Little Italy Restaurants
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.
503 College St., Little Italy
"Dai lo" 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 it's reimagined 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.
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.
1166 Dundas St., Toronto
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.
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.
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