Best New Restaurants 2022

The most exciting places to dine right now

After two-plus years of stop-start lockdowns, rain-soaked patio meals and more takeout than we’d consumed in our entire pre-2020 lives, it feels like an existential boost to have indoor dining back. It’s another milestone on the long road back to normalcy, and we’ve never been more grateful for every perfectly chilled martini, bracingly fresh shrimp cocktail, precisely medium-rare bavette or heap of hand-braided Sardinian lorighittas—the kind of dining that loses something when placed, however lovingly, into a takeout container. Dining out doesn’t come risk-free, of course. But many of us have simply decided that the risk is worth the reward—which is feeling like our pre-pandemic selves again. Because dining out has always been about more than sustenance: it’s how we network, date, nurture, destress, reconnect. It’s an elemental part of who we are as a city and society.

This year’s “Where to Eat Now” package celebrates the city’s new and remarkable dining spots. Here, we explore: successful sequels (or three-quels) from established operators cooking the Canadian or Italian or French fine-dining of their dreams; outstanding, pandemic-born pop-ups that became bricks-and-mortar businesses; a flurry of new pizzerias, bakeries and snack-slinging bodegas; and a sudden surfeit of steak frites, rarefied sushi options and restorative comfort food classics designed to help us get through whatever comes next.

The 2022 List

Osteria GiuliaFonda BalamPepper’s Food & DrinkSunnyside ProvisionsMaeli MarketOroshi Fish Co.Mimi ChineseKatsupanPizzeria BadialiSlowhand Sourdough PizzaPiccolo Piano PizzeriaMira Mira Diner VelaTwenty VictoriaThe Haifa RoomEmmerDear GrainNoctua BakeryThe Wood OwlOji SeichiShaker’s ClubBB’sMilouStock BarVilda’sCrumbs Patties

Osteria Giulia

A splash of sunlight from the Italian Riviera has brightened Avenue Road courtesy of Osteria Giulia, the latest Italian kitchen from chef Rob Rossi and business partner David Minicucci. Osteria Giulia replaced L’Unita Enoteca—the duo’s longtime neighbourhood favourite for old-school Italian—and comes four years after the opening of Giulietta, their excellent central Italian restaurant on College Street. It’s the youngest but most glamorous sibling in the family.

A meditation on the cuisine of Liguria in northern Italy, Rossi’s menu is an invigorating foray into the depths of the sea. It includes perhaps the purest seafood platter in town—a rotating selection of prawns, octopus, scallops and sardines. Served with only lemon, rock salt and top-shelf olive oil, the dish screams confidence: top-quality product treated with care. There’s more pageantry on other plates, as with the stunning, raw Hokkaido scallops in a pool of tangerine-coloured chili oil, topped with thin kumquat coins, fennel and agretti (sea grass). Everything on the plate complements the scallops without overwhelming their clean, creamy flavour.

Rossi likes taking occasional cues from the history books: vitello tonnato, in its ’70s heyday, was a Piedmontese dish of thick, well-done veal beneath an ultra-rich tuna sauce. Rossi’s version subs in thinly shaved, slow-cooked veal that’s still pink—so much so that he calls it carpaccio—topped with an ethereal pool of confited tuna emulsified with olive oil that makes veal and tuna seem like the most natural of pairings.

Like the food, the room is all understated, effortless elegance with a luxurious milk and honey palette. The result is almost soothing: think blond oak, Italian limestone and ivory wool wrapped around acoustic panelling, which keeps a lid on the lively din—after two years, we had almost forgotten what a packed dining room sounded like. 134 Avenue Rd. osteriagiulia.ca


Fonda Balam

After making a name for themselves heading up the kitchens of some of the city’s trendier Mexican spots, then fuelling last summer’s birria taco craze at a Matty Matheson–backed pop-up, chef couple Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo finally have a place to call their own. But it’s neither a taqueria nor a fussy affair—it’s a fonda, a casual eatery serving up the street food and home cooking popular in Léon, the city Guajardo is from. There’s no other dining room like it in Toronto: every seat is a counter seat, giving it a retro train-station-diner feel. The room buzzes with customer chatter and cutlery clatter, the food is messy, the margaritas are bracing—and it’s immensely fun.

While you’re probably here for the birria, don’t bypass the coctel de camarón: a glass goblet filled to the brim with chubby little Nordic shrimp swimming in a savoury sea of spicy tomato sauce along with chunks of creamy avocado, crunchy cucumber, red onion and jalapeño. Paired with saltines and fried tortilla chips for scooping, it’s an addictive assortment of textures and flavours, each bite setting off happy fireworks on your tongue. 802 Dundas St. W., fondabalam.com


Trend Watch: The best new bodegas

Pepper’s Food & Drink

Pepper’s Food & Drink

This west-end gem is the closest thing Toronto has to an American roadside stop—and we mean that in the best way. It’s a variety store that sells hard-to- find snacks like Dunkaroos. It’s a bottle shop stocked with local beer, VQA wine and sake. But it’s also a lunch counter cooking up Hawaiian, Filipino and Japanese comfort food: chili cheese dogs, fried chicken with mac salad, and daily specials—beef kaldereta with lumpia, picadillo with tostones—that highlight the chefs’ backgrounds and specialities. 189 Wallace Ave., @peppers.189

Sunnyside Provisions

Sunnyside Provisions

A trip to Roncy’s new general store is a romp. Stop in for some milk or butter and just try to leave without imported candy bars, frozen house-made meals, tubs of soft serve or a bottle of orange wine. There’s beer and cider on tap so you can sip while you shop, and a to-go menu that includes fish and chips, poutine and a salad that will really win you friends: Dave’s Salad Fries brings a pile of shoe- strings under leafy greens, tomato chunks, banana peppers and onions—both pickled and crispy. 287 Roncesvalles Ave., sunnysideprovisions.ca

Maeli Market

Maeli Market

Tucked at the base of a North York parking garage is a market that sources all of its 5,000-plus items from Taiwan, including cookware, beauty products and, most important, food. Fridges and freezers are full of staples (fermented tofu, fried bean curd); shelves are stocked with instant noodles, bubble tea kits and fruit vinegars. In the centre of it all—and shaped like the island nation—is a kitchen serving to-go snacks (tea eggs, popcorn chicken), bento boxes and soft serve in flavours like papaya milk.
18 William Sylvester Dr., maelimarket.com

Oroshi Fish Co.

Owners Jeff Kang (of the now-closed Après Wine Bar and, before that, Canis) and Jason Ching and Edward Bang (the team behind Baldwin Village’s Omai) initially conceived of Oroshi Fish Co. as a bulk-buying operation for ultra-high grade fish, with a takeout sushi bar as something of a side hustle. It wasn’t just about merging their purchasing power; the team wanted a dedicated space for dry-aging top-notch seafood for their restaurants, a process that elevates high-grade fish to the peak of its potential—just like a good steak. But things didn’t quite go as planned: shortly after opening in February, they could barely keep up with the demand for their dry-aged fish, and they decided to roll with it. Now, they run one of the best sushi counters in town.

For a tour of Oroshi’s greatest hits, get the omakase set for two, which comes with a pair of conveniently wrapped handrolls perfect for impatiently devouring on your way home. It’s arranged in eating order: working up from leaner pieces, like sea bream or bay scallop, keeps your palate from being overwhelmed by the richness of the fattier, more luxuriant cuts to come. Bluefin tuna is a main attraction here. It’s available in three varieties of nigiri or sashimi—meaty akami (lean), balanced chutoro (medium fatty), and luxurious otoro (fatty). Likewise, the steelhead belly sashimi comes in an intricate crosshatch pattern that breaks up its ultra-rich texture.

The sushi counter may have taken the spotlight, but Oroshi more than fulfils its original mission as a fish commissary: whole dry-aged fish are available for purchase, along with neatly prepped portions intended for at-home sushi-making. Given the enthusiasm with which Torontonians have embraced Oroshi’s dry-aging philosophy, you’re best off ordering in advance, though you might be able to snag a walk-in order. Head into the alley, look for the blue door, and prepare to have all other sushi spoiled for you. 962 College St., oroshifishco.com


Mimi Chinese

Before Mimi Chinese, there was Sunny’s—a mega-successful pop-up specializing in regional Chinese cuisine. Sunny’s was a takeout-friendly pandemic pivot for executive chef David Schwartz and co.; Mimi Chinese, with its sumptuous red velvet booths, dramatic black walls and bow-tied servers (not to be confused with MiMi Restaurant, the longstanding East Chinatown Vietnamese spot) was their plan all along. For a city long-starved of the pleasure of dining in, a restaurant like Mimi—dripping with style, and as much about the theatre of dining as the food—is a place to finally clear the cobwebs of lockdown.

The food is a breathtaking tour of China’s culinary regions—and labelled with each dish’s place of origin. Order whole sea bass under a thick blanket of house-fermented chilis and you’re transported to Hunan with its famously fiery food. A milder bass, steamed before its skin is scalded with scallion oil and topped with soy broth, evokes the subtler flavours of Guangdong. Schwartz and chef de cuisine Braden Chong largely adhere to traditional recipes: this food is about authenticity (with a few stylistic tweaks), not elevation.

One upside of a menu dedicated to regionality is the chance to try dishes you may not immediately associate with Chinese cuisine. Case in point: the yellowtail kingfish, served raw and thinly sliced. You might think of Japanese-style sashimi, but Guangdong has its own tradition of raw fish. Mimi’s ultra high-grade yellowtail swims in a pool of vivid green ginger oil, over a sauce of fermented soybean and rice, and topped with finely minced cucumber and chayote—little jewels redolent of caviar.Rotating specials keep the menu fresh, but reliable mainstays are its backbone. Among these is the four-foot belt noodle—yes, the dish’s name.

A full spread at Mimi Chinese hints at the breadth and jaw-dropping deliciousness of China’s culinary repertoire is literal—coated in a spicy, Sichuan chili oil and cut into more manageable pieces tableside. Another is the char siu, which takes three days of brining, marinating and roasting to emerge in its final form: meltingly tender pork, glazed in Ontario wildflower honey and served with caramelized soybean. Charred cabbage is a sleeper hit; its blistered edges—coated in aged black vinegar, sweet soy, cumin and Sichuan chili—make for an intensely flavourful bite. No outing is complete without some baiju, a sorghum- based spirit that is the world’s most-consumed liquor, though underrepresented in Toronto’s fine-dining rooms—until now. 265 Davenport Rd., mimichinese.com


Katsupan

Along with the birria taco, the katsu sando has become one of the culinary hallmarks of the pandemic diet. The crustless Japanese sandwiches were flying out of pop-up kitchens, wine bars, breweries and even, last summer, a shipping-container kitchen in McCormick Park. Sensing an opportunity (and facing a pandemic layoff), Wilson Shin decided to leave his fine-dining background (which included stints at George, and New York’s Eleven Madison Park) and open a sandwich shop in Scarborough’s Sky City Shopping Centre dedicated to the art of the sando.

The secret is Shin’s shokupan, the square, light-as-air loaves of milk-enriched white bread that form the base for any authentic sando. Each one takes three days to make, but the payoff is clear when biting into one of the bready bundles. The prawn katsu sando is a marvel of texture—the cloud-like bread contrasting beautifully against the fried prawn patty, its salty crunch cut with a schmear of red chili sauce and Kewpie mayo; and the egg salad sando is a reminder that temperature and colour—the freshly steamed bread against the cool, bright-yellow yolks—can be vital ingredients. Both reach even greater heights when dunked in a bowl of Japanese curry. There’s no seating, so you’ll have little choice but to eat in your car, with gravy splatters and togarashi flakes from the seasoned fries dusting your upholstery—though, in that moment, nothing could be better. 3262 Midland Ave., katsupan.ca



Trend Watch: The best new pizza spots

Pizzeria Badiali

Pizzeria Badiali

Anyone living on Dovercourt already had Bernhardt’s and, more recently, its sister sandwich shop down the street, Vilda’s, to brag about. Now they also have what could be the city’s most beautiful pizzeria. Housed in a gorgeous corner-lot Victorian, it’s where Ryan Baddeley serves up whole New York–style pies made with two-day-fermented dough. For the classic experience, and some excellent people-watching, take your salty slice of pepperoni and a cold bottle of Brio to the patio. 181 Dovercourt Rd., pizzeriabadiali.com

Slowhand Sourdough Pizza

Slowhand Sourdough Pizza

In 2020, Toronto pals Dan Ewing and Brett Feeley launched a pizza business out of their home kitchens. Two years later, they finally have a permanent place for their eye-catching creations, which synthesize Roman-style slabs and super-cheesy Detroit-style pan pies, with a deceptively light sourdough crust. There’s no mistaking the crunchy, cheesy corners, especially the Peter Piper with pickled peppers, pepperoni cups, black pepper, dollops of creamy ricotta and a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey. 99 Pape Ave., slowhandpizza.ca

Piccolo Piano Pizzeria

Piccolo Piano Pizzeria

Last fall, Victor Barry transformed Café Cancan into a place where pizza comes first. The room’s Pepto-pink walls were coated in carmine red and hung with a neon sign proclaiming “pizza is life,” which we can’t argue with. Now it’s less Barbie’s dream bistro, more Venetian bordello. Crusts are cooked in a wood-fired oven at a blistering 1,000-degrees Fahrenheit, until they’re super-soft and bursting with bubbles. The ham-and-cheese, with Berkshire pork, cheddar, hazelnuts and a whole lot of brown butter is a hit. 89 Harbord St., @piccolopianopizzeria

 

Mira Mira Diner

The past few years have been particularly unkind to Toronto’s dwindling supply of vintage diners. Since early 2020, we’ve lost the Tulip, Mars Food and Bloor Jane Restaurant, to name a few. As hard done by as the city’s steak-and-eggs crowd might feel, there’s a new wave of diners on the ascendancy, led by Riverside’s excellent White Lily Diner and now Mira Mira, in a peach-hued former bank building in the Beaches, from chef Amira Becarevic and partner Justin Cheung.

Like all good diners, Mira Mira is a family-friendly spot, with a thoughtful and wholesome kid’s menu and grown-up fare that combines diner standards and sturdy homestyle classics. A cross-hatched, smoked pork chop comes with a feather-light purée of brown-butter sweet potatoes and cardamom-poached peaches. The banquet burger, topped with smoked cheddar and bacon, comes with potato coins—the ideal hybrid of fry and chip. And, yes, there’s a very good steak-and-eggs, drizzled with an umami-packed brandy-and-miso-peppercorn cream sauce and paired with poached asparagus—a slightly more enlightened take on a classic. Perhaps most important, it’s served at any hour. 1963 Queen St. E., eatmiramira.com


Vela

The universe hasn’t quite delivered on the post-pandemic Roaring Twenties we were promised, but you can get a taste of them at Vela, the sleek and sassy King West spot from industry vets Amanda Bradley and Robin Goodfellow. When Vela opened last summer, the province was in the middle of one wave or another, which meant the grandeur of the dining room was lost to CafeTO patio seating, the only kind allowed at the time. The room was inspired by hotel lobby bars of yore and it’s something of a marvel. Built-in LED lighting, soft and white, swoops up curvy walls, over banquettes and marble-topped tables, continuing along the undulating ceiling in parallel streams—the effect is like a long-exposure shot of a busy highway at night.

It would all distract from the food, if not for the fact that the food is pretty great. The menu includes some classic hotel hits: shrimp cocktail, a wedge salad, striploin steak. The Iberico pork collar was a recent standout—a juicy marbled cut, served with smoky savoy cabbage and cheesy polenta. (Who needs frites when there’s cheesy polenta?) And don’t skip the spicy eggplant. It’s dressed with pecorino and funky ’nduja, and it gives off some real eggplant parm vibes. Sitting at the chef’s counter, listening to the fun banter of the cooks on the other side and sipping a champagne cocktail is the fanciest we’ve felt in a very long time. 90 Portland St., velatoronto.com


Twenty Victoria

The closure of Brothers during our first pandemic summer sent shockwaves through Toronto’s food scene. After opening in 2016, Jonathan Nicolaou and Chris White’s Bay Street bistro quickly developed a loyal following for its changing menu, interesting wines and unpretentious service. The closure wasn’t entirely Covid’s fault, though. Nicolaou and White were nearing the end of a five-year lease and the building was sold. The pandemic did, however, rob them of the chance to go out in style with one last supper. Instead, they did what every other restaurant was scrambling to do: they pivoted to takeout, putting as much of Brothers as they could in to-go containers. There was an amuse bouche, there were wine pairings, there was even a downloadable playlist punctuated with the sounds of a busy downtown restaurant. It was as good as it was going to get, but it wasn’t the send-off anyone had hoped for.

At the same time, they were sitting on a lease for a new space at the base of the old Imperial Life Building, where they finally got the chance to welcome guests last summer—with white-tablecloth service at the city’s most coveted CafeTO patio. Now, Twenty Victoria is the only reason to visit this downtown block that doesn’t involve renewing a piece of government ID.

It’s bigger than Brothers but with fewer seats—down from 30 to 22—divided between a dining room, where a multi-course tasting menu is served, and a few bar tables saved for walk-ins, where guests order from an equally stellar à la carte menu. This time, Nicolaou—who recently parted ways with the restaurant— passed the torch to chef Julie Hyde, who has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens and was brought over from Brothers, where she was being groomed to take on a larger role here. Hyde’s menu changes daily, depending on her whims and what’s available. One spring evening, that meant scallop crudo swimming with crunchy endive in a decadent scallop cream, a bundle of velvety pappardelle balanced by bitter Swiss chard in a white wine and butter pan sauce, and a venison tartare finished with peppery daikon. Each ingredient has a story, down to the strawberries in the cheese course compote, grown on a Brantford farm where White showed up bright and early to get the best of the bunch.

Every aspect of a night at Twenty Victoria, from the stellar service to the sublime food and the relaxed pace at which it can be enjoyed (they don’t turn tables here), is a reminder of what restaurant experiences like this mean to us and how much we missed them. 20 Victoria St., @twentyvictoria


The Haifa Room

The Haifa Room is a geopolitical statement wrapped around a Middle Eastern restaurant. Perched at the top of the Ossington strip in the historic Waltman’s Drug building, it’s named in honour of the third-largest city in Israel, a city often hailed as an exemplar of Palestinian-Israeli co-existence and prosperity. It’s a dynamic mirrored in the restaurant’s owners, all veterans of Toronto kitchens with their own ties to Haifa: Waseem Dabdoub and Fadi Hakim are Palestinian; Joseph Eastwood and chef Jason Hemi are Israeli. “Do we fight? Sure. We fight about glassware,” Dabdoub said when the restaurant opened for dine-in service last fall.

It’s a good line, but there is no disagreement over the appeal of Hemi’s menu, which pays homage to both cuisines with playful, imaginative takes on some of the region’s most iconic flavours. His silken hummus is dressed with seasonal accoutrements, like fried Brussels sprouts, slivers of preserved orange and a hit of chili salt. The crisp falafel are as verdant as Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens, and are best sandwiched inside one of the locally made pitas. The show-stopper is Hemi’s spiced lamb shoulder, which is meant to be picked at and pulled apart and stuffed into DIY shawarma pockets with plenty of garlicky toum and harissa-spiked tahini, chased with something from the concise drinks list.

About those drinks: because of a staffing snafu on the heels of the Omicron lockdown, there was no bartender to whip up the Figues Dizmur we ordered before our meal—just one of the realities of dining out in a not-yet-post-pandemic world. But a backup bartender swooped in mid-meal and gamely went to work on the house cocktail. Made with fig-infused gin, it was one of the best martinis we had this year—super smooth, a touch sweet and garnished with a blue- cheese olive, as harmonious as Haifa itself. 224 Ossington Ave., thehaifaroom.com


 


Trend Watch: The best new bakeries

Emmer

Emmer

Like any good sourdough, this Harbord Street bakery-restaurant was a long time in the making. Three years passed from when baker-owner Philip Haddad started sharing head-turning shots of his test bakes until the doors finally opened—but it was worth the wait. The bread is spectacular, the volleyball-sized country white in particular. But what really stokes the lineups are the patisserie and viennoiserie items, including the out-of-this-world pistachio croissant; and a sensational patty melt on marble rye. 161 Harbord St., emmertoronto.ca

Dear Grain

Dear Grain

Hamilton’s Dear Grain made its big move to Toronto with the opening of a splashy “sourdough studio” on Ossington. The name is apt: this is much more a showroom for high-end carbs than a traditional bakery. Adri Greenspan’s loaves are the main attraction: he’s a true sourdough savant, able to coax exceptional flavours and textures from humble ingredients. Look no further than his multigrain porridge pan loaf and boundary-pushing creations like his cheesy parmesan-and-fig loaf. 48 Ossington Ave., deargrain.com

Noctua Bakery

Noctua Bakery

Venezuelan-born baker Daniel Sáez developed a following at the start of the pandemic, when he sold his loaves out of a Junction restaurant. Later, he found a permanent home down the street, in what used to be Vesuvio’s. Where people once lined up to get a last slice from the 63-year-old pizzeria, they now wait for Sáez’s boules, morning buns and croissants (one of which shares its DNA with a churro). Some days, Sáez pays homage to the bakery’s predecessor by selling square slices of pizza. 3014 Dundas St. W., noctuabreadproject.com

 

The Wood Owl

The team behind Danforth’s laid-back gastropub the Wren secured the space next door for a sister bar just before the pandemic, but a slew of delays put off its opening until last fall. Since then, the Wood Owl has come into its own as the Wren’s more refined counterpart, complete with a killer wine program, a tight, creative menu, and a cozy interior decked out in hardwood panelling and antique chandeliers.

Sommelier Darryl Crawford champions winemakers from relatively obscure regions, like Penedès (Spain) and Irouléguy (France), with a penchant for sharp, structured, high-minerality wines. Complementing the sips is chef Tabitha Cranney’s menu of snackables, including an excellent chicken liver mousse with all the fixings: housemade challah, cornichons, apple cranberry jelly. There’s always a crudo of some kind—a recent iteration was gorgeous high-grade tuna with a zippy supporting cast of ponzu, avocado, chilis and furikake. And on the heartier side, there’s grilled skirt steak with a deep, savoury tarragon demi-glace and crispy pommes allumette. Pair it with a lush, tannic tempranillo from central Spain’s Ribera Del Duero region and revel in the timeless harmony of good food, compelling wine and beautiful spaces. 1380 Danforth Ave., @thewoodowlto


Oji Seichi

It was probably fair to assume Toronto’s ramen boom had ended, what with fine options in nearly every corner of the GTA, from Momofuku Noodle Bar to the multitude of Kintons and Santoukas and Konjikis and Isshins. Slowed, perhaps. But more recent arrivals like the Kyoto-style Musoshin, which landed on Roncesvalles in 2020, and the standout Oji Seichi, which hit East Chinatown last summer, seem to have refreshed our appetite.

Oji Seichi is the latest endeavour from chef Mitch Bates, previously of Kensington’s Grey Gardens and Momofuku kitchens both here and in New York. It’s named in tribute to his wife’s great uncle Seichi, who would no doubt be proud of the painstaking work being carried out in his name. Bates has always been an extremely technical, precise chef, and while most ramen chefs obsess over the composition of their broth, his white whale is the perfect noodle. He and co-owner Shawn Irvine even imported a $50,000 Japanese noodle machine, roughly the size of a small car, to achieve the perfect shape, texture and flavour; he named it Midori, and it’s proving to be a worthwhile investment.

This much is obvious upon the first slurp from one of Bates’s bowls. His paitan ramen is made with a creamy hybrid pork-turkey stock that tastes like chicken soup on steroids—the best cure-for-what-ails-you since Paxlovid—for which Bates churns out sturdy buckwheat Hakata noodles that are so well suited to the thicker broth. The classic noodles he uses in his Tokyo-style shio and shoyu broth, meanwhile, are a blend of high protein Canadian white, wheat and rye.

But perhaps the most craveable thing at Oji Seichi has nothing to do with noodles, broth or Midori. It’s the shrimp sandy, Bates’s rendition of the fast-food shrimp burgers that appear on menus all over Asia. It’s a thin patty of ground shrimp that’s mixed with pork fat and tucked into a potato roll with shredded lettuce, curried mayo and pickles. You could eat 10 if you weren’t careful. Once a mainstay, it’s been retired, and now might occasionally return as a limited-time special—talk about a white whale. 354 Broadview Ave., @ojiseichi


Shaker’s Club

This is the second project in as many years for Leemo Han and Ihn Huh. It’s a sandwich shop by day, Korean restaurant by night. As usual, the space exudes Han’s signature aesthetic—awash in the soft glow of neon signs and decked out with vintage furniture and fixtures. Hip-hop music plays overhead, interrupted every so often by the clanging rat-a-tat-tat of ribeye beef being chopped on the flat top. Lunchtime brings Philly cheesesteaks (pay a bit extra to add a long hot, a sort-of spicy Italian pepper that cuts through each gloriously greasy bite) and hoagies like the Big Country, loaded with ham, oven-roasted turkey breast, American cheese and a layer of deep-fried pickles. The full-size, almost comically large, is either a two-person or two-day affair.

When the clock strikes six, the menu and mood shift. Sade croons as servers bring out plates, some inspired by the home cooking of Mama Han, Leemo’s mom. There’s a bone-in, Panko-crusted tonkatsu of epic proportions, pre-cut in bite-sized strips and put back in place like a porky puzzle. It comes with a gravy boat full of a sweet and savoury mushroom-onion demi-glace to drizzle and some cabbage slaw dressed in Shaker’s “mac sauce.” And the jeon, a dinner plate–sized Korean-style pancake made with thinly cut coins of zucchini and punched up with house XO sauce, is a delicious work of art. Whether you’re there for lunch or dinner, you’re going to get very thirsty. To drink, there are mugs of Sapporo, cans of crisp beer and a few house cocktails, but when you see New York Seltzer on a menu, you grab that fizzy, fruit-flavoured bull by the horns. 1261 Bloor St. W., @shakersclub.1261

Editor’s note: Shaker’s Club will be closed until May 30, as the crew is on a research trip to prepare for the reopening of Pinky’s Ca Phe. Mac’s Pizza, which operates out of the same address, will remain open.


BB’s

When the short-lived but much-loved BB’s Diner closed a few months into the pandemic, its fans were left reeling from garlic fried rice withdrawal. But BB’s is back, babies, in the base- ment of what used to be Parts and Labour. Owner Justin Bella has turned the space into a hub for Filipinx culture. Most of the week it’s home to Sari Not Sari, a nightclub where people dance to DJs and do shots of Jameson. On weekends, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., it turns into BB’s, where friends catch up over coconutty french toast, chattering children tuck into piles of Filipinx spaghetti and party people from the night before nurse hangovers with tamarind-splashed caesars and silog.

Chef Robbie Hojilla makes the classic breakfast here with things like house-made longanisa or fried milkfish. The corned-beef version—cornsilog—comes with two fried eggs, tender meat punctuated by hash browns, garlic rice, tangy atchara and an obligatory puddle of ketchup. Fried chicken, inspired by Jollibee’s (but better), comes with sweet-hot pineapple-habanero sauce on the side. And there are weekly specials, like pancit molo, shrimp-and-pork wontons swimming in a garlicky broth with rotisserie chicken and chicharon crumbles. It was a deeply comforting dish on a wintery Sunday in spring. 1566 Queen St. W., @bbs.bbs.bbs.bbs.bbs


Milou

Before the pandemic, Mikey Kim was cooking his classically trained brand of French-Korean food at his eponymous Uncle Mikey’s in Brockton Village. First came the pivot to takeout meals and his own line of kimchi; then came a bigger pivot, when his restaurant became Uncle Mikey’s Bodega, a full-fledged natural wine merchant. But there were bigger changes afoot. Itching to return to his French culinary roots, Kim took over a spot in Little Portugal and set about turning it into an honest-to-goodness bistro, called Milou.

After a spell as a gourmet grocery store and takeout operation, Milou briefly opened for dine-in last summer, and found its groove this spring, becoming a neighbourhood hub serving food from morning until night. A Friday afternoon in the dining room, accented Roland Garros green, might bring together groups of “working from home” creatives snacking on wedge salads and tempura mushroom sandwiches, and, one table over on a chilly March day, a longtime neighbourhood resident reading the National Post over a bowl of Kim’s exceptionally rich French onion soup. It’s a true gathering spot for all ages—the kind of place we missed most.

Perhaps most of all, we missed little delights like the hot-from-the-oil fries that join a thick-cut medium-rare bavette in Kim’s steak frites; in a city suddenly rich in steak frite options—it’s a dish with good margins—Kim’s is the best of the bunch. Ditto his croque madame—an aesthetic marvel that piles thick-sliced brioche, country ham and Dijon in a rustic stack, beneath a gloriously decadent cap of bechamel, melty Swiss and a quivering fried egg that you’ll feel guilty (but not too guilty) cutting into. 1375 Dundas St. W., @milou.to


Stock Bar

The restaurant menu has been through hell over the past two years. Some physically became QR codes; the contents of others were condensed in response to staffing shortages, soaring food costs and supply chain hiccups. All of which makes a visit to Stock Bar feel like a trip back in time to 2019. This menu has undergone no such paring, neither in its dimensions nor in the breadth of its offerings. The whole experience feels fully pre-pandemic.

Stock Bar is spread across three floors of Stock T.C., the Midtown complex run by Cosimo Mammoliti (of Terroni), Stephen Alexander (of Cumbrae’s) and their teams, longstanding powerhouses of Italian cuisine and butchery. Yes, it might seem unconventional to mix pizzas and pastas with steaks and chophouse sides, but this is a choose-your-own- adventure meal with no incorrect path. Mandarin orange-sized gnocco fritto sharing the table with seared steak tartare? Sure—in fact, those puffed-up pockets of fried dough make an excellent hidey-hole for the coarsely chopped steak, lit up with a streak of extra-hot mustard. Equally renowned is the Burger Royale; made from sirloin, chuck and dry-aged rib cap, it’s among the most decadent patties in town. 2388 Yonge St., stocktc.com


Vilda’s

Since relocating from Montreal and opening the Harbord Street French spot Dreyfus in 2019, Zachary Kolomeir and Carmelina Imola have barely stopped moving. In late 2020, they opened a rotisserie chicken joint, Taverne Bernhardt’s on Dovercourt; this spring, they followed with a takeaway-only sandwich, salad and ice cream counter across the street. What is consistent across their trio of restaurants is a unique Franco- Judaic sensibility, where sauce gribiche mingles casually with perfectly puffy potato knishes. Vilda’s—cut from the Yiddish saying vilde chaye, or wild child—is the most casual.

There’s a veg-forward slant to the menu, with rotating salads featuring roasted brassicas or fennel and dandelion greens or whatever’s in season served by the deli container. But if you’re here, odds are you’re in for one of chef Thomas Creery’s rotating sandwiches, including one built on a base of Chicago 58 beef salami, smoked cheddar and spicy aïoli; a hearty roasted squash tower slathered with that yolky gribiche on a Harbord Bakery onion roll; and, the headliner earlier this year, a brisket cheesesteak hoagie, a tightly rolled torpedo of thin-shaved beef, honey mustard and Thousand Island. And yes, you should throw a potato-filled knish in your bag for good measure. 209 Dovercourt Rd., vildastoronto.com


Crumbs Patties

When Randy’s closed earlier this year (despite Drake’s offer to buy the biz) it left a half-moon hole in many hearts. Enter Pierre St. Rose’s new Kensington Market patty counter, once a Yonge-Dundas staple that became a pandemic-times pop-up. Its new permanent space, painted in pastry-crust yellow, is just big enough to fit two ovens, a prep counter and St. Rose himself.

The patties come in beef, curry chicken and veggie, but it’s really what’s on the outside that counts: St. Rose’s shells, which get an egg-white wash, are thicker, flakier and more buttery than their brethren. For something seriously substantial, there’s the Crumbs Deluxe Patty, stuffed with cheese, lettuce and tomato before being crammed into a warm coco bread bun. The beef version—finished with ketchup, mustard, mayo and house hot sauce—is a little bit patty, a little bit burger and 100-percent Kensington. 160 Baldwin St., @crumbspatties