THR & Co.
Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant
1220 Queen E, at Leslie, 416-469-5225 Ten years ago, long before Origin and Buca, this extremely rambunctious room located in an old bank with zero signage (look for the large nose over the door) was doing Italian-style tapas. And though it's not as frenzied as it used to be early in the week, it's still a mob scene every Friday and Saturday night. Fun for a group, but maybe not a date. Best: antipasti like the house meatballs in old-school tomato ragu, or frito misto of deep-fried calamari and shrimp; primi like crepe-like crespelle folded over sweet butternut squash and creamy mascarpone in sage butter; soft Asiago polenta alla Bolognese; secondi like grilled lamb chops with cranberry couscous and fresh mint; osso buco with buttery cremini mushrooms; à la carte side of mashed sweet potatoes in chestnut butter; to finish, subtle house-made desserts like panna cotta custard in smoky caramel. Complete dinners for $50 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of Chianti. Average main $14. Open for dinner Saturday 6 pm to midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
638 Queen W, at Palmerston, 647-748-6822, fidelgastro.ca, @fidelgastros From the marketing whiz behind the Fidel Gastro food truck and Rebel Without A Kitchen TV show comes this on-trend snacketeria named for Elvis Presley's daughter. Plates are fashionably small and quickly expedited. And if you don't like one, there's bound to be another along any minute that you will. Best: Thai-style salad rolls stuffed with spicy ahi tuna and julienned root veg; deep-fried pizza dressed with smoked duck breast and asparagus slaw; deli-style surf 'n' turf of house-cured pastrami with sardines and sour cream on latkes; the Cheese Thang - grilled havarti piled with lean pork belly and salsa; deconstructed eggplant parmigiana in a jar; bun-free deep-fried cheeseburgers topped with runny quail eggs; hot Buffalo-style turkey wings. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average tapas $7. Open for dinner Saturday 5 pm to 2 am. No reservations. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
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
154 Harbord, at Brunswick, 416-916-8155, dtbistro.com Although it no longer goes by the name Dessert Trends, owner/chef Donald Duong's recently refurbished Annex café is still very much a patisserie. That would explain the wall of pricy wedding cakes behind glass that now greets you at the door. His buttermilk scones with Devonshire cream and sour cherry compote ($7) are as perfectly flaky as ever. Described on the menu as pancakes, what show up are more like a half-dozen coconut mini-quiches dressed with spicy chipotle shrimp, mango salsa and the odd kernel of corn ($16). Fabulously crisp deep-fried soft-shelled crabs get sandwiched between two slices of house-baked brioche spread with roasted red pepper aioli, while the savoury mushroom bread pudding topped with a poached egg and smoked salmon is one of the tastiest brunch dishes around. The only thing that could possibly follow Duong's generously plated beef bourguignon, thick with wild mushrooms on a bed of classic pommes purée (both $18, all with salad), is a nap. Open Sunday 10 am to 5 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
1290 Queen E, at Hastings, 416-465-3600, edwardlevesque.ca, @Edwards1290 In the blogosphere, owner/chef Levesque has a reputation for being a bit of a curmudgeon. But once past the grumpy persona, find a chef who's committed both to the environment - many of the organic veggies on the card are homegrown - and to the comfort of his regulars. Just don't annoy him. Warning: no strollers! Best: blueberry waffles with whipped wildflower honey and mascarpone; grilled jerk Angus skirt steak and two over-easy eggs sided with a pita, avocado and roasted tomato; latkes topped with Kristapsons smoked salmon, sour cream and chives; sides of chipotle cornbread, Cumbrae's breakfast bangers and pickled beets; to drink, bottomless cups of drip coffee. Complete brunches for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $14. Open for brunch Sunday 9 am to 3 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
1330 Queen W, at Elm Grove, 416-627-3459, grandelectricbar.com, @grandelectricTO Now that ex-Black Hoof chef Colin Tooke's super-hot Parkdale taqueria has more than doubled in size with the addition of a 40-seat patio, scoring a no-reserve table should be twice as easy. Wrong! But show up at 6, get on the list and come back in an hour or so - no problemo. Friendly and efficient servers ensure the feeding frenzy never wanes. Best: vibrantly spiced soft-shell tacos stuffed with sweet pulled pork belly topped with grilled pineapple salsa; shredded chicken kicked with árbol pepper and pickled red onion; deliciously braised beef cheeks dressed with buttery avocado and hellaciously hot jalapeños; fried slices of mild queso over roasted poblano peppers; Baja-style fish tacos with crisply deep-fried tilapia finished with radish and red onion lashed with crema and lime; shareable plates like chunky tuna ceviche piled high tostada-style on deep-fried tortillas; remarkably tender rings of deep-fried calamari drenched in a Sriracha-like hot sauce; Chicken Frito, a heap of marvellously messy deep-fried chicken parts doused in a five-alarm sauce thick with fresh coriander, brown sugar, chili pods and funky nam pla; to finish, Mason jars of key lime pudding. Complete meals for $40 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average main $10. Open for lunch Sunday 11:30 am to 4 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN