Old Town, in the southeastern corner of downtown Toronto, is where the city was born a couple of hundred years ago. It is home to many historical buildings such as the St-Lawrence Market and the Distillery District. It is also one of the top tourist areas, and has been my home since 2000 (even though I worked here as far back as 1990). Being a creature of habit like most people, I find myself returning to the same eating establishments over and over again. And because I live on a small budget, these are some of the best and cheapest places around.

I therefore present you my favourite cheap eats in Old Town Toronto! (All prices below are in Canadian dollars and include tax.)

Quick Eats

When it comes to grabbing a quick bite to eat, nothing beats the St-Lawrence Market with its dozens of stalls and small eateries. And the price tag is also small. You can take your food to go, or, in warm weather, sit outside at one of the picnic tables. I have been returning to the following two places regularly for years! (Note that the St-Lawrence Market is closed on Sundays and Mondays.)

Crepe it up! (lower level, St-Lawrence Market)

This crepe bar downstairs serves filling crepes made in front of your eyes from fresh ingredients (including plenty of vegetables). If you can’t decide between a savoury or sweet crepe, go on a Wednesday when you can get a sweet crepe for 25% off with the purchase of a savoury crepe. Prices range from $3.40 to $7.85.

Crepe It Up! St Lawrence Market Toronto

St-Lawrence Pizza & Pasta (main level, St-Lawrence Market)

Upstairs on the west side of the Market, this place serves, not too surprisingly, pasta and pizza by the slice, although I’ve only tried the pizza. There are several varieties, from cheese and pepperoni to deluxe, including a couple of vegetarian options. Pizzas are made fresh throughout the day. Most slices cost $4.60. You can also buy a ball of dough to make your own pizzas at home!

St Lawrence Pizza & Pasta, Toronto

G… for gelato and espresso bar (75 Jarvis St. at Adelaide St.)

Two blocks north of the Market, on Jarvis Street, is my favourite gelato place: G… for gelato and espresso bar. Only a few years old, G… for gelato has quickly become a neighbourhood favourite, serving a couple dozens delicious gelato flavours, including many unusual ones such as blueberry and lavender, or Ferrero Rocher. Flavours change daily, and a small cup (plenty for one person) will set you back $4.00. Beside gelato, they also offer panini, thin crust pizzas, and of course, espresso coffee.

Update, March 2018: This place closed last November and it now looks permanent. I’m very sad. 🙁

G...for gelato Toronto


Independent coffee shops have been proliferating in Old Town Toronto in recent years, to the great delight of coffee aficionados. You can now have a cuppa at a different shop every day of the week without ever stepping into a Starbucks or Tim Horton. Here are my three favourites right now:

The Black Canary (61 Sherbourne St. at Adelaide St.)

There was a time when I was at The Black Canary (previously Bisogno) every single day. In danger of going bankrupt, I ended up buying my own coffee machine, but I still go once or twice a week for a cappuccino and perhaps a chat with one of the baristas. They have WiFi, the coffee is freshly ground, and after nine stamps on your loyalty card you get a free drink! If you’re a nutella lover, try their nutella latte. They let you lick the spoon!

Balzac’s (Distillery District, corner of Mill St. and Trinity St.)

Balzac’s now has five locations in the city, but it’s hard to beat the Distillery for historical charm. I go there mostly to sit on the sunny terrace in the car-free district. The coffee is pretty good too.

Balzac's (Distillery District) Toronto

Tandem Coffee (368 King St. East, at Trinity St.)

This is a brand new coffee shop in Corktown owned by an ex-barista from Bisogno (and Rooster) and her husband. They serve the same good Italian-style cappuccino I like in a bright and airy little space with a green wall.

Tandem Coffee Toronto

Sit-down meals

Restaurant meals are not cheap in Toronto, but if you like Asian food, you’re in luck, as it is plentiful in the city, and priced lower than most European or international food. These are my two favourites in Old Town.

Golden Thai (105 Church Street, at Richmond St.)

Golden Thai has been at this location for as long as I can remember (which means 1990 or so). This restaurant has it all: delicious food, attentive service, and beautiful decor, for very reasonable prices. There are lots of Thai eateries in the neighbourhood that have come and gone, but when I’m craving Thai food, this is usually where I head out. The Thai sculptures, wall hangings, and dimmed light from the chandeliers create a cozy yet elegant atmosphere. You’ll find all the favourites on the menu, including spring rolls, satay, cashew chicken, and green chicken curry. Weekday lunch specials are priced from $8.98 to $11.81.

Golden Thai Toronto

(Update: During my last visit to Golden Thai in December 2014, I noticed something had changed… the curries just seemed too thick. I don’t know if this was just a blip or a new trend. A good alternative I just tried is Sukhothai, at 52 Wellington St. East.)

Miyaki Sushi (4-222 The Esplanade, entrance on Princess St.)

This unpretentious sushi restaurant caters mostly to the residents of the surrounding apartment buildings who come here for take-out. As a result, the dining room is usually very quiet and a great place for conversation. Friendly service and quality sushi for a good price makes you forget the minimal decor. Try the Mixed Tray A which will easily fill up two people for $47.40 with its 36 pieces of rolls and nigiri. Unlimited free green tea.

Do you have a “cheap eat” recommendation for people visiting YOUR neighbourhood? Please share in the comments!

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