Bacchus Roti 1376 Queen West, at Brock, 416-532-8191.
Tortilla wraps stuffed with all manner of exotica are king on the Left Coast, but here in multiculti Metro we prefer rotis. Here, they get a Guyanese twist with baked-to-order wheat shells. Best: fabulous shrimp, spinach, squash and cheddar; curried chicken, beef or goat topped with lettuce, onion, tomato and x-rated hot sauce; vegan mix ’n’ match sweet squash, green beans, cabbage, okra, channa, potato, eggplant or meatloaf-like tofu; crisp, deep-fried plantain; peanut butter cake. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 9 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
NEW BILLAN 183 Dundas East, at Jarvis, 416-943-0330.
Those who can get past this African eatery’s scary exterior and equally intimidating decor – yes, that is a functional bathroom sink in the dining room – will be rewarded with multiculti eats that twist Bangladeshi curries through Somalian-style stews scented with Middle Eastern spice. True Toronto food! Best: delicious char-grilled Chicken Steak marinated in lemon, garlic, cardamom and vinegar, sided with ripped romaine leaf, pickled-pepper hot sauce, roasted potato ’n’ onion, biryani rice strewn with plump raisins, and a bowl of coconutty curried goat meat soup; tender on-the-bone roasted goat in tangy bitter gravy with Muufo chickpea pancakes; extra-sugary Chicken Suqar, an African take on Subcontinental Rogan Josh, with chunks of tomato, onion and fresh coriander. Bonus: huge portions. Warning: side orders of spaghetti are mushy, over-cooked supermarket pasta with tinned tomato sauce. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of watermelon Freshie. Open daily 11 am to 1:30 am. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: short step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Soul Food 584 Lansdowne, at Paxton. St. Lucia-style takes on Caribbean country cooking done with a subtlety not generally found in the genre. Relaxed family vibe, low-volume tunes and incredibly inexpensive island grub make this laid-back spot jump. Best: like all dinners, moist jerk chicken comes sided with rice ’n’ peas rich with coconut cream and butter as well as delicate, minced sweet slaw and caramelized fried plantain; slow-cooked meaty oxtail and fall-from-the-bone short ribs down-home style; equally tender curried goat on the bone; cheap beer! Complete meals for $18 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Monday to Saturday noon to 9 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, two steps to washroom on same floor. Rating: NNNN
Aunties And Uncles 74 Lippincott, at College, 416-324-1375.
With its Bathurst satellite now closed, this proto-mod hole in the wall dishes up superb grill-pressed sandwiches and wondrous waffles to the cool sounds of 60s beat groups. Best: fluffy omelettes du jour with challah toast or classique croque monsieur, both served with garlic-spiked mashed-potato salad and cantaloupe wedges; signature classic club on aioli-smeared challah; Belgian waffles with sautéed fruit while they last; straightforward soups like leek and potato. Complete lunches and brunches for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday, holidays and long weekends. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
beaver café 1192 Queen West, at Dufferin, 416-537-2768.
Casual spoon with roomy booths offers all-day breakfast and lunch sandwiches and salads. Simple stuff, but the execution’s first-rate. Expect a comfort-food dinner card in the fall. Best: grease-free steamed eggs sided with shaved Black Forest ham and toasted organic green-olive baguette; multiple-choice grilled panini stuffed with old-school Italian cold cuts, cheeses and olive-oil-drizzled veggies; a spiral of ripe field tomato layered with creamy bocconcini and tangy capers splashed with superior balsamic vinaigrette; excellent fresh-brewed Segafredo caps, lattes and Americanos; for dessert, dreamy Portuguese custard tarts. Complete meals for $20 per person ($13 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of plonk. Open daily 8 am to 6 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, three more to washrooms. Rating: NNNN
The T Spot 176 Yonge, at Queen West, 416-861-4727.
Part gourmet take-away, part TV studio, this nearly impossible-to-find café in a department store offers stylish light lunches to eat in or take back to the office. (Hint: it’s next to the KitchenAid boutique.) In between bites, sign up for a cooking class with one of Toronto’s top chefs. Best: superb spinach salads layered with pears sautéed in maple syrup, sharp Parmesan and roasted honeyed pecans or fat dried cranberry with Stilton; deconstructed low-carb lasagna; goat cheese tart with reduced shallot balsamic dressing; special sushi menu Thursdays; Dufflet tarts and cupcakes; estate teas or Orangina and San Pellegrino fizzy drinks. Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip, and an Italian soda. Open Monday to Friday 10 am to 6 pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Dong Bei Wang 4300 Steeles East, second floor, unit H5, at Kennedy, 905-947-8463.
This tiny hole in the wall in a chaotic suburban food court offers top-notch northeastern Chinese street grub that’s both filling and fiery. As handmade noodles fly through the air, questions about this unique food get gladly answered by the cheerful and theatrical family owners. Best: spectacular spicy shredded pork over thick, made-to-order noodles in deeply flavoured beef broth; multi-directional Tung Bak La Pi salad – wide rice-noodle ribbons layered with raw carrot-and-cuke julienne, crunchy peanut-like soy bean sprouts and wayward slivered beef in a deliciously hot mustard oil vinaigrette, garnished with fresh coriander sprigs; ethereal steamed or crisply fried Tung Bak pork dumplings; a trio of vegetable dumplings – empanada-like turnovers, really – packed with scrambled egg, garlic and chopped Chinese greens; and while quarter-size flat Pan Cakes are hellishly greasy, their doubly deep-fried (!) tofu and nutty soy sprout toppings are pure heaven. Complete meals for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open daily noon to 8 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Phil’s Original BBQ 838 College, at Ossington, 416-532-8161.
Accept no substitutes! Toronto’s best Kansas City-style down-home barbecue, this low-key beanery is anything but upmarket. Don’t mind the digs; dig the grub – super slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth stuff. Have a peek in the backyard and check out a smoker that’s so large it cooks 250 pounds of meat at a time. Best: BBQ combo of crusty but moist spice-rubbed pork ribs, beef brisket and chicken with tremendous smoker-baked beans; pulled pork sandwich; Venezuelan egg dishes like poached Eggs Hector or Eggs Domino. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($20 lunch), including all taxes, tip and a premium beer. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday noon to 3 pm, for dinner Monday to Thursday 5 to 9 pm and Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
The Purple Onion 603 Keele, at St. Clair West, 416-760-8208.
Funky 40s diner complete with soda-fountain bar and wooden booths rustles up huge meat ’n’ potato platters at equally retro prices. Think the Tulip goes west. Warning: except for coleslaw, there’s little here for herbivores. Best: New York strip loin – 10-, 12- or 14-ouncers – served with lumpily perfect new-potato mash and rich garlic gravy; tender pink-centred veal liver piled with caramelized onion and meatier-than-most bacon rashers; thickly sliced roast beef with creamy spuds and crunchy coleslaw; weekend brunch-only poached eggs Florentine over spinach and halved English muffins with home fries and Texas toast. Complete dinners for $30 ($18 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Tuesday to Saturday 9 am to 10 pm, Sunday 9 am to 9 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. One step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
RETRO ROTISSERIE 508 Yonge, at Grosvenor, 416-960-6159.
Classic diner digs updates cafeteria favourites to a big band soundtrack. Think Kresge’s lunch counter hot meat sandwiches. Best: shaved Black Angus beef or tender pork from the in-house rotisserie ladled with gravy piled on whole wheat kaisers and sided with either hand-cut curly fries or 50s-style mashed potatoes as well as creamy delish coleslaw and buttery caramelized baby carrots tossed with crushed toasted almond; for dessert, just-like-Mom’s deep dish apple, cherry or pecan pie. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and an old-school Red Cap stubby. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday noon to 11 pm. Closed Sundays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
TRANSILVANIA 2579 Yonge, at Briar Hill, 416-932-9915.
Taking elements of Hungarian, Turkish and Italian cuisine, this Old World Romanian resto definitely doesn’t suck. Instead, find hearty, not-too-heavy grub with unexpected twists of vinegar and sweetness. Best: what else? Dracula’s Grillplate, a sampling platter of lightly breaded schnitzel, perfectly charred pork chop and kebab-like mititei meatballs sided with oven-roasted Yukon Gold spuds and homemade sour pickles; Romanian-style goulash alongside creamy polenta daubed with sour cream; Transilvania Platter for two or more of smoky eggplant purée, creamy roe, potato salad, salami and Balkan feta; sautéed chicken livers with first-rate mashed potatoes; semi-sour white bean soup thick with smoked pork hock and pickled tarragon. Complete meals for $35 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a shot of Stolichnaya. Open Tuesday to Thursday noon to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 10 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: 18 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Bellevue Diner 61 Bellevue, at Nassau, 416-597-6912.
A former working-class dive gets transformed into an attitude-free eatery with reasonably priced Mediterranean-inspired grub and downtown’s sunniest out-of-the-way patio. Best: roast New Zealand lamb with mint pesto, new potatoes and market veggies; grilled calamari with roasted tomato over chili-oiled arugula; rare lamburger with greens, fries and house-made marjoram-scented aioli. At brunch, Eggs Natasha with tequila-cured salmon, home fries, mesclun. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($18 at brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 6 to 10 pm, and Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 pm , Sunday 6 to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
CAJU 922 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-532-2550.
Who ever thought Queen West would be trendy again? Taking its name from the Portuguese word for cashew, this sleek chic spot dishes up authentic Brazilian cuisine with an upmarket bent – think Latin fusion where African, Caribbean and Portuguese influences meld. Best: Pao de Queijo, delicate cheese popovers offered as free taste-inducers; grilled sardines over polenta and arugula in passion-fruit vinaigrette; Sopa de Feijo, subtle black bean purée garnished with leek chiffonade; grilled salmon slab with sweet potato flan and mango salsa; Madeira-braised Lombo, pork tenderloin medallions dressed with gumbo-like okra and spinach; killer Brazilian cocktails reduced to clear! Complete meals for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Caipirinha. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Bar open till 1 am. Closed Sunday and Monday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Focaccia 17 Hayden, at Yonge, 416-323-0179.
This unassuming boîte on a back street near Bloor and Yonge belies the culinary creativity found within. Chef Sam Gassira joins the ranks of local superstar chefs – Susur Lee, David Chrystian, Greg Couillard – who are shaking the foundations of Toronto’s old-guard dining scene. Throw in smooth service and alarmingly low prices and watch the foodies flock. Best: to start, braised oxtail in rosemary jus alongside grilled sardine dressed with shaved black truffle; chèvre-topped onion galette over arugula and sliced pear in maple syrup vinaigrette; Provimi veal sweetbreads with lobster salad and de Puys lentils in citrus dressing; pan-seared and oven-roasted mains like venison chop with cod-stuffed ravioli in prune-licorice-red wine reduction; wild boar strip loin with broiled artichoke stuffed with spinach ’n’ ricotta drizzled with sherry-kicked cranberry-wild rice jus; bison strip loin with carmelized rhubarb tart in spiced pistachio cream; pastry-free espresso cheesecake; superb house-baked breads. Complete dinners for $60 per person ($25 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, and for dinner 6 to 10 pm Tuesday to Saturday. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNNN
La Palette 256 Augusta, at College, 416-929-4900.
Forget the hype and hubbub of other bistros. Here’s a funky low-key neighbourhood boîte serving no-nonsense café classics, which just happens to be French. Add suave service and a young chef who’s got a deft touch with grilled meats and the sum is an unpretentious spot that defies food fads. Best: superb 10-ounce triple-A black Angus sirloin topped with sun-dried tomato and brandy butter, with hand-cut Yukon Gold frites; herb-crusted New Zealand lamb tenderloin with polenta and baby carrot ’n’ white asparagus ratatouille; smoked chicken lasagna with shiitake ’shrooms on a bed of cherry tomato confit, sautéed spinach and butternut squash jus; veggie sushi with tempura enoki and seame tomato ragout and jalapeño syrup glaze; $25 three-course prix fixe specials. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or an aperitif. Open for dinner Monday to Thursday 6 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 6 pm to midnight, Sunday 6 to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm, afternoon snacks Wednesday to Friday 2 to 6pm. Licensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Lemon Meringue 2390 Bloor West, at Jane, 416-769-5757.
By day an upscale patisserie and gourmet food shop, after 5 this chartreuse candlelit room becomes a super neighbourhood boîte with some of the best food for miles. Best: seared beef tenderloin with garlic mash, rapini and roasted shiitakes in caramelized garlic sauce; roasted lemon chicken breast with sunchokes, Brussels sprouts and baby spuds; pistachio-crusted pork tenderloin sided with ricotta-stuffed gnocchi in creamed chèvre; roasted pear, Stilton and caramelized pecans over bitter arugula; superb soups like Jerusalem artichoke with potato purée; at brunch, Eggs Lucy – savoury red pepper bread pudding tiered with coddled eggs and Asiago and house-baked scones; first-rate desserts made in-house. Complete meals for $50 per person ($25 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday 9:30 am to 3 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Riverside Cafe 730 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-406-2943.
Cozy, dark local offers a considerable lineup of fusion-lite stuff – bouillabaisse with potato gnocchi? – but scores with myriad mussel mains sold by the pound. Too bad the kitchen’s too small to accommodate a deep-fryer: no frites! Best: nearly 30 different takes on bivalves, such as boozy, buttery Citrus kicked with lemon vodka, lemongrass and parsley, or Asian cooked with baby bok choy, sesame oil, soy and ginger, Cajun in cream with crawfish and butter, and spicy Berbere with harissa, tomato and purple onion; Mediterranean-lite mains like grilled chicken breast with polenta topped with pesto chevre sided with sautéed veggies in balsamic Cassis reduction; extensive selection of imported beers, killer cocktail card. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Silver Spoon 390 Roncesvalles, at Howard Park, 416-516-8112.
Former Ferro chef Rocco Augustino rules one of the hottest meal tickets on the west side. Take a gorgeous room, add smooth service and a hip martini menu – oh, and reasonably priced, skilfully executed, thoroughly modern mains – and watch the lineups form. Reservations essential. Best: massive rack of pink-centred New Zealand lamb with butter-sautéed veggies and grilled-then-roasted red-jacketed potatoes; thyme-scented roasted chicken ballotine in a pool of jus dotted with goat cheese; specials like seared Arctic char with honeyed red-pepper sauce alongside crunchy black Japonica rice; oh-my-god flourless Belgian chocolate ganache. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Swan 892 Queen West, at Crawford, 416-532-0452.
Ugly duckling luncheonette sheds greasy layers to emerge as swanky joint du jour. A few of the booths are a tight fit, but this is certainly one of the comfiest joints in town. Best: freshly shucked Oyster Boy’s own on the half-shell with fresh grated horseradish; crisply cold spinach salad; oatmeal-crusted free-range capon breast with vanilla bourbon peppercorn gravy over buttermilk mash; marmalade-and-beer-marinated beef ribs and more buttery mash; seared sirloin with red-wine shallot reduction and Yorkshire pudding; at brunch, corned beef hash or Hangtown Fry, scrambled eggs with smoked oysters and pancetta. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 4 pm, and for dinner Sunday to Wednesday 5 to 10:30 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Verveine 1097 Queen East, at Pape, 416-405-9906.
Downtown comes to Leslieville in this mid-size bistro that serves contemporary takes on classic European cuisine. A smart room, smooth service and a kitchen with potential make this neighbourhood noshery a hit. Best: updated takes on comfort food like oven-roasted chicken stuffed with chestnuts over veggies du jour and rosemary jus; roasted rack of lamb sided with couscous and wild blueberry reduction; 10-ounce rib-eye daubed with hummus mayo, fabulous house frites and buttery wilted spinach; at brunch, Santa-Fe style toad-in-the-hole eggs in hollowed-out then grilled cornbread alongside sliced avocado and mild salsa. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 6 to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
ZORBA’S 681 Danforth, at Pape, 416-406-1212 Old-school taverna with home-style Greek grub on the boulevard of broken plates. Ignore the printed menu and point at whatever you fancy from the steam table. Warning: scary offal-stuffed lamb heads. With teeth. Best: thick ’n’ meaty grilled lamb ribs sided with fabulous baked lima beans and waxy oven-roasted spuds; super-moist 2-pound takeout chickens; lasagna-like pastitsio, penne over ground lamb topped with eggy béchamel-sauced mash; Arni Fricasse, slow-braised lamb shank with artichoke hearts in dilled avgolemono lemon sauce; traditional feta-strewn Greek village salad. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Tuesday to Thursday 8 am to 4 am, Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 5 am, Monday 8 am to midnight. Licensed. Delivery. Access: short step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Bar One 924 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-535-1655.
With the coolest patio in town bar none and a family connection to two of College Street’s once hottest haunts – Bar Italia and Ellipsis – this streamlined satellite brings cachet to Queen West’s condo frontier. Hip decor and mid-range prices make the narrow room the strip’s most happening spot. Best: superb thin-crusted pizza with potato, hot Italian sausage, sweet onion and blue cheese; grilled chicken salad on arugula with toasted pinenuts, shaved Asiago and fennel julienne with lemon rosemary dressing; at brunch, perfect ovo buco – baked egg in focaccia with wilted spinach and smoked salmon in chipotle hollandaise. Complete dinners for $35 per person ($18 lunch and brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am to 4 pm, and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Bar till 1 am. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Ferro 769 St. Clair West, at Arlington, 416-654-9119.
College-chic nuovo Italiano hot spot brings massive proportions to Old World St. Clair West. Warning: expect to take leftovers home! Best: an enormous appetizer plate of antipasto for two that’s almost impossible to finish; grilled swordfish with mango salsa, baby bok choy and roasted Jerusalem artichoke; calamari in olive and sun-dried tomato reduction; veal salad with balsamic greens; luxuriant vegetable risotto; sweet potato and spinach gnocchi; two-fisted panini with first-rate Ital cold cuts and arugula; tiramisu with brandy-sautéed strawberries; designer thin-crust pizzas till closing. Complete dinners for $35 per person ($18 lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Thursday, 11 am to 1 am, Saturday 11 am to 2 am, Sunday and holidays 5 pm to 1 am. Access: barrier-free. Licensed. Rating: NNNN
One of a Kind 746 Queen West, at Niagara, 416-203-2229.
Set in a room that looks like a Cape Breton tea room – doilies! – this inexpensive noodle noshery offers northern Italian mains in a nearly pretty setting. And while spicing is generally underpowered, portions are plentiful. Best: squid-ink Indigo linguine with grilled calamari, ham, mushrooms and snow peas in white-wine cream; tricolour meat ravioli with peppers and onions in mild curry; sautéed shrimps Newberg with buttery broccoli over basil linguine in a sherry-scented sauce; grilled New Zealand rack of lamb with asparagus, peppers and somewhat salty garlic mash; butterflied, then barbecued eel filet over mesclun; Pernod-spiked scallops over fresh spinach and grilled portobello with balsamic. Complete meals for $30 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 11:30 to 10 pm. Closed holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
La Bruschetta 1317 St. Clair West, at St. Clarens, 416-656-8622.
Upscale trattoria popular with out-of-town celebrities and local devotees of old-school Italian home cooking. Once you’re a regular at this expensive family-run restaurant, you’re a VIP for life. Best: antipasto della casa for two – carpaccio, prosciutto, salami, bocconcini, eggplant, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes; fettuccini Giuliana with cubed chicken breast in brandied cream; off-the-menu veal Diavoloso – specify the cutlets spicy if you really want it devilish; simply sauced gnocchi; slow-braised osso bucco – veal shanks with delicious marrow; zuppa inglese, where Boston cream pie meets Christmas cake. Complete meals for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 3 pm, and for dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Marcello’s 1163 St. Clair West, at Dufferin, 416-656-6159.
How this outstanding old-school trat has flown under the foodie radar for years mystifies. Substantial salads, simple yet satisfying grills, customized pasta and possibly the best pizza in town, all at shockingly reasonable prices in a room built for comfort, make this friendly nabe noshery a true find. Best: Pizza #17, the Mimmo, a 12-inch thin-crust beauty layered with roasted garlic, Asiago, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and strands of spinach; Fazzoletto, a pizza-crust turnover stuffed with goat cheese, ricotta, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes on a bed of bitter greens; Linguine con Gamberi, butterflied and grilled shrimp in a tomato cream over noodles tossed with charred leeks and sun-dried tomatoes; rich chicken-broth-based Stracciatella Fiorentina strewn with tomato and spinach; Insalata Marcello’s balsamic-dressed mesclun mixed with roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts and Asiago shavings. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of vino. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 1 to 11:30 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Tavola Calda 671 College, at Beatrice, 416-536-8328.
Although this former take-away has tripled in size, it still offers bargain-priced old-school southern Italian home-style favourites like spaghetti and meatballs. A bit bright, the comfortable room will never be in fashion, but its fabulous no-frills food outlasts trends. Best: multi-tiered eggplant parmigiana; veal osso bucco with rustic tomato topping over Arborio rice; ricotta-stuffed ravioli; ethereal budan de pan (bread pudding). Complete meals for $25 per person ($15 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, late-night menu Saturday till 2 am. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm, dinner Sunday till 9 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Terroni 720 Queen West, at Claremont, 416-504-0320.
Combination Ital groceteria and upscale pizza and panini joint dishing out what’s contestably Toronto’s best pizza. Now the famed Queen West pies are available at two additional outlets – one deep downtown, the other way uptown. Best: ultra-thin-crust pizzas artfully decorated with minimal yet full-strength sauce and cheese, and maximum flavour from quality toppings like fresh basil, spicy Calabrese sausage, grilled peppers and arugula; romaine and sun-dried summery salads; Italian cold cuts with bocconcini and designer greens on focaccia. Other locations: 106 Victoria, at Queen East, 416-955-0258; 1 Balmoral, at Yonge, 416-925-4020. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily 9 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Hiro Sushi 171 King East, at Jarvis, 416-304-0550.
For years a favourite on Church, Hiro Yoshida goes downtown in a monochromatic room punctuated with amaryllis and shoji screens. Sit at a table and savour tempura and teriyaki, but true dinner theatre happens at the sushi bar. Warning: other than Hiro himself, service can be more than vacant. Best: striped salmon sashimi nigirizushi; cone-shaped temaki hand roll with spicy scallops or toasted, smoky salmon skin; translucent toro – fatty tuna belly – with a wasabi depth charge; subtly delicious silver-skinned aji mackerel; live, then shucked razor clams and al dente asparagus tied in seaweed ribbons. Complete dinners for $60 per person ($35 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Japanese beer. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday noon to 2:30 pm, and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
omi 451 Church, at Alexander, 416-920-8991.
More of a casual local hangout than severe Zen dining room, this Japanese joint is best when owner/chef John Lee does his sushi thang with the day’s fresh catch. Best: Lee’s omakase tasting menu, an improvised lineup that changes daily and could include the likes of briefly seared and ruby-centred tuna tenderloin, a mini-wok of steaming seafood soup, beautiful shrimp suspended in a frazzle of deep-fried sweet potato thread or flaky roasted whiting with buttery sake-soaked caramelized onion; steamed freshwater pickerel with delicious yellow-flecked skin; inside-out uramaki of crunchy soft-shell crab lashed with lovely tamago-no-moto mayo. Complete omakase dinners for $75 per person (à la carte menu $35 at dinner, $25 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a cold unfiltered sake. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday noon to 2:30 pm, and for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: eight steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
Sakawaya 867 Danforth, at Jones, 416-778-6894.
The fact that it bills itself as a bistro will probably annoy francophones, but this comfortable neighbourhood Japanese eatery offers much more than the usual sushi, sashimi and tempura noshes found elsewhere. Best: tapas-style starters and mains such as kushiyaki, skewered and charcoal-grilled bite-size snacks like buttery scallops wrapped in bacon, tiny creamy quail eggs, sweet gingko nuts or sugary corn on the cob; Gomuko Hiyashi, cold chunky udon noodles in sweet broth strewn with thinly sliced chicken, faux crab, seaweed and shrimp tempura; Korean kimchi layered with marinated octopus; sirloin sashimi with hot sesame sauce. Complete meals for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of sake. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 pm to 1 am, Sunday 5 to 10:30 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Licensed. Rating: NNN
KOREAN GRILL HOUSE 214 Queen West, at Duncan, 416-263-9850 Suburban all-you-can-eat do-it-yourself Seoul food barbecue chain moves downtown with mixed results. Pig out on the ’cue but avoid ho-hum bento boxes. Warning: next to nothing for vegetarians other than salad. Best: thinly sliced fatty pork, beef, chicken and salmon sided with sweet kimchee, spicy raw sprouts, deep-fried tofu cubes in red pepper powder, miso-like beef ’n’ radish soup and plain white rice. Other locations: Korean Barbeque Restaurant, 3280 Midland, unit 26, 416-754-8141; and 505 Hwy 7 East, building C, suite 70-73, 905-762-1338.
Complete meals for $20 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a prune juice. Open Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 3 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
EL JACALITO 1500 Royal York, at Lawrence, 416-244-4447.
Transposed Mexican taquería moves into a Sopranos-style banquet hall without losing the spectacular grub that made its name. New addition – a $20 all-you-can-eat buffet Saturday night, complete with riveting after-dinner performances by folkloric dance troupe Tonatiuh and wise-guy mariachi quartet Viva Mexico. Sounds cheesy, but there’s no cultural slumming here. Great food, a we’re-all-family vibe and wonderful music make for an exceptional evening of fun. Remember fun? Reservations essential for ringside seats. Best: superb banana-leaf-wrapped pork or chicken Cochinita Pibil, tender slow-cooked shredded meat doused in tangy achiote paste and sour orange; deeply rich refried turtle beans crumbled with queso fresco; Pico de Gallo, a salad of shredded iceberg, ripe tomato, red onion and coriander in a lime vinaigrette; $6.95 Mexican breakfast specials like Huevos Rancheros sided with slow-burn big-finish Tomorrow sauce; to drink, the Jarrito Loco (grapefruit and tequila served in a clay jar) and the Chelada, a beer margarita. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a hallucinogenic cocktail. Open Wednesday to Friday 11 am to 9 pm, Saturday 11 am to 7 pm à la carte, buffet 8 pm to 2 am, Sunday lamb barbecue 11 am to 7 pm, Monday 5 to 9 pm. Closed Tuesday. Licensed. Cash only. Access: 17 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNNN
EL RINCON 256D Augusta, south at College, 416-515-8164.
Cute Cuban café offers delicately spiced Latin fare that ranges from home cookin’ to haute. As salsa tunes blast on the boom box, customers dig into mains that, though meat heavy, feature lots of market-fresh veggies. Best: Puerco Asado al Jugo, succulent sweet oven-roasted pork with saucy black bean Congri rice; loonie-sized shell-on shrimp marinated in great whacks of garlic; a slew of al dente veg – chunks of crisp green beans and zucchini – mixed with creamy boiled potato and corn cob topped with ripe Roma tomato; huge submarine-style grilled Cuban sandwiches with pork, ham, mozzarella, tomato, onion and sweet gherkin; rum-soaked pickled jalapeno for kick; for dessert, cheesecake-like coconut flan. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a coffee Cubano. Open Sunday to Monday noon to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Clafouti 915 Queen West, at Strachan, 416-603-1935.
Early every morning, this charmingly petite patisserie fills to the smell of freshly baked-on-the-premises croissants and bâtardes. Pure Parisian perfection! Best: Toronto’s best croissant – warm from the oven, larger than local norm, feathery rolls rich with butter plain or almond, chocolate and fig versions; superb sandwiches like mango ’n’ curried chicken, spectacular chicken breast salad in creamy house-made mayo or smooth pâté with cornichons and currant jelly on same incredible pastry; namesake clafouti tarts – wild berry, lychee in caramel and sour cherry; gourmet take-away like quartered roast chicken with curried sour cream, fresh bocconcini stack with fresh basil leaf and ripe Roma tomato; red-jacketed potato slaw with capers and slivered celery; comfort-food mac ’n’ cheese. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and an Illy coffee. Open Tuesday to Saturday 8 am to 7 pm, Sunday 9 am to 6 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: three steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNNN
Queen of Tarts 283 Roncesvalles, at Westminster, 416-651-3009.
The former Bathurst patisserie relocates to Roncesvalles and expands its line of sensational dessert tarts to include savoury mini-pies. Strictly take-away, but unparalleled. Best: intensely flavoured mini-quiches of caramelized leek, buttery mascarpone, creamy Stilton and roasted red peppers; fresh thyme-dusted puff-pastry galette of button ’shrooms, sweet onion and Brie; dark Calebaut chocolate tarts kicked with chipotle chili; tart cranberry tart with baked apple and caramel-coated almond slices. Complete light meals for $10 per person, including all taxes. Open Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 7 pm, Saturday 9 am to 6 pm, Sunday noon to 5 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN
Rahier 1717 Bayview, at Hillsdale, 416-482-0917.
Rapturously rich chocolate gateaux and fruit tarts from a Paris-perfect patisserie in nouveau-riche Bayview strip. Best: single-serving cakes honouring famous French folks the likes of Napoleon (dark chocolate mousse with orange crème brûlée on rice-crisp sponge cake) or Hugo (fruity yellow mango mousse over a layer of red berry gelée on chocolate sponge); luscious seasonal fruit tartlets – raspberry, peach, apricot, kiwi, black and green grapes in custard on buttery pâte brisée; miniature chocolate explosions like florentins, tiny chocolate shells crammed with honeyed almonds and candied cherries; almond, apricot croissants, rustic walnut breads, savoury cheese palmiers. Takeout desserts for $5 per person, including all taxes. Open Wednesday to Friday 8 am to 5 pm, Saturday 8 am to 4 pm, Sunday 8 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
Tournayre Patisserie 1856 Queen East, at Woodbine, 416-693-7997.
Pistachio-hued Parisian café in the near Beach serving light all-day brunches and lunches. Terrific take-away pastries, breads and tarts, too. Limited seating means midday lineups on the weekend. Best: house-made croissants stuffed with Black Forest ham and melted Swiss, or studded with toasted almonds and filled with almond paste; sweet pear, smoky bacon and blue cheese quiche with blueberry-dotted greens doused in super Dijon vinaigrette; salmon ’n’ trout tourtierre with barley; sandwiches on straight-from-the-oven baguette like roughly textured pâté with caramelized onion and arugula; shortbread-crusted lemon custard tart and swoonsome pain au chocolat. Complete meals for $13 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Wednesday to Friday 8 am to 5 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8:30 am to 5 pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Curry Twist 3034 Dundas West, at High Park, 416-769-5460.
First-time restaurateurs score right out of the box with this charming Indian gem in the Junction. Soothing music, attentive service and startlingly tasty food make this the perfect dining equation. Warning: though insanely popular, Twist takes no reservations. Good luck! Best: tomato-rich Butter Chicken in assertive gravy; saag paneer made with puréed mustard greens and spinach; minced lamb kebabs skewered with both sweet bell and fiery jalapeño peppers; bread rolls – deep-fried sandwich loaf stuffed with coriander, potatoes ’n’ peas. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Debu Saha’s Biryani House 25 Wellesley East, at Yonge, 416-927-9340.
Once a tiny take-away dishing up inexpensive lunchtime noshes, this northern Indian spot moves into deluxe digs that match the richly sauced menu highlights. Yes, the previous joint’s ridiculously low prices have nearly doubled (goodbye, $5 thali), but chef Saha’s serious step-up justifies the wallet damage. Best: Sultaani Chaap, four meaty lamb chops marinated in ginger, mint and lemon juice, then grilled, flambéed in rum and garnished with sweet sultanas and red pepper; tandoor-fired Calcutta Street-Style Chili Chicken in tomato peppercorn gravy; fiery Goan-style Seafood Perry Perry (think Portuguese piri-piri) with butterflied shrimp, calamari and mussels; veggie sides and mains like Lobia Aur Tomatar Salat (black-eyed peas and seeded tomato in a lemon-ginger vinaigrette) and Raspberry Matar (mildly cheesy paneer “raspberries” and garden peas in a rich, nutty sauce garnished with raisins and crisped onion threads). Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Open for $10.95 lunch buffet Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, à la carte dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: 16 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
ROTI UTE BOTI 1196 Bloor West, at Pauline, 416-539-9821.
Pakistani joint whose name translates as Bread and Meat specializes in just that – non-tandoor flatbreads combined with fiery Balti-style meat curries. Lower than usual prices mean modest digs. Best: Chicken Chili, boneless tender bird mixed with onions and peppers and chili pods in a sweet, explosive near-Thai tomato gravy; Navratan Korma, a frozen veg-free mincemeat-like mix of green beans, carrots, bell peppers and plantain in cashew cream; fiery yogurt-marinated lamb Vindaloo garnished with fresh coriander; meal-in-one Balti-style Karaahi – grilled goat, lamb or chicken with greens – served in individual woks; vegetarian Biryani Pulao; Sunday-only soy-marinated skinless steamed chicken and, for the very brave, brain masala; to drink, smooth banana lassi. Complete meals for $25 per person ($12 at lunch), including all tax, tip and a domestic beer. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Cash only. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
ARABESQUE 811 Queen West, at Manning, 416-504-8146.
Billing itself as a modern Middle Eastern food experience, this delightful take-away isn’t far off the mark: grilled meat-and-veggie-stuffed pitas, wraps and pastries, perfect for eating on the street. Best: grilled cinnamon and za’atar-scented chicken kebabs wrapped in pita spread with hummus, soft onion and parsley; smooth eggplant baba ghanoush sweet from pomegranate molasses; out-of-the-ordinary falafels kicked with fiery sour kebase pickle; nutty house-made honey-dripping pastries; to sip, cardamom lattes or Blood of the Pigeon, strong Bedouin-style minty tea. Complete meals for $8 per person, including all taxes and a hot Moroccan mint tea. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to 7 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
Chippy’s 893 Queen West, at Gore Vale, 416-866-7474.
Former Susur manager John Lee and ex-Rosewood chef Neil Coutinho bring upscale fish and chips to the west side. Daily fresh fish and hand-cut double-cooked fries guarantee this tiny take-away instant success. Expect lineups at lunch and supper. Best: crisply deep-fried cod, haddock, Atlantic salmon, prawns, cod cakes or scallops battered with Guinness-spiked Japanese panko breadcrumbs and sided with fabulous skin-on Yukon frites (twice-cooked in vegetable shortening, then dipped in Brit-authentic curried gravy or smooth garlicky mayo); crunchy red cabbage slaw; frozen seafood lasagna and cannelloni; strong Caffe Brasiliano coffee. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a soda. Open Sunday to Thursday noon to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNNN
Duff’s Famous Wings 1604 Bayview, at Millwood, 416-544-0100.
A spinoff of the western New York eatery that helped launch the Buffalo wings craze, this cozy uptown saloon delivers the hottest stuff this side of Tonawanda. Best: deep-fried fresh-daily wings soaked in Tabasco-like hot sauce and dunked into chunky blue cheese dressing sided with crisp carrot and celery crudités; order the thermonuclear Death version and sirens go off – in the resto and on the palate. Complete meals for $18 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Monday and Wednesday 11 am to 11 pm, Tuesday and Thursday 11 am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 1 am, Sunday noon to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
WHITE BROTHERS FISH COMPANY 2248 Queen East, at Beech, 416-694-3474.Fancy fish fryer to the gentry. Small, nautically themed space provides a few eat-in tables next to a well-ventilated open kitchen. Go traditional or upscale. Best: crisply battered halibut – alas, as at most other fishmongers, frozen – with freshly cut fries and stellar creamy coleslaw; low-cal salad combos du jour like leaf lettuce with melon, grapes and cottage cheese; or forgo the fry-up and order the day’s catch blackened Cajun-style or pan-fried with lemony white wine butter sauce. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Stella. Open Tuesday to Sunday 4 to 9 pm, except Friday noon to 9 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: short step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Flip, Toss & Thai Kitchen 141 Harbord, at Brunswick, 416-966-6955.
Former Salad King cook Sushen Sun offers first-rate takes on Thai standards that equal those of her ex-employer. Add uncommon attention to detail and this inexpensive Thai take-away beats far fancier Bangkok-style boîtes. Best: green-shelled New Zealand mussels in chili-tastic sweet sauce strewn with matchstick carrots and bell pepper; spectacular Spicy Eggplant or Spicy Tofu in sweet basil-scented garlic chili; loosely wrapped Cold Rolls plump with carrot, Thai mint, coriander, rice noodle, scrambled egg and shredded chicken breast with superbly textured peanut dip; glass noodle salad with chicken, shrimp and coriander. Complete meals for $18 per person ($9 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
Co Yen 334 Spadina, at Dundas West, 416-597-1573.
With ugly fluorescent lighting, zero ambience and silent counter staff, this Vietnamese take-away turns out thousands of Asian sandwiches daily. There’s always a lineup, but it moves quickly. The cause? One-dollar Saigon submarine sandwiches! Best: sugar-sweetened French-style buns loaded with mildly spiced tofu pâté, jalapeño slivers, carrot and daikon julienne, and coriander sprigs; non-veggie version adds near-prosciutto pork and “ham”; packages of rice-paper-wrapped spring-rolls studded with whole shrimp; noodle combos with salad; banana-leaf pyramids of jasmine rice; homemade coconut ice cream. Complete dinners for $3 per person, including all taxes. Open daily 9 am to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNNNN
Dai Nam 221 Spadina, at Sullivan, 416-598-3805.
Squeaky-clean Vietnamese restaurant that dares to go beyond pho, the traditional noodle soup with multiple toppings synonymous with Southeast Asia. Best: ambrosial broiled BC oysters layered with buttered breadcrumbs, garlic and coriander; superb hot-and-sour soup with New Zealand mussels, shrimp, pineapple and crunchy okra; perfectly grilled pink-inside lamb chops with rice vermicelli and sweet carrot and daikon slaw; do-it-yourself rice-paper roll-ups with grilled meat, crushed peanuts and raw Vietnamese veggies; deep-fried tofu vegetarian rice rolls with spicy near-Thai dip. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($18 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao beer. Open Sunday to Thursday 10 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to midnight. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Indochine 4 Collier, at Yonge, 416-922-5840.
One of the first spots to bring pan-Asian eats – Vietnamese, Thai, Szechwan, Cantonese and Malaysian – to town, this intimate café has just had a fashionable facelift. Good news: the reasonably priced grub’s as deftly executed as ever. Best: grilled Saigon-style sea bass; skewered Hanoi chicken satay over baby mesclun in citrus vinaigrette; slow-cooked beef brisket curry; purple Thai basil beef with char-broiled peppers and onions; meal-in one pho – beef, chicken or seafood – in tart tamarind-scented broth garnished with Chinese garlic chives. Complete meals for $30 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao beer. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday noon to 3 pm, and for dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
MiMi 688 Gerrard East, at Degrassi, 416-778-5948.
Spic-and-span spotless (the tables are covered in plastic and then glass-topped as well), this family-run restaurant serves straightforward yet complex Vietnamese fare. Best: pork- or shrimp-stuffed rice-paper-wrapped spring rolls; all-in-one rice vermicelli pho soups with the likes of barbecued chicken, beef or pork; sugar cane on shrimp-rice-paper roll-ups with leaf lettuce, raw bean sprouts, shredded daikon and carrot and crushed peanuts; $3 Heineken! Complete dinners for $25 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10 am to 10 pm, Wednesday noon to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN