Torontonians love their street food, but the reality is that there are few places to eat on actual streets.
This is largely due to strict rules on where food trucks can stop, a failed food cart program and limited opportunities for first-time food entrepreneurs that don’t have million-dollar budgets.
But for just over a decade, Market 707, a strip of shipping containers turned food stalls and storefronts managed by the Scadding Court Community Centre at Dundas Street West and Bathurst Street, has been a shining example of what the city needs more of.
Everyone from hospital workers to students come here to grab an affordable meal not from a chain. Cooks have more freedom to test out new dishes or switch out menus without worrying whether they’ll fill a whole dining room.
“This community centre gives opportunities to people who want to start a business,” said pastry chef Akash Swar of Little Sister Baking, who moved from a rental commercial kitchen nearby to her own booth at the market last year. “My rent is under $1,000 a month, which is a lot more manageable for first-time business owners.”
And, over the years, the market has found its groove as an international food hub where you can have injera with a Montreal smoked meat poutine and wash it down with a Jamaican ginger-pineapple juice.
Be warned that not all the vendors are open every day, but Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are good bets on when to show up.
With patio season in full swing, Market 707 is the place to go. Here’s a look at all of its culinary offerings.
Siblings Mike Won and Su Jin Won started SuLee last year first as a small-batch online kimchi company named after their late mother who had a restaurant in Koreatown North.
They then set up shop at the market last winter, expanding the menu to dosirak, a packed meal to-go that includes rice, banchan and a main. The pork-bone jjim option is the bestseller, but there’s a portobello and tofu with bulgogi sauce on the vegan menu.
Diners may be familiar with typical banchan like bean sprouts and pickled daikon available in Toronto, but the Won siblings keep things interesting by rotating in less commonly seen sides such as fried anchovies, mung bean jelly, lily flowers, salted radish and gyeran mari, a rolled omelette.
Gimbap, the other to-go meal, has torched pork belly to incorporate the siblings’ love of Korean barbecue.
Pastry chef Akash Swar describes her baking as a combination of South Asian flavours and French and Japanese pastry technique — a result of growing up in Dubai which, like Toronto, has a mix of multiple culinary influences.
Think Paris-Brest and choux pastries filled with mango lassi creme, or combining the American bundt cake with the cardamom and pistachio flavours of a rasmalai. (Larger cakes require ordering in advance.)
For a hot summer day, there’s the popular iced masala chai, but also try Swar’s nimbu pani, a sweet and slightly salty limeade that’ll top off your electrolytes.
Deep dish pizza is Chicago’s most well-known export, but the Italian beef sandwich is a deeper cut few Torontonians know about.
So brothers Mark and Ryan Lim brought their favourite Chicago delicacy north of the border with Ryan’s partner and chef Neola D’Souza in the kitchen.
Think thinly shaved roast beef with Italian seasoning, stuffed into crusty bread, then topped with green peppers and another very Chicago thing: giardiniera. The spicy condiment is made of pickled celery, carrots and chilies in oil. (Marq’s uses the same giardiniera supplier as Portillo’s, the quintessential Chicago beef sandwich chain.)
The sandwich is then dipped, or soaked, depending on the eater, in au jus.
“We used to go to Chicago every year to visit family and we’d have the beef sandwich,” said D’Souza. “It’s hard to get people to (understand) dipping a sandwich in au jus, but we’ve had people from the States come to us saying that they’ve been looking for it.”
Flame & Smoke started off as a catering company five years ago. Just before the pandemic, it opened at Market 707 and has since become the quintessential stop for all things barbecue.
The expansive, deliciously messy menu ideal for picnic table dining is built on the premise of American barbecue and comfort classics — the pulled pork sandwich is a major draw, cooked over a lengthy period of time, accented by a crisp slaw and fried onions.
The sides are excellent here, go for the crispy sprouts, which have a slight sweet and tangy sauce dressed all over, or the macaroni and cheese bites, which are served with a house-made tomato sauce.
Jey Sivaneswaran opened his comfort food stall just over four years ago, after starting his career as a dishwasher, then a line cook and kitchen supervisor.
There’s no deep reason for serving grilled cheese and tots, he said, other than it’s easy to eat on the go, and a crowd pleaser.
Still, the types of grilled cheeses here are what make people come back.
The mushroom grilled cheese is loaded with thinly sliced cremini mushrooms mixed with Havarti and Swiss in a crispy sourdough, making for a one-two umami punch where the more mild cheeses get added depth from the mushrooms.
While Sivaneswaran is determined that every sandwich achieves the photogenic cheese pull, the more important thing is that the sandwiches themselves are terrific, gooey, hot, and not skimping on the fillings.
Houssam Harwash knew he wanted to open a restaurant when he arrived in Toronto a few years ago, and he got his chance when he spotted Market 707 while working as a delivery driver.
“Restaurants are in our blood. We have been running butcher shops and restaurants for many decades,” said Harwash, referring to his great-grandfather in Syria.
As a result, the food veers on Damascus cooking.
There are the shawarmas with a side of pomegranate molasses and fries topped with lip-smacking good toum and the kebabs wrapped in hot, crispy saj bread.
And then there is the sujok sandwich, one of the best dishes on the menu. It’s a baguette stuffed with beef mixed with lamb fat and a blend of spices brought over from Syria and then slathered generously with a garlic sauce.
What started as a crepe spot in 2011 switched up to a poutine menu when owner Marc Perreault decided to lean into his Montreal roots. And, yes, of course, there’s a poutine topped with smoked meat.
The squeaky curds are from Belleville’s Maple Dale Cheese (the same supplier once used by the lauded, but now gone, Poutini’s on Queen West). Perreault often orders a few extra bags for customers who want to buy them on their own.
Perreault, one of the market’s longest-standing vendors, said 707 has changed drastically over the years.
“The market was a lot smaller and there wasn’t a big foundation for food, but since then there was a big push to get food in and that’s when it got busier,” he said.
Before chef Diona Joyce opened her Junction restaurant of the same name, she was serving out of her original food stall at Market 707 and filling downtown’s cravings for lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) and lechon (Filipino crispy pork).
Take advantage of the market’s picnic tables and get something that’s less grab-and-go such as the dinuguan, a savoury stew made from pork blood and offal best eaten with lots of garlic rice.
Other things to try: the tapsilog — the go-to breakfast of garlic fried rice, egg and soy-marinated rib-eye — or the batchoy (noodle soup) with roast pork.
One of the most underrated culinary spots in the city is chef Rie Arai’s tiny food stall where on top of her onigiri menu — May’s special is green peas with salted kelp — she usually introduces very limited weekend specials like skewers of savoury dango, a Japanese rice flour dumpling, or bamboo shoot and wakame miso soup.
Her menu also highlights food eaten on holidays less known outside of Japan. For example, earlier in May she had red bean mochi wrapped in oak leaves for Children’s Day.
While not all the vendors are open when temperatures dip, Omusubi is. Come back in the late fall when Arai serves bowls of oden: vegetables and fish cakes slowly simmered in broth.
“I try to make things people have to come here for. I don’t sell water because you can get that anywhere, but not buckwheat tea,” she said. “I see the ingredients first and I make a menu out of that.”
The newest edition to Market 707 dives heavily into regional Ethiopian and Eritrean comfort foods, with a staunch focus on vegan and vegetarian-friendly platters.
“These are the dishes that most remind me of my family,” said owner Etsehiwot Ejigu.
Injera plays a key role on her menu — the spongy flatbread made with teff flour that is used to create platters dressed with meat and vegetable stews.
Most customers lean toward Ejigu’s preparation of the vegetable sides like the kik wat — chickpeas that are cooked low and slow with a plethora of spices. Also popular is the yemisir wat, where lentils are cooked low and slow in a red pepper sauce.
It’s also one of the few stalls at the market that has a breakfast menu. Ejigu serves up firfir, where she breaks up injera into small pieces and cooks it with garlic and red onions.
Also fantastic is her take on foul — a hearty comfort dish made with fava beans and vegetables.
“For Thai people, pad Thai is street food,” said owner and chef Nantana Salanont, who also teaches Thai cooking at George Brown College. “It’s best eaten fresh because as it sits, the noodles go bad.”
It’s why she has a disclaimer at her stall that an order of the noodles takes a few extra minutes because they’re made to order, one plate at a time.
“It won’t taste as good if you’re making a lot of it at once,” she said.
The noodles have the perfect tamarind tang mellowed out by palm sugar with the aroma of fish sauce and a side of chili flakes to bring the heat.
Since Salanont’s workspace is, if being generous, the size of a cubicle, her menu sticks to items like pad krapow or a green curry — items more likely to be found on the streets of Bangkok rather than a sit-down restaurant.
One of the oldest food vendors at the market, Gushi has been frying up karaage, Japanese fried chicken, since 2012. There is now another location in Cabbagetown.
The chicken is marinated in sake and soy sauce before the tiny boneless bites are fried to golden perfection.
The “OG” meal is a good place to start: three pieces of karaage on a bed of purple rice, then topped with spicy mayo, edamame and threads of pickled ginger. The latter is the key to the meal as the vinegary heat cuts through the fried chicken making it taste less heavy.
There’s also a hot maple karaage (not really spicy, but the addition of maple adds a pleasant layer of flavour) and the teriyaki nagoya option containing a very potent garlicky teriyaki sauce that definitely requires a drink to wash it down.
Working within the confines of the shipping container kitchen for the past six years has meant owner Janet Daly keeps the menu at the Jamaican food stall to just the classics such as jerk chicken, curry goat and oxtail.
They are meals Daly learned to cook at a very young age.
“From when you’re a child your parents always made you work, everyone had to learn to cook, and if you didn’t know how, your mom or sister would teach you.”
For something more travel-friendly, there’s also the jerk chicken sandwich: boneless pieces of chicken in jerk sauce in a bun. (Daly is also working on a jerk burger.) Pair it with a cup of her pineapple juice that doesn’t hold back on the ginger.
Little Banh Mi Shop
One of the newest vendors at the market is run by a husband-and-wife team focusing on one of the ultimate Vietnamese street foods: the flavour-packed banh mi.
The banh mi can be ordered two ways — with the cold cuts as you would in cities like Hanoi, or with grilled meats like pork, beef and lemongrass chicken. Vegetarians, don’t sweat, tofu banh mi is also an option.
“The grilled version is where we can play with the marinades and sauces,” said co-owner Thi Thanh Thuy Bui.
With the beef banh mi, sliced beef is marinated overnight, grilled and served in a soft baguette with a thick sauce. Order it with a side of spring or fresh rolls.
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