Toronto's best new restaurants 2017Pictured: Organic veal tonnato with mustard sprouts and watermelon radishes from Ardo (No. 15)
Toronto's best new restaurants 2017
By Mark Pupo| Photography by Dave Gillespie | Video by Daniel Neuhaus
| March 16, 2017

Pictured: Organic veal tonnato with mustard sprouts and watermelon radishes from Ardo (No. 15)

Best New Restaurants 2017

It’s still early, but 2017 is already setting a breakneck pace for restaurant trends. Among our city’s current obsessions: wood-fired grilling, preserved vintage diners, restaurants that double as bouncer-guarded nightclubs, chic veganism, Filipino home cooking, and a comfort food renaissance to calm our Trump-strained nerves. But my favourite phenomenon of the moment is the sudden surplus of small, excellent chef-run restaurants. These places, including my number one restaurant of the year, are personal, intimate and authentic—exactly what we need in a time of alternative facts. The following pages are my recommendations for where to eat in 2017. Despite everything, it’s turning into a pretty great year.

Best dishes 2017

Here's what to order at Toronto's 20 best new restaurants
Food & Drink

Here’s what to order at Toronto’s 20 best new restaurants

The 2017 list

1 Brothers Food & Wine • 2 Doma • 3 Piano Piano • 4 La Banane • 5 Canis • 6 Noorden • 7 Leña • 8 Superpoint • 9 Adamson Barbecue • 10 Awai • 11 Maple Leaf Tavern • 12 Montgomery’s • 13 Lasa • 14 Harry’s Charbroil • 15 Ardo • 16 Baro • 17 El Rey • 18 Jackpot Chicken • 19 MeNami • 20 Bar Begonia

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Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Brothers Food & WineA family style feast at the now-closed Brothers Photo by Dave Gillespie

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Brothers Food & Wine

Brothers Food & Wine

The city’s best new restaurant is so nondescript as to be invisible. Occupying a former greasy spoon that’s cheek-to-cheek with Bay Station, the entire place is no bigger than a railroad car. Christopher White and Jonathan Nicolaou, the bearded, bearish guys in charge, didn’t bother to announce the November opening with a big social media campaign. They seemed to hope the curious would wander in, note the jug of wildflowers in the window and the double fridge packed with phenomenal wines, like what they see and never want to leave.

Last year's best new restaurants

I’m now a regular at Brothers, and, every time I visit, there’s something more incredible to eat. I’ve loved the beef carpaccio layered with charred radicchio and pine nuts; the roasted half–Cornish hen on a bed of creamed savoy cabbage and chestnuts; the gnocchi, somehow both dense and downy, hiding nuggets of pecorino and nutty mushrooms; the seared hunks of veal sweetbreads under a wig of frisée; and the slow-roasted shank of a Niagara lamb, with tangy fennel and briny capers.

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Beef carpaccio with charred radicchio, toasted pine nuts and olive oil.

White and Nicolaou are longtime friends who only look like brothers. They chose the restaurant name because it sounded unpretentious and instantly classic. The two began planning their own place while working at Terroni, one of the city’s more dependable talent pools. In the intervening years, White did stints at the always-excellent Dandylion while Nicolaou cooked at Bar Raval and Bar Isabel, as well as St. John, the London restaurant that inspired a generation of Fergus Henderson followers to embrace seasonal and nose-to-tail cooking. I detect all of those influences on Nicolaou’s no-frills menu, which changes daily and is a cheat sheet to his favourite suppliers and farmers.

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Brothers co-owners Christopher White and Jonathan Nicolaou, who are friends, not siblings.

This year, we’ve seen a lot of chefs open small restaurants where they can cook whatever they like. Brothers is the most evolved—the leader of the pack. While Nicolaou works the ovens, White greets guests, remembering every face. He starts you off with crusty sourdough and a glass of wine, perhaps from a small biodynamic operation that has been run by the same family for four centuries and caught the eye of house sommelier Courtney Stebbings.

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Sommelier Courtney Stebbings oversees Brothers’ excellent wine list.

They’re preoccupied with building a repertoire, not with doing whatever’s trending. Nicolaou transports diners to Burgundy, to California, to Macedonia and to London. Then the Bloor line rumbles underfoot, and you’re back home.

For the first months, he baked one dessert: a lemony semolina pound cake with a dollop of cream and tart sea buckthorn. It’s simple, delicious and perfect. As the city grows taller and more impersonal, we need more Brothers.

1240 Bay St., 416-804-6066, brotherstoronto.com

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Citrus yogurt cake with sea buckthorn berries.
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Beets served with garlic yogurt and hunks of crusty bread.
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Brothers hides in plain sight next to a busy entrance to Bay Station.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Doma

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Doma

Doma

Let’s hope Doma survives the curse of 50C. The Little Italy address is a revolving door of restaurants—it was previously home to Backwoods Smokehouse and Whisky Bar, Red Sauce and, most missed of all, Acadia (which was also retooled several times).

The new owner, Paul Kim, is an unknown who worked the line at GTA golf clubs and apprenticed at Buca and Nota Bene. He opened Doma—Korean for “cutting board”—last fall. Cooking modern Korean, Kim is clearly inspired by David Chang’s Momofuku but also by the high priests of French cuisine, and even more by his own childhood in Seoul. He releases a new menu each month. You can order à la carte or try everything for $65 a person, which is an unbelievable bargain.

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Doma chef Paul Kim debuts a different menu every month.

During my last visit, dinner started with a steamed bun, sticky and squid-ink black, stuffed with caramelized onions and mushrooms. Eight courses followed, each prettier than the last. My favourite was the strip loin, which he marinates in soybean paste, wraps in pickled perilla leaves and sides with cubes of scalloped potatoes and creamed kale. Tied for a close second are his duck two ways (a seared breast and duck confit dumplings), and a salad of octopus tentacle he cooks sous vide and glazes with honey, delicate cucumber granita, microgreens, springy and translucent noodles of konjac jelly, and matchstick pear—an update of Susur Lee’s famous Singapore slaw.

One dessert, his take on a lemon meringue pie, combines mugwort ice cream, artfully torn chunks of eggy sponge cake and a wodge of yuzu meringue. Get a table now, so you can say you were there when he made his debut.

50C Clinton St., 416-551-1550, domatoronto.com

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Doma is the latest (and best) restaurant to occupy the ever-changing 50C Clinton Street space.
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1) Sweet potato foam and sweet potato chip topped with red bean purée; (2) steamed tofu with a chestnut purée; (3) roasted cauliflower with quinoa and a soy-yuzu glaze; (4) grilled octopus with konjac jelly and pear; (5) duck breast and duck confit dumplings; (6) poached lobster on lobster bisque; (7) pork belly with celeriac and soy-chili gastrique; (8) a selection of petit fours; (9) bread pudding with crème anglaise.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Piano Piano

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Piano Piano

Piano Piano

I wasn’t the only one who felt a pang when Splendido closed. It was, for 20-plus years, where we went to be spoiled rotten by our most god-like chefs. Two words: champagne cart. And I wasn’t the only one who cringed when word got out that chef-owner Victor Barry was replacing the storied room with a family-friendly pizza joint—there would, he said, be a kids’ menu.

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Victor Barry surprised everyone when he flipped the Harbord Street dining room from Splendido to Piano Piano.

But Piano Piano turned out to be something much more ambitious.

There is pizza, it’s true—my pick for the finest in the city, with dough made from heritage wheat and exquisite toppings (oozing fior di latte, well-aged parm, dandelion greens, ’nduja so spicy you’ll become a fire-breather, and other delectable options). Then there are Barry’s luxe pastas—pumpkin-stuffed agnolotti, springy cavatelli with oyster mushrooms, a sensational carbonara—as well as fancy cuts (bone-in veal chops, 18-ounce rib-eyes) you won’t find at your average red-sauce spot. Traces of Splendido live on in the caesar salad, which Barry elevates into something sublime, combining grilled wedges of romaine, roasted pork belly and fresh white anchovy. It’s Italian grandmother cooking—if your nonna knew her way around a five-star kitchen.

88 Harbord St., 416-929-7788, pianopianotherestaurant.com

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The perfectly blistered Bitters is the city’s best pizza, with fior di latte, parmesan, dandelion greens, kale, garlic, chili flakes and lemon.
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The bone-in veal parm (centre) is among Piano Piano’s best attributes.
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The caesar salad is an avant-garde reminder of the dining room’s Splendido roots.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: La Banane

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: La Banane

La Banane

Brandon Olsen’s fried chicken was the star of the menu during his time at Bar Isabel, and it was why we stalked him at festivals and pop-ups. So you should know: he doesn’t fry birds at La Banane, but you should still breach the yellow door. He’s showing us his polished, Francophile white-linens-and-amuse-bouche side.

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La Banane is chef Brandon Olsen’s change to flex his Francophile muscles.

Not that La Banane is another rote bistro. It’s a lot more fun—like a year-round New Year’s Eve dinner party with flapper-era cocktails in fluted glasses, an ice-bed raw bar and a disco soundtrack. No surprise, perhaps, that the same guy who executed so many consistently crunchy thighs also crafts the city’s finest example of a pâté en croûte, with golden pastry encasing peppery duck-pork stuffing and a cap of wine gelée. He serves it with moutarde violette—a throwback technique of sweetening grainy mustard with grape must and clove.

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The Eurobass en Croûte is the dish most likely to make diners ask, “what did they order?” Each whole fish is latticed in golden pastry, then finished with a yuzu beurre blanc.

Julia Child would approve of how he finishes his creamy crab and paella gratin in the crustacean’s shell, how he intensifies the plushness of raw scallop with garlicky buttermilk and leek oil, and how he achieves that extremely rare thing: a correct omelette—crisp exterior, nearly custardy within, timed to the microsecond. An omelette for dinner is one of the more peculiarly French traditions—really, another excuse to order caviar (for an extra $80). Although La Banane is terrific, we’ll have to wait and see if it catches on like Olsen’s original poultry feat.

227 Ossington Ave., 416-551-6263, labanane.ca

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The omelette’s decadence can be upped with an $80 hit of caviar.
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The Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg cracks open to reveal a cache of chocolate truffles.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Canis

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Canis

Canis

Chef Jeff Kang worked at Bosk, the restaurant at the Shangri-La, where every plate is photogenic but not always exciting to eat. At Canis, his first headlining act, he proves he’s the real deal.

Take how he layers strips of cured trout with wafers of pickled cucumber and radish on a pool of horseradish-infused cream, marrying the briny and the tart, the lusciously soft and the crunchy. The composition reminded me of ocean waves or the most glorious 1970s woven wall art. Kang says he’s aiming to help define Canadian cuisine. He’s taken notes from the new Nordic movement and the tenets of locavorism. He advocates a hushed minimalism—which puts him in a league with Dandylion, Boralia and Actinolite—most visible in the grey walls, grey-aproned servers and unadorned wood panelling.

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Chef Jeff Kang, ex of the Shangri-La’s Bosk.

But let’s not over-intellectualize. I’ll go back for the whole-roasted duck, its skin a burnished gold; a salad of pickled beets and goat’s milk ricotta; and braised lamb shoulder under a blanket of parti-coloured carrot and daikon rounds. And I’ll return for a milk chocolate mousse, buckwheat ice cream and shards of meringue. Kang wants to remind us of glaciers, though what glacier tastes this sweet?

746 Queen St. W., 416-203-3317, canisrestaurant.com

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The signature duck for two is dry-aged for two weeks before being cooked sous vide. It’s finished with a blowtorch until the skin is a crackling thing of beauty.
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Each dramatically scored bird is presented on a bed of hay.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Noorden

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Noorden

Noorden

Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel have cornered the (admittedly small) Toronto market for Dutch-Indonesian cuisine. The kitchen of Little Sister, their midtown bar, turns out stunningly complex Indonesian stews and skewered meats. Across Yonge, they recently replaced Quince, a nice—if generic—bistro, with Noorden, which has a more emphatically Dutch, potato-driven menu that forays into Southeast Asia.

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Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel.

I recommend going with a group of friends—no low-carb dieters allowed—and sharing everything on the menu, especially the bitterballen (potato croquettes with hot mustard), ribs glazed with sambal, grilled cabbage (more sambal, plus the heat of rendang oil), ribbons of squash carpaccio with candied pepitas and micro-cubes of beet (for a light breather), and a “stamppot” (a mashed-potato boat filled with gravy and smoky bacon). One forkful will fill you up for a week.

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The gut-busting rijsttafel feast at Noorden, for groups of six or more, includes 20-plus dishes—and a hefty helping of potatoes and rice for good measure.

This is drinking food, best accompanied by a gin cocktail (the bar offers 50-plus varieties). I killed a budding cold with an Angry Dutchman, which combines Bols Genever, elderflower liqueur and an over-generous dose of chili water. And I’m pres­ently taking names for a rijsttafel—a book-ahead 23-dish feast of rice, meat and, yes, potatoes.

2110 Yonge St., 416-488-2110

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The genever-based Angry Dutchman cocktail combines Bols with elderflower liqueur and a bold splash of chili water.
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Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Leña

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Leña

Leña

When you’re not in the mood for a 14-hour flight to Buenos Aires, you’d do well at this handsome series of art deco rooms on the southeast corner of the Saks-Bay complex. Anthony Walsh, O&B’s top chef, got his inspiration, and his empanada recipe, from his Argentinian mother-in-law, Elena Arevalo. South American cuisine is an experiment for a man synonymous with expense-account tasting menus, though there’s no mistaking the O&B polish: plush banquettes, deep wine list, servers always at your command without hovering.

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Executive chef Julie Marteleira and O&B’s Anthony Walsh.

The cooking, however, is bright and relaxed. Must-haves are a dish of salt cod, pickled red onion, deep-fried cumin-dusted chickpeas, fresh fava beans and cilantro scooped up on toasts (they call it a salad, which undersells the awesome textures), and the roasted rabbit on an extra­ordinarily flavourful bed of rice cooked with tomatoes and snails. Those empa­nadas, with sweet pastry encasing peppery ground beef, slices of egg and plump black olives, live up to all the hype.

176 Yonge St., 416-507-3378, lenarestaurante.com

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Savoury empanadas stuffed with beef, egg and olives, with chimichurri.
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Roasted rabbit on a bed of rice cooked with tomatoes and snails.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Superpoint

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Superpoint

Superpoint

I’ve been a Jonathan Poon fanboy for years, following him from Chantecler to Bar Fancy. Now, he and fellow Bar Fancier Jesse Fader have conquered Ossington with a hipster pizza-and-pasta joint that would be insufferable if it weren’t so terrifically good. Among the 2017 hipster crimes: the jagged neon signage, the ’80s rawk soundtrack, the anti-gourmet wink-wink menu items (shrimp spring rolls) and the sheer number of patrons in tuques.

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Jonathan Poon, ‘90s pizzeria nostalgist.

More on Superpoint's pasta

But the food: wow. The reason I go back so often, despite the tuques, is the pasta—in particular, a reginette in a red sauce overloaded with slow-cooked beef cheek and a heavy blanket of shaved parmesan. The pizza isn’t up there with Piano Piano’s, but it’s still great, especially the variation on a Hawaiian with mortadella in place of ham. The chefs make an extra-creamy caesar salad topped with what turns out to be No Name potato sticks—too clever by half, but surprisingly tasty. In the fall, they made a wonderfully simple salad of ripe Ontario tomatoes, canned peaches and burrata. Reservations are scarce, so plan ahead.

184 Ossington Ave, 416-516-4656, superpoint.ca

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Chef Jesse Fader took more than 100 tries to perfect his dough recipe: half high-gluten flour and half Italian 00 flour, cold fermented for 24 hours, topped and finished in a Vulcan deck oven.
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The caesar salad is topped with salty No Name potato sticks.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Adamson Barbecue

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Adamson Barbecue

Adamson Barbecue

Barbecue makes people people do extreme things—like take a weekly pilgrimage to an East York industrial park and line up hours before the door opens for Lone Star–style stuff that’s as authentic as it gets this far north. Adam Skelly, who co-owns the smokehouse with his girlfriend, Alison Hunt, uses wood-fuelled smokers and hand-slices brisket by the pound.

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Adam Skelly and Alison Hunt.

For the ultimate experience, order the Texas Trinity—it’s intended to feed two but can easily satisfy four. Skelly fills an aluminum cafeteria tray with half a pound of brisket, half a pound of ribs, your choice of sausage, sides like a creamy potato salad with red pepper and scallion, baked beans, plus fixings (pickles, onion and house-made white bread for soaking up precious drippings). The most appropriate beverage to wash all that down is Big Red, a Texas brand of cream soda that Skelly, clearly an expert in extreme foods, imports himself.

176 Wicksteed Ave., 647-559-2080, adamsonbarbecue.com

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A fully loaded tray with brisket, sausage, chicken, beef rib, pulled pork and sides of cole slaw, baked beans and potato salad.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Awai

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Awai

Awai

Vegetarians, once consigned to the salad section of the menu, have a lot to be thankful for. Plant-based restaurants recently spread roots around the city, and even erstwhile foie gras worshippers like Nota Bene’s David Lee have all but sworn off animal products. My pick of the crop is the new west-end home of Nathan Isberg, formerly of the Atlantic. He’s one of our most cerebral chefs. His every plate is a dissertation on the culture and evolution of taste. That makes him sound like a bore, but he’s truly an incredible cook.

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Ex-Atlantic chef Nathan Isberg.

While there’s no mistaking that Awai is a vegetarian restaurant—the Persian carpet wall hangings, Joni Mitchell and tisane selection are dead giveaways—even the most hard-core meathead will succumb to Isberg’s ravioli stuffed with braised artichokes; his flatbreads blackened from a wood-fired oven and loaded with cherry tomatoes, their fruitiness intensified by a complex herb mixture that includes floral, Quebec-sourced sweetfern, alder tip and juniper; his crisp-fried baby eggplant with creamy insides brought into relief by a zesty chermoula; and his black arborio and wild rice paella, with a funky trio of oyster mushrooms, black truffles and huitlacoche, plus a scattering of puffed rice for extra texture. He offers salads, too, including one dazzler with candy-like overnight-roasted apple, quick-pickled onion and various shoots and sprouts, but it doesn’t feel like a return to the salad days of the past.

2277 Bloor St. W., 647-643-3132, awai.ca

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A coca (wood-fired Spanish flatbread) topped with blistered cherry tomatoes and temiskaming forest spices.
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The dining room decor suggests vegetarianism, but even the most devoted omnivore will be into Isberg’s meat-free menu.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Maple Leaf Tavern

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Maple Leaf Tavern

Maple Leaf Tavern

The secret to this place isn’t the million dollars sunk into the century-old building’s restoration, or the potency of the double Manhattan, which is so popular it’s on tap. It’s not the old-timey jumbo shrimp cocktails or the all-star cooking team (though they’re great—pulled from spots like the Spoke Club, Scaramouche and the Saint).

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A million-dollar reno transformed the former east-end dive into one of Toronto’s most comfortable dining rooms.

The secret is the kitchen’s built-in wood-fired grill with racks raised and lowered by custom pulleys. Wood-grilled everything is as trendy as it gets this year, and any restaurant would be lucky to have this set-up. Executive chef Jesse Vallins grills veggies and whole potatoes, whole fish, he-man tomahawk chops, mutton and rib-eye. The smoky, charred outcome is like campfire cooking, only far better.

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

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Chef Jesse Vallins uses an elaborate wood-fired grill to cook chops, steaks and whole fish, such as the sea bream served with beurre blanc.
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Grilled hassleback potatoes with truffle butter and chilled foie gras.

 

Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Montgomery's

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Montgomery’s

Montgomery's

The first signs aren’t promising: a rickety door leading into a fluorescent-lit antechamber, the odour of vinegar thick in the air, and a cave-like dining room of industrial carpeting and mismatched teak. You could be in a church soup kitchen, not one of the most-anticipated restaurants of the year.

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Guy Rawlings first grabbed attention during his stint at Dundas West’s Brockton General, where he made magic from humble ingredients. He left to help manage Bar Isabel, among other gigs, and his fans waited five long years for him to return to a stove. At Montgomery’s (it’s the family name of his wife, Kim), he’s pre­occupied with pickled veg and air-cured meats, and the result is one of the most peculiar and fascinating menus around.

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Salt-baked celeriac root with garlic aïoli and parsley salad.

Supersour fermented cabbages and roots serve as a snack. He douses slices of field tomatoes in a hot sauce, and yet a sprinkling of dried mint is what catches you off guard. His fixation on the labour-intensive and handmade—he brews his own vinegar to brush on a salmon collar, repurposes left­over whey from cultured cheese in a vegetable dish and smokes the mustard that accompanies a goose creton—pays off. Once you’ve joined Rawlings’s cult, all is heavenly.

996 Queen St. W., 647-748-4416, montgomerysrestaurant.com

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Sunchokes with water-buffalo fresco cheese, green apricot and sorrel.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Lasa

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Lasa

Lasa

People who keep track of these things all agree that Filipino food is currently the trendiest. Toronto, with its large Filipino population and ambitious second-gen chefs, can take some credit for this. It’s the ultimate fusion cuisine, melding the spiciness of India, the shrimp paste–based dishes of Malaysia and the predilections of China (rice and spring rolls figure prominently) with souvenirs from hundreds of years of contact with traders and colonists.

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Pork skewers get their caramelization from a marinade splashed with 7-Up.

This midtown spot, my favourite of the new wave, is a spinoff of Queen West’s Lamesa, which introduced downtowners to home-cooking classics usually found in outer-GTA strip-mall eateries. Come for a lunch of skewered pork (tangy from a marinade of ginger, soy and 7-Up); squash and bok choy poached in a coconut-miso broth; lumpia Shanghai (ground pork–stuffed spring rolls); oxtail stew fragrant with garlic and peanut sauce; rice served with deep-fried tofu and a fried duck egg; and, in the summer months, halo-halo, a Day-Glo dessert of shaved ice, flan and taro ice cream.

634 St. Clair W., 647-343-1110, lasabylamesa.com

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Turon with purple ube ice cream is a sweet way to end a meal at Lasa.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Harry's Charbroil

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Harry’s Charbroil

Harry's Charbroil

I’ve heard gossip that Grant van Gameren, the relentlessly successful chef behind Bar Raval and Bar Isabel, has no less than a dozen new business concepts in the works. Maybe it’s Bunyan-esque hyperbole, but it squares with the past year, when he opened three: the mescal-centric El Rey (No. 17 on this list), a cocktail bar called Pretty Ugly and this spot, a takeover of an ancient Parkdale diner.

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Much remains unchanged about the Harry’s Charbroil experience, but the burgers have gotten an upgrade. Photo by Dave Gillespie

He left the look intact, including the patchwork linoleum floors, smoky-mirrored walls and tabletop jukeboxes (last updated circa “Beat It”). The short-order menu, however, has been van Gameren-ized. Be sure to get the burger with a green chorizo patty, its heat slightly tempered by a sweet tomatillo relish. I’m also a fan of the skirt steak on a bun, which is especially good dipped in a bowl of gravy (by request), and the Miami-style ribs, which are sweet, tender and paired with a tart green sauce. Nearly everything comes with chunky fries. They’re crispy and addictive, though I’d try to save room for a dessert special like cherry crumble with vanilla ice cream. Experience Harry’s while you can: it sits next to a now-closed No Frills and one of the neighbourhood’s last-surviving parking lots—in other words, prime condo territory.

160 Springhurst Ave., 416-532-2908

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Harry’s makeover includes a vegetarian fried eggplant sandwich with tomato sauce and Caesar salad.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Ardo

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Ardo

Ardo

There’s a rule dating back many decades that family-run Italian restaurants require black-and-white photos of 1950s street urchins, a Sinatra soundtrack and at least one bumbling server from a Fawlty Towers casting. But few of them have a chef-owner like Roberto Marotta.

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Ardo chef Roberto Marotta.

He’s as dashing as a Fellini star and a sophisticated interpreter of Sicilian classics, which translates to piping-hot arancini as big as goose eggs, beautifully charred and tender octopus with caponata, couscous and mussels with Moroccan spices, and lighter-than-light gnocchi in a supercreamy mushroom sauce. The only proper way to end the night is with a thimble of bitter amaro, and a candied orange and fresh ricotta cannoli—one of the city’s best.

243 King St. E., 647-347-8930, ardorestaurant.com

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Fresh sardines atop a tangle of fresh spaghetti, with wild Sicilian fennel, raisins, saffron and toasted bread crumbs.
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Gnocchi and mushrooms with stracchino cheese, topped with heirloom carrots, shaved black truffle.

 

Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Baro

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Baro

Baro

Chef Steve Gonzalez’s greatest invention is a riff on the Peruvian fried rice dish arroz chaufa. He serves his in a heated stone bibimbap bowl and adds duck confit, squeaky-fresh edamame and tobiko, then stirs it all together with egg and enough chili to let you know he isn’t messing around. I’d easily scrape away at the rice grains caramelized on the bowl’s surface all night on my own.

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Chef Steve Gonzalez’s signature arroz chaufa made the move to Baro from Valdez.

But, like Valdez—Gonzalez’s last King West spot, which closed to make way for a condo tower—Baro is designed for partying, with its sharing plates of ponzu-spiked hamachi ceviche and beef empanadas (both commendable), and its long (very, very long) list of tequilas. There’s even a secret lounge on the second floor that’s only accessible with a password that changes daily. I’m content with my crunchy rice.

485 King St. W., 416-363-8388, barotoronto.com

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Baro chef Steve Gonzalez.
Toronto's Best New Restaurants: El Rey

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: El Rey

El Rey

Grant van Gameren’s mescal bar in Kensington has a short menu that’s unlike our other Mexican options. The kitchen is run by Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo, who start the day grinding corn for the incomparably fresh tortillas used for cheese quesadillas and tostadas topped with short ribs and a richer-than-Midas mole.

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Skewers of grilled beef heart with chimichurri.

Most of the seats are outside on the patio. There’s no better spot to share skewers of Peruvian-style beef hearts and chimichurri, oysters with house-made hot sauces, and a flight (or several) of premium mescal.

2A Kensington Ave., elreybar.com

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Mescal is El Rey’s drink of choice.

 

Torontos Best New Restaurants: Jackpot Chicken

Torontos Best New Restaurants: Jackpot Chicken

Jackpot Chicken

Whenever I felt a cold coming on this winter, I’d head to Craig Wong’s new Chinatown restaurant—his comeback after Patois, his Chinese-Jamaican fusion spot, was destroyed in a block fire. His chicken, poached Hainanese-style in a winter melon broth and served on a bed of schmaltz-fried rice along with a bowl of chicken broth and (more) winter melon soup, is the closest thing to a curative.

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The off-menu High Rolla ramen, with shrimp, Chinese sausage and pickled egg.

Less healthful, but well worth it, are appetizers like deep-fried tempura broccoli dressed with Kewpie mayo, shrimp potstickers enhanced with Japanese curry paste, and chips of crisped chicken skin painted with house-dehydrated sriracha sauce.

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The Chinese-Jamaican fusion spot is Craig Wong’s post-Patois comeback.

Jackpot Chicken, 318 Spadina Ave., 416-792-8628, jackpotchickenrice.com 

Toronto's Best New Restaurants: MeNami

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: MeNami

MeNami

After a few too many years of geeking out on ramen, I’ve decided I’m really an udon guy, especially if I’m in the vicinity of this (way, way) uptown izakaya. The chef, Hwan Jeong, pulls his noodles fresh on premises in a climate-controlled room. His menu lists 18-plus varieties, from the fairly conventional (udon with spicy pork, and udon with dried shrimp and seaweed) to the slightly freaky (udon coated with black sesame purée such that it resembles worms, and udon baked with shrimp, scallops and bacon in an approximation of a mac and cheese—tasty in small doses).

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The cheesy oven-baked udon is like KD, but way way better.

My go-to is the kake: room-temp noodles in a chilled broth with a generous grating of ginger and green onion. It’s the best way to appreciate the chewiness and springiness of the fresh noodles. I swear, you’ll be so mesmerized, you won’t notice you’re slurping cold soup.

5469 Yonge St., 416-229-6191, menami.ca

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The uptown izakaya hosts chef Hwan Jeong’s hand-pulled noodles.

 

Toronto's Best New Restaurants: Bar Begonia

Toronto’s Best New Restaurants: Bar Begonia

Bar Begonia

The prize for ugliest restaurant exterior goes to Anthony Rose’s newest location, his fourth in a handful of Dupont blocks. (Midtowners don’t seem to mind his monopoly.) But behind the grey stucco and greenhouse windows is a handsome room of marble-top tables, bistro chairs and an impressively stocked bar overseen by the Toronto Temperance Society cocktail wizard Oliver Stern.

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Classic steak frites in Bordelaise sauce.

To eat, there are breezily assured renditions of bistro standards: endive and shallot vinaigrette, mussels steamed in white wine, steak frites with a pool of bordelaise, and snacky bites like gougères and roasted veg to dip in aïoli. As at Rose’s other spots, Bar Begonia doesn’t take reservations, which is a pain when you’re stuck waiting outside, knowing the view inside is so much better.

252 Dupont St., 647-352-3337, barbegonia.com

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A savoury sardine tartine topped with sofrito and house-made aïoli.
tl

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