One Spadina is a great place to spend time, but there's lots to be said for getting outside the castle walls. The neighbourhood surrounding the Daniels Faculty is one of the densest and most vibrant in all of Toronto, with Chinatown, Kensington Market and U of T's St. George campus all within easy walking distance. For anyone who hasn't explored the area yet, here are a few less obvious spots worth checking out.
A $4 sandwich that will blow you away: Bành Mí Nguyen Huong (322 Spadina Ave.) has filled the bellies of generations of University of Toronto students with foot-long Vietnamese-style sandwiches that are somehow both tastier and cheaper than anything you'd get from the average sub shop. Protein options include a classic cold-cut combo, bright-red pork sausage, or shreds of lemongrass-flavoured tofu. Everything gets slapped (with ruthless efficiency, by an experienced sandwich artist) onto a buttered baguette and topped off with a medley of pickled vegetables, cilantro, and optional hot peppers. The price? Just four bucks. The taste? Amazing.
A wallet-friendly Caribbean lunch: Jamaican patties — basically palm-sized pies filled with spicy mincemeat — can be bought at any convenience store in town, but what sets Golden Patty (187 Baldwin Street) apart is the fact that they wrap theirs in spongy coco bread. That's right: a Jamaican patty wrapped in bread. It sounds excessive (the patty already has a crust, after all), but the interplay of textures is satisfying. And even with a can of Coke, the total cost is under $5.
The healthy option: For a lighter meal, The Cube, at the Bahen Centre (40 St. George Street) is the perfect on-campus lunch spot. An epic salad bar makes it possible for everyone to find something to eat, regardless of dietary restrictions. Vegan? Halal? They do it all.
The perfect dive: A combination of ratty decor and inexpensive Asian-style entrees has made the Red Lounge (444 Spadina Ave.) popular with budget-conscious diners. In nicer weather, staffers open the dining room's street-facing front doors, creating the closest thing to a patio to be found on this stretch of Spadina. It's the ideal place to carbo-load with a $10 plate of pad thai before a night out.
The classic student retreat: If you go to U of T, it's only a matter of time before someone brings you to Ein-Stein (229 College St.), whose convenient location at the foot of St. George Street has made it a reliable student favourite. But the location isn't the only appealing thing, here. The $16 nachos grande can feed an entire study group, and the dimly lit basement barroom achieves just the right level of seediness for a casual night out.
Kensington's secret speakeasy: Enter the Kensington Mall (60 Kensington Ave.) and walk past the stalls selling antiques and dusty artwork. On your left will be an unmarked door. Is it the entrance to a supply closet? A solitary confinement cell? A front for an illegal gambling den? No: it's Cold Tea, Kensington Market's secret back-alley watering hole. Walk through the door and you'll be greeted not by menacing gangsters, but rather by smiling waitstaff and a stylishly decorated room. Finding the entrance is half the fun.
An inspiring library: The University of Toronto has plenty of its own libraries — including the Eberhard Zeidler Library at One Spadina, with a relaxing reading room and all the study materials an architecture or design student might need. But the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library (239 College St.) is worth a visit all the same. The building's unique design, by Phillip H. Carter, makes it an architectural standout. The second floor is a low-key laptop retreat. Students on study breaks might want to venture up to the third floor, which is the home of the Merrill Collection, a hoard of more than 80,000 sci-fi and fantasy books and related items.
A fireside reading spot: Toronto weather isn't always as forgiving as it is during the first weeks of September. Later in the academic year, when the temperature drops and the academic pressure rises, the John W. Graham Library, located inside the Munk School of Global Affairs (1 Devonshire Place), has study areas with working fireplaces, making it a great refuge from a drafty apartment.
A public park where the fun never stops: Any park in the city will do for a relaxing break, but Bellevue Square Park, in Kensington Market, is a little different. A row of tables near the park's eastern edge allows a visitor to enjoy a coffee or a take-out lunch in comfort, and the park's location in the midst of downtown Toronto's most eclectic neighbourhood means there's always something going on. If you're not fighting for lawn space with someone who's there to practice their fire-spinning technique, you're not doing it right.
The city's most impressive collection of retro video games: The window display case at A&C Games (452 Spadina Ave.) is a people magnet. Hang out for long enough and you'll see passersby swerve out of their way to bask in the glory of 20-year-old CRT televisions looping the intro sequences to a few of the tens of thousands of retro video games for sale inside. The merchandise isn't cheap (these games are antiques now, you know), but just browsing the store's selection of ultra-obscure rarities is entertainment in itself.
Free movies: The University of Toronto's Innis Hall (2 Sussex Ave.) has its own miniature movie theatre, complete with a professional-grade projection booth. Every Friday during the school year, the Cinema Studies Student Union screens a different film in the space. The best part is that admission is absolutely free of charge. Screenings start at 7 p.m.