New Reviews: Don Don Izakaya, Pachuco Modmex and Hopgood’s Foodliner

New Reviews: Don Don Izakaya, Pachuco Modmex and Hopgood’s Foodliner

A Japanese izakaya to rival Guu Maritime comfort food and more haute tacos

130 Dundas St. W., 416-492-5292

Taiko drums and a chorus of Japanese greetings welcome diners as they walk into Toronto’s latest izakaya. Don Don is great fun, if you can get in—on weekends, wait times soar to 45 minutes or longer. Chef and co-owner Daisuke Izutsu, whose restaurant Kaiseki Sakura closed last year, works the floor with charisma, chatting with diners at the long communal tables opposite the open kitchen. His menu is fantastically adventurous and confident. For example, Hopetta-Yaki—mashed potatoes topped with chicken confit, gremolata, pickled ginger, shaved bonito, salty-sweet bulldog sauce and a squiggle of mayonnaise—is as addictive as it is unusual. Mackerel sashimi, charred tableside by a blowtorch-wielding showman of a server, is smoky and delicate. Desserts include velvety caramel flan and intense green tea mousse. Over 70 sakes are available, as well as 13 shochu cocktails. Small plates $5–$8.

Pachuco Modmex
99 Danforth Ave., 416-466-8006

The new restaurant tucked in the basement of long-time tapas spot Embrujo Flamenco (dancers can be heard hot-stepping across the ceiling) is snug and romantic—possibly a first for a Danforth taqueria. As the name suggests, the menu offers a modern take on Mexican food. Guacamole studded with smoked trout is inventive, well-balanced and addictive, especially with fresh house-made chips. Most tacos come with lovely, soft corn tortillas and a plate of your chosen protein for assembly at the table. The coffee-braised brisket filling is tender but doesn’t have much coffee punch. The mellow, sweet-hot chipotle-honey salsa beside it saves the plate. Huitlacoche, a dark black fungus that grows on corn and is prized as a delicacy, is rarely seen in Toronto. It makes an unusual, earthy filling for the vegetarian taco, slathered in thick, fiery arbol chili paste. Desserts are forgettable, but fresh strawberry-mint margaritas make an excellent stand-in (they could use more tequila, however). Closed Monday and Tuesday. Mains $15.

Hopgood’s Foodliner
325 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-2723

The great wall of Campbell’s soup cans and boxes of Triscuits on display at this new Roncesvalles restaurant is the culinary equivalent of an ironic moustache, and the crowd of late-20- and 30-somethings seems to be in on the joke. Chef-owner Geoff Hopgood, who used to make the Hoof Café’s famous brunches, has created a playful menu of Maritime comfort food. The Triscuits are served warm alongside an excellent hot crab dip that evokes church suppers from the ’70s. A Marmite marinade imparts earthy sweetness to albacore crudo, but a lack of acid prevents the fish from being truly great. Similarly, tender lamb heart tartare is subdued and mild instead of thrilling, although the addition of caramelized cream that’s been dehydrated and shaved like Parmesan is clever. Thick slices of corned beef come with soft baby turnips and sautéed turnip tops. It’s a pleasant dish, but it could use a hit of mustard. The trendy list of drinks includes cans of Labatt 50, a hoppy U.S. import called Brooklyn Monster Ale and bourbon cocktails. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Mains $19–$26.

(Images: Emma McIntyre)