Dinner Saturday night, brunch Sunday morning.
35 Baldwin, at Henry, 647-748-6448, @AgaveyAguacate Celebrated for the now-defunct Kensington Market cantina that no less an authority than Anthony Bourdain called “some of the most amazing Mexican takeout north of the border – any border,” Francisco Alejandri resurfaces in Baldwin Village in the former home of the equally legendary Gaston’s. Anyone who ever stood in line for hours at the old one-man operation will appreciate the now speedy service. Tables and chairs, and forks, too! Best: returning favourites like chileajo, stir-fried fingerling spuds, pearl onions, green beans and chickpeas in garlicky guajillo pepper sauce and mild queso fresco cheese white fish ceviche verde with avocado, tomatillo and coriander pesto chile relleno, blistered poblano peppers stuffed with pineapple and puréed avocado, dressed with pickled onion and roasted garlic slow-poached veal ‘n’ pork meatballs in smoky chipotle gravy red pinto bean stew laced with fabulously fatty pork rind tiramisu-like lime charlotte with black Hawaiian lava salt. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an imported beer. Average main $9. Open for dinner Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNNNN
642 Bloor W, at Manning, 416-901-5188, playacabana.ca/642-bloor, @barriocoreano After three tries at bat with Playa Cabana, owner/executive chef Dave Sidhu finally gets the formula right with this surprisingly unpretentious taqueria in Koreatown. Friendly, informed service, an innovative East-meets-Southwest carte and a Latin-accented playlist that fits the neon-lit room like a glove transform first-timers into repeat customers. Best: to start, what Sidhu calls “watermelon sashimi,” thin slices of melon dressed with kumquats, unseeded jalapeños, toasted pine nuts and a toss of pomegranate seeds in tart ponzu vinaigrette grilled calamari in smoky árbol chili sided with sweet ‘n’ salty pineapple kimchee salsa South Korean fried chicken tacos in sweet ‘n’ sour kampungki sauce on blue corn tortillas the built-to-share 32-ounce Cowboy aged rib-eye steak to finish, flourless chocolate cake in jars topped with green tea ice cream to drink, kmchee sours with Jack Daniels, fresh lime and pickle syrup. Complete dinners for $40 per person, including tax, tip and an imported beer. Open for dinner Saturday 5 pm to 2 am. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, three steps to washrooms. Rating: NNNN
778 St Clair W, at Arlington, 416-342-1906, pukka.ca, @pukkatoronto Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau’s stylish uptown bistro goes where few local Indian restos ever venture – upscale. A creative kitchen, smooth service and noise levels that allow for conversation make full houses the norm rather than the exception. Reservations essential most nights. Best: tapas-style starters like papri chat with puffed rice, ripe mango and Granny Smith apple dressed with pomegranate seeds in sweet yogurt dressing spicy south Indian fried Chicken 65 garnished with nasturtiums shareable mains like nutty butter chicken with wilted fenugreek leaves smoky lamb chop “lollipops” à la Vancouver’s Vikram Vij in minty cream sauce sides of French green beans with caramelized onion and shredded coconut baskets of buttery garlic naan and crisp whole wheat rotis to finish, sundae-like Eton Mess in pomegranate syrup and sweet lassi cream topped with rosewater-soaked meringue. Complete dinners for $60 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open for dinner Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
550 Bayview, at Pottery Rd, 416-901-8234, cafebelong.ca The long-awaited centrepiece of the Don Valley’s bucolic Brick Works eco-site, Restaurant Makeover celebu-chef Brad Long’s all-day bistro and adjacent take-away lets locally grown and naturally raised products be the star of the show. Don’t do crowds? Show up any time other than Saturday’s farmers’ market and have the enviro complex virtually to yourselves. Best: to start, heirloom tomato salad on a bed of nutty steamed barley dressed with pepper sprouts and English cucumber in minty sheep’s milk yogurt dressing seasonal mains like gorgeously fatty pan-seared slabs of sweet ‘n’ sour pork belly glazed in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar over oven-roasted apples dressed with summer watercress milk-braised lamb shoulder with spelt and crisply fried sage leaves to finish, Monforte Dairy chèvre and wild Ontario blueberry cheesecake to drink, raspberry iced tea at the takeout counter, flaky buttermilk biscuits layered with smoked OceanWise char, wilted spinach and scrambled egg. Complete meals for $50 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of Ontario wine. Average main $19. Open for brunch Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
1144 College, at Dufferin, 416-535-5858, meandmine.ca, @meandmineto Zocalo’s Joel MacMillan and Melissa daSilva resurface on their own at this low-key West College café. Easy on the wallet, their versatile veggie-friendly carte moves effortlessly from brunch to lunch to dinner, all spectacularly plated. Who can say no to grilled watermelon wedges dusted with sea salt and squirted with lime, especially when they’re free? Best: to start, carrot croquettes with nutty sunflower tahini and grilled jalapeño mains like torched rainbow trout with blackened cucumber, house-made yogurt cheese and buckwheat poppyseed mini-pancakes à la lox ‘n’ blinis cheesy kale torte over jalapeño cornbread pudding with roasted grape tomatoes and sprouted chickpea salad “cowboy” pork ‘n’ beef sausages with baked cauli-cheese, pickled cherries and green bean and wilted watercress salad minced pork ‘n’ quail egg pie with mashed root veggies and minty garden peas at brunch, house-cured pork belly with grilled scallion salad, St John Bakery toast spread with sticky tomato jam, and roasted salt ‘n’ malt vinegar home fries sweet and savoury apple, cheddar and rosemary galette in buttery whole-wheat crust. Complete meals for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a pint of local microbrew. Average main $13. Open for Sunday brunch 10 am to 5 pm. No reservations. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
200 Carlton, at Ontario, 647-748-5000, thescullery.ca, @The_Scullery Taking a page from Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s modern Middle Eastern playbook, Laura Sestito and Fiona Byrne’s laid-back Cabbagetown café turns traditional sides into mains with spectacular results. An ever-changing carte designed to eat in or take away guarantees no two visits are ever the same. Best: terrific salad combos like creamy green lentils with lean Danish bacon, sour cherries and Gorgonzola in citrus vinaigrette blackened corn, ripe tomato, fresh basil and pickled red onion prosciutto, fresh fig and mozzarella panini on Ace baguette with mixed greens in pesto daily specials like roasted boneless chicken breasts with peanuts, saffron and rosewater old-school cinnamon buns and scones at weekend brunch, caramelized pecan waffles with spiced apple sausage and jalapeño-infused maple syrup. Complete meals for $20 per person, including, tax, tip and an iced tea. Average main $9. Open Sunday 8 am to 5 pm. Reservations accepted. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN