The PATH’s history dates back over a hundred years. During its first incarnation it connected various Eaton’s properties. But the PATH’s renaissance didn’t start until the mid-1970s when it expanded to become a network connecting privately managed buildings like Scotia Plaza and the Richmond-Adelaide office tower through convenient, climate-controlled walkways. In the last decade the PATH web has expanded to connect over 75 buildings with over 30 kilometres of tunnels and commercial complexes.

Recent downtown development, especially new condo buildings, has seen the city’s population density skyrocket in a small geographical area south of Queen Street. Toronto restaurateurs and chefs have taken this opportunity to set up satellite establishments in food courts and food halls in the PATH.

Even though it’s underground and relatively empty on the weekend, we think the PATH should be added to the list of distinct food neighbourhoods in Toronto. It’s an enclave where some of the city’s best talent is showcasing the latest in food to a devoted crowd of midweek diners.

In our guide to one of the world’s largest underground networks, we detail the best places to eat and drink. It’s cavernous and often confusing, but this chain of tunnels can offer a delicious adventure while helping you avoid the worst of the harsh winter weather.

CF Toronto

Eaton Centre Yonge and Dundas

Heading straight down to the lowest level on the north side of the Eaton Centre will bring you to the massive, 45,000-square-foot Urban Eatery. It’s far from your typical shopping centre food court, featuring branches of local faves like Urban Herbivore and Liberty Noodle alongside the usual chain spots.

Or head up to level two to Trattoria Mercatto, a bright, roomy outpost of the successful Italian restaurant group. Quality pizzas and pastas and a long wine list, along with rustic-chic decor and big windows facing the Trinity Square entrance banish any dining-in-the-mall vibes.

Make your way south to the sprawling Richtree Natural Market, which is set near the entrance to the Queen TTC station. The 20,000-square-foot space encompasses 11 eateries focused on local, organic food, including a fair-trade coffee station, a deli, a sushi shop and a street eats area with Mexican-inspired dishes. Electronic kiosks and a mobile app payment option keep everything moving quickly and efficiently in the busy space.

The Saks Food Hall by Pusateri’s is an equally dizzying foodie dreamland, packed with specialty grocery items, giftable goods and excellent food stations. The prepared foods section has hundreds of ready-made meals. Time-savers include pre-marinated meat and a vegetable butcher who chops produce for you.

On the sweet side, there are colourful creations from Nugateau, Canada’s first all-éclair pâtisserie, plus more too-pretty-to-eat treats at vegan bakery, Sorelle and Co.

Union Station

Front and York

Whether you’re coming to this multifaceted mega-station from the TTC, the Scotiabank Arena, GO’s commuter train, or a longer trip on VIA Rail, follow signs for York Concourse to get to the food action. Under construction since 2010, Union Station has become a maze of ever-changing corridors all seemingly leading nowhere. Think of the freshly completed restaurants in York Concourse as home base.

On the way from the TTC station to the concourse, you’ll walk through the Front Street Promenade – if you’re entering from the street, it’s on the lower level. Here you’ll find cold-pressed organic juice from Greenhouse, California-inspired bowls and health foods at Calii Love, java and baked goods at Pilot Coffee Roasters and gourmet Italian cookies at Biscotteria Forno CulturaDanish Pastry House can also be found here offering their authentic, Scandinavian baked goods.

Keep going – the Front Street Promenade turns into the York Street Promenade. This little section of Union Station houses the sit-down restaurants where you can relax and have a drink or enjoy a full meal. Open-concept restaurant, Amano serves their house-made pasta (tagliatelle to gnocchi) and Italian classics like veal scallopini. Union Chicken specializes in all things (you guessed it) chicken – rotisserie and fried. For a trendy after-work vibe, grab craft beer, sausage and duck-fat fries at Wvrst.

The grand jewel in York Concourse Hall, and the latest opening in the massive Union Station revitalization project, is the glossy food court. Located on the lower level, the food hub spreads across 25,000 square feet, houses 10 eateries and can seat 600. Food names include Loaded Pierogi; Caribbean hot spot, Roywoods; family-owned Italian sandwich shop, Scaccia and Bangkok Buri, a Thai spot from Monte Wan (Khao San Road). The usual national-chain suspects for serving pizza, sushi and double-doubles also have a home here.

While the Union Station construction might be a pain in the neck, the silver lining is that there are still more retail shops, eateries and overall improvements to come.

First Canadian Place

Bay and King

The central artery of the PATH, First Canadian Place connects to some of the best spots Toronto’s pedestrian walkway has to offer. Come in from the cold at the Bay Street or King Street entrance, or if you’re approaching from below ground, FCP is immediately accessible via the Exchange Tower to the west, with the TD Tower to its south and the Scotia Plaza to the east. Unlike some of its gloomy underground neighbours, FCP is a beacon – you’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot the white tiles and bright lighting.

This part of the PATH offers a chance to class things up on your lunch break; head to the very top level for elevated fare from Susur Lee’s offspring at Kid Lee – a special line just for Singapore Slaw-craving customers helps expedite the lunch rush. Those who feel the need for grease can grab a bun from Five Guys, a crispy pork crackling sandwich from Porchetta or an Aussie meat pie from Kanga in nearby Commerce Court. Pastry lovers will find plenty to crumble over; keep your eyes peeled for the bicycle outside Maman, a Paris-inspired spot to grab a coffee and a croissant. Alternatively, pick up an egg custard tart from Chinese bakery Furama or an Italian sammie from Forno Cultura in the nearby Exchange Tower.

Due to the financial district location, many FCP vendors are closed on weekends, with notable exceptions like King Taps and Cactus Club Cafe. (Although you can still use the PATH as a thoroughfare.) There’s also a small but serviceable LCBO on the concourse level so you can grab a bottle en route to the subway.

TD Centre

York and Wellington

Walking south through First Canadian Place, just beyond the LCBO, a carpeted alcove marks the entrance to the TD Centre.

Continue heading south through the TD Centre and then follow the signs right to reach a trio of solid eateries by chef Mark McEwan. There’s his eponymous fine food store, McEwan, which features a coffee counter in the front where you can pick up espresso-based drinks from Lavazza and accompanying pastries. Heading deeper into the store, you’ll find a popular prepared food area that includes a soup and sandwich station, a salad bar and a hot table with favourites like butter chicken and lamb stew priced by weight.

Across the corridor from McEwan is Fabbrica, the grab-and-go outpost of the chef’s well-loved uptown Italian restaurant. Like McEwan, Fabbrica offers hot and cold food stations stocked with housemade fare ranging from chicken cacciatore to roasted veggies, plus hearty sandwiches and Roman-style pizza.

If you’re looking for a more formal, sit-down dining experience, continue down the corridor to ByMark for posh digs and refined Canadian fare. Alternatively, take the elevator up to the 54th floor to Canoe, an enduring fine-dining favourite with wonderful city views, deep wine cellar and an equally patriotic menu.

Richmond-Adelaide Centre

York and Adelaide

Located between (shock, horror) Richmond and Adelaide, this section of the PATH may just offer the best subterranean snack options in the downtown core courtesy of its easy access to Assembly Chef’s Hall.

Head up the escalators to the fancy 18,000-square-foot food hall, which offers signature dishes from some of Toronto’s top restaurants (DaiLo, The Good Son Pizza, Mira Mira) on six – soon to be seven – days a week. Assembly also has a liquor licence that extends to the whole space, so you don’t have to leave the warmth for after-work libations.

Meanwhile, a first glance inside the main food court at the Richmond-Adelaide Centre may seem like the usual lineup of Tim Hortons and Starbucks, but there are some unique options upon closer inspection. Labothéry, a make-your-own bubble tea shop that’s the first of its kind in Toronto, allows fans to choose from a selection of tea in syringes, milk bases and pearls. Or, on your lunch break, grab a work-of-art éclair from Nadège on the southwest corner of the food court.

To Richmond Adelaide’s immediate west, you can access 150 York, downtown home for the Drake empire. Pick up coffee from the Drake Mini Bar and enjoy small-plate lunches, or grab a table at the Drake One Fifty for after-work eats.

Honourable Mentions

Here are our picks for the rest of the best underground food, tucked away in the deep recesses of the downtown network.

While there’s no shortage of great coffee downtown these days, Sam James Coffee Bar in the PATH remains one of our top picks for lattes and croissants. Access it through the Sun Life Centre from St. Andrew station. The coffee counter is near the exit and you’ll find a spread of freshly baked pastries.

Go as far east as you can in the PATH network until you reach the Dynamic Funds Tower, directly north of King station. Below it, you’ll find one of the best sources for Pakistani and Indian food in the city. Since it’s tucked away at the edge of the PATH, Touch remains a hidden gem for workers who go for plates of rice and tandoori chicken or heaping piles of fluffy naan complemented by fiery curries. It’s not often you find spice like this in downtown Toronto, so get it when you can.

Fans of the St Lawrence Market classic, Buster’s Sea Cove, will be happy to hear that there’s an offshoot at the Commerce Court food court (King and Bay). They do grilled fish dishes, shrimp tacos and lobster rolls.