Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Montreal Greats.
Toronto’s multicultural roots make the city one of the most exciting places to eat in the country. Many of the city’s greatest restaurants showcase what happens when Canadian ingredients meet those from Korea, China, Pakistan, and beyond.
A MasterChef Canada winner stirs up inventive Canadian Chinese fare—Ibérico char siu with wildflower honey, anyone?—at a graffiti-lined spot in Chinatown. In St. Clair West, a modern Indian place is a group outing go-to for imaginative shared plates such as PEI beef short ribs braised with black cumin. Local ingredients get various global treatments at a sophisticated restaurant in a former chocolate factory downtown.
These imaginative restaurants breathe new life into Queen City. Read on for a guide to Toronto’s 21 greatest restaurants to book now.
Steam Whistle Biergärten (Downtown)
Toronto’s star brewery has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 2000, evolving from the passion project of three laid-off brewery workers to a Downtown destination. The space now includes its own biergärten and restaurant along with a working brewery. Sitting in the shadow of the CN Tower, the biergärten patio has become a landmark in its own right. It’s a place to try the brewery’s iconic pilsner alongside a menu of European and Canadian-inspired drinking snacks, such as pork hock with mustard made from the brewery’s beer and bratwurst with housemade sauerkraut. Tuck into currywurst in the restaurant’s beer-hall-style dining room or outside under a sea of forest green umbrellas on the seasonal patio.
Chiado (Dufferin Grove)
Chef Albino Silva’s commitment to blue-ribbon ingredients and consistently good cooking nabbed Chiado a spot on Toronto Life’s 100 Best Restaurants list. The Portuguese restaurant is one of the city’s best spots for seafood, offering grilled tiger shrimp slathered in piri piri hot sauce and grouper carpaccio studded with pine nuts, asparagus, and citrus preserves. Wash it all down with a bottle from the restaurant’s large collection of Portuguese wines or sample a glass from the massive selection of port. Wine tastings and private functions are hosted in Chiado’s handsome wine cellar.
Giulietta (Dufferin Grove)
Though Giulietta’s menu is Italian, the restaurant is a far cry from a rustic trattoria, serving elegant food in a chic setting: a winning combination that drove Canada’s 100 Best to anoint it the country’s best new restaurant in 2019. Top Chef Canada star chef Rob Rossi spotlights ingredients and techniques from all over Italy, adding his own flair without sacrificing tradition. For instance, the restaurant’s beloved cacio e pepe is the sauce for housemade tonnarelli (a noodle akin to thick, square spaghetti) while grilled octopus gets poached and cooked in a wood oven for peak tenderness. Giulietta exudes unassuming elegance, contrasting earthy red banquettes and terrazzo flooring. The most exciting seats in the house are six high-tops lined along the restaurant’s bustling open kitchen.
Canoe Restaurant and Bar (Downtown)
Perched on the 54th floor of a downtown office building, Canoe is a top special occasion destination in Toronto. A dinner here comes with a side of panoramic views, making it one of the most dramatic dining rooms in the city. But it’s the restaurant’s contemporary Canadian menu that landed it a place on Canada’s Top 100 restaurant list. The menu sources most of its ingredients from provinces across the country, using foie gras from Quebec, local vegetables, and foraged goods as a way to capture a portrait of Canada’s bounty during any given season. An interior refresh (to mark the restaurant’s 25th anniversary in 2020) pays homage to Canoe’s homegrown menu with flourishes including a braided ceiling installation inspired by the weaving techniques used to make snowshoes. Strategically placed mirrors enhance the restaurant’s naturally beautiful sunset lighting.
Kōst (Entertainment District)
From the Baja-inspired cuisine to the sun-soaked dining room, everything about Kōst (pronounced “coast”) is fresh and bright. Perched on the rooftop of the Bisha Hotel—which scored attention for suites designed by rocker Lenny Kravitz—Kōst offers striking views over the city and waterfront. Pop art photographs add bursts of colour to a dining room decorated with clean lines, white banquettes, and blond wood. Prettily plated dishes such as tuna tartare with yuzu dressing and lamb barbacoa with radish slaw are influenced by Mexican, Asian, and seasonal flavours. The drinks menu is anchored by a lengthy list of sparkling wines by the glass and bottle—fitting for toasting Toronto from above. While the open kitchen and geometric-patterned beam ceiling are undeniably eye-catching, a meal at Kōst is all about the glittering infinity pool adjacent to the restaurant and the sweeping CN Tower and lakeshore vistas.
Grey Gardens (Kensington Market)
Grey Gardens is an understated wine bar from one of Toronto’s most well-known restaurateurs, Jen Agg. But it only takes a quick scan of the menu to see that unlike many wine bars, food isn’t an afterthought here—this is one of the city’s most ambitious culinary operations. Grey Gardens skips the typical meat and cheese boards, giving diners inspired alternatives such as smoked fish dip or canestri pasta with broccoli and speck. The sprawling wine list offers a pairing for everything on the menu, covering both old world and emerging regions, such as the restaurant’s own orange wine made in partnership with a producer in Niagara. Agg is known for creating restaurants where the vibe is as expertly executed as the food and Grey Gardens is no exception. The interior is airy and inviting, accented with pops of teal, brass, and greenery.
As one of Yorkville’s longest-running restaurants, Joso’s is known for exceptional seafood and a quirky atmosphere. The simple seafood preparation here is a contrast to the over-the-top decor, which includes a variety of nude artwork—much of which was created by the restaurant’s late founder Joso Spralja, a folk musician and artist who opened his namesake spot as a bohemian cafe in the 1960s. Musician Drake featured Joso’s alluring interiors on the cover of his Take Care album and is just one of the celebrities who has dined here over the decades. The restaurant is still in the family, now run by Spralja’s son and daughter-in-law. The fried calamari—legend has it that Spralja was the first to serve the dish in Toronto—is a must-order.
Scaramouche Restaurant (South Hill)
Scaramouche opened its doors in 1980, making the restaurant older than many of the people in its dining room. Torontonians flock to this storied fine-dining spot to celebrate special occasions. The restaurant’s timeless menu and commitment to excellent service have kept diners returning for decades, and its continued appearances on best-of lists have ushered in new generations of fans. Expect French-inspired fare with creative flourishes, such as ricotta ravioli, sea scallops with black truffle beurre fondue, and paprika sourdough toasts.
George Restaurant (Downtown)
When Toronto residents want to go all out, they head downtown for one of chef Lorenzo Loseto’s five-, seven-, or ten-course tasting menus. George’s lineups feature ingredients from around the globe. On the same night, diners could encounter a dish of scallops with carrot dashi alongside a plate of beef ribeye, golden beets, and fermented radish. Impeccable service and artistic plating make the multi-course tasting menus an immersive experience. Bonus points for its intriguing setting: George is housed in a 19th-century former chocolate factory, all exposed brick and wrought iron accents.
Terroni (Queen West)
When the Terroni team opened their flagship Queen West market in 1992, the neighbourhood wasn’t a food destination. Fast-forward to the present day and the specialty Italian market has grown into a full-service restaurant that launched a Toronto empire for all things Italian, including several outposts around the city, a bakery on Queen West, a wine importing business, and even a magazine. But the original location is still one of the city’s best places for a classic Italian meal, such as a rigatoni all’amatriciana and a glass of Montepulciano.
Yasu Toronto (Harbord Village)
Toronto’s first omakase sushi restaurant is also one of its finest Japanese spots. Yasu was deemed the 35th best restaurant in Canada, according to Canada’s 100 Best. Chef and owner Yasuhisa Ouchi (who trained in Osaka, Japan) wanted to introduce Canadians to the simple joys of well-crafted sushi. There is one menu—a procession of pristine cuts of fish—available at two or three nightly seatings depending on the day. The minimalist interiors and almost hushed ambiance keep the focus on taking in the layered flavours of every sushi bite.
Té (Beaconsfield Village)
Korean cooking meets Canadian food traditions at Té. The result is a destination for modern East Asian cooking that represents the city’s culinary crossroads through dishes such as poutine topped with Korean brisket, cheese curds, sriracha mayo, and a sunny-side-up egg. As the restaurant’s name suggests, tea also plays a starring role here, making its way into dishes such as the matcha green tea cheesecake and the jasmine-infused gin that creates a base for the restaurant’s unique spin on a martini.
El Catrin (Distillery District)
Boasting a sprawling, year-round patio, a custom mural that took three artists nearly 100 days to complete, and Toronto’s best margaritas, El Catrin is one of the city’s most impressive Mexican restaurants. The menu mixes crowd-pleasers such as Baja fish tacos and more original creations, including braised short ribs with corn, zucchini, carrots, and green beans. Give yourself extra time to browse the restaurant’s agave spirits selection—it features more than 120 different producers and is considered one of Toronto’s most diverse collections of mezcal and tequila.
Parallel (The Junction)
The Ozery brothers set a new standard for Middle Eastern food in Toronto with their modern Israeli restaurant, Parallel. The trio grew up eating tahini on almost everything and decided to translate their love of sesame butter into both a packaged product and the basis for a menu of cheffed-up classics. While many dishes on Parallel’s menu seem familiar, almost all contain an unexpected twist, such as the pan-seared sea bream served over freekeh risotto and fluffy housemade hummus accented with fried eggplant and preserved lemon. The restaurant’s lofty, factory-influenced interior channels the commercial heritage of its Geary Avenue location—a strip that Parallel helped establish as a destination for innovative food ventures. Head up to the mezzanine level for a peek at the indoor herb garden and stone mill used to grind sesame seeds.
Fresh on Crawford (Queen West)
Way before plant-based dining was all the rage, there was Fresh on Crawford. The mini-chain of restaurants has been a Toronto destination for vegetarian and vegan dishes (plus cold-pressed juices) since 1999. The restaurant has a loyal following for its creative plant-based dishes such as crispy buffalo cauliflower with hemp hearts and a nine-layer burrito, packed with crispy panko squash marinated black beans, cashew queso, avocado, brown rice, pickled jalapeños, and more. The Crawford outpost is a cheery spot to cozy up with a bowl of superfood soup in the winter. But the restaurant truly shines in the warmer months when covered corner patio seating opens up.
Bar Isabel (Little Italy)
Bar Isabel, a cozy room with curvy plastered walls, richly coloured tiles, and warm lighting, is one of the city’s most romantic escapes. It also serves some of the best Spanish food in town. Run by well-known Toronto chef and restaurateur Grant van Gameren, the kitchen sticks to tapas bar classics and executes them perfectly. The shareable menu lends itself well to snacks and drinks or a full dinner. Think crispy patatas bravas, tender grilled octopus, and olive oil-drenched pan con tomate that complement the extensive Spanish wine and vermouth selection.
Blueblood Steakhouse (Midtown)
When you want to dine like royalty, head to BlueBlood Steakhouse. As one of Toronto’s most luxurious steakhouses, it’s set in the city’s historic castle, Casa Loma. The interior is part modern hunting lodge full of leather banquettes and antler chandeliers, and part art museum featuring works by Dalí, Warhol, and street artist Mr. Brainwash. Dishes such as a dry-aged striploin or a rare bottle from the restaurant’s wine cellar (built by the original owner of the castle to house over a thousand bottles) don’t feel extravagant. Instead, they’re right in line with the opulent surroundings. The surf is as good as the turf, including a seafood tower piled high with king crab, jumbo prawns, lobster, oysters, and salmon crudo.
Pukka (St. Clair West)
A family-style menu and lively ambiance make this contemporary Indian gem a go-to for group outings. Pukka’s concise menu is packed with familiar South Asian favourites, such as butter chicken and lamb rogan josh. But the culinary team brings new dimensions to these tried-and-true faithfuls through stylish presentation and nuanced flavours. Many dishes, such as the PEI beef short ribs braised with black cumin, reimagine traditional Indian cuisine with global influences. The well-curated wine list is an added draw for oenophiles, with sommelier Peter Boyd (one of the city’s top wine stewards) at the helm.
Koh Lipe Thai Kitchen (Baldwin Village)
Some of Toronto’s finest regional Thai fare awaits at this low-key Baldwin Village dining room. Named for the southern Thai island where owner Phanom “Patrick” Suksaen was born, Koh Lipe dedicates an entire menu section to distinctive dishes from this region, such as choo chee pla too, fried mackerel fish with spicy coconut curry. Adventurous eaters can sample creations featuring the southern Thai specialty “stink bean,” (a green almond-shaped seed with a pungent smell) though the menu also includes standards such as pad thai and khao soi.
R&D brings a playful new perspective to the concept of fusion cuisine with its self-described “Canadian Asian” menu. Led by MasterChef Canada winner Eric Chong and acclaimed chef Alvin Leung (best known for his two MICHELIN-starred Hong Kong spot, Bo Innovation) the restaurant draws on global influences to create dishes such as lamb spiducci with satay marinade and Ibérico char siu with wildflower honey. The shareable menu is the best way to sample a variety of super eclectic small and large plates.
Alma (Bloordale Village)
Alma, which means “kind” or “nourishing” in Latin, perfectly sums up this restaurant’s homey ambiance. Chef Anna Chen’s genre-busting menu taps into her Hakka Chinese heritage, as well as her Italian and French culinary training. Chen’s cooking is earnest and delightful, with most dishes featuring scratch-made ingredients such as housemade pasta, noodles, and fresh bread. The menu typically mixes rotating seasonal dishes with beloved mainstays such as pork wonton and noodles dressed in housemade soy sauce with black pepper and pork schmaltz. A solid list of (primarily) natural wines completes a one-of-a-kind dining experience that’s equal parts comforting and intriguing.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.
Jessica Huras is a Toronto-based food and drink writer. Eat your way across the city (and beyond) with her on Instagram @waysofwanderers.