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Toronto vs. Chicago: Acadias, airport food and pizza edition

After hearing that Chicago is crazy jealous of Toronto’s annual Luminato festival—and the international tourists it attracts—we got to wondering how Hogtown really stacks up against its similarly sized cousin. We looked at everything from restaurants named Acadia to notable rich guys to talk show hosts extraordinaire (and a whole bunch of other admittedly arbitrary categories). Here’s how the two cities compare in matters gustatory.

1. Restaurants named Acadia that opened last year: Acadia vs. Acadia
Two restaurants named Acadia opened last year: the Toronto version starred Matt Blondin (until he left) and Scott Selland, and serves haute versions of Lowcountry cooking in a casual Little Italy room; the Chicago version also brings fine dining touches to a more casual space in a neighbourhood not known for great food. Both were critically lauded. Winner: We’re calling this one a tie. (Oh, and coming soon to Chicago: a restaurant called Grace. Copycats.)

2. Airport food: Pearson vs. O’Hare
Sure, O’Hare might be a monstrosity of an airport and a frequent flyer’s nightmare—but the food kicks Pearson (and for that matter Billy Bishop) to the curb any day. Heck, Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera alone is better than a good many non-airport Mexican restaurants in Toronto (it even lists the sourcing for all their ingredients on a chalkboard! In an airport!). Still, the recently announced new dining options at YYZ hold out some hope for the future—as long as they’re not egregiously expensive. Winner: Chicago

3. Modernist cooking: Colborne Lane vs. Alinea, Next and L20
Yes, we had to go there. There are many reasons to get excited about Toronto’s food scene, but cutting edge cooking is not one of them. While some chefs might bravely add a foam here or a shard there, and while Colborne Lane still tries to fight the good fight that C5 gave up on, Toronto restaurants don’t play in the same league as the culinary laboratories of Alinea, Next or L20. (Of course, to the many detractors of molecular gastronomy, this would be a good thing.) Winner: Chicago.

4. Food trucks: opening vs. closing
Torontonians have long lamented the state of their city’s street food, confined, as it was for so many years, to (admittedly delicious) pre-cooked street meat. But with Chicago, we might just have found a city with even stricter rules than Toronto’s. While there seems to be a new truck opening every other week to the north, Chicago is still fighting over whether to allow operators to cook their food on the road, which has led to trucks closing left and right. As one hyperbolic blogger put it, in the Windy City at least, “food trucks: NOT the American Dream.” Winner: Toronto

5. Pizza: deep dish vs. thin crust
We’ll admit it. This one’s a matter of taste. You either love Chicago deep dish, that icon of gooey, saucy, buttery excess, or you think it’s an abomination and hew instead to the thin-curst, San Marzano–tomato smothered version that has taken over Toronto, complete with impassioned defences of pizza ideology. You can count us in the latter camp, thanks. Winner: Toronto

(Images: Toronto skyline by Leander Canaris; Chicago skyline by Bryce Edwards; Rob Ford by West Annex News; Rahm Emanuel by Juggernautco; Austra by Peter Tea; Kanye West by SOCIALisBETTER; Food truck by Jen Chan; Deep dish by Musicisentropy; Wrigley Field sign by Ron Cogswell)

Toronto vs. ChicagoThe DishThe HypeThe Informer
  • Sean

    You Canucks are stupid as fuck

  • George

    I both live and love Toronto, but this debate isn’t even close. Chicago is a better city every which way. It’s what Toronto should be, but failed to do.

    Just look at what they did with their waterfront – represents what to do versus what we did…

  • Lucas

    Chicago makes a thin-’cracker’ crust pizza. And it is actually very common in parties/households. Most people in/from Chicago tell me that they rarely have a restaurant deep-dish… and when they do its when they are entertaining a guest from out of town.

  • engbeyer

    I feel like Toronto has such a small guy complex. Why does it constantly need to compare itself to other, larger cities. Toronto is unique. Chicago is unique. I’m tired of hearing that Toronto is better than this, better than that. Toronto is not, and will never be a New York or a Chicago – but that isn’t a bad thing. And the fact that Toronto won the Pizza category is a complete reflection of Toronto Life’s bias. Not everyone wants to pay $15+ for a small individual thin crust pizza! …. Maybe an “affordability/value” section should’ve been included in the comparison – oh, wait, because that doesn’t exist in Toronto…

  • jend

    @engbeyer I second that

  • iSkyscraper

    Nice try to get readers, TL, but Chicago kicks Toronto’s butt in pretty much every important category except murders, and even then although Chicago has many, many more murders there has not been a single one inside the Loop in year, something that cannot be said of downtown Toronto.

  • tony

    Not even close…..its obvious TL wants to make this an interesting story by having T.O win the odd match up, but Chicago is a far more interesting (& mature) town than T.O and its reflected in every facet of the city’s make-up.

    Hey Sean, right back at ya.

  • mat

    Chicago > Toronto in every way except crime.

    Thinking we have better pizza is an absolute joke (from a torontonian)

  • JDHalperin

    Chicago has Kingston Mines…sickest blues club I’ve ever been to. Oh, and they won the Stanley Cup recently. And that deep dish pizza. Man! I love Toronto, but…

  • Melissa

    As a Chicago girl living in Toronto the last three years, you had me up until the pizza debate. Ridiculous. Agreed, @mat, what a joke.

  • Tiffany

    I totally agree with most of the other comments posted now I must say that I love Toronto and have even considered moving therebutAs a lifelong Chicagoan it really makes me smile to see this article. Chicagoan’s don’t even eat deep dish pizza like that. I’ve probably had it 5 times in my entire life but I’ve had it in a few other places and I must say we have the best pizza and I’m not being bias at all. I wouldn’t have said anything if we lost in any other category.

  • opl

    All this comparison is a moot point until you ask the question, if you were to move your family to either city and raise your children, which one would you select? But before you answer that question, keep the following in mind:

    A. Economy
    B. Crime Rate
    C. Healthcare
    D. School System

    If you think the above leans towards Toronto, of course you are right. Therefore, forget the glossy cover and lift the cover and see what truly is inside that’s important.

    BTW: I’ve been to Chicago many times and I love visiting but not to live in.

  • Bill

    There’s no way it’s that cut and dry that Chicago is vastly better than Toronto. Chicago ain’t New York, London, Paris or Tokyo. Toronto has way better festivals and cultural events – TIFF (this alone is better than anything in Chicago), Caribana, Taste of the Danforth, Beer Fest, Nuit Blanche etc. It’s much more diverse and integrated, whereas Chicago is extremely segregated. Toronto has much better ethnic food and the quality of food is much better on average. Toronto has more street activity and diversity in neighborhoods, it’s safer, cleaner, better theater, better museums and galleries, better shopping, better housing, closer proximity to interesting sites and other amazing cities (Niagara Falls, MTL, East Coast US) and a myriad of other things. The list goes on. What features make Chicago better? You guys are saying “in every way” – what does that even mean? I listed specific things. What do you mean, Pizza? O’Hare? Better waterfront? More buildings? That’s not enough.

  • jesse

    Just went to Chicago.
    I think both NYC and Toronto are better.
    Its a bit stale….and they dont have cool neighbourhoods like Kensington market ETC!
    The pizza there is better.
    The rent is cheaper….but when it comes to cool stores and bars….
    WE WIN! Hands down.
    You know its not that great a cocktail scene when 4 people you talk to all recommend the same mediocre cocktail bars.

  • Defchef

    On the matter of pizza I am sorry to break it to everyone the neither Toronto, Chicago, NYC, or any other city often associated with pizza have the best. It was not until I was living in Seattle that I had heard of the amazing pizza that is found in CT. My one disclaimer is that Mystic is certainly not a destination for quality pies. I don’t care what movies lead you to believe. New Haven, CT is where the finest pies are fashioned.There is a reason sober people wait in line for over an hour in a sea of drunken college students only to get a clam topped pie. While Pepe’s and Sal’s are not my favorite destination for pizza in New Haven, you would be hard pressed to find a bad slice nearly anywhere in that city! One more reason my CT is the best state in the union.

  • AngryTorontonian

    @Sean-Its funny we’re stupid as fuck, but you still read TL… damn your a little wannabe American.

  • .

    *this comment does not apply to everyone

    but for those of you who are complaining about toronto. heres a tip. MOVE. nobody wants you there anyways if your gonna be dissing toronto (or any other place). its not even limited to toronto. i say if you dont like the place, why make yourself miserable? like chicago. move there. like florida? move there.

  • peachy

    toronto is a dying city. at its own hand.

  • Jimmy Simpson

    The last time I was in Chicago my buddy and I borrowed a red convertible and headed out for a day of fun! We hit the art institute, went up the Sears tower and attended a Cubs game.
    After dining at the highly underrated Chez Quis we headed over to catch the Von Steuben Day parade. One thing led to another and I found myself singing Twist and Shout on a float in the parade! What a city, what a day!!!!

  • Elmore Pumares

    Not even close. Chicago is one of the great cities of the world…. Toronto NOT! If it weren’t for Montreal, Canada would be in deep trouble. In fact, a better comparison would be Chicago vs. Montreal. Toronto is indicative of what ails Canada in every single way. Unfortunately, Canadians do not have the ability to self-reflect. Once reduced to its core elements, Toronto, and by extension the rest of Canada (with the exception of Montreal) is nothing but a material wasteland. A country of insecure wannabees, diluted in extremis, before it even had a chance to mature, if it ever even could. Perhaps Stephen Leacock was right after all….

  • Elmore Pumares

    …..Oh, and city planning?! Toronto is definitely top 10 here. That is one of the TOP TEN WORST cities for city planning and execution. Just ask Canadian expat Tyler Brule over at Monocle.

  • CdnKids

    Interesting story. I have lived in Toronto and Chicago (before and after), and LOVE Toronto. As American whose children were born in Toronto, we hope that our kids come back to Toronto for university. While there are many cool things about Chicago (and there are), I cannot under-emphasize the difference in crime and personal safety. The murder rate in the GTA is ~3.3/100,000 while in Chicago, it’s 15.5.

    I just never had the concern for personal safety in Toronto that i do in Chicago. If the U.S. dollar was stronger and the real estate in Toronto was cheaper, I think I would come back.

  • Methinks

    …wow TL, was it a slow day in the Think Tank?

  • Wiley Canuck

    Chicago’s waterfront is beautiful and people friendly. Toronto ‘s waterfront pays homage to the almighty dollar and to heck with the people. Shame.

  • downtowner

    Anyone that even mentions Toronto in the same breadths as as London/Paris/NYC obviously has not left their little buble.

    I Love Toronto, but having had an opportunity to work across the US (NYC, Chitown, Philly) and travel most major cities around the world, we are not nearly at the same level.

    p.s. Pizza is supposed to be comforting and nourishing, not a 17 dollar pretentious slab of dough!!1

  • RB Foster

    It’s articles like these that bring out the worst in people. It’s also one of the reasons I stopped buying this insipid publication.

  • Daniel

    ….better skyline and bigger city does not give better quality of life to its citizens……even if Chicago, USA, is spectacular in many ways, I would definitely live in Toronto, Canada….for many reasons….

  • Carla Carter

    Toronto is a boring town. Chicago baby!

  • Carla Carter

    Toronto sucks. At least we have better food, best skyline & a more accessible beaches/lakefront than Toronto does.