Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Toronto Greats.
Toronto’s distinctive neighbourhoods and multicultural history make the city one of the most exciting places to eat in the country. Many of the city’s greatest restaurants merge Canadian food traditions with those from other parts of the world, showcasing what happens when the country’s ingredients meet those from Korea, China, Pakistan, and beyond.
And when the past several years pushed the city’s entire hospitality industry to the brink, restaurants in The 6 rose to the occasion, keeping Torontonians fed and their pantries full. There’s no better time to acknowledge and support the restaurants that have had an immeasurable influence on modern dining in Toronto: meet The Greats, the 21 restaurants that breathe life into the city.
Steam Whistle Biergärten (Downtown)
Toronto’s stalwart 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: a place to try the brewery’s iconic pilsner alongside a menu of European and Canadian-inspired drinking foods, such as pork hock with mustard made from the brewery’s beer and house-made Nuremberg sausage served in a sandwich layered with crispy onions and Dijon mayo.
Dining at the restaurant: 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. For a special occasion, go for the fireside dining option where diners can book private dinners for up to six people, focussed on a menu of items cooked over wood-fired grills.
Takeout: The restaurant is currently offering vacuum-sealed pretzels and sausages to-go, alongside the house-made mustard and seasoning salt. Locals can also opt for home beer delivery, including discounted subscription packs that are automatically shipped biweekly or monthly.
Chiado (Dufferin Grove)
While some restaurants rely on high-wire techniques and trendy ingredients for their success, Albino Silva’s commitment to high-quality ingredients and consistently good cooking nabbed Chiado a spot on Toronto Life’s 100 best restaurants list. It’s also one of the city’s best spots for seafood, offering grilled tiger shrimp lathered 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 from the massive selection of port.
Dining at the restaurant: Thanks to tables draped in white linen and polished service, Chiado offers indoor dining with a timeless fine dining experience. Wine tastings and private functions are hosted in the restaurant’s handsome wine cellar.
Takeout: Chiado offers a full menu of traditional Portuguese fare for pick-up, which can be ordered by calling the restaurant.
Giulietta (Dufferin Grove)
Though Giulietta’s menu is Italian, the restaurant is a far cry from a rustic trattoria, serving refined food in a chic setting: a 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 borrows ingredients and techniques from all over Italy, adding his own flair without sacrificing the tradition behind the dish. 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 is poached and cooked in a wood oven to achieve the perfect tender texture.
Dining at the restaurant: Giulietta exudes an unassuming elegance with earthy red banquettes contrasting subtly against terrazzo flooring and neutral, canvas-like walls. The most exciting seats in the house are six high-tops lined along the restaurant’s bustling open kitchen.
Takeout: The restaurant does not currently offer takeout.
Canoe Restaurant and Bar (Downtown)
Situated on the 54th floor of a downtown office building, a dinner at Canoe comes with a side of panoramic views — this top special occasion destination is one of the most dramatic dining rooms in the entire city. But it’s the restaurant’s inventive menu of contemporary Canadian cuisine that landed it a place on Canada’s Top 100 restaurant list. The menu sources the majority of its ingredients from provinces across the country, using foie gras from Quebec, Ontario pheasant, local vegetables, and foraged goods as a way to capture a portrait of Canada’s bounty during any given season. A recent refresh to mark the restaurant’s 25th anniversary in 2020 pays homage to its Canadian 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.
Dining at the restaurant: Canoe offers indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout is not available at the restaurant.
Drake Hotel Restaurant (Queen Street West)
Run by one of the city’s most prolific hotel groups, The Drake Hotel restaurant is one of the few hotel spots that boasts major culinary clout. The property regularly hosts 86’ed Mondays, a monthly industry night founded by hospitality legend Ivy Knight that brings together local chefs for friendly themed cooking competitions that the public can attend. The hotel’s rooftop dining area (named one of the best in the world by Condé Nast Traveler) is worth a visit to try one of the city’s top burgers and sip on a spritz while taking in the skyline views.
Dining at the restaurant: With a lounge, cafe, and rooftop terrace plus breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch available, the toughest part of dining at the Drake is deciding when, where, and what to eat. Rotating exhibitions that complement the hotel’s artsy aesthetic ensure there’s always something new to admire with every visit.
Takeout: The restaurant offers a limited takeout menu that includes popular items such as the Drake Burger and blistered shishito peppers, as well as a brief selection of beer and wine. All items are available to order online via the hotel’s website.
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 garnered 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. Light, prettily plated dishes such as tuna tartare with yuzu dressing and lamb barbacoa with radish slaw are influenced by varied 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.
Dining at the restaurant: Kōst is open for indoor and al fresco dining. While the open kitchen and geometric-patterned beam ceiling are undeniably eye-catching, it’s all about the glittering infinity pool adjacent to the restaurant and sweeping vistas that take in the CN Tower and lakeshore.
Takeout: The full all-day menu is available for pick-up and delivery.
Grey Gardens (Kensington Market)
Grey Gardens is an understated wine bar from one of Toronto’s most well-known restaurateurs, Jen Agg. However, 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 operations. It skips the typical meat and cheese boards, instead giving diners options such as smoked fish dip or canestri pasta with kale and chicken skin gremolata. 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 that’s made in partnership with a producer in Niagara.
Dining at the restaurant: 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. A private lower-level dining room seats up to 14 people.
Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant.
Lai Wah Heen (Downtown)
Head Downtown to Lai Wah Heen for what has long been considered the city’s best dim sum, served with old-school flourish by vest-clad servers in a room full of white tablecloths. The dining room is filled with groups sampling dishes such as garlicky steamed spare ribs, or wontons filled with crab claws, shrimp, and chives. But don’t stop at dim sum; the restaurant is also known for one of Toronto’s finest versions of Peking duck, which is carved tableside..
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining. Lai Wah Heen means “luxurious meeting place,” an apt description for the charmingly old-fashioned interior, which features 12-foot-high ceilings and Chinese calligraphy artwork.
Takeout: Lai Wah Heen offers both meal kits and a la carte items for takeout and delivery through third-party apps. With the meal kits, which can be ordered directly from the restaurant’s website, diners can recreate dishes such as the Cantonese pork dish char-siu, while a la carte items range from dim sum classics to larger mains such as wok-baked lobster with ginger and scallions.
As one of Yorkville’s longest-running restaurants, Joso’s is known for its exceptional seafood and quirky atmosphere. The deliciously 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 Joso’s as a bohemian cafe in the 1960s. While one might assume the restaurant’s notorious nude sculptures and paintings would be the showiest element of Joso’s interior, deep red tablecloths, red carpeting, and eclectic curio collections give the titillating artwork a run for its money. Drake, featured in Joso’s interior on the cover of his Take Care album, is just one of the celebrities who’s 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, which Spralja is said to have been the first to serve in Toronto, is a must-order.
Dining at the restaurant: Joso’s is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: The full menu, including the restaurant’s renowned Dalmatian-style seafood, is available to-go through the restaurant’s website.
Scaramouche Restaurant (South Hill)
Scaramouche opened its doors in 1980, making the restaurant older than many of the people that flock to the dining room to this day to celebrate special occasions at one of Toronto’s most storied fine dining destinations. The restaurant’s timeless menu and commitment to excellent service have kept Torontonians coming back for decades, and its continued appearances on best-of lists have introduced new generations of fans. Though the dining room is closed, in normal times, diners are treated to European dishes with creative flourishes, such as steak tartare served with a soft boiled quail egg, spicy caper dijon dressing, and paprika sourdough toasts.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is currently closed for on-site dining.
Takeout: Scaramouche is offering both an a la carte menu and in-house prepared grocery items for takeout Tuesday through Saturday, including the restaurant’s legendary coconut cream pies. Meals can be ordered via third party apps.
George Restaurant (Downtown)
When Toronto residents really want to go all out, they head downtown to George for one of chef Lorenzo Loseto’s five-, seven-, or ten-course tasting menus. The menus feature ingredients from around the globe — on the same night, diners could find a dish of scallops with yuzu white soya co-existing on the menu with a plate of beef ribeye, shallot confit, and mango — both packing depth of flavour that belies the short ingredient list.
Impeccable service and beautiful plating make the multi-course tasting menus an immersive experience. The restaurant’s industrial-chic decor also makes it a popular spot for local weddings.
Dining at the restaurant: George’s is open for indoor dining. Set in a 19th-century former chocolate factory, George’s moody interior features exposed brick and wrought iron accents.
Takeout: Pick-up can be ordered by contacting the restaurant directly. If it’s available, be sure to grab a pint of the restaurant’s seasonal gelato, which is handmade by Loseto.
Terroni (Queen West)
When the Terroni team opened their flagship Queen West market back in 1992, the neighborhood wasn’t a food destination. Fast-forward to the present day and that specialty Italian market has grown into a full-service restaurant that launched a Toronto empire for all things Italian, including several locations 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.
Dining at the restaurant: Terroni’s welcoming interior hums with the relaxed din of conversation year-round, but the shady back patio is a particularly buzzing spot in the warmer months.
Takeout: Takeout is currently available to order via the restaurant’s website, offering pizzas, pastas, wine, beer, and pantry items.
Yasu Toronto (Harbord Village)
Toronto’s first omakase sushi restaurant is also one of its finest Japanese spots and at one point, was the 35th best restaurant in Canada, according to Canada’s 100 Best. Trained in Osaka, chef and owner Yasuhisa Ouchi wanted to introduce Canadians to the simple joys of well-crafted sushi. There is one menu, available at two or three nightly seatings depending on the day: a CA$175 procession of pristine cuts of fish. The minimalist interior and almost hushed ambiance keep the focus on revelling in the layered flavours of every bite.
Dining at the restaurant: With under 20 seats, most of which are lined along the sushi bar, diners are able to eat each delicate piece of sushi the moment it is prepared.
Takeout: The restaurant does not currently offer takeout.
Té (Beaconsfield Village)
At Té, Korean cooking meets Canadian food traditions, creating 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 name suggests, tea also plays a large role here, making it into dishes such as the egg crate-shaped green tea egg waffle with bacon and eggs at the popular brunch, or the jasmine tea-infused gin that creates a base for the restaurant’s unique spin on a martini.
Dining at the restaurant: Exposed brick, brass accents, and a bold mural along one wall give the restaurant a hip, modern feel. The roomy back patio is a lovely spot for summer weekend brunches.
Takeout: Té does not offer takeout.
El Catrin (Distillery District)
Boasting a sprawling, year-round patio, a custom mural that took three Mexican artists nearly 100 days to complete, and the city’s best margaritas, El Catrin is one of the city’s most impressive Mexican restaurants. The menu is a mix of crowd-pleasers such as Baja fish tacos and more original creations, such as braised short ribs with mole negro, corn puree, and wild mushrooms. Give yourself extra time to browse the restaurant’s menu of agave spirits — featuring more than 120 different producers, it’s one of Toronto’s most diverse collections of mezcal and tequila.
Dining at the restaurant: The buzzy, heated patio features almost 200 seats centred on a crackling fire pit. Inside, the dining room has an edgy feel with skull motifs and industrial accents.
Takeout: El Catrin’s full menu is available for takeout through the restaurant’s website, and for delivery via third-party apps.
Lahore Tikka House (Little India)
This family-run spot in Little India is one of the neighborhood’s liveliest kebab houses, serving up family style dishes from a tandoori oven that The New York Times called the best they’d had outside of Northern India. Diners will find the brightly painted dining room filled with groups of local families and in-the-know foodies enjoying halal dishes such as the signature seekh kebabs – seasoned with coriander, ginger, and garlic – that come on a sizzling platter , and the restaurant’s large selection vegetarian entrees.
Dining at the restaurant: The simple but sprawling interior stretches across two floors and also includes a patio. The no-fuss ambiance, affordable menu, and stroller access make it a popular spot for families.
Takeout: Lahore offers the restaurant’s full menu for takeout via several third-party providers.
Parallel (The Junction)
The Ozery brothers set a new standard for Middle Eastern food in Toronto with Parallel, their modern Israeli restaurant in The Junction. The three 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 the restaurant’s menu seem familiar in name, almost all of them contain an unexpected twist, such as the gluten-free riff on tabbouleh that swaps cauliflower rice for the traditional bulgur wheat, or the addition of truffle oil to the fluffy homemade hummus. Given that two of the brothers also run the nationally distributed Ozery Bakery, it’s never a bad idea to order a few extra pitas with your meal. The restaurant’s lofty, factory-influenced interior channels the commercial heritage of its location on Geary Avenue – a strip that Parallel helped establish as a destination for innovative food ventures.
Dining at the restaurant: Parallel is open for indoor dining. Head up to the mezzanine level for a peek at the indoor herb garden and stone mill used to grind sesame seeds.
Takeout: The full menu of dishes such as hummus with various toppings and herby falafel is available to order by calling the restaurant or via third-party apps. The brothers also sell their tahini, halva, crackers, and other pantry items through their online store.
Pai (King West)
When you’re looking for Thai food in T.O., follow the lead of legions of chefs and food writers who swear by chef Nuit Regular’s Northern Thai-focused restaurant, Pai. The restaurant takes design inspiration from its namesake Pai, a hippie haven in Northern Thailand where Regular and her partner in business and life, Jeff, opened their first restaurant. Regular imports many of her spices and curry pastes directly from Thailand, which might be the secret behind the extra depth and spice found in her green, panang, and massaman curries, or the tom yum soup — dubbed an essential dish in the city by Toronto Life.
Dining at the restaurant: Pai is open for indoor dining. The lower level space features an open kitchen reminiscent of a market stall and colourful, Thai-style triangle cushions
Takeout: Takeout is available to order via the restaurant’s website, offering the full menu plus beer, wine, and Thai pantry ingredients.
Fresh on Crawford (Queen West)
Way before plant-based dining was the rage, there was Fresh on Crawford. Since 1999, the now mini-chain of restaurants has been a Toronto destination for vegetarian and vegan dishes, along with cold-pressed juices. The restaurant’s cult-following is based on its ability to make plant-based food fun, a philosophy on full display through dishes such as the crispy buffalo cauliflower with ranch, or the nine-layer burrito, packed with mushroom and artichoke “chorizo,” marinated black beans, cashew queso, avocado, brown rice, pickled jalapeños, and more.
Dining at the restaurant: One of Fresh’s original locations, its Crawford outpost is a cheery spot to cozy up with a bowl of superfood soup in the winter. It comes into its own, however, in the warmer months when seating is also offered on a covered corner patio that stretches along Crawford St.
Takeout: Fresh offers takeout and delivery, available to order directly from the restaurant or via third-party apps.
Bar Isabel (Little Italy)
Bar Isabel, a cozy room with plastered, curving walls, richly colored tiles, and warm lighting that encourages diners to linger for hours, is one of the city’s most romantic pockets. It also happens to serve some of the best Spanish food in town. Run by well-known Toronto chef and restaurateur Grant van Gameren, the menu sticks to tapas bar classics and executes them perfectly. The sharing-style 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 list of Spanish wines and vermouths.
Dining at the restaurant: Bar Isabel is open for indoor dining. The restaurant’s intimate interior and transportive ambiance draws inspiration from van Gameren’s European travels..
Takeout: Bar Isabel’s menu is available for takeout and delivery via the restaurant’s website, either offering a la carte ordering options or meals for two that include a lighter tapas option and a heartier prix fixe package. The restaurant is also selling wine, beer, cider, and items from the in-house bakery such as sourdough baguettes.
Blueblood Steakhouse (Midtown)
When you want to dine like royalty, head to BlueBlood Steakhouse — one of Toronto’s most luxurious steakhouses, located in the city’s historic castle, Casa Loma. The interior is part modern hunting lodge, with leather banquettes and antler chandeliers, and part art museum, with works by Dali, Warhol, and street artist Mr. Brainwash lining the walls. Against this backdrop, 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 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.
Dining at the restaurant: Spread across several rooms on the west side of the castle, BlueBlood’s grand decor is a fitting match for its stately steakhouse menu.
Takeout: BlueBlood is offering a limited menu of appetizers, seafood, steaks, and more for pick-up via third-party apps.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.