Pizzeria Via Mercanti owner/chef Romolo Salvati’s Margherita is oven-ready.
Santouka 91 Dundas E, at Church, 647-748-1717, santouka.co.jp/en. Hogtown's infatuation with all things ramen continues apace at the local outlet of this Hokkaida-based franchise close to Yonge-Dundas Square. Although there's almost always a lineup, efficient servers get most customers in and out in 45 minutes. Don't do sodium? They'll lower the salt! Smallish portions and somewhat higher prices compared to the competition reduce the rating. Best: your choice of either milky salt-based shio, rich shoyu lashed with soy sauce, or more mellow miso broth with al dente house-made noodles, cha shu pork, slivered scallion 'n' seaweed, a few strips of bamboo shoots and the thinnest slice of kamboko fish cake possible, the generally standard-equipment slow-cooked egg an additional buck-60; sides of fatty braised toroniku pork jowl; perfunctory ground pork gyoza dumplings. Complete meals for $20 per person, including tax, tip and a mug of green tea. Average main $12. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement, communal seating. Rating: NNN
Paramount 253 Yonge, at Dundas Sq, 416-366-3600, paramountfinefoods.com. Perpetually slammed suburban falafel franchise across from the Eaton Centre. Outstanding Middle Eastern grills, lightning service and a historic heritage setting help ease the chaos. Best: to start, puffed-up house-baked pitas straight from the oven, with garlicky hummus dip; to share, reconfigured "whole chickens" marinated in yogurt, grilled over charcoal and finished with spicy piri-piri-style olive oil; mains like juicy lamb kebabs dusted with oregano, all sadly sided with either cardboard rice or limp frozen french fries as well as iceberg lettuce, dead-of-winter tomato and mild cucumber 'n' turnip pickles; to drink, the Paramount Special, a mix of strawberry and mango juices swirled with almonds, crushed pistachios and clotted ashta cream; to finish, honey-dripping baklava. Complete dinners for $25 per person (lunches $15), including tax, tip and a relatively fresh juice. Average main $12/$8. Open Sunday to Thursday 8 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 8 am to midnight. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Pizzeria Via Mercanti 188 Augusta, at Denison Sq, 647-343-6647, pizzeriaviamercanti.ca. Sorry, Libretto. And you, too, Terroni. But Toronto's best pizza can be found at this suprisingly spacious parlour in the wilds of Kensington Market. Helmed by ex-Queen Margherita pizzaiolo Romolo Salvati - an actual Neapolitan! - this low-key trat is in a league of its own. Best: to start, bocconcini di pizza, miniature pizza rolls stuffed with prosciutto or fresh fior di latte cheese; follow with the extraordinary Via Mercanti, two pizzas in one - a beautifully blistered, thin-crusted pie dressed with prosciutto crudo, spicy soppressata, fresh buffalo ricotta and 'shrooms, with a second San Marzano-sauced Margherita welded on top; sautéed garlicky rapini and crumbled house-made sausage sided with warm focaccia, a veritable DIY pizza; vegetarian eggplant parmigiano; to finish, old-school tiramisu. Complete dinners for $30 per person (lunches $20), including tax, tip and a glass of vino. Average main $13/$10. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to midnight. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN