Best New Toronto Restaurants 2013

Best New Toronto Restaurants 2013

Best New Restaurants 2013

One thousand three hundred and eight. That’s how many restaurants opened in 2012—more than triple the year before, and the year before that. Toronto is in the middle of a restaurant boom that’s changing the way we eat, drink, date, schmooze, celebrate and generally revel in the city. The shimmering Momofuku triplex has dignified business execs devouring pork ssäm with their hands, and couples happily—gratefully—shelling out $400 for 10-course tasting menus. Downtowners are piling into rowdy izakayas for after-work sake and Sapporo, while Brit pubs are, to the amazement of every Firkin-going anglophile, becoming destinations for refined dining. Canadiana is no longer just a term for moose-print sweaters and maple leaf mittens, but a bona fide big-city cuisine borne of chefs obsessed with heritage meat and wild plants, preferably foraged in the Don Valley. Yes, Toronto is so flush with new places to eat that keeping up with them has become a full-time job. This year, Toronto Life’s critics were busier than ever, stuffing our faces, snapping photos on the sly and analyzing every last aspect of the dining experience. After much debate, we winnowed down 1,308 establishments to the top 10. Here, our annual ranking of the most innovative, interesting and delicious new Toronto restaurants.


By Mark Pupo and Rachel Heinrichs, with additional reporting by Jeffrey Bercuson, Matthew Hague, Emily Landau and Simone Olivero. Photography by Dave Gillespie

1. Shōtō Shōtō’s pineapple sorbet with torched licorice marshmallow
1. Shōtō Chef de cuisine Mitchell Bates (bespectacled)

David Chang, the New York superstar chef responsible for our obsession with ramen, all things pork and nearly every food trend of the past few years, has opened Toronto’s most exciting restaurant. At Shōtō, on the third floor of the lofty Momofuku complex, a black granite bar with just 22 prized seats encircles an open kitchen, where Mitchell Bates, Chang’s right hand at Ko in New York, and his team of studious cooks prepare decadent 10-course meals with tiny spoons and tweezers. They concentrate lemon jam to a point of supernatural tartness, so just a few dabs ignite a lobster tail bathed in smoky tandoori spices. And patiently sous-vide the sinew of a veal cheek for three days into meltingly tender goodness, then sear it with Sichuan pepper until every forkful is a luscious, tongue-tingling event. The course-by-course pairings of rare sakes, French vintages and microbrews are equally exacting, like a nutty porter from Toronto’s own Bellwoods Brewery that perfectly complements a silky quenelle of banana ice cream. Admission is $150 and an extra $80 for pairings—the best money you’ll spend all year. 190 University Ave.,

2. Edulis The cider-braised goat stuffed with apple and chorizo at Edulis
2. Edulis Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo, purveyors of European charm

Hidden among King West’s condos, this perfect little place is a happy throwback to a time when a romantic night out meant the burble of Edith Piaf, the flattering glow of candlelight and a leisurely meal that starts with buttered homemade bread. Tobey Nemeth, the disarmingly chummy hostess with a barrette in her bob, once worked at Jamie Kennedy’s much-missed Wine Bar and has a knack for choosing just the right Old World vintage. Michael Caballo, her chef husband, is like the proprietor of a countryside inn, somewhere in Provence or perhaps Catalonia—and, lucky for us, he’s a stunningly talented, proudly old-school chef (there’s not a sous-vide machine in the house). He’s not afraid to pile on rich ingredients: potato gratin loaded with shavings of Italian white truffle or a goat leg, roasted long and slow until the fatty, faintly gamey meat is mild and tender. Best of all, he takes risks on small-batch recipes made with hard-to-find ingredients, like braised cockscomb with sautéed fiddleheads. Caballo’s menu is the sort of thing diehard foodies brag about discovering—and a brilliant change after four years of tacos and burgers. 169 Niagara St., 416-703-4222,

3. Daishō Daishō’s hanger steak wrap platter
3. Daishō The small village that turns out Daishō’s signature wrap platters of hanger steak (above), fried chicken and lobster

At first, it seemed unlikely Toronto would take a shine to Daishō. It’s sandwiched between the cheap, foodie-mobbed Noodle Bar and Shōtō, which is, well, number one on this list. Plus, it specializes in family-style spreads of porchetta or short ribs or pork butt you have to pre-order online. Who wants to coordinate a table of six friends to agree on dinner days ahead? It turns out quite a few of us do: the sharing menu is so popular Daishō has added a platter of five Bay of Fundy lobsters sautéed in chili oil. The most pedestrian sounding yet revelatory option is the pile of two broken-down chickens, brined in cayenne-and-thyme-infused buttermilk and cooked sous-vide before meeting the fryer. The pieces are crisp and savoury with an addictive sweetness—the candy of fried chicken—and a steal at $125, split among four. You can wrap them in warm scallion pancakes, along with Chang-popularized condiments like pickled radishes and Tabasco salt, but they’re just as good on their own. The glitzy two-storey room, with its picnic-style tables and panorama of downtown, could be hosting a well-dressed Oktoberfest party. Mountains of food get demolished, fingers get licked, and everyone has fun. 190 University Ave.,

4. Hopgood’s Foodliner Hopgood’s Foodliner’s oat cakes, a Maritime staple, with smoked mackerel and fresh dill
4. Hopgood’s Foodliner Geoff Hopgood, a Nova Scotia expat and lover of canned milk

Few makeovers happen as precipitously as Roncesvalles’, where stolid pierogi houses gave way to happening restaurants. The best on the strip is Geoff Hopgood’s Maritime-themed spot, his first solo gig after running the kitchen at the Hoof Café. He’s one of a handful of chefs in the city making a case for regional Canadian cooking, elevating his mom’s ’80s recipe for a mayo-heavy party dip with sweet P.E.I. rock crab and a panko-Parmesan crust, or perfecting the donair—the Halifax version of a gyro, traditionally scarfed after a night at the bar—by baking his own pitas and smothering tender shredded beef and pork with a tangy, evaporated milk sauce. There’s Canadiana kitsch at work (the donairs are cheekily served on paper bags), but it’s done lovingly. The rest of dinner is a procession of seafood marvels: a Jenga tower of sweet Cape Breton snow crab; oysters with a princely helping of bone marrow (a clever variation on surf-and-turf); and puck-sized Digby scallops perched on discs of house-made sausage in a pool of buttery celery root purée. Jam jars of beer and stacks of molasses bread complete the sea shanty vignette. 325 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-2723,

5. Farmhouse Tavern Farmhouse Tavern’s luscious côte de beouf platter
5. Farmhouse Tavern Plaid twinsies Darcy MacDonell (owner) and Alexander Molitz (chef)

When this Junction spot opened last June, it was the quintessential neighbourhood hang: unpretentious farm-to-table food, a quaintly shabby room and hoodie-wearing servers geeked up on Ontario ingredients. Since then, Farmhouse has ramped up its ambitions to a point where it now transcends the “good, for the Junction” qualifier. The owner, Darcy MacDonell, who used to manage the megawatt Mink Mile bistro La Société, recently hired chef Alexander Molitz. Together, they’re stoking nostalgic cravings, yet still creating a sense of occasion that justifies dropping $100 on dinner. For mushroom soup, the server pours an earthy broth from a silver teapot over charred rosemary that smells like pine needles on a campfire. Pork belly is like Sunday ham dinner with an edge: two candy-skinned pieces with cubes of smoked honey-crisp apple and celery root, and a pile of buttery carrots baked in ash for an alluring hint of ember. And if you visit on a weekend, you’re in for a spectacle: three-foot-long wood slabs parade out of the kitchen, carrying mammoth stacks of côte de beouf that elicit caveman jokes at first, then food orgasms as you bite into the sublimely pink meat, then wistful flashbacks the next day. 1627 Dupont St., 416-561-9114,

6. The Grove Ben Heaton and Richard Reyes’s Dundas West restaurant is like no British pub we’ve ever seen
6. The Grove Chef Ben Heaton has a light touch with his elevated pub standards

Ben Heaton bills his Dundas West room as a British pub, but Toronto has never seen a Firkin like this. For one, there’s not a Union Jack or footie-blaring flat screen in the place. For another, the food is delicate, colourful and ingeniously evocative of old-school English cooking, yet too restrained to ever be mistaken for pub grub. Take toast, the cheapest of British bar snacks: Heaton’s consists of fried brioche crowned with butter-poached lobster claws, creamy sweetbreads, dainty puddles of hollandaise and clouds of lobster bisque foam. Black pudding shows up in airy wafers on devilled eggs. Yeasty marmite and stout create a high-impact marinade soaked into a silky, slow-braised beef cheek. Even clotted cream makes an elegant appearance on a Bakewell tart dotted with marmalade. If this is the new British cuisine, we say, long live the Queen. 1214 Dundas St. W., 416-588-2299,

7. JaBistro JaBistro’s sashimi platter, with lobster, bream, ocean trout, bluefin tuna belly, salmon roe and fish foie gras
7. JaBistro Koji Tashiro, JaBistro’s sushi hotshot

It wasn’t so long ago that the titans of industry only brokered deals over $50 hunks of blue steak. Now, it’s all about status sushi. A lunch for two at JaBistro, a half-minute Town Car ride from the core, can easily run a couple hundred, double that if you’re sipping rare bottles of sake. But you’re paying for some of the freshest, most artfully prepared fish in the city. For a sashimi platter, chef Koji Tashiro—who sharpened his knife skills at Vancouver sushi hot spot Miku and Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market—arranges plump morsels of bream, ocean trout, bluefin tuna belly and fatty salmon around jewel-toned piles of roe and, the ultimate foodie dare, still-twitching raw lobster. Tashiro is no traditionalist: he layers a quasi-Mexican amberjack carpaccio with red onion, julienned peppers and cilantro, and aims a kitchen torch at mayo-slicked salmon, releasing an extra hit of umami. The setting for this aquatic adventure is a serene version of a dining club, with plush leather banquettes and sandy brick walls—not a waving cat statuette in sight. Come summer, there are plans to open a rooftop patio, which is destined to be the place for an after-work shiso smash. 222 Richmond St. W., 647-748-0222,

8. Kingyo Kingyo’s spicy soft-shell crab salad with bok choy, sea kelp, radishes and dried okra
8. Kingyo Kingyo chef Tsuyoshi Yoshinaga is a whiz with izakaya food

This is the year that Japanese comfort food, from Tokyo and Vancouver, took over Toronto. Kingyo, of the West Coast cohort, quietly demolished the competition when it opened in Cabbagetown last December. Unlike most boozy izakayas, the chaos of the room, cultivated with flashing pachinko machines, a koi pond and free-flowing pitchers of Sapporo, is a mere backdrop for some serious Japanese cooking. Kingyo’s ramen sets the standard in the city: the complex broth unfurls chili, roasted garlic, miso and sesame around springy noodles. And when you’re not hunched over your bowl, you’ll be craning your neck to watch the ceremonies that accompany many dishes, like when a petite waitress lugs to the table a sesame-oiled rock that resembles a mysterious totem from an episode of Lost. On it, you sear thin pieces of Tajima beef tongue. The sweet, marbled cuts sizzle and pop, cooked to rare in mere seconds. Comfort never tasted so good. 51B Winchester St., 647-748-212,

9. Patria Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji’s upscale tapas bar
9. Patria Stuart Cameron, Patria’s authenticity-loving chef

Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji throw a great party—Weslodge, their King West gastro­pub with the fancifully moustachioed bartenders, is replete with models and money managers. Turns out they can serve a great meal, too. Patria, the pair’s second collaboration, is a faithful reproduction of an upscale Barcelona tapas bar, with its long list of Spanish wines, artisanal goat cheeses from La Mancha and a dedicated station where a cook hand-sabres jamón ibérico de bellota, the lusciously cured meat of an acorn-munching pig. Toronto has hosted its share of tapas spots, yet only Khabouth and Harji will bankroll so many imported ingredients and send their cooks to Spain on research trips. Their investment paid off: the kitchen sends out a winning feast of salty manchego and leek croquettes, paprika-flecked octopus, heaping paelleras of seafood and heroic cuts of secreto, a succulent pork flank steak in a pool of piquillo jam. All of it is meant for sharing, which amplifies the soaring room’s cocktail-fuelled buzz. 478 King St. W., 416-367-0505,

10. Ursa Ursa’s sous-vide duck egg with nigella, dandelion greens, mustard seeds and gribiche
10. Ursa Brothers and partners in culinary complexity Jacob and Lucas Sharkey Pearce
10. URSA

When this concrete box of a restaurant opened early last year, hand-cranked spaghetti noodles were strangling the creative life out of Toronto dining. Ursa blasted through with some of the most high-concept food we’d seen in ages. The brothers who own the place, Jacob and Lucas Sharkey Pearce, are culinary eccentrics. They used to design raw food diets for pro athletes, and they’ve brought their health fanaticism to upscale dining, which means you’ll find things like elk velvet, the nutrient-rich fur from the animal’s antlers, blended into your tartare. (“Don’t worry,” the server reassures us, “it doesn’t taste furry.”) They’re also local, seasonal extremists, so the menu brings more foraged surprises than a survivalist convention: cedar-infused gin for the G&Ts, ox-eye daisy buds on house-made burrata or juniper berries on pan-fried white fish. And if none of that sounds intriguing enough, they’re also deconstruc­tionists: nearly every dish is an exquisitely colourful arrangement of rich dollops, sweet dots, salty smears and tart shards waiting to be combined in a perfectly balanced forkful. Not everyone who has dinner at Ursa will love it, especially diners with a low tolerance for fuss, but everyone will leave talking about it. And isn’t conversation half the fun of eating out? 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963,