Jonathan Poon of Chantecler
In this year of the cronut, if we weren't slurping steaming bowls of designer ramen, we were stuffing our faces with gourmet burgers dressed with foie gras or tucking into plates of multiculti tapas. And tacos. Lots and lots of tacos.
We liked our restos loud and our lineups long, preferably at a bistro du jour called Something-or-Other Kitchen. There were retro Edison light bulbs, antique neon beer signs and enough reclaimed barnboard to rebuild a dozen old barns. We learned of fantastical trains made of gravy and dry cleaners in suburban strip malls that specialized in pizza to go.
Here are the few that dared to rise above the rest, even if it was only by taking reservations.
Technically speaking, Jonathan Poon and Jacob Waherton-Shukster's Parkdale cantina shouldn't be included in this list, let alone top it, since it's inaugural à la carte, er, carte earned it runner-up place after Ursa and Susur Lee's Bent last year. But since then, they've replaced their predetermined menu with a casual prix fixe lineup of Asian-inspired lettuce wraps as well as a Friday- and Saturday-night-only tasting menu that sells out months in advance. Get the best of both come Sunday lunch, when chef Poon offers a contemporary Cantonese spin on dim sum and then some.
Though he'll be forever linked with charcuterie, former Black Hoofer Grant van Gameren reveals he has more up his sleeve than cold cuts at this reimagined Spanish taverna. Why, no less an authority than Air Canada's En Route magazine just named Isabel the best restaurant in the entire country. We'd agree, but only if they'd turn down the Django Rheinhardt records.
Cheap chipboard, bourbon and barbecue? Throw in the general ambience of a strip club in northern Quebec, picnic-table seating and ZZ Top cranked to 11 and no wonder this spinoff of Grand Electric is permanently packed. But is the ‘cue authentic? We'll go with authentic-ish.
Hot on the heels of his similar yet short-lived pop-up, ex-Drake Hotel chef Anthony Rose resurfaces in the tented ‘n' heated backyard of the old People's Diner with a barbecue card that's equal parts Memphis and Muskoka. The regular rumbling of passing freight trains only intensifies the campfire vibe.
M&M's Joel MacMillan is no stranger to best o' resto lists, having placed second to Woodlot for his genre-defying creative work at Zocalo back in 2010. Now partnered with Melissa de Silva, he manages to create plates that appeal to both herbivore and carnivore alike and still keep the price points low. Some trick that!
For those of us who can vaguely remember the halcyon days of the Copenhagen Room, Leif Kravis and Donna Ashley's Scandi-style café is a welcome trip back in time. Superbly executed open-faced sandwiches and a short carte of classics-in-the-making - platters of house-smoked salmon and lake trout sided with crisp potato rosti and beet-cured gravlax - guarantee full houses come weekend brunch.
Now that former Fabarnak and original Hawthorne chef Eric Wood has jumped ship for the chic Beverley Hotel, ex-Cowbell toque Mark Cutrara takes the reins of this sadly underappreciated locavore haunt. Stellar execution, polished service and rock-bottom prices only make the lack of customers most nights even more perplexing.
The Harbord Room's Cory Vitiello and crew transform the nearby one-time Messis into a family-friendly version of the original, complete with booster seats. Chef Curt Martin's updated Cal-Ital card coupled with genuinely hospitable servers make early-evening reservations near essential.
Devoid of mung bean casseroles and customers draped in burlap, Stephen Gardner's revitalized Fressen is certainly the most stylish vegetarian restaurant around. Tastiest, too. We'll gladly take a plate of seared polenta layered with beefy shiitake mushrooms and wilted spinach in garlicky tomato sauce over boring old spaghetti and meatballs any day.
10. KINGYO 51B Winchester, at Parliament, 647-748-2121, kingyotoronto.ca
Après Guu, le deluge. Of all the trendy Tokyo-style izakayas to launch locally this past year, only this Vancouver import gets the balance of food and pop culture correct. Bowls of cold house-made ramen noodles tossed with salty cod roe accompanied by an old Godzilla movie will do that.
A-OK Foods, Caju, Cowbell, Fusia Dog and Keriwa Café, all on Queen West; Alimento on King West; Aravind on the Danforth; Colbourne Lane, Le Commensal and Obika in the core; Didier on Yonge north of St Clair; Earth in Bloor West Village; Elle M'a Dit in Baldwin Village; Fuel House and Red Fish on College; Hoof Café and Hoof Raw Bar on Dundas West; Indian Rice Factory on Dupont; Miss Cora's Kitchen and Valentina in Kensington Market; Sugo on Church; Tati Bistro on Harbord.