Do or Diner: Greasy spoons of Toronto's West End
Toronto has seen many diners come and go but the ones on this list have been around for decades. There is something unequivocally “homey” about a local greasy spoon. What memories does imagining the feel of vinyl booths, the taste of bottomless coffee, and the sound of a sizzling flat top stir in you?
On this walk we’ll acquaint ourselves with some local gems; learning about their history, admiring their store fronts or seeing how things have changed on the streetscape and –of course– discussing what’s on/or was on, the menu! This walk will foster further appreciation of the diner as an enduring and important community feature (and a reliable hangover cure).
222 Davenport Rd, Toronto, ON M5R 1J6 (Avenue Diner)
1132 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1X2 (Lakeview Restaurant)
Duration: approx. 1 hour 23 min
Avenue Diner, 222 Davenport Rd, Toronto, ON M5R 1J6
At the intersection known to locals as the “Av and Dav” some may consider this Yorkville territory but this local spot has a decidedly more homey feeling to its narrow counter and a small number of tables. The iconic arrow sign looms over the sidewalk and a jaunty hand-painted mural beckons you in for a closer inspection, meanwhile inside you’ll find the walls adorned with signed celebrity portraits from decades past (Hi Liza! Hi Whoopi!). Avenue Diner has been open since 1944, serving classic western breakfast and lunch and is owned by Louis Klasios. Under constant threat of being redeveloped by the city for years, there is finally the foreboding “Notice” sign on the corner store next door that at least a few properties here will become a condo.
2.Vesta Lunch Restaurant, 474 Dupont St, Toronto, ON M5R 1W5
slogan/sign: “reputable since 1955”
You’ve probably always wondered about this eye-catching, bright yellow-and-red diner at the corner of Dupont and Bathurst. Opened by three brothers (George, Gus, and Tony) in 1955, the restaurant was bought by Miriam Reinoso in 2004 . “Reputable” (as the sign assures) this diner continues to serve up late-night burgers and some of the original features like souvlaki and rice. During a brief hiatus from 24/7 hours during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vesta has persevered and is still open for those late night hunger pangs (or early morning hangover munchies). If you haven’t been inside, although you can see just about every detail from the long window, it’s worth sitting your butt in one of the ancient stools and grabbing a coffee to take it all in, including the wide gamut of folks that patronize this corner spot.
3. MARS FOOD, 432 College St, Toronto, ON M5T 1T3
Owner: has been operated by the Tseclars family since the mid-80s
Although it claims to be “Out of this World”, this narrow, cozy diner has long been a staple of the Bathurst/College set and to me, always felt incredibly down-to-earth, a necessary companion to the late nights spent at Sneaky Dee’s across the street. Much of the interior remains as it was originally built and installed during in the 50s. Along the left side of the restaurant the long chrome counter stretches back with the requisite stool seating, and a number of vinyl booths run parallel along the right. Once known for their muffins (that took up prime real estate at the front cash register) this place has sadly been foreclosed upon. While the original facade and otherworldly sign still hangs above, and the classic striped blue-and-white awning provides a little shelter from the chaos, we can only hope someone swoops in and saves (preserves) the integrity of this classic little spot. There is still a Mars Uptown Diner is still open however, it’s up at Yonge/Eglinton.
4.Barn Restaurant, 598 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1E6
Did you ever get to eat here? It always seemed like a gem hiding in plain sight, almost on the corner of Bathurst and Queen St West. The Barn got its name, I realized after my first visit, from its curious decor inside it looked almost like a vaulted barn ceiling, unexpectedly spacious and cozy at the same time. Lots of character, lots of shockingly (for the area) time-honoured prices on classic diner staples like eggs and toast. The Barn bit the bullet last year(ish) and while it’s awesome western-style sign still graces the building, the door is sadly locked for good. We will keep our eyes on it to see what happens next.
5.UFO Restaurant, 241 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M6J 2L5
This is my local spot, as my studio is right around the corner on Walnut ave. I’ve been going here for years, with my parents even before I moved to the city as an adult. It used to be more convenience store than restaurant, as I remember it, and I have a vivid picture of a pack of budgie seed that graced the dusty shelves for YEARS. Originally a Greek restaurant/corner store the building is leased by original owner Zambia Papadaki, but sometime in last decade or so it’s been operated by the Nguyen family, growing its reputation as a great and affordable neighbourhood spot for Vietnamese fare as well as the usual western diner staples, offering equally delicious pho and western omelettes. While we all had a brief scare during the pandemic when the owner listed the building for sale at 4.2 million dollars, in the end it didn’t sell and UFO restaurant lives on!
6.The Lakeview Restaurant, 1132 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1X2
Owners: Fadi Hakim, Alex Sengupta (since 2009)
The Lakeview Restaurant is where we end our foray into the diner scene of the West end, although there are so many more to be mentioned. This stop feels like a great way to end the walk – with a new beginning! Open since 1932 and serving customers both local and curious come-from-awayers that entire time, The Lakeview is certainly a landmark. Situated at the top of what has become the “Ossington Strip”, an alarmingly aesthetic array of boutique restaurants, the Lakeview has recently updated its menu and scrubbed the floors to offer what the owners call an updated, modern menu which leans more “Jewish delicatessen”, translating into what also means steeper prices than the average diner on this list, but I think it’s also an interesting look at what might be one way for these iconic sets from a different era to survive in the city. Speaking of sets, if you enter into this (nearly “always open”) joint, it’s no surprise that the Lakeview has a long list of movie credits. I have cozied up in a wood booth and admired the vintage bar and penny tile many mornings.
Do you have your own diner stories to share? I have been working on a series of linocut prints featuring diners in Toronto for the past three years, and currently some of this work is on view in the Project Space at Open Studio, in the 401 Richmond building. I collect stories via an anonymous google questionnaire and if you’d like to contribute your response may be turned into part of an artwork one day!
Link to google response: