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We didn’t get the Roaring Twenties we were promised, but that didn’t stop us from pretending that we did. After two years of takeout and home cooking, Toronto diners have been keen to splurge on prime cuts of beef, seafood towers and caviar, so much caviar. And this is all happening during a time when chicken breasts are going for $23 a kilogram and we’re price-matching at supermarket checkouts like it’s a bloodsport. The message, in short, is that if people choose to dine out, they’re going big (or they’re staying home).
And, while a Scarborough taco counter, a North York food hall vendor and a Tel Aviv–born fast-casual kitchen made the cut this year, most of the places on our list are for that special night out. There’s more than one French bistro, a two-person-minimum omakase spot and a restaurant that identifies as a palace. It’s a far cry from the sandwich, smash burger and pizza places that proliferated during the pandemic. Here, 20 restaurants where we’re more than happy to put our money where our mouths are.
The 2023 List
1 Prime Seafood Palace • 2 Kappo Sato • 3 Adrak • 4 Casa Paco • 5 Sunnys Chinese • 6 Dotty’s • 7 Yokai Izakaya • 8 Miss Likklemore’s • 9 Parquet • 10 Alder • 11 Curryish Tavern • 12 Inmigrante • 13 Taverne Tamblyn • 14 Simpl Things • 15 Miznon • 16 Bitter Melon • 17 Teta’s Kitchen • 18 Ramen Buta-Nibo • 19 Afrobeat Kitchen • 20 Vasan’s Tacos
Prime Seafood Palace
1 Behind the stark white façade of a Minecraft-looking building on Queen West lies a glowing, cathedral-like room lined with honey-coloured maple and brass accents. The space, designed by the renowned Omar Gandhi Architects, looks like Noah’s Ark after a Scandi-inspired makeover—but this is no animal-friendly vessel. Matty Matheson—Toronto’s heavily tattooed, loud-talking, burger-making, shirtless-selfie-taking chef—conceived of Prime Seafood Palace back in 2016. Since then, he’s had two more kids, launched a handful of other projects (Matty’s Patty’s, Fonda Balam, Cà Phê Rang, Rizzo’s House of Parm, a cookware line, a clothing line) and co-produced a hit series (in which he also has a scene-stealing role). All of this plus one global pandemic and a slew of delays later, he was finally able to open PSP’s doors. It was worth the wait.
Matheson could just as easily have opened a graffiti-covered kitchen serving trucker hats full to their literal brims with Cheetos-dusted chicken wings—and, let’s face it, it would have been great. Instead, he gave us a gorgeous grown-up restaurant, the representation of what he has neatly summed up as his idea of “a beautiful thing.”
Despite its name, at its core, PSP is a steakhouse. Guelph-area prime rib is wet-aged (dry-aging is so last year), slow-roasted and brushed with something Matheson calls “beef tasty butter,” an elixir made with powerhouse flavour enhancers: preserved onions, beef garum and fermented garlic. Thirty-day aged, bone-in striploin gets a similar treatment—and, like all of PSP’s steaks, it’s grilled on a hearth over ash, maple and birch embers. Every ounce of meat in this restaurant is thoughtfully sourced and prepared and presented with the proprietor’s signature brash confidence. Matheson’s executive chef, Coulson Armstrong, cooks with precision and attention to detail but without a whisper of unnecessary complexity. There’s no attempt to rival Pollock here, no arty swirls of sauce or showy garnishes.
Then there’s the surf to the menu’s turf. Rainbow trout from local purveyor Mimosa Springs is aged for three days, cured and lacquered with maple syrup before getting smoked over maple on the hearth. It comes with cornbread waffles and transcendent crème fraîche topped with jewels of trout roe and a salad of fines herbes. And, for another under-the-sea hit, creamy Hokkaido sea urchin tops lush house-made milk bread stacked with toro (tuna belly), brushed with yuzu and ponzu, and sprinkled with lemon zest.
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In a rare turn for a steakhouse, it’s possible to create an entire meal around vegetables and side dishes without feeling short-changed. That’s because Armstrong built PSP’s menu in part around produce from Matheson’s own Blue Goose Farm in Fort Erie, including plant-based schnitzel made with blushing Deadon cabbage and roasted sunchokes peppered with pickled ramps.
Add on a bread service—with kippered mussels, mustard pickles, molasses bread and butter (baked and cultured in house, respectively)—and there’s no need to ask where the beef is. For afters, a slice of key lime pie is the decadent highlight of the dessert menu. Brown-butter crust holds a not-too-sweet condensed-milk filling topped with miniature mountains of Swiss meringue, complete with pointy peaks and toasty torched edges.
Underpinning all this indulgence is genial, unpretentious service; a classically old-world wine program; quiet cocktails (loud shaking—even gentle shaking—is a no-no here); and a stunning dining room featuring moody lighting that would do Blanche DuBois proud. It comes at a cost—be prepared to eat PB&J sandwiches for the rest of the month—but Prime Seafood is a dining experience in the fullest sense and a palace in its own right. 944 Queen St. W., primeseafoodpalace.ca
2Walking into this oasis from the hustle and bustle of Mount Pleasant, guests are led to a single row of seats that overlook chef Takeshi Sato’s work area. Sato is an expert of the Kappo style, in which a master chef composes a multi-course meal of the best seasonal ingredients, preparing and cooking everything right in front of guests.
It falls somewhere between the casual izakaya and formal kaiseki experiences. A meal here—which lasts a few luxurious hours—includes some of the best Japanese food this side of the Pacific as well as a hypnotizing display of Sato’s deft knifework, steaming, grilling, boiling and plating.
Before opening his restaurant in 2022, Sato worked in Tokyo’s Michelin-starred Ukai and served as the head chef for the Japanese Consulate General and at Toronto’s Zen Japanese Restaurant. With set menus that rotate every two months, no à la carte option and a two-person minimum, Kappo Sato is peak luxury—and it’s worth every penny.
A recent menu opens with chawanmushi-shirako, a steamed egg custard with Hokkaido fish milt, grilled yakimochi (rice cake) and black truffle. It’s an auspicious start to a spread of at least 11 courses, not including a salty snack of freshly shaved bonito and a choice of dessert.
There’s a deep, heady soup with madai (Japanese sea bream), somen noodles and a bright pop of yuzu peel as well as a tempura course where each piece is fried to order for maximum crispiness. Sato, warm but reserved, stays on task while uber-attentive servers explain each finished dish in detail.
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Courses arrive on stunning plateware, including one-of-a-kind pieces of pottery commissioned for the restaurant. At one point, the dining room fills with the pleasant smell of cherrywood smoke; it’s promptly followed by a dish of tender duck breast with wasabi and arrowhead chips.
For dessert, there’s house-made strawberry daifuku and soy milk ice cream as well as cuts of premium Hokkaido musk melon imported from Shizuoka, Japan. Just one of these juicy fruits can go for upward of $150. A single unadorned slice—for it needs nothing extra—has more to offer the taste buds than any chocolate smash dessert ever did. 575 Mt. Pleasant Rd., kapposato.com
3Never underestimate Av and Dav. After a relatively quiet decade—and despite the semi-regular Drake sightings at Sotto Sotto—Yorkville’s tony northwest extremity had some work done during the pandemic, emerging from our collective semi-hibernation as a fine-dining destination.
Osteria Giulia and Mimi Chinese appeared first, followed last summer by Adrak Yorkville, the downtown sibling of owner Ambica Jain’s refined Richmond Hill dining room. Like its neighbours, Adrak Yorkville specializes in gilt-edged renditions of foundational recipes from its country of origin.
People don’t typically go to an Indian restaurant to order the dal. But, here, the legume-based dish is elevated to delirious heights by chef Narendra Singh. He brings whole black lentils to an almost custard-like consistency, their earthy flavour offset with cream, butter and enough toasted cumin, paprika and cardamom to turn the gravy a sultry burgundy.
Singh practised under legendary chef Vineet Bhatia, who taught him how to take the timeless flavours of India and raise them to Michelin-star standards. He worked at Bhatia’s restaurant in Bahrain and spent a year at New York’s Sona before relocating to Adrak Yorkville, where he brings a bit of fine-dining flair to everything on the menu.
Singh makes his biryani with aged basmati and perfumes it with a house spice blend. It hits the nose only after a delicate top layer of puff pastry is peeled back tableside to reveal the serving bowl’s contents.
There’s more than a whiff of luxury throughout the menu, from the $16 plate of pappadums to the ornate thal, tasting platters that are categorized as appetizers but portioned (and priced) like mains—they’re worth it all the same. All this pomp makes it hardly surprising when a server arrives tableside with a set of sesame oil–marinated tandoori shrimp on a long skewer (part of the non-vegetarian thal) or, for the vegetarian version, spicy paneer tikka with a tandoori trio of mushroom, cauliflower and potato.
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Equally theatrical are the drink menu’s innovative signature cocktails, which feature Indian flavours and ingredients but aren’t hemmed in by them. Looking around, it seems like everyone in the subtly luxe green-and-gold-accented dining room is sipping on a tall, pink Magadha, a passionfruit-lychee mixture offset by smoky mezcal. On paper, it makes little sense inside an Indian restaurant. But, after one sip, it all clicks. 138 Avenue Rd., adrakyorkville.ca
4The only staff members at this new Little Italy spot are its four equal-share owners, all of whom worked together at Labora, a sprawling Spanish restaurant on King West that closed in 2021. Chefs Rob Bragagnolo and Caroline Chinery now head up Casa Paco’s kitchen alongside bar manager Tommy Conrad and front-of-house head Ailbhe McMahon.
In a sun-drenched room decorated with antique furniture and personal knick knacks, the team serves Mediterranean fare and old-school hospitality. It’s a good place to be a regular—not just because the food is excellent but also because, with only a few people running the show, building relationships with the owners is as easy as uno, dos, tres.
Spanish and Italian influences rule the menu. Out back, Bragagnolo works the wood-fired grill, which gives smoky depth to everything it touches. His cooking mantra—“simple but not easy”—shines through every meticulous dish. There’s pillowy gnocchi in a silky duck ragu spiced with nutmeg and rosemary as well as tender charcoal-grilled short rib that’s served as a steak. Arroz negro—versions of which are ubiquitous in Valencia and Catalonia—is dark with squid ink and black trumpet mushroom and laced with thin rings of Fogo Island squid.
Low- and no-alcohol drinks are constructed with all the nuance of their boozier counterparts. The Rossa is built around a zero-proof house-made Aperol-like aperitivo that’s all the more compelling thanks to a chili infusion. It’s hit with a blast of bubbles generated through an old-timey-looking soda siphon for a bright fuchsia drink that’s a citrusy and floral delight.
So much of the menu is understated brilliance, coming through in flavours too big for their bowls. The pinnacle is a dish of sherried prawns that arrive steaming in earthenware. Tasting of charcoal, pepper and very good olive oil, it’s a master stroke of this restaurant’s artful restraint. Casa Paco isn’t just a destination for some of the city’s best Mediterranean; it’s an antidote to corporate restaurant malaise. 50 Clinton St., unit C, casapaco.ca
5Sunnys started life as a consistently sold-out pandemic pop-up operating out of what would eventually become Mimi Chinese, chef-owner David Schwartz’s opulent Avenue Road restaurant. Sunnys and Mimi are similar in that they both celebrate Chinese cuisine’s extraordinary breadth—each menu item is listed next to its area of origin for a delicious education in Chinese regional cooking, primarily that of Sichuan, Shaanxi and other northern areas.
But that’s where the similarities end. Sunnys Chinese, set in Cold Tea’s former space, behind an unmarked door in a Kensington Market mini mall, is the pair’s cooler younger sibling. This is the place to drink a little more and get a little rowdier. A riotous way to start a night here is with the Gunpowder Slap—a three-part shot series of beer, baijiu (a sorghum-based spirit) and a rotating cocktail, meant to be consumed in rapid succession. Giddy up.
Everything at Sunnys is spice-driven and playful. A key flavour is mala, the mouth-numbing tingle characteristic of Sichuan peppercorns. A perfect example is the Husband and Wife Beef, the kitchen’s labour-intensive signature dish. For it, three cuts of beef—tripe, shank and tendon—are each cooked at different temperatures in the restaurant’s beef master stock. The beef is then tossed in more stock alongside house Sichuan oil, Chinese celery, peanut and cilantro and served cold for an unforgettable bite. It goes perfectly with its side of chrysanthemum and spinach, which frankly looks like an unpromising lump of green but is, in fact, a taste explosion of nutty roasted sesame paste and bright Shanxi vinegar.
Sunnys suits its Kensington digs. It’s fun and down to earth, but the food is no less spectacular for it. 60 Kensington Ave., sunnyschinese.com
6On a warmer-than-usual Wednesday in late winter, the soundtrack at Jay Carter’s Dupont Street diner started with Fleetwood Mac, moved on to the Spinners and then—just as the sun set over the railpath—marked a smooth segue from day to night with some Sade. It was 5 p.m., but the place was packed, a few hopefuls lingering on the stoop. Dotty’s, only six months old at the time, already felt like a neighbourhood staple with a steady supply of regulars.
Carter developed a following for his concise menu of sophisticated but unfussy dishes at Dandylion, the restaurant he opened on Queen West in 2014 and closed during the pandemic. After a short sabbatical, he got to work on opening a bistro a few doors down from where Dotty’s is now. But it was tied up in red tape and, consequently, delayed. Bills still had to be paid, and there were ex-Dandylion staff waiting to work.
So he jumped at a recently vacated kitchen on the strip and opened Dotty’s, named after business partner and sommelier Susan Beckett’s mother, Dorothy—a place that was never meant to be, now a Junction Triangle fixture.
At Dotty’s, Carter applies the same less-is-more ethos he did at Dandylion, making use of very brief (in some cases, monosyllabic) descriptors. “Cheese and crackers” is a pot of tangy, salty house-made pimento cheese and a half-sleeve’s worth of buttery Ritz crackers—because artisanal isn’t always best. (The move is to sandwich a thick layer of cheese in between two crackers for grown-up Ritz Bits.)
Dotty’s burger bucks the smash trend, swapping out a paper-thin patty for a chonky, charcoal-grilled blend of brisket and chuck. And the “spicy chicken sandwich” is not Nashville-inspired but instead a supremely juicy (also charcoal-grilled) thigh loaded with tangy slaw on house-made coco bread.
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It’s a real team effort here. Carter himself may even deliver your œufs mayonnaise or your fries—which are soaked overnight in a vinegar solution, frozen, then twice-fried, making them some of the city’s best. It’s perfectly acceptable to pop in for an order of them alongside a cocktail, like the Sloppy Rummers, a tropical concoction that goes down way too easy, poured over pebble ice.
When it finally opens next year, their more-buttoned-up bistro is guaranteed to be a special date spot and big birthday destination, but Dotty’s will remain that restaurant we’re happy to return to for our weekly burger fix. 1588 Dupont St., dottys.ca
7Owner Chris Nguyen, who’s also behind Ration Food Lab and Strange Love Coffee, spent a lot of time in izakayas when he lived in Japan for a couple of years in the late aughts. He was charmed by the concept of a bustling, informal bar and eatery that reflects the particularities of its proprietor—and, more than a decade later, Nguyen has come full circle by opening his own: Yokai Izakaya.
He teamed up with chef Rob Yu to design a menu in line with their culinary priorities—namely, a second-generation Asian Canadian approach that takes cues from tradition but cheerfully breaks with convention. Hence the invocation of Yokai, supernatural entities from Japanese folklore likened to mischievous fairies or sprites.
There’s duck breast cooked sous vide in shio koji and orange rind, served with punchy white ponzu, as well as rich yaki udon in silky butter sake sauce. Pristine sashimi comes on a platter concealing dry ice, vaporized tableside. Cocktails, taking their names from Japanese folklore and tradition, come smoking or bubbling—but with balanced flavours to underpin their dramatic effects.
The high-impact visuals extend to the dining room: an oversized door opens into a windowless room with high ceilings, neon lights and hanging sculptures inspired by an Inception dream sequence. Crucially, all the pizzazz is grounded in excellent food that tastes as good as it looks. 3175 Rutherford Rd., unit 28, yokaiizakaya.com
8Like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia, stepping through the door of Miss Likklemore’s swaps the clamour of King West for calm. Chatter and the clatter of cutlery are absorbed by plush sofas, and woven rattan ceiling fans spin in lazy circles, more fashion than function.
Miss Likklemore’s first appeared as a Parkdale pop-up. Prolific restaurateur Hanif Harji developed a taste for chef Lonie Murdock’s Jamaican home cooking and—because he knows a good business plan when he sees it—proposed that they open a restaurant together, one at a much more spacious and stylish address.
A couple of the dishes—the jerk chicken, the carrot cake—were inspired by family recipes, but the rest are Murdock’s and industry veteran Ted Corrado’s, whom Harji brought on board as consultant chef. A trio of patties filled with a mixture of beef and oxtail are served with a fiery house-fermented mango hot sauce, and the Mac Pie, a wodge of cheesy macaroni bliss in a four-cheese béchamel, is so good that it should come with a warning.
Subbing in for sea bream is a whole Japanese madai snapper, which gets filleted and deep fried into golden-brown fish sticks of the gods. They’re served with a pile of escovitch (a mouth-puckering mix of pickled veggies) and a herbaceous chimichurri-like relish.
The cocktails here are one of three things—sweet, floral or fruity—or all three combined. A good place to start is with the house punch, a boozy but balanced blend of spiced rum, agave and citrus with a dusting of nutmeg—it’s nothing like the too-sweet concoctions of beach bars everywhere. 433 King St. W., misslikklemores.com
9Google “romantic date spot Toronto” and there’s a good chance that up will pop this Harbord Village bistro, the latest addition to a short stretch that’s already home to some of the city’s best restaurants. The low-lit room is all wood and marble and mirrored surfaces, giving it a sexy funhouse feel. It could be pretentious, but it’s welcoming and laid back. And it could easily be mistaken for a place run by industry veterans, but Parquet is in fact the first hospitality project of Daniel Bernstein and Matt Cohen, two friends who met in law school.
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They wisely tapped chef Jeremy Dennis—who, with a résumé that includes Woodlot and Chantecler, is no newbie—to run the kitchen. Here, he turns out bistro staples (tartine, steak frites) and innovations (salt cod “beignets”) but also tweaks some classics. The duck cassoulet, for instance, is served with white beans slow-cooked in a Japanese ramen–inspired broth made with Linton Pasture pork, a slab of which forms a barrier between the beans and the bird. But it’s the humble braised endive—impossibly soft, swimming in raclette, finished with currants and almonds—that’s the show stealer.
The beer menu is short but very sweet, with a few local selections, a couple of boozy Belgians and La Loirette, a fizzy, funky farmhouse ale that goes with the duck cassoulet just as well as any glass of French red (though they have those too).
First date? You could do way worse than a seat at the bar with the low-commitment combo of oysters and the Paris Syndrome, a sweet, salty and smoky blend of sake, mezcal, manzanilla and maraschino that drinks like a martini. 97 Harbord St., restaurantparquet.com
10Alder’s dining room is one of the coolest in the city, on the ground level of the very happening Ace Hotel. The space is a mix of wide-open (giant windows, high ceilings) and warm and cozy (brick, terra cotta, Douglas fir, leather banquettes). Making things even comfier is a massive wood-fire grill—dramatic open flames and all—fuelled with a combination of maple, oak and birch, forming the nucleus of Alder’s kitchen.
Yes, there’s a gargantuan stack of wood beneath the dining room’s east staircase, but, while fire plays a big part in almost everything on the menu, the effects are subtle. Under consulting chef Patrick Kriss’s skilful direction, dishes get the requisite effect from the flames—whether smoky, crisp or aromatic—but shine more with the kitchen’s obvious care for sourcing and seasonality than anything else.
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A prime example is the tomato and anchovy potato flatbread. It owes its crispy bottom and hint of smoke to a seconds-long visit to the hot grill, but it’s the San Marzano tomatoes, fruity olive oil, zesty Manchego and combination of pristine anchovies—briny brown for the base and meaty white on top—that make it memorable. Likewise with the roast suckling pig, served in mercifully manageable pieces in its own butter-enriched jus and topped with crunchy crackling. 51 Camden St., aldertoronto.com
11Miheer Shete made a name for himself during the pandemic with his meal service and pop-up, which culminated in the Queen West restaurant Curryish Tavern showcasing his innovative take on Indian cuisine. The noncommittal “ish” of the restaurant’s name hints at his diverse backstory: born in Mumbai and trained in London and Memphis before moving to Toronto, Shete is anything but a traditionalist.
In his kitchen, duck leg is confited in ghee and served in a golden pool of curry flavoured with goda masala, a subtly sweet spice mix from his home state of Maharashtra. He enriches the curry with foie gras, subbing it for butter in a beurre monté. With charred kale and house-pickled grapes to cut the richness, it’s duck confit like never before.
Meanwhile, aloo gobi gets the gnocchi treatment. The dough gains an aromatic hit from spice-infused oil and is served with a tamarind-glazed hunk of caramelized cauliflower in a golden coconut curry, all adorned with edible flowers.
Shete doesn’t call his style fusion and will bristle if you try. For him, this is the natural progression of Indian cooking adapted to embrace Canada’s changing seasons. 783 Queen St. W., curryishtavern.ca
12It wasn’t long ago that the share plate seemed doomed—we didn’t want to inhabit the same space as our own friends and acquaintances, let alone trade bites of the same appetizer. Oh how far we’ve come, then, that tapas, cicchetti and mezze are all back on the table. They’re called botanas at Inmigrante, a new pan-Latin kitchen that opened last year on the nascent restaurant row between Woodbine and Waverly, in the Beaches.
The menu draws influence from the birria tacos of central Mexico and the choripán sandwiches of Argentina, with particular emphasis on the cuisines of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. And, while many kitchens struggle with consistency when deploying the geographical scatter-gun approach, Inmigrante is impressively polyglot.
Though guests have little control over the sequence in which their food arrives, priority one—after requesting the Oaxacan negroni, where mezcal replaces gin—is to place an order for a trio of the arepas, hearty cornmeal pucks stuffed with shredded beef or avocado or chicken. The latter, the reina pepiada, is the best of the bunch, with tender shredded chicken tossed in a zingy light-green avocado mayo that’s as luxurious as the royal moniker implies. And, for those fully ready to share spoonfuls with tablemates again, the Peruvian ceviche is an electrically bright serving of crudo swimming in a rich leche de tigre marinade.
It’s not all small plates, though. Inmigrante makes a filling lomo saltado—Peru’s take on steak frites, marinated in an umami-packed soy blend—and a Colombian platter of ground beef, rice, beans, eggs, chorizo and chicharrón that’s meant for two. It’s an invitation to eat breakfast for dinner that makes sense in any language. 1959 Queen St. E., @inmigranteto
13In our cosmopolitan collective unconscious, innovation is king, which makes it all the more refreshing when a restaurant respects the enduring appeal of the classics. Chef Ben Gundy—who helped set up Jacob’s Steakhouse and spent more than a decade running Summerhill’s Olliffe Butcher Shop—opened Taverne Tamblyn to focus on bistro-style French food. From bœuf bourguignon to bouillabaisse, his menu is a soothing meditation on time-honoured favourites.
He does make a little room for creative licence, however, but always to elevate, never over-complicate. His steak tartare is familiar with its shallot, lemon, cornichon and Tabasco—but in lieu of raw yolk, Gundy gives it a shower of grated, salted egg yolk for a zesty twist. Instead of bite-sized hunks of beef in his bourguignon, he serves a single boneless chuck flat that’s tender enough to eat with a fork. It comes with the usual complement of pearl onions, cremini mushrooms and carrots, all braised in veal stock and red wine.
Among the strongest dishes are mussels cooked with white wine and Ricard pastis, an anise-infused liqueur, and finished with a healthy glug of cream. Its simplicity means there’s no razzle-dazzle to hide behind—and Gundy doesn’t make a single mistake. 1426 Danforth Ave., tavernetamblyn.com
14Parkdale’s new pocket of cool has a dual personality: Simpl Things is Italian by day, Taiwanese by night. The tiny two-room space is done up in Barbie pink, peach and purple with splashes of turquoise. Just try being unhappy here.
Lunch and brunch bring chef Cody Wilkes’s takes on Italian comfort food, like five-bite cheesy chicken parm sandwiches or handmade tagliatelle in a beef-and-pork-belly sugo (also available in a breakfast version on weekends, with a poached egg subbing in for the pasta).
After 7 p.m., when the lights go down and the neon glows, it’s like living in that lasered backdrop of a Jostens school photo. That’s when chef Betty Chia takes over with her menu of Taiwanese street food—sharing plates punched up with flavour-packed components like chili crisp, kimchi salt and house XO sauce.
The popcorn mushrooms are a sleeper hit. The battered, deep-fried and five-spiced fungi, served on a swoosh of bright Thai basil–scallion crema, kick-start what’s to come—like a Taiwanese take on tartare. Chia stuffs finely chopped tenderloin tips mixed with chili and mustard greens into a halved shank still rich with roasted bone marrow, then finishes it with grated, salted duck egg and crunchy fish crackling. On the side for scooping: deep-fried, kimchi salt–dusted lotus root rounds that do the job as good as, if not better than, crostini could.
And, because the owner of Simpl Things is mixologist and hospitality veteran Evelyn Chick, the cocktails, like the seasonal Cherry Pop, a rummy mash-up of a Cherry Coke and a Moscow Mule, are a delight. It’s fun, it’s joyful, it’s two deliciously different experiences under one roof—it’s anything but simple. 269 Dunn Ave., simplthings.ca
15Israeli chefs have been creating quite a culinary stir in the city’s restaurant scene over the past few years. Trendy spots like Parallel, Limon and the Haifa Room have become destinations for superior hummus, schnitzel and salatim platters. The latest addition is Miznon, a Tel Aviv–born Mediterranean street food brand that opened its first Canadian outpost in Yorkville earlier this year.
To best understand chef Eyal Shani’s take on international food through the lens of someone born in Israel, look to the cheeseburger. His version involves a beef chuck patty wrapped in a crunchy cheese cape that forms as it’s fried on a tortilla press along with the patty. It’s all tucked inside a house-made pita (the latest claimant to the title of finest in the city) packed with pickles and garlic aioli. It’s good enough to make you wonder if we should eat all our burgers like this, catching the juices in a pita pocket instead of letting them run down our arms.
And we can’t avoid mentioning the whole-roasted baby cauliflower, a darling of Instagram. The menu calls it world famous, and while it’s no threat to the local cauli king—Fat Pasha’s reigns supreme—it lives up to the hype. This is serious street food at its best. 1235 Bay St., miznon.ca
16Nestled between a vape store and a cannabis shop on the northern edge of Chinatown, Bitter Melon beckons with moody light that filters through its front window, turning the sidewalk red. Inside feels like an extension of Spadina by way of Hong Kong, an alleyway lined with rough brick walls and glowing lanterns. Guests snuggle up in booths, digging in to what co-owner Andre Au calls “Toronto Chinese” dim sum; sharing plates of things like pork belly with pineapple salsa, foie gras–topped toast with miso paste butter and a fun take on traditional tea eggs.
A chubby corn dog arrives in a ceramic holder custom made by chef Hermawan Lay’s wife, Felicia Semiawan. Stuffed to bursting with mozzarella and Taiwanese sausage and decorated with squiggles of gochujang mayo and honey-garlic mustard, it’s almost too cartoon-cute to eat. Beef heart tteokbokki brings a bowl full to the brim with chewy rice cakes swimming in a rich beef heart ragu. Liberally topped with shavings of cured egg yolk and parm, the dish is packed with as much umami as possible. It’s the Korean equivalent of gnocchi, and as such, it’s very filling and meant to be—as everything else on the menu—shared.
Equally impressive are the cocktails, designed by Richmond Station alum and pastry chef extraordinaire Farzam Fallah (now a cocktail wizard too). There’s the Accountant, a dirty martini that swaps out vermouth for shochu and sake, olives for a trio of Chinese tea quail eggs; the Lee Ho Fook, served in a ceramic orb, potent with pisco and baijiu but tamed with fizzy yogurt soda; and the manhattanesque sake- and bourbon-based Hung Seven Gung, with a touch of nuttiness from the faintest whisper of toasted sesame oil. Fallah may be gone (he’s impressing palates in Australia now), but bar manager Daniel Desir is a worthy successor. 431 Spadina Ave., bittermelonrestaurant.com
17Teta’s Kitchen is part of FLIP Kitchens, a city-funded North York food hall meant to jump-start businesses owned by women, newcomers, and LGBTQ and BIPOC entrepreneurs. After a taste of the dishes coming out of proprietor Mary Freij’s booth, it’s clear that she’s already outgrowing her modest fast-casual food court home.
First on the list should be her pandan chicken kebab, bright green from two days spent marinating in a mixture of lemongrass, coriander, galangal and pandan, a verdant shrub that tastes of vanilla and almond. A Middle Eastern staple dressed up in bright Southeast Asian flavours, the kebab alone (in either its rice bowl or wrap form) is worth the trek up Yonge.
And then there’s the kabsa beef, where rice cooked with potatoes and tomatoes is spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and lumi (dried lemon), then blanketed by ultra-tender slow-cooked beef and served with yogurt and a bright, lightly spicy tomato salsa.
Freij—who doesn’t shy away from using the F-word—calls her style “Middle Eastern fusion.” She draws heavily on her Lebanese heritage but liberally incorporates influence from the Middle East and Asia. Since emigrating from Dubai in 2016, Freij has worked her way through Toronto’s food scene. She hopes Teta’s Kitchen is her last stop on the way to a stand-alone restaurant. All signs point to yes. 5210 Yonge St., tetaskitchen.com
18Whenever it seems like Toronto has reached its ramen saturation point, another spot comes along and introduces another must-try noodle soup. The latest newcomer is Ramen Buta-Nibo, which bills itself as the first of its kind in the city.
The speciality is Jiro-style ramen—based on the maximalist bowls popularized by Tokyo cult favourite Ramen Jiro. The noodles are thicker, the portions are larger and the flavour is amped up by extra shots of seasoned pork fat and garlic added to the broth on request. It’s…a lot, even before the slab of char siu, jammy egg and other toppings join in. The spicy broth has just the right amount of heat, and it’s worth adding in some of that extra fatty goodness—a taste of peak umami.
While Buta-Nibo isn’t as fancy as some other Toronto ramen restaurants with their imported Japanese noodle machines, a visit there is heck of a lot easier than booking a flight to Tokyo and waiting in line for the real thing. They also make top-notch karaage chicken—not that there’s any need for an appetizer before the main event arrives. 547 Danforth Ave., @butanibo
19An order of Victor Ugwueke’s party jollof comes with a choice: medium, spicy or naija hot. He recommends ordering nothing less than spicy to get the full effect. The phrase “layers of flavour” is bandied about, but to eat this dish is to know what it actually means. The heat—a mix of seasonal peppers that could include bird’s eye, Scotch bonnet, cayenne or habanero—sneaks up, exploding on the palate against a rich background of reduced tomato, onion and shepherd peppers. You’ll also taste smoked crayfish, star anise and lemongrass between bites of chicken (or prawns or beef) and tender plantain.
Star anise and lemongrass aren’t standard jollof ingredients, and that’s the idea—Ugwueke’s cooking is contemporary Nigerian, embracing non-traditional ingredients when they do the job. It’s propelled him up Toronto’s culinary ladder: he started at the Junction Farmers Market, ran pop-ups, shared a kitchen space and was a Smorgasburg vendor before landing in his own location in Parkdale.
While it’s easy to just order the jollof, Ugwueke’s menu—which includes egusi, a Nigerian soup thickened with melon seed and stockfish, and sticky chicken wings coated in nutty yaji spice—is an album of hit singles worth trying. 1510 Queen St. W., @afrobeatkitchen
20Toronto’s taco scene has many an al pastor and carne asada to offer but in a city like this one, cultural cross-pollination is inevitable, and welcomed. Which makes Vasan’s Tacos unlike any other. Tucked inside a strip mall near Brimley and Ellesmere, siblings Rieshiee and Naveen Vasuthevan put Sri Lankan and South Indian spins on taqueria fare. Rather than tortillas and traditional Mexican guisados, pliable house-made naan rounds form the base for fillings of Indo-Pakistani curries and kebabs.
Related: Five tacos you need to eat right now
The beef kebab taco eats like a Big Mac in taco form: it’s covered in shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese and spicy mayo. The main event is the mutton taco, known as the GOAT and for good reason. A cilantro-lime cream cuts through the richness of the mutton curry, and a pile of hickory sticks add a Canadian crunch to every bite. It may be fair to wonder: Are these actually tacos at all, or something much more novel? In either case, you’ll definitely want another. 1179 Brimley Rd., Scarborough, vasanstacos.com