892 Queen St. W., Ossington
Whatever the kitchen equivalent of a green thumb is, prolific restaurateur Jen Agg has it. Le Swan is a combo of two things we love: French food and diners. The cozy leather booths, low-lit, sculptural light fixtures and monochrome tile set the atmosphere for resolutely French, late-night vibes. The menu delivers the kind of comfort food that brings frozen limbs back to life during the bone-chillingly frigid Toronto winter. Expect steak frites, grilled cheese, salad Nicoise, cobb salad, rotisserie chicken, fish sticks, late night fondue and a beautifully considered wine list (hello Austrian Pet Nat). Yep, the gang’s all here.
1166 Dundas St., Little Italy
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.
Electric Mud BBQ (Closed)
5 Brock Ave., Parkdale
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.
18 Dupont St., Yorkville
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.
163 Spadina Ave., Chinatown
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.
Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen
104 Portland St., Downtown
Toronto’s diversity of ethnic communities means 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.
778 St. Clair Ave. W, Annex
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).
202 Davenport Rd., Rosedale
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.
293 Palmerston Ave., Little Italy
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 Hoof (Closed)
928 Dundas St., Dundas West
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.