The Toronto Guide
Just an hour-long flight from JFK, Canada’s largest city is both refreshingly urban and small town, with its network of singular neighborhoods making up what is arguably one of the most underrated destinations around. There’s opportunity for everything, be it let-your-hair-down revelry, a world-class food crawl, or a quick change of scenery for vacation-drunk kiddos. Every street corner is occupied by a cozy café, microbrewery, sustainability-focused restaurant, or any one of the many gems that make up Toronto’s culture scene. While the long winters are glacial at best, the whole place hums with the kind of subzero-induced energy that makes spending the bulk of your time indoors a blast.
Bar Isabel797 College St., Little Italy | 416.532.2222
Another offering from Bar Raval chef Grant van Gameren, Isabel serves up elevated Spanish classics that feel familiar but fresh. Think whole fish ceviche, sweetbreads, and raw tuna, alongside the more traditional sides, like patatas bravas and boquerones. The desserts do not disappoint; try the dulce de leche ice cream bar or, for those who love a boozy dessert, the Basque cake with sherry cream. The interior is moodily low-lit and warm, with Spanish-tiled floors and stained-glass lamps that cast atmospheric darts of color across the dining room.
Bar Raval505 College St., Little Italy | 647.344.8001
At Bar Raval, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve posted up at tapas joint in, say, Barcelona. The décor is pure Gaudí, with an undulating carved mahogany interior that's both cozy and impressive. From Grant van Gameren, the same chef as Bar Isabel, Bar Raval evokes an authentic tapas bar with the spread of small pintxos (finger foods like salt cod, boquerones or tortilla de patatas) laid across the bar to whet the appetite. The main menu is concise, with classic tapas like croquetas and jamón serrano among others—simple but done well—and exactly what you want with a glass of wine.
Electric Mud BBQ5 Brock Ave., Parkdale | 416.516.8286
Service can be a little brusque here, but who cares? If you’re a fan of BBQ, you have to try this place. The grilled pork ribs (served with avocado, cucumber, and sumac yogurt) and the buttermilk fried chicken are the things to order, but if you’re visiting with vegetarian friends, there’s also a crispy fried Buffalo Cauliflower and a fine beet salad, smoked and served with spiced pecans and gremolata.
Café Boulud60 Yorkville Ave., Yorkville | 416.963.6000
Chef Daniel Boulud does nothing in halves, and this café, located in the beautiful Four Seasons in Toronto, is no exception. Café Boulud is a classic French brasserie with a distinctly Lyon-inflected menu, inspired by the chef’s upbringing. The main draw is the rotisserie that turns out the most succulent, rustic-style chicken served with crispy potatoes and country bread night after night. While the food is Provençal in style, the Martin Brudnizki–designed interior is sleek and sophisticated—leather banquettes, mahogany-paneled walls, and a long, vintage-looking marble-and-brass bar. Aside from the chicken, menu standouts include an indulgent duck confit, old-school fish quenelles, and the steak tartare. End your meal with the Grand Marnier soufflé and a digestif to send you straight to sleep.
Alo163 Spadina Ave., Queen West | 416.260.2222
Daniel Boulud alum Patrick Kriss serves up an inventive tasting menu of French-inflected food, with smaller fusion-style plates served at the bar, making Alo one of Toronto's very best restaurants (it's not really contested). The interior is modern in style with dark-wood floors and copper lighting, so it feels fresh yet cozy. Chef Kriss is obsessed with the quality of the food he serves at the restaurant to the point that they even make their own freshly churned butter (served as part of the bread course). A reservation is essential.
DaiLo503 College St., Little Italy | 647.341.8882
"Dai lo" translates to "big brother" in Cantonese, which feels apt given that chef Nick Liu’s parents still occasionally make the dumplings. Chef Liu cooks the food he grew up eating through his Canadian childhood as the son of Chinese immigrant parents, but it's reimagined with a little fusion thrown in. Everything is pretty sensational, but the musts are the crispy octopus taco with sambal aioli, the miso salt cod, and the hakka wontons. Aside from the food, the space is really considered and so striking, with blue leather booths and distressed-looking painted-brick walls broken up by sections papered with hand-painted scenes of Chinese nature.
Boralia59 Ossington Ave., Ossington | 647.351.5100
Boraia offers one of the most original meals you’ll eat anywhere. Husband-and-wife team Wayne Morris and Evelyn Wu have crafted a menu that is pure Canadiana, from the country’s inception to the present day (and with no poutine in sight). Expect dishes ranging from traditional Aboriginal Canadian cuisine to foods eaten by the first European settlers: everything from deviled Chinese tea eggs and pigeon pie to the especially wonderful l’éclade (an aromatic dish of mussels smoked in pine needles). The interior may be simple, but the diverse medley of flavors—so thoughtful and considered—keeps you coming back.
Woodlot293 Palmerston Ave., Little Italy | 647.342.6307
Cozy and always packed, Woodlot is known for its (locally sourced) vegetable-forward dishes—it has an entire menu dedicated to it—but that’s not to say that the food isn’t hearty and decadent. In fact, the menu for meat lovers has something to please everyone, from oven-roasted leg of confit duck with roast plum and Brussels sprouts to pan-seared sea bass. Soft lighting and an always-full house make it a place you’ll want to linger over dinner; definitely make a reservation if you can, and take advantage of the outdoor patio in warmer months.
The Black Hoof928 Dundas St. W., Dundas West | 416.551.8854
The Black Hoof was the first restaurant offering from the Toronto food scene's reigning restaurateur Jen Agg (also of Grey Gardens), a modern gastropub specializing in all things meat complemented by a stellar cocktail program. The lighting is low, the is music pumping, and food-wise, everything—including the charcuterie—is made in-house. Photo: @caciopapi.
Foxley Bistro207 Ossington Ave., Ossington | 416.534.8520
Although chef Tom Thai emigrated from Vietnam in the late 1970s, Foxley—primarily a South Asian bistro—pulls foodie inspiration from the large immigrant population that defines modern Toronto. Think ceviche infused with Asian flavors, like Arctic char with green apple and pickled ginger or chimichurri hanger steak. While the décor is fairly straightforward, chef Thai’s food, always with just the right amount of seasoning and acidity, keeps the dining room full nightly.
Kalendar546 College St., Little Italy | 416.923.4138
With deep-red-painted walls, a long oak bar, and warmly lit interior, Kalendar is classically romantic, which is something its owners (a husband and wife) set out to create when they opened the space more than two decades ago. The dinner menu is hearty, offering everything from wild mushroom risotto to thin dahl-puri crust pizza. Kalendar is also known for its weekend brunch; when the weather’s warmer, a generous, lantern-lit front patio adds to the charm.
Luna Café181 Dovercourt Rd., West Queen West | 416.588.3374
This super casual spot is usually crowded for bunch but not so crowded that you’ll be waiting for a table forever, especially when the weather’s nice and you can take advantage of the outdoor seating. The menu covers everything from poached-egg dishes and shakshuka to reliably delicious fresh baked goods (think double-chocolate banana muffins), with an emphasis on fresh, organic fare.
Mother’s Dumplings421 Spadina Ave., Chinatown | 416.217.2008
Mother's Dumplings is, as the name suggests, a family business serving up Chinese comfort food. The main body of the menu comprises hearty whole-wheat handmade dumplings stuffed with combinations like pork, ginger, and pickled cabbage, or winter melon and tofu. One of the most authentic Chinese restaurants in Toronto, the space is small and unpretentious, with only eight tables illuminated by festive Chinese lanterns. Order the dumplings of your choice boiled, steamed, or pan-fried or go for the equally excellent noodles, stews, and soups.
Momofuku Toronto190 University Ave., Old Toronto | 647.253.6227
David Chang has made quite an entrance in Toronto setting up a three-story Momofuku empire inside the Shangri-La Hotel. Here, his five eateries—the Noodle Bar, Daisho, Shoto, a bar called Nikai, and Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar—each offer a little something different. The structure is super modern in design—it's all glass and wood with no real decorative fuss. No matter where you choose to dine, Chang's signature flavor-packed food coupled with Tosi’s irresistible desserts prevails across all five spots. A quick breakdown: Shoto is a ten-course tasting menu (reservations are essential). Daisho is a described by Chang as Momofuku’s take on a steakhouse, serving lunch and dinner with Asian and international flavors—buttermilk biscuits with garlic butter and chili honey, squash salad with zaatar and labneh, and hoisin duck breast. Nikai specializes in sake and Canadian whiskey, with the added benefit of being able to order Chang's ramen from the Noodle Bar if the mood strikes you.
Grey Gardens199 Augusta Ave., Kensington Market | 647.351.1552
The latest offering from renowned Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg is located in hypertrendy Kensington Gardens and happens to be one of the prettiest dining rooms in town. (It's all grey marble and brass accents.) The menu is inventive and fish-centric, with plenty of lighter comfort food—delicate razor clams in an herbed broth topped with charred smoky onions or seared scallops and sunchokes. If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, the small plates are reason alone to drop by—take a seat at the bar, peruse the substantial natural wine selection, order a dozen oysters, and settle in for the night.
Planta1221 Bay St., Yorkville | 647.348.7000
After years of adapting dishes for vegetarian or celiac diners, chef David Lee decided to create a welcoming space with dietary restrictions in mind. The result? Planta is committed to 100 percent plant-based, environmentally conscious food. Menu standouts include the watermelon poke, kimchi spring rolls, and coconut ceviche. It's worth noting that all the salads are gluten-free and the cocktails have cold-pressed juice bases, too.
Joso’s202 Davenport Rd., Rosedale | 416.925.1903
Husband and wife Joso and Angiolina Spralja are the force behind this old-school spot that’s been around forever with its Croatian-inflected menu. Beloved by locals, the late Joso was a folk musician, chef, and artist; his son and daughter-in-law now run the restaurant, which is still brimming with charm. The original fish-heavy menu is still in full effect, with everything from whole roasted bass to pastas and risottos. Joso's is undeniably atmospheric, with red-hued walls crammed with somewhat questionable nude artworks—prudes be warned.
Live Organic Food Bar264 Dupont St., Annex | 416.515.2002
On the whole, Canada is a health-conscious nation, and while you'll certainly see plenty of poutine around, wellness-centric eateries are becoming increasingly common. Live is a seriously wholesome option: Every dish served is organic, non-GMO, and free of refined sugar and gluten. Choose from hearty salads, vegan burritos, and kimchi pancakes. There's also a location in Liberty Village.
SoSo1166 Dundas St., Toronto | +1.416.519.6661
Possibly the coolest (and most atypical) Chinese restaurant in Toronto, SoSo Food Club’s dining room is shaded in pale pink and turquoise, with abstract prints on the wall and lit by neon pink lighting once the sun sets. (The result feels like a cross between Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and Blade Runner.) The food also defies easy categorization, with twists on regional dishes from Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Hong Kong. Our favorite is the XO Lobster Mapo Tofu, a bowl of piping hot soft tofu (and a side of steamed rice), sustainably-sourced Nova Scotia lobster, blue crab, and spicy seafood XO sauce. Book a late reservation and go straight from dinner to dancing, which kicks off at 11pm every night in the dining room.
Atlas18 Dupont St., Yorkville | 416.546.9050
Named after the mountain range in northwestern Africa, Atlas was opened by chef Doug Penfold opened after a trip to Morocco, where he was inspired by what he saw and tasted. His goal: to transport guests via the keftas zaalouk, and tagines (go for the duck version, with kale, celery root, and harissa) he serves in this tiny dining room in Toronto’s Midtown neighborhood. The intimate, cozy atmosphere and the tagines—meant for sharing—make this a great date spot.
Aloette163 Spadina Ave., Chinatown | 416.260.3444
A new French-American brasserie just south of Chinatown, Aloette is the creation of chef Patrick Kriss, better known for his fine-dining restaurant, Alo, which is right upstairs. Think of it as Alo’s more laid-back, free-spirited sister, where the music is a little louder and you can roll into dinner in a T-shirt and jeans but still get an exceptional meal and some excellent glasses of Syrah, Grüner Veltliner, and Chardonnay. The menu is generally seafood-heavy (tuna tartare with yuzu and lime, torched scallops with green peas and wasabi), but the meat dishes are great, too. Go for the lamb sirloin with shishito peppers, chimichurri, shallots, and parsley, or the burger, which comes with a side of perfectly crispy fries.
Pukka778 St Clair Ave. W., St. Clair West Village | 416.342.1906
There’s lots of competition among the top-tier Indian restaurants in Toronto, and Pukka is at the top of that list. Punjabi curries, vindaloos, paneer, and butter chicken—all the comforting hits from the subcontinent can be found here. And while the food is uniformly excellent, it’s the wine list that’s the standout. Created by sommelier Peter Boyd, it’s a mix of thoughtfully considered bottles that pair well with whichever dish you order (ask the staff for recommendations).
Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen104 Portland St., Fashion District | 416.792.8105
Toronto’s diversity of ethnic communities mean that you can probably pick any country on a map and find at least a handful of outstanding restaurant options specializing in its cuisine—including Jamaica. Chubby’s, in the city’s Fashion District, is known for its authentic jerk chicken and small bites, the best of which include salt fish fritters with a mango-lime-papaya salsa and spicy jerk chips made of plantains and taro. The interior is bright and cheerful thanks to tropical floral prints everywhere.