Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

Best Restaurants in Toronto

by Joe George


Aida's Falafel
553 Bloor Street West
(416) 537-3700
Sun-Thurs 11:00am-1:30am, Fri & Sat 11:00am-3:00am
Cuisine: Lebanese

The casualness of this restaurant is deceiving; it may look like just another fast food restaurant at first glance but the food is outstanding and made from scratch. In addition to the usual Middle Eastern foods like Hummus and Tabouleh, you can also order vegetarian sandwiches, grilled eggplant, or even Chicken Livers with Fresh-Made Yogurt. They also have authentic Lebanese coffee. This family-run establishment is open late and is a great place to stop for lunch, dinner or late-night.

Nuovo Mondo Ristorante
534 Queen Street
(416) 703-8989
Daily 11:00am-1:00am
Cuisine: Gourmet Pizza & Panini

Let chef Gino Amato whip you up one of his famous thin-crusted pizzas or sizzling Panini; the Antipasti are equally as good. Everything is made from scratch using "Old World" recipes.

181 Bathurst Street
(416) 703-9360
Sun-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm
Cuisine: Eclectic

This is a tiny place and may be new but they are certainly not afraid of a little adventure. Here the cook/waiter will make you anything from Surfer's Super Rice, Beans & Salsa, to Shrimp in a Tamarind Chipotle Sauce. They have a great "hangover brunch" and refer to their style as "Cucina Fusine." The sign out front says it all: "Juice, Caffeine and Damn Fine Food."

273 Queen Street West
(416) 599-7720
Daily 11:00am-11:30pm
Cuisine: Northern Indian

Fine dining Indian food at its best; the waiters are impeccable and attentive. The restaurant is named after the first Mogul emperor of India and the food is fit for royalty. The chef is a true genius when it comes to spice combinations; the dishes are full flavored without being overbearing. Their light-as-air Vegetable Samosas are just one of a large selection of vegetarian options available.

312 Queen Street West
(416) 593 5771
Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:00am
Cuisine: Caribbean, Indonesian and Thai

This establishment is as much of a nightclub as it is a restaurant; one side houses the bar area while the other side the the dining room. It's a great place to have dinner and stay to enjoy the show (there is live music almost every night). Painted in bright Caribbean colors with furniture to match, the music is loud but not obnoxious. The food compliments the decor, and while it has bold colorful flavors, it is both authentic and inspired. In the summertime they have one of the best rooftop patios in the city, and that alone is worth the trip.

Bangkok Paradise
506 Queen Street West
(416) 504-8210
Fax (416) 504-6324
Daily 11:00-11:00
Cuisine: Thai

Though the service is not always fast, it is friendly and definitely worth the wait. The lunch menu is delicious and inexpensive. Traditional Thai fare which can be ordered to your desired degree of spiciness. You also have the option of ordering your food vegetarian or non-vegetarian; the meatless/eggless Pad Thai is outstanding. There's also another branch of this restaurant, Bangkok Paradise II, at 25 Wellesley Street West. (416) 922-0001.

7 Elm Street
(416) 597-0335
Mon.-Fri. noon-2:30pm, Daily 5:00-Midnight
Cuisine: Steakhouse

When Torontonians want steak they head to Barberian's where red meat is king. Established in mid-1800's, the decor is pure Canadian: oil lamps, firearms on the walls and one of Canada's original grandfather clocks.

Cafe Nervosa
75 Yorkville Avenue
(416) 961 4642
Daily 8:30am-11:00pm (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
Cuisine: Italian

This small yellow (inside and out) Victorian is full of casual elegance. The wait staff are well dressed and friendly; the chef will check to see how your meal is . They are known for their light, health conscious pastas but their thin-crusted pizzas are delicious as well.

394 Bloor Street West
(416) 923-3277
Mon-Sat 11:00am-4:00pm, Daily 5:00pm-11:00pm
Cuisine: Lebanese

Not only does this family-run restaurant have great food, but it's also an incredible value. The food is at the same time both traditional and inspired; the use of fresh herbs and spices makes the food delectable. There is a large array of vegetarian options, and in addition to the usual Middle Eastern fare�Tabouleh, Hummus, Shish Kabobs�there are also Pickled Vegetables, various Legume Salads, and if you call ahead, Kibbeh Nayee (a sort of Lebanese version of Steak Tartar made with lamb and bulgher wheat). The lunch buffet is a real bargain. Voted the best Middle Eastern Restaurant by Toronto's Now Magazine www.now.com.

482-484 Queen Street West
(416) 504-DNA1
Fax (416) 504-0746
Mon-Fri 11:30am-4:00pm, Mon-Thurs 5:30pm-11:00pm, Fri & Sat 5:30pm-Midnight, Sat & Sun Brunch 11:00am-3:00pm
Cuisine: Eclectic

When I asked a waiter what DNA stood for he said "We regard food as a necessity of life and DNA is the molecular structure of life." A women within ear-shot, hearing this, added "This restaurant may be named after life, but the food is to-die-for!" DNA is a very attractive, spacious room with subdued lighting and a sophisticated, professional staff. Chef Andrew Underwood composes and executes an incredibly wonderful menu, of which contains such dishes as: Golden Yukon Potato Salad; Linguini with Littleneck Clams, Fines Herbs, White Wine, Chilies and Tomato; and also Beef Tenderloin with Jack Daniel's-Honey Jus. And the bakery next door bakes an excellent loaf of bread. You'll find this restaurant worth your money and somewhat formal, but in no way stuffy.

Epicure Cafe
512 Queen Street West
(416) 504-8942
Mon-Fri 11:00am-3:30pm, Mon-Thurs 5:00pm-10:00pm, Fri & Sat 6:00pm-11:00pm, Sun 5:00pm-10:00pm
Cuisine: French/Northern Italian

This restaurant, with exposed brick and wooden beams has that classic "bistro" feel to it. In addition to the standard menu and nightly specials, chef Michel also prepares seasonal specialty menus, such as the all-garlic menu which ran this past November and December. The Bouillabaisse is outstanding, as are the pastas and lamb chops.

Hard Rock Cafe
282 Yonge Street
(416) 362-3636
Daily 10:00am-Latenight
Cuisine: American

This establishment claims to be the original Hard Rock Caf� in North America. It's unlike others that you might find across America, that's for sure. It's not as flashy and surprisingly is still full of as many locals as tourists. There's another, newer branch in the SkyDome (416) 341-2388, but I don't find it as appealing as the Yonge Street location. Here you will find quality traditional bar food�burgers, fries, wings -- and also a full dinner menu that is worth a stop. The Hard Rock Cafe (Yonge Street) is a great place to grab a Canadian beer, people watch, have a light meal and enjoy the music.

Il Fornello
486 Bloor Street West
(416) 588-5658
Mon-Fri Noon-10:00pm, Sat 5:00pm-11:00
Cuisine: Italian

This is the original location of this small "chain" of high-quality Italian restaurants. They are known for having more than 20 varieties of pizza which are cooked in a wood fired oven. Corporate chef Roberto Granata also concocts such unique pizza crusts as Multi-Grain and Smelt. Here you can also order dinners that are also yeast-free, gluten-free (the Gluten-Free Chocolate Torta is delicious) and low in cholesterol. Their chicken, pasta and seafood dishes are of equal quality. This establishment draws a somewhat young, hip downtown crowd.

Indian Flavor
595 Bay Street (The Atrium On The Bay)
(416) 408-2799
Open daily from 11:00am-11:00pm
Cuisine: Southern Indian

Don't be put off by the fact that this restaurant is connected to a mall, or by its Neo-Indian decor (the space obviously housed another restaurant prior to Indian Flavor). The food is outstanding. When you sit down warm Naan bread appears at your table. You'll be treated as if you are part of the family. Great noon-time lunch buffet with a large variety of vegetarian dishes.

Insomnia Internet Cafe
563 Bloor Street West
(416) 588-3907
Sun-Wed 11:00am-2:00am, Fri & Sat 11:00am-4:00am
Cuisine: Eclectic

This cafe lives up to its name: it is open late and the backroom has computers with internet access (ironically, I was told they do not have a web site). Sparsely decorated -- brick walls, wood floors, exposed ceiling, George Jetson style chairs -- this place is as eclectic as the food. This is a great place to stop for a late night snack or light meal. They are heavily into the Mezze-Tapas style food. Their Hummus is excellent and comes with fresh grilled garlic Crostini. You can also order the likes of such diverse foods as Tandoori Wings or Asian Noodle Salad.

Jambalaya Cafe
501 Yonge Street
(416) 922-5262
Mon-Thurs 11:30am-Midnight, Fri & Sat 11:30am-1:00am,
Sun 11:00-11:00
Cuisine: Cajun, Caribbean & Vegetarian

This brightly painted restaurant will make you feel as if you are in the Caribbean or New Orleans rather than "the great white north." Along with traditional New Orleans/Caribbean fare such as Gumbo, Muffaletta and Jerked Chicken, you can also find more inspired dishes such as the "New Wave Baton Rouge Caesar Salad" (almonds, mandarin oranges and poppy seed dressing over romaine lettuce), N'Awlin's Lasagna, Barbados Coconut Shrimp and Guyana Vegetable Patties. They deliver too.

Kensington Cafe
73 Kensington Avenue
(416) 971-5632
Daily 10:00am-6:00pm
Cuisine: Bistro

A very tiny, sparsely adorned eatery with a friendly staff and good quality food. Located in the heart of the Kensington Market area, one can stop here for lunch or just a coffee and while away the afternoon.

601-603 Yonge Street
(416) 920-6288
Daily 10:00am-Midnight
Cuisine: Eclectic

This brand new Montreal based caf� is an oasis on Yonge Street, and it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The wait staff is young, perky and friendly; the menu is composed primarily of interesting fresh-made sandwiches with an eclectic-French twist (assumingly because of the restaurant's French-Canadian origin). Take for instance their sandwich selection with seven varieties of the classic French grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, Croque Monsieur. Here you can order your "Croque" any way from Classic to Pizza-Style, Vegetarian, Mexican or even "Sky" (chicken, Gruyere, tomatoes and onions). This is a great place to stop for a mid-day or late-night snack. I'm told if there are people in the restaurant they will stay open later and that soon their hours will be extended until 2am on a regular basis.

Lai Wah Heen
110 Chestnut Street
In the Metropolitan Hotel
(416) 977-9899
Daily 11:30am-3:00pm, Sun-Thurs 5:30pm-10:30pm, Fri & Sat 5:30pm-11:00pm
Cuisine: Chinese

Though this restaurant is located in a hotel, it is not just another "hotel restaurant." Translated from Chinese, Lai Wah Heen means Beautiful Meeting Place, and it lives up to its name; the menu is as posh as the surroundings. Though it is expensive, if you want truly exquisite Cantonese food, this is the place to go. Here you can order a large variety of specialty soups -- including Shark's Fin -- and other delicacies such as Squabmeat with Nuts and Bamboo shoots. There are also more than 40 varieties of Dim Sum. I've stayed at the Metropolitan hotel (416) 977-9531 (the hotel in which the restaurant is housed) and highly recommend it.

Le Select
328 Queen Street West
(416) 596-6405
Mon-Thurs 11:30am-11:30pm, Fri & Sat 11:30am-Midnight, Sun Noon-10:30pm
Cuisine: French

This authentic, casual bistro, with its trademark "hanging breadbaskets," has been immortalized by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. The interior of the restaurant, and the zinc bar, makes you feel like you're in Paris, and they have an excellent patio in the summer. This is one of Queen Streets original bistros and attracts a mixture of professionals and artist-types. The Moules Mariniere and the Confit de Canard are excellent.

Movenpick Marche
On the Gallery of BCE Place
Front Street East
(416) 366-8986
Daily 9am-2am
Cuisine: Continental

This is a great place for families or large parties. Not only is it an exciting atmosphere but�suprisingly for a chain restaurant�the food is all made from scratch and excellent; most of the food is made right in front of you. When you walk in you're handed a tab, you walk around to the various food kiosk and get billed for what you eat, hence March� (Market). There is everything here from Pasta Stations to Sushi Bars, to Bouillabaisse and Grilled Vegetables; it seems endless. Walking through and seeing the food being prepared is almost (but not quite) as satisfying as actually eating.

Oja Noodle House
689 Yonge
(416) 944-8371
Daily 11:00-11:00
Cuisine: Asian Noodle House

This tiny restaurant has a very efficient and friendly wait and the restaurant is very well kept; this is one of Toronto's best kept secrets. The menu, all delicious, is divided by country: Korea, Thailand, Japan and China. Choose from these categories or create your own noodle soup. The prices are amazingly low for the quality food you will receive here.

500A Danforth Avenue
(416) 778-0500
Daily Noon-3:00am
Cuisine: Greek

Though most the restaurants on Danforth Avenue (referred to as "on the Danforth") are Greek, Ouzeri truly stands out. While the decor is modeled after an authentic Greek Taverna, there is something unique about it at the same time: brightly colored chairs, tiled floor and an airy high-ceilinged space. This is a fun place to be; it's open late night, every night, and is often crowded. There's a great selection of Mezze (appetizers) to choose from, and also a large selection of other Greek and Mediterranean inspired items. This is one of the only places that I know of that has roast Suckling Lamb on their menu.

Peter Pan
373 Queen Street West
(416) 593-0917
Mon-Sat Noon-4:30pm, Sun-Wed 6:00pm-Midnight, Thurs-Sat 6:00pm-1:00am, Sun Brunch Noon-4:00pm
Cuisine: Eclectic

This is one of the original trendy bistros along trendy Queen street; it's become somewhat of a neighborhood institution. The food is a combination of eastern and western ingredients and is always outstanding. The decor is that of a deco-style restaurant complete with tin ceiling and high-back chairs. The crowd is a successful 30 something bunch. The Mussels in Lime Cilantro Bourbon Broth with Fennel & Gingered Black Beans are incredible.

Queen Mother Cafe
208 Queen Street West
(416) 598-4719
Mon-Sat 11:30am-4:30pm, Sun-Thurs 5:00pm-11:00pm, Fri & Sat 5:00pm-Midnight
Cuisine: Laotian/Thai

If you want excellent Asian food but you want more of a trendy/artsy atmosphere, then Queen Mother is your answer. Another mainstay on Queen Street, this restaurant also offers great American-style desserts and even has a caffeine happy hour. Great patio in the summer months.

332 Queen Street West
(416) 597-0794
Mon-Sat Noon-4:00pm and 6:00pm-1:00am
Cuisine: Eclectic

This is as much a sleek nightclub as it is a restaurant and the crowd is as avant garde as the menu and surroundings. On the menu you will find such diverse and delectable items as Prawns with Jalapeno-Guava Sauce, and a Grilled Cheese with Challah bread for lunch. This is a great place to "people watch;" the patio, in the summer, which is next door to Le Select Bistro's patio, is a great place "to see and be seen."

Sushi Place
423 Queen Street West
(416) 599-2688
Mon-Thurs 12:00-11:00pm, Fri & Sat 12:00-12:00, Sun 5:00pm-11:00pm
Cuisine: Japanese

Though the Sashimi and Sushi are both excellent, Sushi Place is a lot more than just raw fish and rice. This tiny Japanese "bistro" is a great place to stop for a small bite or a full meal, and it won't empty your wallet either. The decor is as cool as the people who come here. It's often crowded, but don't hesitate to sit at the sushi bar and watch the chef skillfully prepare your meal.

Taro Grill
492 Queen Street West
(416) 504-1320
Daily Noon-4:00pm, Sun-Thurs 6:00pm-11:00pm, Fri & Sat 6:00pm-Midnight
Cuisine: Mediterranean

This trendy bistro has been open for about four years and has been such a success that owners Scott Kerr, Stephen Gardner and Robert Borgo recently opened another restaurant, Gekko, a short distance away at 478 Queen Street West, (416) 504-5127. Gekko specializes in a large assortment of Tapas, and they also do catering. Taro is a crowded, noisy restaurant (not in a negative manner) which has a large open kitchen in the center of the dining room where you can watch the chefs prepare your meal. It draws a young, hip, "sophisticated Queen Street crowd". Here you can order a large variety of Mediterranean fare, including Bruscetta, Rack of Lamb, Pizza Tarts and Pastas.

The Bishop & The Belcher
561 Queen Street West
(416) 591-BELCH
Daily 11:00am-Latenight
Cuisine: British/Canadian

This pub is decorated authentically British: low ceiling, dark wood, heavy chairs. As you can imagine' you'll find quite a selection of draft beers and malt whiskeys on the menu. The food is good and hearty. In addition to being able to order standard foods such as burgers and the like, you can also find Bangers and Mash, Ploughman's Lunch, Fish and Chips and Shepherd's Pie.

The Revolving Restaurant (Restaurant 360)
CN Tower
301 Front Street West
(416) 362-5411
Daily 10:30am-2:45pm and 4:30pm-10:15pm
Cuisine: Continental

If you want a view as spectacular as the food (351 meters high, the highest revolving restaurant in the world), this is the place. Here chef Brad Long cooks with mostly Canadian ingredients and uses classic techniques to create a truly exquisite menu. The menu showcases such locally raised meats as ostrich and Angus Beef.

The Senator
249 Victoria Street
(416) 364-7517
Diner hours: Mon-Sat 8:00am-8:30pm, Sun 8:00am-3:00pm
Restaurant hours: Tues-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Tues-Sat 5:00pm-11:30pm, Sun 5:00pm-10:00pm
Cuisine: Diner
; Steakhouse

Though "The Senator" opened in 1948,there has been a restaurant at this location since 1890; the menu claims it to be "the oldest restaurant in Toronto." This is actually two restaurants in one: a diner on one side and a steakhouse on the other. The diner is impecably kept and authentic -- you will swear it is the 1940's -- while the steakhouse is more contemporary. Though the diner has excellent and inexpensive breakfast and lunch fare, I found the wait-staff to be somewhat aloof. Being in the heart of the theater district, the steakhouse is an excellent place to stop for not only excellent Steaks and Chops, but also contemporary Chicken and Fish dishes as well.

Tiger Lily's
257 Queen Street West
(416) 977-5499
Sun-Tues 11:30am-9:00pm, Wed-Sat 11:30am-11:00pm
Cuisine: Asian Noodle House

The 20 and 30-something crowd that eats at Tiger Lilly's is health conscious and trendy; the wait staff is informative and very friendly. Though there are other choices on the menu, the bulk of it is devoted to the noodle. Order one of their incredibly flavorful house specialties or mix-and-match to create your own soup. The restaurant is small and often crowded so plan accordingly.

Tortilla Flats
429 Queen Street West
(416) 593-9870
Daily 11:00am-11:00pm
Cuisine: Tex-Mex

If you're hankering for some food from south of the border (or maybe two borders), then this is the place. The decor and atmosphere reflect the Lone Star State. Here you'll find all the typical staples: fajitas, chili, burritos, a variety of salsas, etc. The food is good and the service is casual (sometimes too casual actually but the food makes up for it). As you would probably guess, in addition to Canadian beers there is also a selection of Southern and Mexican beers available as well.

XTC (X-tra Thai Cafe)
Restaurant & Juice Bar
663 Queen Street West
(416) 703-6582
Daily Noon-1:00am
Cuisine: Thai/Malaysian

This place is trendy and brightly painted with somewhat loud Rock & Roll playing; the food though, is excellent. They do not have a liquor license but with the array of fresh juice options you won't even notice (the Peach-Banana Juice is incredible). Manager Eli, who is both friendly and informative, will guide you through the menu and your juice selection. There are plenty of meat and meatless options to satisfy everyone. They claim to be the first restaurant in Toronto to offer Thai/Malay Tapas. XTC is definitely worth a visit.

Young Thailand
81 Church Street
(416) 368-1368
Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Daily 5:00pm-11:00pm
Cuisine: Thai

Though Toronto is inundated with quality Thai restaurants, I consider this one of the best. This restaurant is on the large side and is great for large groups and families. And the menu is as large as the restaurant: there is a liberal assortment of vegetarian dishes to choose from and more than 20 seafood items alone. The Eggplant with Thai Basil is incredible. There is another Young Thailand restaurant located at 111 Gerard Street (416) 599-9099.

Joe George is a freelance food writer and professor at Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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