S. Lefkowitz 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 6 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Karelia Kitchen 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
La Carnita 501 College, at Palmerston, 416-964-1555, lacarnita.com, @la_carnita If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Grand Electric in Parkdale must be particularly chuffed. So what if both taquerias appropriated the formula - trendy tacos, hard liquor and harder tunes - from Big Star Tacos in Chicago? Smooth service and the lack of a lineup most nights make the somewhat higher prices that much easier to stomach. Best: owner chef Andrew Richmond's signature In Cod We Trust fish taco of battered wild Atlantic cod, pickled red cabbage and tart Granny Smith apple lashed with lime, crema fresca, spicy tahini-like Voltron sauce; Pollo Frito with southern-style fried chicken in peanut mole sauce dressed with pickled napa cabbage and tomato salsa; deep-fried avocado with black beans and peppery chipotle sauce; house-made chorizo with pickled red onion and sharp cojita cheese, all on fresh La Tortilleria tortillas; tongue tostadas topped with grilled pineapple and beet sprouts in hot sauce; halved avocados stuffed with ripe mango, toasted pumpkin seeds and Hostess Hickory Sticks fashioned from deep-fried plantain; tortilla chips dusted with powdered ancho chili sided with chipotle-spiked chicken liver pâté; charred corn on the cob slathered in yogurty crema fresca and anejo cheese; paletas - Mexican popsicles - in flavours like key lime pie coated with crushed graham crackers, and salted dulce de leche with crushed chicharrón. Complete meals for $40 per person, including tax, tip and a pint of micro-suds. Average taco $5. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 11 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN ?
Hopgood's Foodliner 325 Roncesvalles, at Grenadier, 416-533-2723, hopgoodsfoodliner.com Don't come to former Hoof Café chef Geoff Hopgood's ultra-hip Foodliner expecting bone-marrow donuts and suckling-pig eggs Benny. Not only does his Roncey resto not offer the two dishes that put him on the foodie map, but he doesn't do brunch at all. Instead, go for some of the most creative and downright fun plates in town in a relaxed room tended by attentive servers. Best: to start, Halifax-style donairs on warm house-baked pitas dressed with ripe tomato, diced Vidalia onions and a weirdly addictive sauce made from evaporated milk, sugar, garlic and vinegar; lamb's heart tartare laced with green olives and dehydrated cauliflower purée over nutty caramelized cream; a winter cassoulet of French flageots beans thick with meaty sweetbreads and sage-scented sausages; deep-fried chicken roulade on cheesy grits in bacon-maple sauce; to finish, frozen house-made chocolate bars. Complete dinners for $60 per person, including tax tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open for dinner Saturday 5:30 pm till close. Reservations recommended. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
Ortolan 1211 Bloor W, at Margueretta, 647-348-4500, littledrunkbird.com Although they don't serve the illegal roasted French bird drowned in Armagnac that gives this Bloordale bistro its name, owner/chefs Damon Clements and Daniel Usher's unusually short contemporary card is just as extraordinary. Low tax-inclusive prices, only 26 seats and a no-reservations policy mean the chances of snagging one of them is nigh on impossible come prime time. NOW's resto of the year 2011! Best: shareable starters like rabbit rillettes scented with fresh rosemary and spread on chewy slices of Thuet baguette, sided with mild Taggiasche olives; grilled green onions - and one organic purple spring onion - paired with garlicky Catalan almond-chili sauce; red radish and kohlrabi salad in lemony cumin-yogurt dressing finished with dill and slivered scallion; mains like house-made gnocchi in mascarpone cream with foraged hen of the woods mushrooms and shaved parmigiano; sliced rare skirt steak in spicy harissa piled with wilted ribbons of celery; for dessert, lavender panna cotta with stewed Ontario strawberries; to drink rhubarb spritzers. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $16. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: slight bump at door, tight tables, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
With files from Steven Davey