Surprise, surprise, North by Northeast (NXNE) is coming up this weekend. Since you’ll be jet-setting about town all weekend, we’d like to help with some of the decision-making. By now you probably know who’s headlining Yonge and Dundas Square, so we’ve put together some tips for more under the radar artists to check out. Equally important, we’ve got recommendations on places nearby to grab a bite and recharge.
THURSDAY: Dundas & Ossington
It’s early evening and you’re at the intersection of Dundas and Ossington. Maybe you’re going to check out the show at The Garrison or maybe one at The Dakota later. What matters is that you’re hungry, and maybe you don’t want to spend nine dollars on a tuna melt somewhere with a name that rhymes with snakedew.
Fear not: Alex Rei dos Leitos is here for you. This churrasqueira will furnish you with a quarter of a succulent barbecued chicken, a bed of rice, and some stellar potatoes for around seven bucks. If chicken isn’t your thing, there are always other main courses available (the codfish casserole is worth a try, but be prepared to pick out some bones).
You won’t find much seating inside, just a takeaway counter and a couple stools, but if you walk around the corner to Trinity-Bellwoods, you can find yourself a patch of grass. It’s also worth noting that this place may not be particularly vegan- or vegetarian-friendly. For a more equal opportunity eating experience, skip down a block or two further on Ossington and hit up Golden Turtle for some equally good Vietnamese food.
And if you’re trying out Alex Rei dos Leitos and you like your reverb slathered on thick, then The Garrison down the street has an evening of garage rock that’ll be perfect for you. Grass Widow are returning to Toronto after their appearance last September, when they opened for feminist post-punk icons, The Raincoats. Like The Raincoats or Mika Miko, Grass Window’s songs are bass-driven with guitar noodling and four-on-the-floor drums.
The guitar rock of The Black Belles (who you may know from their stint as Stephen Colbert’s backing band) is more in the vein of The Cramps, though their very stylized and dark image should be a no-brainer indication of their status as signees on Jack White’s Third Man Records.
These two girl-groups will be playing alongside the guy-group, The Men. For their last record, Open Your Heart, the band decided to forgo hardcore and krautrock tendencies in favour of writing slightly more pop-oriented songs. Montreal pop crooner Mac DeMarco (who is playing multiple sets this weekend) and Burger Records’ artist Gap Dream will be in support.
Friday Afternoon: Kensington
Finding somewhere to eat in Kensington Market isn’t hard (N.B.: options do begin to narrow after 8 pm or so.) There’s a solid rule to follow, though: eat the empanadas. Specifically, eat them at Jumbo Empanada and Segovia Meats, which face each other on Augusta Avenue.
As the name suggests, Segovia is a butcher, and as such the empanadas are meat-centric, but delicious. There are chicken and beef options, but the standout is the chorizo and mozzarella, which is simple but satisfying. The Segovia hot table also features a plethora of other Chilean, Brazilian, and Colombian dishes which are well worth a try.
The empanadas at Jumbo Empanada are a little more expensive than Segovia, but also a little bigger (and still under five dollars). They have equally good, if not better, beef and chicken varieties, as well as a tasty and hearty vegetarian option. Also try the not-to-be-missed humitas (a mash of corn, onion, and basil wrapped in a corn husk), which seem to be made with just the right blend of seasoning.
If neither of these places tickle your fancy, check out El Gordo Latin American food court, which is the only Latin American food court to also feature Korean food and, as of last week, a lobster roll stand.
Any of these will stand you in good stead food-wise if you’re headed to any NXNE shows in Kensington, especially the daytime NXNExperiment that’s happening in El Gordo’s backyard on Friday afternoon. It’ll cost you $10, even if you have a wristband, but it’ll undoubtedly be among the best unofficial showcases of the festival. The second-annual event will feature local groups like Ell V Gore, Prince Innocence (a satiny, synthetic Little Girls side-project), and Doldrums, as well as fuzzed-out tunes from Bass Drum of Death, DIIV’s hazy surf sounds, and a set from a TBA special guest.
As is common with this type of festival, certain bands will perform a number of shows. So, if you happen to find yourself a different event on Thursday, you’ll have another opportunity to see The Men and Mac DeMarco.
Friday night: Bloor Street
There are plenty of places to eat on Bloor between Spadina and Bathurst, but the heart and the stomach can only go so far on pub food and so-so pho. So breach the brightly lighted boundary of Bathurst and head for Ossington. Rather, head for just shy of Ossington, where you can find La Bella Managua by its friendly blue sign.
This Nicaraguan restaurant serves up both smaller dishes — quesadillas and tacos — and main courses that could be better described as platters. For the meat-eater, the Carne Asada is a simple but well prepared steak dish that comes with a lot on the side. For the meat connoisseur, the Cerdo con Yuca gets you delicious pan-fried pork atop a mound of tender yucca, topped with a cabbage salad. The Bandeja Tipica is a good bet for vegetarians, offering sizable portions of beans and rice, plantains, and cabbage salad. Hold the cheese to make it vegan, and top liberally with the garlic hot sauce. If you like seafood, start with the ceviche. Trust me on this one.
La Bella Managua is open until 11 pm, but you may want to wrap your meal up in order to be at Lee’s Palace by 9 pm. The show at Lee’s features all of the current buzzbands: 2:54, a shoegaze band fronted by a pair of British sisters; disco-style jams from Friends; and Oberhoefer, a British pop band whose songs are so sugary-sweet that they come accompanied with glockenspiel and whistling. DIIV’s meandering surf pop will make a bonus appearance too. Playing after midnight are crazed synth pop-messiah/critical theorist John Maus, and new Arts and Crafts signees, Zulu Winter. If you crave something a little sweet on the end of your hooks, this one’s for you.