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.
1276 Dundas St., Little Italy
It's hidden behind a modest, nondescript storefront, and walking into Mahjong is like entering a portal to another world. The walls are adorned with a vivid jungle scene by local artist Gabriella Lo, the floors evoke a glamorous retro feel with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, and apothecary-style glass cabinets hold bottles of booze and wine. Drinks may have Canadian-centric names (like the Lake Joe Spritz, which, as the menu proclaims, is meant to evoke “that Muskoka lifestyle minus mosquitos and four-hour drive”), but with a Japanese influence, using ingredients like yuzu, sake, plum wine, and Nashi pear.
1161 Dundas St., Little Italy
With potted greenery; light wood accents; a high, wood-beamed ceiling; and skylights that flood the room with natural light, Paris Paris can feel more Southern California than, say, the capital of France. But this wine bar and all-day canteen in Trinity-Bellwoods stays true to its name when it comes to the menu, featuring Cabernet Francs from the Loire, Chardonnays from Burgundy, and grenache rosé from Provence. Foodwise, the whole roasted oyster mushroom doused in chicken jus is a winner.
1282 Dundas St. W, West Dundas
A new addition to the Dundas West neighborhood, the Founder is one of those dark, sleek, slightly industrial-looking places that seem to come straight from of a futuristic film set. Which isn’t to say it takes itself too seriously. Just take a look at the menu with its cyber- and social-media-inspired drink names, like Click Bait and OMG – Take Me Back. There are over 150 cocktails served here, so it’s virtually guaranteed you can get whatever you want in the beverage department. Then give the food a try: Small plates—mackerel and eggplant skewers, quinoa falafel, anchovy crostini—are the specialty.
607 College St., Little Italy
Although it’s a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, with its leather booths, wood floors, and white-painted brick walls, the Walton feels like a cozy, quiet bar and café that’s been around for decades. In the mornings, Wi-Fi, espresso, and pastries make it an inviting place to perch and work; in the afternoons and into the evenings, take advantage of the lovely outdoor patio in the back (weather permitting) with a cocktail.
838 College St., Little Italy
Adorned with sleek, geometric shelving and lots of carefully placed indoor plants, Pray Tell is a charming and casual cocktail spot—and unlike its beloved nearby sister bar, Track & Field, it’s light-filled and fairly quiet in comparison. While it makes sense to go for the cocktails alone (there are riffs on classics as well as more inventive creations like a floral Pisco sour with passion fruit and rose-infused Cointreau), there's a full dinner menu plus plenty of snacks depending on what kind of night you want to get after.
Track & Field
860 College St., Little Italy
Sprawling across a fairly large basement-level space, Track & Field is a casual spot with a reliably lively crowd. The draw here is the bar games, which are on another level: Astroturf-covered bocce ball courts and large shuffleboard decks take center stage. Expect good craft beers, cocktails, and a live DJ on weekends–the size of the space makes it a great place for large groups, too.
612 College St., Little Italy
Known for having one of the best beer lists in Toronto, Birreria Volo is definitely geared toward craft-brew lovers with a rotating lineup that usually includes some great ciders, too. Tucked into a narrow, dimly lit brick-lined space, it definitely feels more like a wine bar than anything resembling a brewery, which just adds to its charm. Look for a significant selection of classic cheese and meat boards.
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.
546 College St., Little Italy
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.
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