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How to Eat Like a Local in Toronto

Nosh your way through the city, from pintxos at Bar Raval in the west end to Filipino-inspired creations at Lake Inez in the east.

Canis Toronto

Canis

For the creative prix fixe

There are no wrong choices on the prix-fixe menu showcasing creative, colourful cooking driven by ingredients that reflect a truly cosmopolitan Toronto. The Queen West room’s minimalist wood-and-concrete decor keeps you focused on a parade of new flavours. A mesmerizing first course sees sweet raw scallop in fermented green tomato broth with herbal notes of lemon basil and flowering coriander. And a brilliant dessert puts Campari-soaked cherries on koji-infused barley ice cream.

746 Queen St. W., 416-203-3317, canisrestaurant.com

Grey Gardens Toronto

Photo: Jenna Marie Wakani

Grey Gardens

For the small plates

A boisterous romanticism pervades the Kensington Market satellite of the Black Hoof empire. Cava-spritz sippers gather around the bars while candles flicker on intimate tables laden with small plates. Watch chefs in the open kitchen compose a fun dish of tender-crisp snow peas with shaved squid, hollandaise, soy and mustard oil. A lively Czech pinot-zweigelt from the globe-hopping wine list has just enough tannins to stand up to the sweet and fatty sugar-encrusted slow-cooked brisket.

199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552, greygardens.ca

Bar Buca Toronto

Bar Buca

For the all-day eats

The drinks card takes up twice the acreage of the food menu at Rob Gentile’s all-day Italian café-bar, but make no mistake: This is a place to come and eat well. You can drop in for espresso with dulce de leche from 7 a.m., but by night the room fills with diners reaching to pluck small fried goodies from the two-tier gran fritto misto platter. Negronis flow like water but are far more potent.

75 Portland St., 416-599-2822, barbuca.com

Jackpot Chicken Rice Toronto

Photo: Barb Simkova

Jackpot Chicken Rice

For the Hainanese chicken

The main event at this bubbly Chinatown snack bar is Hainanese chicken: The legs are deboned and poached in a stock infused with garlic and pandan leaf, then served with a bracing ginger-scallion dipping sauce. Earl Grey rum punch, Thai-style Granny Smith apple salad and wooden buckets of fragrant schmaltz-cooked rice will make you smile like the Chinese baby holding a watermelon in Jackpot’s immense Technicolor graffiti mural.

318 Spadina Ave., 416-792-8628, jackpotchickenrice.com

Bar Raval Toronto

Bar Raval

For the pintxos

Grant van Gameren’s follow-up to Bar Isabel (named Canada’s Best New Restaurant in 2013) takes the chef’s love of relaxed Spanish-style eating and drinking and installs it in a stunner of a carved-wood room where patrons stand around flat-topped wine barrels topped with Old World wine, cocktails, sherry, cider and short pours of cold beer. The menu offers such small but powerful bites as chorizo con queso, house-cured seafood and Basque pintxos – little toothpick-speared stacks of tasty morsels stacked atop a slice of baguette.

505 College St., thisisbarraval.com

Alo Toronto

Photo: Rush Jagoe

Alo

For a special occasion

On the third floor of a Victorian building at Queen and Spadina, chef Patrick Kriss fashions precise French-inspired tasting menus in a dark, dramatic room. The skilled service troupe, choreographed by GM Amanda Bradley, delivers pain au lait bursting at its golden seams and morels with crunchy fried shallots over crème fraîche from Normandy. The adjoining bar shakes up a frothy Ramos Gin Fizz, while dessert’s rhubarb and black pepper notes pair with late-harvest Ontario riesling.

163 Spadina Ave., Third Floor, 416-260-2222, alorestaurant.com

Yasu Toronto

Yasu

For the pristine sushi

Eleven tall seats frame the white bar where Osaka-born chef Yasuhisa Ouchi and his knife-wielding lieutenants marshal a piece-by-piece parade of precise sushi. You’ll get the daily omakase (chef’s choice) menu, a sequence of 18-odd pieces of pristine fish flown in daily from around the world – sea bass from Greece, firefly squid from Japan, mackerel from Norway – mounded atop vinegar-seasoned rice. The sake pairings – glasses are cradled in a traditional wooden masu box – are a delightful trip through the various styles of Japanese rice wine.

81 Harbord St., 416-477-2361, yasu-sushibar.com

Chabrol

For an intimate dining experience

In a marbled and chandeliered Yorkville boîte that holds 19 diners and a few induction burners, chef Doug Penfold channels the relaxed luxury of southern France. Cured trout is stacked atop squares of sourdough Pullman and topped with aromatic chervil. A white-wine-brined galantine of chicken comes chilled and sliced with zucchini over sauce suédoise. Wines lean white with a few lighter reds; split the difference with a rosé of grenache from Provence.

90 Yorkville Ave., 416-428-6614, chabrolrestaurant.com

Brothers Food and Wine Toronto

Brothers Food & Wine

For Mediterranean dishes

The subway rumbling beneath your feet every few minutes is just one of many little thrills at this tiny restaurant located directly above Bay station. A glass of Jura vin jaune brings aromas of nuts and curry spice to the bitter endive and walnuts atop a beef tenderloin carpaccio. An old Erykah Badu album electrifies the hi-fi, while a glass of pinotage makes a soul connection with escabeche-marinated Cornish hen.

1240 Bay St., 416-804-6066

La Banane Toronto

Photo: Rick O'Brien

La Banane

For the sea bass en croute

French elegance is alive and well in an energetic Ossington bistro from a Bar Isabel alum, with a banana frond mural and a disco soundtrack. Match a glass of white Bordeaux with poached white asparagus generously sauced in a tangy tarragon-spiked gribiche. A show-stopping baked sea bass is presented tableside in salt-dough lattice, and then served with a yuzu beurre blanc and turned zucchini.

227 Ossington Ave., 416-551-6263, labanane.ca

Antler

For hearty game meats

Foraged ingredients and game meats are the specialty of aptly named chef Michael Hunter, whose first buck hangs as a trophy above the pass. After skewers of grilled soy-glazed duck hearts, he shows a lighter hand in pappardelle topped with tender shredded rabbit and sweet morsels of preserved apricot. The Smoke Barrel is a double-barrelled shot: smoky Laphroaig Scotch and maple syrup in a glass that’s been seasoned with smouldering cinnamon bark.

1454 Dundas St. W., 647-345-8300, antlerkitchenbar.com

Lake Inez Toronto

Photo: Robbie Hojilla

Lake Inez

For the Filipino influences

After crushing some panko-crusted katsu cauliflower and tapping the Burdock passion-fruit sour ale, the eclecticism of this candlelit craft-beer pub makes sense. A Gothic mosaic of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf stands guard over the 18 tap lines of Ontario brews that complement pan-Asian sharing dishes. Many skew Filipino: try the kinilaw, a flavour-packed ceviche of B.C. snapper in a creamy coconut-vinegar marinade that you scoop up with fried cassava chips.

1471 Gerrard St. E., 416-792-1590, lakeinezto.com

Fat Pasha

For playful takes on Jewish fare

Chef Anthony Rose completes his Holy Trinity of restaurants on Dupont (Rose and Sons, Big Crow) with a subtly sacrilegious take on Mediterranean Jewish cuisine. Swipe up hummus – chickpeas, both pulverized and whole – with perfectly grilled pitas; confound your Jewish grandmother with a deconstructed chopped liver dotted with gribenes (fried chicken skin) and slivered radish, topped by your tattooed waitress with a generous pour of schmaltz (chicken fat) from a diner-style syrup jug. The housemade vermouth, from a base of sweet Manischewitz, highlights a playful drinks list.

414 Dupont St., 647-340-6142, fatpasha.com

Montgomery's Toronto

Photo: Renée Suen

Montgomery’s

For the old-school Scandi vibe

There’s a sense of Scandinavia’s swinging 1970s at Montgomery’s, with refurbished teak furniture and textured wall hangings behind its Queen West storefront. Indulge in a delicious bowl of charred curly endive in a nourishing broth made from pork, beef and duck bones. Your smiley server takes a knee to talk wine before returning with a magnum of orange Greco di Tufo, which holds up to the 45-day-aged PEI shoulder steak.

996 Queen St. W., 647-748-4416, montgomerysrestaurant.com

Byblos

For the duck-fat-seared cauliflower

For the duck-fat-seared cauliflower Named for a city in Lebanon, Byblos channels the eastern Mediterranean – think creamy labneh to start, duck-fat-seared cauliflower and za’atar-buttered rib-eye to continue, then pistachio ice cream and mint tea to finish. Impresarios Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji have outfitted the bright, half-subterranean space with minimalist touches (grey-and-yellow tile, Spanish soft seating by Sancal), and exec chef Stuart Cameron’s menu plays with intriguing, exotic seasonings like dukkah and a dusting of coriander.

11 Duncan St., 647-660-0909, byblostoronto.com