Allergy-friendly restaurants, allergy accommodating, allergy aware'; I’m not sure how best to phrase this, but this is a list of restaurants that have been able to safely accommodate my or my brother’s allergies, in Toronto. Eating in restaurants is always a risk, but if you follow steps for safety, it can be a calculated risk. Never eat somewhere that you feel is untrustworthy. Many of the places on this list are gluten-free too!
*This list was curated based on my own experiences and my family’s experiences at these locations. Please be aware that ownership, chefs, and menus change, and that what is allergy safe for me may differ for others who have different food allergies. Always speak with the manager at the restaurant and use a chef card to ensure it is the right fit for you, before ordering your meal, and always have your Epi Pen on your person. Ask a lot of questions, examine your meal before taking a bite, and do whatever makes you feel like you have enough information to decide whether or not you should eat in a particular place.
Not included are any restaurants that say “we have a lot of nuts/dairy/etc in the kitchen but we’ll try”, say they feel sorry for me, are passive or dismissive about the allergy, refuse the write it down because they will “remember it”, who make blanket statements that there’s no (insert allergen) in that item, or who look at my chef card and don’t take it back to the kitchen. There are many restaurants where I’ve had a meal and been okay, but their lack of confidence made me never want to go back there again, and even question whether or not I should stay for the meal. I have not included those places.
Who I did include: restaurants where the staff demonstrated an understanding and awareness of food allergy and its severity, who said they get requests like this often and can accommodate, who said their chefs are allergy trained and will clean everything down and sterilize it, where the manager dropped my meal off and made special mention of the allergy, who thanked me for having such a thorough chef card, who instilled a sense of confidence.
In no particular order. Please excuse the poor quality photos as I never bring my camera to restaurants.
This corporate-owned steak house chain is notorious for having a thorough and comprehensive food allergy program, and understanding the needs of the food allergy community. I eat there so often that there have been times I visited twice in one day. My favorite locations around the city are King West, York Street, and The Esplanade. The manager will come out to speak with the allergic individual and go over their meal options and what can be safely made. I usually go for a nice steak with a vegetable, and sometimes a beer, and on the odd occasion I’ll also get a shrimp cocktail or a salad.
TOP 8 ALLERGEN FREE restaurant and bakery in Toronto! Hype is a casual, family-friendly eatery located in Toronto’s far east end neighborhood; Leslieville. Owners Pauline and Matt are welcoming, friendly, and knowledgeable about food allergies, as they are allergy parents themselves (hence opening this restaurant). Indulge in one of their many baked goods, a dairy-free latte or espresso drink (oat milk, coconut milk, and rice milk are available), or a nutritious bowl meal. They also sell allergy-friendly food products and books (and my cookbook!). I like to go for a healthy lunch of zoodles, veggies, and beef or chicken smothered in tomato sauce, with an Americano on the side. If you’re looking for nut-free birthday cake or cupcakes, this is the place to go.
A sleek and well appointed fine dining restaurant located in the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Light Box building in Toronto’s Entertainment District, owned by O&B. I save this place for special occasions, or when I just feel like having a nice meal in a classy environment. I often go for three courses, which is saying a lot for me. The presentation of each dish is stunning, with lots of attention to detail. During the lunch hour it can get quiet, so that is when I prefer to go. Since their offerings tend to have many components, I prefer to email or call in my allergies ahead of time so that the chef is made aware in advance.
Located in the TIFF building, just below Luma, this casual eatery is also owned by O&B restaurateurs. They take care to accommodate my allergies, even if I’m just ordering a coffee. I like this place for a casual lunch (I like to get a simple piece of grilled salmon and a salad) and coffee. I have also been for breakfast and dinner, both of which have been successful meals. It has a fantastic patio, and is of course well situated if you want to see a film afterwards. Canteen is one of my regular haunts for hanging out with a coffee and a book on a weekday afternoon.
Also owned by O&B (you may have noticed by now that they are very on the ball when it comes to allergies), this fine dining restaurant served me one of my most memorable meals; a slow roasted veal shank with mushrooms and perfectly crispy potatoes, in 2006. I have gone back there time and again to enjoy creative food, beautiful drinks, and the stunning view of Toronto from the 54th floor of one of the city’s bank buildings. I love getting dressed up to go there and enjoy the buzzing yet quiet atmosphere. Again with this restaurant I do call ahead to record my allergies so that the kitchen is aware in advance.
The restaurant at The Ritz Carlton in Toronto, TOCA, is a top notch experience all around. They are known for having one of the highest customer service levels in the world, and I truly believe it after witnessing how willing they are to accommodate requests. I even trusted them to cater my wedding, so that’s saying a lot. We enjoyed the TOCA brunch the day after our wedding, and I can honestly say that it was the best brunch I have ever had in my life (picture below). The last time I was there the manager told me that their chefs are trained in how to avoid cross contact for food allergies. I have had a variety of different dishes there, from grilled branzino to Fiorentina steak. I avoid the amuse bouche because it has generally been served by a runner and not my server. I’ll also give a shout-out to the Ritz Bar located in the lobby, as they take great care with food allergy too, even when I just ordered a casual fruit plate and drink for lunch. The manager came out with my plate and informed me that he supervised the dish being made. It was also massive! So much fruit I could barely finish it.
I have been to the King St West location of CIBO more times than I can count, but have not been to the other locations. My old office was just a few steps away from it, so I often went with colleagues for lunch, drinks with friends, or for family gatherings. As it’s a very large restaurant and can get very busy, I generally went for an early dinner if possible. I stuck to grilled items like calamari and salmon, which they often served with mixed greens, asparagus, or a shaved fennel salad. They make their own pasta in house which I tried a few times (it was incredible) when they first opened. I only stopped ordering the pasta because I was paranoid about whether it would share boiling water with stuffed pastas which are also made in house, but that’s just my personal level of comfort. The service level has been inconsistent, and although I always had a safe meal, some servers or managers required more clarification and explanation than others, so my level of comfort varied with each visit.
Rodney’s Oyster House
You might wonder why this one is on here, and of course I am only suggesting it for those who can eat seafood. Oysters are one of my go-to menu items because I can eat shellfish, and they are really simple, come in their own little case, and are exciting to eat because there are so many varieties to choose from! I’m very “into” oysters and their varieties. But raw bars can be hit and miss. I’ve been to some that sprinkle pistachios on the raw items before serving, others that douse everything with a sauce, and other ways that simple oysters can be generally contaminated. When these ingredients are behind the bar, even the ice that they are stored on can be contaminated by hands reaching in. At Rodney’s they have always assured me that they would wash their hands before shucking my tray, and have demonstrated an open and willing attitude towards accommodating my needs. I have tried the smoked salmon too, but not often because I can’t eat the bread that comes with it so that dish becomes pricey for a few pieces of salmon. I have not eaten any of their cooked dishes that come from the kitchen because they use a lot of dairy (chowders, seafood steamed in butter, etc.).
The Drake 150
I once interviewed a sous chef from The Drake 150, and then visited the restaurant for brunch (I had a salmon bowl with quinoa and grains, and avocado). You can read his commentary in more detail HERE. They understand how loyal customers with food allergy can be, and how serious it is. As a corporate owned restaurant they want to ensure everyone who dines there has a safe meal and wants to return. I prefer this restaurant for brunch, or evening drinks, as it can be a bit dark for my liking at dinner and I like to clearly see what I am eating. They do a really fabulous brunch and the restaurant has a wonderfully quirky design.
A brand new addition to my list! I recently ate here for the first time after my parents dined there (my mom has a nut and peanut allergy) and found them very accommodating. From the lemons and octopus wallpaper that adorns the walls, to the plush bench seats, I loved everything about this restaurant. Our server was so welcoming and was appreciative of my chef card, the manager dropped my plate off and reiterated the allergies, and I got to eat a perfectly cooked striploin steak with asparagus. It was one of the best steaks I have ever had and was also presented really nicely. I was initially nervous because there is a lot of cheese on the menu, but once we started ordering and I saw how willing they were to provide me a safe meal, I felt very confident.
This corporate chain restaurant can be found in touristy spots around the city. I’ve eaten at the Eaton Center, Sherway Gardens, and Don Mills locations. It has served me well for work lunches, birthdays, and family events. I’ve had a wide variety of dishes, from lettuce wraps to salads to grilled salmon. The service level has been inconsistent depending on the server and how busy the restaurant was. I have had better luck during the lunch hour when it’s mainly the office crowd, as opposed to the bar crowd that populates Joey’s at night.
Notable mentions that I have not eaten at:
Sorelle - a popular allergen-free bakery and cafe in Toronto, located in Yorkville and at Sak’s. I personally have not eaten there as I am allergic to chickpea and they bake with chickpea flour.
Kelly’s Bake Shop - an allergy-friendly bakery just outside of Toronto. I have not been there because I’m not generally in that area, but I know many allergy pals who love it.
Bunners - located in Kensington Market (as you may know from my Instagram stories, it’s an area I hang out in A LOT) this vegan and gluten-free bakery makes the most incredible looking baked goods. I also have not eaten here due to the chickpea flour.