Toronto Favorites – Restaurants and Bars

29 May

Toronto is my city. It’s where I was born and grew up, so I’ll always have an attachment here.  I get asked:  “What are your favorite restaurants?” a lot but I didn’t want to exclude it specifically to just restaurants.  Thus, this is the one-stop shop to things I love about this city (though it will be heavily food related). The first link is to Corey Mintz’s top 44 restaurants in the city. Corey used to be a restuarant critic for the Toronto Star, a cook at one of the most high end restaurants in the city, and now hosts dinner parties and writes about them for a column in the Star called FED.  He’s been to more restaurants than me, and I don’t want to echo all of his choices. The link is on PORKOSITY. Reliable links include: Toronto Life (Great Blog), Now Toronto, Blog TO, Torontoist, The Grid (formerly Eye Weekly). Design Lines is also a great free magazine you can pick up in most high end furniture shops along King or Queen. They link to great design stores but also great restaurants and bars in the city.  Disclosure: I write for them.


Genius Marketing by Sense Appeal

Sense Appeal – My favorite coffee shop in the city. They are the only ones I know that make a Dulce De Leche latte. I usually get their Turkish Latte. They’ve also introduced a horchata.  Aside from having killer caffeine (the owners were former sommeliers and made coffee for the hotel industry) and food -um, nutella pastries, anyone- the place is full of amazing personalities. Their wi-fi sucks but it’s a good thing because it’s the one place where I can chill out on the steps and talk – to my friends or the baristas (do they liked to be called “baristas?”).  Aside from that, their marketing is genius. For every 100 Likes on Facebook, customers get free coffee all day. They’re also very interactive on Twitter.  When they rolled out their food menu, they gave it away for free for the public to test on the first day.

That’s me in the tan leather trench and beanie. Photo: Rooster Coffee House

Rooster Coffeehouse – Great coffee. I’m partial to their Chai Lattes here. One of the best decorated coffeehouses in this city. Bustling patio of neighbourhood folk.  Incredible view of the downtown skyline from Riverdale Park. Shawn (female) is one of the nicest people in this city and encourages conversations between folk as opposed to them being glued on their laptops.

La Merceria – they have a toasted almond tea latte that is one of those drinks you crave on a rainy day. Their hot chocolate is the bomb.  Owned by an Argentinean couple, they have a few treats from the country. A small place to shop, relax, read or write. Or have a macaron from Bobette and Belle.  My little secret that got out. Honorable Mentions:  Broadview Espresso (no wi-fi), Dark Horse, Sam James Coffeebar (and Coffee Pocket) _(also no wi-fi), The Good Neighbour, Mercury Espresso, Tealish (it’s not coffee, obviously, but they supply tea to a lot of cafes), Panemar (if you’re looking for wi-fi downtown – centrally located in Kensington Market).



The Black Hoof – Who hasn’t heard of the Black Hoof in this city? Notorious for creating a lifestyle restaurant of good food and libations but casual atmosphere.  Their charcuterie and cheese plates are great to share and if you’re an adventurous eater or hard core carnivore, you may get addicted.

Mercatto – To be honest, I haven’t been there in a while. It’s a chain now and the executive chef, Rob Rossi, is featured on Top Chef Canada.  But what I love about it is that their food is reliable when I did go (and I think it would continue to be, if they are expanding). Really fantastic pasta dishes,  and great grab and go salami/prosciutto sandwiches or pasta salads. Everything is always fresh here and the service is consistent (when I did go about two to three times a week, as I worked across the street). Miss it! Need to go soon. Enoteca Sociale– I’m a big pasta fan and Eno’s Cabonara is bar none. Their arancini is also to die for. They also have some fantastic sommeliers and a cheese cave (YES).

Arancini at Enoteca Sociale.  See how happy I am? 

Pizzeria Libretto – same owner as Enoteca Sociale (Rocco Agostino); the pizza selections here are fantastic. As with a lot of these restaurants, you will have to wait in line, especially on weekends. Great dessert too. Fun place to sit at the bar.

Torito – I  haven’t been here for a long time.  The main chef, Carlos left so I’m not sure if the food is the same. But their chorizo, patatas bravas, and ceviches were mainstays on my visits here. Carlos now owns Inigo, a churrasqueira. Plus, he’s one of the nicest chefs I’ve ever met.

Dulce De Leche Dessert from Origin. Mmm Copyright: me. 

Origin – Definitely a place I will go to again and again. Lots of selections to choose from and everything is always fresh. The bartenders will customize a drink for you. Note: it gets loud quickly.  Here’s a detailed personal review and pics.  A good place for a business dinner if you want to impress. You will never forget their dulche de leche dessert.

Le Select Bistro – they offer a very reasonable $25 steak frites prix fixe. Very reminiscent of a Parisian bistro and an A Plus for the mini booths for deux. One of my favorite brunch spots in the city and lovely patio beneath a few leafy trees in the warmer months.

Swan – great atmosphere. Good food. A fave among my foodie friends. Expect to wait on a weekend.

Omonia– I was here recently and though the Greek food will never compare to getting it in the motherland, the portions are sizeable and the meat well cooked. Their rice and roast potatoes don’t come with the oily sauce you usually get (even though I like the oily, orange sauce). The sell: great side street patio.  Honorable Greektown mention:  Mezes. Yummy food.

Guacamole and a Corona  at El Trompo makes this girl happy. 

El Trompo (Tacos El Asador) – it’s more casual than anything but right in the heart of Kensington Market. Great people watching from the patio. The chicken taquitas are what I usually order and their guacamole does not disappoint.

Campagnolo – Continuing on the Dundas/Ossington infestation of great restaurants, this is the sexiest remake of a Coffee Time I’ve ever seen. Solid cocktail list. Chef’s Table. Cute Chefs. Amazing heated buratta. They also have braised rabbit pappardelle. In house made prosciutto.  I still dream about (all of the food) sometimes.  Apparently, they have good fish but I haven’t tried it. Oh, and they always have a great playlist.

Blowfish – the best sushi I’ve had in the city. Interesting combinations (like coconut!). Sake bar. Sexy interiors.  Be prepared to pay. New location on Bay.

Tutti Matti – simple, clean Italian food. No fuss, no muss. Bustling at lunch.

The Drake Hotel – they have a good selection of different types of meals from burgers to scallops to sushi. They’re always hosting really creative, live events too like 86’d Mondays or a lemonade stand in their skyyard (seasonal, of course). Great all-in-one pit stop.  PS their buttermilk pancakes are to die for if you have brunch here the next day. They have live music during their brunch too.


Porchetta – yummy pork sandwiches wrapped in prosciutto. But it’s their soups that hit the hot spot. They have a mushroom truffle soup that incites cravings.  You’ll probably see a chef from a neighbouring restaurant in here on a day off.

Big Smoke Burger (nee Craft Burger) – good lunch option. Great poutine. Tasty milkshakes.

Sadie’s Diner – good Vegetarian option. Very hipster.  Unusual Pez Dispenser Collection.  Their grilled cheese sandwiches and perogies are the exact comfort food you’re looking for.  Beside La Merceria.

Stockyard’s Famous Buttermilk Chicken 

Stockyards – hands down, the best buttermilk chicken. They make a great classic burger (though friends say that the Animal style is their favorite).  Great service.  Small place so it’s  best to take out or eat at the Wychwood Barns in the warmer weather.

Shanghai Cowgirl – echoing the sentiment of Sadie’s, great perogies and grilled cheese sandwiches. Nice back patio. Many a struggling artist or musician will hang out here.

Gandhi’s – Butter Chicken Roti is the only thing I get here and it’s amazing.  Always call ahead 15 to 20 minutes to pick up your order.

Burger’s Priest – best burger joint in the city. Always a line up and worth the 10 minute wait. It’s In-N-Out on another level, especially with their religious laden glossary (The Vatican and The High Priest are good options).  I always get the Priest. Worth the 2, 000 + calorie hangover you will have the next day. There’s no room so take it to the beach on a sunny day.

“The Vatican” from The Burger’s Priest Secret Menu. One artery clogging drip of grease at a time. 

The Rivoli – a place where I think a lot of people inevitably end up. Their appetizers are standard bar fare (like their calimari) but their main dishes (like their indian ones) are very good value. Pool table upstairs. Live Music in the back on certain nights. Queen West staple, really.

Fresh – A great vegetarian option. The food here is really tasty.  You can customize your salad (poppy seed salad dressing is my fave);  Regular staples: breathless smoothie, the baby buddha rice bowl, and sweet potato fries. Their cookies are also a good treat without feeling guilty.



The Only – on The Danforth near Donlands. It’s crowded and cluttered but a great local if you want to get out of the downtown core.

The House on Parliament – a great place to discuss what happened that night or the night before. Fantastic grilled cheese (are you seeing a pattern developing?)

The Coburg – truly, a local. Intimate, dark setting that’s the perfect Plan B after dinner.

Tequila Bookworm – great staff. Cool kids. They’re always having a casual, fun party upstairs on the weekends. It’s one of those spots where you can have a conversation while the party is happening. Plus, a great cafe during the day. I’m a fan of their smoked salmon/cream cheese plate.

416 Snack Bar– great hang out spot, good music, and really delicious food. Emphasis on SNACK. Sometimes, the menu changes, as well.  Stick to the poutine and pizza if you need heftier portions to subside the drunken-ness. A tad shoulder-to-shoulder on the weekends.

Burrata and basil with tomato on crostini at 416 Snack Bar. 

Swirl – You want to woo me on a date? Take me here. Clandestine spot that used to be an apartment in the heart of Leslieville. The menu is limited because they don’t have a kitchen, but apparently the selection is very good.

Allen’s and Dora Keogh’s – Allen’s has a fantastic beer selection and great outdoor back patio (watch for the racoons).  Dora’s has good live music (not always limited to Irish music). Unpretentious. Usually, an over 30 crowd. Good if you don’t want to be downtown.  And if it’s crowded?  The Old Nick, next door.

Churchill – where all of the cool kids are going.  If you live in the city, you will bump into someone you know.

The Reservoir Lounge – fun spot. If you want to meet an investment banker, you may get lucky. Good music, solid martinis. Great mini-menu as well including the desserts.  Good pre or post Pravda (Russian vodka bar).

The Bellevue – if you want to get away from the hoopla of Queen/King/Ossington but still want something lively, this is a great place.  And they have a fantastic brunch the morning after. On the edge of Kensington Market at Bellevue and Nassau.

Le Petit Castor – makes a deathly concoction called the pink panther.  One sip = drunk and out $20.  More of an upscale “who do you know?” crowd, but apparently good on Thursdays. Gorgeous decor and those booths are perfect for the third date.

Ceilli Cottage – one of the most “authentic” Irish pubs I’ve been to. Always crowded, yet laid back. Great Mac N Cheese and a pint of Guinness.  They do a weekend brunch too.

The Rebel House – in Rosedale and as un-haughty taughty as you can get in that neighbourhood. It’s like St. Patrick’s Day in there all year.  Note: it’s a small place.

Real Sports Bar – the food here wasn’t spectacular (I’ve only been about one or two times) but in terms of atmosphere, this is the place to be especially if you couldn’t get a ticket to the game at The Rogers Centre or ACC nearby. Call in advance.

What are your Toronto Favorite Eats? 


7 Responses to “Toronto Favorites – Restaurants and Bars”

  1. @TheHogga July 21, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    I can’t stop thinking about those sammiches…

  2. Graham August 3, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Nice collection of places Natalie! I think we have similar taste as I would pick most of those places too.

    Some other one’s you might want to check out: Ravi Soups (amazing soups and wraps), The One That Got Away (great fish sandwiches), Moonbeam Coffee (in Kensington). Also one thing you could add about Sense appeal is any drink is $2 between 2-3 (I go there quite a bit). Will have to try the ones on your list that I haven’t been to.

    • nearafar August 17, 2011 at 3:05 am #

      Thanks Graham! I’ll have to check out Ravi’s. I’m also a fan of the Soup Nutsy (their lobster bisque sold on Tues and Thurs is a good craving). Your other tips are spot-on!

  3. Kristina March 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Thanks Natalie,

    this post is really useful – instead of giving me insanely long critics about the food in one restaurant you pick the essentials and leave the rest for the people to find out! Now I’m intrigued to go to many, many places (so little time)! This is quite a list, have you ever tried the SupperWorks ? They have more branches, I regularly go to the one in Forrest Hill on Eglinton near my home. You order the ingredients and pick them up, or cook it on the spot. As I love cooking for other people but really hate to spend hours with chopping and cooking, this came as the perfect solution. Worth mentioning in your list.


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