THR & Co.
797 College, at Shaw, 416-532-2222, barisabel.com, @barisabel797 Isabel? Bar Decibel, more like! Though ex-Black Hoof charcuterie king Grant van Gameren's latest taverna looks like it stepped right out of the back streets of Barthelona, its acoustics recall the nearest bowling alley. A small price to pay for some of the most skilfully executed tapas around. Best: to start, devilled duck eggs dressed with shredded salt cod and morcilla blood sausage; the mixed charcuterie platter - water-buffalo slinzega, pork jerky, hunter's sausage and imported Iberico ham, say - with candied apple mostardo and warm sourdough sprinkled with sea salt; southern-fried chicken over deep-fried eggplant drizzled in honey and chili flakes; grilled hanger steak with blistered shishito peppers, grilled spring scallions in classic Romesco sauce on the side; to finish, salted chocolate mousse splashed with buttery olive oil. Complete dinners for $55 per person, including, tax, tip and a glass of cava. Average tapa $11. Open for dinner Saturday 6 pm to 2 am. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
478 Queen W, at Denison, 416-504-5127, grasslands.to, @grasslandsto Urban Herbivore's Stephen Gardner relaunches Fressen as a stylish cocktail lounge and tapas bar that just happens to be vegan. Inventive and beautifully constructed plates along with snappy, informed service will make even hardcore carnivores true believers. Best: to start, gluten-free corn fritters and gently battered popcorn "chicken," both sided with basil-scented pineapple salsa; larger plates like seared polenta and meaty shiitake mushrooms with garlicky wilted spinach in Italian-style tomato sauce; rice-flour cannelloni stuffed with tofu "ricotta" and walnut pesto; veggie sliders on house-baked buns dressed with pickled red onion, arugula, smoky house ketchup and hot Dijon mustard and sided with twice-cooked rutabaga 'n' parsnip frites; to finish, house-baked ginger snaps and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate cashew mousse. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an organic lager. Average tapas $11. Open for dinner Saturday 5:30 to 10 pm. Bar till close. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. 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
Lahore Tikka House
1365 Gerrard E, at Highfield, 416-406-1668, lahoretikkahouse.com After eight long years, the Taj Mahal of Little India is finally complete... well, almost. The rabbit warren of trailers where diners used to eat has been replaced by a chaotic open-air dining room furnished with picnic tables that spills onto a 400-seat patio tented in billowing sari fabric and lit by fairy lights, weather permitting. Best: slashed whole red snapper tikka, smoky from the charcoal-fuelled tandoor, skewered with lightly charred turmeric-tanged onion, potato and tomato; aromatic minced lamb kebabs; lemon-scented aloo gobi rich with waxy spuds and al dente cauliflower; yellow lentils and pulverized spinach palak dahl; vegetable biryani with chickpeas, crunchy cauliflower and carrot; butter-brushed naan tossed with sesame seeds; house-made almond kulfi ice cream; squeezed-to-order sugar cane juice. Complete meals for $20 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. Average main $9. Open Sunday noon to 1 am. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Momofuku Noodle Bar
190 University, at Adelaide W, 647-253-8000, momofuku.com/toronto, @momofuku For those who've experienced celebu-chef David Chang's original storefront on Manhattan's funky Lower East Side, the imported version in the super-luxe Shangri-La Hotel will come as something of a disappointment. Sure, the new joint's bigger - making for shorter lineups, and there almost always is one - but the space itself looks like a Spring Rolls franchise from 10 years ago. The menu is also much shorter and includes none of Chang's sensational Milk Bar desserts. To get those, you have to pony up the big bucks at his Daisho or Shoto upstairs. Best: in whatever random order the kitchen sends out, Chang's signature ramen, toothsome of noodle, intense of bacon-infused pork broth, dressed with very soft-poached egg, sweetly roasted pork belly and shredded shoulder; al dente vegetarian mein in ginger-scallion sauce; toasted rice cakes with sesame seeds in spicy sweet ‘n' sour Red Dragon sauce; atomic kimchi stew with more Chang-style pig; but while they're tasty enough, his pork-stuffed steamed buns smeared with hoisin pale next to those of the Banh Mi Boys. Complete meals for $35 per person, including tax, tip and a Steam Whistle. Average main $15. Open for lunch Sunday 11:30 am to 3 pm, dinner 5 to 11 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
309 Spadina, at Dundas W, 416-977-0601 Steaming bowls of mein in soup rule at this no-nonsense noodle house named for the province in eastern China. Traditionally less fiery than the well-known Szechuan, dishes here are consistently well executed and generous, the menu is extensive, and extended weekend hours accommodate peckish insomniacs and clubbers alike. Warning: lineups at peak hours, especially Friday and Saturday nights. Best: Swatow Fried Noodle, a tangle of gloriously greasy extra-long linguine-like wheat noodles splashed with soy and sesame oil quickly stir-fried with barely cooked bean sprouts, julienned barbecue pork, six or so smallish shrimp and crunchy skinny carrot threads; Shrimp Dumpling Soup, six plump dumplings filled with shrimp, ginger, green onions and shredded black fungus in a clear broth with a fragrant sesame oil finish, paired with Chinese broccoli; Swatow Roasted Duck with Special Sauce, crackling duck breast off the bone cut into 12 sizable pieces served on a bed of canned pineapple chunks, sided with six inflated shrimp chips and thinned plum sauce; Fried Noodles with Beef and Black Bean Sauce, a heaping portion of vermicelli tossed with abundant slivers of tender beef, green pepper 'n' onion chunks in black bean sauce; incendiary chili sauce to garnish. Complete dinners for $20 per person (lunches $12), including tax and tip. Average main $8. Open Sunday 11 am to 2:30 am. Licensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN