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