Tuck into chile poblano relleno (left) and ceviche verde at Agave y Aguacate.
Pukka 778 St Clair W, at Arlington, 416-342-1906, pukka.ca, @pukkatoronto Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau's stylish uptown bistro goes where few local Indian restos ever venture - upscale. A creative kitchen, smooth service and noise levels that allow for conversation make full houses the norm rather than the exception. Reservations essential most nights. Best: tapas-style starters like papri chat with puffed rice, ripe mango and Granny Smith apple dressed with pomegranate seeds in sweet yogurt dressing; spicy south Indian fried Chicken 65 garnished with nasturtiums; shareable mains like nutty butter chicken with wilted fenugreek leaves; smoky lamb chop "lollipops" à la Vancouver's Vikram Vij in minty cream sauce; sides of French green beans with caramelized onion and shredded coconut; baskets of buttery garlic naan and crisp whole wheat rotis; to finish, sundae-like Eton Mess in pomegranate syrup and sweet lassi cream topped with rosewater-soaked meringue. Complete dinners for $60 per person, including tax tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open nightly 5 to 10 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Agave y Aguacate 35 Baldwin, at Henry, 647-748-6448, @AgaveyAguacate Celebrated for the Kensington Market cantina that Anthony Bourdain called "some of the most amazing Mexican takeout north of the border - any border," Francisco Alejandri resurfaces in Baldwin Village in the former home of the equally legendary Gaston's. Anyone who ever lined up for hours at the old one-man operation will appreciate the now speedy service. Tables and chairs, too! Best: chileajo, stir-fried fingerling spuds, pearl onions, green beans and chickpeas in garlicky guajillo pepper sauce and mild queso fresco cheese; white fish ceviche verde with avocado, tomatillo and coriander pesto; chile relleno, blistered poblano peppers stuffed with pineapple and puréed avocado, dressed with roasted garlic; slow-poached veal 'n' pork meatballs in smoky chipotle gravy; tiramisu-like lime charlotte with black Hawaiian lava salt. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an imported beer. Average main $9. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNNN
Barrio Coreano 642 Bloor W, at Manning, 416-901-5188, playacabana.ca/642-bloor, @barriocoreano Playa Cabana's Dave Sidhu finally gets the formula right with this surprisingly unpretentious taqueria in Koreatown. Friendly, informed service, an innovative East-meets-Southwest carte and a low-key Latin playlist transform first-timers into repeat customers. Best: thinly sliced "watermelon sashimi" dressed with kumquats, unseeded jalapeños, toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds in tart ponzu vinaigrette; grilled calamari in smoky árbol chili sided with pineapple kimchee salsa; South Korean fried chicken tacos in sweet 'n' sour kampungki sauce on blue corn tortillas; the built-to-share 32-ounce Cowboy aged rib-eye steak; flourless chocolate cake in jars finished with green tea ice cream; to drink, kimchee sours with Jack Daniels, fresh lime and pickle syrup. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an imported beer. Open Tuesday and Wednesday 5 to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 pm to 2 am, Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, three steps to washrooms. Rating: NNNN