BASILICO TRATTORIA (119 Spadina, at Adelaide, 416-204-1588) Fast and fresh fare to go is the key to this busy lunch spot, so ignore the à la carte menu and proceed directly to the counter. Choose from four steaming pastas, roast chicken, an impressive array of salads or assorted panini. Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes and a $4.50 glass of wine. Average main: $6. Open Monday to Friday, 7 am to 6 pm. Closed, Saturday, Sunday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN
The folks at Basilico, located in the historic Balfour Building, know their market: low-paid cultural workers demanding cheap and cheerful ethno-clectic lunches. Seating is available, but there's little aesthetic cause to pause, so most opt for take-away. The most popular pick is the salad bar, and styrofoam containers are generously packed with either four ($4.75) or six ($5.25) items. Refreshed at an impressive rate and with something for every taste, it's certainly the best bet.
Outstanding among the two dozen choices are tuna and tomato with basil and chunks of sweet plantain, and the balsamic-braised broccoli is a deservedly famous must.
The assorted panini ($5.75) are also well done, but either skip the why-bother salad of shredded iceberg or trade up to the combo for $1.75. The lightly grilled prosciutto panino is loaded with roasted red peppers and onions, provolone, spinach and lettuce.
Less successful is the meatball sandwich ($5.25); it hasn't got much flavour or tomato sauce. Pasta Verde from the à la carte menu ($5.99), with ricotta, spinach, button mushrooms, tomato purée and brie, comes drowned in water. A giant fried rice ball stuffed with mozzarella ($2.75), while intriguingly softball-sized, don't live up to its reputation as classic Italian comfort food.