Toronto is usually people’s first stop when flying into the country, thanks to our pretty good airport. Sometimes, people spend a few days in the city to explore or wait for their next flight, and while cheap accommodations can be hard to find, affordable food can also be elusive if you don’t know where to look. If you’re not careful, eating in the city can easily set you back nearly $100 a day or more, which is ridiculous when you find out that some locals eat for less than $25 a day! In this article, I’ll share my top tips for grabbing budget bites in Toronto, but I’m going to focus on eating on a budget in the downtown core within walking distance of the University of Toronto, because where there are students, there is cheap (and good!) food. I’m also assuming that you’re dead set against cooking or purchasing light snacks or things from a grocery store (or eating McDonald’s for your entire stay), so keeping that in mind, let’s get started!
I love stopping by Kensington Market anytime of day, and it’s only about a 10-minute walk from Hart House at the University of Toronto—and is conveniently located within a few minutes of streetcar line! I’ve been known to stop in at Golden Patty for a couple of Jamaican patties to eat for breakfast, setting me back less than $5, but I get that not everyone can handle that at 9AM. The Coach House is a local favourite for hearty breakfasts for about $7, which is actually pretty good considering how much food you get. You can get eggs, home fries, and bacon, ham, or sausage!
I know I literally just wrote about Kensington Market, but hear me out. Wouldn’t you want to eat Jamaican-Italian fusion food and be able to have your order last you for 2+ meals? At Rasta Pasta, you can get a lunch special for under $6 that included jerk chicken or pork served with rice and vegetables. My personal favourite isn’t a special, though—it’s the jerk lasagna. I swear, that lasagna is heavenly! You’ve got jerk chicken, lasagna noodles, and your choice of alfredo or rose sauce… and the portion is huge! It normally lasts me three meals if I’m very hungry, four if I’m being reasonable, and that’s all for $12! You can also get a delicious reggae lasagna, which is callaloo, ricotta, tomato sauce, and noodles, for $10.
Another great stop in Kensington is the Burgernator, a halal burger joint with some of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten in my life. The classic burger, Sergeant Burger, comes out to $5.49 and is quite filling, but I really like the Atomic Burger, which comes with deep-fried cheese and a delicious sun-dried tomato aioli for $8.99!
Just to give you an option outside of Kensington Market, Banh Mi Nguyen Huong is a Chinatown staple where you can grab lunch for under $4! There’s usually $1.75 banh mi up for grabs if you’re feeling it—but be prepared for some huge lineups on weekdays at lunch time. They have lots of other delicious foods too, and you can easily have a feast here for under $10.
Dinner in Toronto is probably the most difficult meal for tourists to make budget-friendly, but don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think. You could easily visit any of the places I’ve mentioned (seriously), or you could try something else. If you’re into cheap drinks and greasy pub food, consider Sneaky Dee’s. It’s a bar on College Street that’s been a firm favourite for years, and eventually you’ll warm up to it. The tables and walls are covered in graffiti and carvings, and it’s hard to hear yourself think over the sound of people talking and the Spotify playlists running on the speakers, but the nachos here are legit. I love the Northern Blues nachos because the barbecue sauce is delicious, but those are just over $20—which is fine, really, because you should be splitting this with at least one other person. If you go in when the white sangria is a special, get it.
A slightly more upscale place is right across the street, at Pomegranate, a deliciously decadent Persian restaurant. This place can often be busy on weekends or on Persian holidays, but the food is worth the wait. You can get a healthy helping of Mirza Qasemi, which is charred eggplant in garlic and tomato sauce on some rice, for between $11.95 and $14.95, depending on what kind of rice you ask for.
Eating on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat Big Macs and Doritos! Toronto is a city that is great for budget food, so you’ll have no problem keeping food costs down when you’re here.