16 of the best restaurants on Toronto’s east side

16 of the best restaurants on Toronto’s east side

Our top reviews from beyond the Don Valley

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These Prince Edward Island oysters were 👌🏻👌🏻👌🏻

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Eastside Social
1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663, eastsidesocial.ca

The ideal neighbourhood local—not too crowded, not too noisy, just-right prices—goes strong in Leslieville. The nautical theme is campy without being kitschy, and the fare is refined comfort food at its best. Bar snacks, like devilled eggs topped with smoked trout, are perfect with the bar’s bracing cocktails. Moist salt cod balls dipped in tomatillo salsa or romesco make an irresistible starter, as do brandy-buttered mushrooms on toast. Mains bring a crispy skate-wing schnitzel drizzled with tart caper butter, sided by a luscious potato salad and a heaping plate of craggy fried chicken.

Dined at a super cute 30 seat restaurant @gretasolomons tonight, great food and vibe

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Greta Solomon’s Dining Room
1118 Queen St. E., 647-347-8640, Facebook

Owner Darlene Mitchell hails from Newfoundland—home of cod tongues and flipper pie—but the food she and chef James Vigil (Pangaea) serve in this tiny Leslieville room is unmistakably French. A pan-seared sea scallop, sourced from neighbouring Hooked, is flanked by crispy bits of oxtail, radish slices, plump raisins, turnip purée and pickled cauliflower, and piping-hot swiss chard gratin with bacon is sauced with creamy mornay and topped with ­gruyère. Ontario beef tenderloin is served on fingerling confit potatoes, and spectacular morels—done up in duck fat and ­demi-­glace—are dressed to impress in chive-studded béarnaise. The wine list is long and thoughtful for such a diminutive spot, and the desserts—like a ­deconstructed fruit tart wrapped in a shortbread collar with elderflower chantilly—equally so.

Maha’s
226 Greenwood Ave., 416-462-2703, mahasbrunch.com

At this tiny east-end kitchen, owner Maha Barsoom and her family send out over-the-top-delicious Egyptian food. Their falafel—flatter and darker than their Lebanese counterparts, and sesame seed–encrusted—are a contender for the city’s best. Pulled roasted chicken on brioche is dry and vinegary, but the Pharaoh’s Shrimp Po’ Boy is clever and tasty: tender shrimp, fried in a crisp batter, is stuffed into a warm pita and liberally sauced with tomeya, an Egyptian garlic mayo. Uninspired desserts are not made in-house, but the killer honey-cardamom lattes are. Unlicensed.

Today calls for an American Cheeseburger let's all hope for a respectful American Election outcome

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Maple Leaf Tavern
955 Gerrard St. E., 416-465-0955, mapleleaftavern.ca

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Once an east-end dive, the 106-year-old tavern has been given new life, thanks to a two-year, $2-million makeover designed to position it as a legitimate dining destination. Chef Jesse Vallins churns out what might be his best food to date, much of it from a wood-burning oven. The roasted vegetable salad with fried halloumi gives the kitchen a chance to grill up whatever’s in season, and the burger—a patty of ground strip loin topped with house-made cheese, garlic mayo and dill relish—could hold its own against any of the city’s best. Kegged rye and gingers (made with artisanal ginger beer, natch) are a fun touch.

Burrata, verjus poached baby leeks, truffle vinaigrette, honey, pistachio. Now on the menu at Ascari Enoteca

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Ascari Enoteca
1111 Queen St. E., 416-792-4157, ascarienoteca.ca

Leslieville’s noodle joint for grown-ups has understated decor, well-matched wines and an innovative menu. Tender chunks of octopus are slightly charred and soaked in red wine before being pressed into a terrine and topped with pungent black olives and intense bits of orange. Eight fat agnolotti, sitting in a light leek broth, hold cauliflower and escarole; they are soft but toothsome and the broth keeps the pasta moist. Sweets include a zippy yet rich lemon pudding.

The Borough
1352 Danforth Ave., 416-901-1429, borough.ca

The kitchen of this decidedly un-pubby gastropub does a bang-up job, with just the odd slips: mini yorkshire puddings are stuffed with overdone beef, but the sinus-clearing horseradish cream makes them delicious anyway. The Borough Burger is an over-the-top delightful mess of gamey-good Beretta Farms beef, caramelized onions, aged cheddar, thick-cut English bacon and buttermilk dill sauce. The dessert card is two items long but includes a contender for the city’s best sticky toffee pudding.

LOVE THIS #PIZZA nduja, mozza, stracciatella, tomato @pizzalibretto #cantgetenough 🍕🍕🍕

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Pizzeria Libretto
550 Danforth Ave., 416-466-0400, pizzerialibretto.com

The Danforth location is a less frenetic version of the wildly popular Ossington pizzeria. Tables span two floors, so the space feels less cramped, and the owners have made the merciful decision to take reservations. Delicate crab ravioli come in a rich sea urchin and chanterelle cream sauce. There are two wood-burning ovens manned by pizzaiolos turning out Libretto’s signature blistered, charred and chewy Neapolitan pies. One superb version brings caramelized onion, pork belly and bomba, a spicy Italian relish. Aggressively attentive servers clear plates before they’re clean.

Saturday Dinette
807 Gerrard St. E., 416-466-0400, saturdaydinette.com

This snug Gerrard East corner spot has a diner-in-a-nightclub aesthetic: enamelware and Formica, early-aughties rare grooves and Grace Jones–esque silhouettes sketched onto the wall. A roast half-chicken brings rich thigh meat and comes with warm cornbread smothered in pats of sweetly spicy maple-jalapeño butter. The dish is big enough to share, especially with a side order of roasted heirloom carrots sprinkled with sage and oats. There are no fancy cocktails, but the microbrews and wines are well chosen. Closed Monday.

Bombay Chowpatty
1386 Gerrard St. E., 416-405-8080, bombaychowpatty.ca

Spicy snacks and Shah Rukh Khan DVDs are natural partners—or so goes the thinking at this hybrid Indian dive–slash–Bollywood video store. The Bombay burger brings a potato patty slathered with potent chickpea curry on a fluffy bun. Thick-cut, masala-dusted fries come doused with rich yogurt, spicy green chutney and tangy tamarind sauce. A puffy slice of fried bread drips with grease but gets a punch of flavour from rich chickpea curry.

’Forth Avenue Kitchen and Bar
1820 Danforth Ave., 647-348-8622, forthavenue.ca

The stretch of Danforth east of Greenwood is tastier thanks to ’Forth Avenue. At the central bar, beer is the key player; the wine card is short but well -chosen. So too is the menu of simple and satisfying classics: tender beef short ribs are sided with picnic-perfect potato salad, and half a Cornish hen, its skin crispy and golden-brown, is accompanied by brussels sprouts that are treated with respect—and bacon. Desserts like the dense brownie à la mode and the rich pecan butter tart are worth the extra calories.

Gigantic meatball! #gioranas #yummy

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Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant
1220 Queen St. E., 416-469-5225, Facebook

Owner Gio Rana has created the cheerful, neighbourly atmosphere that most restaurateurs dream of—the kind of place where kids know what they want before they sit down and servers hug regulars goodbye. The busy kitchen churns out simple family-style dishes. There’s no innovation on a plate of figs with prosciutto and gorgonzola, but the ingredients are so excellent that they come to life on their own. There’s a plate of gnocchi on every table: the dumplings are huge, dense and miraculously ungummy, though their Bolognese sauce is too sweet. Juicy involtini (pulled pork rolled up with rib-eye) soak up a rich, salty jus. Desserts are either boring (a dry chèvre cheesecake) or weird (a handful of flavourless blueberries baked into an otherwise fluffy brownie).

snack time #goodsandprovisions #blackbirdbakingco #moreplease

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Goods and Provisions
1124 Queen St. E., 647-340-1738, goodsandprovisionsrestaurant.com

This belle époque room in Leslieville is charming, if not a little too dark and a little too loud. The menu is shamelessly meaty, and the kitchen makes clever use of Asian ingredients mashed up against classic European and Canadian recipes. A knob of nori butter melts into a Flintstone-worthy slab of seared P.E.I. beef, and two fat fish tacos wrapped in soft tortilla shells are sided with house-made kimchee that’s mouth-hurting-hot, but good. The bar stocks plenty of bourbon, serving cocktails in vintage cut-glass stemware. Servers are knowledgable and chatty—when you can hear them over the din.

Lil’ Baci
892 Queen St. E., 416-465-4888, lilbaci.com

Families pile into this friendly, low-key local for decent, affordable Italian food. House-made pastas, like well-executed spaghetti cacio e pepe, and daily plates outshine thin-crust pizzas. A special of polpettone is, as advertised, a “giant meatball” of mixed pork and beef, dressed with garlicky tomato sauce and sitting in a huge moat of creamy, cheesy polenta.

Pinkerton Snack Bar
1026 Gerrard St. E., 416-855-1460, Twitter

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With a room decked out in antiques, reclaimed wood and retro lighting, and a playlist of throwbacks, Pinkerton’s feels like a Parkdale transplant. It’s not difficult for two people to eat everything on the short menu here. Best bets are the Laotian-style beef tartare and the tuna tostada, a messy but delicious plate of raw albacore, crispy won tons, avocado crema, chilies and nori. Of the classic cocktails, the smooth and citrusy paper plane is exceptional.

Queen Margherita Pizza
1402 Queen St. E., 416-466-6555, qmpizza.com

On the roster of Neapolitan pizzerias, Queen Margherita is slightly better than Terroni and slightly inferior to Libretto. It’s also a friendly, convivial place, with a smart three-course prix fixe that suits the crowd of families and birthday partiers. The popular diavola pizza, blasted in a stone oven, has hot peppers, roasted black olives and spicy sopressata on a thin, nicely blistered crust.

It's on!!

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Descendant Detroit Style Pizza
1168 Queen St. E., 647-347-1168, descendantdsp.com 

Descendant’s square, sauce-on-top, Motown-style deep-dish pies are perfectly chewy, delightfully greasy and crunchy around the edges. The Sweet, Sweet Corn pizza is loaded with rich béchamel, double-smoked bacon, miniature sweet peppers and fresh corn kernels. There’s only one dessert: a ginger ale ice cream float made with Ed’s sweet cream ice cream and a glug of Vernors soda. Closed Monday.