AFT Kitchen & Bar
686 Queen E, at Broadview, 647-346-1541, aftbar.com, @aft_bar Taking its name from the acronym for "about fucking time," Paul Campbell's southern-fried bistro in the one-time Toucan Taco/Le Rossignol/Pop space delivers considerable 'cue on one of the loveliest backyard patios east of the Don Valley Parkway. Best: to start, smoked and briefly deep-fried chicken wings in the Buffalo style sided with a whack o' hand-cut fries; for the wayward vegetarian, deep-fried strips of panko-dusted portobello mushrooms with thyme aioli; mains like free-range half chicken slathered with sweet Kansas City-style sauce sided with purple cabbage slaw and German potato salad; nicely barked and perfectly pink pork side ribs optionally mopped with sauce; weekend-only platters with peppercorn-crusted brisket, those meaty ribs and saucy chicken; cheddar-studded ground-brisket burgers on eggy Harbord Bakery buns. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and smoked habanero Caesar. Average main $18. Open for dinner Saturday 4 pm to 1 am. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
974 College, at Rusholme, 416-532-7424, blackskirtrestaurant.com After making a splash at Wish a few years ago, Rosa Gallé and Aggie Decina strike out on their own to bring old-school rustic Italiana back to the former Little Italy. A charming room, engaging service and a no-nonsense card of Sicilian home-cooking classics add up to a trip back to a simpler time. Best: to start, meaty white anchovies and garlicky chopped tomato on grilled Riviera baguette; barely grilled skewers of lamb speducci splashed with olive oil; pressed muffuletta panini spread with black-olive tapenade and piled with capicola, mortadella, sweet and hot soppressata and giardiniera pickles; beefy breaded veal sandwiches in Decina-family tomato ragu dressed with provolone and grilled hot banana peppers; secondi like veal 'n' ricotta ravioli finished with butter, freshly shaved parmigiano and fried sage leaves; grilled New Zealand lamb chops in a balsamic reduction sided with mashed ‘n' baked potatoes with mozzarell' and sautéed rapini; to finish, textbook tiramisu and pistachio-studded cannoli. Complete dinners for $50 per person (lunches $25), including tax, tip and a glass of Chianti. Average main $25/$13. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
THR & Co.
97 Harbord, at Robert, 647-748-7199, thrandco.com, @thrandco Cory Vitiello and the crew responsible for the impossibly hip Harbord Room switch gears with this, dare we say it, family-friendly cantina in the old Messis. Genuinely welcoming service, an unobtrusive soundtrack of golden oldies and a shareable neo-Ital carte from chef Curt Martin make reservations essential. Best seats in the house: the two semi-circular tufted red leather banquettes in the front window. Best: to start, deconstructed beef heart tartare with tangy olive relish and dehydrated duck yolk; thin semolina-crusted pizzas dressed with locally foraged nettles, sliced potato, pancetta and a runny free-range farm egg; papardelle tossed with fresh garden peas and spring favas in a light lemony cream; garlicky black squid-ink spaghetti alio e olio-style with charred squid and bottarga roe; braised lamb's neck à la osso bucco with pinenut gremolata; to finish, poppyseed lemon cake sozzled with house-made limoncello and topped with toasted marshmallow brittle and buttermilk ice cream. Complete dinners for $50 per person, including tax, tip and an Aperol spritzer. Average main $21. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10:30 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
1194 Bloor W, at Brock, 647-748-1194, kareliakitchen.com, @KareliaKitchen Leif Kravis and Donna Ashley bring a touch of Nordic cool to sleepy Bloordale. Anyone old enough to remember the Copenhagen Room in the Colonnade will be in heaven. Best: to share, the Smokehouse Platter with house-smoked salmon, organic chicken, trout and cured pork tenderloin with sweet 'n' sour pickles, grainy mustard, fig preserves and Ryvita flatbread; crisp potato rosti dressed with beet-cured gravlax, smoked trout and slow-poached eggs; scrambled ducks' eggs sided with smoked salmon and home fries; smoky bacon 'n' potato hash with over-easy eggs; massive blueberry griddle cakes with whipped maple butter, green-apple compote and dehydrated pear chips; open-faced sandwiches; to finish, gluten-free chocolate cake; house-baked lemon-lime shortbread cookies and black-pepper ginger snaps. Complete brunches for $35 per person, including tax, tip and an Akvavit Sour. Average main $14. Open for brunch Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
1515 Gerrard E, at Coxwell, 647-341-4070, lazydaisyscafe.ca, @LazyDaisysCafe Though there may be similar all-day indie spots on every street corner west of Bathurst, here in Little India, Dawn Chapman's artsy 34-seat café is cause for dancing in the streets. A short locavore card of soups 'n' sandwiches augmented by stellar baked goods from nearby Knead Bakery makes this an inevitable magnet for the stroller brigade. Best: sweet Berretta Farms ground-beef chili with chunky tomato and the occasional kidney bean sided with jalapeño cornbread miniature whoopee pies filled with Fifth Town goat cheese and smoked Mennonite bacon; broccoli and Woolwich cheddar quiche with buttery croissant crust; Cha Cha chicken salad sandwiches on St Urbain poppyseed bagels; salted caramel and chocolate cheesecake brownies; for the Star Wars fanatic, Princess Leia cinnamon buns. Complete meals for $15, including all tax, tip and a Te Aro coffee. Average main $8. Open Sunday 8:30 am to 5 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
208 Queen W, at Duncan, 416-598-4719, queenmothercafe.ca With its overgrown trellis overhead and cobblestones underfoot, the Queen Mum's backyard terrace has been one of downtown's definitive outdoor dining arenas. Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Andre Rosenbaum and David Stearn's eclectic café continues to offer solid, affordable Asian-inspired and vegetarian-friendly eats that never break the bank. Best: to begin, vegetarian Laotian spring rolls with crunchy peanut dip; legendary mains like the Cosmic veggie burger with high-protein grains, nuts, herbs and mushrooms in a whole-wheat pita with spiked mayo; that famous pad thai with chicken, shrimp and coriander-peanut garnish; Laotian Khao Soy Gai, chicken simmered in spicy coconut milk over thin egg noodles, bean sprouts and watercress garnished with mint, shallots, marinated bok choy and fresh coriander; spinach and ricotta cannelloni in garlicky tomato sauce; at brunch, the crepe du jour with home fries, salad and double-smoked bacon; St. Viateur bagels with cream cheese and lox. Complete dinners for $40 per person (lunches/brunches $25), including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $18 dinner/$11 lunch or brunch. Open Sunday 11:30 am to 4:30 pm, dinner till midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN