Chefs in the Burbs: The most popular hidden food gems of 2017

Chefs in the Burbs: The most popular hidden food gems of 2017

We went on the road with some of the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Here, this year’s most popular editions

Salima Jivraj

6 East Yorker, and the creator of Halal Foodie, Salima Jivraj, is one of the GTA’s foremost experts when it comes to halal cuisine. A Toronto-born Muslim, Jivraj identifies as Indian East-African. “My family is diverse,” she says. “We’re a reflection of our migration path from India to Tanzania to Canada.” She recently moved to Pickering but still calls East York her “foodie home.”


Go-to dish: Steak on fries from City Fried Chicken.
Tasting notes: This monstrous plate starts off with fries, slices of seasoned steak, peppers and cheese. It’s then liberally coated with a variety of sauces: mayo, barbecue sauce and house hot sauce. “Think of it as poutine, but the Toronto-halal version,” says Jivraj.

Looks like a twist on poutine alright.

See all of her favourite halal finds in East York

Robbie Hojilla

5 Chef Robbie Hojilla prides himself on knowing his way around Scarborough. The Quezon City–born chef moved there when he was seven years old, and spent most of his younger years moving around the suburb. “We lived in so many different parts of Scarborough, this is my home,” he says. When he’s not in the kitchen at Lake Inez, Hojilla hits up his favourite spots in Scarborough for Chinese and Filipino food, often taking fellow cooks along with him.


Go-to dish: Fried chicken and rice from Hung Food Cooking Ltd.
Tasting notes: A mountain of fried rice is hidden under thick strips of battered-and-fried chicken. “This could probably feed a family,” Hojilla says. “It did feed our family back then!”

The fried chicken and rice from Hung Foods. Suresh Doss

See all of his favourite Scarborough finds

Jackie Lin

4 Shoushin’s Guangzhou-born sushi chef Jackie Lin moved to Canada with his family when he was 12, settling in Scarborough. “I was never a downtown guy, I’ve always lived uptown,” Lin says. “Mostly because the food is great up here.” He shared his favourite places to find Chinese and Japanese food in Richmond Hill.


Go-to dish: Ultra-fatty Wagyu from FAMU butcher shop.
Tasting notes: Owner Seiko Ishiguro recommends you splurge on a few strips of Japanese Wagyu. “It’s so buttery, it doesn’t taste like meat at all,” Lin says. “It feels like a silk robe on your tongue.”

Ultra-marbled wagyu at FAMU.

See all of his favourite uptown finds

Massimo Bruno

3 A native of the port city of Bari in Italy’s Puglia region, Massimo Bruno knew he wanted to be a chef at the age of seven. After moving to Toronto in 2001, he worked at his aunt’s restaurant, Seven Numbers, for four years, and then opened the Massimo Bruno Supper Club, hosting nearly 100 dinners at his King East studio every year. Although Bruno lives in Toronto, he knows Italian-rich Woodbridge like the back of his hand.


Go-to dish: Cartellate con vin cotto (fried pastry rosettes coated in a wine syrup) from Aida’s Pine Valley Bakery.
Tasting notes: Bruno loves the sour and bitter flavours in this Puglian pastry, and recommends enjoying one with a shot of espresso.

Cartellate con vin cotto.

See all of his favourite Italian finds

Amreen and Seema Omar

2 Owners of the Bombay Street Food Co., sisters-in-law Amreen and Seema Omar, each developed a passion for food at a very early age. Both women were born to Gujarati parents, and their moms were very good cooks. “My family lived in southern India for a bit, too,” Amreen says, “So I was educated in both north- and south-Indian food.” They told us where to find the best Indian dishes in the burbs.


Go-to dish: Chili chicken from Federick.
Tasting notes: No trip to Federick is complete without a plate of this quintessential Indo-Chinese dish. There are two ways to order chili chicken: dry or wet. “I prefer the dry version because the outer shell is nice and crunchy, but the meat inside remains moist,” Seema says.

Chili chicken. Suresh Doss

See all of their favourite finds in Markham, Scarborough and East York

Jonathan Gushue

1 Born in St. John’s, Jonathan Gushue spent time cooking in the UK and Japan before moving to Cambridge to take over the kitchen at Langdon Hall, and eventually opening The Berlin in downtown Kitchener. “The city has changed a lot in the last few years, and the evolution has been beautiful to witness,” says Gushue. “There’s a vibrancy that didn’t exist five years ago.” He took us on a tour of his favourite spots in the Tri-City area.


Go-to dish: A sandwich from the Yeti Café.
Tasting notes: The café sells a dozen different breakfast sandwiches, including simple egg-and-bacon combos and grilled halloumi with smoked apple.

A breakfast bagel from the Yeti Café.

See all of his favourite finds in the Tri-City area