas West)
Is Ufficio’s vegan menu new? It might not be, but I’m including it because it’s new to me and because wow what a menu! Technically the vegan portion of the restaurant is called Stefano’s Sandwiches, but the food is available through their sister restaurant, Ufficio. Following suit of fellow Italian restaurant Il Fornello, Ufficio has adapted hearty and usually meaty Italian dishes into vegan friendly masterpieces. Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy highly recommends their Vegan Chicken Sandwiches, and I can’t think of any better reason to give it a try.