Craving the good old days, when counter service, jukeboxes and hearty comfort cuisine were a thing? Toronto has a slew of finger-licking greasy spoons to discover, all unique in their own way: some are open 24/7 or have made cameos in movies or TV shows, while others have unorthodox menu features that will surprise you. Here are the city’s best old-school diners that serve up all the top crave-worthy classics, with a heaping side of nostalgia.
The Senator Restaurant
Featured on You Gotta Eat Here, this bistro-style diner claims to be Toronto’s oldest operating restaurant (since 1929), and serves some of the best brunch dishes in the city. If that’s not reason enough to visit, The Senator has some serious charm, wooing patrons for decades with its wooden booths, counter seating and walls bedazzled with music memorabilia from its previous life as a jazz club. Go for the signature Senator Breakfast – an epic platter of bacon, eggs, challah toast, maple cider baked beans, home fries and coffee. If you’ve got belly space, treat yourself to a spiked milkshake or mac and cheese.
Fran’s has been trending in Toronto since 1940, when Francis “Fran” Deck opened a humble, ten-stool diner at Yonge and St. Clair. Seventy-eight years later, this greasy spoon has expanded to include three locations across the city and has become famous for its finger-licking home-style dishes – most notably the Banquet Burger that debuted in 1940. Other favourites include the fluffy buttermilk pancakes, award-winning rice pudding and homemade apple pie. PS: The College Street location is open 24/7, in case you get a craving for diner grub at 3 a.m.
The Rosedale Diner
Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it’s a mixed bag of delicious at The Rosedale Diner that’s been feeding hungry hordes since 1939. This narrow diner in the Summerhill neighbourhood is famed for its mouth-watering Middle-Eastern dishes, along with upscale Canadian classics like bison burgers and “outrageous” duck poutine. Another “must eat” dish? The swoon-worthy Asian-style spare ribs that Guy Fieri calls “sticky and righteous.” In warmer months, snag a seat on the outdoor patio.
Uncle Betty's Diner
Craving a refined dining experience? Don’t come to Uncle Betty’s, where the menu is messy and eating with your hands is encouraged. Featured on You Gotta Eat Here, this family-friendly diner near Yonge & Eglinton is notorious for making crazy-good comfort food with a twist. Here, eggs benny is served on freshly fried donuts and the Ultimate Grilled Cheese marries mac n’ cheese with a slice of meatloaf – a dish John Catucci calls “happiness on a sandwich in your mouth.” Save room for a unicorn milkshake blended with 12 different kinds of ice cream. Dining here will make you feel like a kid again.
Le Petit Déjeuner
On weekends, scoring a table at this tiny Belgian diner in the St. Lawrence Market area is like winning the lottery, with the line-up spilling onto the street. It’s no wonder: entering a long, skinny eatery with exposed brick walls, the green vinyl booths are packed with peckish patrons feasting on Belgian-style waffles topped with maple syrup, strawberries, bacon and Chantilly cream. Others prefer to sink their teeth into Petit Déjeuner’s blissful breakfast crepes – a thin pancake stuffed with savoury fillings like ham and cheese, or bacon and scrambled eggs. Worth the wait!
Spending Sunday at home? Check out these 26 Waffles That Will Make You Jump Out of Bed
The George Street Diner
The George Street Diner is all about Irish-style breakfast, serving comfort dishes inspired by the owner’s heritage. Inside this 1950s style diner, with a fire-engine red brick exterior, you’ll find rows of cozy booths or stools seated at the counter, but consider yourself lucky if you score either during prime time on the weekends. For a taste of the Emerald Isle, feast on the Ultimate Irish Breakfast, a hearty platter of bacon, sausage, ham, eggs, sautéed veggies, home fries, and of course, freshly baked Irish soda bread. FYI, the diner sells their soda bread mix for baking at home.
Avenue Open Kitchen
Since 1959, this no-frills nook near the Entertainment District attracts hungry hordes for its Canadian comfort cuisine, such as poutine, smoked meat sandwiches and all-day breakfast dishes. Avenue Open Kitchen features the usual suspects on the menu, but take note of the showstopper sandwiches like The Montreal Smoked Meat, Peameal Bacon and Traditional Club House – each loaded with steaming slabs of meat sliced right before your eyes. You’ll waddle away from this joint with a full belly and only a slightly lighter wallet – the prices here are rock bottom.
The Amazing Ted's Restaurant
In the remote reaches of Scarborough, this diner has lived in all its greasy glory since 1954, and its charming interior has even been used for shooting films and TV shows. Stepping into the space, it feels like travelling back in time with the wood panelling, vintage vinyl booths and kitschy memorabilia. It’s a favourite for breakfast, featuring large plates loaded with classics like fluffy pancakes, peameal bacon and hash browns, as well as other grub like BLT sandwiches and striploin steak. With no website or social media, Ted’s is really kicking it old school style – so you’ll have to check it out in person.