Choosing the right restaurant in a new (large) city is an art. And so although Toronto’s culinary blogs have surely written about almost every restaurant in the city, we thought we’d bring you a small selection of restaurants and an accompanying portion of their review. For more on Toronto’s food blogs check out BlogTO, Taste Toronto, Caroline’s Culinary Delights on Urban Spoon, Toronto Bites, or In Your Mouth Toronto.
This is way, way off the beaten track, in the suburban wasteland of Scarborough. But it is well worth the journey. The best South Asian eating experience that the city has to offer. Few people will have sampled this regional, non-vegetarian cusine. It is little known even to South Asians from the north of India or Pakistan. Its spicy (but not overly) and has an enormous range of very different dishes, from seafood, fish, meat, and vegetables. I was fascinated, amazed, and delighted. We just kept ordering away and still happily eating leftovers. The management promises that even more dishes are on the way once suppliers are found, including biryani made with Japanese quails and a special stew called paya kuruma (made from slow cooked lamb trotters). Meanwhile, we started with cauliflower ’65, a wonderfully crisp spiced, fry, and mutton kothu parotta. This last dish is unique; it is dried, flaked bread, with intense minced meat, onions, and gravy. Then, we had the single best crab dish I have ever had: crab roast. Amazingly sweet crab in a dark, rich masala. It was a mess (we made several visits to the wash basin), but we were so happy we were quivering. We moved on to the signature Chettinad chicken and a prawn biryani. Both were simply perfect, as were a selection of breads. I’m visiting again in a few days, this time having vanjaram fish fry (fish dusted in rice flour and spices and fried) and mutton sukka varuval (mutton marinated in peppercorns, fried with chopped onions and curry leaves). The service is very good, the restaurant is clean and bright even if the building itself has all the charm of a Tim Horton’s (maybe it used to be a Tim Horton’s). Unusual, exceptional, delicious. If you are an afficando, it’s a must.
3090 Englinton Ave, East (Scarborough)
Bacchus Roti Shop
The main difference between Guayanese-style roti and Trini-style roti are the spices used, especially the mix of curry powder. This slightly greasy, moist, baked flatbread is stuffed with spiced vegetables and/or meat mixtures. Nine different vegetable blends include: spinach, chick pea, potato, butternut squash, green beans, eggplant, okra, cabbage. Meat fillings include shrimp, chicken, beef, goat. Speciality touches include cheddar cheese, tomato, chopped green onion.This is healthy snacking with a twist of color.–Gigi Suhani
1376 Queen St W Toronto
Banh Mi Boys (multiple locations)
This gourmet banh mi joint has exploded in popularity since the day it opened but it’s also a step up in price. The “Boys” in the name refers to the days the trio of brothers worked up the street at the family restaurant Banh Mi Nguyen Huong, but the food is more “Instagram-able” than the more classic deli fare on Spadina, and the French influence manifests itself in the duck confit on the menu in lieu of the traditional cold cuts. There’s also squid, for those who don’t mind bucking tradition, and tacos and steamed bao (a bit like an Asian arepa) if a baguette is too bready for you. And we have to mention the legendary kimchi fries and Vanilla coke in the fridge for a fully rounded meal.
The modern, minimalist decor and 20-something regulars milling around the bar may seem intimidating at first, but don’t let that stop you from venturing past the scrum into the large main-floor dining room. The menu is decidedly Italian; in composition and presentation, the plates reflect the refined decor. Arugula tossed in a vinaigrette serves as the bed of a rich insalata di funghi ($7.95), topped with an abundance of sliced mushrooms, shaved parmigiana and toasted walnuts. White wine and cream make a risotto rich and flavourful, while capers provide tangy bursts complementing a well-timed piece of fish. A turbo-charged tiramisù, sopping with espresso, is devastatingly good. The short wine list offers bottles mainly from Italy and France.
Chef: Shah Alam $100.00
582 College St.
Nestled inside the Evergreen Brick Works, Café Belong is the primo model of farm-to-table restaurants. Chef and owner Brad Long is an advocate for sustainable farming, organic ingredients and the ethical treatment of livestock, and his seasonal menus reflect this. Last fall the cafe served delicious dishes like lentil, beet and kale salads, Port Dover fish stew, and a “bricklayers board,” which comes topped with locally-sourced house-cured meats. Family-style communal dinners are also available every night.
550 Bayview Ave #100
Different menus serve notice that something quite unusual and creative is happening in the open kitchen at the back. There’s often a six-course tasting menu ($75 with wine, $55 without), centred around a main like pot-au-feu of Arctic muskox with a cloudberry relish. A simpler prix fixe (Monday to Thursday, $19.95) might mean salad, limousin beef strip loin (both leaves and meat organic) and dessert. The regular carte (12 starters, $6–$12; seven mains, $14–$22) shows a masterly hand with veg; for example, in a layered napoleon of brown lentils sweetened with a sunchoke purée, all over a scarlet red pepper coulis studded with dazzling emerald green fava beans and morels. For dessert, a plate of Canadian artisanal cheeses. A thoughtfully composed, nicely varied, contemporary wine list in a reachable price range: some 70 bottles, all those under $40 (i.e., about 25) available by the half-litre.
Chef: Paul Rickards $130.00
796 College St.
Chef Manuel Vilela executes a suave take on high-level Portuguese cuisine, attending to such details as excellent olives and cornbread (with olive oil and balsamic for dipping) and an amuse of soft, fresh goat cheese from the Azores, dressed with a piquant salsa of onions and peppers. Traditional recipes receive their due. Alheira sausages of pheasant, rabbit and veal are soft and rich as rillettes inside a crisp skin, their smoky, mildly peppery taste complemented by marinated vegetables. Roast saddle of rabbit is admirably flavourful under a dark, sweet port and madeira glaze with garlic mashed potatoes and an eclectic selection of robustly textured, carefully cooked vegetables. But fish is Chiado’s specialty. Appetizers make much use of marinades: sweet citrus and ginger, for example, enhancing slivers of grouper served with lightly pickled apricot and persimmon; or olive oil, lemon and parsley bringing out the pungent richness of filleted raw sardines. A delicate citrus-tarragon aïoli embraces a generous salad of tender lobster, octopus and shrimp, mounded over diced apple, beet and potato. Marine mains might include skate wing, pinkish, moist and supple; sea bass that melts like butter on the tongue, its surface lightly crusted with sweet curry spices; or grilled whole dourada, its white flesh juicy and finely textured. Serious desserts show the Iberian sweet tooth: awesome Molotof, a slab of caramelized egg foam ethereal as a sweet, wet cloud; or pears poached in madeira with saffron and cinnamon. Many vintage ports and century-old madeiras lurk among the digestivi.
Chef: Manuel Vilela – $170.00
864 College St.
The little neon piggy out front signals the presence of serious animal protein here. Within, a veritable cross-section of humanity and no decor to distract. The skin of a whole vertically grilled bbq chicken ($9) is flavoured with piquant namesake sauce. Salty portuguese sausage (small $7, full $13) flamed with firewater isn’t charred, but it’s so well done that it presents a real challenge to the accompanying serrated steak knife. Daily specials are a find. Monday’s feijoada ($9)-smoke-imbued beans with beef and pork knuckles, swiss chard and potatoes-is about as soulful and earthy a stew as you’ll find anywhere. Cholesterol-happy desserts ($3.75). Wine at $10.75 per half-litre or beer at $3 won’t strain the purse.
928 College St.
Real pit barbecue, the sign says, so first-timers might be unconvinced by the bland decor. (No licence-plate collection, no caterwaulin’ jukebox. What gives?) Authenticity gets parked out back–two big black iron drums fired by apple wood and custom-welded to a cherry-coloured trailer (the “travelling” contraption employed, at one time, for on-site catering gigs). Chef-owner Dipamo learned to smoke in joints up and down the Mississippi. Fatty, fall-apart brisket, pulled pork shoulder and hefty chicken quarters sprawl across the plate ($9.75-$10.50) or get shredded into a saucy sandwich ($6.50-$6.95). Not to be missed is the Venezuelan cachapas ($4.50), a pancake of sweet, fresh corn kernels mashed with buttermilk and egg, folded over wonderfully elastic mozzarella- transcendent comfort food. Takeout available.
838 College St.
Another gem that is a long way from the downtown core. Dragon Dynasty is certainly a contender for best Chinese restaurant in a city filled with above average Chinese eateries featuring food from different regions. The Dim Sum is superb, but dinner offers a varied menu with unusual, well-prepared dishes. Our favorites have been beggar’s brisket, cooked in clay, dried scallop soup, and an ethereal peking duck.
2301 Brimley Rd (Scarborough)
A little jewel box just steps from the downtown axis. No cutlery on the tables: every dish served arrives with injera, a tangy, spongy flatbread, for scooping. A cool appetizer incorporates tatters of the sponge into a lemony tossed salad of onions, tomatoes and green chilies. Beef is the only choice of meat, albeit in many permutations. A page of vegetarian options, too. No desserts or sweetmeats to close, but the enchanting coffee ceremony is memorable: roasted beans are ground tableside, then served alongside burning frankincense with cardamom. Liqueurs come warmed. Graceful servers surmount problematic English with warm smiles.
Chef: Belaynesh Shibeshi $65.00
4 Irwin Avenue
Farmhouse Tavern likes to describe its self as “a little bit country, a lot rock and roll.” It’s an apt description, considering the Junction resto features barnyard-inspired furnishings with an air of Canadiana meets rockabilly vibes. A cheerleader for Ontario-sourced ingredients, Farmhouse serves such local delights like homemade bacon, Kolapore Springs trout, Glengarry fine cheese and of course, a bounty of local brews and wines. The freshest ingredients, however, are the herbs, which are grown outside on the patio.
1627 Dupont St
Quiet jazz provides white noise for close-set tables on bare wooden floors; when the little box is full, happy chatter takes charge. One of the best breadbaskets in town proffers sourdough shot through with sun-dried tomatoes and black olives, and walnut bread with a lusty eggplant caviar sidekick. The lineup of French-looking-east-to-Alsace specialties evolves over time. One constant is the lovely seared foie gras (just one thin petal, $14) with a luscious tokay reduction, toasted walnut bread and a few baby salad leaves in a mustardy vinaigrette. A signature side of sensual, chewy spaetzle accompanies some of the meatier mains (second courses range from $19 to $26), such as Quebec’s Île Verte pré-salé leg of lamb, or a nicely grilled sirloin steak, marinated beets, severely undercooked yellow beans and sautéed mustard greens. For vegetarians, there’s a warm sandwich of phyllo triangles with three layers: a smooth bean purée seasoned with ginger and tarragon; diced carrot and pickled beet with corn kernels and herbes de Provence; and a final stratum of lentilles du Puy. It pulls together nicely. Grilled shrimp, ordered individually for $2.50, can be added; they’re timed correctly but naked without oil or garlic. Sweets are special—even a simple but perfectly executed crème brûlée over fat, fresh blackberries, or a white peach and blackberry cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream strewn with ribbons of lemon balm. A valiant pair works the room with aplomb. Two packed pages of wines include enough ’97 California cabs for a modest horizontal tasting. Four reds and four whites come by the glass, and the VQAs are intriguingly obscure: Malivoire, Crown Bench, Creekside Estate, Harbour Estates.
Chef: Sean Moore $140.00
468 College St.
Loud, jam-packed, fast and unapologetic, what Grand Electric lacks in authenticity it more than makes up for with dish after dish of addictive bites. Guacamole comes skewered with an eye-catching shard of chicharrón and a side of warm, house-made chips. But don’t fill up before the tacos. Tender beef shoulder nestles under avocado cream, sprigs of cilantro and jalapeño rings. Fried tilapia is treated to a bed of cabbage slaw, lime crema and spicy salsa. Authentic? Maybe not. Delicious? What does that hour-long line-up out the door tell you?
1330 Queen St W
Hopgood’s Foodliner has set sail to become one of the best new restaurants in Canada with its lovingly modern take on homestyle Nova Scotian cooking. Seafood is hoisted to the next level, with dishes like bacon-wrapped Digby scallops and pickled Cape Breton shrimp and more.
Mexican restaurants in Toronto.
Nestled in clubland, Jabistro is a sleek, cozy restaurant that serves authentic yet innovative sushi sets. If you want to get the true Jabistro experience, splurge on a sashimi platter, sip on a sake cocktail and sit on the rooftop patio clad in slatted wooden walls. Although owner James Kim also runs Kinton Ramen, Jabistro eschews noodles and instead focuses on creating delicious sushi. Who needs variety when you have fresh, fishy rolls?
222 Richmond St. W.
Huge as a movie studio’s sound stage, the dimly lit sepia- coloured space looks like a hip take on a Gothic castle. By 10 p.m. on weekends, the young and the restless are crowding the bar and dance floor, flocking to downstairs pool tables, but Left Bank is a bona fide restaurant for all that. Main courses are the kitchen’s strength. Impeccably grilled strip loin ($26) is served with a veal reduction and lemon-thyme potatoes. Flavours are sometimes less vivid among the appetizers ($7– $12). Desserts ($6.75) are taken seriously. Californian reds are the eye-catchers on a list of unusual wines that work well with the cooking.
Chef: Raymond Isbister – $130.00
567 Queen St. W.
The room still looks as though it was transported, zinc bar and all, directly from somewhere on the Left Bank. The menu is equally familiar, presenting bistro’s greatest hits: cassoulet, bouillabaisse, foie gras, confit and escargots. It’s an appealing read, but execution is sometimes spotty. A tarte niçoise au chèvre ($9.50) sounds tempting, but the pastry is gummy. Sweetbreads are enriched by a flavourful madeira sauce, but accompanying sweet potato is too sweet and the spinach oversalted. Well-timed flank steak ($17.95) can be ungainly on the plate; the accompanying thin, crispy frites are fabulous. Desserts delight, including bananas flambé and a colourful dish of ice cream and sorbet. The massive wine book, containing some 800 selections, has something for everyone.
Chef: Paul Biggs – $120.00
328 Queen St. W.
The menu is 22 pages long; one half-expects it to be accompanied by reading glasses and a pair of comfy slippers. Pixie-light salad rolls ($2.75) brim with simple flavours (chicken, beef or shrimp, herbed with Thai basil) and textures (crisp bean sprouts, delicate rice paper). Greaseless spring rolls enfold ground chicken, mushroom and taro jazzing up the neuter of glass noodles ($5.75–$7). Understated deep-fried soft-shell crab ($8) arrives in a lemon grass and lime leaf sauce, while a basil, garlic and miso paste punches up fiery grilled squid ($7). Stellar soups, from the tang and pucker of pineapple and chilied lemon grass–shrimp soup (small $3.50, large $10) to the heady fruitiness of hot and sour sea bass soup. Oversized bowls of pho ($7–$8) float bean sprouts, sweet corn, coriander, rice noodles and gossamer-thin strips of beef or chicken, nearly a meal unto themselves. Incrementally raising the heat quotient, green, red and yellow curries and chili and spicy hoisin-fired stir-fries come heaped on mountains of brown and jasmine rice ($9–$12.50). Tamarind-hinted pad Thai ($9) is estimable, but the kitchen’s relentlessly pan-Asian tour makes some ill-advised stops: Shanghai Delight, anachronistic chicken chow mein (both $9).
1630 Bayview Ave.
Bright, fresh room with lots of colour and bustle. Skip those entrées that are simply starter portions garnished with starch and steamed veg; they’re not nearly as good value as the varied appetizer sections of the menu. Start cold, with bread and dips: kopanisti (feta purée with hot pepper, $4.95) or time-honoured favourites like taramosalata, houmos or tzatziki ($4.45 each). Then move to the hot appetizers, whence you can build a meal around bakaliaros, pan-fried salt cod, served with cold garlic mashed potatoes, known as skordalia ($4.45), or a golden wedge of spanokopita ($4.75). Add a greek salad (small, $4.25; large, $6.95) and you’re as stuffed as a plate of dolmades ($5.95). Open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
402 Danforth Ave.
The menu overwhelms: a dozen each of starters, middles, soups, salads, moussakas, pastas and pies, and still yet mains. One wonders where to start —at the beginning, of course, with an ouzo aperitif to soothe the jangled nerves. A trio plate makes choosing easier. The taramasalata, skordalia and a lovely square of feta come with olives and fluffy, warm homemade pita. Jumping headlong into middles (and with no regard for the dishes to come), we find octopus delightfully tender in a perfectly balanced, oily tomato sauce. A piping-hot ouzo-scented cream has cooked the shrimp a little too long, but the accompanying mushrooms stand to benefit from the delicious sauce. In general, mains are not as enticing as their predecessors, but a half rack of lamb is perfectly med-rare, juicy and tender. The bakaliaro (salt cod) is the sole disappointment of the meal, being overly dry and insipid. All the mains are served with Greek salad, rice and delectable roasted potatoes—is there no end to the cornucopia? No dessert menu is available, but several favourites tempt, and bougatsa (phyllo-wrapped custard) is too rich to resist. The wine list is modest and reliable, a combination of Old and New World charm, much like the friendly staff.
Chef: Jim Trahiotis – $95.00
500A Danforth Ave.
With some inventive renditions of Danforth standards and a hip atmosphere, Pan begs to differ from its neighbours. Darkness prevails from the deep purple ceiling down, robbing plates of their visual appeal. Mezedakia ($12.95) brings a collation of dips: garlicky tzatziki, velvet eggplant, nutty hummus and thick slices of creamy feta ring a mound of bulgur pilaf that arrives after its best-before date. The server promptly returns with a fresher version enhanced by a lemon-garlic dressing, green onions, tomatoes and parsley. Potato soup with spinach and feta ($4.95) is more glue than green. Chicken livers seared with white wine, herbs and lemon ($6.95) melt in the mouth, their richness magically offset by the tangy bed of greens beneath. The same greens (baby kale, radicchio and dandelion) return under four smoky grilled tubes of fresh squid. Dolmades ($6.95) proffer three dainty parcels draped in fresh tomato salsa, the sweet leaves wrapped around a beefy, rice- studded interior. Kakavia ($15.95), a fisherman’s favourite, brings a sweet oregano-tomato broth holding fresh shrimp, squid, mussels, salmon and sea bass. Half a rack of moist, rare and richly flavoured lamb ($19.95) with roasted baby beets sits on a voluptuous bed of mashed potatoes dressed with walnut oil and feta. With more than four dozen wines, this list stays within reasonable prices, offering a sensible selection of Greek whites, reds and retsinas, sprinkled with Old and New World offerings. Service has personality, but like the food it doesn’t always work.
Chef: John Jackson $115.00
516 Danforth Ave.
The quintessential Queen West bistro (a youngish, energetically hip crowd provides the decor) thrives on the inarguably successful formula of friendly service, huge portions, moderate prices and an eclectic menu catering to both ever starving vegetarians and those with a bent for trendy Southeast Asian (Thai, Laotian, Cambodian) flavours. Standout among mains is tandoori shrimp, seven jumbos nicely grilled and sided with lentils, basmati—and a ginger-cranberry chutney so terrific the Queen should bottle it. Wines are well chosen and amiably priced.
Chef: Noy Phanganouvong – $90.00
208 Queen St. W.
Best to eat, of course, are the dozen or so different kinds of oysters—from either coast, depending on season—a range of clams and chowders, mighty lobsters and Dungeness crabs perfectly steamed and served whole with fried potatoes. White plate specials feature plainly grilled fish that came in from the Maritimes with the morning’s oysters. Other menu items are more steadfast and honest than sophisticated. Dijon mustard and melba toast perk up a smooth chicken liver pâté, while creamed horseradish mitigates the saltiness of thinly sliced smoked ocean trout from Newfoundland. Plump Fundy scallops swim in Cajun bronzed butter with a julienne of crunchy red pepper, zucchini and wild mushrooms. Soups grow heartier as the winter deepens, a buttery oyster slapjack packed with good, firm potato, celery, onion, leeks and oysters, leaving little room for the creamy broth. Broccoli, green beans and other vegetables outweigh juicy shrimp in a rich, sweet, heavy coconut-curry sauce, a bed of rice robbing the dish of moisture. Tinned mandarin oranges are a curious addition to a house salad that scatters token tomatoes, radish, celery, et al., over a huge mound of lettuce dressed with a sweet, gently garlic- scented vinaigrette. Comfort desserts include creamy, cinnamon-dusted rice pudding or excellent flambéed bananas with slivered almonds and a butter–brown sugar sauce. But oysters and seafood remain the raisons d’être.
469 King St. W.
A relative newcomer to the city’s Mexican scene, El Catrin has style to spare. Located in the historic Distillery District, the huge space is filled with enough trinkets, Mexican tiles, painted skulls and papel picado-inspired lanterns to make its Day of the Dead theme come to life. From botanas and burritos to tacos and tostadas, the tapas-style menu has lots to like. Creamy guacamole is prepped table-side and ceviches are spicy, fresh and appropriately tart.
18 Tank House Ln
This seasoned restaurant remains true to its values: heartfelt Italian dishes and choice vino (especially Italian and Californian) to accompany them. The bottles are stored in attractive open bins, each price tagged (most in the $50–$80 range) and begging to be approached and frisked. Inspection is a must, because only a few are highlighted on the blackboard. Mostly salady things to start ($5–$11), like a fresh, sweet composition of roasted red peppers, caramelized onion, garlic and asiago, or hearts of romaine with parmesan shavings and a rich dressing of finest olive oil dabbed with balsamic. A daily risotto (perhaps with snow peas and beef tenderloin) joins the pasta list ($15.50–$19), which offers a fine spaghetti carbonara, sprinkled with salty, savoury pancetta squares, the noodles al dente to a T, eggy but not over creamed as they can be elsewhere. Grilled swordfish ($27) has the juiciness of a poached fish, plus tangy cross-hatches from the flames. It sits on pearl barley, yellow and green beans and rapini, with a good-sized dollop of garlicky semi-mashed potato beside. A brief selection of Italian desserts.
Chef: Eugenia and Jason Barata – $160.00
41 Clinton St.
As the name suggests, the kitchen at this restaurant revolves around Woodlot’s hand-built, wood-fired oven, which they use to bake their perfectly soft/crunchy sourdough bread. The two menus—one is meat-centric, the other is vegetarian-friendly—revolve around Ontario’s growing season and change accordingly. Everything is cooked inside the giant, wood-burning oven (which apparently goes through 10,000 pounds of wood a month) such as the warm kale salad, russet potato gnocchi and roasted peppers stuffed with sheep milk ricotta. The dining room fills up fast, so make reservations a couple weeks in advance or be prepared for a long wait.
293 Palmerston Ave
Mother ship to Wandee Young’s Thai fleet, this second-floor warehouse offers a high-speed montage of tastes. Appetizer combos are the way to begin. For $10.95, a small table can share an assembly of fish cakes, shrimp, curried mussels and calamari. Pad Thai ($8.95) seems an obligatory main; ginger chicken ($9.95) generates lots of shredded heat. A pineapple salad ($7.95) is splendidly cool and refreshing. Should any chili burning threaten to linger, the dessert list provides balm in the form of succulent honey-fried bananas ($5.95). Now, if only Young Thailand’s chairs were less excruciating, we might stay on for liqueurs or brandy. The room is certainly more romantic after dark, and the wait staff solicitous and able.
Chef: Wandee Young $90.00
936 King St. West