The poor man's oyster doesn't have to be second-rate. Here are some places that do justice to the mollusc and are easy on the wallet.
DAI NAM (221 Spadina, at Sullivan, 416-598-3805) Squeaky-clean Vietnamese restaurant dares to go beyond pho, the traditional noodle soup with multiple toppings synonymous with Southeast Asia. Best: ambrosial broiled BC oysters layered with buttered breadcrumbs, garlic and coriander; superb hot-and-sour soup with New Zealand mussels, shrimp, pineapple and crunchy okra; perfectly grilled pink-inside lamb chops with rice vermicelli and sweet carrot and daikon slaw; do-it-yourself rice-paper roll-ups with grilled meat, crushed peanuts and raw Vietnamese veggies. Complete dinners for $18 ($10 at lunch) per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of Tsingtao beer. Open Sunday to Thursday 10 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to midnight. Fully licensed. Access: 3-inch step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
SILVER SPOON (390 Roncesvalles, at Howard Park, 416-516-8112) Pair the former chef from Ferro with a Centro floor vet and get the hottest meal ticket on the west side. Best: specials like seared Arctic char with honeyed red pepper sauce alongside crunchy black japonica rice; main-sized starter of white-wine-steamed mussels. 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: NNNN
SPAHA (66 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-260-6133) Trendy spot opens early and continues till really late, with an all-hours brunch-to-supper menu. Best: deeply rich French onion soup with smoky Gruyère and Ace sourdough croutons paired with wine-steamed mussels in flavour-intense garlicky thyme-tomato broth; duck confit with caramelized pear 'n' apple slices alongside grease-free frites; slow-cooked veal chop, lamb sausage and ham cassoulet; super salade niçoise. Complete dinners for $22 ($15 at brunch or lunch) per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to midnight, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 am, Saturday 10:30 am to 2:30 am, Sunday 10:30 am to midnight. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
VERVEINE (1097 Queen East, at Pape, 416-405-9906) This mid-size bistro from the folks who created Mistral serves classic European cuisine with a contemporary spin. Best: mussels steamed with pineapple, banana and toasted almonds in green chili curried cream; pepper-crusted chicken breast with Yukon Gold mash and striped beets. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 6 to 10 pm, for brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN