414 Dupont, at Howland, 647-340-6142, fatpasha.com
When Fat Pasha executive chef Anthony Rose secured the lease of the Patel family's long-running Indian Rice Factory, the recently shuttered space came with one proviso - he had to keep the fish.
"There's a pond in the back yard stocked with koi that's been there for decades," explains the very busy Rose. "The Patels almost considered them pets."
The oversized goldfish are very much a part of Pasha's new garden grotto. Wrapped in wisteria, the 60-seat partially covered hideaway is the next best thing to a trip to the country. Throw in Rose's modish Middle Eastern carte - chewy wheat-berry tabbouleh, braised flanken short ribs that fall from the bone if you look at them and chef's signature whole roasted head of cauliflower slathered in tahini and coriander pesto and tossed in pomegranate seeds - and it's little wonder that Pasha is the hottest communal picnic table of the season.
"We're thinking of turning the carriage house into a cocktail lounge or a private dining room," says Rose. "Or maybe a catering facility. We're already doing a huge amount of takeout."
As long as it's not sushi.
Lunch Wednesday to Friday 11 am to 3 pm, dinner nightly from 5 pm. Weekend brunch 11 am to 3 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed.
10 Temperance, at Yonge, 647-348-7000, thechasetoronto.com
We admit we weren't completely bowled over by this Bay Street boîte when we first visited last fall.
Maybe it was the bordering-on-100 braying stockbrokers and real-estate speculators who call this beautifully restored space home, or executive chef Michael Steh's over-fussy plates that prove that, most times, more is definitely less. And, oh, those expense-account prices! But one look at the cinematic skyscraper view from Chase's 70-seat fifth-floor patio (or "rooftop terrace" as management prefers) and we can almost forgive the $75 whole roasted chicken with foie gras and prunes for two.
Virtually deserted mid-afternoon, this jaw-droppingly gorgeous aerie is a mob scene weekdays come half-past 5, mixologist Shane Mulvaney's grapefruit-infused cocktail with both cachaça and Aperol the apertif du jour. For those feeling peckish, chef Steh is best when he keeps it simple, as witness his freshly made-in-house mozzarella paired with seasonal local melon and aged balsamic vinegar.
"Summer in Toronto is a very concentrated season," says Steh. "There's so much to do in such a short time, it's hard not to get carried away."
Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Closed Sunday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
Reuben Looyenga serves on the patio
Drake One Fifty
150 York, at Adelaide W, 416-363-6150, drakeonefifty.ca
Think of the super-hip Drake Hotel's outpost in the financial district as an artier version of the Keg across the street. Come the 4 o'clock bell, the 150-seat dining room and adjacent 94-seat sidewalk patio are wall-to-wall suits out to celebrate their latest big win on the stock market with $99 porterhouse steaks.
They like their food familiar - none of that foreign molecular foam stuff. And so they get executive chef Ted Corrado's nonna's old-school meatballs in tomato sauce with smoked ricotta, and the Drake's classic cheeseburger topped with Perth County bacon and pickled red onions.
Watch for takeout lunch-box specials at the side door on Mondays and Tuesdays from noon, a lineup of boozy slushies - Chartreuse Swizzle with lime and pineapple juice, anyone? - and a new wooden-trellis-cum-art-installation over the patio from the Brothers Dressler.
Sadly, designer Joel Loblaw's fluorescent garden gnomes will not be making a return appearance. Seems too many people tried to walk off with the little critters!
Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 1 am, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 2 am, Saturday 4:30 pm to 2 am. Closed Sunday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
4899 Yonge, at Spring Garden, 416-222-1500, estrellataqueria.ca
Multiculti tacos might be a bit gone-there, done-that, bought-the-T-shirt to the downtown crowd, but up here north of the 401 in Lastman Land, they're the cat's pyjamas, nowhere more so than at this far from tacky taqueria.
If you've ever been to one of Dave Sidhu's myriad Playa Cabanas, you know what to expect, from the bleached cow skulls with light-bulb eyes on the walls to the resplendent 120-seat deck on the roof.
As anticipated, there are tacos of the so-called "gringo" variety - trendy slow-braised pork belly with mild guajillo pepper sauce and purple cabbage slaw, say, or fried red snapper with salsa verde and pickled jalapeño, all 5 bucks a piece. Others less luxuriously topped with corn fritters, ground chipotle-spiked pork or applewood-smoked cremini mushrooms with stringy Oaxaca cheese are three for $10.
Not hot enough for ya? Order the taster of the house's hot sauces, our favourites the sweet Papaya Vengeance and the deadly Doctor Kevorkian.
Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to midnight, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 2 am, Saturday 5:30 pm to 2 am, Sunday 5:30 pm to midnight. Closed some holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed.
124 Harbord, at Major, 416-901-5901, harvestkitchen.ca
Ten years after shuttering their acclaimed and way-upscale JOV Bistro on Mt. Pleasant, Owen and Jill Steinberg have finally resurfaced with this decidedly more accessible all-day café. It also comes with one of the most celebrated rooftop decks in the city, familiar to anyone who remembers Kensington Kitchen.
The brother-and-sister team describe this most laid-back of Kitchens as the kind of place "where vegetarians bring their meat-eating friends." And vice versa, we should think. That translates as an eclectic veggie-friendly carte that ranges from African peanut soup and meatless Italian-style meatball sandwiches to substantial grass-fed bacon cheeseburgers and a sustainable Ocean Wise fish of the day. At brunch, eggs come from chickens with the free run of the farm.
Cheapskates of all persuasions will be happy to learn that domestic pints go for $4 every day from 3 to 5 and 9 to 11 pm under the shade of that magnificent Norway maple.
Lunch 10 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday, dinner nightly 4 to 11 pm. Weekend brunch 10 am to 4 pm. Closed some holidays. No reservations on patio. Licensed.
606 King W, at Portland, 416-363-8388, valdezrestaurant.com
This narrow shotgun of a space has had several previous incarnations, the nightclubs 606 and Cheval among them. But none of them has been as delicious as Steve Gonzalez's Valdez.
Perched on its year-round 100-seat rooftop deck, you tuck into an invigorating vegan ceviche of melon and seaweed in lime vinaigrette followed by his signature Chinese-by-way-of-Peru fried rice finished with duck confit and flying fish roe. Several rounds of salt-rimmed Michelada beer cocktails seem appropriate. And starting June 8, Valdez salutes the World Cup with a daily barbecue lunch. Think spicy things on skewers.
Like most chefs these days, Gonzalez likes to keep his carte as locally sourced as possible, no mean feat when the specialty of the house is Latin American street food.
"I've got a guy bringing in wild mushrooms and fiddle heads this week," says the erstwhile Origin toque and Top Chef Canada contestant. "They're not very Latino on their own, but they will be by the time I'm finished with them!"
Lunch daily from 11:30, dinner Sunday to Wednesday 5 to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Bar till close. Closed some holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed.
Nikki Leigh McKean
28 Kensington, at Dundas W, 416-994-7669, fikacafe.ca
Roll over, Ronnie's. And you, too, Cold Tea. You are no longer the coolest see-and-be-scene patios in Kensington Market.
That honour now goes to Nikki Leigh McKean's Scandi-cool Fika Café. Blink and you'll miss its shabby-chic 16-seat curbside deck on your way to the vintage clothing stores.
Instead of pints of Delirium Tremens and tall boys of Stiegl, Fika's fashionable regulars sip iced lattes laced with cardamon and mint from Le Creuset mugs. No grilled cheese or cheap dim sum dumplings for this crowd. They prefer stylish Swedish meatball sandwiches on house-baked milk buns - Ikea, eat your heart out - and gluten-free veggie wraps, both sided with de rigueur quinoa salads.
At brunch, they lay waste - and waist - to the Smorgasbord platter of rustic house-made terrine, creamy country pâté and the inevitable runny-centred poached egg, all the work of McKean's partner, Victor Barry, of splendiferous Splendido on Harbord. Iced-coffee popsicles and chocolate-chip and strawberry-shortcake ice cream sandwiches are his latest confections.
"Everyone's going crazy for them," says McKean.
As they should.
Daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Weekend brunch till 3 pm. Closed some holidays. No reservations on patio. Unlicensed.
1681 Lake Shore E, at Northern Dancer Blvd, 416-698-3456, paralia.ca
Taking its name from the Greek word for garden, the newly rebranded Paralia started out last summer as Trinity Taverna. Imagine Mykonos filtered through Miami Beach.
Other than the handle, little else has changed. It's still as breathtakingly beautiful as ever, a great vaulted white-on-white room complete with wading pool that leads to an impressive 300-seat terrace right on the beach, where there's inevitably a volleyball game under way.
And the seafood-centric menu is just as we remember, much of it listed as "market price" - resto-speak for "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." A whole suckling pig with roasted potatoes will set you back in the region of 400 dineros.
But not everything on the carte requires a second mortgage. Two can eat a very good veal-cheek moussaka in a textbook béchamel sauce for $38, and there's a relatively inexpensive lamb burger combo - with fries! - at lunch for $19. Stick to domestic beer and you might get out for just under 100 bucks a couple.
Lunch daily 11 am to 3 pm, dinner Monday to Wednesday 5 to 10:30 pm, Thursday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. No reservations on patio. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
800 Dundas W, at Palmerston, 416-644-8839, hudsonkitchen.com
Since launching with unprecedented hoopla during last fall's Film Fest, this unlikely west-side Kitchen quickly became the hottest table in town. The presence of mega-celebs like Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Matthew McConaughey - not to mention the platoon of international paparazzi - might have had something to do with it.
That's not to say that ex-Woodlot sous and -Ursa chef de cuisine Robbie Hojilla's innovative carte isn't just as worthy of attention. He sends out Korean-style lettuce wraps stuffed with Miami short ribs, Grandma's kimchee and puffed wild rice alongside Filipino fried chicken sliders dressed with adobo mayo and iceberg lettuce. His mains range from grilled spring asparagus, petit pois and miyaki mushrooms over rye-berry polenta cakes to house-made papardelle laced with stinging nettles and finished with wine-braised rabbit in crème fraîche.
After a couple of Plants Vs Zombies cocktails - overproof rum, Beefeater gin, ginger beer, absinthe and dill syrup - on the Hudson's gorgeous trellised terrace, you're sure to feel like a La-La Land A-lister.
Dinner Tuesday to Sunday 6 to 11 pm, bar nightly till close. Weekend brunch 10 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed.
190 University, at Adelaide W, 647-253-8000, momofuku.com/toronto/daisho
Toronto didn't exactly roll over on its collective back and wave its arms and legs in the air when superstar New York City chef David Chang brought his heavily hyped Momofuku to the Shangri-La Hotel two years ago.
While the entry-level Noodle Bar and Chang's trend-setting ramen were a hit with locals from the get-go, they weren't quite as keen on the pricier Shoto and Daisho on the third floor of this luminous dining pavilion. Six hundred bucks for prime rib-eye for six even if it does come with Yorkshire pudding? We think not.
Following the success of its lunch launch this spring, Daisho has now opened its dazzling 40-seat patio to the public. There, draught Negroni in hand, partake of what could almost be Chang's greatest hits - roasted rice cakes with spicy pork sausage in Korean red-pepper paste, DIY ssam-style lettuce wraps stuffed with shredded chicken thigh and shiitake 'shrooms, and his towering lunch-only burger dressed with kimchee and sided with both kohlrabi slaw and tempura-battered onion rings.
Whatever next? Half-price chicken wings and karaoke?
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, dinner Sunday to Wednesday 5:30 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed some holidays. No reservations on patio. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
176 Dupont, at St George, 647-748-3287, roseandsonsbigcrow.com
Don't talk to Anthony Rose - yes, him again - about winter.
He only went and opened a year-round outdoor barbecue restaurant last fall and froze his anchovies off for the next six months. But now that the temperature's soared into double digits, Big Crow has finally come into its own.
You find it down a dodgy-looking Annex alleyway next to a gas station, an eight-seat sheltered backyard furnished with long rows of picnic tables and an open-pit kitchen at the back. Freight trains rumble past frequently, drowned out by the musical stylings of Led Zeppelin.
The unconventional 'cue - Rose calls it "authentic-ish" - sees the retro likes of Miami-style beef ribs rub shoulders with porktastic baby back ribs dusted with crushed walnuts and pecorino cheese. Wash 'em down with a pitcher of Purple Jesus - Concord grape juice, red wine and vodka - a round of melt-in-your-mouth marshmallow 'Smores ice cream sandwiches and a chorus of Kumbaya for the full Muskoka campsite effect.
Dinner nightly 5 pm to close. Weekend brunch 11 am to 3 pm. Closed some holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed.