The Restaurant Guide

NOW's comprehensive guide to Toronto restaurants reviewed -- and rated -- within the past two years crosses cultures and the town


NNNNN ­­– pure perfection

NNNN ­­– outstanding except for a few missteps

NNN ­­– recommended, worthy of repeat visits Rating: NNNNN


AFRICAN

UETHIOPIAN HOUSE

4 Irwin, 923-5438

Think you can handle the heat? Fiery steak dishes get some cooling relief from milder veggie purees at this East African eatery where fingers replace forks. Best: gin-soaked steak gored-gored steak tartare-like kitfo chopped collard greens sweet tomato atakelt wot, an almost Italian stew of potato, carrots and green beans inexpensive vegetarian combination platters all eaten on and with sourdough injera. Complete dinners for $15 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a bottle of Kenyan Tusker beer. Open daily noon to 1 am. Fully licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms on second floor. Rating: NNNNOMADS

936 King West, 703-4942Despite its desolate location, this friendly neighbourhood bistro mixes Eritrean, Egyptian, Sudanese and Moroccan influences to produce a modern North African-Mediterranean hybrid cuisine that’s high in spice, innovation and finesse. Pyrophobes need not fear the fire — chef Keleta downplays the heat. But add flame-thrower-strength berbere hot sauce at your own risk! Best: Timbuktu Delight rack of lamb chops glazed with honey-garlic cumin Cleopatra’s Favourite hollowed-out eggplant stuffed with grilled zucchini, turmeric mashed potato and spinach, topped with orange-beet sauce Nefertitti mixed greens salad with hearts of palm, figs and honey-sweet beets sauteed okra bamia with red-pepper and onion coulis. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($12 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a pint of lager. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 5 pm, for dinner daily 5 to 11 pm, Saturday and Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Bar open till 2 am. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN

Cafes

U f AUNTIES AND UNCLES

74 Lippincott, 324-1375

A proto-mod hole-in-the-wall dishing up superb grill-pressed sandwiches and wondrous waffles to the cool sounds of 60s beat groups. Best: fluffy omelettes du jour with challah toast, or classique croque monsieur, both served with garlic-spiked mashed-potato salad and cantaloupe wedges Belgian waffles with sauteed fruit anchovy-and-eggless Caesar salad exactly the same as that served at a fancy place whose name escapes us straightforward winter soups like leek and potato. Complete lunches and brunches for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNf x BONJOUR BRIOCHE

812 Queen East, 406-1250

Neighbourhood noshery with a Parisian bent serving up all-day breakfasts and midday meals. Best: scrambled eggs with potato rosti topped with a smoked salmon rosette, horseradish sour cream and salmon roe Provençal omelette with tomato, Swiss, chives and red pepper cubes daily quiche and soup combos oversized butter- and egg-rich brioche and divine almond croissants. Complete brunches/lunches for $12 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Tuesday to Friday 8 am to 5 pm, Saturday 8 am to 4 pm and Sunday 8 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday. Beer and wine. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: short step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNU f x CAFE BERNATE

1024 Queen West, 535-2835

This is a laid-back lunch spot on the frontier of Queen West’s hip strip. Best: chilled summer soups like pulpy gazpacho, dill-ish yogurt cucumber, guacamole with a peppery punch sandwich and salad combos in infinite variations: ham, avocado, provolone on Dijoned baguette with retro greens tossed in poppy-seed lemon mayo, perhaps? Lattes and caps, homemade iced tea and lemonade, memorable in-house muffins that always sell out early. Nippy huevos rancheros with tortilla and salsa at brunch. Complete lunches for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 4 pm, Saturday brunch 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: two-inch step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNU f x CHAI

1575 Bayview, 483-9512

A smart brunch ‘n’ luncheonette on style-conscious Bayview. Best: specialty teas from Asia, Africa and South America sold by the pound or freshly brewed Chai on Chai, their souped-up version of the Indian-spiced drink sizable sandwiches, credible soups and Asian-influenced salads, retro quiches and pot pies. Complete lunches and brunches for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a cuppa tea. Open Monday to Friday 10 am to 7 pm, Saturday, Sunday and holidays 9 am to 6 pm. Weekend brunch till noon. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNDIPAMO’S BARBECUE

838 College, 532-8161Kansas City-style down-home barbecue in a beanery that’s anything but upmarket. Don’t mind the digs dig the grub — super slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth stuff. Have a peek in the backyard and check out a smoker that’s so large it cooks 250 pounds of meat at a time! Best: BBQ combo of crusty but moist spice-rubbed pork ribs, beef brisket and chicken with tremendous smoker-baked beans pulled pork sandwich Venezuelan egg dishes like poached Eggs Hector or Eggs Domino. Complete dinners for $20 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a pint of premium beer. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday noon to 3 pm, for dinner Monday to Thursday 5 to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNf HELLO TOAST

993 Queen East, 778-7299

Campy weekend brunches and deluxe weeknight dinners from a kitschy kitchen with the accent on bric-a-brac — antique toasters, 40s dining room furniture and a chandelier made from 50s Fiberglass lamps. Best: deluxe eggs Benedict with smoked salmon smothered in creamy dill hollandaise atop two toasted English muffins alongside crunchy golden home fries perfectly poached eggs Florentine covered in Swiss Mornay with grilled tomato slice and more fries substantial omelette of the day, like cheddar cheese or ripe tomato with Gruyere you won’t say, “Hold the toast” when it’s two thick slices of healthy multigrain or buttery challah. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday 11 am to 3 pm, for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 10 pm, and for brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 to 4 pm. Closed Monday. Complete brunches for $12 per person, including all taxes and tip. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN* f JULES

147 Spadina, 348-8886For some hipsters, Queen and Spadina is the centre of the universe. But there hasn’t been anywhere to eat that’s cheap, chic and unique. With classic, casual French fare as streamlined as its cool decor, this family-affair 30-seat cafe is a neighbourhood hit. Best: fabulous thin-crust quiche — yes, quiche — thick with either Swiss cheese, bacon and broccoli or feta with eggplant ratatouille La Bavette — herb-dusted flank steak with mesclun, veggies and first-rate fries foot-long baguette sandwiches like Le Parisien (Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese and tart cornichons) or creamy Brie with tomato and greens, all with pureed soup, mesclun or fries oven-roasted quarter-chicken with the same sides house-baked tarte aux pommes. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 10 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Beer and wine only. Access: short step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN

KENSINGTON CAFE

73 Kensington, 971-5632Quintessential market-fresh eatery serving quality snacks, light lunches and substantial late-afternoon dinners. Best: skilfully prepared Parmesan-creamy risotto freckled with black beans and assisted by grilled veg, chicken strips or plump shrimp praiseworthy panini like prime rib, chicken breast with Korean pickled kimchee, or roast pork with pancetta and avocado on Calabrese linguine alla carbonara rich with egg, bacon, cream and cheese house salad of garden greens, chick peas, carrot shoelaces in a sweet Dijon dressing. Complete dinners for $17 per person ($12 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm). Fully licensed. Cash only. Access: two steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNU T MERCATTO

15 Toronto, 366-4567

An extremely busy lunchtime destination in the downtown core, this weekdays-only spot is a combination grocery store, deli takeout and pasta ‘n’ pizza parlour. Expect noontime chaos. Best: specials like sweet-potato-stuffed ravioli in pesto cream with peppers potato gnocchi with prosciutto and grilled mushrooms calzone folded over artichoke hearts, black olives, ham and mozzarella, all slathered with onion-studded sweet tomato sauce hearty seasonal soups — fibrous carrot or pumpkin puree, Mediterranean bean — combined with such panini as rare roast beef with caramelized onion and horseradish mayo on crusty ciabatta roll for the bargain takeout price of $6.99 double chocolate pistachio biscotti that get even better after a spell in the freezer Gryfe’s bagels. Complete meals for $16 to $22 per person ($8 to $12 takeout), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Friday 7 am to 7 pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNf x MITZI’S

100 Sorauren, 588-1234

Quirky storefront luncheonette on a tree-lined street in Parkdale serving formidable weekend noshes. Warning: lineups at peak periods. Best: thick egg-bread French toast with ripe strawberries and whipping cream, spiced home fries and fruit perfectly poached eggs on spinach chiffonade maple-syruped lemon poppyseed pancakes studded with pecans. Complete lunches or brunches for $12 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Tuesday to Friday 7:30 am to 6 pm, for brunch Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
f PETER PAN 373 Queen West, 593-0917

The restaurant that defined Queen West, Toronto’s original trendy hangout remains cutting-edge after 20 years. Best: angrily spiced farfalle with capers signature open-faced Peter Pan burger with homemade fries grilled salmon on rice, spinach ‘n’ pinenut salad veggie sushi with tiger shrimp excellent $6.95 pasta-and-salad weekday lunches like mussels in tomato sauce or linguine with smoked chicken. Complete dinners for $35 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Thursday noon to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 1 am. Brunch Sunday noon to 4 pm and dinner to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Access: narrow doorway, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
PIZZA TOURNESOL 408 Dupont, 925-8881Not a pizzeria per se, this is the less expensive — but far more comfortable — cousin of Bistro Tournesol next door. Dinner reservations essential. Best: big enough for a main or a starter for two salade niçoise designer pizzas like the namesake Tournesol or all-veggie Venice large-portioned pastas like linguine con pollo — grilled chicken, chevre and sun-dried tomato. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($22 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday noon to 3 pm and for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
f QUEEN MOTHER CAFE 208 Queen West, 598-4719

The doyenne of Queen West perseveres after almost 20 years dishing up savvy Thai specialties and vegetarian mains in definitive digs. Best: Cosmic veggie burger with high-protein grains, nuts, herbs and mushrooms in a whole-wheat pita with spiked mayo My Lunch In Provence of grilled Egyptian flatbread topped with grilled eggplant, zucchini and chevre, with chunky fries on a banana leaf ubiquitous pad thai — but hey, they did it first! — with chicken, shrimp and coriander-peanut crunch. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 1 am, Sunday noon to midnight. Brunch Sunday noon to 4:30 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
*U x T RAHIER 1717 Bayview, 482-0917

Rapturously rich chocolate gateaux and fruit tarts from a Paris-perfect patisserie in nouveau-riche Bayview Village. Best: single-serving cakes honouring famous French folks the likes of Napoleon (dark chocolate mousse with orange creme brulee on rice-crisp sponge cake) or Hugo (fruity yellow mango mousse over a layer of red berry gelee on chocolate sponge). Luscious seasonal fruit tartlets — raspberry, peach, apricot, kiwi, black and green grapes in custard on buttery pate brisee. Miniature chocolate explosions like florentins, tiny chocolate shells crammed with honeyed almonds and candied cherries. Almond, apricot croissants, rustic walnut breads, savoury cheese palmiers. Takeout desserts for $5 per person, including taxes. Open Wednesday to Saturday 8 am to 5 pm, Sunday 8 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
U f x SAVING GRACE

907 Dundas West, 899-9186 This deceptively anonymous space — white-on-white walls, minimalist decor, 20 seats tops — offers stylish salads and sandwiches at wallet-friendly prices. Once word gets out about their no-reservations weekend brunches, west-siders will line up overnight. Best: super brunch menu of corn cakes with fiery mango chutney grilled croissant with melting Brie, pear and walnut with honey-basil-dressed greens weekday soups like coconut-chicken or Cuban bean, both kicked with Thai peppers sandwiches en baguette of peameal, avocado and tomato or roasted eggplant, tomato and mozzarella drizzled with homemade pesto sorta niçoise or romaine with blue cheese, bacon and pear salads. Complete meals for $10 per person, including taxes and tip. Open Tuesday to Thursday 9 am to 4 pm, Friday 9 am to 3 pm, for brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday and holidays. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: 2-inch step at door, five steps to washroom. Rating: NNN

*x SUCReacute 471 Richmond West, 703-8855

A very low-key cafe in the fashion district that takes attention to detail to new heights. Savour first-rate sandwiches and salads in a superbly designed space, or phone or fax your order for neighbourhood delivery. Style gurus Wallpaper copied them! Best: niçoise sucré with albacore tuna, tomato, new potatoes, green beans and capers over mesclun in a lemony Parmesan vinaigrette daily pastas like gnocchi in tomato-basil pesto grilled Provimi veal with Belgian endive on a baguette, or chicken breast, roasted peppers, mushrooms, onion and Asiago sandwiched in focaccia superb in-house-baked croissants, scones and low-fat muffins fizzy Italian drinks. Complete lunches for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 7 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
*f SWALLOW 1544 Queen West, 535-1811

Once a modest bruncheteria in a converted Parkdale grocer’s, this jumble-sale-fitted cafe still looks like a 60s Whole Earth flashback. The surroundings fade when the surprisingly sophisticated and expertly prepared upmarket grub arrives at table. And they now do dinner! Best: filet mignon with shiitake and blueberry jus with garlic mash grilled sea bass with artichoke and lemon seven-days-a-week brunch with smooth eggs Benedict topped with seared sirloin Tex-Mex burritos stuffed with black beans, scrambled eggs, sweet peppers and cheddar humongous two-fisted sandwiches like grilled green cheese with pesto mayo or Cubano roast pork with guacamole and habañero mayo. Complete dinners for $15 per person ($10 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Sunday to Tuesday 10 am to 5 pm, Wednesday to Saturday 10 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

f T XXX DINER 894 Queen West, 536-2822

A dog-friendly diner — the Triple X to regulars — dishing up a Tex Mex egg-oriented brunch and lunch menu in casually cool digs. On weekends, jazzy drum ‘n’ bass DJs spin vinyl from noon on. Best: Jumbo empanadas, home fries, balsamic-dressed organic mesclun and caraway rye toast scrambled-egg-and-black-bean breakfast burrito with tomato salsa, guacamole and sour cream portobello and Brie omelette vegan banana bread. Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open daily 7 am to 6 pm, Saturday 9 am to 4 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN

Caribbean

U x ALI’S WEST INDIAN ROTI SHOP 1446 Queen West, 532-7701

This Parkdale fast-food parlour offers terrific Trinidadian treats. Best: dhalpoori, sada and paratha rotis stuffed with spicy exotica like roast duck, Caribbean conch, shrimp, or veggie-only pumpkin, eggplant, chana and potato adventurous foodies will want to try the tomato and breadfruit in an incendiary stew homemade soursop ice cream helps to control the afterburn. Complete dinners for $10 per person, including all taxes. Open Monday to Thursday 10 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to midnight, Sunday 10 am to 10 pm. Smoke-free. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
U x T BACCHUS 1376 Queen West, 532-8191

Tortilla wrappers stuffed with all manner of exotica are king on the West Coast, but in multicultural Metro we prefer rotis. Here, they get a Guyanese twist with baked-to-order wheat shells. Best: fabulous shrimp, spinach, squash and cheddar curried chicken, beef or goat topped with lettuce, onion, tomatoes and X-rated hot sauce vegan mix-and-match sweet squash, green beans, cabbage, okra, chickpeas, potatoes, eggplant and meat-like tofu crisply sweet yam-ish deep-fried plantain the Carib popover called doubles peanut butter cakes. Complete dinners for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Wednesday 11 am to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am to 11 pm. Closed Sundays. Smoke-free. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
U GANDHI 554 Queen West, 504-8155

A favourite of superstar chef Greg Couillard and an offshoot of the far pricier Babur, this comfortable hole-in-the-wall offers fancier rotis than most of its nearby competition. Mind you, you pay extra for the added quality of the ingredients, but it’s worth it. A few tables, but most hit the street to eat. Best: boneless lamb roti with spicy potato and chickpea chana tomato-sauced boneless chicken jalfoorezi with cauliflower and green peas saag paneer (pureed spinach and tofu-like milk cheese), dalpoori roti. Complete dinners for $10, including tax and a bottle of juice. Open daily 11:30 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, but no washrooms. Rating: NNN

IRIE 808 College, 531-4743On a street synonymous with Italian food, this modestly decorated Jamaican diner offers island fare with expertise. Best: jerk pork tenderloin — possibly the city’s choicest — and jerk chicken and shrimp sided with tropical fruit and served with coconut-fragrant nutty rice and peas jerk chicken-breast salad with designer greens and tart tamarind vinaigrette JA-style thinnest-crust-ever roti pizza with avocado, sweet-pepper confetti and Parmesan vegetarian pepper-pot soup brimming with Caribbean veggies thermonuclear hot sauce cooling fruit punch and coconut cream pie. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($12 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a tropical punch. Open Sunday to Wednesday 4 pm to midnight, Thursday and Friday 11:30 am to midnight, Saturday 2 pm to midnight. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNf JAMAICA SUNRISE 1959 Queen East, 691-2999

Finally, the Beach heats up! This indoor-fancy, outdoor-funky Caribbean-spiced eatery serves up first-rate food with appeal that should reach beyond the surrounding white-bread neighbourhood. Cool retro jammin’ tunes and friendly vibes, too. Best: steamed red snapper with crisp okra, cauliflower, broccoli and carrot doused with butter and thyme twigs punchy bone-in curried goat or mouth-melting oxtail with rice ‘n’ peas — make sure to order the big-enough-for-two portion of jerked gravy and insist on the house-made Scotch Bonnet hot sauce — and creamy cole slaw hearty vegetarian-friendly soups like red pea with dumpling gingerbread-like sweet-potato pudding homemade ginger beer. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($13 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a bottle of imported beer. Open daily 11:30 am to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement, backyard patio barrier-free. Rating: NNN
U x T ROTI FACTORY 177 Baldwin, 340-9540

A gaudy Kensington Market hole-in-the-wall offers first-rate Trinidadian-style takeout rotis spiked with killer homemade hot sauces. Best: possibly the best hot sauces in town — coriander, mango, tamarind or bottled carrot-based — atop chickpea-flour wraps stuffed with market-fresh veggies like eggplant, potato, chana, long green beans and unripe plantain tender slow-cooked beef or oxtail versions. Complete dinners for $7 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open daily 6 am to 7 pm. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
U x SHANTY’S 1806 Eglinton West, 785-1205

If a film crew ever wanted to shoot in a picture-perfect recreation of a JA jerk shack, this be the place — except they’d never fit. Seating six tops, this tiny takeout spot offers seriously spiced island fare. Best: fried red snapper escovitch soused in lime, onion, red and green pepper and carrot cool salt cod and scrambled-egg-like ackee with deep-fried doughnut dumpling not-too-hot jerk chicken dinners with rice and peas freshly pulped carrot juice intense dark rum cake with coconut icing. Complete dinners for $10 per person, including all taxes. Open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 11 pm, Sunday noon to 7 pm. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Home delivery. Access: barrier-free, but no washrooms. Rating: NNN

Chinese

f T GRAND YATT 9109 Bayview, (905) 882-9388

Judging by the Bentleys and Rolls Royces parked out front, this Richmond Hill mega-eatery has an extremely affluent clientele. But a dim sum feast here doesn’t strain even the most modest wallet. Best: both a la carte and off-the-cart delicacies like pan-fried chive pancakes mixed with shredded shrimp and pork deep-fried sticky rice balls studded with red bean and pork beware the Phoenix Claws — cold, pickled chicken feet! Complete dim sum lunches for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of imported Chinese beer. Open daily 9 am to 10 pm, dim sum to 3 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
U HAPPY SEVEN 358 Spadina, 971-9820

This Cantonese seafood haven stays open every night till 5 am. The white menu offers standard Spadina fare, but once the stern staff get to know you, you get the pink menu, which contains a secret world of unusual delicacies. Best: straight-from-the-tank tilapia with fermented black bean sauce sea scallops in tiara taro nest with broccoli and mushrooms for the adventurous, honey-skinned mahogany-fleshed fried pigeon deep-fried frog legs stir-fried chicken with apple Malaysian-style tung choi — greens with spicy satay sauce Yeung Chow soyless fried rice definitive hot-and-sour soup. Complete dinners for $20 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open daily 11 am to 5 am. Beer and wine. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
*U x HYUNG SING PASTRY 22 Baldwin, 979-2832

Lunchtime lineups start early at this longtime takeout-only bargain-hunter’s paradise. Dig those stuffed buns! Best: Chinese turnovers full of curried beef, BBQ chicken or creamy tofu pork or veggie spring rolls hot-and-sour soup vegetarian chow mein tempura chicken wings lotus nut shortcake. Complete lunches for $3 per person, including all taxes. Open daily 11 am to 7 pm. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, but no washrooms. Rating: NNNN

U KIM HOA 332 Spadina, 971-9719

Old-school Cantonese cuisine favouring Szechuan specialties. New-style Spadina digs spotlight friendly staff and an extensive menu. Best: shrimp-packed extremely hot-and-sour soup vermicelli noodles in broth topped by barbecued duck or pork appetizers of snails or mussels in peanuty Thai sauce massive portions of Cantonese noodles full of crisp veggies and just-right seafood black cod in black bean and garlic. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Open daily 11 am to midnight. Beer and wine. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
U f OPM DEN 418 Dundas West, 260-2688

Yes, it’s a silly name and, no, laudanum’s not on the menu. But this step-above Cantonese-slash-Szechwan spot combines stylish-for-Chinatown digs, cool tunes and better-than-most food. And there’s a curbside patio. Best: fiery eggplant with thin sirloin strips deep-fried bean curd with whole red chilies, carrots, giant snow peas and Chinese mushrooms dim sum like steamed soup dumplings, cold sesame-oil cellophane-noodle salad, and pan-fried potstickers stuffed with sausage. Complete dinners for $25 ($10 for dim sum lunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Access: 10 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN

f T ROL SAN

323 Spadina, 977-1128Retro Cantonese cuisine in a pleasant space a notch above the usual for the area. In the rear, past an open kitchen, a second room reminiscent of a cheesy Hong Kong discotheque decked out with posters of Charlie Chaplin and Princess Di handles the overflow for weekend dim sum. Always packed expect a wait at the door. Best: steamed live sea bass in black-bean sauce minced pork with long beans dim sum such as shrimp-and-chive crispy dumplings and multi-textured seafood har gow in briny broth. Complete dinners for $30 ($15 for daily dim sum brunch and lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Chinese beer. Open Monday to Thursday 10 am to 4 am, Friday 10 am to 5 am, Saturday 9 am to 5 am, and Sunday 9 am to 4 am. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN

U SANG HO 536 Dundas West, 596-1685

Super-clean and straight-from-the-tank seafood at this classic Cantonese chinoiserie. Warning: lineups at dinner, but the place is almost empty at lunch, when they offer remarkably cheap rice with meat and veg toppings. Best: live shrimp with spring onions and garlic tilapia or red snapper gingerly steamed, then deboned tableside and served with a light black bean and garlic sauce off-the-wall-menu specials like razor clams, mussels, snails in a thicker black bean sauce chicken breast with mango slices unfortunately, very few purely vegan choices available. Complete dinners for $20 per person ($7 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open daily noon to midnight. Beer and wine. Access: seven steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
U f x SEABREEZE 1342 Queen East, 406-6060

Jaymz Bee’s favourite restaurant — don’t let that put you off — serves inexpensive dim sum that’s better than you can find on Spadina. Zero decor but dead cheap. Best: crocodile dumplings — critter-shaped dumplings stuffed with shrimp and bamboo shoots spicy dumplings with pork, crushed peanuts and daikon unorthodox shrimp tacos (!) deep-fried bean curd stuffed with minced shrimp sizzling platters of sweet ‘n’ sour steak with green onion Szechuan eggplant with ground pork seven vegetables with crunchy almond. Home delivery. Complete dim sum lunches for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday 3 to 11 pm, Sunday 3 to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

Contemporary

BISTRO TOURNESOL 406 Dupont, 921-7766Clamorous cafe serving up classic bistro fare with a contemporary twist from a seasonally changing price-conscious $22 prix fixe menu. Regulars swear by the place, but neophytes might wonder what all the fuss is about. Regardless, don’t even think of showing up without a reservation. Best: starters like mussels steamed in Chardonnay and herbs, or saged risotto cakes over mesclun topped with chevre main course choices such as pork tenderloin cured in maple syrup, Provimi calf’s liver with garlic mash and leeks, or chevre-stuffed chicken breast rolled in crushed pecans. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Monday. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

BYZANTIUM 499 Church, 922-3859A restaurant of two halves — one a copper-hued cocktail lounge, the other a Prada-green swanky boite — where, with careful menu manoeuvres, the action on diners’ plates beats the non-stop cruise-a-rama parading past the spot’s open French doors. Best: pork tenderloin Vindaloo with sweet-potato samosas and apple-turnip chutney lemon-grass chicken with grilled veggie couscous, wilted greens and tandoori yogurt seared foie gras with savoury corn cakes and salsa mussels in lemon-coriander broth with black beans citrus tarts for dessert. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily for dinner 5:30 to 11 pm martini bar open 5:30 pm to 2 am, till 1 am Sunday and Monday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

* CAFE SOCIETA 796 College, 588-7490

New cook Paul Leitaer continues the creativity of David Chrystian — he assisted Chrystian before he left for To Go — and cooks contemporary fare with classical French touches in a comfortable room where easy-going yet efficient help serve an unpretentious but fashionable crowd inexpensive gastro excellence. Reservations recommended. Best: grilled calamari on a bed of artichokes and Nicoise olives smoked duck breast with potato gratin, Swiss chard and kohlrabi bouillabaisse with fingerling potatoes and New Zealand spinach $27 three-course prix fixe $75 six-course tasting menu with wine. Complete dinners for $40 per person , including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily for dinner 6 to 11 pm. Bar open to 2 am. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNf x T CANTINE 138 Avenue Road, 923-4822

Joey Bersani — of & Carlevale fame — returns to the corner of Av and Dav along with Byzantium partners Pierre Hamel and Paul Beggs to recreate the magic of the mid-80s. Inconsistent in its early days, fine tuning has the team striking gold again. Expect a relaxed and not-at-all snooty place where an upscale crowd shows off ever so tastefully. Brunch reservations recommended. Best: grilled chicken in a sweet-pepper sauce with frites and steamed rapini ‘n’ carrots smoked chicken club on grill-marked challah creamy potato and roasted garlic soup red-pepper frittata with pear and brie for brunch marvellous house-baked focaccia super lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange tarts Napoleon-like apple pie. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($25 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Thursday 10 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to 11 pm, Sunday 10 am to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN

f CASSIS 168A McCaul, 979-0117

Charming contemporary bistro with French touches in a friendly retro Gucci-hued room. Best: lemon-and-rosemary-poached chicken breast with new potatoes and asparagus grilled pork chop with warm avocado salsa and roast potatoes New York strip loin with cognac-peppercorn jus and Yukon garlic mash roast-vegetable-stuffed jumbo empanada with mesclun mix. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($12 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, and for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm, Sunday 5:30 to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 3:30 pm. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, narrow doorway to washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN

U f CITRON 813 Queen West, 504-2647

The all-in-black downtown set discover a new shade of hip — brown! Stylish and understated in-crowd cafe with surprisingly price-conscious non-fashion fare that most won’t notice is veggie-friendly. Best: filling vegetable soups like paprika-

spiked Hungarian mushroom grilled free-range chicken and veggie sandwiches slathered with Citron’s super coriander pesto southwestern vegetarian lasagna with organic greens grilled veg and organic green salads crisp Muscovy duck breast in a pomegranate- blood orange reduction with organic mash. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily 11 am to 2 am. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN* FOCACCIA

17 Hayden, 323-0179This unassuming boite on a back street near Bloor and Yonge belies the culinary creativity found within. Chef Sam Gassira joins the pantheon of artistes — Patriot’s David Chrystian, Roxborough’s Elaina Asselin — who are shaking the foundations of Toronto’s old-guard dining scene. Throw in smooth service and alarmingly low prices, and watch the foodies flock. Best: osso buco with anchovy-spiked portobello gravy and crisp asparagus multi-mushroom risotto with a cornbread-dusted crown of calamari sesame-encrusted sushi-grade tuna with braised cabbage in miso sauce seared strip loin with skillet-fried onion rings and portobello mushrooms in port-wine jus semi-sweet dark chocolate tart fabulous jalapeño-spiked cornbread and oregano-flecked soft breadsticks. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($25 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 3 pm, for dinner 5 to 10 pm Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, 18 steps to washrooms on second floor. Rating: NNNNN

* f x GOLDFISH 372 Bloor West, 513-0077

Despite looking like the departure lounge of Stockholm International, Goldfish soon intrigues and warms the cynical. Downtown chic finally comes to the Annex but leaves the attitude behind. Friendly service, reasonable prices and first-rate fare make reservations essential. Best: starters like salmon tartare with potato and mushroom ravioli with fresh horseradish sered foie gras with gingered pear, saffron potato, and tandoori yogurt tomato-lemon-grass-sauced mussels with sensational angel-hair frites such mains as beet ravioli with cranberries and curried cream seed-crusted Australian lamb with mustard jus and haricots verts herb-roasted breast of capon with potato and taleggio croquette, grilled zucchini, and roasted garlic aioli grilled ostrich tenderloin in orange-peppercorn reduction. Complete dinners for $40 ($20 at lunch and brunch) per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Sunday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am to 3 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

*f INNOCENTI 587 King West, 203-0551

Looking a bit dumpy from the street, this high-style room decorated with a vintage motor scooter serves up a remarkably assured contemporary menu with a slight Ital bent. Although this is the owners’ first effort, their years of experience at other esteemed restaurants — notably Arlequin — are evident in their professional presentation. All this and Serge Gainsbourg on the CD player, too! Best: free-range half-chicken on root veg wedges, wilted greens, and braised fennel osso buco Siliciano on saffron risotto grilled sardines and calamari with humus, roast tomato, and root veggies roast breast of muscovy duck with celeriac gruyere dauphinoise in blackberry-cabernet compote homemade Calabrese veal cutlet sandwiches at lunch. Complete dinners for $45 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 3 pm, and for dinner Monday to Saturday 6 to 11 pm. Brunch Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. Closed holidays. Bar open to 2 am. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN

JOYA 577 College, 588-6458 Trendy trat located at ground zero of hipster dining scene. Cheap-chic decor and retro 90s soundtrack — Deep Forest, Sade, U-bloody-2 — fade away in the face of first-rate grills. Still, starters and desserts need work. Best: perfectly pink grilled veal chop, rack of lamb, 10-ounce strip loin and frenched pork chop, all fabulously sauced and sided with garlic Yukon mash and superb garlic-butter-finished grilled seasonal veggies wine-buttered baked swordfish with mushroom wild rice calamari-ink pasta ribbons — tagliolini — with sauteed scallops ‘n’ shrimp in a tomato-basil sauce grilled veggie pizza with pesto and goat cheese deeply flavoured soups like roasted-tomato puree swirled with cream. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner only, Sunday to Thursday 6 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 6 to midnight. Bar open till 2 am. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

T LAVA

507 College, 966-5282One of Toronto’s coolest nightclubs serves up a new Asian-inspired menu masterminded by ex-Youki sushi whiz Tom Thai. Expect Orient-derived starters and mains with a millennial edge. And absolutely no sushi. Yet. Best: succulent Indonesian beef ribs with al dente seasonal veggies grilled market fish like banana-leaf-wrapped yellowtail tuna with stir-fried rapini and jasmine rice deeply flavoured grilled chicken, with soba noodles in portobello broth phyllo-enveloped chevre with organic mesclun and balsamic-marinated Jerusalem artichoke tender calamari rings with mango ‘n’ cuke salad. Complete dinners for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily 5:30 to 11 pm bar menu till 2 am. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN

f MARSHALL’S 471 Church, 925-0341

A quirky bistro whose eccentricities eventually endear, this 30-seat dining room offers nouvelle-cuisine four-course $26 dinners in relaxed surroundings on a street where food usually means bar snacks. Best: supernal soups such as velvety vichyssoise-like curried mango with lime-marinated shrimp ceviche tomato gazpacho puree with avocado cream-rich corn and potato chowder bosc pear salad with mesclun and honey mustard vinaigrette beef Wellington in puff pastry with asparagus spears pan-sauteed shrimp with a school of sea scallops swimming in wine beached on garlic Yukon mash pancetta-wrapped and apple- and spinach-stuffed pork tenderloin excellent in-house desserts like apple, banana and strawberry turnovers with Swiss almond ice cream. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($25 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch noon to 2:30 pm, for dinner 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday dinner until 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday noon to 3 pm. Closed Monday. Fully licensed. Access: eight steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN

* ORO 45 Elm, 597-0155

Call it Canadian cuisine — classical cooking with a contemporary streak, where convention and creativity combine. These deluxe digs dish up dazzling dinners and less expensive lunches. Best: tea-smoked sea bass with Shanghai bok choy and chorizo-potato mash in a sake-carrot emulsion jerked calamari in mango-coconut vinaigrette black-ink risotto with saffron-zucchini escabeche seared achiote-rubbed tuna with blue corn and sweet potato tamale and aji amarillo jus braised rabbit and apple ravioli with truffle-asparagus sauce. Complete dinners for $60 per person ($40 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 2:30 pm, for dinner Monday to Friday 5 to 10 pm, Saturday 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

* t PATRIOT 131 Bloor West, 922-0025

Ex-Cafe Societa whiz kid David Chrystian re-materializes in the Colonnade with an inspired take on Canadian cuisine. Combine benchmark creativity with suave service, a sleek-chic sophisticated space, a stellar lineup of Canadian vintages and Diana Krall’s swinging supper-club jazz –alas, on CD — and get the most audacious restaurant to explode onto Toronto’s dining scene in years. And there’s a $25 three-course prix fixe! Reservations essential. Best: stuffed saddle of rabbit with five-rice risotto and violet mustard sauce braised Nova Scotia monkfish and seared tuna with Puy lentils, bacon and sage seared venison and osso buco with cocoa spaetzle and mint jus foie gras with sage-apple fritters in cinnamon honey other-worldly chevre cheesecake. Complete dinners for $50 per person ($30 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch 11:30 am to 3 pm, for dinner 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN

* T ROXBOROUGH 1055 Yonge, 323-0000Elaina Asselin returns at her most adventurous, creating neo-classical French fare with contemporary Morrocan influences in a stylish setting capped by superb service. Don’t let the Thurston and Lovey Howells who call this home put you off. Though they probably won’t join in, this is cuisine that deserves celebration. Karaoke perhaps? Best: calf’s liver with oversized onion rings, red onion jam and green-onion mash risotto with fresh corn and wild mushrooms, corn broth and grana padano grilled quail and oven-roasted sweetbreads in pear-ginger-apple-cider glaze with pearl barley duck confit and baby lima bean salad with shiitake mushroom relish inspirational coconut brulee tart sensational house-made breads. Complete dinners for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN

* SARKIS

67 Richmond East, 214-1337

The impossible has occurred! Notoriously quixotic Greg Couillard enters his third year at this small but swanky former luncheonette where his masterful spice-tastic cuisine includes cross-references to southeast Asia, central Africa and the Caribbean. Best: flavour-intense coconut and tomato bouillabaisse rich with lobster, mussels, clams and sea bass simmered in a lemongrass, chili and lime leaf-spiked broth de-boned roasted halves of squab marinated in Thai spice and glazed with lingonberry alongside Thai basil salad Madagascar steak with multi-coloured peppercorns, whipped basil butter and brandied veal demi-glaze butterflied and grilled langoustines stuffed with lobster, cilantro and scallion with smoked chipotle-tomato butter. Complete dinners for $75 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Wednesday 5:30 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm, and for lunch Thursday and Friday noon to 2:30 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN

T SAUVIGNON 1862 Queen East, 686-1998An unpretentious bistro on the edge of the Beach — a neighbourhood, with a few exceptions, not known for its food — this Gallic-flavoured spot offers straightforward fare with panache. Locals have already claimed it, but this stylish eatery deserves a larger audience. They don’t take reservations. Yet. Best: Black Angus strip loin with pommery mustard, smothered onions and Madras roast potatoes risotto primavera with infused basil fruit-stuffed pork tenderloin with roasted red potatoes and braised radicchio pistachio-studded warm goat cheese with wine-soaked pear superb soups like sweet Vidalia onion with Parmesan ‘n’ parsley crouton lemon tart chocolate mousse. Complete dinners for $45 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Sunday to Thursday 5:30 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN*f SPIRAL 582 Church, 964-1102

A beautifully appointed, swanky townhouse setting offers the previously unavailable — fabulous food comes to Boystown! Best: pan-seared red snapper, steamed bamboo-shrimp dumplings and truffle oil rare tea-smoked quail with crispy bean salad oven-roasted Muscovy duck with pomme Maxim and a dried cherry and cranberry compote in passionfruit sauce yellowfin tuna carpaccio with enoki-seaweed salad in pickled ginger vinaigrette. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, for dinner daily 5 to 10:30 pm, brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Access: six steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

*f SWAN 892 Queen West, 532-0452

Ugly duckling luncheonette sheds greasy layers to emerge as swanky joint du jour. Best: freshly shucked oysters on the half shell with fresh grated horseradish crisply cold spinach salad free-range capon breast with celeriac potato mash marmalade- and beer-marinated beef ribs seared sirloin with red-wine shallot reduction and Yorkshire pudding smoked oyster frittata at brunch. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($15 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday noon to 4:30 pm, for dinner Sunday to Wednesday 5 to 10:30 pm, Friday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm, Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, but mostly booth seating, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

TEATRO 505 College, 972-1475Designed to the nines, this suave wine bar attracts fashionistas and oenophiles alike. Tapas-like portions make perfect grazing fodder, but the prices quickly add up. Expect major attitude. Warning: a very small room, very noisy when crowded. Best: poached tomato with buffalo mozzarella, anchovy fillets and black olive tapenade cool veggie terrine of asparagus, red pepper, artichoke and eggplant seared strip loin and chunky Lincoln Log fries with house-made Dijon mayo a non-traditional take on Pernod-scented bouillabaisse — but it wouldn’t bankrupt the place to throw in a few more mussels, clams or shrimp. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday 6 pm to midnight. Bar open till 2 am. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

* TRUE GRITS 603 Markham, 536-8383

Multi-level soul-food restaurant from the owners and chef of Southern Accent. More down-home and less pricey than its soul sister, this funky indoor-outdoor eatery delivers Deep South home cookin’. Best: meaty St. Louis pork ribs with bourbon baste, garlic mash and candied yams southern-fried chicken with paprika-pink potato salad and cabbage slaw Po Gal’s tofu veggie pie — really! roasted corn chowder pickled okra black-eyed pea fritters sinful pecan pie apple-rich bread pudding with bourbon sauce. Complete dinners for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a tumbler of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 11:30 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Fully licensed. Access: patio barrier-free, but four steps to dining room, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNN
THE EUREKA CONTINUUM

205 Richmond West, 593-8427

Calling their fare First Nations fusion causes confusion — think of it as timeless indigenous cuisine updated with contemporary technique: truly Canadian. This concrete bunker-like space turns out deftly executed game, remarkable native breads and a few shaky sides. But a la carte pricing seems silly, and if there’s a crowd, expect noise. Best: seared venison chop with wild-rice risotto cakes and chilled pencil asparagus bison rib-eye with Yukon ‘n’ yam frites roasted mallard with lemony potato hash grilled smoked caribou and musk-ox sausage over black bean puree fabulous fry bread with pumpkin butter or spicy humus. Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip, and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 10 pm, late-night menu till 2 am. Closed Monday and Tues

day. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free Rating: NNN

f THE UNIVERSAL GRILL 1071 Shaw, 588-5928

Neighbourhood noshery dishing out contemporary grub in retro digs. Best: vibrantly spiced barbecued pork ribs with yam frites golden-crusted polenta with oyster mushrooms, roast tomato, capers and goat cheese deluxe cream soups — curried zucchini, caramelized red onion layered taco salad of corn tortillas, grilled veggies, jalapeño and goat cheese rosemary roast chicken with home-style gravy and retro scalloped potatoes latkes with gravlox, capers and greens at brunch. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 10:30 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. Closed Monday. Fully licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNf VERVEINE 1097 Queen East, 405-9906

Downtown comes to Leslieville. This mid-size bistro from the folks who created Mistral serves classic European cuisine with a contemporary spin. A smart room, smooth service and a kitchen with potential make this neighbourhood noshery a hit. Friday/Saturday reservations recommended. Best: herb-crusted pork tenderloin with spaetzle and clementines in sage cream eggplant-stuffed squash-blossom fritters on corn, fava, and squash ragout with garlic rapini prosciutto-wrapped figs stuffed with Gorgonzola on charred tomato with arugula daily lunchtime $8 sandwich specials with first-rate frites sliced Black Angus with eggs, roesti potatoes and asparagus at brunch. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 10 pm, for lunch Wednesday to Friday noon to 3 pm. Brunch Saturday 10 am to 3 pm, Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

Fish And Chips

U x HARBORD FISH AND CHIPS 147 Harbord, 925-2225

As close to a true Brit take-away-only chip shop as you’re going to find downtown — but minus the mushy peas! Best: crisply battered halibut, haddock and shrimp with fabulous freshly cut fries — Yukon gold? “No, they’re from Shelbourne” dinner for two that’ll serve a family of four! Complete dinners for $7 per person, including all taxes. Open daily 11:30 am to 10 pm. Smoke-free. Cash only. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door. Rating: NNN

Greek

U f T TOMMY’S BACKYARD 771 Dundas West, 603-6161

Danforth comes to this unlikely and unpretentious Dundas West Greek taverna. Don’t expect any decor out of Architectural Digest, but friendly staff are more than welcoming. Economic specials of the day rotate Wednesday to Sunday. Best: broiled red snapper or 10-ounce New York steak with Greek salad, roast potatoes and rice appetizer platter of marinated octopus, deep-fried calamari rings, dolmades, tzatziki, scordalia and grilled pita vegetarian souvlaki — skewered and expertly grilled peppers, onions and tomatoes with yogurt-garlic dip. Complete meals for $10 to $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or beer. Open Sunday to Tuesday 10 am to 10 pm, Wednesday to Saturday 10 am to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNIndian

U x BIRYANI HOUSE 6 Roy’s Square, 927-9340

Located in a laneway just south of Yonge and Bloor, this tiny Indian take-away offers bargain lunch deals with an emphasis on vegetarian curries. Best: biryanis — meal-in-one basmati rice dishes flavoured with aromatic spices, coconut and coriander, topped with quartered hard-boiled eggs, blanched peanuts and raisins all-vegetarian thaalis with okra and tomato puree, or baby corn with fresh carrot, green pepper, onion and celery (all dinners include grilled caraway pappadam, thickened yogurt raita, iceberg lettuce salad, steamed rice and a thimble-sized dessert of condensed milk threaded with rice vermicelli) grilled paratha roti to sop stuff up rum-infused mango chutney. Complete dinners for $8 per person ($6 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 9:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Cash only. Access: three steps at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
*U x BRAR SWEETS 2646 Islington, 745-4449 755 Dundas West, Mississauga, 905-848-3933 199 Advance, Brampton, 905-799-1625

An Indian vegetarian fast-food chain in the GTA’s northwest, what it misses in ambience — think donut shop — is made up for by first-rate medium-spiced veggie curries sold in multi-sized takeout containers. Warning: as at most Indian spots, almost all dishes come heavy with ghee (clarified butter), but by the time you’ve gotten your feast home, the ghee — high in calories and cholesterol — will have risen to the top and is easy to remove. Best: dry turmeric and coconut curry with crunchy red and green peppers, cauliflower, potato, and onions chickpea kofta balls mild shahi paneer cheese in a sweet tomato gravy laced with slivered almonds cheesy peas — gingery garden peas ‘n’ paneer sugary shredded-carrot halva rich with almonds and sultanas layered with silver leaf. Complete dinners for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

*x DHABA 999 Albion, 740-6622

Never mind the decor — it’s evocative of a subcontinental roadhouse — this superb North Indian-influenced eatery serves some of the most inventive and taste-intensive food ever to hit Toronto. Order everything the way the chef would have it. Well worth the drive. Weekend reservations recommended. Best: tandoori platter with chicken, lamb and veggies marinated shrimp Shaandar with shallots potatoes stuffed with nuts, raisins and paneer cheese in an addictive tomato sauce tandoor-smoked daal Tadkiya stuffed baby eggplant bhurven baingan with hell-fire chilies Balti-style curried goat fabulous oven-fired breads — garlic naan, onion Kulcha and minty pudina paratha homemade pistachio ice cream with rose syrup spectacular weekday $7.95 all-you-can-eat lunch. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a bottle of imported beer. Open Monday to Friday for lunch noon to 3 pm, for dinner 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturday, Sunday and holidays 12:30 to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: two-inch step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN

x JADOO 2222A Queen East, 686-7684

At last — unless you remember the fabulous but short-lived Bombay Bistro — the hottest culinary trend hits Toronto. This casual 20-seat Beach eatery takes traditional Indian fare and projects it into the 21st century. With encouragement, they’ll spice things up considerably. Reservations recommended. Best: two can easily make a meal of starters and sides like eggplant bharta puree with chickpeas and artichoke hearts corn-studded potato tikki with almond-coriander chutney and tomato ‘n’ red onion salsa tandoori chicken tikka Bala — yes, Muskoka — with mint and mango raita garam-masala-coated mixed potato fries main-course Balti meal-in-one stir-fries. Complete dinners for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or imported beer. Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Beer and wine. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, another to washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN

U x KATHMANDU KATHMANDU

505A Yonge, 924-5787This unassuming spot on the strip is easy to miss, but it’s a true find. Non-greasy north Indian and Nepalese fare served as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Best: mixed veggie curry of cauliflower, eggplant, carrots and potato eggplant bharta cubes of lamb or goat in fiery tomato sauce $3.99 bargain takeout-only shredded tandoori chicken wrapped in naan, coupled with a mango lassi. Complete lunches for $10 per person ($25 at dinner), including all taxes and tip. Open daily for lunch 11:30 am to 3:30 pm, for dinner 5 to 11 pm. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: short step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN

Italian

TANTOINETE 24551/2 Queen East, 698-1300

Diminutive Italian diner dishing up timeless but casual homemade pastas at the far end of the Beach. Reservations required weekends. Best: ricotta-stuffed gnocchi with smoked chicken and sun-dried tomatoes ravioli in a red-pepper, black-olive and mushroom reduction garlic tiger shrimp atop pepper puree and greens apple pie a la mode. Complete dinners for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or an imported beer. Open Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN

f AUTOGRILL 495 Eglinton West, 489-0961

Heavily — but ever-so-tastefully — designed to resemble an upmarket Italian gas station/diner, this upwardly mobile pizza and pasta joint offers fare that’s anything but middle-of-the-road. Best: thin-crust contemporary pies like gamberetto with grilled and butterflied shrimp, scallops and zucchini affumicata with smoked salmon, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes vegetariano of broccoli buds, peppers, onion and zucchini cream-rich four-cheese gnocchi angel hair swimming with shrimp. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($15 at lunch and brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to midnight, Sunday till 11 pm. Brunch Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
*BAR ONE

924 Queen West, 535-1655

With a family connection to two of College street’s hottest haunts — Bar Italia and Ellipsis — this streamlined satellite brings cachet to Queen West’s condo-frontier. Cool decor and mid-range prices make this long, narrow room the strip’s most happening spot, but once the masses descend — and they will — watch lineups and noise-levels swell. Best: superb thin-crusted pizza with crunchy red potato, fennel-flecked sausage, sweet Vidallia onion, and Danish blue cheese grilled chicken salad on arugula with toasted pinenuts, shaved asiago, and fennel julienne spectacular daily breakfasts like ovo buco — baked egg on focaccia with al dente asparagus and melted brie with chipotle hollandaise. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($17 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for breakfast Monday to Friday 8 to 11:30 am, for lunch noon to 5, and for dinner 5 to 11 pm. Open for brunch Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 3 pm, and for dinner 5 to 11 pm. Bar open till 1 am. Fully licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN

*U T FERRO 769 St. Clair West, 654-9119

College-chic nuovo Italiano hot spot brings massive proportions to Old World St. Clair West. Warning: expect to take leftovers home! Best: an enormous appetizer plate of antipasto for two that’s almost impossible to finish grilled swordfish with mango salsa, baby bok choy and roasted Jerusalem artichoke calamari in olive and sun-dried tomato reduction veal salad with balsamic greens luxuriant vegetable risotto sweet potato and spinach gnocchi two-fisted panini with first-rate Ital cold cuts and arugula tiramisu with brandy-sauteed strawberries designer thin-crust pizzas till closing. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 1 am, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 2 am, Sunday 5 pm to 1 am. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN

*T FIVE DOORS NORTH 2088 Yonge, 480-6234

Shabby-chic Queen West style goes uptown with genuine Ital family fare. Hidden by a sign that says it’s a futon store, this relaxed resto belies appearances. Best: crostini with chicken-liver pate, spinach pesto and sweet roasted red-pepper puree potato gnocchi with butternut squash sauce risotto with grilled zucchini, peppers and corn 10-ounce Angus steak with fried onions in creamy Gorgonzola meat, fish or fowl mixed grills lemon mascarpone Napoleon with fresh raspberries. Complete dinners for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or Italian beer. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN

GIO’S 2070 Yonge, 932-2306In the mood for a raucous big night out in a funky single-lane bowling-alley-like restaurant where hilariously madcap waiters serve straightforward Italian food? Then hoist some vino and sing along with Dino — everyone else should exercise caution. Best: pan-fried olives in rich tomato sauce spoon-shaped cavatelli pasta with house sauce penne-like tortiglioni with aged ricotta agnello — leg of lamb steak with rosemary roast potato zuppa inglese sponge cake with layers of rum, coffee and anisette. Complete dinners for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or Italian beer. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Fully licensed. Access: no barriers at door, but very narrow, crowded room, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

JOHN’S ITALIAN CAFFE 27 Baldwin, 537-0598A low-key sister kitchen to College’s John’s Classic Pizza, this perp

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