Eat a Giant Polenta Feast On Your Table
An Alo restaurant sister concept that likes it loud
Alo’s new sister spot is a casual downmarket eatery that finds chef Patrick Kriss being the best version of himself. The 38-seat room is half bar, half dining car, but it’s attracted its fair share of lunch-mongers and tech types due to its intricate approach to modern “diner fare.” Appetizers include crispy squash ($12), chicken katsu ($12), and scallop tostada ($14), while mains tap into everything from the burger & fries ($20) to 24-ounce rib-eye drizzled in beef jus ($65). There’s only three desserts on the menu -- black forest sundae, pecan pie, and lemon meringue pie (all $10) -- but the wine list is so inherently “Alo” that you’ll forgo sweets for a rare red from Rioja, Spain.
The best spot in Toronto for central Texas BBQ
Compared to Adamson’s and Cherry St, this Main and Gerrard BBQ joint is Texas through and through. Beach Hill’s owners Darrien List and Terrence Hill use a 7,000-pound smoker to serve up meats by the half pound -- including smoked brisket, pork ribs, sausages, and halal chicken. Their sides don’t quit either as their portions of mac & cheese and poblano coleslaw are overly generous, but the real blue ribbon winner is the Pitmasters Cookout ($100), which clocks in at more than 4.5 pounds of assorted meats, with a quart of beans and potato salad included.
A Caribbean joint with flavor, soul, and an in-house pit grill
Celebrating the vibes and twists of Jamaican culture, Chubby’s does Caribbean cuisine on an entirely different level. Their own jerk pork ($16) and jerk chicken ($14-$31) are seasoned and roasted over an in-house pit grill, while mains like the coconut herb-crusted sea bream ($23) come with saltfish fritters ($12), oxtail stew ($18), and likkle patties ($10) made with curried turkey and greens. Their lunch menu “soon come,” but their carrot sponge layer cake ($9) and passion fruit coconut cream pie ($9) can tastefully “mashup the dance” on any given night.
Bayview & Leaside
Adamson’s pies will make you weak in the knees
Conspiracy Pizza’s Adam Skelly and Dan Rios aren’t reinventing the pie -- they’re perfecting it. The red sauce spawn of Adamson Barbecue (and sibling to Adamson Bakery) serves up “New York slash Italian hybrid” pizzas with a focus on using the best ingredients possible. Their works come at a price, but all of their proteins are sourced in-house, which leads to basics like Hawaiian with smoked ham and house-brined pineapple, and “fancies” such as Steel Beams, which pairs jalapeño-Cheddar sausage bombs with house-pickled jalapeños and banana peppers. Their fan favorite, however, remains the Bay of Pigs -- a white sauce flavor opus that layers Adamson pulled pork and smoked bacon with red onions, mozzarella, and a BBQ mustard sauce.
West Queen West
Bodega concept meets He-Man and PB&J Twinkies
Queen West’s “new throwback” is a retrofied corner store meets bar and restaurant, and it takes its style to heart. The space, designed by Community Agency, feels both ‘90s cool and millennial, as it’s covered in cinema lightboxes, hand-stitched nerd art, She-Ra wallpaper, hot pink selfie walls, and Push Pops as far as the eye can see. The eats are equally Nickelodeon, as favorites such as bacon whoppers, fried chicken, yuca tots, and mac & ribs with a gremolata of Goldfish are slung alongside creamsicles and bubblegum sours. Add that to Candy Bombs (think Jäger) that recall Dr. Pepper, Tic Tacs, and Skittles, and it just might be the happiest place on earth.
St. Clair West
Hellish fast-casual pizza that will take your soul
Tucked away at Davenport and Ossington, Dante’s is a traditional pizza spot that will whisk you away from your thin-crust habits. Their panini sandwiches carry some heft as they are piled with house meatballs, breaded pork cutlets, and seared Bajan-style perch (a Friday exclusive), and they act as a prelude to their main attraction. Their pizzas are all made by hand and range from rossas to biancas that mix it up with prosciutto, seasoned pork belly, and bocconcini. And then there’s the “Infernale” menu, which includes hellish pies like the Diavola (spicy soppressata, hot pepper spread, black olives). It’s not for the faint of heart, but that’s what the Mandarinata is for.
The Drake goes post-industrial with brisket and art brews
The Drake’s new-ish 8,000-square-foot property is a restaurant, bar, store, catering kitchen, and culinary workshop that’s been rolled into one massive all-day hangout. Ted Corrado and Jonas Grupiljonas’ menus emanate flavor as they offer up black kale & cheese breakfast sandwiches ($8), smørrebrøds ($8 for a delicious, Danish open-faced sandwich), smoked Drake brisket ($14), and upside down cake with a red wine glacé ($9), and that’s just for starters. There’s also bakery sweets, cold brew coffee and tea, and a robust bar that features Drake Art House beer, its own house wine blend (the Rail Path), and signature drinks like Gin Gin Mule ($14) or the bourbon-y Rust + Bone ($16).
Hungarian treasures that will make you put a ring on it
Kristin and Justin Butler’s food truck has spawned a pair of brick-and-mortar locations, and it’s a sure sign that their chimneys can’t be stopped. Their Hungarian pastries are meticulously assembled before your eyes and come in two varieties: chimney cakes and chimney cones. The former are vegan-friendly cylinders that are coated in organic cane sugar ($6) and raspberry crumble ($8) while a chimney cone can come in flavors like matcha crunch ($9.75), lemon berry marscapone ($9.75), and peanut butter pretzel parfait ($9.75). There’s also the option of building your own Chimdog -- a 100% vegan, gourmet fusion hot dog that’s hand-rolled in aged Cheddar or vegan cheese and topped with sauerkraut, kimchi, Siracha mayo, ketchup, and mustard or Eva’s’ Hungarian tartar.
Farm-to-table brunch with mimosas to spare
Owned by Kyle Webster (ex-Globe Bistro), Farmr is a farm-to-table eatery that strives to “create the perfect plate” by using local and seasonal ingredients. Their secret weapon, however, lies in an ability to make comfort food from scratch. Plates ($12.99) pair proteins such as spiced turkey meatballs and lentil and chickpea fritters with kohlrabi and red kale, roasted sweet potatoes, and Ontario mushrooms and kale. Then there’s brunch specials like breakfast sandwiches ($10.99) and rice porridge with seasonal preserves ($8.99) plus bevs from Pilot Coffee, Greenhouse Juice Co., and Collective Arts Brewing. And for those asking -- they have brunch mimosas, too.
An Old Greektown secret worth the Uber Pool
Just a few steps away from the Toronto Reference Library, Fat Lamb Kouzina is a tribute to Old Greektown. The takeout nook from owner Vera Tzoulas and chef Christopher Priftis focuses on authentic Greek cuisine that feels like an extension of home cooking -- from beef and veal gyros to pork wraps to herb leg of lambs that are slow-roasted for six hours. Suffice to say, their famed tiropita and hortopita pies are worth the trip to Yonge & Bloor as they’re made with a homemade phyllo dough and filled with mint and sheep’s milk cheese or collards, chard, dill, and parsley.
St. Clair West
Sicilian treats that will make your nonna’s head spin
Cookie Friday’s Lois Kim and Carlo Diano are connoisseurs when it comes to sweets, but granita -- a coarser cousin to sorbet and Italian ice -- is their specialità. Theirs is all natural, vegan, and in favor of striking flavors such as cinnamon plum, pineapple mint, masala chai, nectarine elderflower, and wild blueberry lemon. Their gelato rotates to offer everything from olive oil, to PB&J, and cannoli filling, and it also comes in the form of sammies and chocolate-dipped cones.
Hawaiian pulled pork bennies for breakfast that feel like a crime
Inseok Jang and Hyunseung Son’s new Harbord Village spot is a simple brunch nook that builds on the husband-and-wife duo’s passion for flavor. Their menu links together Japanese, Italian, and American influences -- a winning formula that equates to strange delights like “fusion sushi” Hawaiian pulled pork bennies, hazelnut cake with zabaione, and green teas that calm the soul.
A Twin Peaks gem for the Tinder dates that matter
The cultish buzz behind Mahjong Bar is oh so real as the new co-owned space from Kyle Wong, Emily Blake, Andrew Perry (ex-Home of the Brave), and Joshua LeBlanc (ex-Track & Field) is a visual trip. Inside, the bodega storefront and endless snack pile of White Rabbit candies lead to a chic open space that’s lined with a pink marble bar, Twin Peaks floors, and a 36-foot mural by artist Gabriella Lo. There’s also the menu. The food includes Chinese small plates such as half moon pastries ($9), Chengdu wontons ($11) and smashed cucumber salad ($7), while the drink list extends to rare whiskey finds, pop culture-friendly house cocktails (Lady Bird, Tame Impala Redux) and draughts and bottles from Beijing, Singapore, Hawaii, Portugal, and Sweden.
French tacos that will steal your girl (and your heart)
What do you get when you mix eclectic street food with traditional French cuisine? In this case, it’s Mister Frenchy. Youcef Boudouh and Mohamed Bordo’s new Danforth establishment is big on French tacos -- burrito-like sandwiches that are made with a selection of marinated meat, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and Emmental cheese (imported from Switzerland). They also come in the form of pressed French bread and wraps called roules, and are paired with signature sauces, like the Samourai which is a blend of mayo and harissa. Elsewhere you'll find desserts such as cream-filled profiteroles and, soon, imported sodas from Schweppes and Volvic.
Love isn’t the answer, but small-batch bourbon is
Northwood’s younger sister is a hipper flip of the coffee and cocktails spot as its French decor and cute side patio help push a nouveau take on “craft bars.” Their beer list covers everything -- from Dieu du Ciel! Rosee d’Hibiscus to St. Bernardus Abt 12 -- but their signature concoctions include untamed tequilas (Palm Court), fearless ryes (Harvest Moon), and provocative sippers (Jules & Jim) that romanticize bourbon. If you find yourself there on date night in the future, opt for The Grammatology which pairs Famous Grouse and Laphroaig Scotch with pear liqueur.
Diner-style meat sweats and delectable milkshakes
This new Kensington stop is the obvious “new kid on the block” in a city full of burger heads, but it’s making waves due to its attention to detail. Their sky-high halal creations come stacked with fresh (never frozen) prime AAA Canadian beef and in-house toppings and sauces which range from smoked beef bacon to grilled pineapple and spicy chipotle aioli. There are also diner-style milkshakes and tender buffalo strips that make Chick-fil-A look like Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack.
Three words: “Amurrica, f**k yeah!”
Andy Wilson, Marc Baglio, and Adam Graham’s sibling to Pinkerton’s Snack Bar is Leslieville to the core. Its name derives from a Thin Lizzy song, and -- naturally -- the 40-seat room is all rock 'n' roll as it’s home to select vinyl pieces (think Springsteen, Tear For Fears), and an “Amurrican” style menu full of smashed burgers, buttermilk fried chicken, and fried green tomatoes. Throw in a killer rotating selection of whiskey darlings and craft stubbys (Halo, Left Field, Blood Brothers), and it’s perfect for dates who will gladly inhale queso and brag about their Alien Invaders scores.
Thai fare and slushies that were made for twofers
For the uninitiated, Phanom Suksaen’s new offshoot is a casual Thai spot that’s all in on cocktail buckets. It serves up an array of grilled pork jowl ($11), tum paa ($16), soft shell crab ($23), and vegan pad kraprow ($15), but it’s relatively difficult to avoid their boozy counterparts. The Si Lom Windmill ($13.95) is a 32-ounce bucket of tequila, mango juice, grenadine, and sparkling soda, while the aptly named Jolly Bear & Friend Kamikaze ($16.95) is a slushy variation made with vodka, blue Curacao, ginger ale, blended ice, and a handful of Jolly Bear candy. There’s also Exotic Passion Fruit Sangria ($21.95), which comes in liter form and the Beer Plus Rita ($16.95), which sticks an upside-down Corona into tequila and frozen lemonade, and screams “summer,” even if that season hasn't arrived yet.
West Queen West
Nothing says good morning quite like Syrian delights like manaeesh and knaffeh
Run by Jala Alsoufi and her family, this Queen West shop specializes in two delicacies that offer a taste of Syria. Manaeesh (pronounced “ma-na-’eesh”) are oven-baked flatbreads that are filled with cheese, spinach, spiced beef, and red pepper paste, while Knaffeh (“k-na-feh”) are savory mini dough pies that are topped with crushed pistachios and a drizzle of orange blossom syrup. Both serve as quick street food options, with the eggs & cheese manaeesh ($6.25) becoming a popular Toronto-via-Levantine breakfast staple for those that are fans of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Old-school parms and deli standards for the Soprano in you
The folks at Sugo take pride in two things: Italian food and an undying love for sauce. The Bloor and Lansdowne eatery serves up filling takes on ricotta gnocchi ($12), caprese salad ($12), and “muzzerella” sticks ($7), and then there’s the short list of hot sandwiches. Their veal ($13) and chicken parm ($12) are sauced-up coma inducers while their Deli Standard ($10) -- layers of mortadella and prosciutto dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo -- is a welcome change-up. There’s also Manhattans, vino, and a super boozy tiramisu that will bring out the nonna in you.