For whatever reason you find yourself in London, Ontario, you’re likely going to feel underwhelmed by your food options. As you drive by chain after chain after chain, you may begin to lose hope. But never fear! Having lived in London for the majority of my life, including my high school and university years, I’ve accumulated a great list of underrated and overlooked restaurants in London. Try out these joints for great food in fun places at good prices, and support some local businesses!
Brunch & Lunch
Brunch is my favourite meal of the day, so I’ve tried just about every brunch/lunch spot in the North/Old North/Downtown/Old South vicinity. Here are my five favourites.
I love The Early Bird for brunch. They have delicious eggs Benedict options and crazy French toast orders. The staff are friendly and the vibe is refreshing. It’s located downtown near Budweiser Gardens and the Greyhound station. It’s a bit expensive so I don’t go often ($20 for a meal and coffee), but a fun place to go to catch up with friends or uncover the events of the night before.
This diner was a staple in my childhood. You’re sure to see a large gathering of middle aged and older Londoners (the place has been around for some 40 years and once you start going, you don’t stop), but it’s also a popular place when you need a good recovery meal after a night out. Huge portions, cheap prices, delicious food. It’s north of campus across from Masonville mall.
Rumour has it The Bag Lady is licensed to be a convenience store, not a restaurant, so it’s a tiny, tiny eclectic place. The furniture and wall decorations look like they’ve been acquired from various yard sales and over the last few decades. Every dish and tea cup is different; you’ll find classic 90’s childhood toys all about, and the food is really, really good. Wholesome sandwiches, homemade soups and salads. This one is a bit harder to access without a car – it’s at Maitland and Pall Mall (a ten minute walk from Richmond and Oxford).
This was my favourite lunch spots in high school – humungous, healthy sandwiches, tons of salads and desserts and all reasonably priced (I usually get a huge sandwich and bean salad under $10). Being located off of Queens and Richmond, it’s a quick bus ride from campus, but considering how busy everyone seems to be during the week, most don’t leave campus for lunch. But if you need to go downtown during the week, I’d highly recommend stopping here.
The main floor of the market has tons of different food stalls you can choose from. There’s Chinese, Indian, fish and chips, a great gourmet salad place, plenty of nice desserts and much, much more. There’s also a ton of local produce, meat and eggs to buy. Around the perimeter and on the second floor mezzanine you’ll find seating. The prices range from $6 to $12 for a meal, depending on what you’re eating. The market is across the street from Budweiser Gardens and the 2 Dundas bus goes right buy it.
Shmokey’s does the best BBQ in London. Period. If you’re vegetarian, vegan or not a huge fan of meat, skip this place. But if you like sweet ribs, tender steak sandwiches and juicy pulled pork, this is the place for you. I like to round out my meal with a glass bottle of coke. Plus, the owners are incredibly sweet (or maybe I just go there too often…).
Tea & Coffee & Cafés
It’s no secret that I love tea and I love coffee and I especially love to enjoy these beverages in cozy and quirky cafes. I should note that all of these places also do lunch, so you can spend ages in these cafes without getting hungry.
Located on the second floor of the market, this place has a great collection of loose leaf teas. Grab some food from the first floor, then head up to grab seating outside the Tea Haus and enjoy some tea with your meal. There are so many teas to choose from that it can be overwhelming – the staff are very friendly and know the teas well, so tell them what you like or don’t like and they’ll give some recommendations and let you smell the teas before you choose. This is one of my all-time favourite places for studying or catching up with friends.
This café is located in the Goodwill building just south of downtown (Horton and Wellington, the 13 Wellington bus goes right by it) and part of Goodwill Industries. It’s a social enterprise with the purpose of 1) providing healthy food that is also accessible, 2) employing and training those entering the food industry, and 3) fostering an environment of diversity, inclusive and compassion. Plus, the coffee and food is really good and well priced. The cafe has plenty of seating and huge windows with lot’s of natural light so it’s a great place to spend a few hours in if you’re studying.
This is a recent cafe for me and I only found it because I was looking for a somewhere that would let me use their tire pump for free. Basically their deal is “come get your bike tuned up and enjoy delicious espresso drinks while you wait”. They’ve got bike parking outside, bike accessories inside and they can tell you the best places to bike around London.
The Ground Up Café
Upon returning from my travels I’ve learned that The Ground Up has now partnered with Plant Matter Kitchen (see below) so now it’s called Plant Matter Café. Same good vegan food, same delicious coffee and refreshing atmosphere.
This restaurant has great food and all, but I like going for the huge selection of craft beers and ciders. A meal with one drink will come in at about $20-$25. This fun place is on Talbot, kitty-corner to Budweiser Gardens.
Wortley Village is a quirky neighbourhood just south of downtown. There’s a lot of food places and cafes, but my favourite is Plant Matter Kitchen. As the name suggests, the food is plant based, but more than that it’s fresh, healthy food without additives or preservatives, and their aim to operate sustainably. So, it’s good food for your body and the planet! I’m not vegan myself, and a lot of the friends I’ve gone with aren’t vegan either, so don’t let “plant-based” scare you off. Being sustainable and healthy, it’s a bit pricey. Expect to pay $20-$25 for a meal and drink.
This is a great place for locally sourced, organic meals that are super delicious. But unlike Plant Matter Kitchen, the food isn’t exclusively plant based – there’s free range chicken and water buffalo on the menu and a really good goat cheese salad. Similar prices to the two places, though lunch is cheaper.
To close, I hope this inspires you to try out a new restaurant or cafe in London. Maybe you’ll find your new favourite and London won’t seem quite so dull anymore.