When you eat for a living, it takes a lot for a dish to make an impression
Imanishi uses pork belly’s flabbiness to perfect effect by slow-braising a slab in a rich, savoury miso concoction that the meat melts into as you take a bite. You’ll want to order an extra bowl of rice to soak up all the gravy, and then you’ll want another order of the pork after that.
$11.80, 1330 Dundas West, 416-706-4225, imanishi.ca.
Rounds of dough slapped into a shaping pillow and then onto a convex Saj grill get slathered with za’atar and oil and stuffed with creamy labneh and fresh mint. It’s a simple formula, even for this no-frills, fast-casual Tabule location – and yet I still dream about this damn pita at night.
$7.50, 494 Front East, 416-583-5914, tabule.ca
Macaroni and cheese inside a sausage? I know what you’re saying: “Isn’t that basically just a hot version of that weird, trashy macaroni loaf from the deli counter?” Yes it is, reader. And in the able hands of J&J’s pitmasters, it’s melty, oozy gold.
$5, 193 Baldwin, 647-351-4227, jandjbarbque.com
After I checked out J&J, Adamson and Cherry Street for our BBQ issue this summer, folks seemed keen to get me to pick a fave. Here’s the closest I get to making that impossible choice: take Adam Skelly’s so-tender-they’re-melting ribs from his Leaside lunch counter and Lawrence La Pianta’s pitch-perfect beef brisket from his port lands smokehouse and add in J&J’s sausages, and you have the ultimate BBQ supergroup.
Ribs: $6/half pound, 176 Wicksteed, 647-559-2080, adamsonbarbecue.com brisket: $13, 275 Cherry, 416-461-5111, cherrystbbq.com
To the purists who say greens and poutine have no right to be anywhere near each other, I say give the signature snack at this west-end snack bar a shot. When northern indulgence meets southern comfort, the result is salty, savoury, bacon-topped magic.
$12, 1532 Dundas West, 289-339-9280, facebook.com/threehandstoronto
This feels like a nice spot for me to break up the cheese and animal-fat-laden monotony of this list with something healthy… but instead, I’m going to tell you all about Piano Piano’s heavenly marriage of a massive blob of gooey burrata, crusty bread, piquant olive oil and date-coffee marmalade. It’s amazing. Sorry, everyone.
$19, 88 Harbord, 416-929-7788, pianopianotherestaurant.com
The chicken gets all the love at Craig Wong’s latest, but let’s talk starch for a sec: the poultry version of his rice is stir-fried in schmaltz and cooked in stock for a pearly, pilaf-like texture. The vegan version, with tons of umami from mushroom broth and seaweed, is equally worthy. Make sure to ask for chef Danai Hongwanishkul’s killer house-made vegan XO sauce (it tastes just like the real thing).
Entrees $13.25 and up, 318 Spadina, 416-792-8628, jackpotchickenrice.com
Macaroni and cheese at Prohibition on Queen East
When I ate my way through Toronto’s best mac and cheeses last winter, I sure wasn’t expecting this rowdy Riverside pub to run away with the crown – but it’s hard to argue with pork belly, imported pasta and a hearty dollop of heady black and white truffle paste.
$17.95, 696 Queen East, 416-406-2669, myprohibition.com
Shrimp toast at The Commodore
Garlic, brown butter, shrimp, sourdough and a smidgen of anchovy for extra flavour – this intimate Parkdale spot knows the straightest way to a seafood lover’s heart.
$13, 1265 Queen West, 416-537-1265, commodorebar.ca
Seven Lives Paleteria (sister ice cream shop to Seven Lives tacos) in Kensington Market – Dole Whip (pineapple soft serve w pineapple juice)
The Dole Whip – a favourite treat of Seven Lives’s Sean Riehl in his youth – consists of soft serve made from pineapple juice, doused in even more pineapple juice. Like Souk’s pita, it’s a simple combo, but I might have eaten a half-dozen of these over the warmer months, each time showing up at the paleta counter with summer sweat on my brow and a slightly manic gleam in my eye.
$5, 72 Kensington, instagram.com/sevenlivesto
firstname.lastname@example.org | @nataliamanzocco