I’ve been living in Toronto for over four years. Toronto never lacks interesting restaurants, but if I were to describe Toronto’s food scene with one word, I’d probably say inclusive. You can easily find cuisines from all around the world scattered in different neighborhoods in this city. It is also not unusual to discover food combining elements from various cultures served in one place.
I feel lucky to live in an inclusive and multicultural society. Also thanks to the openness of the city, chefs in Toronto usually have abundant opportunities and are never afraid to try new things. What I realize in recent years is that, a restaurant can easily get people to line up with the help of social media, but the business can shut down forever after a very short period. Creating a buzz is easy, but quality is the key to thrive.
I pick restaurants very carefully because I dine out twice at the most per week. I browse Instagram to get inspirations and sometimes I get really excited to try restaurants that serve seemingly interesting food. Unfortunately often times the food is meh and I know immediately I would never spend money a second time at the restaurant.
I’d like to share with you some of my favorite restaurants in Toronto, the few ones which I’d revisit. Eating is after all a very personal experience, but I do hope you like them. Life is hard, spend money more wisely.
1. Bar Isabel
My favorite Spanish restaurant in Toronto, a sister restaurant of Bar Raval, another popular tapas spot on College Street. Although Bar Raval has better interior design and a more affordable price range, food at Bar Isabel keeps making me revisit and bring different friends there. Whenever I go to Bar Isabel, I can actually feel that people love what they do and are trying their best to deliver the food philosophy, “eat, drink-be merry”, by creating unique dishes using high quality ingredients.
What I order every time:
- Sobrasada & Foie Gras: a slice of toast topped with sobrasada sausage and shaved foie gras. Such an unique way to serve foie gras! Melt-in-your-mouth foie gras combined with crunchy toast and flavorful sobrasada, the dish is just unforgettable.
- Grilled octopus: how can you not try the best grilled octopus in town (in my opinion)?
- Suckling Pork Belly: First time trying was not super impressed, but I think they improved the recipe recently which made it the best suckling pork belly I’ve ever had. Love the perfectly crispy skin.
- Grilled Beef Tongue: super tender. The spice they use reminds me of Chinese five-spice, interesting.
- Basque Cake & Sherry Cream: rich, warm, buttery Basque cake drizzled with sherry cream. The perfect ending to the meal.
My favorite Japanese izakaya located on Dundas West in Little Portugal (welcome to Toronto), a hidden gem. Store front looks too ordinary to catch your eye and the interior is not instagrammable at all. I had doubts at first, seeing the servers are mostly non-Asian. However, it turns out Imanish Japanese Kitchen does offer authentic Japanese food at a very reasonable price.
What I recommend:
- Anchovy potato salad & chips: Spanish inspired, harmonious combination of anchovy and mashed potato served with crispy taro chips.
- Corn kakiage: sweet savory corn tempura, especially delicious when it’s hot
- Maitake Agedashi Tempura: deep fried mushrooms with mochi in a rich agedashi broth, how can an all vegetarian dish be so delicious? Very rich in umami taste.
- Get both dessert dishes together! Deep fried Shoku Pan ( Japanese Wonder bread ) topped with taro ice cream and roasted buckwheat. The taro ice cream is the best I’ve had in Toronto. Sweet tooth 100% satisfied.
Other dishes like chicken wings and ebi fry (giant shrimp tempura) are good too, but not as interesting as the ones I mentioned above. I’ve tried a couple cocktails at Imanishi, but personally they’re too watery.
High quality Eastern Mediterranean cuisine and cocktails with some modern twists. I like the way they incorporate flowers or ingredients based on flowers into some of the dishes.
- Geographer cocktail: silky textured gin sour with a subtle taste of orange blossom, very refreshing.
- House-made labneh with fresh Barbari baked in wood oven: the perfect match. Freshly baked warm bread topped with crunchy Egyptian spice mix dipped in organic strained yogurt with olive oil, honey, paprika.
- Lamb ribs: a must! Meat is so tender you can easily pull it from the bones. Lamb ribs are covered in dukkah (the Egyptian spice mix, found on Barbari bread too) which adds another layer to the texture. The dish has an harmonious balance of sweetness and spiciness because of carob molasses and red chili schug.
- Fig salad: again, orange blossom is used. A salad combining fruitiness, nuttiness and floral flavors.
- Eggplant Kibbeh: eggplants stuffed with zucchini flowers, dipped in chickpea batter and fried. Interestingly put together.
- Black truffle rice which carries a strong aroma released from black truffle and other mushrooms.
- Orange blossom mousse: used to be my favorite dessert in Toronto but I feel like the quality dropped during my recent visits. Pistachio cake and orange blossom yogurt mousse topped with airy pashmak (cotton candy) served with pomegranate molasses and rose jam. Super floral and not overly sweet.
Another popular Thai restaurant in down town Toronto by Chef Nuit Regular, owner of Pai Northern Thai kitchen. Different from Pai, Kiin does not only focus on Northern Thai cuisine, but showcases elements from all across Thailand.
They used to serve business lunch and I loved the five spice pork hock rice!! Super flavorful, filling meal. Only wish they’ll bring it back some day.
Below are some dishes I enjoyed a lot:
- Roy Thai platter: four pieces of distinct, unique Thai appetizers. Begin from the lightest flavored to the strongest. All bite-size pieces contain interesting fillings including pickled turnip, peanut paste, fried shrimp etc.
- Wing Bean salad: fresh, crunchy wing beans with chili shrimp paste. Strong tastes are neutralized with toasted coconut and boiled duck egg.
- Gaeng Boombai: braised AAA Wellington County beef short rib with tamarind, field cucumber, pearl onions. Beef is so tender and flavorful. Don’t forget to order some roti which goes perfectly with the rich sauce!
- Khao Mun Gai: Hainanese chicken rice is actually one of the national dishes of Singapore. Poached chicken served with delicious garlic ginger rice and winter melon soup.
- Crispy Thai Omelette: abnormal omelette with minced chicken, berry rice and basil. Already flavorful, even better with the hot sauce. Filling comfort food. The only thing is that if you finish the whole thing by yourself it can be very greasy.
“Less is more”, a minimalist restaurant serving tasting menu using fresh, seasonal ingredients.
What I quite enjoy every time I dine at Canis is the sourdough served with cheese + chimichurri and butter + chives spread. Other dishes I tried were not super impressive compared with their famous Duck for Two, the most delicious roasted duck dish I’ve had in Toronto.
The duck was first brought to the table side so we could see the shinny, caramelized-honey colored skin. It was then sliced and served with roasted sunchoke, onion/sunchoke puree, additional duck confit risotto and sauce cooked with Sherry Vinaigrette, wine, duck stock and so on. The skin was perfectly crispy, yet there was still reasonable amount of fat remaining. The meat was tender, flavorful. Sides were equally scrumptious.
Really wish that Canis could bring this to-die-for duck for two soon!!!
Love sitting at the bar overlooking the busy open kitchen. Whenever I go by myself, I’d be offered a piece of amuse bouche: cured sea urchin and ricotta sitting in a mini bowl made of chickpeas, interesting combination. Thanks Buca.
L’isolana cocktail (which is no longer on the cocktail list but you can always ask) with grapefruit and a hint of sea salt, one of my favorite cocktails in Toronto.
My favorite pasta dish at Buca is BIGOLI: bronze die-extruded duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, Venetian spices, mascarpone & basil. So rich that I want to lick the plate (not appropriate I know, just saying).
Not your average panna cotta, it has fillings. This one is with grape filling that oozes out when you cut it. Refreshing, not overly sweet, a perfect ending to the meal.
In my opinion, at Buca, you can truly taste the freshness of the ingredients, that’s the reason why it’s worth revisiting.
7. Chabrol’s famous Apple Tarte
I’ve tried multiple dishes at the hidden French bistro in Yorkville, and found them just okay. Nothing too interesting. The quiche, for example, you can probably make it at home.
The only reason why I would return to Chabrol: Apple Tarte with Calvados Sabayon. This made to order dessert is to-die-for. Sliced apple embedded in buttery puff pastry, topped with warm calvados sabayon. I’ve recommended this dessert dish to so many friends and they all love it.
It’s good for 2 people, but I’ve eaten a whole thing by myself because it’s too good.
8. Seasonal truffle based dishes at Edulis
Here people do care about food. Edulis puts an emphasis on vegetables and seafood.
The tasting menu at Edulis may seem less interesting among other restaurants in Toronto, but the truffle menu is really worth trying.
Lucky me, last time I went was during the white truffle season. The one we had has egg custard, small amount of risotto on bottom, topped with shaved white truffle. The custard and risotto fully absorbed the amazing aroma of white truffle. Words can’t express how delicious it was.
I am not making comments on the restaurants as a food critic, but rather as a friend who just want to share interesting places with you. Again, dining is a very personal, subjective experience, no one can ever be the judge, except yourself.
You don’t have to agree with me, but I do hope you enjoy the food as much as I do.
(lol describing food in a second language is hard)