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 restaurant (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). Reservation essential.
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.
207 Ossington Ave., Ossington
Although Chef Tom Thai emigrated from Vietnam in the late 1970's, 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.
199 Augusta Ave., Kensington Market
The latest offering from renowned Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg is located in the hyper-trendy 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, primarily 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.
202 Davenport Rd., Rosedale
Husband and wife duo Joso and Angiolina Spralja are the forces 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 still brimming with it’s original 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 its red-hued walls crammed with somewhat questionable nude artworks—prudes be warned.
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 duo) 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. They’re also known for their weekend brunch; when it’s warmer, a generous, lantern-lit front patio adds to the charm.
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