Patrick Kriss’s aerie above the helter-skelter of Queen and Spadina—now three years old and showered roundly with accolades—stands firmly atop Toronto’s fine-dining pyramid, home to one of the most singular restaurant experiences in this city or any other. The wines range deep into small-producer, sustainable vintages. The servers are effortlessly polished and warm. And the menu of 10 courses, plus the occasional spontaneous addition, is a relative bargain at $135 (there’s also a slightly longer, more expensive menu for those who want counter seats at the open kitchen).
One night this past summer started with an amuse of Raspberry Point oysters dotted with plum vinegar and wild chamomile petals, and a gold mirrored plate of savoury petit four. Matters grew only more exquisite: fluke sashimi lightly cured with a yuzu dressing and studded with a few flecks of coriander stem; meatier chunks of amberjack spritzed with finger lime and garnished with curling, finely julienned cucumber and radish; summer niblets, Saltspring mussels and chanterelle in a broth of smoked butter and a yukon gold espuma; Wagyu rib cap, competing in richness with a pool of black sesame, dashi and roasted eggplant; plus a series of desserts, the highlight a bowl of strawberries four ways: a dry-roasted sheet, macerated, a jelly, and a swirl of ice cream. By the end, as the elevator delivers you back to reality, you’ll be planning your return.
So much of what makes Edulis exceptional is its steadfast adherence to serendipity: Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth so often change their offerings to reflect what’s in season that there’s not even a printed menu to be studied. No matter, of course: the execution is flawless, or never far from it.
Guests at this cozy dining room order a five- or seven-course procession that always leans heavily toward seafood and vegetable dishes: wild hiramasa with black garlic and wisps of puffed rice, asparagus spears the size of cigars in almond sauce, cellared leeks so good they’ll ruin any and all future leek experiences, flaky B.C. skate dressed moorishly in buttery olive oil, mint and raisins, and milk-fed veal with the restaurant’s beloved morels. There are a few certainties, like the Red Fife bread with cultured butter, a signature baba au rhum meant to be slathered with chantilly cream, and warm servers who casually offer the full gourmet arsenal—caviar service, maybe, or a bottle from the deep Spanish- and French-heavy wine list—without a trace of upsell. The Sunday lunches are legendary and, for a good two hours or more, will have you believing you’re anywhere but a Liberty Village townhouse.
Chef Mitsuhiro Kaji remains the undisputed grand master of our sushi landscape. His restaurant, depending on your point of view, is at the centre of the universe or unfairly hidden in an Etobicoke strip mall. Kaji, serenely composed, seems unaware of the counter of people watching while his deft hand, in a signature swoop and twist, shapes every piece of nigiri. (He’s a perfectionist: if he doesn’t like what he sees, he tosses the rejected sushi aside and starts again.)
There are three omakase options to choose from, each more expensive than the last, the most lavish the $190 menu including a final savoury course of steaming sukiyaki with Wagyu from Kagoshima prefecture. One recent night started with exquisite morsels of barbecued eel on a nest of shredded zucchini, followed by a deep-fried cake of shrimp and summer corn hash, a sublime, chilled soup of shiso, avocado and a dollop of scallop mousse, a dainty lobster tail drizzled with a tongue-tingling sauce of chili, yuzu and shrimp broth, and a procession of nigiri, the jewel-like slices of fish lightly brushed with the house soy or olive oil, hiding a dot of fresh wasabi, and sometimes crowned with shiso leaf, yuzu zest or a bracingly garlicky mustard.
To say that chef Justin Cournoyer obsesses over local, seasonal food is to understate his passion. The unassuming dining room has the feel of a local restaurant, but aspires to, and achieves, so much more: this is the pinnacle of contemporary Canadian cuisine right now.
A couple of regulars sit at the four-seat bar while a steady crowd fills a dining room with sombre blue walls, dark wood and exposed brick. Then the chef himself presents the first dish—a modest ensemble of kelp-cured plums accented with everything from briny seaweed to florid rose petals—and offers a brief digression on the philosophy behind the tasting-only menu. Interesting. With the second course, a bowl of warm cherry tomatoes and frozen wild blueberries in a velvety smoked-tomato broth, everything clicks: this kitchen sincerely wants to express this time and this place through its food. That’s why two buttery mussels pair with delicate threads of sugary bell pepper swimming in vinegar and fish sauce, both house-made, and it’s why you know of Adam, the guy who picked the black trumpet mushrooms that now drape your caramelized cauliflower in an absurdly rich pine butter sauce.
Wild blueberries are paired with dill and a delectable corn sorbet topped with “corn whip.” Yes, even desserts are rooted in the here and now. The wine list is short but diverse, with many bottles under $70 and a diligent bar crew to guide diners toward the perfect pairing for any course.
To a certain diner, the steakhouse—no matter how clubby or conservative in its decor or bow-tied service—will never go out of style. But this two-storey compound just north of King Street has evolved to dazzle the modern steak connoisseur: it’s a high-end showroom for exquisite cuts of dry-aged beef, each organized not only by geographic origin, but also by breed. The razor-sharp servers eagerly detail the feeding regimes of each supplier, should you be fixated on your entrée’s eating habits—it’s very hard not to be, especially when considering a 16-ounce A5 Black Tajima strip loin from Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture. (At $432, it’s far from the priciest cut.)
The tableside caesar is an act few steakhouses, no matter how progressive, can resist, but the iceberg wedge salad is superior, slathered in an unctuous cheese dressing with lobster chunks the size of a cork from one of the cellar’s 1,200 bottles. Steaks arrive precisely paced and perfectly cooked, and can be pre-sliced to facilitate sharing. Everything is über-polished, from the manner in which staff deferentially stand aside as you pass, to the jumbo-sized gratis cheddar popovers.
The main dining room—perfumed with hints of rendering fat and herbs—can be noisy with its mix of power-dining men (and women) in suits, out-of-towners in streetwear and special-occasion celebrants—on a recent visit, couples celebrating their first and 58th anniversaries were seated at neighbouring tables, toasting each other’s happiness.
The centrepiece of chef Rob Gentile’s downtown Italian triptych is his temple of seafood at the base of Yorkville’s Four Seasons. Four years in, it’s still one of the city’s most dependable splurges and a regular draw for suit-wearing power diners and celebrating couples.
Whole branzino is fleetingly presented to the table, then carved tableside; it returns as a twinkling translucent blanket of melt-away fish streaked with olive oil, lemon and prosecco, every bite an exceptional double-dose of richness and bracing salinity. Equally oceanic are fresh sea urchins the size of tennis balls; spread on toasted focaccia, each of their buttery, deep-orange tongues tastes like a dive into the north Atlantic.
Fresh pasta is always a Gentile hallmark, and few dishes better capture his kitchen’s strengths than a tangle of angel-hair and Nova Scotia lobster tossed in a seafood broth and thickened with nutty whey butter. One exception to the seafood bonanza: what might be the city’s priciest pizza, a $55 slab of lightly charred crust and funky taleggio, with black truffles scattered across its surface like confetti. Finished with streaks of egg yolk, it’s worth every dollar.
Chef Brandon Olsen’s foray into French cuisine reliably delivers both expertly rendered Gallic classics and unexpected twists bound to inspire more than a few toothy grins. Forget the muted image of the stuffy bistro: this one springs to life in green, gold and copper, with the ambiance of a nightly New Year’s Eve dinner party, complete with disco tunes and coupes of boozy cocktails like the bourbon-based Banane Banane, spiked with banana liqueur.
Here, you’ll find the city’s finest example of a pâté en croûte, with golden pastry encasing peppery duck-pork stuffing and a cap of wine gelée on top. Julia Child would approve of how Olsen finishes his creamy crab and paella rice gratin in the crustacean’s shell, and how he achieves that extremely rare thing: a correct omelette—nearly custardy within, timed to the microsecond. An omelette for dinner is one of the more peculiarly French traditions, and (for an extra $80) it’s an excuse to order caviar. Otherworldly pommes aligot blur the line between mashed potato and molten cheese, bending physics to exist as both liquid and solid at the same time.
And then there’s the Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg: it’s the city’s original paint-splattered chocolate ovoid, made by part-time confectioner Olsen (Toronto’s own Willy Wonka), and a party trick that never gets old. Smash it open with a spoon to reveal delicate chocolate truffles—like the restaurant itself, it’s just as much fun as it sounds.
It’s tiny—just over two-dozen seats, cooks jostling in a pocket-sized kitchen—but it makes a big impression.
The wine list is a treat, featuring gorgeous old-world finds, and nothing currently falls over $160 (which is unheard of in this neighbourhood). Chef Jonathan Nicolaou’s menu, alert to the season and designed for easy pairings, is full of surprises, like a rockfish crudo enlivened by slippery cubes of cucumber-flavoured jelly and a hash of preserved green tomato, or the pleasing crunch of oven-crackled edges of rotolo—wheels of pasta stuffed with spinach and the freshest-imaginable ricotta.
It’s tempting to stuff yourself with Prairie Boy sourdough, smeared with full-fat, sea-salt-flecked butter, but save room for a pavlova of sugary peak-season Ontario strawberries, sour pops of red currants and a drift of chantilly cream. The close quarters means you’ll get to know your neighbours, who’ll want to know what’s in your glass and compare real estate horror stories. As the night falls and the stereo rises, it can feel like you’re at the best dinner party in Yorkville.
Locals point out landmarks to tourists, patient servers snap pics of celebrating couples and everyone oohs and aahs over the view. Honouring Canadian cuisine and ingredients for 23 years has taught the kitchen something about presentation, and the elaborately plated dishes compete with the vistas for sheer beauty.
A plump slab of seared Quebec foie gras rests on a sliced cattail-pollen waffle; shards of pink peppercorn and sumac meringue add a colourful, savoury, architectural component. A tangle of tender spring pea shoots, dressed with verjus and minted buttermilk curd, act as a healthy foil for meaty peameal bacon lardons and shaved ricotta salata. Exceptionally tender and flavourful tea-smoked duck breast mingles happily amid a jumble of radicchio, roasted parsnip, poached Niagara pear and a swizzle of parsnip purée. And a tube of rhubarb cheesecake is a creamy pink, red and yellow confection that oozes strawberry compote. Canadian winemakers are given pride of place on the extensive wine list, naturally, but care and attention are apparent with all the selections.
Everything about quetzal, Grant van Gameren’s biggest, most elaborate space yet, is extraordinary—it has shifted the restaurant world’s centre of gravity.
A year’s worth of construction has produced a dramatic room, with a plaster ceiling that torques and curves. Flames from the eight-metre firepit, dancing up the walls, are visible from almost every seat in the house. Chef-couple Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo cook brightly modern Mexican, and the spotlight is on hero cuts of rib-eye, lamb barbacoa and, our favourite, pescado Zarandeado, line-caught fish (red snapper on one occasion) that’s butterflied and rubbed with red chorizo seasoning on one half, green chorizo seasoning on the other, and grilled. It’s smoky, perfectly timed and deeply satisfying, wrapped in handmade tortillas and dressed with a sweet cherry tomato salsa.
Smaller dishes are equally impressive: a tartly refreshing scallop and halibut ceviche, arranged as a circle of petals with sections of Ontario-grown gherkins (which resemble Lilliputian watermelons); a bowl of grilled mixed mushrooms and a leek broth, with a meaty depth of flavour; all the masa, especially the version embellished with zucchini blossoms and precisely plated with a circle of crema and black-bean sauce; and an incredible plate of coal-roasted, honey-coated beets. If you emailed for a reservation in the restaurant’s early days last summer, you received an auto-reply politely suggesting you should try again later— much, much later. You must try, though.
The best seat in the house is at the sushi bar for a closeup view of Ian Robinson— a protégé of Toronto sushi master Mitsuhiro Kaji— preparing his exquisite omakase offerings: octopus from Morocco on a thumb of rice hiding a burst of wasabi; New Zealand red sea bream with shiso; Boston fluke dotted with fermented scotch-bonnet dressing. Robinson’s talents extend beyond sushi: he grills black maitake mushrooms with thyme, then tosses them with mizuna leaves in a miso sauce, for an extraordinary salad that tastes of char and the wilderness. One of the best dishes is a simple mound of steamed rice in a bath of dashi flecked with sesame and seaweed. In the centre of the bowl is a water lily, its petals sculpted from sea bream sashimi.
Jeff Kang’s early cooking, influenced by Nordic cuisine, the locavore movement and his background in big-hotel fine dining, has evolved into something uniquely his: highly seasonal, dazzlingly plated, effortlessly modern. One recent tasting menu included a tart of side-stripe shrimp hiding under nasturtium leaves, a summery salad of garam masala–dusted lobster, cucumber and radish dressed with XO-garum sauce, halibut and garlic scapes in a lovage velouté, and a bone-in veal strip drizzled with jus and sided with sweet carrot coins and tart bursts of preserved currants. The night’s stunner was a bowl of fresh-shucked English peas cooked in whey and tossed with red and white currants, slices of pea pods, spicy ground lamb and a slick of yogurt. It was elegant and original and gone in moments—sure proof of a brilliant chef.
Less a restaurant than an institution, this midtown stalwart with the million-dollar view has dazzled its devoted clientele since 1980. Keith Froggett’s sublime menu (local, seasonal ingredients prepared with meticulous technique) constantly evolves. Tempura zucchini blossoms—with house-made ricotta, lemon, marinated cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and arugula—is an exuberant expression of late summer, even deep-fried. Halibut with macerated heirloom tomatoes, zucchini herb purée, artichoke and olives balances acidic, herbaceous and briny elements with subtle skill. A spoonful of dense, slightly bitter chocolate crémeux layered with tart raspberries, chocolate ganache, devil’s food cake and crackling feuilletine, served with lychee sorbet, marks a lovely end to the evening.
What was supposed to be only a quiet little neighbourhood spot in the Junction soon earned international acclaim for its straightforward, unfussy and entirely delicious food. Ingredients peer out from the pristine fish counter, and any one can be chosen as part of the Pick Yer Fish option served with smashed potatoes and seasonal veggies to accompany. Fleshy slices of albacore tuna luxuriate in a house-made ponzu sauce, while shima aji (striped jack) carpaccio is gilded with bright pickled sour cherries, good olive oil, green chili and cilantro. When the fish is this fresh, it doesn’t need to be cooked.
Chef Masaki Hashimoto’s restaurant, seating 10 across three private rooms in a corner of the JCCC, is one of the few kitchens outside Japan devoted to Kyoto-style kaiseki—a season-hugging cuisine that requires a surgeon’s steady hand and a sculptor’s eye. It’s worth it, at least once in a lifetime, to experience awe at Hashimoto’s translucent petals of Japanese sea bream, fanned inside an antique lacquered box etched with pastoral scenes; Japanese mountain potato, carved into a flower; and the exquisitely detailed crane, Hashimoto’s signature, carved from daikon. At the end of the night, guests are invited to a special side room for a formal tea ceremony.
In the six years since chef Carl Heinrich used his Top Chef Canada winnings to open Richmond Station, a remarkable thing has happened: the downtown brasserie—a solid place since launch— has somehow become even better. Vegetarian-friendly fare and meatier dishes share equal space on the menu, which boasts long-time favourites, like house-cured charcuterie and duck two ways. Flavour-packed mainstays—like the cucumber salad, with queso fresco, tzatziki, lavash chips and taggiasca olives; and the juicy, decadent Station Burger, a chuck, brisket and sirloin patty enveloping shredded braised short ribs and crowned with beet chutney and aged cheddar on a soft milk bun—more than compensate for any seasonal menu fluctuations.
You’ll need to employ the scattergun approach when ordering at this two-year-old Kensington restaurant and wine bar—the menu is divided into four slightly perplexing categories—but you’ll be happy with the effort. Aesthetically pleasing seafood dominates, and the smoked mackerel dip, one of only a few dishes remaining from chef Mitchell Bates’s opening-day menu, is aggressively fishy and immensely addictive when smeared on the house-made gaufrettes. The sockeye salmon is the colour of a shimmering basketball, and a wedge of pearlescent halibut appears to have been chiselled from marble. A puck-shaped churro proves to be the ideal foundation for fresh strawberries, a scoop of mascarpone ice cream and a ring of matcha cream.
In its two-plus years, Victor Barry’s flagship restaurant has become such a mainstay that its previous existence—as the luxe Splendido—feels like a snippet from an alternate reality. This iteration is infinitely more casual, but fine dining is rarely this much fun or consistently satisfying. The Italian comfort-food hits include blistered thin-crust pizzas like the Bitters, with its dandelion greens and kale, balanced by heaps of fior di latte; transcendently earthy mushroom cavatelli, redolent of truffles, in a lick-the-plate-clean sauce suprême; and a heroic-looking hunk of veal parm under a bubbling, golden-brown blanket of parmesan. The room is boisterous and feels like a never-ending birthday party, but the occasional singalong is well worth it.
Sixteen years in, Mark McEwan’s subterranean clubhouse still draws a steady stream of Bay Streeters. Chef Brooke McDougall’s deconstructed grilled-peach-and-tomato salad makes the most convincing case yet that summer should never end, and dry-aged strip loins and rib-eyes never go out of style. À la carte sides, especially the roasted cauliflower with lemon mascarpone and the jalapeño corn risotto, are worth the upsell. And every dish, even the stack of fries that accompanies the $40 cheeseburger, is dramatically plated. About that burger: topped with rich brie de Meaux, shaved truffles and grilled porcinis, its hefty price tag is justified.
Aloette is a mini-Alo only insofar as the menu will never leave you bored. It’s unfussy but terrifically delicious: lusciously meaty Burgundy snails in a bowl of Puy lentils, greens and a squirt of lemon; scallop sashimi served on mini-tostadas with crema, diced apple and jalapeño; pulled lamb shoulder, crispy, fatty and tender, tossed in a salad of Israeli couscous, slices of orange, chili, ras el hanout, yogurt dressing, and leaves of mint and basil. The talk of the town, however, is the burger, topped with fried cheese and pickled vidalia onions, the bun house-made, the side of fries double-crisped.
While there are traces of restaurateur David Chang’s influence across the menu, the focus is squarely on South America, specifically Colombia, where head chef Paula Navarrete was born. Hominy and cornmeal flatbread—equal parts arepa and Chinese bing—are fully addictive, and even better wrapped around Niagara prosciutto and pickled cherries. She’s a master of the wood-fired grill, which touches everything from zucchini and potato to avocado and steak. One standout is the rib-eye, mildly funky from 32 days of dry-aging, grilled to a magnificent, well-seasoned crust,a scoop of bone marrow butter the final note of excess. Navarrete serves it with a whole green chili, a forearm’s length and blackened from the grill, a dare on a plate.
As light filters through the factory windows, a complimentary loaf of soft, warm sourdough hits the table, followed by a menu so short and joy-inducing, you’d think it was edited by Marie Kondo. This respite in the middle of the Drake-Gladstone party zone belongs to chef Jason Carter. There are often surprise wild ingredients, like the forest of bitter, pine-green agretti on a wild turbot fillet pan-seared until a crackling gold crust forms, or the dainty baby artichoke hearts whose pink centres match the sparkling squares of tuna tataki beneath them. By the time dessert arrives—wild blueberries on dense butter cake with lemon verbena ice cream—you get it: less really can be more.
When it opened in 2013, the Chase immediately became the city’s most cherished spot for Bay Street schmoozing, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering incredible views of the Financial District. Dishes are a tight mix of pastas, meaty plates and steakhouse classics, like the wedge salad or the tableside-prepared beef tartare. Delicate gnocchi dumplings come in a Dungeness crab broth with carrot-infused butter and piquillo peppers; perfectly seared scallops are paired with salty ham hock, pea purée and crispy quinoa; and thin fillets of rich arctic char are wisely accompanied by pickled carrots, creamy confit sunchokes, root vegetable chips and earthy braised kale. Well-executed desserts, like the chocolate cake with creamy ganache, peanut-butter anglaise and vanilla ice cream, put a refined spin on the classics.
It’s intimate and evocative at any time, but still best appreciated late at night when the lights are dim, the conversations animated and the whole restaurant feels transported to a vibrant Barcelona barrio. The jamon helps, of course: slick, salty and thinly sliced in degrees of deliciousness—from serrano to the rare ibérico de bellota. As do the patatas bravas, a classic of the fried-potato genre, here served traditionally, topped with salsa brava and aïoli, or in an all-dressed style like an Iberian poutine with boquerones and excellent house-made morcilla. An almost frothy spread of grated tomatoes, rich with good olive oil, tops garlic-rubbed toast. Toast also plays a supporting role for spicy sobrassada sausage with honey montadito covered in a drift of shaved foie gras. It remains one of the best things to eat in the city.
Chef Nuit Regular’s rarefied Royal Thai cooking is so daintily pretty, you’ll fight the urge to leave it untouched on the plate. The platter of thoong thong, mha hor, chor ladda and rhoom combines the bright, contrasting flavours of pickled turnip, peanut paste, lemongrass, fried shrimp and gelatinous rice dyed with bright blue tea from the butterfly pea. A grilled whole sea bream gets wrapped in leaves of baby gem lettuce with Thai basil, pickled shallots and ginger. And a beef short rib in an intoxicating sauce of tamarind and pearl onions is like an upmarket rendition of khao soi.
This easy-to-overlook Riverside kitchen, with its nightly changing four-course menus—set in advance, one week at a time—might seem radical to diners accustomed to the free-for-all of small-plates dining. But it’s liberating to leave the ordering decisions in the hands of chef Lynn Crawford. There’s always a surprise or two: what reads like a very meat-and-potatoes main is actually a tender cut of medium-rare strip loin and a bracing celery chimichurri, served not with meagre sides but with individual cast-iron ramekins of crispy Yukon golds, tender sesame-braised bok choy and roasted sweet heirloom carrots with a sprinkling of goat cheese, and a cob of corn slathered in cheddar and dusted with chipotle. Service is lively and engaging without being ingratiating—at its best, Ruby Watchco feels like a dinner party in your chef-friend’s kitchen.
Chef Luke Donato preps a first-rate choucroute with a white sausage stuffed with veal and another stuffed with foie gras; petal-thin slices of hamachi crudo and pebbles of cuke, dressed with a lemon emulsion; and a grand slab of two-months-aged côte de boeuf. But once you encounter an artist like pastry chef Cori Osborne, formerly of Alo, the thing that matters most is what comes last. The two meal-ending standouts are her slice of spiced baba au rhum topped with a wave of white-chocolate ganache, mini-cubes of pineapple and micro basil, and her sugar-dusted Paris-Brest, the finest doughnut known to humankind: two choux layers sandwiching hazelnut cream studded with flakes of feuilletine. For all the work Osborne puts into them, they’re not unduly precious—you don’t feel guilty taking up a fork. The room is a beauty, too, with its cognac banquettes and walls dressed in a toile depicting Toronto’s unsung icons—raccoons, Honest Ed’s and the Zanzibar.
Midway through a recent evening’s omakase menu, chef-proprietor Yasuhisa Ouchi presented each of the diners with a roll topped with a half-dozen sakura shrimp, lightly pickled and blush pink, sweet with a hint of brine. It’s for such special, briefly available seasonal species that Ouchi is renowned—and the reason his intimate, 18-seat room books up a month in advance. His is one of the more affordable omakase experiences—$135 per person—and also one of the less stiffly traditional. His nigiri surprises with contrasts of texture, flavour, colour: fluke is paired with a section of torched fluke fin, glistening red snapper, a lobe of unagi, snow crab with crab liver, grouper with sea salt and a touch of lemon juice. Not to be missed is bonito nigiri, briefly smoked over hay and topped with diced chives. The trace of smoke flavour is subtle, a nod to the delicacy of the fish. Every mouthful at Yasu is like that: a little different, a little challenging and profoundly delicious.
So much of what Campagnolo helped pioneer in this city—the curated cocktails, the gracefully casual service, the fine-dining-as-funky-dinner-party vibes—has become ingrained in our restaurant culture that it can be taken for granted. Nine years on, though, Craig Harding and Alexandra Hutchison’s corner spot on Dundas West still manages to impress even the most jaded Toronto foodie. The roasted bone marrow and the burrata with grapes and toast are still spectacular, but under new chef de cuisine Stephen Baidacoff, there’s an-ever-so-slight and welcome turn toward modernist cuisine. This past summer, his kitchen prepared a zucchini fritter plate that was as gorgeous as it was delicious: flowers stuffed with ricotta and whey, accompanied by pickled yellow zucchini, a spicy red pepper purée and a ribbon of green zucchini bowed with orange nasturtium flowers. The hangar steak here is better than most sirloins, beautifully pink inside and richly charred on the exterior. Olive-oil cake is so loaded with the golden Mediterranean fat that it wouldn’t be out of place mid-meal; you’ll fight for the last bite.
Jackie Lin’s uptown omakase restaurant takes status sushi to the next level. There’s a hush as we watch Lin and his apprentices assemble meticulous sashimi of Japanese octopus, buttery tuna belly, glistening fluke and mackerel; a tartare of sea urchin, chopped fatty tuna, Venetian caviar and wasabi; grilled Wagyu, its fattiness balanced by a sprinkling of pickled chives; and a parade of increasingly luxurious nigiri (perhaps goldeneye snapper, stripejack, three types of tuna, vinegar-marinated sardine, mantis shrimp and sea urchin). Unlike downtown’s premium omakase counters, Shoushin often picks up on the weekends with Yonge and Lawrence residents who don’t blink at a $285 per-person price tag.
Whittled legs of pata negra, rows of Spanish wine and a decor of honey-coloured wood and mirrors greet diners at this pocket of Iberian comfort. The environment is conducive to intimacy, likewise the food. Two-bite pinchos, Basque crostini slathered in olive oil and gilded with flavour-bomb toppings like sweet, caramelized, sherry-roasted figs and funky Valdeón blue cheese, transcend mere bread and spreads. A larger eggplant dish has clever Japanese accents: bonito shavings ripple over bundles of the deep-fried vegetable, but the hit of umami plays smartly off bracingly acidic tomatillo salsa and silky queso fresco.
The dapper staff speak a soupçon of French to everyone they greet while guests can be heard chatting away in Portuguese, Korean, Spanish and Mandarin. Dark, toasty seared scallops are propped up by an oblong prism of crab terrine in a fresh architectural appetizer. À la carte items, while gussy, stick to the tried and true: halibut, risotto, beef tenderloin. There’s more experimentation on the $115 champagne tasting menu. Seared foie gras, nestled into a wee fluted chocolate tart, is joined by sweet corn and quince marmalade along with pickled chanterelles and apples for balance. And pucks of porcelet, slow-cooked suckling pig, are rich as can be.
There comes a rude discovery for most 30-somethings—chefs included—that the hedonistic dining habits of their 20s need to go. The music is suddenly too loud, the room too dark, and the hangovers—oh, the hangovers. At his new Italian restaurant, 35-year-old chef Rob Rossi (Bestellen) is aging with his clientele, opening the kind of place where lambrusco gets top billing over craft beer. It’s lighter in every sense of the word: a tangle of cacio e pepe pulsing with Kampot black pepper; a lightly sauced white pizza topped with lardo, smoked scamorza and Sicilian pistachios on a paper-thin crust; and a stew of braised goat over polenta that’s primed to become one of the city’s best winter dishes all too soon. The Red Fife tiramisù is a convincing argument that growing up shouldn’t have to mean skipping dessert.
The Cal-Ital cooking in this breezy, all-white room is vibrant and aggressively seasonal, like a salad of late-summer corn and lentils with Ontario goat cheese and chickpeas; deep-fried, ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms; and flatbread-like pizzas strewn with treviso, taleggio and figs. There are heartier options, too, like a “100 layer” lasagna built with noodles, béchamel, a hefty bolognese, and deliciously bubbling and charred mozzarella.
If it weren’t a destination restaurant, George could be a museum dedicated to a style of dining that has largely been pushed aside in the small-plates era. Choose from five-, seven- or 10-course tasting menus or chef Lorenzo Loseto’s focused three-course à la carte menu, where the simplicity of the descriptions (“pheasant, cheddar grits, cherry”) does nothing to herald the polychromatic layers that arrive with every dish.
Given its prime Yorkville location, its celebrity chef affiliation and the air-kissing clientele that frequent Mark McEwan’s One Restaurant, you’d be forgiven for assuming the Hazelton Hotel spot was just another style-over-substance establishment built for the see-and-be-seen crowd. Decadent lobster tail bites swimming in vermouth butter share menu space with crispy Korean tacos sauced with gochujang. The veal parmesan, a breaded, bone-in veal chop perfectly pan-fried and crowned with bright San Marzano tomatoes and melted buffalo mozzarella, and the baked gnocchi in a rosé sauce with house-made bomba, both beautifully showcase McEwan’s flair for Italian classics.
Set in a bright subterranean space with vaulted white-brick ceilings, decorative brass teapots and colourful hookahs, the restaurant manages to be equal parts see-and-be-seen haunt, pre-theatre fixture and casual weeknight staple. The aromatic slow-roasted lamb shoulder, braised for hours and served with house-made pickles and freshly baked lavash, is the ideal family-style plate, and it pairs perfectly with one of the baked basmati rices—served in earthenware pots and prepared with crispy confit duck, black truffle, or shaved carrots and barberries. Unique cocktails are infused with the likes of Turkish coffee and pistachio orgeat; arak, specially imported, is served ceremonially tableside.
It’s impossible to be a grump at Victor Barry’s very-pink French spot. Everyone sips champagne cocktails or on-tap rosé while deciding between French classics: beefy onion soup under an oozing cap of gruyère; three foie gras options (seared, a parfait, with beef tenderloin); or a slice of coffee-scented opera cake. Luxury is the default mode. There’s even a Barry-fied burger slicked with remoulade on a house-made milk bun.
You will taste the occasional miracle in the post-industrial space where chef Rob Gentile’s journey to culinary beatification began. Pizza bianca, drizzled with oil and sprinkled with rosemary, warms the soul, but it’s overshadowed by horse tartare with capers, 40-year-old vinegar and fermented ricotta that melds brine, funk, salt and acidity. Every item on the menu has an appealing analog on the expertly curated wine list.
Nick Liu’s modern Asian brasserie is a master class in complex, flavour-packed food. Small sharing plates, like crispy octopus tacos with braised pork belly and spicy sambal aïoli on jicama shells, typify the menu—the bites are intricate, accessible and balanced. Larger dishes, like the exceptional truffle fried rice (made with eggs, XO sauce and vegetables) and General Tso sweetbreads, are crafted with equal care. Imaginative cocktails and a fantastic wine list built by co-owner and prized sommelier Anton Potvin are excellent complements to the umami-punched plates.
In the last six years, Daniel Boulud’s restaurant at the Four Seasons has changed chefs and undergone a renovation—as well as a menu overhaul—and the place is better than ever. Cured meat, terrines and pâtés are a specialty here, and the formidable charcuterie board is a great way to start a meal; an imported rotisserie oven perfectly slow-roasts everything from whole chickens to pineapples. The standout dish is the quenelle de brochet, a Lyon-style dish of emulsified northern pike blended with eggs, cooked into a flawless omelette, and plated in a bowl of rich cognac-lobster sauce. Like Café Boulud itself, the dish is seamless.
The service is curt, the wine list basically non-existent, and there aren’t any desserts, but it really is worth lining up outside to share a family-style feast at this Beijing-based Sichuan restaurant. Peking duck is the main attraction, and it doesn’t disappoint. The skin crackles like glass, and droplets of juice and fat glisten on the flesh. It is three-bite perfection when wrapped in a steamed pancake and dressed with fried potato strings, threads of cucumber and scallion, and dabs of a sweet and salty house-made bean sauce. Hunks of white fish shake and shimmy in a tureen of bubbling oil studded with handfuls of sweat-inducing dried chilies and lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorns. Aptly named Amazing Tofu tops wobbly blocks of the vegetarian protein with peanuts and green onions, ringed by preserved black thousand-year-old eggs into an intense blast of textures and flavours.
At the end of 2017, chef Rob Bragagnolo opened Campo Food Hall, a slightly grandiose title for what was, by day, a takeout counter and juice bar. The real story is at the rear, where he runs his tapas restaurant, Labora. The menu emphasizes seafood, and one night includes a terrific slider of calamari and pickled pepper, which Bragagnolo lifted from Bodega 1900, a Barcelona vermouth bar run by his hero, chef Albert Adrià. No less excellent are grilled octopus with crisped threads of potato, or a row of cold-smoked mackerel slices standing like soldiers at attention, each paired with a dot of blood-orange marmalade. The star one night is a giant red Spanish prawn, split then grilled and anointed simply with a few drops of olive oil. The best chefs know when to let a shrimp speak for itself.
Doug Penfold doesn’t holiday; he goes on gastro tours, eating his way through countries in the name of research. It was on a trip to Spain that he took a side trip to Morocco, and promptly fell hard for slow-simmered tagines of lamb or seafood, kofta fragrant with paprika, and semolina pan breads smeared with sweet pastes made of ground nuts and honey. They’re all on the menu at Atlas, named after the mountain range, along with buttery phyllo packets stuffed with mixed mushrooms; bright salads of fennel, feta and quinoa; and pretty little tarts that are decidedly French but take their flavour cues—dates, pistachios, rosewater—from north Africa. The room is intimate, only 24 seats, and the servers are warm and meticulous. They’ll remember you after your first visit—and they expect you’ll be back.
For the past nine years, chef Teo Paul’s Union has been un petit piece of Paris on Ossington and has avoided the trendiness trap by simply putting out excellent food made with high-quality ingredients day after day. Things like oysters served with horseradish and mignonette, but also with a killer habanero spread. The same kicky concoction comes with one of the city’s best steak tartares, served with toasted cornbread instead of the usual paper-thin crostini. Also good: fried and baked polenta soaking in a tomato bath, and sticky pork ribs, smoked and slathered in a sweet-and-sour house barbecue sauce. The dining room is a tad cramped, but nobody seems to care—throw in delicious food, great cocktails and smiling service and suddenly personal space is no longer an issue.
Pass through the heavy Game of Thrones doors and you’ll swear you’ve entered an old Venetian tavern, but this trendy spot is the new home of chef Ryan Campbell and manager-sommelier Giuseppe Marchesini, both last of the Buca brand. The specialty here is cicchetti, the Venetian equivalent of Spanish pinchos—grazing food best consumed while sitting at a bar with a glass of wine. Campbell’s are fancier: golden-fried finger sandwiches of bay scallop and sidestripe shrimp, and tender brisket, slow-braised in a Calabrian licorice liqueur. Downstairs is a wine cellar stacked with interesting Italian finds, like a pleasantly funky unfiltered orange wine from Molise as well as sweeter ones to complement a dainty espresso-flavoured layered sponge cake.
Tucked down a laneway, set apart from the hustle and bustle of King West, there’s an undeniable hint of the clandestine while making your way to this sultry tapas bar. At night, the lights dim, the music recedes and conversations take on a sexier hush as diners lean in over clay pots of warm olives and plates of perfect croquetas. The paella, stunningly simple, made marvellous with ample saffron, arrives a brisk 45 minutes after being ordered—well before appetizers are finished.
Coca-Cola-themed murals and beat up wooden tables scream casual, but that doesn’t mean that owners Raena Fisher and Daniel Roe aren’t dead serious about tacos. They import corn from Mexico, soak and grind it in-house, then griddle tortillas to order. The result is a tortilla that actually tastes of something and is every bit as spectacular as the fillings it envelops, like carnitas, juicy tendrils of confit pork shoulder. The lone dessert option, a pina colada tres leches cake smothered in the caramelized awesomeness of roasted pineapple, delights.
For the first time since the closure of the charming Saturday Dinette, there’s reason to dine among the variety of shops and hardware stores of the stretch of Gerrard between East Chinatown and Pape. Chef Jeff Bovis has created a space that’s both casual and romantic—especially after a glass of skin-contact grenache rosé. There’s a rustic Mediterranean bent to everything on the menu, and it’s all meant to be shared, even if it’s hard to forfeit anything from a mound of spaghetti tossed with zucchini and anchovy, topped with bottarga and a stracciatella snow cap. And the whole branzino—drizzled with brown butter and buried under an avalanche of olives and capers—wouldn’t look out of place at a small-town taverna.
There’s no shouting or banging of gongs at this west-end izakaya; the only background noise is Japanese city pop and happy chatter. Here a Guu and Kingyo Izakaya alum pumps tasty small plates out of the kitchen at a rapid pace: things like fat slices of über-fresh bluefin tuna, and karaage chicken, delicious deep-fried morsels of dark meat served with a ramekin of addictive yuzu-Kewpie mayo. Belly-warming Nagoya ramen noodles swim with crumbles of beef and pork in a spicy, fiery-red chicken broth (an animal trifecta). Of course, there’s lots of sake, both by the glass and bottle, and one-litre steins of ice-cold Sapporo—this is an izakaya, after all.
While Ossington has completely changed around it, Tom Thai’s 11-year-old bistro seems rooted in a bygone era. But his fusion cooking tastes as vital as ever: bold flavours hiding in plain sight on a strip populated by flashier dining options. He’s a master of ceviche and sashimi, and the salmon tataki is his latest hit: barely seared slices of fish arranged around a mound of greens mixed with sesame seeds, onions and avocado, tossed with citrus vinaigrette and wasabi oil, and topped with crispy tortilla strips. It’s magic. Just as marvelous are the fried dumplings, plump with ground spiced lamb and duck, and the coconutty red curry with hunks of beef cheek. The wine list is far longer than it needs to be, and when funky French farmhouse ciders are available by the glass, you won’t even notice the barely there beer list.
Cooking contemporary takes on 400-year-old recipes since 2014, Boralia more than holds its own on food-crazy Ossington. Husband-and-wife duo Wayne Morris and Evelyn Wu Morris draw a savvy clientele for their interpretation of historic Canadian foods. A cloche, removed with a flourish so pine smoke swirls out and across the table, reveals a shoal of wide-open mussels. The shellfish is super-fresh, but the recipe dates back to the 17th century. The presentation of an 1876 recipe of sweetbreads with peas is very 2018: wilted pea shoots and a spiral of black garlic purée act as a base for the madeira-glazed sweetbreads huddled together beneath a ring of pink radish slices. The kitchen interprets the classic Depression-era dessert pudding chomeur as “Liberal cake with Conservative sauce,” and serves the syrupy sweet with a bipartisan dollop of maple-whisky whipped cream.
Doug Penfold’s Yorkville bistro is accessed via an alley and is barely visible from the street: even an innocent lunch date acquires a whiff of discreet rendezvous. Penfold works at a couple of burners behind the bar, thriving under the constraints. He composes note-perfect pork liver mousse; chestnut soup fragrant with sorrel; a ballotine of chicken wrapped around roasted apples, with a jolt of herbaceousness from a watercress purée; and steaming side plates of celeriac and escarole gratin. For dessert: made-to-order apple tart, with warm calvados sabayon slowly poured overtop.
The street-side patio at Rasa might be one of the nicest places to be on a warm summer Monday—and it’s easy to see why there’s often a wait-list for the first day of the week. It’s industry night: only $40 for three courses plus a snack, a sweet and $5 drinks? Come on. The chopped salad (chiffonaded kale and cabbage, quinoa, bell peppers, grapes, roasted harrisa-spiced chickpeas, feta-jalapeno dressing) is everything—vegetables are really something here. But whatever you do, get the burger. A beef cheek patty, perfectly pink and shoved into a brioche bun, is draped with provolone and topped with kimchee, pickles and kicky gochujang mayo; it’s one of the city’s best. Finish up with another glass of rosé and watch the sun set down Harbord. It’s easy to forget there are four days left of the workweek.
Terroni alum David Mattachioni’s Junction Triangle kitchen is the kind of place where you can grab a sandwich to go, linger over a romantic dinner or just saddle up to the bar for a negroni. You can also buy sourdough, baked daily in a wood-fired oven, or premium olive oil from a condensation-covered tank of it. Speaking of the bread, if you’re smart about it, you can have it for almost every course. From a board loaded with house-cured meat, chewy sourdough and pickled veggies; to a salad of fresh Ontario tomatoes, cucumber and sourdough croutons; to sandwiches stuffed with mortadella, prosciutto or porchetta. There’s also Neapolitan pizza, topped with things like salty anchovies, hot salami and clouds of fresh mozzarella. But back to that bread. There’s even a section of the menu dedicated to fancy toast, including thick slices of the stuff slathered with Nutella. While technically not a dessert, nobody would fault you for going in this direction.
If you’re dining solo at Patois or with one other companion, you may be invited to sit at the bar and “join the party.” It does feel like a celebration here, with the music cranked and tropical cocktails in things like inflatable flamingos and flaming pineapples—the scent of extinguished sparklers mingles with jerk spice. This is the second incarnation of Craig Wong’s Asian-Caribbean kitchen, one of the city’s most unique spots. The original closed after the store next door caught fire, only to rise from the ashes like a charcoal-grilled phoenix—or, in this case, a chicken, fried and served with pickled watermelon and sweet sriracha. And the Dirty Fried Rice—a pile of rice chock full of egg, veggies, sweet lap cheong and Hong Kong–style red sausages—is a must. A recent visit involved a free shot—a mouthful of gin, chased with Ting. Join the party indeed.
Dinner at Parkdale’s petite French-inspired bistro is both delicious and cacophonous. Music is loud. Cutlery clatters. And, when the street-facing window is open, a literal siren song serenades. Luckily you don’t need ears to enjoy what chef Peter Robson sends out of the twee kitchen: garlicky escargot with grilled sourdough; asparagus drizzled with shallot hollandaise and finished with bacon crumbles; duck two ways (smoked breast, crispy leg) with jus. It’s all very good, and it’s all very rich, so it’s serendipitous that the only available parking spot was five blocks west and two blocks south—a post-prandial walk won’t hurt.
As if out of thin air, Geary Avenue has materialized as one of the city’s trendiest hubs, and this temple to tahini is one of its main draws. Here, Tel Aviv expat Tomer Markovitz makes some of the most exciting Middle Eastern dishes the city has seen since the early days of Fat Pasha: mind-blowing falafel, so green inside from fresh parsley and herbs; truffle-oil hummus, made with sesame seeds ground on-site; and hammshuka, which layers shakshuka over creamy ground chickpeas. He also makes a shawarma platter unlike any other, swapping the base of rice for creamy polenta under hunks of braised lamb, brussels sprouts and a dollop of labneh. It’s a total reinvention of the familiar, which makes this newly thriving strip its perfect home.
The best steak we’ve had in the past year, no contest, was a grass-fed strip loin aged for 72 days and grilled over crackling hardwood. The first millimetres tasted of campfire, the next few of blue-cheese funk, the core of smoked ham. It was at Julian Iliopoulos’s Argentine spot on Ossington, which quietly opened last winter, serving precisely executed, shareable small plates, like empanadas stuffed with smoked ricotta, “churros” of deep-fried puffed potato, and sheets of taleggio draped over pan-fried hen of the woods mushrooms and leek-flavoured gnocchi. The grill gets a workout, infusing smokiness into squid, short ribs and, no minor revelation, a cross-section of cabbage, brushed with pesto and polka-dotted with yellow pearls of cured egg yolk.
When you’re not in the mood for a 14-hour flight to Buenos Aires, you’d do well at this handsome series of art deco rooms in the Saks-Bay complex. Anthony Walsh, O&B’s top chef, got his inspiration (and his empanada recipe) from his Argentinian mother-in-law. Must-haves are a dish of salt cod, pickled red onion, deep-fried cumin-dusted chickpeas, fava beans and cilantro scooped up on toasts (they call it a salad), and the roasted rabbit on flavourful rice cooked with tomatoes and snails. The empanadas, sweet pastry encasing peppery ground beef, egg slices and black olives, live up to the hype.
Here’s what we love about Estia: the dreamy mellowness of house-made halloumi and roasted grapes; the daily haul of Mediterranean fish, roasted in a wood-burning oven and served on a porcelain platter with a patchwork of pickled caper leaves and gremolata; lamb chops, kissed with char and slathered with tzatziki; and how, as if we were in a family-run Greek tavern in a fishing town, nearly every dish is paired with floral olive oil. And the people-watching is a bonus: Yorkvillians, in the name of special diets, customizing orders so they barely resemble the original; the collection of guys at the bar with unlit cigars in their breast pockets; the push for a prime seat on a patio that overlooks the six stop-and-go lanes of Avenue Road.
Tel Aviv meets Toronto at Anthony Rose’s Dupont dining room. Expect to order a lot: creamy hummus; fattoush salad with halloumi; and an homage to the chicken liver at Sammy’s Roumanian in N.Y.C., mixed tableside with slices of hard-cooked egg, onion, crispy chicken skin and golden rendered fat. The must-order main is the whole roasted cauliflower, sporting tahini, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and a green sheen from spicy skhug. The sufganiyot, dusted with cinnamon sugar, filled with sour cream icing and served on chocolate mousse, would be bubbe’s favourite beignets.
Classic funk broadcast at a civilized volume, exposed brick and beams, and macramé plant baskets give the room a sort of ’70s Scandinavian dream-basement aesthetic. Some in the room have stopped in for charcuterie; others dig in to the wine list, with its emphasis on organic and biodynamic bottles. The rest linger over chef Nicholas Morra’s (Chantecler, La Banane) dishes, featuring French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese flavours: chicken liver mousse on grilled bread with mushrooms, chicory leaves dressed in vincotto under sheets of shaved ham, or meaty clams in a rich seaweed butter the same colour as the wobbly matcha panna cotta that closes the meal in a bright puddle of passion fruit.
Chef Craig Harding’s Mediterranean kitchen in the new Anndore House hotel is the most polished thing to hit this stretch of Yonge since the Stanley Cup. The menu manages to combine everything trendy: Cal-Ital brightness, Levantine spicing, veg-forward entrées and a kitchen built around a crackling open-fire grill. There are flatbread pizzas, bubbling and blackened from the grill; a bone-in short rib with a crust of lemony za’atar on a bed of charred tomatoes; and hand-cranked pastas, like a bowl of springy spaghetti dressed with olive oil–toasted bread crumbs and super-sweet cocktail shrimp sourced from Fogo Island.The wine list is heavy on Mediterranean oddities, and the desserts—like a creamy halvah mousse wrapped in a twirled sesame-honey snap and dusted with a lime snow—are equally attention-grabbing.
The best appetizer in town is made of edible blooms, lightly macerated woodland berries and a drift of whipped cream unlike any other—floral, almost citrusy. It’s an original distillation of ephemeral, peak-season produce. And the mystery ingredient? Rose hips. Rose hips, as well as milk pods, cattail hearts and game meat, demonstrate how personal this is for chef Joseph Shawana. Like passionate chefs everywhere, he cooks what he knows. Yet what brought him the most national attention was a protest (and an ensuing counter protest) over seal meat, which he sources from the commercial hunt in Quebec and Newfoundland, his way of honouring his northern brothers and sisters. Whatever his motivation, that seal tartare, mixed with quail egg or salmon roe and smeared on bannock, is delicious.
The low-budget, handyman interior of this Dundas West spot (named by chef Michael Kim’s nephew) belies the worldliness and polish of what Kim delivers to your table: lettuce wraps of grilled rib-eye, fermented soybean paste and citrusy yuzu kosho; a mapo tofu of silken soybean cubes, Sichuan sausage and a tangle of garlic shoots; and, our favourite, Parisian-style choux gnocchi in a nutty sauce of soybean paste–braised oxtail.
Paul Kim’s bistro, steps from the madding cry of College, feels like a secret discovery. Some nights, it’s just Kim and another chef in the kitchen, and a server who doubles as bartender. Kim’s cooking is seasonal, French and Scandi; at its core, it riffs off Korean classics like tteokbokki (crispy fried rice cakes in gochujang and chili oil, tossed with confit duck, green onions and shredded perilla leaf). He’s always changing the menu, but he’s kept a fan-favourite since opening two years ago: a stunningly delicious meet-up of octopus, tentacles charred and tender, with dots of grainy mustard, cucumber granita, cubes of konjac jelly, and a slaw of red cabbage and red pepper.
Even if Dundas West isn’t quite Trastevere, the brick-lined, tree-canopied patio of this Roman-style restaurant is a prime spot for people-watching while poring over one of the city’s most thorough collections of Italian wine. Chef Kyle Rindinella’s menu leans into seasonal ingredients and straightforward classics, like traditional cacio e pepe. A salad of New Farm bitter greens tossed with pecorino romano in a lemon vinaigrette captures the Italian capital’s humble culinary aesthetic with the bounty of Ontario’s freshest produce. The best way to navigate the menu is to round up a group and order family style for a gut-busting procession of Rindinella’s greatest hits, served in the restaurant’s subterranean wine cellar.
Chef Michael Hunter was the target of sustained sidewalk demonstrations by meat-is-murder activists earlier this year—he responded by butchering a deer leg in the window. But if the protest’s aim was to hurt his business, it seems to have backfired: Antler has never been more popular. Much of the buzz is justified. Hunter knows how to pack exceptional gaminess into a dish: wild boar flavours the ragoût over hand-cut ricotta cavatelli, and there’s more boar (and venison, and bison) in the burger, where optional foie gras is the only logical move. The menu reads like a cedar-infused love letter to Canadian ingredients, and that includes the maple ice cream sandwich on sweet brioche.
The dishes at Soos, inspired by the street food of Malaysia, are original, exciting and consistently excellent. The kapitan tacos are stuffed with lime- and lemongrass-flavoured chicken and served on fluffy coconut crêpes; a dish of laksa dumplings brings silky cubes of house-made tofu floating in a rich, subtly fishy curry broth; and the red chili chicken is fried to crispy perfection then doused in a fiery, tongue-tingling spice rub.
Elia Herrera is determined to wake Toronto up to the beauty of regional Mexican cuisine. Chilled corn soup, a harmony of gentle spice, bittersweet bell pepper and one perfect pop of texture from a lightly sugared grape, is a testament to her ability to engineer a fine-dining experience from local ingredients and south-of-the-border techniques. Wrapped in a tortilla, soft strands of poblano pepper draped over tender nuggets of chicken in a béchamel-like sauce feels like a warm hug from your favourite abuela. And for dessert, there’s a deliciously different take on the Mexican doughnut: freshly fried, cruller-shaped churros sprinkled with sugar and spiced chocolate shavings. A slight arch transforms the main dining room into a courtyard cooled by a subtle breeze despite the formality of the banquettes, linens and portraiture that dominate the space.
There’s a lot not to like about Charles Khabouth’s Italian place in the old Entertainment District: the endless, generic house beats, the tightly packed tables, the disoriented staff. But the space? It’s gorgeous: all curves, polished concrete and custom millwork. And the food? Man, is it good. Founding chef Anna Chen has moved on to open her own restaurant, but the kitchen continues to build on the tasty foundation she left behind. Flavours and textures sparkle and pop in creations like ’nduja-filled clams in white wine. And seafood stew comes packed with Ariel’s ocean friends; the tomato broth enhances but doesn’t overpower the fishy flavour. With a few adjustments, Figo has the potential to join the city’s elite Italian restaurants; as it stands, it’s merely a place to eat great Italian food.
The kitchen of this Cabbagetown favourite continues to wow with its originality while maintaining the Italian spirit of simplicity. The appetizers here are excellent: smoky grilled radicchio livens up an already tasty fig salad, and battered and grilled calamari comes brushed with pesto. Chef Viren Dhakate offers a unique take on carbonara—possibly the most sacred dish in the Italian canon—using handmade tagliatelle in place of spaghetti, and adding crisped prosciutto, sautéed red onion and spinach. In warmer weather, the streetside patio is the ideal spot to drink a glass of wine and take in the sights of the quaint neighbourhood.
Brightly illuminated objets d’art glow from glass cases, slender light rods hang from high ceilings and electric-blue salmon slide across the back wall. It all makes for a suitably buttoned-up, elegant room for the sprawling restaurant’s Financial District location and the well-heeled crowd it attracts. Sashimi, nigiri and oshi sushi are all offered using the aburi (flame-seared) method. At it’s best, the technique adds a touch of caramelization and renders the fish a supple, melting temperature.
Barbecue makes people do extreme things—like take a weekly pilgrimage to an East York industrial park and line up hours before the door opens for Lone Star– style stuff that’s as authentic as it gets this far north. Adam Skelly, who co-owns the place with his girlfriend, Alison Hunt, uses wood-fuelled smokers and hand-slices brisket by the pound. For the ultimate experience, order the Texas Trinity for two: an aluminum cafeteria tray loaded with half a pound of brisket, half a pound of ribs, a choice of sausage, sides like a creamy potato salad or baked beans, plus fixings (pickles, onion and house-made white bread for soaking up precious drippings).
Candles are the primary source of light in this windowless dining room, defying Instagrammers. Chef Guy Rawlings advocates food sustainability and zero waste, so his cooking, it follows, is unlike anything around; he’s preoccupied with dry aging, curing and fermentation, and the results are often as pucker-inducing as they are tasty. His duck breast, aged four weeks and accompanied by wedges of pickled radish, is first rate, as is an even meatier entrée of wild rice and maitake mushrooms pan-fried in smoked fat. He pours a rich, clear broth of chicken, beef and pork, and his own chamomile malt vinegar, over charred baby romaine; while the vinegar for a bright salad of summer peas, house-cured lamb bacon and crème fraîche is made, amazingly, from coffee—it’s delicious.
Casa Loma’s Flor de Sal is a place where people still get dressed up to eat, a white-tablecloth spot where everything is designed to feel expensive—from the location, to the dapper servers, to the decor, heavy with marble and metallic touches. Dinner here starts with an amuse-bouche (recently, a lovely salmon tartare on a single slice of watermelon radish), and there’s a palate cleanser in between courses. A starter of tender grilled octopus is perfectly charred and paired with sweet confit grape tomato, earthy sea asparagus and pickled baby red onions. Jumbo piri piri shrimp are equally well executed, accompanied by roasted peppers and a caramelized-pineapple romesco sauce. Plenty of the main dishes skew pescatarian—seared branzino, salt cod and cataplana—but the perfectly cooked roasted rack of lamb, with garlic-sautéed broccoli and cassava fries, is an exceptional choice for carnivores.
Maple Leaf Tavern opened two years ago with an ambitious goal: converting a storied dive bar in a century-old building into an east-end dining destination. It’s already found favour with the locals, and it’s not hard to see why. The burger, a ground sirloin patty topped with house-made American cheese, dill relish and garlic mayo on a house-made sesame seed bun, is one of the city’s best, while the sausage selection (beef salami, lamb marsala, jerk pork) and a perfectly grilled tomahawk pork chop illustrate chef Jesse Vallins’s deftness with carnivore classics. What’s more, most of the menu is prepared on a hand-cranked, built-in wood-fired grill that imparts a succulent charred flavour to everything it touches.
Some of the city’s best-known Italian restaurants have a cultivated ambiance one step below a private club on nonmembers’ night, which makes Ardo notable for its unfussy sophistication. It’s more for the not-for-tourists set than the social-media influencers. And chef Roberto Marotta wears his southern-Italian stripes proudly: “Sicilian” appears on the menu 27 times, in pastas like the Anatra, with its long strands of fettuccine, rich duck ragoût and Sicilian herbs; and pizzas like the Etna, a fiery number with house-made Sicilian sausage. One of the few dishes that doesn’t reference the island is the standout mushroom gnocchi, dime-sized dough pockets swimming in an addictive stracchino cheese sauce slicked with black truffle oil, kernels of corn and tiny cubes of carrot. Your urge will be to cram six to a fork, but it’s better to savour them and use the house-made sourdough to soak up any leftover sauce.
An all-day breakfast spot with killer patty melts should be enough to excite any neighbourhood. But this Riverside spot is much more than its name implies. Virtually everything—from the bread to the doughnuts to the hot sauce to the pickled garlic scapes—is made in-house by chef Ben Denham, and much of the meat is sourced from nearby Butchers of Distinction. The house-pressed canola aïoli, yellow as a school bus, made for one of the dishes of the summer, is paired with peak tomatoes. The tender meatloaf, with grits and gravy, is a vast improvement on any blue-plate special, and no throwback diner patron has ever seen a bowl of greens like the kale caesar with aged ricotta. No matter the hour, no meal is complete without an order of house-made doughnuts, two per order, in flavours like vanilla chai and maple pecan.
If you yearn for fine dining ’90s-style, when uniformed waiters served daintily garnished platters on acres of white linen, then a visit to this old-school Chinese restaurant is in order. Dim sum aside, the main attraction is Peking duck: wheeled out, presented and carved tableside, it’s the epitome of dining with ceremony. An attentive server presides over each of two or three courses, gilding rice crêpe after delicate rice crêpe with thin slices of meat, a dollop of savoury-sweet hoisin, and slivers of scallion and crunchy cucumber. The skin isn’t quite glasslike, but the flavour is fatty and rich and the pungent house XO sauce reeks enticingly of dried scallops and shrimp. The bird returns for an encore, stir-fried with crisp vegetables, tossed with crackling fried chow mein noodles, and once again assembled à la minute in iceberg lettuce cups.
Lester Sabilano and Daniel Cancino have a rare understanding of how colonial history influences a cuisine’s flavours and, more importantly, how those flavours can be sold to a mainstream audience. Pancit, a typically egg-heavy Filipino noodle dish, is lightened up with a handful of green peas, chopped mint and red chili. The pork inasal—a 7 Up–marinated pork chop that’s grilled, chopped and tossed with cooked pineapple and pearl onions—is sticky, sweet and excellent. For dessert, there’s halo-halo, a Day-Glo sundae of strawberry jelly, purple taro ice cream and sugar-soaked mung beans.
The flagship Terroni on Queen West still runs like a well-oiled machine: the atmosphere is relaxed, the service is friendly and competent, and the kitchen consistently produces well-executed southern Italian plates—a significant accomplishment given the massive menu. An essentially flawless meal begins with the Farinata con le Barbabietole, a hearty salad of roasted beets, heirloom carrots, arugula, watercress and sunflower sprouts, served on a crisp chickpea pancake and topped with an elevating sprinkle of crushed pistachio and mint. And Focu Meu, a pizza of tomato sauce, mozzarella, pan-fried eggplant, smoky ’nduja and a layer of shaved parmigiano, is the restaurant’s standout pie.
In an era when the city’s taste buds have increasingly embraced plant-based fare, it’s almost refreshing that Beast, the eight-year-old spot that helped pioneer Toronto’s nose-to-tail dining, has stuck to its guns. Of course, the restaurant’s emphasis on seasonality means fresh produce features prominently on the menu, but meatier dishes are still very much centre stage here. The fluffy fried gnocchi with wild boar ragoût and cheese curds, or the chicken liver pâté with Parker House rolls, served warm, are better than ever, and menu additions, like the new smoked meat-topped burger and buttermilk biscuit fried chicken sandwiches, hold their own against classic staples.
The Shangri-La’s house restaurant opened in 2012 during a particularly exciting time in the city’s fancy-food scene: Momofuku had launched to great fanfare, as did Café Boulud. Bosk needed an ambitious mandate, and six years and a few chefs later, it’s settled firmly on seasonally driven fine-dining fare. The menu, filled with luxurious items like oysters, caviar and foie gras, reflects the tastes of Bosk’s clientele, but service is accommodating and unpretentious. Butter-poached lobster, coarsely chopped on a bed of bisque-infused orzo, is rich, warming and elegant, while the beautifully presented 40-day dry-aged rib-eye comes cooked to order and perfectly pink with dense, moist pain perdu, sweet sautéed onions and bitter greens. The drinks list is as extensive as you’d expect from a high-end hotel restaurant.
It’s no easy feat opening a Greek restaurant in this city, especially one far from the Danforth stretch that eschews the flaming-cheese theatrics that Toronto diners have been trained to expect. But four years in, smack in the middle of Ossington’s restaurant row, Mamakas still stands out. Traditional standbys like spanakopita share space with rustic dishes the likes you’d find in an Aegean tavern, or refined ones that wouldn’t be out of place in an Athens hot spot. The kitchen smartly recognizes the importance of letting simple ingredients shine: fried vealand- beef meatballs are crispy, served on a bed of velvety hummus and garlicky parsley sauce, while puréed fava—an underused ingredient in Toronto kitchens—and salty capers accompany charred octopus. And the bar’s signature cocktails swap in Greek hooch like Metaxa and Mavrodaphne with stellar results.
Descendant’s rectangular, sauce-on-top, Motown-style thick pies are perfectly chewy, delightfully greasy and satisfyingly crunchy around the edges. The pies are topped with cheese and thoughtfully selected toppings: who else in town is putting slow-roasted garlic cremini mushrooms, doublesmoked bacon, lemon zest and truffle sauce on pizzas, as Descendant does with the Truff-Ghi? They taste as good as they look, but a post-pizza lie-down will seem like a good idea.
This breakfast-and-lunch spot on College showcases Iranian comfort food. In the mornings, diners crowd around platforms, sitting cross-legged on pillows and Persian rugs. Both the kalleh pacheh (a rich soup made with sheep’s tongue and hooves) and the haleem (a porridge of wheat berries and shredded lamb) are specialties. Still, it’s the eggs—sunny-side-up over sautéed tomatoes and garlic and mixed with either dates and walnuts or with salty halloumi and smoked salmon—that have turned Torontonians on to the merits of the Persian brunch.
Long before every second restaurant that opened in Toronto proudly hawked house-made pasta, Zucca made a name for itself by painstakingly producing a variety of seasonally changing bowls of the stuff. Over two decades old now, the midtown spot has continued to draw in a crowd of faithful, moneyed patrons who return for the exceptional, know-you-by-name service. The menu changes often, but on a recent visit, the fish special was whole grilled orata (gilt-head sea bream), finished lightly with lemon and fresh herbs. The handful of pastas included ciriole al pomodoro piccante (essentially, double-thick spaghetti in a spicy tomato sauce) and cavatelli e salsiccia (petite pasta shells paired with ground Berkshire sausage, crispy pancetta, wild chanterelle mushrooms and fennel seeds). Desserts skew dogmatically Italian (torta caprese, affogato), as does the wine list, with bottles from throughout the boot.
White linens, snooty waiters and complimentary bread and olives are increasingly rare in Toronto’s modernist hipster food landscape, but this upscale Portuguese seafood house remains defiantly and refreshingly old-school. The lighting is dim, the art is abstract and the music volume is just so damn reasonable. Fresh fish options abound, with servers presenting a platter of the day’s catches and explaining the specials. The ingredients-first approach means simple preparations, like thinly sliced grouper lightly marinated in lemon preserves and given a nice lashing of good-quality olive oil. Grilled squid is so tender it’s almost creamy, but the taste of the flame pushes forward in a satisfying way. For diners who prefer turf to surf, a very flavourful peppercorn beef strip loin comes with the menu’s most unexpected surprise: frites so perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside that you’d do well to ask for them alongside anything you order.
It’s hard to imagine a local spot more seamlessly integrated into a neighbourhood than this one. Housed in a cottagey, faux Tudor on a residential stretch of upper Gerrard, the charming joint punches way above its weight, thanks in large part to the ambitious dishes produced by chef Adam Weisberg, a long-time baker who’s worked at Centro, Canoe and One. He creates unique takes on conventional dishes: charred calamari and cotechino sausage in a tomato and white wine broth; and smoked baby eggplant with an edamame-and-cilantro falafel, hummus and pickled radish. The bodega burger, a double patty with American cheese, bacon, crispy onions and fried, smashed fingerling potatoes, is a must. There’s even a mini tuck shop up front, where regulars pick up dairy, produce and freshly baked La Bastille bread.
With its friendly tattooed servers, loud house music and boozy cocktails, this piece of Parkdale at Yonge and Eg is a favourite of the locals. They’re drawn in by chef Michael van den Winkel’s well-priced, flavour-packed Indonesian dishes. Best bets are the semur java, a sweet, deeply rich curry of braised beef shoulder (great with the nasi goreng fried rice); the satay ayam skewers with creamy peanut sauce; and shredded-chicken tacos, packed with pickled cucumber and crispy shallots.
In a city where a handful of new restaurants open every week, Tutti Matti, now a 16-year resident, feels like an elder statesperson of Toronto’s food scene. The reason for its long-fought success: quality-obsessed chef and owner Alida Solomon has been there since day one. She still takes her staff on trips to Tuscany, seeking inspiration, everything is made in-house, and the menu, which deftly incorporates seasonal produce, smartly leaves room for long-time favourites, like the costine di manzo, a warming plate of short ribs braised in beer, oranges, honey and rosemary, which is served all year round.
For nine years now, Parkdale’s Local Kitchen has been one of the city’s best-kept secrets—a neighbourhood spot that’s managed to thrive in the face of the decade-long restaurant boom, buoyed by its practice of using seasonal ingredients, self-grown produce and handmade pasta. Staples include chicken liver mousse with cipollini agrodolce and warm brioche; and ziti pomodoro, built simply with basil and peperoncino. There’s also an exceptional scallop crudo, accented with wild blueberries in a yogurt dressing, and a bone-in pork chop, breaded and pan-fried, in a bright red sauce, served with garlic bread. The wine list is predominately Italian and features hidden gems—though it’s wise to start any meal here with a well-made negroni.
Leemo Han, once the chef-proprietor of late-night Korean-Japanese hangouts OddSeoul and Hanmoto, saw this rundown Little Italy semi and immediately envisioned a dusky, lantern-lit bar serving sneakily powerful, frothy cocktails and Vietnamese-style barbecue from a backyard charcoal grill. There are no reservations, and no matter when you show up, there’s a line to get in. It’s worth it for the short ribs, covered in a sugary char, and the beef sandwich, which you dunk in a bowl of pho broth.
When it opened in late 2012 at Church and Dundas, Sabai Sabai was the experimental wing of Nuit and Jeff Regular’s empire, eschewing the dishes that caused year-round lineups at Regent Park’s Sukhothai for northern Thai and Laotian fare. However, by the time Sabai Sabai had moved to its current Yonge and Bloor digs, it fit more squarely into the Sukhothai mold—not that that’s a bad thing. The food is as flavour-packed and well-executed as ever: khao soi is creamy, the massaman curry is sweet, spicy and delicately inflected with tamarind, and the pad gra prao is rich and aromatic. Where Sabai Sabai both differentiates itself from its siblings and utterly excels, however, is with its grilled dishes: chicken satay skewers, marinated in turmeric and coconut milk, are cooked to perfection, while Laos-style pork belly sausage, infused with lemongrass and galangal, comes tender and juicy with a subtle charred flavour.
You don’t have to jockey for a table at a downtown osteria to try some of the city’s best pasta, but you still have to jump through some hoops. It’s well worth it, though: regulars line up outside a brick warehouse on Geary Avenue for plates of noodle savant Leandro Baldassarre’s freshly made pasta, which is served only Tuesday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m. He uses the front counter of his pasta-production facility to sling plates and takeout containers of a daily-changing selection of simple and explosively flavourful pasta dishes, along with gratis slices of fresh Italian white bread and a few sides, including parma ham or a seasonal vegetable, like asparagus tossed with olive oil and lemon. His cavatelli Pugliese served two ways— with rapini, anchovy and loads of pecorino, or a sausage-rich house-made sugo—makes it easy to understand why he’s become the go-to supplier of fresh pasta for a number of Italian kitchens in town.
At this east-end kitchen, Maha Barsoom and her children, Mark and Monika Wahba, send out over-the-top-delicious Egyptian food. Their falafel—flatter and darker than their Lebanese counterparts, and sesame seed-encrusted—are a contender for the city’s best. The Pharaoh’s Shrimp Po’ Boy is clever and tasty: shrimp, fried in a crisp batter, are stuffed into a warm pita and liberally sauced with tomeya, an Egyptian garlic mayo. Desserts are uninspiring, but the honey-cardamom lattes are killer.
Before the countless restaurants that were part of Toronto’s southern-barbecue boom over half a decade ago, there was Stockyards. It has always been, and is still, one of the very best. The menu here is much the same as it’s always been— burgers, fried chicken and what might be the city’s best ribs. Owner Tom Davis still spends most of his time in the joint and his commitment to his craft has made this humble spot such a consistent restaurant. You won’t find a better griddle-smashed burger, and the smoked chicken and ribs are on offer only Tuesday, Friday and Sunday after 5 p.m., a testament to Davis’s obsession with quality.
The Junction had no business welcoming a new Indian restaurant (it already has four), but nevertheless the neighbourhood is better for it. Helming the kitchen is Calcutta-born Sujoy Saha, who made a name for himself as the opening chef for Mimico’s much-lauded Tich. Curries make up most of the menu here, which makes sense because curry is Saha’s specialty. Rich rogan josh, loaded with tender lamb in a tangy tomato sauce, is complemented by an order of coconutty Madras chicken curry. And Saha should consider bottling and selling his sweet-and-sour mixed pickle.
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