Best pub grub
TREVOR 38 Wellington East, 416-941-9410
You'll never settle for nuked Cheez Whiz on store-bought corn chips at Sneaky Disease again once you've sampled owner/chef Trevor Wilkinson's truly upmarket nachos. Layered with braised beef cheeks, crumbled chèvre and Thai bird chilies, these gastronomic wonders are only available on the subterranean boîte's lounge menu. Shame, that - they're tastier than most of the resto's regular menu.
Best African SIMBA GRILL
375 Donlands, at O'Connor, 416-429-6057
Best farmers' market
DUFFERIN GROVE FARMERS' MARKET
Dufferin Grove Park, south of Bloor, every Thursday 3 to 7 pm, 416-392-0913 It's DGFM's fifth birthday this November! Join compost modernists in celebrating this market that's led the way in connecting organic, local farmers with organic locals. For a warm-all-over feeling (literally), it's hard to beat the park's communal bread ovens.
Best place to buy meat
THE HEALTHY BUTCHER 565 Queen West, 416-674-2642
As at any other organic meat shop, the cuts here aren't cheap, but you get what you pay for: all-natural, foraging, non-factory reared, chemical-free flesh. Except for being dead, these cows, pigs and chickens are healthier than anyone we know. Ready-made burgers, deluxe steaks, game, food to go, homemade pies - it's all good.
FOXLEY 207 Ossington, 416-534-8520
Sushi put chef Tom Thai on the map at Tempo and Canoe, but his bronto-sized beef side ribs have earned him an entirely new following. Slow-cooked tender and fall-from-the-bone, they luxuriate in a sticky sweet shallot glaze that deserves to be bottled.
Best Caesar salad
CITIZEN 730 Queen East, 416-465-0100
It's found in virtually every resto in the GTA and ineptly executed in nearly all, but the version of the classic salad served at this Rosebud relative is one of the few that approximates the original recipe. Here, full leaves of inner romaine come dressed with double-smoked bacon, crostini croutons, shaved parmigiano and anchovy cream, the lot plopped with runny egg. Simple, right?
SOLFERINO 38 Wellington East, 416-364-8478
Ask almost any gelateria in town whether it makes its Italian ices in house and they'll say yes - that's if you consider putting a pre-packaged mix into a machine house-made. But Solferino really makes its gelato from scratch, using only preservative-free ingredients. Alarmingly lime green and sickly sweet elsewhere, the house pistachio is an exercise in nutty perfection.
Toronto's only Tanzanian trat, Rashma and Sultan Jessani's modestly decorated East York East African eatery has built a loyal following for its meaty mains - teriyaki-like sekela chicken, Swahili shish kebabs - and old-school Italian ices. Better yet, Sundays from 1 pm, East meets East meets East when Simba goes vegetarian with an Indo-inspired $8 all-you-can-eat thali buffet.
459 Church, at Maitland, 416-916-6104 At first bite, the Subcontinental lunch buffet at this recently launched resto is indistinguishable from the countless others dishing up butter chicken all over town. But once a basket of beautifully blistered cracker-crisp naan spread with butter arrives at table, you'll actually want to inhale as much of it as you possibly can.
BELLA DID YA EAT? AT FREE TIMES CAFE
320 College, at Major, 416-967-1078 Orchestrated chaos, the $18.95 all-you-can-eat Sunday spread at this venerated alterna-café is always a mob scene. As an energized crowd ranging in age from six to 106 digs into a 50-item Bubbie-style smorgasbord of latkes and gefilte fish, klezmer musicians serenade. Blintzes, anyone?
669 Queen West, 416-703-8810 Sided with rosemary-freckled home fries and dressed only with house-made mayo, the Die Ben Die burger served at Sunday brunch (sorry, "lupper") at Rodney Bowers's Rosebud is one over-the-top Whopper. Made from ground Kobe beef and fried in a lot of butter, it can raise your cholesterol level just by looking at it.
1018 St Clair West, at Appleton, 416-654-0609 Wedged between Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia's cuisine can be wrongly portrayed as a watered-down version of both. Neither fiery like Thai nor complex like Viet, its strengths are more subtle on the tongue, with dishes like barely battered butterflied shrimp perfumed with holy basil that force diners to savour the flavours rather than be overwhelmed by them.
Best Chinese (high end)
LAI WAH HEEN
108 Chesnut, at Dundas, 416-977-9899 When money's no object or someone else is paying, this smart, formal dining room in the Metropolitan Hotel hailed by no less an authority than the New York Times as one of the Best in North America is sure to fit the bill. Specials like chef Kenneth Tam 's pan-seared roulade of thinly sliced beef tenderloin sided with deep-forest mushrooms topped with truffle flake are bound to impress no matter the budget.
Best Chinese (low end)
KON JUG YUEN
371 Spadina, at Nassau, 416-977-4079 Located just a stumble down from Grossman's, this beloved Cantonese cantina may not be the swankest on the avenue, but it's certainly one of the cheapest. No wonder it's favoured by students and the cash-strapped - retro dishes like barbecued pork fried rice go for less than $4, and a steaming bowl of noodle soup for $5.
Best Chinese (dim sum)
207 Queen's Quay West, at York, 416-203-1233 Got the urge for shiu mai and har gow? Instead of lining up at Rol San and Bright Pearl, head down to this elegantly appointed dining room that's been dishing up superior dim sum since the 80s. The lineup can be just as crazy as in Chinatown at noon Saturday and Sunday, but come at off-peak hours or for weekday lunch and experience first-rate fare, cart service and a spectacular view of the lake.
519 Parliament, 416-968-9982 John Englar's Cabbagetown beanery has been brewing up propulsive cups of java since the early 90s, long before locals thought nothing of dropping four bucks on a grande frappuccino. Part neighbourhood hang, part bike courier pitstop, this always packed gallery space may intimidate at first, but that's exactly the way the regulars like it.
96 Tecumseth, 416-913-5830 If you're planning to visit Jason Inniss and Bertrand Alépée's charming off-the-beaten-track bistro, make sure you save room for their seven-course $40 dessert degustation. It includes the lofty likes of the acclaimed house crème brûlée, boozy rum baba sauced with pink grapefruit fondant spiked with Szechuan peppercorns, chocolate bread pudding and truffled pumpkin tarts as well as blueberry clafouti dolloped with raspberry bavarois. And ice cream.
565 Yonge, 416-968-1032 Until Akram's in Kensington reopens, our favourite Middle Eastern wrap can be found at this breezy take-away on the Yonge Street strip. Packed with freshly fried chickpea patties and a salad bar's worth of fixin's and stuffed into the thickest house-baked flatbread, they weigh nearly twice as much as the competition's and pack three times the flavour.
Best fish & chips
DEEP BLUE 749 Broadview, 416-463-6789 Order the traditional halibut with fries if you insist, but to experience this east-side chippy at its finest, don't miss chefs Gary Conlin and Robert Joseph's exceptional beer-and-blue-cornmeal-battered scallops sided with skinny Caribbean-style sweet potato frites and house-made tartar sauce. You'll never go back to Captain Highliner.
744 Gerrard East, 416-462-9965 Self-described as the
Best French restaurant
in Chinatown, Jean-Jacques Texier's out-of-the-way bistro in south Riverdale gets our nod as the finest in the GTA. Auberge du Pommier may be more romantic and Le Select may cater to a hipper clientele, but Batifole has something neither of them has - an auteur in the kitchen.
171 East Liberty, unit 153, 416-531-7997 Jamie Kennedy may have built an empire on them, but chef Marc Thuet is Toronto's new king of deep-fried spuds. Fabulously crisp and dusted with both hand-harvested sel de Guérande and freshly shaved parmigiano, they're a meal in themselves.
1214 Queen East, 416-463-6677 You're more likely to find foie gras crème brûlée than flaming saganaki on the card at this jumping east-side boîte, but its heart belongs to the Danforth. That's where owners J.C. Coronios, Johnny Katsuras and Laura Prentice first took Toronto by storm at Lolita's Lust. A decade on, Tomi-Kro proves to those with open minds and appetites that there's more to Greek than souvlaki.
Best grilled cheese
LESLIEVILLE CHEESE MARKET
891 Queen East, 416-465-7143 This recent addition to the east side raises the lowly greasy spoon staple to artistic heights. With four different versions available - maple-smoked cheddar with summer sausage, Swiss with Westphalia ham and grilled mushroom, provolone with sun-dried tomato and artichoke, and the Classic, with incredibly rich Beemster - why settle for Mom's Velveeta on Wonderbread?
Best hybrid takeout
505 St Clair West, at Vaughan, 416-531-9305 Filter the home-style cooking of India, Persia and Burma through a Caribbean sensibility by way of Scarborough and get the most multiculturally diverse card in town. Part roti, part burrito, Sadia Cazranee's pan-global wraps come stuffed with superb butter chicken or curried veggies and garnished with diced tomato, iceberg lettuce, Spanish onion and suicidal hot sauce. Don't say we didn't warn you.
309 King West, at John, 416-740-6622 Since its successful move to King West's touristy restaurant row, this elegant second-story bistro - discovered by NOW when Dhaba was in the wilds of Etobicoke 10 years ago - has just undergone an unnecessary Restaurant Makeover, courtesy of superstar chef Susur Lee and his partner, designer Brenda Bent. Although the spacious room now seems a little bland - nothing a few Hindu tchotchkes couldn't fix - except for plating, long-time fan Lee didn't change Singh's menu one bit.
516 Eglinton West, 416-322-5183; 307 Danforth, 416-469-5183 Back in the nabe that spawned their successful mini-chain of old-school trats, Rosa and Vito Marinuzzi return to Forest Hill with a loud and rambunctious room that's not for the faint of heart. There's no affectation in the kitchen either, just good old-fashioned home cooking executed with skill and, more importantly, heart. The original location? Ironically, it's about to become a Wolfgang Puck.
Best Japanese (sushi)
1116 Eglinton West, at Old Park, 416-783-8111 Traditionalists may not appreciate this brash year-old offshoot of one of Montreal's most revered restos, but those into innovative cooking and over-the-top plating love this upscale uptown dining room. Chef Sonny Nguyen's spectacularly sculptural lobster and radicchio roll deserves kudos.
Best Japanese (traditional)
556 Church, at Wellesley, 416-923-1010 Inspired by the parade of plates that accompany Zen tea ceremonies, master chef Daisuke Izutsu's visually overwhelming tasting menu is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. So much so, lucky regulars often don't know whether to contemplate his astonishingly aesthetic works of culinary art or to eat them.
Best jerk chicken
1104 Bloor West, 416-538-1257 Jamaica's national dish comes in two intensities: industrial and thermonuclear. But the gently spiced birds at this popular west-side jerk shack display a sophistication not associated with the genre. Redolent of allspice and thyme, they come sided with first-rate rice 'n' peas, caramelized plantain and good ol' macaroni salad, hold the hot sauce.
8 Andrew, at Spadina, 416-597-1999; 612 Bloor, at Palmerston, 416-533-9306 T.O.'s Seoul-food restaurants come in two types: those that serve beefy bulgogi and kalbi alongside Japanese-style sushi, and those that serve comfort-style fast food. Ka Chi fits the latter category, a noisy, bright room jammed with tropical plants, plasma screens and stacks of J-pop teen magazines. Testimony to the kitchen, the kids come for the house's gargantuan stone bowls of pork bone soup as much as for the scene.
Best late-night spot
120 Peter, 416-593-9191; 218 Adelaide West, 647-439-4065 Often imitated but never equalled, the meal-in-one San Franciso mission-style wraps sold at these tiny Clubland take-aways have been causing lineups since the Boyz launched back in 04. Don't have time to wait in line? At 3 am, you have the place to yourself. Don't miss the hot sauce.
537 College, 416-944-8297 Even though Toronto has seen an explosion of Latin restos, the most reliable is also one of the oldest. As expected, this family-run Peruvian spot specializes in gigantic grilled seafood platters sided with mountains of rice and sweet plantain. Bonus: it may be the least pretentious joint on the strip.
Best local food event
Picnic at the Brick Works On a sunny September Sunday, over 1,300 eco-conscious foodies gathered at the Evergreen Brick Works site in the Don Valley fo r the first annual Slow Food Toronto picnic. With locally harvested nibbles from Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander and tipples from Mill Street and Steam Whistle, no wonder the gourmet celebration sold out. Maybe next year planners can schedule the food fest so it doesn't take place on the same day as the similarly themed Feast of Fields.
Best macaroni and cheese
CLUCK, GRUNT & LOW
362 Bloor West, 416-962-5050 Plagued by quality-control issues from the get-go, this troubled Southern U.S. barbecue pretender has nonetheless managed to get a few things right. Don't bother with the main event. The Best thing on the menu is pinch-hitting chef Marc Thuet's amazing mac 'n' cheese, an impossibly rich marriage of noodles, smoky Cajun andouille sausage and sharp aged cheddar. Mr. Kraft, take note.
Best meal deal
1154 Queen West, 416-516-2550 Fancy a pint and dinner after work for all of eight bucks? That's the deal weekdays from 5 to 7 pm at this low-key west-side local, where a pint of Amsterdam Blonde and a rotating roster of mains like lager-battered fish and chips sided with curried tartar sauce or panko-crusted calamari with paprika aioli goes for less than a tenner. But note the menu's proviso: "while quantities last."
1448 Danforth, at Monarch Park, 416-405-8074 Known to regulars as El Slo, Yolanda Paez's exceptionally laid-back joint may not be the speediest cantina in town. But when the payoff's this explosive - pollo en mole in 60-some spices - who cares? Have another margarita. This far north of the Rio Grande, nobody does it better.
469 Bloor, at Brunswick, 416-964-8849 Combining elements of Tibetan and both northern and southern Indian cooking, the Nepali card comes assertively spiced as expected but displays a subtlety not often seen in the cuisines of its neighbours. Where else around these parts will you find spicy bhuteko cauliflower casserole on the menu?
105 Sherbourne, at Richmond, 416-504-8188 This amazing East Indian eatery in a gas station that stays open every night of the year till 6 am moves into relatively upscale digs in the donut shop next to the carwash at 820 Church, near Canadian Tire, later this month. But fear not, fire fiends, King's incendiary curries will remain as inflammable as ever.
CARIBBEAN QUEEN OF PATTIES
1279 Bloor West, 416-538-1732 With their turmeric-yellow pastry wrappers and spicy minced beef filling, most Jamaican-style patties look and taste exactly the same. But Georgina Hamilton's west-side bakery takes the convenience-store staple to unprecedented heights. Flaky of crust and straight from the oven, these toothsome turnovers are in a class of their own.
420 College, at , 416-921-7557 This three-year-old Iranian resto comes equipped with enough silky throw cushions, low-slung chaises and samovars to outfit a harem. Owner/chef Alireza Fakhrashrafi's grub is equally exalted and includes confident takes on classic slow-braised stews served over barberry-studded rice, followed by a session on the in-house hookah.
57 Adelaide East, 416-203-3093, and others Back in 92, when Cosimo Mammoliti first launched his Queen West enoteca, pizza wasn't even on the menu. Since then, his superior old-school thin-crusted pies have become Toronto's favourite. So much so, he's about to open his fourth location (five if you count the one in L.A.) in downtown's historic Courthouse. The atmosphere's definitely more glam, but the 'za's still as down-to-earth as ever.
1263 Bloor West, 416-532-3665 For so-called fast food, these gargantuan Guyanese-style rotis can take a long time coming. That's because nearly everything - including the house's superior dhalpoori - prepared at Mashud and Homewaty Siddique's modest take-away is made to order. But what's the rush when, instead of cheap, gristly chicken and potato filler, they're loaded with butterflied shrimp and al dente asparagus?
Best salad bar
SUNNY CAFE @ NOAH'S
322 Bloor West, 416-963-8624 Back in the day, salad bars were a dime a dozen round these parts. Henryk and Ursula Lorek's self-serve takeout café in a health food store offers one of the few that remain today, featuring a lineup of leafy greens and comfort-food casseroles - steamed kale, chickpeas with quinoa, rice-noodle lasagna - that's not only organic but vegan to boot.
1564 Queen West, 416-849-1095 The locally harvested card of hotshot chef Mark Cutrara may get all the attention, but if it weren't delivered by his staff of unusually polished professionals, no one would be fighting for a table. Because they're attentive yet never fawning, the only attitude served up here is the right kind: can I be of service?
LE BAR A SOUPE
164 Ossington, 416-533-9825 Nathalie Barin's gorgeous purées and potages are as enchanting as her Parisian accent. Since opening last spring, her too-cute café has been wowing the west side with a rotating roster of scintillating soups - one day tomato with blue cheese and basil, the next caramelized apple with cider - that make first-timers converts at first sip.
Best Sri Lankan
307 Wellesley East, at Parliament, 416-929-2099 For 17 summers, this cozy Cabbagetown café in a house just off Parliament has been tantalizing local taste-buds with the fiery likes of Chicken Devil and Kottu Rotty. Friendly family-style service and prices that rarely break into double digits only make it harder to get a table on Friday and Saturday night.
783 Queen West, 416-703-0783 Before this offshoot of Czehoski came along, tapas in Toronto came sided with bullfight posters and flamenco dancers. But here, chef Nathan Iseberg - known for his experiments in molecular gastronomy - keeps it simple with dishes meant to share, like grilled octopus with smoked serrano chilies, and venison with manchego on toast. And there's nary a castanet in sight!
868 St. Clair West, at Winona, 416-654-8068 Don't blame Vanipha Southalack for bad pad thai. Credited with being one of the first to introduce the now ubiquitous noodle dish to Toronto back in the 70s at the Queen Mother, she can't help it that very few other local chefs can cook it properly. Thai may be passé, but fireworks still happen.
712 Queen West, at Manning, 416-306-1896 Specializing in a mild-mannered amalgam of northern Indian and Mongolian cooking that's heavy on meat - alas, no yak - and dumplings, Lhamo Gongya and Nam Gyal's calm Queen West oasis is Toronto's longest-running Dalai deli, 13 years and counting. The flavours are far from full-throttle, but liberal lashings of chili paste and tomato relish turn bland into blinding.
264 Dupont, 416-515-2002 Visionary chef Jennifer Italiano was the first local restaurateur to drag Toronto's hopelessly dated vegetarian dining scene into the 21st century. Her radical concept? Food that's good for you and tastes good, too, much of it raw, all of it free of animal derivatives and served in a surprisingly hip setting not associated with the genre.
HANOI 3 SEASONS
588 Gerrard East, at Broadview, 416-463-9940 Mad for pho, Toronto may be home to more Saigon-style soup kitchens than anywhere else outside the Mekong Delta. But this charming café in Chinatown East is our sole north Vietnamese restaurant. Here, dill replaces coriander, and plates come sweetly heaped with shredded baby clams and chopped raw chilies and sided with black sesame seed crackers. Watch for a second H3S to open in Leslieville in spring 2008.
885 Dundas West, 416-703-0668 Regulars familiar with this former Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall are in for a shock the first time they check out 668's new drop-dead gorgeous digs a few blocks west of its original location. They'll also be relieved that except for a first-time liquor licence and local organic wine list, nothing else has changed at this innovative veggie venue - not even the name!
Best veggie burger
720 Spadina, 416-920-8884, and others Even hardcore carnivores find these soy-based burgers as irresistible as those made from beef. Dolloped with garlicky Guk, they're not only unusually meaty but also low in sodium and trans-fats and loaded with protein. Optional pickled jalapeños, too.
66 1/2 Nassau, 647-345-7633 Le Petit Dejeuner's Johan Maes has a one-track mind: waffles. They're the only thing on the card of his tiny, recently launched Kensington café. Belgian waffles come layered with ripe fruit, whipped cream and maple syrup or piled with organic ice cream and caramel sauce, while the muffin-like Liège waffles get studded with crunchy pearl sugar. Good eatin' indeed.
Best Asian grocer
222 Cherry, 416-463-8113 All your Asian cooking needs under one clean, brightly lit roof: over 50 kinds of soy sauce, live king crabs (keeps the kids entertained), the singular whiff of durian and our old friend the snakehead fish. Also, Best supermarket parking lot view of T.O.
BRICK STREET BAKERY,
Distillery District, building #45a, 416-214-4949 Even if it were located somewhere less awesomely picturesque than the Distillery District, a trip to Brick Street would always be a treat. Simon Silander brings us the very Best of the British baking tradition along with regular T.O. faves like sourdough baguettes. Steak-and-stout pies and Bakewell tarts will cor your blimey.
64 Kensington, 416-593-9281 If you're planning on bulking up, this is the place to do it. The tidy bins are filled with a vast selection of herbs, spices, herbal remedies and 13 kinds of granola. Where else can you find toothpaste, a jar of tomato sauce, a box of Kamut Flakes and some sarsaparilla?
Best local brewery
STEAM WHISTLE BREWING
255 Bremner, 416-362-2337 Marek Mikunda earned his hop and barley stripes at a little brewery in the Czech Republic called Pilsner Urquell. Maybe you've heard of it. Now at home in the Steam Whistle roundhouse, Mikunda oversees the production of Toronto's delicious Bestselling microbrew.
Best place to buy coffee
I DEAL COFFEE
84 Nassau, 416-364-7700 Only after passing through the eye of various political and environmental needles does the green bean get roasted at I Deal. Seems like all that scrutiny pays off, because this is exemplary joe. Three locations, but the Kensington original wins out for funk. Bonus: a free cup of java when you buy a pound.
Best place to buy fish
BILL'S LOBSTER AND FISH MARKET
599 Gerrard East, 416-778-0943 Bill Cheng has the clearest lobster, crab and fish tanks in Chinatown East. When he hoists a lobster out of the briny deep, it's very much a live lobster - no droopy old crustaceans here. If you're looking for live turbot, Bill's got it. Choice fillets chill on ice.
Best place to buy organic
200 Christie, 416-537-1235 As the first food retailer to work with the Local Food Plus organization, Fiesta Farms hits a home run with shoppers concerned about sustainable food. Local produce, dairy and meat are all here, along with the Lucky Charms and light bulbs.
Best pastry shop
1120 Yonge, 416-927-1105 A busy hub for midtown matrons and anyone else who knows a good thing when they taste it. Bigger digs have allowed the 'Chou to spread its wings with dishes like duck confit and coq au vin, but sandwiches, classic gateaux, tarts and those renowned croissants are perennial faves.
216A Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-593-9904 This Kensington Market butcher specializes in knockwurst with a twist, more than a dozen heat-packing chorizos that range from mellow (spinach with green pepper and scallion) to meltdown (garlicky pesto with pineapple). Selling for $4.99 per pound, they also turn up on the card of Latin-accented cantinas Johny Banana on Bathurst and in empanadas baked by El Gordo next door.