Italian food comes in all price ranges and styles and in neighbourhoods all across T.O. Try these.
GIO RANA'S REALLY, REALLY NICE RESTAURANT (1220 Queen East, at Leslie, 416-469-5225) The nose returns to its roots on the east side. Old-school Italia served tapas-style in a gutted bank draws starving locals and hipsters alike. If you fancy Gio's and Five Doors on Yonge or Seven Numbers on Eg West, you know the scene. And no one throws food! Best: thinly sliced pork tenderloin in balsamic reduction and caramelized onion; crêpe-like Crispelle folded over sweet butternut squash and creamy mascarpone; grilled calamari with charred green-tomato relish and basil aioli; Eggplant "Palmudgiane" -- layered breaded 'plant sauced in chunky tomato pulp; insanely chocolate polenta cake; subtle Panna Cotta custard blasted with smoky caramel. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of Chianti. Open Tuesday to Thursday 6 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 6 pm to midnight, Sunday 6 to 11 pm. Closed Monday. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
LA BRUSCHETTA (1317 St. Clair West, at St. Clarens, 416-656-8622) Upscale trattoria popular with out-of-town celebrities and local devotees of old-school Italian home cooking. Once you're a regular at this expensive family-run restaurant, you're a VIP for life. Best: antipasto della casa for two -- carpaccio, prosciutto, salami, bocconcini, eggplant, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes; fettuccini Giuliana with cubed chicken breast in brandied cream; off-the-menu veal Diavoloso -- specify the cutlets spicy if you really want it devilish; simply sauced gnocchi; slow-braised osso bucco -- veal shanks with delicious marrow; zuppa inglese, where Boston cream pie meets Christmas cake. Complete dinners or lunches for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 3 pm, for dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
SEVEN NUMBERS (343 Eglinton West, at Braemar, 416-322-5183) Think it's impossible to decorate an uptown hot spot for $5,000? This 30-seat southern Italian trat managed to pull off the feat and matches it with old-school home-style cooking and casual but friendly service. Did we mention co-owner/chef Rosa Marinuzzi is a 10-year vet of Gio's? Best: succulent slow-roasted rabbit in sweet homemade tomato sauce; barely seared mahi mahi in same with capers; sole in lemon with crispy blackened garlic; sides such as exquisitely sweet Vito's Onion or melt-in-the-mouth breaded eggplant stuffed with spinach and cheese; smoky fire-roasted rapini; simple desserts like sharp lemon tart in buttery pastry. Complete dinners for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, but crowded. Rating: NNNN
TAVOLA CALDA (671 College, at Beatrice, 416-536-8328) Although this former hole in the wall has tripled in size, it still offers bargain-priced old-school southern Italian home-style favourites like spaghetti and meatballs. A bit bright, the comfortable room will never be in fashion, but its fabulous no-frills food outlasts trends. Best: multi-tiered eggplant parmigiana; osso bucco with rustic tomato topping over Arborio rice; ricotta-stuffed ravioli; ethereal budan de pan (bread pudding). Complete meals for $20 per person ($12 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, for brunch Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN