Through summer heat and winter chill, neighbourhood restaurants are always there. With increasingly cooler days, you may not want to venture too far outside your neighbourhood (read: comfort) zone. Fortunately, there are plenty of local gems tucked within Toronto’s streets and hidden alleyways.
Though indoor dining is once again closed in Toronto, this guide to the city’s top neighbourhood gem restaurants offers options for outdoor dining and takeout — as well as what to expect inside once that’s available again. Read on to book a reservation.
For global tastes: Alma
Located in Bloordale Village, chef-owner Anna Chen’s restaurant translates to “soul” in English, which accurately describes the effort she puts into her Asian flavors.
Dine-in: The welcoming restaurant with modern, clean lines and blond and white tones that serves as the ideal backdrop to showcase Chen’s flavorful fare. Favourites include unctuous Hakka siu mai topped with trout caviar, sweet snow crab and corn fried rice with salted egg yolk, and delicate whole branzino with wok fried turnips and ginger scallion sauce.
Outdoor dining: A seasonal summer patio is set up on Bloor street for sociable meals and people-watching opportunities.
Takeout: Both takeout and delivery is available, with small, large, and dessert plates — along with plenty of frozen foods (comforts such as dumplings and sticky rice) to stock up on, as well as wine and beer for purchase.
For local craft brews: Avling Kitchen and Brewery
Offering inventive microbrews to Leslieville locals is this upscale brewpub.
Dine-in: Inside, the space is a blend of industrial-meets-indie; it’s replete with mural art, beam pillars, and blonde wood seating. Expect to find (and taste) an extensive list of artisan beers, cocktails, and wines; additionally, the team has also created a concise menu to complement the drinks, including grilled sausage, a charcuterie board, beef fat fries with mushroom ketchup, and a smoked pork chop.
Outdoor dining: Modeled like your buddy’s backyard patio, the place is outfitted with plastic lawn chairs, tables, and picnic-style dining.
Takeout: Everything’s available to go, including the housemade barrel-aged beers.
For tacos and tequila: Chula Taberna Mexicana
This cantina in Leslieville offers recognizable Mexican staples with tons of tequila.
Dine-in: Chula Taberna Mexicana greets you with sprawling graffiti art painted in homage to Mexico’s grande dame of death: La Catrina. It’s juxtaposed with urban elements such as hardwood flooring and exposed brick. In addition to soaking-up the space, tuck into hand-held delights that include burritos stuffed with beef brisket, succulent pork shoulder tacos, and cinnamon-laced churros for dessert. Also noteworthy is Chula’s talk-of-the-town 70-plus tequilas options, spicy margaritas, and cocktail kits.
Outdoor dining: Chula has two graffiti-lined heated patios on the rooftop of the restaurant. The vibe is a melange of cultures: it’s an urban neighbourhood fiesta complete with thatched palapas (similar to a tiki hut) where you can order your drinks from. With views of the starry night, it’s an ideal spot to enjoy tacos and tequilas.
Takeout: Order to bring a taste of Mexico home.
For a modern Chinese feast: DaiLo
Located in Palmerston/Little Italy, DaiLo is a new Asian brasserie from chef-owner Nick Liu, who dishes up Chinese classics and his twists on well-known fare throughout East Asia. Get sweet, sour, spicy action with Hakka brown wontons stuffed with pork and shrimp, fried pork hock, lamb neck randage with sticky rice, and smoked duck with kimchi-pickled spring vegetables. Or throw caution to the wind and let Liu choose your adventure with the tasting menu.
Dine-in: This gold- and azure-toned bi-level spot offers dining options on the main and second floors, the latter of which is a not-so-secret bar area that oftentimes doubles as a private space for intimate events.
Outdoor dining: The street level rail-lined patio on College Street features a nude awning and a pared-down a la carte menu, plus one of two patio-specific tasting menus.
Takeout: Everything’s available for takeout, including a classic tasting menu or its vegan version.
For a wine-fueled hang: Grey Gardens
Tucked inside the bohemian beauty of the Kensington Market neighbourhood is this cool, eclectic wine bar.
Dine-in: Featuring clean lines and cool tones with some punches of color, Grey Gardens serves up creative cocktails, an extensive wine list, seafood, and small shareable snacks. The self-described “new North American” fare includes beef tongue with ricotta and shishito, an umami-loaded truffle burger, smoked fish chips and dip, and fried berry pie for dessert.
Outdoor dining: The restaurant has set up a charming little patio in front of the restaurant and offers lighter dishes from the menu. It’s only open in cooperating weather, so check the website for up-to-date times and dates of service.
Takeout: Order a different weekly set dinner for pick-up; to see this week’s specials, visit the website.
For late-night vibes: Hemingway’s Restaurant & Bar
This buzzing Kiwi owned spot has called Yorkville home for over 40 years.
Dine-in: Along with an electric yet homey pub vibe, Hemingway’s is known as a late-night spot since it’s normally open very late. At any time of the day, it’s the preferred spot for tucking into pub grub and more than two dozen draft beers. Best food bets include the New Zealand lamb shank, tried-and-true fish and chips, decadent signature poutine, and for dessert, the legendary homemade pavlova.
Outdoor dining: Hemingway’s iconic rooftop patio, with its citrus-hued tent, is heated on colder nights and situated on the second floor with views that overlook the posh neighbourhood of Yorkville.
Takeout: Kiwi-inspired eating at home ranges from staple creations to rotating daily specials.
For a taste of Iranian home comfort: Herby
The Danforth welcomes this newer restaurant that celebrates northwestern Iraniain fare to its neighbourhood. Helmed by owner Javad Zehdifar, Herby’s dishes evoke the memories and tastes of Zehdifar’s childhood growing up in Tabriz.
Dine-in: Inside, this vibrant space is lined with citrine banquettes, tapestries, photos of Iran, pottery, and trinkets. While soaking up the worldly ambiance, diners can enjoy Zehdifar’s flavors of home through dishes such as kashk e bademjan (a creamy eggplant dip), tava kebabs (made with beef, lamb and spices), and interactive Piti (chickpea stew served in a clay pot that requires you to mash it with a mallet before extracting both the broth and tender lamb).
Outdoor dining: The restaurant offers a quaint eight-seat heated patio at the front of the restaurant.
Takeout: From barbecue and stews to sharing platters and dessert, you can bring Herby’s Persian fare home with takeout.
For a romantic Parisian experience: Jules Bistro
Sometimes you’ll hear about a friendly ‘who did it better’ battle that’s long ensued between East-enders versus West-enders. Fortunately,for all Torontonians (and those visiting the city), Jules Bistro easily appeases to both sides.
Dine-in: With two locations at opposite ends of Toronto, it turns out that French fare can indeed be the charming peacemaker. Especially on Tuesday evenings where these respective gems serve up heaping platters of côte de boeuf for two at half-off the regular price. However, these bistros are worthy of a visit any day of the week for their crepes, steak frites, and chicken dijon sandwiches.
Outdoor dining: The Queen Street location offers patio dining at the front of the restaurant and in the back with a charming Parisian styled ambiance. Both areas are heated, but the restaurant encourages you to bring your own blanket on chillier evenings. The Leslieville location also features a patio for al fresco enjoyment of classics such as steak tartare and hearty French onion soup.
Takeout: For a romantic French meal at home, both locations are offering delivery and pick-up.
For Asian share plates: KOKO! Share Bar
While Yorkville is known for being a posh place for entertainment and shopping, you can still find affordable dining options here that won’t break the bank.
Dine-in: Enter KOKO! Share bar, whose basement dwellings means that it’s oftentimes a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” scenario. Once inside the snug space, you’re greeted by plenty of warm wood tones and local Korean artwork. Signature shareables include kimchi-seafood pancakes, torched salmon rolls, lobster bibimbap, sizzling kalbi short ribs, and bossam (Korean barbecue bulgogi wraps).
Outdoor dining: A seasonal streetside patio is open.
Takeout: A robust menu of take-out items and beverages is available.
For farm-to-table feasting: Marben
Hidden just off the busy King St. West stretch is this farm-to-table venue on Wellington Street. Chef Chris Locke prides himself on use of seasonal and sustainable fare while paying homage to the restaurant’s British heritage and showcasing it through a modern Canadian culinary philosophy.
Dine-in: Exuding the ambiance of an upscale gastropub that’s lined with Victorian-era artifacts and trinkets, the neighbourhood marvel further elevates the mood with its thoughtful fare such as heirloom beet salad, red fife (a local type of flour) gnocchi with confit chicken, dry-aged ribeye with nettle chimichurri, and heady armagnac ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Don’t forget to head downstairs to Marben’s basement and visit The Cloak Bar, a chic speakeasy for snacks and innovative sips.
Outdoor dining: A tented wood patio features a splashy hand painted mural; it’s also heated, and the restaurant offers blankets for even more warmth and coziness.
Takeout: Beyond the standard delivery meals, there’s Marben at Home — curated dinners from Thursday to Sunday (think fried chicken and prime rib dinners) for pick-up only. Meanwhile, The Cloak Bar is offering cocktail kits and cocktails by the bottle for purchase as well, and there’s also the option to pick up artisan farm produce and homemade goods from Marben’s grocery.
For fresh Peruvian ceviches: Mira
Venture down an unassuming alleyway in the King West neighbourhood and discover this hidden Peruvian paradise.
Dine-in: Mira transports you to Peru with an artful blend of floor-to-ceiling murals, neon signage, and chevron wood panelling in both the main and private dining rooms. Inspiring Peruvian fare includes fresh salmon ceviches, octopus with picante aji amarillo, juicy rib eye, and silky caramel and cacao nib mousse for dessert.
Outdoor dining: Fairy lights dance over their wood patio that’s lined with cushy banquettes and whose pillars are draped with lush plants and flowers, offering seclusion and shade.
Takeout: While takeout is a more concise version of the menu, all the greatest hits are featured fto enjoy at home — think braised lamb and wagyu tataki.
For fresh pasta and seafood: Ovest cucina e Vineria
Tucked underneath a fitness studio in the King West area is this industrial-chic Italian eatery.
Dine-in: Ovest’s amber tones, exposed concrete and wood-lined ceiling makes for an eclectic refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. Executive chef Rajan Chopra at a mere 24 years old leads the kitchen brigade and offers diners thoughtful fare from pescaterian to vegan. Dishes dance with color and vibrant tastes with standouts that include silky burrata pizza, baked branzino, chitarrine alla pescatora (market fresh seafood in an arugula pesto sauce), and midnight-hued black cuttlefish risotto topped with black tiger shrimp.
Outdoor dining: The glass-encased streetside patio provides views of King St. West; there are no heaters on site, so bring your own blanket.
Takeout: A condensed version of the menu is available from the restaurant directly.
For classic-meets-contemporary Italian: Paese
In Italian, Paese translates to “town or village” — an aptly named spot for this North York restaurant considering it’s been a beloved fixture in the area for over 25 years.
Dine-in: In cultivating dual identities, much of the food that’s served in Paese’s contemporary-styled trattoria is grounded in both Canadian and Italian cultures. Best exemplifying this is the polpo alla griglia (grilled octopus salad), brown butter squash gnocchi, eggplant parmigiana pizza, and veal scaloppine with lemon sauce.
Outdoor dining: The restaurant has set up a biergarten-style patio. It’s an expansive covered retreat made for al fresco enjoyment, and on colder nights, heaters have been set up to offer ample warmth.
Takeout: Curated meal kits and a la carte creations are on the takeout menu.
For contemporary Creole and Southern comfort: Roux
Chef and Owner Derrick Markland is a self-proclaimed “Junctioneer” who opened up his cozy Southern restaurant in the Junction neighbourhood.
Dine-in: The welcoming space is done up with exposed brick and warm wood tones, accompanied by dishes such as andouille sausage gumbo, Southern-style fried chicken, shrimp & grits, and fluffy beignets brûlée for dessert.
Outdoor dining: Roux’s restaurant-adjacent patio is situated just off the busy main street for peaceful dining.
Takeout: In addition to the menu, there are rotating daily specials to go.
For a meaty meal: Smoque N’ Bones
On Queen West is this moody outpost strongly perfumed by sweet barbecue smoke.
Dine-in: The restaurant is an eclectic mix of rustic-industrial decor, with reclaimed wood tables and prison lights from WWII. Meanwhile, the upstairs Kohl Bar is a great place to listen to live music or host private affairs. As for the food, chef-owner Alex Rad put together a Southern-style barbecue menu complete with riblets, smoked chicken lollipops, cowboy beef ribs, buttermilk fried chicken, and baby back ribs.
Outdoor dining: A temporary streetside patio is set up to host those who wish to tuck into a rack of ribs while soaking up the hustle and bustle of Queen St. West. There are no patio heaters, so remember to dress warmly.
Takeout: Go all in with family combos, a la carte dishes, and tallboys.
Tiffany Leigh is a freelance journalist whose bylines have included Vogue, Playboy, Departures, Fashion Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine Magazine, Dwell, and more. In addition to having a business and communications degree, she also has a culinary background and is the recipient of a James Beard Foundation Scholarship award.