Christie Pits is a hidden gem, easier to get to than the islands and not overrun by the bacchanalian crowds attracted to Trin Bellwoods on weekends.
Its 22 acres offer everything from an evening watching the Toronto Maple Leafs semi-pro baseball team play on Dominico Field to the Christie Pits Film Festival, which shows movies on an outdoor screen at sunset throughout the summer.
We’re still not allowed to pass a cocktail shaker around a picnic blanket, so we also have plenty of options for finding refreshment indoors in this tour of the neighbourhood’s best restaurants and bars.
However your day started, the convivial atmosphere at this bar (locally known as the “pineapple bar”) is a well-designed segue into a more relaxing evening. The bartenders are part of the growing cadre who would rather customize a cocktail to suit your whims and wants than work from a defined set of recipes. Show up early and have them create something based on gin and citrus for the perfect cool down. 878 Bloor St. W., 416-546-5634
Sure, there are plenty of menu options that come in the familiar stone bowls, but the restaurant’s name points loudly to their specialties: silky smooth soon tofu in a fiery broth. It will burn but also offer enough nuanced flavour to complete a harmonious experience. And if you haven’t quite been convinced that hot, spicy food is the best antidote to warm weather, they also do a very good naengmyeon — summer’s cold buckwheat noodle dish. 681 Bloor St W., 647-345-3836
Fried chicken and watermelon make a strong case, but I say Ethiopian is the ultimate picnic takeout food. Lalibela is one of the city’s best and oldest examples.
The beef platter combines elements, from lentils to collards to the main protein, with distinct flavours and temperatures that don’t meld together, so that each piece of injera can be topped with an interesting combination. Get the beef platter and also an order of lamb titanic for additional dose of spicy savour. 869 Bloor St. W., 416-535-6615
The lamb Karahi at Banjara (IMAGE: CJ BAEK)
As Indian restaurants in T.O. diverge in two directions — places like Pukka on the high end and Bombay Street Food toward casual street snacks — Banjara is a hold-over from a time when customers wanted both in one place.
The long menu places particular focus on the meat and veg curries of northern India. It has one of the city’s best takes on butter chicken, at once rich and nuanced in flavour; a gingery-spicy Karahi lamb; and satisfying and delicious daal makhani.
The efficient takeout operation makes it easy to grab a few containers of rice and curry and head for the grassy slopes of the park next door. 796 Bloor St. W., 416-963-9360
Libations really are the strong suit at Northwood (IMAGE: CJ BAEK)
Northwood really is built for drinking over eating, and its cocktail list reflects that orientation. The Royal Oak commits what some bourbon lovers would say is sacrilege — mixing 12-year-old Elijah Craig — but accomplishes the enviable feat of creating a warm-weather tipple from the popular brown spirit. With Tanqueray and elderflower liqueur, the Choupette is even more summery.
The beer list includes local on-tap options, like Great Lakes’ My Bitter Wife, as well as rare, sour bottles like Boon Geuze. 815 Bloor St. W., 416-846-8324
A brightly-flavoured ceviche at La Bella Managua (IMAGE: CJ BAEK)
La Bella Managua
Compared to other Central and South American countries, Nicaragua is under-represented by Toronto restaurants, but La Bella Managua is making a name for its cuisine.
The mixed shrimp and fish ceviche has the right amount of bright acidity to cut through the most humid day Toronto can throw at us. Another must is a nacatamal — the Nicaraguan version of a tamale — which comes stuffed with pork loin for an ideal banana leaf–wrapped snack. Finally, it would be cruel to depart the restaurant without sipping on a smooth Flor de Caña rum cocktail. 872 Bloor St. W., 416-913-4227