Instagrammable dessert: Mira
1 At Hanif Harji’s splashy new Peruvian restaurant, chef Stuart Cameron whips up all manner of fishy dishes—bay scallops, crispy fluke, four kinds of ceviche, each one of them stunningly picturesque. But the most Instagrammable item at Mira is on the dessert menu. From the outside, El Huevo Malo (“the bad egg”) resembles a plain chocolate sphere the size of a five-pin bowling ball. It’s what’s inside that counts. A server taps the sphere gingerly with a spoon until the shell shatters to reveal a crater filled with coffee ice cream, crunchy chocolate bread pudding, honeycomb crumbles, sweet-tart yuzu marmalade, fresh raspberries and colourful flower petals (which are also edible, of course). $18. 420A Wellington St. W., 647-951-3331, mirarestaurant.com.
Pasta lunch: Famiglia Baldassarre
2 The city’s most supple noodles don’t come out of a fancy restaurant or downtown enoteca. They’re hand-made in a nondescript brick warehouse on Geary Avenue, where devotees line up for $12 plates of Leandro Baldassarre’s freshly made pasta, only served Tuesday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m. He calls it Società Pasta Baldassarre, and his daily specials—like cavatelli with rapini and anchovy—are yet another way to appreciate your office’s relaxed summer hours policy. 122 Geary Ave., 647-293-5395.
Kamayan feast: Tinuno
3 Summer is no time for gloves, unless they’re the clear plastic ones distributed at this cozy Filipino eat-with-your-hands spot. There’s no dinner menu: you sit down, and a wooden plank of food appears on the table. It’s loaded with hunks of pork belly and grilled pork skewers, head-on shrimp and mussels on the half shell, grilled tilapia and calamari, all served over banana leaves on a bed of garlic rice. Pro tip: make sure to Instagram the whole spread before you start eating, because once you dive in, your hands will be of no use for anything but grabbing the next mouthful. $15 per person. 31 Howard St., 647-343-9294.
Squid slider: Labora
4 If your summer travel plans don’t include a beachside spell in Barcelona, chef Rob Bragagnolo’s bocata de calamar is the next best thing. Served inside King West’s trendy Majorcan-inspired food hall, his battered golden rings of squid are wrapped around pickled piparra peppers and tucked inside a mollete roll that’s generously slathered with creamy aïoli. It’s crunchy, smooth, spicy, salty, pillowy perfection, and it goes down particularly well with a glass of Spanish vermouth on the rocks. $9.50. 433 King St. W., 416-260-9993.
Food trike: Manipura Doubles
5 Lucas Boers is on a mission to bring West Indian–style curried chickpea flatbread pockets to the streets of Toronto…by tricycle. He makes six zingy, aromatic vegan dishes out of his Parkdale commissary. Our favourite is the traditional doubles: savoury channa on homemade bara (fried flatbread), with sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce, tomatillo chutney, fresh grated cucumber and a hit of pineapple–scotch bonnet pepper sauce. Because Boers’ delivery method isn’t motorized—it’s classified as a cart—he can access locations that most food trucks can’t. This summer, look for him and his bike on Tuesdays and Thursdays for lunch service in Liberty Village, on Wednesdays at the Scotia Plaza Farmers’ Market and on Friday and Saturday evenings in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Brides and grooms, take note: he also does weddings. @doublesfoodtrike.
Secret bar: L’Absinthe Parlour
6 Tucked above the Little Italy bistro Coq of the Walk is a cozy ode to the green fairy that looks just like your friend’s living room—if your friend lived in belle époque Paris. The place, which is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, carries a dozen absinthe varieties, including a rye-based version from Toronto distillers Dillon’s, and Mansinthe, a Swiss-made spirit created by Marilyn Manson. You can drink them neat from a traditional Gilded Age drip fountain or mixed into cocktails like a Chef Devil, with sparkling wine and lime sorbet. The menu offers on-theme French cheeses and charcuterie, which may help avoid le grand hangover. 488 College St., 647-748-4004.
Nashville hot chicken: Chica’s
7 The city’s hottest food trend—and we mean that literally—is Nashville hot chicken, fried chicken’s angrier cousin. Of the three Toronto kitchens dedicated to the spicy bird, Chica’s in the Junction is the newest and best of the bunch, run by Adamson Barbecue alum Matthew Pelechaty and his wife, Carolyn. The chicken comes in quarter meals, half meals, a wing plate and a sandwich. First, they deep-fry it, then dredge it in one of three piquant oils: mild, medium and “hot AF.” That third option is made with the world’s hottest pepper, which goes by the lovely name of the Carolina Reaper. The crispy bird is topped with a few pickle coins and left to drip dry on a slice of lily-white Wonder Bread. We suggest ordering a side of waffle fries and some house-made buttermilk ranch to cool the palate between bites. 2853 Dundas St. W., 647-343-6562.
Trompe l’oeil dessert: Birch Bistro
8 The dinner menu at midtown’s new bistro lists pristine French classics: scallops en croute poached in white wine, duck confit with bacon and sautéed endive, boeuf bourguignon with pearl onions in a red wine jus. The dessert card, however, is Magritte-inspired mania. Pastry chef Calvin Wat makes sculptural sweets that look like lemons, cherries and grapefruits. Inside, there’s a Russian nesting doll’s worth of layers: the herbal, punchy Granny Smith is a sous-vide apple coated in lime mousse, dill-lime coulis and a gleaming Valhrona chocolate shell. $15. 623 Mount Pleasant Rd., 416-901-1623.
Vegan burger: Rosalinda
9 At Grant van Gameren’s new vegan Mexican spot, the plant-based dishes don’t masquerade as meat: there’s coconut ceviche, a jackfruit pibil taco and roasted carrots with mole. The Rosa Burger is already a fan favourite, and for good reason. A seared and caramelized black bean patty comes topped with avocado crema, a crispy smoked eggplant chip, kicky chipotle mayo and shredded iceberg—what chef de cuisine Matt Ravenscroft lovingly calls “sub shop lettuce”—all smushed in a Wonder Bread bun. For an extra couple of bucks you can (and should) add a thick layer of I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-dairy Libretto mozzarella. $18. 133 Richmond St. W., 416-907-0650.
Japanese snacks: Sukoshi Mart
10 Kensington Market’s lilliputian variety store is packed to the gills with hard-to-find snacks, drinks, stationery and trinkets from Japan. Sukoshi customers can find Hello Kitty candy, honeydew melon soda and instant ramen, along with healthy house-made lunches, like onigiri (spicy tuna is the bestseller) and bento boxes (yakisoba in tonkatsu sauce with soft-boiled eggs, braised pork belly and pan-seared gyoza). There’s a kettle and microwave in the back of the shop for customers who can’t wait to crack into their noodles. 160 Baldwin St., No. 7, 647-358-4040.
AYCE steak: Shinta Japanese BBQ
11 The people who opened an all-you-can-eat sushi spot and an all-you-can-eat hot pot place—sense a pattern?—have created Shinta, an all-you-can-eat DIY Japanese barbecue restaurant in Richmond Hill that specializes in all things beefy. The baller menu, starting at $69.99, is the main attraction: it includes kalbi short ribs, miso-marinated salmon, New Zealand lamb racks, and all the Australian and U.S. Wagyu you can put away. If all that isn’t enough, diners can supplement their protein with even fancier cuts of marbled meat for an additional charge. 280 West Beaver Creek Rd., Richmond Hill, 905-597-0305.
Ice cream sundae: Aloette
12 When we were kids and dreamed of the perfect sundae, it looked a lot like the one at Aloette. Chef Patrick Kriss’s no-reservations restaurant—the kid brother of Alo, two floors up—creates this dessert masterpiece by taking an old-fashioned milkshake glass and layering it with vanilla ice cream, caramel, more ice cream, more caramel, whipped cream and flakes of salted feuilletine, with hunks of roasted pineapple throughout. But the real secret ingredient to this beautiful mess? Nostalgia. $12. 163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-3444.
This story originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $24 a year, click here.