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Toronto Summer: From Danforth to Little Italy & beyond, a festival for every taste

In winter, Torontonians and visitors must rely on brave hot dog vendors to get their hands on some street meat. But in the summertime street food gets prized billing with several festivals shutting down traffic and lighting up the barbecues to offer a taste of what this multicultural city has to offer.

From the well-known to the brand new, it seems there’s a “Taste of” festival for every culture and flavour in the city.

Taste of Toronto

July 24-27, 2014
Fort York

New this year is the Taste of Toronto festival, part of an international series of food festivals that started in London 10 years ago. Toronto is the first North American city to host a “Taste of,” joining the ranks of cities such as Helsinki, Cape Town, Sydney, and Moscow.

Festival director Meghan O’Hanlon says organizers have been scoping out North America for a few years and settled on Toronto for a few reasons.

“All the international restaurants that have opened up in the past few years is a testament to the diversity of Toronto’s food scene and its strength as a site for an international festival,” O’Hanlon said.

“I don’t think there’s many other cities that offer the same mix of cuisines.”

Unlike classic Toronto food festivals such as Taste of the Danforth or Taste of Little Italy, this fest has a bigger focus: Toronto’s high-end restaurant scene.

Restaurants are added to the roster by invitation only. “It’s the latest, the greatest, and the hottest,” O’Hanlon said.

Food fans can buy tickets for one of the six half-day sessions to sample food and drink from 14 participating restaurants each day, including Barque Smokehouse, Guu, and Hopgoods Foodliner, to name a few.

Tickets start at $30 and provide access to four-hour sessions to wander the grounds of historic Fort York, nibbling their way through tents and the historic buildings. Food and drink costs are extra, and O’Hanlon says on average visitors try about five different tapas-sized dishes.

The festival includes musical performances, cooking classes, and a chef demonstration stage featuring celebrity chefs such as Chuck Hughes and David Chang.

The opening of Chang’s New York City-based Momofuku restaurants in Toronto in 2012 was part what O’Hanlon calls the “explosion” of Toronto’s food scene over the last five years.

“There seems to be an insatiable appetite for food events in this city,” O’Hanlon said.

That’s good news for the dozens of other food festivals taking place this summer.

Click here for more information and for ticket information.

Taste of the Danforth

August 8-10, 2014
Danforth Avenue, Broadview to Jones Avenues

Taste of the Danforth has been offering up souvlaki, moussaka, and spanikopita for twenty years and has grown so popular it welcomes more than one million visitors to the weekend festival.

After getting a fill of the food on offer, visitors can stroll the car-free Danforth Avenue while taking in Greek musical and dance performances.

Click here for more on the event.

Taste of Little Italy

June 13-15, 2014
College Street, Bathurst to Shaw streets

This year’s Taste of Italy festival coincides with the World Cup — a fact not lost on organizers who have plans to set up a giant video screen at College and Crawford streets.

Team Italy faces England on Saturday, June 14 at 6 p.m., so festival goers can enjoy the game with a pizza cone in hand and surrounded by hundreds of fellow supporters hoping for a repeat of Team Italy’s 2006 World Cup victory.

For the less sporty, the food festival also offers a range of musical performances: from Italian performers like Bruno Nesci and the Dreamers to the late-night indie pop performers like Laura Cole.

The music goes until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

Click here for more on the College-street extravaganza

Taste of Lawrence

July 4-6, 2014
Lawrence Avenue East, from Warden Avenue to Birchmount Road

As Scarborough’s largest street festival, the Taste of Lawrence festival is a showcase of the neighbourhood’s cultural diversity through food and musical performances showcasing the Cuban to Congolese to Brazilian heritage of the area.

Performers this year include Lighthouse, Luanda Jones, and The Sultans of String.

The festival also features a family stage where an interactive show based on the Disney hit Frozen is sure to pack in crowds.

Click here for more on the event.

See the map below for a listing of “Taste of” festivals across the city.