Food Tour of Kensington Market (Chinatown Toronto)

I am a huge fan of “Free Tours By Foot” food tours in NYC. One the reasons I love them is because you don’t have to pay for food in advance (what if you don’t want to eat everything on the tour? Why pay for something you may not want? And who wants to pay the full price and only get samples?). So, you get the opportunity to explore the city, while visiting different food establishments along the way. It’s a win-win.

Kensington Market is one of Toronto’s most unique neighborhoods and retains its charm and wonderful diversity through its eclectic mix of vintage clothing stores, Latin American grocers, fresh produce, cafes and watering holes. Kensington Market is the spot where all culinary worlds collide–and the result is nothing but a food-lovers dream. And to top it all off, the prices can’t be beat! You can easily get a full meal for under $10!

The plan was to meet at Cafe Pamenar @ 11am. Once we were all together, I reviewed the plan with the group. We were going to go to the following places in this order:

  1. Jumbo Empanadas for empanadas and corn pie
  2. Seven Lives Tacos and Mariscos for tacos
  3. Emporium Latino for pupusas and tamales
  4. Dumpling House Restaurant for dumplings
  5. and finish off with a churro from Pancho’s Bakery

Unfortunately Seven Lives was closed and while walking towards Emporium Latino, and checking-in on Yelp, I learned that El Arepazo was offering a check-in deal–if you check-in to Yelp, you get an arepa for 50% off. This deal was too good to pass up!

So these were our actual stops:

  1. Cafe Pamenar
  2. El Arepazo for arepas
  3. Emporium Latino for pupusas and tamales
  4. Dumpling House Restaurant for dumplings
  5. and finished off with a churro from Pancho’s Bakery

1. Cafe Pamenar is a cozy coffeehouse with a front and back patio. They offer an array of hot/cold coffee options and paninis. The indoor sitting is limited, so I prefer to visit them during the summer months. Oddly enough, they don’t sell bottled water. The only reason I remember this is because I came here with my brother once and he wanted bottled water, and they did not have any for sale. Though, they do have water by the cash register in a jug that you can pour for yourself for free.

2. I returned to El Arepazo several weeks after this tour and my friends and I were greeted by different staff and they seemed to be new. A friend wanted to try an arepa and asked to use the check-in offer. They looked at her with a blank stare. My friend kept showing them her phone and the information on the check-in offer, and they had no clue what we were talking about. I began to explain to them what check-in offers were, and they pointed towards a guy at the other end of room and suggested that we speak to him. We walked over to the guy and I explained to him what we wanted, and he nodded okay. As though he was doing us a favor. Excuse me? If you do not want to honor your check-in offers, then take it down!

After my friend paid for the arepa we went to the back patio to sit down and waited for our arepa. We watched people who came after us get their arepas, and somehow they forgot about us. I went back inside and asked them how much longer it would be. They said that they were making it now. So I went back outside and we waited some more. Finally it arrived, and I almost laughed. Note that I have been here before, and know what their arepas normally look like. This one hardly had any toppings. In fact, I had to open it up so my friend could see the toppings inside. What the hell happened to this place?! And to top it all off, I had to run inside to get the sauces because they forgot that too!

What a shame. I had been raving about El Arepazo to my friends and on Yelp, and it feels like overnight their service and quality went down the tubes.

3. If they had more seating, I would give Emporium Latino a 4/5. When I am craving pupusas or tamales, I always make my way to Emporium Latino. The prices have gone up over the last year, but I think it is still good value. Pupusas are approximately $3 and they come with a salad and spicy (I mean spicy!) tomato sauce (they probably have mild too). If you are interested in buying items to go from their fridge such as queso fresco, chorizo and tamales, I would not go on a Sunday. I was there last Sunday and their fridge was pretty much empty. Lucky for me I was only interested in eating in.

The way the ordering works is that you order and pay at the front cash, they write your order on a piece of paper that they rip off the number from the top of this piece of paper and then give you both pieces; you take the ticket/piece of paper with your order on it and you give it to the people cooking in the back and keep the other piece (it just has a number on it). Once your order is ready, they will call you and you give them the piece of paper with your order number.

The seating situation is a pain! I was there with 6 people and we had to take turns eating. They have 6 chairs and it is bar-style. When you get there, if you are not alone and you see an empty seat, grab it and have someone else order for you. Though, you are better off buying your food to go and walking over to the park and making yourself a picnic. For a pupusa, tamal and a drink it will cost you around $10.

4. I chose the Dumpling House Restaurant as one of our stops because the reviews were consistently good, and $6 for 12 dumplings seemed like a great deal. Sure, there are cheaper dumplings in Chinatown, but I wanted to visit a restaurant whose dumplings came highly recommended. Unfortunately this restaurant only takes cash, and there is limited seating available. The ordering process was hectic, and confusing, so I quickly ordered steamed and fried dumplings, paid the cash and waited outside with my group. I did have to go in a few times to check if my order was ready because communication was poor, that I had no idea whether the staff would attempt to call me in when my order was ready. The actual dumplings themselves were good, and they did not lack in filling. The portions were generous, and most people admitted with shock that they did in fact prefer the steamed dumplings! This would be a place I would check out again, except that I would probably try to dine-in next time. Waiting around on the sidewalk on Spadina on a weekend is madness!

5. We walked back to Augusta for churros at Pancho’s Bakery, and decided to buy churros as a group to get the discount (cheaper when you buy more than 1 at a time), otherwise it is $1.50 for one. The filling options were:

  • Dulce de Leche
  • Chocolate
  • Strawberry
  • Assorted Flavours (i.e. Nutella)

I decided to go with dulce de leche. The churro was good, but not hot. I am not sure why they have so many churros pre-made, and sitting there losing their freshness. I think it would make more sense to make them to-order rather than have them sitting there getting stale–the batter is already made, so what would be the big deal? The dulce de leche filling was nice and thick, though the chocolate we found was not thick enough, and thus was harder to contain in the churro.

Emporium Latino on Urbanspoon

Dumpling House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

El Arepazo on Urbanspoon

Pancho's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Cafe Pamenar on Urbanspoon

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