Photo By David Hawe
Side Ribs with Caramelized Shallot Glaze @ Foxley
Though they’re theoretically made to share, one bite of these gorgeously meaty Portuguese-style pork behemoths and you’ll want them all to yourself. Marinated overnight before being grilled, then braised, then grilled again (!), they’re finally slathered in sweet chili-lime soy before being garnished with crisped threads of shallot ($8).
“I’m surprised they’re so popular, because I thought no one eats meat any more,” says Foxley chef Tom Thai, who adds he’ll be launching an old-school Italian trat nearby this fall. “There are a lot of flavours going, and it can get messy. I guess that’s why the ribs make such great date food – they involve a lot of finger-licking.”
207 Ossington, at Dundas, 416-534-8520
Photo By David Laurence
Steak Frites Café de Paris @ Thuet
Known for giving an unorthodox Alsatian twist to classic French cuisine, Thuet’s take on the prix fixe standard – a buttery 8-ounce, naturally raised Kerr Farm strip loin sided with benchmark frites tossed with shaved parmigiano – doesn’t take its cue from the famous Parisian brasserie of the same name. Instead, it gets its handle from the same-name Swiss beurre with which he slathers each super-tender slab o’ beef. Wild black trumpet mushroom sauce aussi ($35).
“My steak frites are more bistro-style,” says Marc Thuet, the garrulous chef in the midst of renovating his King West flagship. “I don’t do traditional.”
609 King West, at Portland, 416-603-2777; and 171 East Liberty, unit 153, at Hanna, 416-630-2777
Photo By Mark Coatsworth
Vietnamese Kraft Dinner @ Manyata
The atrium annex to his swanky Spice Room, Greg Couillard’s Manyata is the iconoclastic chef at his most accessible and affordable. More so than his famous Jump Up soup, this novel Southeast Asian riff on the Kraft klassic typifies his multi-culti métier: wide rice noodles, baby bok choy and grilled masala-spiced chicken in a dizzyingly delish sauce infused with lemongrass and lime leaf ($16).
“Chinatown has always been my inspiration,” says Couillard. “The abundance of Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese herbs is amazing. A billion Asians can’t be wrong.”
55 Hazelton, at Yorkville, 416-935-0000
The Cosmic (aka QM) Burger @ the Queen Mother Cafe
The vegetarian Cosmic Burger sees a house-made patty of high-protein grains, mushrooms and nuts topped with white cheddar and stuffed into a whole wheat pita along with lettuce, tomato and a squirt of 1000 Island-style dressing. One bite and you’ll never settle for a Yves veggie burger again ($9.50).
“The Cosmic Burger helped put us on Toronto’s culinary map,” says the Mum’s Andre Rosenbaum. “When we opened in October 1978, we had only 18 seats and two dishes on the menu, a daily soup and the Cosmic Burger. And even though we changed the name from Cosmic to QM in the 80s, the recipe remains the same.”
208 Queen West, at Duncan, 416-598-4719
Blintzes @ Bella’s Bistro at Free Times Café
Bella’s marvellous blintzes aren’t just the highlight of her long-running Sunday brunch, but the stars of her everyday all-day menu as well. Thin, eggy crepes crisped in vegetable oil, they’re stuffed with lemony cottage cheese and sided with thickened sour cream and homemade cinnamon apple compote, all deliciously addictive ($9.50).
“Everyone thinks our blintz recipe is my mother’s, but she was always too busy running the family’s map business to do any cooking,” says Bistro’s Judy Perly, who named the dish in her late mom’s honour. “It might seem simple, but there’s a rhythm to making them right. Once I got it down, I can turn out 300 an hour.”
320 College, at Major, 416-967-1078
Photo By Kathryn Gaitens
Pad thai @ Young Thailand
Wandee Young first introduced Toronto to the hawker-style noodles of her homeland at Queen West’s legendary Bamboo back in the 80s. Since then, she’s launched several successful Southeast Asian eateries (watch for her return to the downtown core later this summer) and has even written a bestselling cookbook ($8.95).
“It makes me very sad,” says Young when asked about the surplus of local restos serving subpar Thai food. “Most of these places don’t know what they’re doing. I once tried adding a little tomato paste to my pad thai to give it some colour, but my customers thought I was using ketchup like everybody else. Never again!”
2907 Dundas West, at Keele, 416-368-1368
Pollo en Mole @ El Sol
A pre-Columbian staple of southern Mexico, this complicated main finds a plump skinless, boneless chicken breast smothered in an obscenely slow-simmered sauce that contains over 65 ingredients, among them dark cocoa, almonds, pistachios and more than a dozen varieties of smoky chilies to dazzle the tongue ($20.95).
“Since mole is a regional dish, there are many, many different versions,” says El Sol co-owner/chef Yolanda Paez. “Most cook the mole and the chicken separately, then put them together on the plate. But I prefer to simmer them together so the flavours intensify.”
1448 Danforth, at Monarch Park, 416-405-8074
Photo By David Laurence
Jerk Pork Pizza @ Ghali Kitchen
Talk about culture clash. This only-in-Toronto mash up combines an Afghan flatbread crust with Jamaican jerked pork tenderloin, grilled Mediterranean veggies, a splash of Italian olive oil and a last-minute spritz of Aussie Shiraz. Top that, Pizza Pizza ($25/$13 half)!
“I wanted to create something that would represent our diverse culture here in Toronto,” says the Kitchen’s Egyptian-born George Ghali, who grew up in the wilds of Scarborough. “And isn’t everybody sick of New York-style pizza?”
4 Greenwood, at Queen, 647-436-0660
Live It Up Lasagna @ Live Organic Food Bar
No stodgy stack of soggy noodles, Live’s radical reinterpretation of the multi-layer Italian casserole replaces cooked pasta with wide threads of raw zucchini, and ricotta with ground cashews. Throw in a marinara sauce made with summer-fresh tomato and basil straight from owner/chef Jennifer Italiano’s own garden and get a supper that’s not just palatable but planet-friendly to boot ($12).
“I wanted to do my version of something that everybody likes, and who doesn’t love lasagna?” says Italiano. “And it’s guilt-free. I can have seconds and not have to worry about it ending up on my ass.”
264 Dupont, at Spadina, 416-515-2002
Avocado, Brie & Mango Sandwich @ Poor John’s Café
This substantial two-fister of chunky ripe avocado, smooth Canadian Brie, alfalfa sprouts and house-made mango purée and pesto mayonnaise arrives on slices of Micalense marbled rye. No brown-bag special this! ($8.25 with soup, salad or spuds).
“Customers come across the city just to get this sandwich,” says staffer Tyler Hogan. “One told me she had a dream about it and had to come in the next day to have one.”
1610 Queen West, at Sorauren, 647-435-2688
Gluten-free Florentine Frittata @ Le Café Vert
Sided with sweet potato fingerlings and organic greens, this pseudo quiche forgoes a traditional pastry crust for one made of home fries and comes layered with cheddar, spinach, zucchini and toasted walnuts. Secret ingredient: house-made coconut-garlic-paprika powder ($11).
“Who says brunch can’t be sexy and healthy?” says Vert visionary Sasha Chan, who got her inspiration from lazy late-morning meals in Italy. “It doesn’t get much better than a Mediterranean breeze and a cast-iron pot full of surprises!”
946 Queen East, at Morse, 416-778-1313
Pork Hocks @ Harlem
After kitchen gigs in the Southern U.S. and eastern Europe, chef Anthony Mair returned to Toronto with a new appreciation for pig’s feet. Here, he slow-roasts the fatty hocks in Red Stripe till the sweet, tender meat literally falls from the bone. For the full soul food effect, pair them with collard greens and lima beans with rice ($19.95).
“I moved from Jamaica to Regent Park in 1974, and every week my mother would take me shopping in Kensington Market for cheaper cuts of meat,” says Mair. “Tougher meats are tastier if they’re cooked properly – where there’s fat, there’s flavour!”
67 Richmond East, at Church, 416-368-1920
Beef Pot Pie @ Cowbell
Mark Cutrara lets nothing go to waste. A confirmed locavore, he not only butchers his own meat but also makes sure to use every part of the beast, from snout to tail. Lidded with buttery puff pastry, this retro pie is a prime example of his foodie philosophy and brims with cubed grass-fed beef as well as locally grown carrots, potatoes and turnips in a gorgeous gravy ($21).
“We need homestyle dishes with sophisticated taste like this to keep the balance right,” says the eco-conscious chef. “It’s the whole circle-of-life thing. Cue the Disney jungle music!”
1564 Queen West, at Sorauren, 416-849-1095
Grilled Lobster Roll @ Sado Sushi
Served with its hollowed-out tail dramatically plated upright in a pool of chili miso dusted with tobiko roe, these beefy black-sesame-studded uramaki come overstuffed with broiled lobster meat and contrastingly bitter radicchio. Think of them as edible art ($13).
“When we first opened, some people complained that we weren’t doing sushi right,” says Sado’s Sonny Nguyen, who describes his unique spin on raw fish ’n’ rice as French-meets-Japanese. “Everybody else just thinks it tastes really good.”
1116 Eglinton West, at Old Park, 416-783-8111
Quack & Track @ La Palette
Not for the squeamish, this unusual tag-team finds pan-seared duck confit coupled with 4 ounces of grilled horse tenderloin – yes, fillet of filly – impressively plated over seasonal veg ’n’ fingerlings in a citrus demi-glace ($30).
“A couple of years ago we had a surplus of horse off-cuts that we didn’t know what to do with,” says La Pal’s debonair Shamez Amlani. “As a joke, I suggested we serve them with our duck and call it Quack & Track. Everybody laughed, but it’s been on the menu ever since.”
256 Augusta, at College, 416-929-4900
Photo By Zach Slootsky
Poutine @ Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar
Jamie Kennedy’s french fries may have made him famous, but his commitment to sustainable agriculture made him a culinary pioneer. All in all, his poutine best exemplifies his principles: a crisp pile of Yukon Gold frites dressed with the likes of house-cured ham, sheep’s milk crème fraîche and Mennonite-made smoked cheddar from Monteforte Dairy, with a mustardy veal reduction ($9).
“We like to think of our poutine as a more sophisticated cousin of the chip truck classic,” says JKWB chef de cuisine Tobey Nemeth. The menu changes daily; how does the resto manage to constantly reinvent fries and gravy? “We’re lucky to work with some incredible local farmers. It’s an amazing way chefs can contribute to keeping small farms alive.”
9 Church, at Front, 416-362-5586
Photo By Mark Coatsworth
Blue-Cornmeal-Crusted Scallops @ Deep Blue Fish & Chips
Rolled in blue cornmeal flour and deep-fried in trans-fat-free oil, these well-upholstered bivalves come correctly sided with twice-cooked sweet potato frites, slyly spicy Caribbean-style slaw and sweet basil/mango dip ($9.50).
“We wanted to create a dish that reflects our restaurant’s name,” says St. Lucia-born co-owner and co-chef Robert Joseph. “‘Deep Blue’ gave us ideas about seafood that isn’t just fish, like scallops. And the blue cornmeal makes it something special.”
749 Broadview, at Danforth, 416-463-6789
Braised Short Ribs @ Delux
Simmered in red wine for hours till they fall from the bone, these slow-cooked Ontario beefy ribs come plated over a gorgeously creamy potato-and- celery-root purée in jus and dressed with wilted Swiss chard, the lot dolloped with kick-ass horseradish cream and a final chiffonade of chives ($19).
“Robust braises and buttery side dishes have always satisfied my cold-weather cravings,” says Delux owner/chef Corinna Mozo, who opened her Franco- Cuban bistro to raves just this January. “It’s a soothing bowl of comfort.”
92 Ossington, at Humbert, 416-537-0134
Mini Burgers @ Coffee Shop @ If Lounge
A trio of 3-ounce Black Angus beef patties on custom-baked miniature Portuguese pada buns, each topped in a city theme – Roma (mozzarella and basil), Athens (feta and tzatziki), Tokyo (crunchy tempura bits and wasabi mayo) – and all sided with garlicky roasted red potatoes and greens in a sesame vinaigrette ($10).
“I was in New York about four years ago, and everywhere I went they were doing these tiny gourmet burgers,” says the Shop’s chef, Elena Simunovic, who promptly put them on the west-side resto’s inaugural card. “Now everyone does them — Picnic, Trevor. I guess we just got there first.”
1212 Dundas West, at Lakeview, 416-588-4900
Feijoada @ Cajú
The national dish of Brazil, this elaborate slow-cooked black bean stew comes thick with tender pork loin, beef, chorizo and smoked pork hock. A banquet in itself, it’s customarily sided with white rice, collard greens, cassava chips, toasted farofa flour and orange slices. ($22)
“Feijoada is customarily only served on Saturdays, but because it’s so well received, I make it every night,” says Cajú chef and co-owner Mario Cassini, who recommends several stiff caipirinhas as additional accompaniment. “It’s the ultimate comfort food.”
922 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-532-2550