Readers’ Choice 2021: The best places to eat and drink in Toronto

NOW readers pick their favourite restaurants, bars, bottle shops and craft breweries


It’s been an intense two years for food businesses in the city. Comfort food ruled takeout orders in winter, out-of-work staff launched their own businesses online, summer was all about pop-ups and patios, and now fine dining is making a comeback as pandemic restrictions ease.

For this year’s Readers’ Choice poll, we’ve added a few new categories to the food and drink section to reflect some of these changes, including Best CafeTO Patio, Best Pop-Up Restaurant and Best Bottle Shop. We’ve also got a flight of new craft beer categories.

Best Caterer

The Food Dudes

It’s hard to escape the Food Dudes in Toronto, whether you realize it or not. Aside from their local favourite restaurants – like Sara and Rasa, Pantry and Blondies – they’re go-to caterers. They can do weddings or big corporate events, but also BBQ or go food-truck style, pulling up to festivals. They even have partnerships with some of the city’s buzziest new music venues including History and the El Mocambo. These are some busy dudes.

24 Carlaw, thefooddudes.com

Runner-up

Santo Pecado Mexican Catering

1679 St. Clair West, santopecado.ca

Best African Restaurant

Lalibela Cuisine

The injera brings so many diverse customers to this repeat winner in Little Ethiopia. The healthy and spongy flatbread traditionally made from teff flour is the baseline to all the spicy, slow-cooked, rare or raw meats pouring out of large platters. The homey aunty vibes keep everyone coming back. Don’t forget to try the honey wine and thick, dark Ethiopian coffee.

1214 Danforth, lalibelacuisine.com

Runner-up

Ethiopian House

4 Irwin, ethiopianhouse.com

Best Bakery/Bread

Blackbird Baking Co.

This family-run bakery has served Kensington Market for a decade. Blackbird launched a second location in Riverside and its breads and pastries are also available at grocers across the city. The bakery is doing home delivery and contactless curbside pickup, meaning there are multiple ways to get regular refills of its signature sourdoughs, baguettes and granola.

172 Baldwin, 635 Queen East, blackbirdbakingco.com

Runner-up

NEO Coffee Bar

161 Frederick, 770 Bay, neocoffeebar.com

Best Bar

Round the Horn

Roncesvalles is the perfect home for this unpretentious craft beer bar. There aren’t many gimmicks here, but it’s a fun and friendly spot to pull up a stool, watch a game, sip on a good beer, snack on some candy or popcorn (or a more substantial sandwich if you prefer) and maybe play a game of Rolling Stones pinball. What more could you want?  

331 Roncesvalles, instagram.com/roundthehorn

Runner-up

Civil Liberties

878 Bloor West, civillibertiesbar.com

Best Barbecue

Barque Smokehouse

It’s hard to believe, but this Roncesvalles bastion of smoke and sauce just celebrated its 10th birthday. It feels like the city has spent the last decade rhapsodizing about these delicious wings, ribs, brisket and pork – and the giant platters you can take out or heat at home.

229 Roncesvalles, barque.ca

Runner-up

Beach Hill Smokehouse

172 Main, beachhillsmokehouse.com

Best Barista

Camille Blott of Pomarosa

As Pomarosa’s longest serving barista, Camille Blott is known for making a mean rose syrup latte, one of the restaurant’s signature beverages. Her co-workers say she’s one of the sweetest baristas who can perfect a latte heart in every hot-milk-based drink. A creative to the core, Blott is also a singer, songwriter and actor.

1504 Danforth, instagram.com/missmilliebee

Runner-up

Ash of Lazy Daisy’s Cafe

1515 Gerrard East, lazydaisycafe.ca

Best Bartender

Kristin McNeill at Round the Horn

The unpretentious Roncy craft beer bar is a neighbourhood favourite in large part to owner Kristin McNeill. A 20-year industry veteran, she opened Round the Horn nearly six years ago. “Bringing people together is what we’ve been doing,” McNeill says. “Introducing people with shared interests and watching their friendships blossom. We haven’t been able to do that with patio dining.”

331 Roncesvalles, instagram.com/roundthehorn

Runner-up

Jason Rees at Earlscourt BBQ

1278 St. Clair West, earlscourtbbq.com

Best Beer Bar

Bar Volo

One of the reigning kings of craft beer in the city, Bar Volo has adapted to the pandemic by offering its unparalleled beer selection for takeout. Now it’s nearly back to business as usual, so you can enjoy something good right from the tap (or cask), but don’t forget to check out the new bottle shop inside Royal Cinema right next to Volo’s second location, Birreria Volo on College.

17 Nicholas, barvolo.com

Runner-up

Indie Alehouse

2876 Dundas West, indiealehouse.com

Best Bodega

Bodega Henriette

This low-key Upper Beaches bistro had a pantry section selling milk, eggs, canned foods and an in-house bakery before the pandemic hit. It’s since expanded to sell French and Italian wine, landing on our roundup of the city’s best new bottle shops earlier this year. The restaurant has breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner covered, as well as gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options.

1801 Gerrard East, bodegahenriette.com

Runner-up  

Pepper’s Food & Drink

189 Wallace, instagram.com/peppers.189

Best Bottle Shop

Blood Brothers

The secret is out on this Geary hidden gem, one of the best local breweries the city has to offer. It’s small, but there are all kinds of beers here – some are relatively standard, like the Blood Light pale ale, while others are experimental, like the Werecat barrel aged sour (see page xx). And if you don’t want to drink everything over one night at the bar, you can buy them to take home.

165 Geary, bloodbrothersbrewing.com

Runner-up

Indie Alehouse

2876 Dundas West, indiealehouse.com

The Mother Clucker at Lazy Daisy Café

Best Breakfast/Brunch

Lazy Daisy Café

The calorie intake is strong at this Indian Bazaar brunch spot, but oh so worth it. Just try to leave their massive buttermilk country biscuit sandwiches unfinished. They come with Mennonite smoked bacon or a heaping serving of fried chicken and melted cheese. If you’re looking for warm treats in the winter months, they’ve got cinnamon bun pancakes, a soul-warming Golden Latte made with turmeric, ginger and cinnamon, and a Vanilla moo for the kiddos (vanilla syrup in steamed milk).

1515 Gerrard East, lazydaisyscafe.ca

Runner-up

Lady Marmalade

265 Broadview, ladymarmalade.ca

Best Bubble Tea

Chatime

It’s never been a better time to be a bubble tea drinker in Toronto. One of the biggest players in the local market is the growing international chain Chatime, a Taiwanese brand that now has 40-odd locations in the GTA and counting. Known for its signature milk tea, Chatime has branched out with more luxury line ­Atealier and eye-catching pop-ups. Whether you’re sitting down with friends or grabbing to go, the store has smartly cast a broad appeal – the huge array of drink selections doesn’t hurt.

Various locations, chatime.com

Runner-up

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice

Various locations, cocofreshtea.ca

Best Burger

Fearless Meat

A multiple winner this year, the almost four-year-old burger joint has a plethora of options, including the Beach Burger Raptor (peameal bacon, Montreal smoked meat and Havarti cheese) and the Beyond Meat Vegan Burger. Owner David Brown has been a butcher for nearly 50 years.

884 Kingston, fearlessmeat1.com

Runner-up

Rudy

Various locations, rudyresto.com

Best Burrito

Pico de Gallo

This Kensington Market-based restaurant is next level with nine burrito options, particularly if you are a pork lover. You have the flavourful Burrito Carnitas, Pastor Burrito, Burrito Ham and Burrito Chorizo. There’s also a vegetarian burrito available for those who don’t eat meat. Pico de Gallo is run by Chef Sergio Maldonado and manager Vanessa Cervantes, who met in 2009 while working at Frida’s restaurant.

214 Augusta, pico-degallo.ca

Runner-up

Burrito Boyz

Various locations, burritoboyz.ca

Best Butcher

Butchers of Distinction

This Riverside shop specializes in whole animals, locally raised meats and exclusive Ontario offerings. It’s the place to go next time you crave for flesh – or try one of their house-prepared sauces, pies or jams. If you have a lot of mouths to feed, try one of their meat boxes with varying amounts of side ribs, sausages, burgers, bacon and the like.

738 Queen East, butchersofdistinction.ca

Runner-up

The Healthy Butcher

565 Queen West, 298 Eglinton West, thehealthybutcher.com

Best Caesar

Score on King

This King East sports bar and Vancouver import is not effing around when it comes to caesars. These are more like meals on top of caesars. Hot wings, cheeseburgers, onion rings, deep fried mac and cheese balls, bacon wrapped scallops – all, somehow, caesar ingredients. Drink up!

107 King East, scoreonking.com

Runner-up

Maple Leaf Tavern

955 Gerrard East, mapleleaftavern.ca

Best Cafe

NEO Coffee Bar

Now six years old, this Discovery District and Corktown cafe is known for matcha lattes and delicate Japanese-style desserts. The sleek, airy and modern-looking space offers plenty of seating for you to munch on in-house cookies, like the Neo Cookie Choux, with $0.50 per cookie being donated to SickKids. The strawberry shortcake roll cakes may also grab your attention.

161 Frederick, 770 Bay, neocoffeebar.com

Runner-up

Lazy Daisy’s Cafe

1515 Gerrard East, lazydaisyscafe.ca

Best CafeTO Patio

Lake Inez

This treasure in Little India is the amalgamation of myriad influences. They serve pan-Asian fusion with French inflections and pour an enviable craft beer roster. Two stained-glass angels depicting Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf – made by hand by co-owner Zac Schwartz – guard the beer taps. Their CafeTO patio was made equally cozy with stringed lights, plants and rounded wooden tables bringing Lake Inez’s signature ambiance outdoors. We hope it becomes a summer staple.  

1471 Gerrard East, lakeinezto.com

Runner-up

Indie Alehouse

2876 Dundas West, indiealehouse.com

Best Caribbean Restaurant

The Real Jerk

The long-standing Jamaican restaurant at Gerrard (previously Broadview and Queen) featured in Rihanna’s Work video has been a saving grace for Leslieville and Riverside patrons, who have next to zero options for anything made with spice and soul. Their new location in the Upper Beach has been bringing the Jerk’s dinners (don’t forget the side of oxtail gravy), goat rotis and extra special patties to a new demographic weaned on Starbucks and pub fare.

842 Gerrard East, 1004 Kingston, therealjerk.com

Runner-up

Cool Runnings

146 Main, coolrunningsrestaurant.com

Best Cheap Eats/Meals Under $10

Fearless Meat

It’s hard to beat the prices at this carnivorous eatery in the Beaches. For under a tenner, you can grab things like burgers, chicken fingers, poutine and all sorts of sandwiches: smoked meat, peameal bacon, BLTs, breakfast sandwiches and more.

884 Kingston, fearlessmeat1.com

Runner-up

Round the Horn

331 Roncesvalles, instagram.com/roundthehorn

Best Cheese

Cheese Boutique

The first words out of every cheese lover’s mouth (at least, the printable ones) after they walk into Cheese Boutique: “I never want to leave.” The place is a massive shrine to all things cheesy. Owner Afrim Pristine keeps it stocked with selections from all over the globe, as well as a bomb shelter’s worth of preserves, oils and other goodies. Be sure to check out the boutique’s exclusive series of cheeses – they’re all named after Pristine’s dog, Henry.

45 Ripley, cheeseboutique.com

Runner-up

Global Cheese

 76 Kensington, globalcheese.ca

Best Chef

Aki Urata at Kinton Ramen

Chef Aki Urata has been perfecting authentic Japanese ramen for more than a decade. Prior to owning Kinton Ramen, he worked at a ramen truck in Japan in his teens. He enjoys ramen because it’s a dish that looks so simple from the outside, but takes a lot of work to get all the right flavours in the noodles, meat, veggies and broth. Urata says they spend hours on perfecting a dish while the average customer consumes it in mere minutes.

Various locations, kintonramen.com

Runner-up

Luis Hernández at Pomarosa

1504 Danforth, pomarosa.ca

Best Chicken Wings

Duff’s Famous Wings

You don’t have to cross the border to get some of the best wings Buffalo has to offer. Duff’s has multiple locations right in Toronto. They use fresh roaster sized wings and the same traditional Buffalo sauce recipes they’ve been using since 1969 – though if you prefer it, you can get flavours like honey garlic or lemon pepper too.

1604 Bayview and 558 College duffsfamouswings.ca

Runner-up

Barque Smokehouse

229 Roncesvalles, barque.ca

Best Chinese Restaurant

Congee Queen

The popular chain with a flagship restaurant in Thornhill and satellite locations in Scarborough, North York and Mississauga elevates the predictable staples. You won’t be disappointed with the Cantonese chow mein, hot and sour soup or the spice and pepper salt squid. But then there are the dishes that go above and beyond (cop that super congee bowl) or take you to an entirely new place. If you’ve never experience fried chili turnip patties, get thee to a Congee Queen.

895 Lawrence East and others, congeequeen.com

Runner-up

Asian Legend

418 Dundas West and others, asianlegend.ca

Best Chocolate

Soma

Returning winner Soma does one thing and one thing well: chocolate. Wanna eat it? Wanna drink it? Wanna chow down on it in gelato? You can do all of the above at Soma, where the gorgeous cocoa aroma almost knocks you out the moment you open the door. We like the fruit-studded bars, but the barks are terrific, too. Actually, everything’s pretty heavenly.

443 King West, 32 Tank House, 77 Brock, somachocolate.com

Runner-up

Chocosol

1131 St. Clair West, chocosoltraders.com

Best Cocktail Bar

BarChef

“Mixology” was once a novelty term, but it almost seems wrong not to use it when talking about BarChef, Toronto’s top spot for surprising and complicated drinks involving foams and mists, homemade syrups and meringues. They seemed ready for the pandemic moment too, shipping out cocktail kits, hosting virtual tutorials and getting their bottled cocktails out into the world. The ultimate “treat yourself” spot.

472 Queen West, barchef.com

Runner-up

Civil Liberties

878 Bloor West, civillibertiesbar.com

Best Deli

Pancer’s Original Delicatessen

Next year, Pancer’s will mark its 65th anniversary, though it feels like the North York institution has been around much longer than that: its cabbage rolls, matzo ball soup and catering platters are baked into the DNA of Bathurst and Wilson, and founder Moe Pancer’s great-grandchildren are still involved with the business. Generations of Toronto royalty grew up with the deli’s signature sandwiches, though so far only actor Harvey Atkin and boxer George Chuvalo have had items named after them. Geddy Lee’s time will come eventually.

3856 Bathurst, pancersoriginaldeli.com

Runner-up

Lambo’s Deli & Grocery

176 Bellwoods, lambosdeli.ca

Best Delivery Service

Uber Eats

Has the rise of food-ordering apps made Toronto residents lazier? Maybe. But it’s also opened access to hundreds of restaurants that couch potatoes might otherwise never try. The tech giant’s food delivery app is ubiquitous, moving meal orders from the restaurant kitchen to your front door. Despite Uber’s questionable treatment and payment of its workers, that hasn’t stopped many from using the famous app.

Ubereats.com

Runner-up

Fresh City

Freshcityfarms.com

Best Desserts

NEO Coffee Bar

Also this year’s Best Cafe winner, NEO is known for perfecting Japanese baked goods, like their roll cakes of various flavours, and in-house cookies. Current specials include the matcha white chocolate mini pie, made of a matcha white chocolate ganache; maple walnut roll cake, filled with maple cream and caramelized walnuts; and a gluten-free apple tea muffin that’s topped with pumpkin seeds, crunchy walnuts and ground cinnamon.

161 Frederick, 770 Bay, neocoffeebar.com

Runner-up

Roselle

362 King East, roselleto.com

Best Dim Sum

Rol San

Located in the potential future home of a new development, the Chinatown staple stayed open late when everyone else closed early during the pandemic. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, post-bar munchies – yes, Rol San is still open and has been for two straight decades on a Spadina strip where dozens of old-school Chinese joints have folded. Fans (including plenty of pro chefs) love the array of classic dim sum dishes at an affordable price – and they’re willing to line up in droves, so be patient.

323 Spadina, 416-977-1128

Runner-up

Dine & Dim

633 Gerrard East, dineanddim.com

Best Diner

The Lakeview

The Dundas West staple (and popular film and TV production location) is back to 24-hour service after operating on reduced hours during the pandemic. A perennial safe harbour in the Ossington party strip, it’s continuing to do takeout and delivery so you can order drunk munchies, date-night burgers or a hangover breakfast via all the usual apps. Cornmeal chicken, killer breakfast sandwiches and cheap pints are among the many options.

1132 Dundas West, thelakeviewrestaurant.ca

Runner-up

White Lily Diner

678 Queen East, whitelilydiner.ca

Best Donut

Glory Hole Doughnuts

The donut competition in Toronto grows ever fiercer, but Glory Hole has come out on top with NOW readers yet again. The bakery – whose namesake briefly became buzzy with public health officials during COVID – does yeast and cake donuts (vegan and non-vegan) in rotating and seasonal flavours like lemon ricotta, milk and cookies, toast and butter, hibiscus and banana hazelnut. And because nothing goes with a donut like coffee, it’s got espresso from Hale on offer.

1596 Queen West, 1505 Gerrard East, gloryholedoughnuts.com

Runner-up

Bloomer’s

Various locations, bloomersto.com

Dumplings

Best Dumplings

Momo Hut and Gardens

We think of Parkdale as the place to be for Tibetan food – but some of the best momos are served across town on the Danforth. In addition to delicious beef, lamb, chicken and shrimp versions, Momo Hut also dishes out plenty of vegetarian-friendly options like the beets, cabbage and kale momos.

401 Danforth, facebook.com/momohutandgardens

Runner-up

Dumpling House

619 Gerrard East, dumplinghouse619.com

Best Falafel

Parallel

We definitely agree with our readers on this one. The family-run Middle Eastern restaurant, coffee shop and tahini factory’s herb falafels are a must-try. Light and fluffy, green on the inside and served with in-house sesame butter, spotting them for the first time on another diner’s plate is truly a “I’ll have what they’re having” moment. It’s a simple dish brimming with complexity.

217 Geary, parallelbrothers.com

Runner-up

Limon

1968 Queen East, limonbeaches.com

Best Farmers’ Market

Leslieville Farmers’ Market

The Leslieville Farmers’ Market was already banging at its original location at Jonathan Ashbridge Park. Families dined on tacos, momos and other goodies while browsing the produce, and kids with less refined palates could hop between McDonalds, the playground and splash pad. But construction instigated a move to the much larger Greenwood Park, where the Leslieville Farmers’ Market got to stretch its legs and draw in a less Beach, more north-of-Gerrard kinda crowd.

150 Greenwood, leslievillemarket.com

Runner-up

Sorauren Farmers’ Market

50 Wabash, soraurenmarket.com

Best Filipino restaurant

Tinuno

More and more Torontonians are discovering the art of a good kamayan feast – a big grape leaf-plated spread of seafood, BBQ skewers, garlic rice, vegetables and other Filipino delights that you eat with your hands. Tinuno is one of the best places to get that experience for eat-in or takeout. You can also get a wide variety of silogs – an all-day breakfast plate with eggs, rice and meat.

31 Howard, 3520 Bathurst and 520 Progress, tinunothirtyone.com

Runner-up

Lamesa

634 St. Clair West, lamesatoronto.com

Best Fish

Hooked Inc.

With locations in Kensington, the Junction, Leslieville, the Danforth and South Kingsway, Hooked supplies some of the city’s best restaurants (and home cooks) with sustainably sourced seafood. A regular Readers’ Choice winner, the company supports small-boat fishing practices, forming relationships with small and independent producers.

Various locations, hookedinc.ca

Runner-up

Mike’s Fish Market

93 Front East, mikes-fish-market.business.site

Best Fish & Chips

Sea Witch Fish & Chips

Not a ton we need to say here. This St. Clair West spot serves heaping piles of fried fish and crispy fries as well as some of the best poutine in town. There’s Ocean Wise haddock, cod, pickerel, trout and halibut as well as halibut cakes. Or grab a bowl of the witch’s brew (chowder).  

636 St. Clair West, seawitchfc.com

Runner-up

Len Duckworth Fish & Chips

2638 Danforth, lenduckworthfishandchips.ca

Best Food or Drink Festival

Taste of the Danforth

While the event has been cancelled for the past two years, the annual street festival normally pays homage to Greek cuisine along Danforth every year on the second weekend of August. Next summer, we look forward to perusing the busy vendors selling beef, chicken and pork souvlaki, spanakopita, gyros and loukoumades. Music, live performances and dancing are also an integral part of the event. It’s one of Canada’s largest street festivals, attracting nearly 1.6 million people.

Tasteofthedanforth.com

Runner-up

Toronto Ribfest

Torontoribfest.com

Best Food Truck

Pimento Jerk Food Truck

This food truck is known for slow-cooked smoked chicken that’s served in multiple ways. Care for a jerk poutine? How about a jerk chicken rice bowl? Pimento Jerk has got you covered. The food truck also offers vegan options, using jackfruit as a substitute for meat. Escovitch fish and chips and curry goat rice bowls are also available.

5775 Hwy 7 (Markham), jamaicanbbq.ca

Runner-up

Fully Loaded TO

Fullyloadedto.com

Best French Restaurant

Le Baratin

This Dundas West French bistro is the kind of spot that makes you feel warm and cozy inside. Get your steak frites or your cheesy tartes or canard, or head over for brunch for some delicious omelettes and croques. There’s also a major selection of French wines not found at the LCBO and you can now get ‘em for takeout.  

1600 Dundas West, lebaratin.ca

Runner-up

La Palette

492 Queen West, lapalettequeenwest.ca

Best Greek Restaurant

Pantheon

Despite the popularity of Taste of the Danforth, there are only a handful of OG Greek restaurants still on the strip. Pantheon is one of the great ones. It’s one of the main spots for souvlaki, mousaka and dips like tzatziki and skordalia.  

407 Danforth, pantheondanforth.ca

Runner-up

Mezes

456 Danforth, mezes.com

A hot dog from Woofdawg
Courtesy of Woofdawg

Best Hot Dog

Woofdawg

Chef Stephen Payne’s hot dogs are made in-house and piled high with toppings like Hawkins cheezies, fennel slaw and housemade sauces. If downing a dog at the Little Portugal takeout counter upon exiting a bar isn’t your style, you can buy Woofdawg weiners at a variety of grocers and bodegas across the city.

1357 Dundas West, woofdawg.com

Runner-up

ChungChun Rice Dog

Various locations, chungchunricedog.ca

Best Ice cream/gelato

Creamery X

This ice cream joint offers an amalgamation of baked goods and ice cream into one dessert. Their handmade custard ice cream is a result of the two owners’ interests. Bonnie Gallant has a love for ice cream while Melissa Baird lives to bake. Expect unique flavours like fig and lemon goat cheese, honey and sesame bagel, and the twisted black forest cake. Vegan and gluten-free options are also available.

124 Jarvis, creameryx.ca

Runner-up

Ed’s Real Scoop

Various locations, edsrealscoop.com

Best Independent Ontario Brewery

Collective Arts

The Hamilton brewery that makes everyone’s favourite cans now has a Toronto outpost. They work with emerging and established artists to design artwork that sets their cans apart in the LCBO lineup. They produce everything from sours to blond ales, IPAs to ciders. It seems like nary a week goes by without a new release hitting shelves, and Collective Arts expanded its Toronto presence in the past two summers as the official beer at destination patio RendezViews.

777 Dundas West, collectiveartsontario.com

Runner-up

Left Field

Leftfieldbrewery.ca

Best Independent Toronto Brewery

Left Field Brewery

Founded by Mark and Mandie Murphy in 2013, the east-end operation has been producing an adventurous range of beer with baseball-themed names, recently expanding its scope to include hard seltzers. This year gave us the Anniversary No. 8 Baltic porter and the Outstanding pub ale, a 4.1 per cent session beer brewed to honour the 2021 inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall Of Fame. But the old favourites like the Greenwood IPA and the Eephus brown ale are still an essential part of the team.

36 Wagstaff, leftfieldbrewery.ca

Runner-up

Blood Brothers

165 Geary, bloodbrothersbrewing.com

Best Indian restaurant

Banjara

Banjara continues to sate NOW readers with its extensive range of curries both meat-based and vegetarian (the eggplant-forward baingan bharta being a particular highlight of the latter menu), along with more than a dozen varieties of naan and onion bhajia the size of your fist. They offered online ordering for takeout and delivery well before the pandemic. Make sure you factor leftovers into your thinking.

796 Bloor West, 164 Eglinton East, torontobanjara.com

Runner-up

Dil Se

335 Roncesvalles, dilse.ca

Best Italian restaurant

Terroni

Terroni is a bona fide local empire. Its collection of restaurants – the busy Queen West location is over a quarter-century old – and sister Sud Forno bakeries aren’t hurting for competition, but the wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas and excellent grilled meats still manage to stand out from the pack. Last year, the company teamed with Cumbrae’s to open the midtown grocer/restaurant Stock T.C.  

Various locations, terroni.com

Runner-up

Sugo

1281 Bloor West, sugotoronto.com

Best Japanese

Kinton Ramen

The fact that Kinton has won in this category two years in a row proves it’s more than just a noodle joint. Sure, everyone who’s been at one of its dozen or so locations has their go-to broth, ramen (thin or thick) and toppings. But the sides – crispy karaage, perfectly prepared gyoza, delicately flavoured chiki chiki don – and desserts make the experience even more authentic. And who didn’t take advantage of the ramen and Sapporo special during summer’s patio weather?

51 Baldwin, 402 Queen West and others, kintonramen.com

Runner-up

Kinka Izakaya

398 Church and others, kinka.com

Best Juice Bar

Village Juicery

Village Juicery’s glass bottles are becoming ever-present throughout the city. Those cold-pressed juices filled with fruits and vegetables are the cure for what ails you. There are also smoothies, booster shots and full cleanses to heal you right up.

406 Spadina Rd, 2228 Bloor West and others, villagejuicery.com

Runner-up

Greenhouse Juice Co.

740 Queen West, 5 Macpherson and others, greenhouse.ca

Best Kid-friendly restaurant

Barque Smokehouse

Barque is on Roncesvalles, so of course it’s kid-friendly. From stroller parking to sippy­ cups and family nights, it’s a good spot to bring your BBQ-loving tot. There’s an art to a good kids’ menu, and this is a good one with child-friendly portions of mac and cheese, pulled pork and more.  

229 Roncesvalles, barque.ca

Runner-up

Fearless Meat

884 Kingston, fearlessmeat1.com

Best Korean Restaurant

Korean Village

The 43-year-old Koreatown classic decorated with photos of famous diners has made it through the pandemic. Korean Village has been that restaurant you go to with friends and family for a comforting stone bowl, anticipating the warm ambiance and greeting by charismatic owner Ok Re Lee, who sadly passed away two years ago. Her son Jason Lee has kept the restaurant going during COVID, and as the strip of Bloor West has grown ever-more bustling. Korean Village is still an essential stop on any Torontonian’s culinary journey .

628 Bloor West, koreanvillageto.com

Runner-up

Tofu Village

681 Bloor West, tofuvillagetoronto.com

Best Latin restaurant

Pomorosa

Opened in 2017, Pomorosa is a favourite NOW reader go-to spot on the Danforth for a quick coffee, traditional Latin dishes or a warm place to grab a drink. Coming from Venezuelan and Colombian backgrounds, owners Luis Hernandez and Vivian Ortiz wanted to bring Latin flavours to Toronto, and the couple has succeeded. The cafe’s design is bright and inviting and the menu features stand-out arepas and empanadas (they offer beef, pork, breakfast-style and even vegan-friendly options) and Venezuelan smoothies. Come for the food and stay for the photogenic dishes and drinks.

1504 Danforth, pomarosa.ca

Runner-up

Pico De Gallo

214 Augusta, pico-degallo.ca

Best Mexican Restaurant

Pico de Gallo

Give NOW readers credit for seeking out this hidden gem, located within the Latin food court at 214 Augusta in Kensington Market (you can’t go wrong with much from there). Chef Sergio Maldonado and partner Vanessa Cervantes serve up some amazing tacos, tortas, quesadillas, guacamole and ceviche from a stall you’ll want to hit up often.

214 Augusta, pico-degallo.ca

Runner-up

Xola

2222 Queen East, xolarestaurant.com

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant

Parallel

Also the winner of best falafel this year (see page XX), brothers Alon, Guy and Aharon Ozery’s Parallel is part cafe, part restaurant and part sesame butter factory. Whether you’re grabbing house-made takeout treats and spreads, or splitting the massive Parallel salad with friends over brunch in the chic, industrial dining room, it’s a dining experience full of unique delights.

217 Geary, parallelbrothers.com

Runner-up

Tabule

2009 Yonge and others, tabule.ca

Red Tape production assistant Stephen Bowes (left) and co-owner Sarabeth Holden.
Red Tape Brewery / Instagram

Red Tape production assistant Stephen Bowes (left) and co-owner Sarabeth Holden.

Best New Toronto Brewery

Red Tape Brewery

Sarabeth and Sean Holden never intended to open a brewery during a pandemic, but they’ve been making it work since launching early this year. The Indigenous-owned brewery creates bespoke beers made to your taste specifications, but their own creations are pretty damn good too. And now, finally, you can grab a seat at their very friendly tasting room.

159 Main, redtapebrewery.com

Runner-up

Collective Arts

777 Dundas West, collectiveartsbrewing.com

Best new restaurant

Dzo Viet Eatery

Despite opening during the pandemic, Dzo has already got a cabal of local devotees. The contemporary Vietnamese menu shows there’s much more to the cuisine than pho and banh mi: Vietnamese tacos, crispy spring rolls, taro fries, wings and noodles all burst with colour and flavour. There’s also dry pho with dipping sauce, banh mi sliders, a take on poutine called photine plus fun cocktails, craft beers, attractive plating, a dark neon aesthetic and a lively hip-hop soundtrack.

308 Dundas West, dzovieteatery.com

Runner-up

The Wood Owl

1380 Danforth, instagram.com/thewoodowlto

Best Patio

JaBistro

This stylish Japanese restaurant boasts an equally stylish rooftop patio.  The wooden oasis in the Financial District also happens to boast some of the best sashimi in town. Eating it with a cocktail and in the sun somehow makes it even better.

222 Richmond West, jabistro.com

Runner-up

Allen’s

143 Danforth, allens.to

Best Pizza

Pizzeria Libretto

Ossington is this pizzeria’s original home but Toronto couldn’t get enough of their Neapolitan-style crust and toppings like San Marzano tomato sauce, Ligurian taggiasca olives, Calabrian sausage and spicy salami. As they expanded to four locations, chefs Rocco Agostino and Max Rimaldi brought their traditional family recipes with them. During the pandemic, they’ve added Sicilian and New York-style pizzas that travel better and now have a line of frozen pizzas available at 38 grocers across the city.

Various locations, pizzerialibretto.com

Runner-up

North of Brooklyn Pizzeria

Various locations, northofbrooklyn.com

Waakye, rice and beans served with tomato stew.
Courtesy of Patricia Yeboah

Waakye, rice and beans served with tomato stew, from Mama Akua’s.

Best Pop-up Restaurant

Mama Akua’s

After attracting hundreds of customers on Ossington last year, Patricia Yeboah and her mother Akua Fosua’s Ghanian food pop-up served up classic dishes like tuo zaafi, jollof rice, red red and waakye at Stackt Market and in Parkdale. The pop-ups were a rare chance for downtowners to sample Ghanian food, which would typically require a trek to the burbs. It’s been a while since their last one – here’s hoping the duo return in some form soon.

instagram.com/mamaakuas

Runner-up

Souvla By Mamakas

Mamakas.ca

Best Poutine

Smoke’s Poutinerie

Arguably the most well-known poutinerie chain in Canada once again claims first prize in Toronto. You can find a Smoke’s Poutinerie in almost every province. You can go traditional, or dress it up with chicken, pork, beef and veggie options; or go even more elaborate – think bacon cheeseburger and deluxe ­pizza. There’s even a menu item called Heart Attack. If you’ve never tried high-concept poutine, Smoke’s is the place to go.

Various locations, smokespoutinerie.com

Runner-up

Nom Nom Nom Poutine

707 Dundas West, nomnomnom.ca

Best Pub

House on Parliament

Built into a Victorian mansion, this spot has been a Cabbagetown fixture for more than two decades, serving brunches, burgers, bangers and mash and other pub grub with an artful twist. Current menu highlights include the duck burger, the jerk quesadilla and the falafel “naan-wich,” which is exactly as advertised. Old faithfuls like tourtière, steak frites and fish and chips are always there for you, of course – as is the beer selection, which features London Pride and Guinness on tap alongside a selection of domestic and international craft ales. (The wine and spirits lists are pretty decent too.)

454 Parliament, houseonparliament.com

Runner-up

The Queen & Beaver Public House

35 Elm, queenandbeaverpub.ca

Best Ramen

Kyouka

With only two locations in the world – the other being in Tokyo itself – you know Kyouka’s serving up some authentic, world-class, slurp-worthy ramen. The flavourful stocks are prepared daily, and there are plenty of vegetarian options – including a new yummy summer offering featuring blackened eggplant salad. There’s even a guide on how to eat ramen like a pro, which you’ll quickly learn before you tip the bowl to savour every drop.

2222 Queen East, kyouka.ca

Runner-up

Kinton Ramen

51 Baldwin, 402 Queen West and others, kintonramen.com

Best Restaurant

Kinton Ramen

With nearly a dozen locations in the GTA, the popular noodle chain – which marks its 10th anniversary in May – specializes in inventive variations on Japanese ramen. (The latest, Fiery Chili Ramen, offers three levels of capsaicin-based intensity.) And now that indoor dining is back, the Kinton Bowlers loyalty program has resumed in earnest: finish your meal to its last drop and accumulate points toward towels, T-shirts and gift cards. But really, the ramen is its own reward.

Multiple locations, kintonramen.com

Runner-up

Lake Inez

1471 Gerrard East, lakeinezto.com

Best Roti

Mona’s Roti

The great doubles debate (as in who does it best) rages on with Mona’s coming up as a consistent favourite. But doubles is just the appetizer at the classic Trini Scarborough joint that serves up succulent boneless curry goat and chicken wrapped in fresh handcrafted dahlpuri or paratha. The long line moves fast but you can avoid the wait by ordering online. And for the large exodus of Scarberians who made the move to Durham, Mona’s opened a new spot over there.

4810 Sheppard East, monasroti.com

Runner-up

Mother India

1456 Queen West, mauryaindianrestaurants.com

Best Sandwich

TuckShop Kitchen

This friendly little shop, tucked (yes, tucked) away in the Junction Triangle is devoted to the art of a really good sandwich. A BLT is a simple thing, but they’ve really thought out the perfect bacon, the perfect bun-to-meat ratio and the right amount of mayo. There’s also a seriously decadent roast beef melt, a roasted chicken sandwich and burger (or Beyond Meat burger).  

1640 Dupont, tuckshopkitchen.ca

Runner-up

California Sandwiches

244 Claremont and others, eatcalifornia.ca

Best Seafood Restaurant

Honest Weight

This Junction fishmonger has one of the most low-key amazing seafood menus in town. Sandwiches, salads and okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) are elevated by the seriously fresh fish inside – often changing based on what’s in season. Even their burger is made of cod and shrimp.

2766 Dundas West, honestweight.ca

Runner-up

Pearl Diver

100 Adelaide East, pearldiver.to

Best Server

David Brown – Fearless Meat

The Upper Beach burger joint owner, who you can find behind the counter flipping the patties, has reportedly been called the “Butcher Of Canada” by Julia Child herself. Brown, a butcher for 50 years, made headlines last winter when he announced that seniors and people experiencing houselessness could get his 6-ounce certified angus Beach Burger for free. “Should you be in this situation, I promise that we will make you feel welcomed and respected when you come in and order from us,” Brown wrote in an Instagram post that also reminded that kids get free ice cream, always.

884 Kingston, fearlessmeat1.com

Runner-up

Denny Delgado – George Street Diner

129 George, thegeorgestreetdiner.com

Best Splurge Restaurant

Alo

This contemporary French restaurant’s offshoot Aloette spent the pandemic going a bit downscale, pivoting to burgers and fried chicken that became so popular that you can now find it at Scotiabank Arena. But the original Spadina spot is still a very worthy splurge of blind, multi-course tasting menus. $185 per person is a lot to spend on a meal that you don’t know what it is, but they rarely miss.

163 Spadina, alorestaurant.com

Runner-up

Scaramouche

1 Benvenuto, scaramoucherestaurant.com

Best Sports Bar

RS

The bar within Scotiabank Arena was rebranded from Real Sports to RS, but it’s still the same overwhelming sports experience with screens everywhere so you never miss a minute of whatever sport you’re into. It’s where the players often hang out, too, so you might get to spot a Raptor. There’s a reason it was once voted the best sports bar in America despite being located in Canada.

15 York, rs.ca

Runner-up

Score on King

107 King East, scoreonking.com

Best Steakhouse

The Keg

Our readers must have needed a bit of comfort: The well-known Canadian steakhouse chain claims the title in a competitive category. In a year when traditionally dine-in-oriented places struggled to remain relevant in the takeout landscape, the Keg came through with a takeout/delivery process that eschewed all the major apps to ensure its cuts of meat travelled well. Now that indoor dining has returned, you can head back to enjoy the Billy Miner pie IRL.

Various locations, kegsteakhouse.com

Runner-up

Morton’s

4 Avenue Rd, mortons.com

Best Taco

Hola Luna

Named after and dedicated to owner Ben Mol’s dog, Hola Luna focuses on recreating the taco nights and Tex Mex-inspired dishes he had as a kid. You can find ancho molasses chicken tacos as well as chipotle roasted cauliflower tacos for a vegan option. Prior to launching Hola Luna, Mol tended bar at the Horseshoe and Lee’s Palace. He opened the restaurant after getting laid off during COVID-19 lockdown.

1357 Dundas West, holaluna.ca

Runner-up

Seven Lives Tacos y Mariscos

72 Kensington, sevenlivesto.ca

Best Tapas

Bar Raval

It’s no wonder scenesters have been jockeying for tables since Raval opened back up: Grant van Gameren’s Spanish resto-bar pivoted to takeout and delivery just like everyone else last year, but its tapas just doesn’t have the same impact at home. Those small, perfect plates are meant to be shared with friends, and doing so in Raval’s cozy, woody space is an essential part of the experience. (First-timers: start with the mushroom tower, the kitchen bread and the fried eggplant and honey, and work outward from there.)

505 College, thisisbarraval.com

Runner-up

Patria

478 King West, patriatoronto.com

Best Tea

Genuine Tea

Co-founders Sarah Wilcox and David O’Connor studied the art of tea across Asia before returning to Canada to start Genuine Tea. The company offers all types of herbal, white, green and black loose-leaf teas, and also some specialty options such as microground teas, which are great for tea lattes. Everything is available online, and they also sell plastic-free tea bags that are more environmentally friendly. Genuine Tea also donates one per cent of all proceeds to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Genuinetea.ca

Runner-up

Lemon Lily

Lemonlily.ca

Courtesy of Pai

Best Thai restaurant

Pai

Jeff and Nuit Regular have no shortage of great Thai properties across town – including a quartet of Sukhothai locations – but Pai really is something special. The night-market-inspired eatery does punchy riffs on the cuisine of chef Nuit’s northern Thailand, set against a backdrop of fluttering flags and lively tunes. The recently opened uptown location’s menu includes items like pad see ew, a dish that made a brief appearance on Kiin’s lunch menu a few years ago and on Chef Nuit’s pop-up menu.

18 Duncan, 2335 Yonge, paitoronto.com

Runner-up

Bangkok Garden

18 Elm, bangkokgarden.ca

Best Tibetan restaurant

Momo Hut and Gardens

We think of Parkdale as the place to be for Tibetan food – but some of the best momos are served across town on the Danforth. In addition to delicious beef, lamb, chicken and shrimp versions, Momo Hut also dishes out plenty of vegetarian-friendly options (the spinach, feta and glass noodle is one of our favourites). Round things out with chili chicken, crispy cauliflower and traditional butter tea.

401 Danforth, facebook.com/momohutandgardens

Runner-up

The MoMo House

1422 Queen West, 1240 Bay, 685 Queen West, themomohouse.com

Best Toronto Beer (APA)

Muddy York Diving Horse Pale Ale

Muddy York’s lineup is constantly in flux, and not all of its beers stick around that long, But Diving Horse, introduced in 2015, keeps resurfacing; it’s the closest thing to a perennial the brewery has, with a fruity kick and a crisp 5.6 per cent ABV that also counts as a kick. It’s not currently available at Muddy’s website, so if you see any around at your local haunts, grab ’em while you can. It’ll likely be back in the spring, but… you know, just in case.

22 Cranfield, muddyyorkbrewing.com

Runner-up

Great Lakes Canuck Pale Ale

30 Queen Elizabeth, greatlakesbeer.com

Best Toronto Beer (Brown Ale)

Left Field Brewery Eephus

Named for the “risky and unexpected high-arching pitch” deployed to surprise batters, Left Field’s American brown ale takes this year’s honours. The brewery’s website suggests pulled pork sandwiches or roasted peanuts as ideal pairings for the malty, nutty brew, but it goes beautifully with just about anything salty or spicy; nachos, for instance, or a very large bag of pretzels. Just make sure to pace yourself; at 5.5 per cent ABV, it has a way of sneaking up on you.

36 Wagstaff, leftfieldbrewery.ca

Runner-up

Black Oak Brewing Nut Brown Ale

75 Horner, blackoakbeer.com

Best Toronto Beer (IPA)

Indie Alehouse Instigator IPA

The Junction brewpub’s West Coast-style IPA is easily the hoppiest beer you’ll find in this entire guide, jumping with pine and citrus and an ABV of 6.5 per cent. The aggro art on the can may activate your fight-or-flight response, but the beer inside is a charmer, with just the right edge of bitterness. The only thing it’s likely to instigate is an order for a second pint.

2876 Dundas West, indiealehouse.com

Runner-up

Great Lakes Octopus Wants to Fight

30 Queen Elizabeth, greatlakesbeer.com

Best Toronto Beer (Lager)

Indie Alehouse Marco Polo

Technically an Italian-style pilsner, but we don’t have a category for that so this will have to do. Now available at the LBCO, the 5 per cent ABV Marco Polo drinks crisp and clean, a perfect complement to the Indie Alehouse’s menu; we’re not saying it’s the only thing you should drink with the Nashville fried chicken sandwich, but why would you mess with perfection.

2876 Dundas West, indiealehouse.com

Runner-up

Muddy York Gaslight Helles Lager

22 Cranfield, muddyyorkbrewing.com

Best Toronto Beer (Sour)

Bellwoods Jelly King

All hail the king, baby. The 5.6 per cent dry-hopped sour is a signature pour at Bellwoods Brewery, where its ability to harmonize two entirely different styles of beer fascinates newcomers and delights regulars. Bellwoods just rolled out a limited-edition cranberry and tangerine variant, blending two more wonderful things together for our delectation.

124 Ossington, bellwoodsbrewery.com

Runner-up

Blood Brothers Paradise Lost

165 Geary, bloodbrothersbrewing.com

Best Toronto Beer (Wheat beer)

Muddy York Haberdasher Hefeweizen

November’s a little cold for wheat beer, so bookmark Muddy York’s cloudy, refreshing take on the traditional German weissbier for summer 2022, when you’ll be in need of its lively golden brightness – and its buzzy 5.2 per cent alcohol content – on a sweltering patio.

22 Cranfield, muddyyorkbrewing.com

Runner-up

Indie Ale House Broken Hipster

2876 Dundas West, indiealehouse.com

Best vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant

Fresh

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our readers still love this long-time staple for its hefty grain bowls and wraps, as well as cult fave dishes like quinoa-coated onion rings. With seven locations all open for takeout and delivery, they’re serving herbivorous diners all over town – and founder Ruth Tal’s cookbooks mean fans can get their fix at home too. Parent company Recipe Unlimited just acquired full ownership of Fresh, meaning the brand will now expand nation-wide.

Various locations, freshrestaurants.com

Runner-up

Planta

Plantarestaurants.com

Best Vodka Distillery

Spirit of York

The gin and vodka distillers pride themselves on using 100 per cent Ontario rye wheat, leading to a crisp and clean vodka with hints of green apple and a little spice. You can pick up their bottles at the LCBO, but perhaps the best way to experience their spirits is during a tasting tour at their Distillery District heritage space with its rustic bitters library and botanicals wall.

12 Trinity, spiritofyork.com

Runner-up

Nickel 9 Distillery

90 Cawthra, nickel9distillery.com

Best Wine Bar

The Wood Owl

This new offshoot of the next-door spot the Wren is all about wine. Sommelier Darryl Crawford locally sources as much as he can and otherwise showcases under-appreciated wine regions. You can even get a wine cocktail. The food is there to compliment the wine, but you can’t go wrong with that rockfish crudo.

1380 Danforth, instagram.com/thewoodowlto

Runner-up

Paradise Grapevine

841 Bloor West, paradisegrapevine.com

Read more 2021 Readers’ Choice poll results here

@nowtoronto

Brand Voices

4 responses to “Readers’ Choice 2021: The best places to eat and drink in Toronto”

  1. The list started ok but best Italian food is Terroni? Best Japanese is Kinton Ramen? The Keg for best Steakhouse? Are the voters on crack?

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