Curious Travels: The Grand Detour of 2019 | Coffee & Tea in Toronto

While in Toronto, I made it a point to visit as many coffee and tea (matcha) shops as I could. My sister provided me with a “hipster coffee fund,” so I had a bigger budget and didn’t need need to skimp out of the coffee. YAY.

Since there were simply too many coffee shops in Toronto, I couldn’t visit everything on my list. (My sister gave me a list of recommendations, and I searched for highly rated coffee shops online.) I didn’t realize until I got there that Toronto was so big. Oh well, I guess I just need to keep coming back.

Here are my favorites from the trip:

Arvo

Located in the Distillery District, Arvo Coffee has a nice space and a great brew. Coffee prices aren’t too expensive either. I enjoyed my cup so much that I bought beans to brew at home after.

Goldstruck Coffee

I have loved Goldstruck since I got introduced to it last year. This is my go-to coffee spot in Yorkville. Although the coffee here is on the pricey side, a bag of beans costs pretty much the same as anywhere else—any other specialty coffee shop, I mean. If it’s your first time here, I suggest trying out their regular brewed coffee, and if you decide you’re a fan, buy their beans. I love their beans from Peru and Colombia. The former is nice and light, and the latter tastes like chocolate.

Neo Coffee Bar

Located in St. Lawrence Market, Neo Coffee Bar not only serves coffee but also matcha—and it’s good matcha. (Don’t let the picture fool you; the barista that prepared the drink was still new and didn’t know how to make a pretty latte yet. While the drink wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, it was still very good.) They also serve pastries, some of them seasonal. The cake was so good that I wanted a second slice…

HotBlack Coffee

A cool spot on Queen Street West, HotBlack Coffee didn’t disappoint. Their coffee went down smoothly, and their pastries were delicious. What else do you need? (Oh, no wifi here. And it was a bit crowded when I was there.)

Haute Coffee

Haute Coffee is a cozy local spot in the Annex. When I was there, I noticed that the baristas seemed to know most of their customers, and the customers talked to each other even if they were at different tables. Coffee is good, and this was where I tried my first butter tart. Yum.

Little Pebbles

One of my favorite neighborhoods to visit for food was Kensington Market. Little Pebbles is a very unassuming coffee and matcha shop there. I tried their matcha latte, and it was really good. (Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as one would think to find a place with a good matcha latte.) I would come back.

Piedmont Coffee Bar

I think this was a new spot when I went to Piedmont Coffee Bar. Located in Church-Wellesley Village, this was a nice spot to work and/or unwind. I went here a couple times because it was close enough to Bloor-Yonge, and I could stay in and read my books.

Icha Tea

OK, so I bought bubble tea from Icha Tea, but this shop really specializes in tea. Even their bubble tea was made of freshly brewed tea—using real tea leaves and not those powdered or syrup alternatives—so I fell in love. Since this is high quality tea, even the take out bubble tea is priced at a premium. It’s worth a try though. I am a big fan. Try it if you’re walking along Spadina in Chinatown.

Curious Travels: The Grand Detour of 2019 | Favorite Restaurants in Toronto

As you may have noticed, I was in Toronto for quite a while. Which means… I got to eat a lot of food when I was there. Although I don’t have in depth discussions about taste and texture, here’s my list of favorite restaurants (in no particular order).

I’m getting a bit hungry just thinking about them…

Playa Cabana

This restaurant is so consistently good that I just keep coming back to it. I found this spot a trip ago (see Top 3 Spots from Toronto Trip #3), and I just got hooked. I also tried the other affiliated restaurants because they have slightly different items on the menu. I liked them, too, but I liked Playa Cabana’s selection the most.

Madrina

I love this place because everything. This place serves amazing drinks and also amazing food and it’s located in my favorite place in Toronto, the Distillery. This place probably the best pulpo we’ve had, and I am never disappointed when I come here.

Mamakas

This place made me appreciate Greek food for real. No, not fast slow food Greek salads, but actual dishes that you take your time eating and savoring the taste. Y u m. Because this place is so amazing, it does get crowded. We lucked out and found seats on the day we went here, but we’d conditioned ourselves to be ready to eat elsewhere before we even tried. We didn’t even have to wait! So worthwhile.

Casa Manila

If you are somehow craving for Filipino food, this is the place to go. I admit that it’s a bit of a trek to get there, but it was worth it. And yes, you can trust me (and my family) when it comes to judging Filipino food. We ordered these and even ordered extra dishes to take home. Yup, we liked it that much.

PROJECT:FISH

Wow, this place was amazing. We went here during my last weekend in Toronto, and I guess we unintentionally saved the best for last because this was my best sushi experience during my grand detour. We mostly went for aburi style nigiri, but we also tried other dishes. It was such a great dinner that I miss it already.

Curious Travels: The Grand Detour of 2019 | Old Quebec

Confirmed: my favorite part of my grand detour was my trip to Quebec City.

We stayed in Old Quebec, a little bit outside the walls. Old Quebec was a fortified city, and the walls have been maintained through the years. The walls reminded me of my history lessons: cities were fortified to protect inhabitants from invaders, and at the center or least accessible part of the city is where the royals or generals lived (those living closer to the walls were expendable). Nerd-ing aside, the old town itself was beautiful and well-maintained; Old Quebec is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List (Historic District of Old Québec).

Why I love Old Quebec:

  • the old town vibe without the old town smell
  • the cobblestones and general walkability of the area
  • the walls surrounding the old city and the leveling: upper and lower
  • the boutique shops, independent bookstores, and boreal restaurants
  • the Chateau Frontenac and the view of the Saint Lawrence river

We declared the Chateau Frontenac (Fairmont) our home base. We frequented 1608 Bar while we were there because it was such a great place to unwind. I really liked Bistro Le Sam because of the natural light and the scenic view. For coffee, we visited three out of the four locations of Cafe La Maison Smith in Old Quebec; the one on rue Notre-Dame was my favorite.

PS: Everyone spoke French in Quebec City. I noticed that it was a tiny bit harder for the locals to switch between English and French in Quebec City than in Montreal. It was still quite easy to get by, and this is coming from someone who speaks zero French. The biggest hurdle: all of the books were in French, so I couldn’t read any of the local works.

Curious Travels: The Grand Detour of 2019 | Blue Mountain Village

A two-hour drive north from Toronto, Blue Mountain Village is a resort for recreational activities and events. There are restaurants and shops as well. In the winter, people usually come here to ski, but in the summer, people can hike and do other activities (which I obviously didn’t look into, but feel free to look at their website). In our case, we ate by the pond and just browsed the shops.

I enjoyed coming there for the view. I brought a book along, so I spent some time reading. It has a different scenery and pace from the city, and if you like sitting by bodies of water to unwind, this is a great place to go. Everyone else with active ways of blowing off steam can pursue other activities Blue Mountain Village has to offer.

It’s not very far from Toronto, and it’s a wholesome place to visit with the family and friends. I say go.

Curious Travels: The Grand Detour of 2019 | Distillery District

Historically a whiskey distillery, the Distillery District is an area that has been converted into a public venue that houses boutique shops, art galleries, and trendy restaurants. I always enjoy trips to the Distillery, which is easily accessible by the King St streetcar.

A national historic site, the Distillery also hosts events and campaigns for causes. In April, the venue supported the Daffodil Campaign against cancer and in June, Pride month.

I love the aesthetic of the Distillery. I’m partial to bricks—maybe it’s the warm colors—so I’m glad the developers didn’t go crazy with a modern look. Plus! There is art all over the Distillery (not just in the galleries), and they change these up from time to time, too.

Walking around is fun. I like entering stores that sell local or one-of-a-kind products, things that will remind me of a certain place or memory, and the shops are like that in the Distillery. There is a big Deciem store here, and it can get overwhelming to look at at all of those skin care products. (Research before entering!) As for food, my favorites are Madrina and Arvo Coffee.

The Distillery is, hands down, my favorite place in Toronto.