1844 Rue Amherst, Gay Village
Win Butler and Regine Chassagne are Montreal natives, though you probably know them better as members of the rock band Arcade Fire. What you probably didn’t know is that they’re also restaurateurs—they opened this Haitian bar and eatery in Ville-Marie in 2016 (Chassagne’s parents are from Haiti). As you might expect of a restaurant named after a type of French-Caribbean rum, the cocktails here are home runs. We’d go for the Kokonut, made with rum, coconut cream, and a mix of tangerine, lime, and passion fruit juices. And if you order only one thing from the food menu, make it the pain patate. It’s a rich, sweet potato cake soaked in sugarcane sauce, baked with nutmeg and cinnamon, and sprinkled with rum-macerated raisins and perfection.
163 Spadina Ave., Queen West
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.
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.
1809 W. 1st Ave., Kitsilano
A bit of a wildcard option décor-wise—kitschy Lego art and Star Wars figurines dot, but don’t dominate, the interior—AnnaLena serves up a concise menu of elevated, modern comfort food. There’s a dish for everyone—fried chicken and maple mustard for the traditionalists, roasted beets and charred labneh for the more adventurous, and an indulgent steak for those seeking something familiar and hearty.
Arthurs Nosh Bar
4621 Rue Notre Dame W., Southwest
This family operation is an homage to Jewish deli comfort food, but done in a way that feels entirely fresh. Here, you’ll find all the requisites—organic gravlax, matzo ball soup, schnitzel—in addition to riffs on the classics (latkes smorgasbord, challah grilled cheese) served in a beautiful, brightly lit space and complemented by a bar and on-site herb garden. Not surprisingly, it's good for brunch, but expect a wait, as it doesn’t take reservations.
Ask For Luigi
305 Alexander St., Downtown Eastside
This beloved restaurant has all the hallmarks of an old-school Italian joint—no reservations accepted, an unfussy interior of simple wooden tables and chairs, signature checkerboard floors, plus pasta with a flavor that can only be achieved by being hand-made daily, in-house. Expect indulgent but classic pairings like oxtail risotto topped with bone marrow, or crab with fennel.
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.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
163 Keefer St., Downtown
This is a second offering from revered Kissa Tanto chef Joël Watanabe, and it doesn't disappoint. Bao Bei swaps Japanese-Italian fusion for Chinese brasserie food, with the odd dash of Gallic flavor. The menu—all Taiwanese and Sichuan influence—is short, with dumplings described as "petits cadeaux" (little gifts in French) and small starters, adorably dubbed "schnaks." The kick-ass fried rice is, as described—a mouthwatering blend of pork belly, squash, and spicy peanuts. The wine list is unusually extensive for an Asian restaurant, and a lot of thought has gone into curating cocktails that compliment the food. We recommend a pre-dinner drink accompanied by a serving of spicy cucumbers at the bar.
797 College St., Little Italy
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.
505 College St., Little Italy
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.
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