Enjoy a Day in Toronto’s Famous Kensington Market
Kensington market is a popular place for a reason. It’s why there are all those listicles and blogs posts — although be warned, many are suspect. Kensington Market is a must-hang in Toronto and worthy of your time to explore and try new things. First a word about what it is and it’s history before describing the wisest places to depart with your hard earned cash.
Kensington was largely home to Toronto’s Jewish population for a time awhile ago. The city’s Chinese residents also then set up a base there, and it’s still Chinatown but really it’s an eclectic mix. A mosaic of people with a certain bent.
While the rest of the city is being torn down and replaced with those hipster cool coffee shops and sky-flying condos, Kensington is one of the last bastions of what was. It’s under attack of gentrification, some has indeed seeped in, but it’s palpably different than the surrounding city. It welcomes everybody, except for unfriendly non-accepting folks and condo developers.
Anyway, you don’t need to spend much to have a really nice day walking around if the weather is nice. The coffee shops all have good americanos or espresso. Some people have strong preferences and loyalties, but they’re more alike than they’re willing to admit. Livelihood Cafe supports Syrian refugees directly, through funds and helping refugees in Toronto adjust. It’s really nice inside, too. Fika Cafe, too.
Mare pizza is delicious, and it’s a cheap slice. There are sit down restaurants too, from quite cheap to moderate, but Kensington is good for eating no-fuss delicious and inexpensive food.
There are trendy taco places and they’re more expensive and tasty, but Augusta Street has a good El Salvadorian grocery store where they make cheaper, delicious tacos and empenadas in the back.
Want something a bit different - enjoy some Rasta Pasta! Get there before they sell out. It is delicious. Be sure to do you though.
Ronnie’s is a classic bar. The front patio is great for people watching when it’s nice out, and the back room with the deer murals is vintage They were one of the first to sell a highly potent beer called Delirium Tremens before the rest of Ontario caught on.
Walking around the Market is not a raucous scene at night, it’s way more alive in the day. You can talk politics over a pint at many places, or you’ll walk and hear some good music and decide to walk in. Don't get us wrong, you can still have a great evening there.
Cold Tea is a “secret” bar that hasn’t been a real secret for years and probably never was. But you have to walk through the “Kensington Mall” to get to it, and the mall looks very closed and sketchy. It’s more of weird mall alley than a big, proper mall. There’s a red light at the end, and people selling cheap dumplings as you walk in the bar. Good DJs, dancing and conversation too.
You can hang out in Kensington after-hours in a back alley underground club, handy if you want to play poker or pool or snort cocaine until 8am.
The best way to experience the place is to just walk around and explore. It’s not a big place and there’s lots of good stuff. It’s OK to have a few specific places in advances to see, but don’t go armed with a checklist of must-eat/must-see things to cross off. In fact, don’t ever do that, but especially not in Kensington. Just chill. That’s what it’s for.
There is a tight-knit community who live and care about the area, and feeling this is a large part of what makes it special. This creates a spirit that first-time visitors can’t help but fall in love with.
Happy travels and enjoy your time exploring one of our favourite Toronto neighbourhoods, Kensington Market.
Travel paddle and adventure on!