This year, Toronto toned down its affinity for Japanese cheesecake and “cold-pressed everything,” and unhinged its jaw to dig into new obsessions: tortas, poke bowls, sushi burritos, Thai rolled ice cream, and melt-in-your-mouth Texas BBQ. Here are the seven new establishments that truly stuck their necks out to test Toronto’s tastebuds -- to great accolades -- in 2016.
Bayview & Leaside
Fact: If you like BBQ, you will love Adamson’s. Adam Skelly and Alison Hunt’s smokehouse is a caricature of legit Texas BBQ that cuts the BS. It's open from 11am, from Tuesday to Saturday, until it sells out -- an invariable given. Slabs of brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, turkey breast, and sausage are paired with classic sides like beans, coleslaw, potato salad, pickles, slices of Wonder Bread, and drop-dead dessert specials like salted honey pies and peanut butter pies with an Oreo crust. Leaside is a trek for anyone who lives in the GTA, but trust us -- Adamson’s isn’t a food trend. It’s damn fine barbecue.
Cava’s Doug Penfold is guilty of calling on Toronto’s soft spot for southern French comfort food. But through Chabrol, Penfold has created a sanctum that isn’t solely for industry heads. The Yorkville boîte is one of the most intimate restaurants in the city -- inside it seats a total of 20, which leaves just enough room for Penfold to unveil his finest work, including braised lamb with turnips and thyme, riesling-poached foie gras with black currant and salsify, and roasted squash with frisee, shallot, tarragon, and champagne vinaigrette. Then there’s his Mona Lisa: the apple tarte with calvados sabayon, which rightfully belongs in The Louvre.
Christopher Getchell’s Leslieville outpost unquestionably deserves its title as one of the best spots for pizza in the city. But it should also be recognized for pushing pie enthusiasts out of their comfort zones and onto a new slice that isn’t just another Neapolitan knockoff. Descendant’s Detroit-style pizza lays it on thick with gourmet red-top squares like Double Pep, Sausage And Peppers, and Soppressata Marmalade -- which goes full nonna with Calabrian chiles and naturally smoked caciocavallo.
Doomie’s push of all-day veganism will unleash your inner millennial while actually satisfying your appetite. The Parkdale spot is decked out with neon signage and a Vegan Sidekick Selfie Room, but its prominent headlock on downtowners stems from its famed menu loaded with vegan nachos, deep fried avocado, mac ‘n’ cheese plates, donut holes, premium craft brews, and boozy milkshakes. The Vegan Mac Daddy burger is still the literal Mac Daddy of them all, but combined with all of the above, it’s no wonder it's become the city’s biggest meat-free gamechanger.
Joshua Mott’s Her Father’s has built quite the reputation as being the city’s first all-cider bar, and with its age-weathered furniture and legendary cider fridge, there’s a lot to love. Her Father’s offers more than 75 kinds of small-batch, local and international cider that ranges from semi-sweet to pear and ice. The cider mania carries over to an apple-centric cocktail list of Cider-osas, Wine-In Sangria, and Spiced Apple Old Fashioneds. Chef Ryan Barclay’s menu also doesn’t fall far from the tree as his seasonal Old World takes include venison tartare, spicy blueberry salads, rutabaga soup, and brunch crêpes made with apple cheesecake mousse and maple pecan crumble. There’s also an outdoor patio that shone in the sweet summer -- need we say more?
King West & Other Locations
Sweet Jesus’ day in the sun started in September 2015 and eight million Instagram photos later, it’s proven to be an influential success. The coffee shop/ice cream parlour hybrid opened three new locations in 2016 -- including Yonge & Eglinton, Scarborough Town Centre, and a seasonal streetside front in Riverside -- and its boom initiated an influx of local crêperies, waffle kitchens, and gourmet milkshake bars. But when it comes to dessert-only spots, it’s hard to top the OG soft serve gospel. SJ’s cones are still adorned with outlandish toppings -- like sponge cake, pumpkin pie bits, red velvet crumble, and charred marshmallows.
Three Hands is a vibrant addition to Toronto’s thriving snack bar scene. Aside from the rustic interior and chic murals, it's all about the comfort food. The Little Portugal hangout is run by the Wilson family and their passion and dedication carries over to the restaurant's menu which pairs buttermilk fried chicken, jerk octopus salads, and collard green poutine with mango bourbon sours and signature drinks like the Pon Di Riviere (gin, St-Germain, rhubarb bitters, and Ting). It’s pub fare with not-so-subtle Caribbean stylings -- lest we forget the Death Mango Wings and tall cans of Red Stripe -- but it’s all soul and class.
Sign up here for our daily Toronto email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. Adamson Barbecue176 Wicksteed Avenue, Toronto
2. Chabrol90 Yorkville Ave, Toronto
3. Descendant Pizza1168 Queen St E, Toronto
4. Doomie's1263 Queen Street West, Toronto
5. Her Father's Cider Bar + Kitchen119 Harbord Street, Toronto
6. Sweet Jesus106 John St, Toronto
7. Three Hands1532 Dundas St. West, Toronto
Adam Skelly and Alison Hunt’s lunch-only smokehouse expands on Toronto's adopted obsession with barbecue. The duo serve up traditional Texas BBQ from a wood smoker that's capable of handling up to 1,300lbs of meat at a time. Brisket, spare ribs, turkey breast, pulled pork, and sausage is paired with sides like slaw, beans, potato salad, plus imported bottles of Big Red soda.
A light-filled slice of Southern France lives in Chabrol off Yorkville Ave, brought to you by the palates behind Cava. The name couldn't be more perfect, inspired by the expression "faire charbol," which describes the tradition of pouring red wine into the remains of a soup bowl and then drinking it to soak up leftover flavor. That should give you a good indication that flavor is aplenty here. Bistro chairs surround marble-topped tables where traditionally prepared foods like whitefish with sea asparagus steamed in parchment paper and escarole-celery root gratin topped with flavorful breadcrumbs served in cast iron are tucked into. You'd do just as well to stop in for a glass of champagne and some Normandy oysters, which will have you humming Edith Piaf on your way out.
Descendant is known for its take on Detroit-style pizza, which is recognizable by its square shape, thick Sicilian crust, and red top that comes from the sauce being put on after the cheese layer. Descendant plays up regular topping combinations with options like the spicy chorizo and corn La Cornita, and the indulgent Truff-ghi (mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions, and white truffle sauce). Make sure you get a corner slice: since the pie is baked in deep pan, the corner slices have the crispiest (and cheesiest) edges.
A mecca for vegans in the area, Doomie's is a casual, LA transplant that puts its own meatless twist on typically meat-heavy comfort foods -- from fried chicken to tacos to burgers. Consider its faux Big Mac, which is still plenty juicy, tender, and savory without any beef (or McDonald's drive-thru) involved. The patty comes topped with soy cheese, but if you're not a full-blown vegan, you can still request the stuff that comes from a cow. The team here is cooking up vegan comforts like BBQ “pork” sandwiches and mac & cheese.
How do you top 80-plus variations of small-batch cider? You don’t. At Her Father’s, the city’s first all-cider bar, you pair each local and international craft brew with versatile seasonal menus of brunch, lunch, dinner, and snack plates. Dishes like its lobster salad, cider-glazed cod, and deviled eggs with snow crab go hand in hand with cocktails such as the Spiced Apple Old Fashioned and the Ctrl + Alt + Delete, which spikes Shiny Peach Cider with Stoli, Pluck rooibos tea, and peche de vigne liqueur.
This industrial-chic soft serve parlor doles out creative cones like banana ice cream drizzled with peanut butter, marshmallow cinnamon toast crunch swirls, and lemon coconut cream pie ice pops. The shop is narrow and sleekly designed, so taking your cone to go, and enjoying it while strolling through the boutiques in the entertainment district is advised.
The casual look of Three Hands in Dundas West betrays the quality of the Southern fusion foods coming out of the kitchen. Powerful flavors criss-cross the food and drink menus, revealing obvious pairings. Mango is worked into hot sauce that's drizzled over crispy chicken wings (beware, they're spicy), which finds a natural companion in a frothy mango-kissed whiskey sour. Fried chicken is given a wasabi kick and placed on cubes of watermelon, which are cooling after so much zing -- and goes well with a watermelon-rum-mint ditty called Pink and the Brain.