Kensington Market in downtown Toronto is one of the spots I always recommend tourists scope out and it has been years since I last shared stories about the area! As with many of Toronto’s neighbourhoods Kensington Market keeps evolving but still holds on to that grittiness I love so much. This eclectic Toronto attraction is definitely one of the things you should add to your list of things to do in Toronto (with kids or without). There’s plenty to explore culinary wise in this national historic site of Canada where cultures meet and where you can take a sensory journey around the world.
Updated : Summer 2020
Locals flock to Kensington Market to procure quality spices from around the world and some of the best cheese, bread and green living products, but as with many tourists, we locals go mostly to soak in the charm of the busy streets. While I’ll be the first to say that it can be quite difficult to navigate the narrow sidewalks with a double stroller, it continues to be one of our favourite summer time activities (even after the kids were born). We’ve braved snow and rain in Kensignton but summer and fall is when you’ll find us there more often. One thing to point out is that Kensington Market can be a bit slow after 9 p.m. and there have been times we’ve found it difficult to find late night snack spots or restaurants. However there’s plenty of bars open late into the night though those may be hard to get into, especially with young kids in tow.
Go for the vibe, stay for the food and linger for graffiti.
There are many spots to dine and drink your way through at Toronto’s Kensington Market that’ for sure. However, for first time visitors to Toronto, it can be overwhelming as you walk through the two main streets and many side streets. Restaurants and bars are also constantly changing here and many are so tiny that it’s hard to bring a stroller in (even if it’s just to stow away). I’m definitely glad that the kids now scooter around and that we no longer have to worry about our double stroller. Kensignton Market is a spot we frequented before we had kids and even these days, we try to sneak in a date night in Kensignton because it’s a fun spot for a date night in Toronto.
Below are a list of our current faves mixed in with some tried and true spots that have stood the test of time. We’ve taken our kids to each of these but if the space is small, one of us goes in to grab the items and then we dine as we walk the streets or at spots at Kensington Brewery who allows guests to bring their own food.
Best Bars in Kensington Market
- Cold Tea Bar : This is a hidden spot but if you can find it, you’ll be rewarded with great cocktails and beers. They have a fab patio that’s open in the summer and the girls and I have even ended up here late night for a lounge-ey vibe!
- Kensington Brewery : If you’re looking for some fun craft beers on a hot day, this is your spot. They even allow you to bring your own food, so that’s always a plus – perfect way to enjoy food from those “grab and go spots” Kensington is well known for.
- Handle Bar : An old favourite, this cozy little spot is the perfect drinking hole when you’re looking to gather with your mates.
- Thirsty and Miserable : While I detest the fact that this spot is super tiny and cash only, they do have a stellar craft beer list and have allowed us to bring the stroller on occasion (vs. having to fold it away at most other spots)
Sit Down Restaurants in Kensington Market
- El Rey Mezcal Bar : This is my current fave as they have a gorgeous bar inside and a fab patio (where you can park your stroller) to sip on amazing cocktails and delicious tapas style dishes.
- El Trompo : This is one of the first taquerias in Canada and even today, is family run! Definitely the best authentic Mexican home cooking you can find.
- Supermarket : No groceries for purchase here but this Asian fusion spot is also an awesome music venue where you can find up and coming artists playing at. I personally like to end our late nights here (if we can get in) though their restaurant is quite good so we usually go here for dinner and then catch a show.
- Grey Gardens : If you’re looking for a fancier spot, this wine bar is your best choice. While most of the Kensington restaurants have a rustic vibe, this spot will take things up a notch.
- Via Mercanti : We have one of their restaurants near our home and love it, for Neopolitan pizza lovers this is a great spot. Click here to read more about this restaurant.
- Otto’s Berliner : I’m not a doner fan, but Chris is and so we come here often for a quick sit down snack that will remind you of your Berlin travels. Unlike the other spots we mentioned above, this is smaller spot with a few tables.
- Pow Wow Cafe : There aren’t too many places where one can enjoy and learn about indigenous cuisine in Toronto, but you can here!
Snacks and Treats – Grab & Go
- Tito Ron’s : This Filipino-Caribbean take out joint can be hard to find but their dishes and Ube Sundae is perfect on a hot muggy day
- Torteria San Cosme : Sandwiches are boring until you grab one from this Mexican eatery.
- Rasta Pasta : The long line ups are worth the wait because the Jamaican-Italian fusion dishes are DIVINE!
- Bunners Bakeshop : Vegan and Gluten free folks are going to love this bake shop and even if you aren’t you’ll still love it.
- Jumbo Empanadas : One of the oldest restaurants in the area, they do have a patio but I tend to grab their Chilean Empanadas and go for a walk with them in hand.
- 214 Augusta : This spot is home to a bunch of stalls and is truly a delight to walk through. It’s tiny, the vendors are screaming orders and you’ll be transported to Latin America. I haven’t eaten at all the spots, but each one I’ve had has been awesome!
- Millie : This creperie offers some of the best treats and ice cream. Even in the winter!
Best Shopping in Kensington Market
- Nu Bagel : They serve the best Montreal style bagels I’ve found in the city and if you’re lucky and walking by around closing time, you may just have a bag of bagels gifted to you!
- Latin America Emporium : There are a few Latin American stores in Kensignton Market but this is my go-to. I pick up hard to find items and also grab a few ready to eat items from their kitchen at the back.
- Cheese : To build a solid cheese board, you should visit Global Cheese Shop and Cheese Magic. Between the two you’ll find everything you need to impress guests and keep your cheese buds happy.
- Gifts : Blue Banana and Kidcarius are two fun stores. Not only will you find truly unique items to make you the best gifter ever, but you’ll easily spend an hour just playing with the various items (especially at Blue Banana).
- House of Spices : Owner Carlos started working at House of Spice as a teenager in 1977 and he bought it in 2012. If you’re looking to find authentic spices and receive a spice lesson at the same time, look no further!
- Vintage Items : Kensington market is filled with vintage clothing spots and while I’m not well versed in thrift stores or upcycling, my friends say that you won’t find a better spot in the city.
- CXBO Chocolates : For the prettiest hand made chocolates you’ll have to pop by this store. So gorgeous. Trust me!
- Cocktail Emporium : For fancy bar tools and bitters, this is one of my go-to spots in the city that helps me replicate cocktails at home
Every last Sunday of the month during the summer, Kensington is a pedestrian only zone which makes it easy to push the stroller around! Each visit to Kensington Market sees me discovering new works of street art and learning about new artists and musicians (most of whom just start playing on a street corner). Also, just around the corner from the main Kensignton Market strip is Baldwin street, quite possibly the best hidden/forgotten food street in Toronto!
p.s There’s playground in Kensington Market but given our desire to sit on patios, the kids are yet to play there!