DJERBA LA DOUCE
1475 Danforth, 416-778-7870
Named for a Club Med-style resort in Tunisia, this charming if modest east-side eatery has much to recommend it, foremost owner/chef Adul El-masri Abderrazak's intoxicating mix of North African couscous and harissa-kicked southern Italian sauces. All meat's halal and most veggies are organic. After dinner, unwind with pots of minty green tea and a hookah.
PHIL'S ORIGINAL BBQ
838 College, 416-532-8161
No other Hogtown beanery does barbecue as fall-from-the-bone fabulous as this recently renovated west-side resto. In a trailer-mounted smoker parked in his backyard, Q master Philip Nyman slow-cooks up to 250 pounds of succulent sauce-mopped ribs at a time. It's quicker than a day trip to Memphis.
Best beer list
143 Danforth, 416-463-3086, www.allens.to
Few bars have so many beers on offer, and fewer yet serve them in a full-service restaurant. Dedicated to all things imbibable, Allen's has 15 brews on tap and a list of 150 bottles, with strengths in North American micros and Belgians, all of which can be enjoyed in its NYC-saloonish environment.
BISTRO & BAKERY THUET
609 King West, 416-603-2777
Goodbye, Mildred Piece. Ever since Alsatian chef Marc Thuet's namesake bistro bakery started serving Sunday brunch, tables at the swanky supper club have become the hottest in town. Need proof? Since it's first-come, first-served, lineups form a good half-hour before opening to get a crack at Thuet's textbook fois gras tartine and Kobe steak hash.
Best buffet/all you can eat
15 Charles East, 416-920-3388
Quantity and quality don't generally collide, but this cavernous Japanese smorgasbord is an exception. For a flat fee that ranges from $11.99 to $17.99, cheapskates can pig out on as much made-to-order maki, teriyaki and tempura as they like in a spacious set-up that recalls the faded glamour of the Rat Pack era.
354 King East, 416-777-9339
Yes, there are far more auspicious Quarter-Pounders in town -- who can forget Bymark's $36.95 foie-gras-topped take? -- but, for our money, this casually chic Victorian storefront whips up the
Best Whopper around.
Owner/chef Constance Guitard starts with an impressive grilled-to-order 8-ounce patty, adds sharp cheddar, ripe tomato and field lettuce and sides it with parsley-freckled frites that rival Jamie Kennedy's legendary spuds. The damage? Nine bucks at lunch.
120 Peter, 416-593-9191; 218 Adelaide West, 647-439-4065
If imitation is flattery, Burrito Boyz Ian Angus and Joe Vassallo should be well chuffed. Despite the number of local California-style cantinas that have appeared in their wake, the Boyz's burrito remains el supremo, a delicious mess that melts in the mouth. Watch for a third BB outpost in Port Credit any day now.
RED TEA BOX
696 Queen West, 416-203-8882
Pure romance, lunch in this Asian tea shop's courtyard coach house out back is a balm for the senses. Recline on a silk-covered chaise over pots of imported oolong while noshing on exotic bento boxes of fusion dim sum such as tiger shrimp wrapped in red pepper ribbons, followed by breath-taking desserts that are as spectacular as their price tags.
ALBERT'S REAL JAMAICAN FOOD
542 St. Clair West, 416-658-9445; 558 Queen West, 416-304-0767
Pierre Trudeau shares wall space with Bob Marley, mon, at this enduring island lunch counter slash take-away, long a favourite of cabbies. Its Caribbean card of grilled jerks and slow-cooked stews served with rice 'n' peas also attracts a hardcore late-night crowd. Bonus: four types of gravy!
Best cheap Portuguese
184 Augusta, 416-591-1245
Chi-chi Chiado and its cousin Senhor Antonio may cater to the Rosedale set, but this friendly family-run bar/dining room gets a more seafood-savvy crowd -- the Portuguese fishmongers of Kensington Market. They might not be upscale but they know their fish, especially when its expertly and simply grilled by chef Rozinda Braga.
309 Spadina, 416-977-0601
It's certainly not the avenue's most stylish room and its stoic staff appear run off their feet, but this popular eastern Chinese cantina has something found nowhere else -- #65 Special Fried Noodle. Laced with spice-charged shrimp, sweet barbecued pork and slippery chopped choy, the highly commendable chow mein has made this bare-bones bote a foodie favourite.
Best coffee shop
55 Mill, 416-207-1709; 43 Hanna, 416-534-7372, www.balzacscoffee.com
The dramatic space in the Distillery District elevates the coffee ritual to something a little more exalted. Using predominantly fair trade green beans that are roasted onsite, Balzac's serves up a full-bodied cup without barista hoopla. The staff roast, brew and pour, and you drink. They also do a fine latte. A new location at Liberty Village lets west-end post-industrialists get their Balzac's, too.
3085 Bathurst, 416-789-1141
Although the only thing 'hip' about this venerable uptown temple to smoked meat is its customers' hip replacements, Coleman's harkens back to the days when Switzer's and Shopsy's ruled Spadina. Grab a booth and trip back in time over ridiculously tender pastrami, decadent tongue and creamy chopped liver sided with wicked sour cream-dolloped latkes, knishes and blintzes. Daily early-bird specials, too.
Best dessert spot
WANDA'S PIE IN THE SKY
7A Yorkville, 416-925-7437
Dufflet's baked goods may take the cake, but when it comes to pie, Wanda Beaver's meringues reign supreme. Mile-high and topped with an eggy froth that looks like it could have been scooped off the nearest cloud, her puckeringly tart lemon pies are legendary. Her old-school apple crumble and butter tarts ain't too shabby either.
Best dim sum
421 Dundas West, 416-979-8833
Sure, Lai Wah Heen's daily spread may be more impressive, but when we go for dim sum we want plastic on the table and a complete nosh for 10 bucks. And carts! This cavernously bleak third-storey resto deliciously fills the bill, especially on weekdays when the likes of rice noodle rolls stuffed with minced chicken and crunchy Chinese celery coast as little as $1.60.
191 Baldwin, 416-979-3116
Toronto is home to an awful lot of awful falafel, but this Lebanese lunch counter in the Market stands head and shoulders above the rest. Instead of the usual mix of chickpea and fava, owner Akram Dow grinds a combination of fava, soy and mung beans to create the perfect patty, finding chickpeas 'too gassy.' Deep-fried on the spot, they come wrapped in Arz Bakery's super pitas.
Best fish & chips
893 Queen West, 416-866-7474; 490 Bloor West, 416-516-7776
Purists disparage it, but former Susur maitre d' John Lee and ex-Rosewater chef Neil Coutinho's upscale take on the traditional Brit take-away has been a huge hit since the day it opened. Fresh fish shipped in daily, double-cooked hand-cut fries and sides like curried gravy and mushy peas cause lineups round the clock.
Best $5 lunch
324 Broadview, 416-406-9906
Now that Co Yen has been shuttered, this brightly lit Vietnamese take-away has repeatedly been cited as Toronto's favourite Saigon sub. What's not to love? Flaky French rolls come piled with shredded chicken, pork or tofu alongside strips of gently pickled carrot 'n' daikon, English cucumber, fresh coriander and optional green chilies. At less than two bucks each, order two.
744 Gerrard East, 416-462-9965
Since leaving the culinary wasteland that is Sassafraz, chef Jean-Jacques Texier has not only launched the finest French resto in Chinatown East, but our favourite anywhere else as well. Reasonably priced -- all starters go for eight bucks, mains $16 -- and affably staffed, this neighbourhood gem easily outshines far pricier Gallic botes.
Best greasy spoon
JIM'S BEST WESTERN
897 Queen East, 416-463-6535
Located just a block away from some of Leslieville's trendiest trats, this decidedly low-rent luncheonette stands as a beacon against gentrification. Scary of clientele and grungy of decor, Jim's lives up to its name's claim by dishing up the GTA's most awesome western, a fluffy three-egg omelette thick with bacon and green pepper, all sandwiched between slices of Texas toast and slathered in ketchup. No stinking salsa here.
Best hot chocolate
181 Bathurst, 416-304-0101
Banana's spelling may be a little dodgy, but there's no faulting this modern Mexican trat's chipotle-pepper-powered Chocolate Azteca. It's no microwaved mug of Nestle's Quik -- after one warming sip of this frothy cinnamon-dusted bittersweet hot cocoa, you'll swear you're drinking mole chorizo.
Best ice cream
GREG'S ICE CREAM
750 Bloor West, 416-962-4734, www.gregsicecream.com
Has there ever been a jaded staff member at Greg's? Not that we know of. Scooping up some of Toronto's finest ice cream in a non-goofy environment obviously keeps everybody happy. It all comes from the top down. Owner Greg Mahon is one sweet cream of a guy. Should the roasted marshmallow ever go out of circulation, prepare for a city-wide breakdown in the rule of law.
DEBU SAHA's BIRYANI HOUSE
25 Wellesley East, 416-927-9340
Dhaba or Debu? Debu or Dhaba? How to chose between Toronto's top two Subcontinent kitchens? While King West's Dhaba remains deservedly acclaimed, our nod this year goes to Saha's always adventurous card, especially his vegetarian tasting menu. A recent upgrade of the room has rendered it as luxurious as chef Saha's spice-rich cuisine.
1163 St. Clair West, 416-656-6159
Sure, Via Allegro's the joint you hit when you want to drop a lot of cash to impress someone, but for old-school pasta and first-rate oven-fired pizza, this mom-'n'-pop op is the place to be. Kids, Chianti by the glass and a large-screen TV tuned to Italian-league football -- Marcello's may not be flashy, but it feels like home.
556 Church, 416-923-1010
There's no question that the Village is a great place to party, but a dining destination? C'mon! But this surprisingly elegant Japanese bistro has local foodies in a frenzy for owner/chef Daisuke Izutsu's omakase tasting menu, a series of spectacularly plated dishes that are as much a treat for the eye as they are for the palate. Bring your camera!
Best juice bar
513A Yonge, 416-960-0821
The sign out front may still read Papaya Hut, but this long-running health-conscious spot has changed its name to herald its expansion next month into bigger digs up the block. One thing's remained the same over the years -- fabulously refreshing squeezed-to-order organic elixirs like carrot, beet and, yes, papaya. Amazing smoothies, too.
Best late night/post-bar bite
105 Sherbourne, 416-306-1888
Forget Fran's. When the clubs close, late-night noshing need not be limited to pizza, burritos or Chinese. Don't let this terrific Pakistani take-away's low-rent location in a gas station put you off, because here be some fine after-midnight munchies -- fiery halal stews and veggie curries over minty basmati rice pilaf. Warning: avoid the advertised 'specials' and stick with the steam table.
IL BUN JI
668 Bloor West, 416-534-7223
To the neophyte, the many Korean kitchens scattered along Bloor west of Bathurst are difficult to differentiate. They all look the same and seem to have identical menus. But this formal space decked out with private booths where diners sit shoeless at communal tables sunk into the floor is a cut above the competition.
JAMIE KENNEDY AT THE GARDINER
111 Queen's Park, 416-362-1957
Celebu-chef Jamie Kennedy's return to Yorkville has been an unparalleled success -- across-the-board critical raves and a hungry public clamouring for a lunch-only reservation in a gorgeous room directly across from his old stomping grounds at the ROM. It helps that his locally sourced grub is up to his stellar standards as well, most notably his signature frites.
Best Middle Eastern
93 Harbord, 416-922-5914
In a city that equates Middle Eastern cuisine with falafel, this elegant but attitude-free supper club is pretty much an anomaly. By using quality ingredients -- many of them organic -- owner/chef Isam Kaisi lifts seemingly familiar fast food to new heights. Lamb and Shiraz fig tagine, anyone?
585 College, 416-534-7751
While most just plop processed cheese over store-bought corn chips, the massive broiled versions -- five in all -- served at this neighbourhood Tex-Mex noshery border on culinary art. Piled with marbled cheddar, guacamole and sour cream, Utopia's namesake nachos come loaded with grilled chicken, steak, chopped raw jalapeöo, cumin-scented kidney beans and fresh kernels of corn. At $13.95, they'll feed four.
264 Dupont, 416-515-2002
Jennifer Italiano knows her veggies. As the owner/chef of one of Toronto's most highly rated herbivore haunts, she appreciates the provenance of the ingredients that go into her virtually 100 per cent organic card. In an industry where organic has sadly become just another marketing buzzword, Italiano delivers the freshest of the fresh.
720 Queen West, 416-504-0320; 106 Victoria, 416-955-0258; 1 Balmoral, 416-925-4020
Since it opened in the early 90s, this postcard-perfect pizzeria has set the local standard for thin-crusted pies. In an eclectic room that's part Italian grocery store and part neighbourhood hang, staff go out of their way to guarantee that life's a slice.
1263 Bloor West, 416-532-3665
For this year's Caribana issue, NOW surveyed more than a dozen local Caribbean kitchens to find the most righteous roti. Several bottles of Pepto-Bismol later, we declared this unpretentious hole-in-the-wall to be the city's finest. And here's why -- the luxurious likes of shrimp, asparagus and spinach in a flaky house-made dahlpoori doused with killer hot sauce that knocks you on your ass.
St. Lawrence Market South, 91 Front East, 416-368-5241
Keep your chemical-ridden peameal bacon on a crappy kaiser! This Italian snack bar in the basement of downtown's oldest market causes mob scenes at lunch for its extraordinary breaded eggplant panini. Built on a solid focaccia base, these beauties come layered with house-made tomato sauce, caramelized onion and hot grilled peppers, and measure nearly 4 inches thick!
350 Spadina, 416-593-4274; 200 Bloor West, 416-963-5080
This formidable palais de pho is busy no matter what time of day. Breakfast, mid-day nosh or late supper, Hung's meal-in-one noodle soups deliver maximum value and extreme flavours -- lemongrass-kissed broths thick with slippery rice vermicelli topped with grilled beef or chicken, garnished with a veritable garden of greenery and splashed with Sriracha Vietnamese hot sauce.
Best South/Latin American
202 Dovercourt, 416-532-7397
Is their a more clandestine rendezvous in town? Even though Jesus Beaute and Sylvia Llewellyn's west-side Cuban cantina has been around a decade, first-timers are still discovering this cozy café's seductive magic. Throw in skillfully executed plates like tostones rellenos that beg to be shared, and no wonder love is in the air.
276 Augusta, 647-436-5874
Oh, how local cantinas carped when this Kensington upstart drew raves the moment its doors opened last spring. 'They're not even Spanish!' went the dismissal. No, but owners Victoria Laudes, Luis Inglesias, and chef Carlos Hernandez are vets of such Latin-accented restos as Latitude and Xango, and they speak the language to boot. The tapas they serve are the real deal and not the jacked-up appetizers you find elsewhere.
Best spicy food
880 Ellesmere unit 217, 416-299-4311
Some like it hot, but others prefer to break out in a flop-sweat. That's the immediate reaction after the first forkful of this Indonesian-influenced Sri Lankan rice dish, especially after additional hits of the incendiary eggplant curry and kimchee-like raw onion sambal that accompanies it. Truly explosive stuff!
Best veggie burger
2034 Queen East, 416-362-5425; 860 York Mills, 416-391-3113; 8187 Yonge, 905-764-7052, and others
When NOW recently strapped on the feedbag to find the tastiest veggie burger in the GTA, this ever-popular Beach-based chain's Nature Burger was our clear-cut champ. Low in trans fat and sodium, vitamin-enriched and reasonably priced, it was one of the few we sampled that didn't taste like a falafel in disguise. And ya gotta love that garlicky Guk sauce!
Best steak house
7 Elm, 416-597-0335, www.barberians.com
There may be exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, the only thing cutting-edge at a steak house should be your knife. Barberian's excels with 47 years' worth of hospitality and traditional dim-lit woody atmosphere. Quality New York, porterhouse and Chateaubriand cuts are served by no-nonsense waiters, with wines selected from the Wine Spectator recognized list. Get civilized at Barberian's.
Best sushi lunch
LE CAFÉ MICHI
1802 Pharmacy, 416-490-9688
Sushi-meisters Hiro Yoshida of downtown's Hiro, Masaki Hashimoto of Mississauga's Hashimoto, and Mitsuhiro Kaji of the Queensway's Kaji Sushi are in a class -- and price bracket -- of their own. But now that Kaji has opened this quaint teahouse in a somewhat dumpy Scarboro strip plaza, pescophiles can experience high-end Japanese cuisine for a fraction of the price. Bonus: Kaji-san has been known to commandeer the sushi bar himself at lunch.
SALAD KING & LINDA
335 Yonge, 416-971-7041
Think you can handle the heat? This Southeast Asian café includes a chili-pepper chart on its menu that lets diners adjust the fire in their pad Thai from a wimpy one-pepper grade to a thermonuclear 20-pepper. Extremely busy at lunch, this recently renovated room is one of the few fast-food spots in town that takes reservations.
478 Queen West, 416-504-5127
Lauded by no less of an authority than Veg News as one of North America's top vegetarian restos, owner/chef Stephen Gardner's cultivated café dispels the dated idea that eating healthy means brown rice and granola. Market fresh and completely free of animal by-products, his eco-conscious card -- beer-battered tempeh 'fish' with deep-fried taro chips, for example -- confirms that food that's good for you can taste good, too.
668 Dundas West, 416-703-0668
Here's yet another raving review for this lovely veggie venue to post in its front window next to all of the others that NOW has awarded owners Hon Quach and Ngoc Lam over the years. Our nod for 02's Restaurant of the Year as well as our choice for
Best non-meat eatery
nearly every season since, 668 offers a deliciously adventurous menu that can convert card-carrying carnivores to the cause.
HANOI 3 SEASONS
588 Gerrard East, 416-463-9940
Reputed to be Toronto's only North Vietnamese eatery, this astoundingly stylish spot offers more than just friendly service and steaming bowls of pho. Where else in town will you find the addictive dish called Hen, shredded baby clams mixed with wilted onion, raw green chilies and dill? And if dinner's a little slow in coming, remember its cooked by owner Hai Luke's 80-something grandmother.
Best wine list
1750 the Queensway, 416-622-6677
You wanna talk world-class (and who in Toronto doesn't)? Then let's talk about Via Allegro: 5,500 different wines, 50,000 bottles, the worlds largest list of Amarones, a wine list as big as a phone book, five sommeliers on staff. It's a long cab ride out to the plaza next to Sherway Gardens, but you should be in no shape to drive home after an evening at Via Allegro, where the grape can inspire revelry or reverence.
DUFF'S FAMOUS WINGS
1604 Bayview, 416-544-0100
Every pub in town does them, but few get them right. At this offshoot of the Amherst, New York, bar that claims it invented them, the Buffalo wings are always fresh, never frozen, and rocket in heat from zero to Armageddon. For an Indo twist, don't miss the tandoori wings at Makkah (1020 Danforth, 416-406-2056).