Weighing in: Toronto vs Vancouver

It’s 11PM and I land in Pearson airport with little more than a sweater and a vest. Ontario. Cold as ever. Toronto and Vancouver are arguably the two most cosmopolitan, if not most compared cities in Canada. So it’s time to go head to head and see who’s got the upper hand (of if there is an upper hand to be had).

Let’s talk the most important thing: food. I’ve spent so much time wandering around Toronto’s food scene and personally, with respect to non-Asian cuisine, both are on par. Both cities have got some young chefs with serious cooking chops and they are putting out amazing, delicious food. However, I must say that with respect to Asian food, Vancouver has an upper hand. In Vancouver, you are never too far from great dim sum, amazing pho, or, the real kicker, inexpensive, fresh, and delicious sushi. Vancouver’s sushi game is primo. Sorry Toronto, I find it really hard to pay $20-$30 for a decent plate of the good stuff. With that said, Toronto’s increased diversity is very well translated into its food scene. I find that it is easier in Toronto to find good food from a wider variety of cuisines than in Vancouver. For example, whereas I can easily find Caribbean and North African cuisine in Toronto, these places are few and far in between in Vancouver.

Nightlife goes to Toronto. I think because of its sheer size, there are just more clubs and bars to cater to a wide preference. Whether you’re a Yaletown yuppie, or a Main Street hipster, there just seem to be more choices. A big bonus in Toronto is that the buildings where these clubs and bars are located are generally 40-80 years older than the average establishment back in Vancouver, which makes for a setting with more character. Think the “Belgarde Kitchen” sort of feel but…much more common. The Distillery District off downtown Toronto is often compared to Gastown in Vancouver because of its cobblestone streets and brick buildings, and is a great example of that old world, industrial feel that is hard to get in new and shiny Vancouver.

Old world character and feel that few places in Vancouver can replicate.
A very cold stroll through the Distillery District
Iconic Balzac’s Cafe

Outdoor activities hands down goes to Vancouver. There is no comparison. Close proximity to mountains and ocean make these wonderful activities within reach of most Vancouverites, even by public transit. There if a nice lake “beach” on Lake Ontario, but this is no substitute if you grew up on the coast. There are certainly mountains to hike and do winter sports in, but definitely nothing within the GTA. I’m also told that as far as bang for buck, and quality of runs, Toronto falls short. Not really a far comparison though since Vancouver is situated so close to the coastal mountains.

With all this said, if Vancouver was to peek inside the crystal ball, she’d see something similar to Toronto. The two cities are dealing with similar housing shortages for young people, pushing those who can’t afford to stay further from the core, and pushing those who are desperate enough upwards into tiny, expensive boxes in the sky. Except in Toronto, the expansion seems to be decades ahead of Vancouver. The average suburb is 30-40 minutes away driving, in moderate traffic (and oh, there is definitely traffic). Vancouver has yet to push further eastward, making cities like Abbotsford and Mission attractive options for young people who grew up in Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby. In speaking with friends here, long commutes in and out of the city are more common than not, which to me indicates that people are willing to live further from their places of work if need be. In Vancouver, it seems that people (myself included) are still clinging to our hometowns and resisting the move Eastward at all costs.

I always go back to Kensington Market for the delicious food and Latin American grocery stores. Commercial Drive would be a close comparison, but still can’t find those rare goodies I had back in Argentina

Things like great food and nightlife are generally conveniently located within a central core in Vancouver/Richmond/Burnaby. In Toronto, it seems like these are all available, to a greater extent, within each suburb. And because these can likely be attributed to Toronto’s age as a city, it stands to reason that it is only a matter of time before Vancouver suburban profile begins to resemble Toronto. One things that does hold true through this, is pride. Torontonians are fiercely proud of their city, and so are Vancouverites. Two cities with very different characters, but yet, not really that different. I could never imagine living outside of Vancouver, but if I were forced to move, Toronto would definitely be my first choice.

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