You will not see any grand buildings or particular architectural landmarks in downtown Toronto's Koreatown. It's main draws are authentic Korean style food, grocers and personal services like barber shops. That's all, more or less.
To me, Koreatown's charm lies in staying true to its roots. Its authenticity. It's never made up or dressed up for tourists.
Koreatown has its roots in the Korean students and their families who came to nearby University of Toronto to study theology in the 1960s.
They settled in nearby Bloor Street West which is just north of College Street where much of the sprawling U of T is located. This area was the South American enclave in the 1960s.
Koreatown stretches 6 blocks east to west, bounded by Grace Street in the west and Bathurst Street in the east. Put another way, it's roughly between Bathurst and Christie subway stations.
Churches are the largest buildings in Koreatown. Along Bloor Street West, there is the Trinity St. Paul's United Church.
Further east, there is also Bloor Street United Church.
If there was ever a landmark in Koreatown, it would be the huge Honest Ed's bargain store. But, sadly Honest Ed's pulled down it's shutters for the last time on the New Year's Eve of 2016. In it's place will be a mega condo development - it's the fate of many older neighbourhoods in Toronto as the city copes with a rapidly growing population.
Let's take a walk along Bloor Street West where Koreatown is all about. Though there are still many Korean businesses here, most Koreans have moved to the car-dependent suburbs (such as around Finch-Yonge junction in North York) and fewer live here in Koreatown now.
Still, if you are exploring Toronto on foot and want a taste of authentic Korean food, the most accessible place is downtown Toronto's Koreatown.
Korean food fads like bingsu and fried chicken are not as big here as they are in Singapore and Malaysia.
Most Korean eateries here remain small mom and pop or ajumma (auntie) operations, hence it's homely charm to me.
They are typically humbly furbished but are clean and comfortable enough. Ajumma helms the kitchen and the front end is usually run by just one young staff, at most two doing the order taking, serving, clearing, cleaning and money collection. But, most are very quick and efficient, yet polite and obliging. A few are simply amazing - the energy and enthusiasm of the young Korean staff (often ajumma's son or daughter).
Most of the Korean eateries here ofter a whole range of traditional Korean comfort food from soups/ stews to sizzling hot plates and BBQ dishes.
The humble gamjatang or pork bone soup is big here, maybe because a hot spicy meaty soup does wonders on the all too frequent double digit sub-zero days in Toronto. The savoury-spicy soup and spine bones cures hungry stomachs during Toronto's biting cold winters and is the perfect antidote for hangovers too, I am told.
Big too is soon dubo or soft tofu in savoury-spicy-sweet soup. It has the same curative benefits as gamjatang but minus the meat and fats 😂
These are the Korean eateries that I have tried in Koreatown so far. I enjoyed every eatery that I have tried here so far.
Seoul Restaurant (621 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Yummy Korean Restaurant (620 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Sunrise House (661 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
The Owl (Boo Ung Ee) 700 Bloor St. West 👈 click
Mom's Korean Food (612 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Little Piggy's (469 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Paldogangsan (694 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Kimchi House (586 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Buk Chang Dong (691 Bloor St. West) 👈 click
Korean Village Restaurant (628 Bloor St. West) which I have not tried yet.
There is a shop serving freshly made hodo kwaja or Korean walnut cake at 656 Bloor St. West. Looks like a nice snack but I have not tried it yet as I am always too full when I passed by the little shop 😂
You can watch them make hodo kwaja through the shop window.
There is a Korean supermarket from the P.A.T. chain at 675 Bloor St. West. At P.A.T. we can get many kinds of Korean fresh and pickled vegetables, Korean cuts of meat like spine bones for gamjatang, and spices for kimchi and cooking. P.A.T. also has a large selection of Korean instant noodles 👈
When at P.A.T. remember to get a freshly made fish-shape waffle from Kevin's Taiyaki stand. These crispy eggy fish-shape waffles are filled with paste made with green beans, red beans, black beans, or custard. They are very generous with the paste which has just the right texture and sweetness i.e. not overly sweet. They cost CDN2 each and worth every cent 😄
While Koreatown has many Korean shops, the business mix reflects the diversity of Canada. The Korean eateries and services are punctuated here and there by hipster cafes, Japanese, Thai, Chinese eateries etc.
There is a Jerk King outlet (522 Bloor St. W) which is popular for their Jamaican dishes like spicy jerk chicken.
There's Eva's Original at 454 Bloor St. West.
We can see staff hand make chimneys, a traditional Hungarian pastry eaten with ice cream.
There's a Burger's Priest outlet at 406 Bloor St. West.
Burger's Priest is a Canadian homegrown brand of premium burgers using only fresh ground beef. It's Toronto's answer to NYC's Shake Shack 👈
There're Greek, Japanese and even Australian (Cobs Bread) comfortably side by side.
There's a taste of spicy Bangkok too at Thai Basil.
Kinka Izakaya is a great place for Japanese small plates 👈 Their Koreatown outlet is at 559 Bloor St. West.
By The Way, a popular cafe serving Middle Eastern cuisine with Mediterranean influences (400 Bloor St. West).
The White Brick Kitchen a mac & cheese, burger and fried chicken joint. Their famous fried chicken attracts a queue even on a rainy Sunday morning (641 Bloor St. West).
Rancho Relaxo take out shop features vegan and gluten free tacos and burritos (633 Bloor St. West).
The popular Green Beanery Cafe is a coffee roaster, equipment shop and cafe all rolled into one. It's outlet at 565 Bloor St. West is also known as The Vault as it used to be a bank and customers can book the old vault for events.
Boil Bar is a Louisiana-style boiled seafood shop (442 Bloor St. West). The seafood, crabs, prawns, mussels, etc are boiled together and served with sauces and hot spices. The pot of seafood is dumped in a messy heap on the table and eaten with hands. The messiness is a big part of the fun 😄
There is a Poop Cafe at 706 Bloor St. West.
Don't worry. Their signature dish is bingsu 😂
Besides restaurants, Koreatown is a good place for book worms and souvenir hunters as there are a few book stores and knick knack shops here.
Gig@bites internet cafe where gamers meet and slug it out on high power machines. Koreatown used to have a vibrant internet cafe strip but now only a odd one or two shops are left.
Alternative Arts (491 Bloor St. West) have a good stock of eye catching posters.
This uniquely Canadian poster caught my attention 😄
There are even a few vinyl record stores along Bloor St. West where one can get original vintage records.
👉 Locals come to Toronto's Koreatown for good food at reasonable prices. There are plenty of choices here and not just Korean. I like it here as it is a good place for me to try out and learn about Korean comfort dishes.
Come. There's a lot more than what I am sharing here.
Date: 12 Apr 2017