163 Spadina Ave., Queen West
Fine dining establishment Alo, is indisputably Toronto’s best restaurant. Daniel Boulud alum Patrick Kriss serves up an inventive tasting menu of French-inflected food, with smaller fusion-style plates served at the bar. 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). Reservation essential.
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 O., 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 (latke 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 they don’t take reservations.
Ask For Luigi
305 Alexander St., Downtown Eastside
Ask for Luigi has all the hallmarks of an old-school Italian joint—no reservations accepted, a cozy, unfussy interior of simple wooden tables and chairs, and the signature checkerboard floor. The pasta has that indescribably fresh flavor that can only be achieved by being hand-made daily, in-house. The mom-and-pop vibe encourages diners to take their time and go for the three full courses. Expect indulgent but classic pairings like oxtail risotto topped with bone marrow, or crab with fennel. Don’t forget to do as the Italians do and have wine with dinner, then grappa and an espresso (or two) to finish.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
163 Keefer St., Downtown
A second offering from revered Kissa Tanto chef Joël Watanabe, 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 friend 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 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 the same chef as Bar Isabel, Grant van Gameren 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 jamon Serrano among others—simple but done well—and exactly what you want with a glass of wine.
59 Ossington Ave., Ossington
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 what was eaten by the first European settlers—everything from deviled Chinese tea eggs and pigeon pie, to the especially wonderful l’eclade (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.
60 Yorkville Ave., Yorkville
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 tartar. End your meal with the Grand Marnier soufflé and a digestif to send you straight to sleep.
503 College St., Little Italy
DaiLo 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 re-imagined 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.
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