Happy customers get ready to tuck into the Black Hoof’s charcuterie.
1. Black Hoof
928 Dundas W, at Gore Vale, 416-551-8854, theblackhoof.com
Jennifer Agg likes to do things differently.
Not only does her groundbreaking snout-to-tail bistro refrain from serving customary three-course dinners, but you can't make reservations or pay via credit card either. Instead, her kitchen - whose graduates include then-superstars-in-training like Grant van Gameren (Bar Isabel), Colin Tooke (Grand Electric) and Geoff Hopgood (Foodliner) - sends out a parade of appetizer-sized plates that more than often contain offal. You'll see pigs' blood in custard, spit-roasted veal shanks oozing bone marrow, spicy horse tartare, seared foie gras drizzled with Nutella, all washed down with a bevy of bevvies. Just don't order vodka; Agg doesn't stock it because she can't abide the stuff.
You either get the Hoof (and its spinoff brunch-only Hoof Café and seafood-centric Hoof Raw Bar next door) or you don't. Toronto's dining scene hasn't been this shaken up since Susur Lee started serving his tasting menu backwards!
Thursday to Saturday 6 pm to 1 am, Sunday and Monday 6 to 11:30 pm. Closed Tuesday, Wednesday, some holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement.
2. 416 Snack Bar
Before Adrian Ravinsky and David Stewart's small-plate resto-lounge came along two years ago, Hogtown's idea of a nice, light snack was a Coffee Crisp. Nowadays, virtually half the new nosheries on the west side have jumped on the lite-bite bandwagon.
The 416 got there first, with downsized takes on Reuben sandwiches piled with house-smoked pastrami, lobster rolls sided with a thimbleful of crustacean bisque, and miniature meatball hoagies. Trini-inspired doubles (singles?) and $9 charcuterie boards, too.
Sure beats an Oh Henry.
Nightly 5 pm to 2 am. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor.
Grand Electric attracts a crowd with dishes like the Beef Crudo Tostado.
3. Grand Electric
Has it really only been 18 months since Colin Tooke and Ian McGrenaghan quietly launched their nuevo taqueria in Parkdale? Despite a 40-seat summertime patio out back, the lineups are just as long as they were on day one. And deservedly so.
The taco-loco queue patiently for soft grilled tortillas piled with crisply battered tilapia finished with slivered radish, braised beef cheeks with buttery avocado, and deep-fried cauliflower in scallion chiffonade. Taco Bell this ain't, but those with an aversion to loud old-school rap might want to bring ear protection. Or have several more belts of bourbon from the 60-some behind the bar.
Oft copied but rarely replicated - we're looking at you, La Carnita - Electric is grand for a number of reasons.
Lunch daily 11:30 am to 4 pm, dinner Monday to Wednesday 5:30 pm to midnight, Thursday to Sunday 5:30 pm to 1 am. No reservations. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
Get the Banh Mi Boys' pulled pork taco at a newly opened second location.
4. Market 707 @ Scadding Court
Who could have guessed that a city-backed initiative that allows nearly a dozen would-be retaurateurs the chance to hang their shingles on converted shipping containers on a sidewalk in front of an inner city community centre would turn into a don't-miss street food mecca?
We blame the wacky kebab-like yakikushi at Gushi and the Wiggle Room's Newfie fries swimming in beef gravy and what appears to be Stove-top Stuffing. Then there are the awesome Colombian-style tostadas layered with sweetly pulled pork or vegan ceviche at Ceviche 707, oddly enough. And new kid Kitchen Cargo makes a mean meat pie.
But the truly adventurous should make a beeline for Kanto, where tangy Filipino noodles come tossed with shrimp, crispy lechon pork gets sided with pickled mango slaw, and the special of the house is balut, a soft-boiled duck eggs complete with crunchy 14-day-old embryo that's said to be an aphrodesiac.
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 7 pm or later depending on the weather. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free.
If it's a quiet dinner for two over a bottle of wine you want, you've come to the wrong place. But if its trendy Japorean plates that slide down best while pounding sake, this Vancouver-based izakaya is just the ticket.
And did we mention that Guu is ridiculously loud? The samurai staff seem to never shut up, whether greeting every arrival and depature with an "'Irasshai!' or shouting out every order above the din of a non-stop disco loop. The assault continues on the tastebuds, where calamari comes with ketchup, and grilled seafood does battle with cheese. They make a more-than-okay ramen at lunch, mind.
And then they start yelling again and you lift your glass in salute: Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2 pm, dinner nightly 5 to 11:30 pm (Church); lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2 pm, dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 11:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to 12:30 am (Bloor). Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free (Church); barrier-free, washrooms in basement (Bloor).
Get Chantecler's superb Peking duck lettuce wrap (lettuce not visible) on Mondays only.
Jonathan Poon and Jacob Wharton-Shukster's ultra-exclusive tasting menu may get all the headlines, but its their Koean-style lettuce wraps that have proven the 26-seat Parkdale beanery's bread and butter.
And who's to argue with deliciously caramelized pork shoulder, Chinese-braised beef ribs or Mondays-only Peking duck wrapped in crisp Boston lettuce, sided with steamed rice, house quickles and several spicy sauces, especially when the lot goes for 21 bucks a pop? Share with a group or pig out solo at the bar.
Monday and Wednesday 6 to 11 pm, Thursday and Friday 6 pm to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 6 pm to 1 am. Bar nightly till close. Closed Tuesday, some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.
7. Banh Mi Boys
After taking local foodies by storm when it first launched 18 months ago, this multiculti Saigon sub shop - with that inevitable twist! - has turned into a very well-oiled machine, so much so that the Boys have just opened a second location close to lucrative Ryerson.
Yes, the lineups are just as long, but worth it for spectacular Vietnamese panini layered with the likes of duck confit, braised beef cheeks and lemon grass tofu. Deep-fried squid even. Tacos come Korean-style with fiery kalbi beef, while sweet potato fries get dressed with pulled pork, mayo and kimchee.
There's a secret menu, too. Ask for a "Club Bao" with a wink and receive a steamed bun piled high club-sandwich style with fried chicken, five-spiced pork belly and a whack o' house-made pickles.
Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday 11 am to 9 pm (Yonge); Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday 11 am to 9 pm, Sunday noon to 7 pm. Closed Sunday, some holidays (Yonge); some holidays (Queen W). No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free.
Jin Linda Liu, owner of Chinese Traditional Buns, displays her signature pork hamburger.
8. Chinese Traditional Buns
536 Dundas W, at Kensington, 416-299-9011; 3278 Midland, at Finch E, 416-273-8198
Since first debuting in an obscure Spadina food court, Jin Linda Liu's northern Chinese snack shack has grown into two super-cheap and super-successful sit-down restaurants, the latest in the Scarborough Sky City mall. And while her single-page menu of dumplings and dim sum has expanded as well, the specialties remain the major draw. We go back time and time again for cool jellied bean curd thick with dried shrimp, raw garlic and chili oil, and steamed Tianjin-style "burgers" stuffed with shredded pork and raw ginger.
Pyromaniacs will want to fall face first into bowls of hand-pulled Dan Dan noodles laced with spicy minced pork, shredded ear fungus and lip-numbing Szechuan peppercorns.
Daily 11 am to 11 pm. No reservations. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: 12 steps at door, washrooms on same floor (Dundas); barrier-free (Midland).
Now that virtually every trat in town this side of the Ol' Spaghetti Factory does some variation on tapas, this pioneering Kensington cantina sometimes gets missed in the crush. All the better for us.
We'll be back for sweetly blistered padrón peppers, Manchego-wrapped dates wrapped in bacon and Andalusion stews thick with chickpeas and spinach on one of the loveliest backyard decks around. And don't forget to check out the new paella lineup.
Sunday to Wednesday 5:30 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: five steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
10. Gale's Snack Bar
539 Eastern, at Carlaw
The Priest and the Boys aren't the only restos in town with a secret menu.
For the past, oh, 40 years or so, the regulars at this greasiest of spoons - among them the local chapter of the Hell's Angels - have known that for an extra 75 cents, owners Eda and David Chan will turn their $1.35 cheeseburger into an unlisted double cheeseburger. Throw in a plate of diner-style fries ‘n' gravy and a made-from-scratch vanilla milkshake and barely break a fiver.
"We're not like McDonald's, where the prices are sky high."
Monday to Friday 10:30 am to 6 pm, Saturday noon to 5 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: five steps at door, tiny washroom on same floor.