It used to be tough to get a good meal anywhere around T.O.'s western frontier. But things are improving thanks to these excellent eateries.
¡CARAMBA! (394 Pacific, at Dundas West, 416-604-4844) One of Toronto's dreariest nabes comes to life in this superb Peruvian spot. What this modest eatery lacks in decor is more than made up for by substantial main courses big enough for two. Best: Potpourri -- skewers of grilled chicken breast and beef heart alongside grilled shrimp, sautéed calamari, tripe strips and turbot fillet served with cold sliced spuds; Plato Caramba -- an 8-ounce grilled T-bone topped with two fried eggs and sided with spicy chorizo, fried balsamic-marinated plantain and rice timbale; super-incendiary hot sauce -- chilies and green onion suspended in olive oil -- that turns up the heat on everything from bread and soup to salads and mains; cool things down with dessert Empanadas de Platano, sweet deep-fried plantains stuffed with soothing rice-pudding purée. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($12 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 10 am to 10 pm. Closed Monday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
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. Soon to be massive. Best: tomato-rich Butter Chicken in assertive gravy; Saag Paneer made with pureed 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 meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm, for lunch Friday to Sunday 11:15 am to 2:30 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
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 boite with some of the best food for miles. Best: seared beef tenderloin with truffled mash, rappini and roasted shiitakes in caramelized garlic sauce; roasted lemon chicken breast with root veggies; sea scallop risotto with roasted radicchio, leeks and double-smoked bacon; roasted pear, Stilton and caramelized pecans over bitter arugula; superb soups like Jerusalem artichoke with potato purée. Complete meals for $40 per person ($20 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, for brunch Saturday 10 am to 3 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, 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 $25 ($12 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Monday to Saturday 8 am to 9 pm, and Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
SILVER SPOON (390 Roncesvalles, at Howard Park, 416-516-8112) Couple the former chef from Ferro with a Centro floor vet and get the hottest meal ticket on the west side. Throw in a gorgeous room, smooth service and a hip martini menu -- oh, and reasonably priced and 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; main-sized starter of white-wine-steamed mussels; oh-my-god flourless Belgian chocolate ganache. Complete dinners for $40 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 pm to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door. Washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNSD
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