At Barrio Coreano, get the black trumpet tinga, with black trumpet mushrooms and black bean purée.
642 Bloor W, at Manning, 416-901-5188, playacabana.ca/locations/5/barrio-coreano, @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: to start, what Sidhu calls "watermelon sashimi," thin slices of melon dressed with kumquats, unseeded jalapeños, toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds in tart ponzu vinaigrette; grilled calamari in smoky árbol chili sided with sweet 'n' salty 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; to finish, flourless chocolate cake in jars topped with green tea ice cream; to drink, kimchee sours with Jack Daniel's, fresh lime and pickle syrup. Complete meals for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an imported beer. Open Tuesday to Sunday noon to 11 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, three steps to washrooms. Rating: NNNN
328 Wellington W, at Peter, 416-935-0400, luckeerestaurant.com, @LuckeeTO Not content with Bent and Lee - not to mention his outpost in Singapore and the upcoming projects at the airport and One World Trade Center, New York City - superstar chef Susur Lee turns his visionary hand to dim sum with spectacular results. Best: cheung fun rice rolls stuffed with poached chicken, caramelized onion and crunchy deep-fried rice paper; dumplings of buttery lobster and asparagus, or spicy Swatow-style chicken with pickled celery; classic har gow stuffed with plump shrimp; minced chicken 'n' shrimp sui mai spiked with orange peel; deep-fried cubes of house-made tofu studded with fresh corn; braised beef and shiitake mushrooms bao; to finish, bite-sized spirals of sponge cake in chocolate ganache. Complete dim sum meals for $35 per person, including tax, tip and tea. Open for dim sum Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm; à la carte dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5:30 to 11 pm. Bar menu daily 3 pm to 1 am. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
924 Kingston Rd, at Lawlor, 416-699-4444, thebeechtreepub.ca, @TheBeechTreePub Taking his culinary cues from UK gastro-pub heavyweights Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre White, first-time restaurateur Robert Maxwell's 34-seat upper Beach bistro isn't out to reinvent the wheel. Those who value substance over surface flash are bound to be impressed. Best: to start, ex-Opus sous Jamie Newman's Pringle-like fingerling potato crisps with buttermilk dip; creamed cauliflower and stinky Stilton on toast dressed with curly English parsley; grilled double-thick Mennonite pork chops with flageolet beans and roasted Brussels sprouts; halves of roasted Moroccan-style chicken with spicy du Puys lentils and red harissa; substantial brisket cheeseburgers on house-baked brioche; flourless chocolate cake with Maldon sea salt and unsweetened crème fraîche. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $20/$13 brunch. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm, Sunday 5 to 9 pm. Brunch Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
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
75 Portland, at King W, 416-599-2822, barbuca.com, @barbucatoronto Behind the anonymous facade of a first-floor condo storefront lies the biggest thing to hit King West since half-price wings at the Wheat Sheaf. The nearby original trat's cachet will get them in the door, but Rob Gentile's moderately priced Tuscan tapas and all-day kitchen open nightly till 2 am will make them regulars. If they can get in, of course. Best: bruschetta dressed with duck yolk, beech mushrooms and shaved black truffle; house-baked focaccia panini with virgin mozzarella and preserved cherry tomatoes or porchetta with apple mostardo; goat 'n' ricotta meatballs in tomato sauce with raisins; at brunch, pork blood crepes with chocolate-coated figs and buffalo milk crème anglaise; semolina pancakes with lemony mascarpone in grappa-fortified maple syrup. Complete dinners for $40 per person (lunches/brunches $30), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $10. Open daily from 11 am to 2 am; coffee and pastries from 7 am. Weekend brunch 10 am to 4 pm. Closed some holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
913 Dundas W, at Bellwoods, 647-346-8448, slefkowitz.com, @hummuslefkowitz Subtitled "the hummus institute of North America," Ezra Brave's reconfigured coffee house is downtown's first café dedicated to the humble chickpea dip. Stellar Middle Eastern grub and minimal seating make lineups inevitable on the weekend. Best: shareable hummus plates splashed with French olive oil infused with house-ground za'atar and topped with spicy minced beef, warm mixed olives or chopped-up hard-boiled egg, all with pitas sadly baked off-site; wild Pacific sardines with slivered Spanish onion in hot harissa oil over retro iceberg lettuce; mild Macedonian feta with fresh mint; salads of local red-leaf kale, baby watercress and arugula micro-sprouts in lemony apple cider vinaigrette; to finish, walnuts and dates in honey; house-made halvah with orange sections. Complete meals for $18 per person, including tax, tip and a mug of strong organic coffee. Average main $7. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11:30 am to 8 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN