The best restaurants on Queen West

The best restaurants on Queen West

Our top tables along the bustling downtown strip

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163 Spadina Ave., 3rd Floor, 416-260-2222,

Patrick Kriss’s aerie above the helter-skelter of Queen and Spadina is home to one of the most singular restaurant experiences in this city or any other. The wines range deep into small-producer, sustainable vintages. The servers are effortlessly polished and warm. And the menu of 10 courses, plus the occasional spontaneous addition, is a relative bargain at $135 (there’s also a slightly longer, more expensive menu for those who want counter seats at the open kitchen). One night this past summer started with an amuse of Raspberry Point oysters dotted with plum vinegar and wild chamomile petals, and a gold mirrored plate of savoury petit four. Matters grew only more exquisite: fluke sashimi lightly cured with a yuzu dressing and studded with a few flecks of coriander stem; meatier chunks of amberjack spritzed with finger lime and garnished with curling, finely julienned cucumber and radish; summer niblets, Saltspring mussels and chanterelle in a broth of smoked butter and a yukon gold espuma; Wagyu rib cap, competing in richness with a pool of black sesame, dashi and roasted eggplant; plus a series of desserts, the highlight a bowl of strawberries four ways: a dry-roasted sheet, macerated, a jelly, and a swirl of ice cream. By the end, as the elevator delivers you back to reality, you’ll be planning your return.

163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-3444,

Aloette is a mini-Alo only insofar as the menu will never leave you bored. It’s unfussy but terrifically delicious: lusciously meaty Burgundy snails in a bowl of Puy lentils, greens and a squirt of lemon; scallop sashimi served on mini-tostadas with crema, diced apple and jalapeño; pulled lamb shoulder, crispy, fatty and tender, tossed in a salad of Israeli couscous, slices of orange, chili, ras el hanout, yogurt dressing, and leaves of mint and basil. The talk of the town, however, is the burger, topped with fried cheese and pickled vidalia onions, the bun house-made, the side of fries double-crisped.

60 Sudbury St., 416-586-1188,

Chef Luke Donato preps a first-rate choucroute with a white sausage stuffed with veal and another stuffed with foie gras; petal-thin slices of hamachi crudo and pebbles of cuke, dressed with a lemon emulsion; and a grand slab of two-months-aged côte de boeuf. But once you encounter an artist like pastry chef Cori Osborne, formerly of Alo, the thing that matters most is what comes last. The two meal-ending standouts are her slice of spiced baba au rhum topped with a wave of white-chocolate ganache, mini-cubes of pineapple and micro basil, and her sugar-dusted Paris-Brest, the finest doughnut known to humankind: two choux layers sandwiching hazelnut cream studded with flakes of feuilletine. For all the work Osborne puts into them, they’re not unduly precious—you don’t feel guilty taking up a fork. The room is a beauty, too, with its cognac banquettes and walls dressed in a toile depicting Toronto’s unsung icons—raccoons, Honest Ed’s and the Zanzibar.

746 Queen St. W., 416-203-3317,

Jeff Kang’s early cooking, influenced by Nordic cuisine, the locavore movement and his background in big-hotel fine dining, has evolved into something uniquely his: highly seasonal, dazzlingly plated, effortlessly modern. One recent tasting menu included a tart of side-stripe shrimp hiding under nasturtium leaves, a summery salad of garam masala–dusted lobster, cucumber and radish dressed with XO-garum sauce, halibut and garlic scapes in a lovage velouté, and a bone-in veal strip drizzled with jus and sided with sweet carrot coins and tart bursts of preserved currants. The night’s stunner was a bowl of fresh-shucked English peas cooked in whey and tossed with red and white currants, slices of pea pods, spicy ground lamb and a slick of yogurt. It was elegant and original and gone in moments—sure proof of a brilliant chef.

1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100,

As light filters through the factory windows, a complimentary loaf of soft, warm sourdough hits the table, followed by a menu so short and joy-inducing, you’d think it was edited by Marie Kondo. This respite in the middle of the Drake-Gladstone party zone belongs to chef Jason Carter. There are often surprise wild ingredients, like the forest of bitter, pine-green agretti on a wild turbot fillet pan-seared until a crackling gold crust forms, or the dainty baby artichoke hearts whose pink centres match the sparkling squares of tuna tataki beneath them. By the time dessert arrives—wild blueberries on dense butter cake with lemon verbena ice cream—you get it: less really can be more.

Drake Hotel
1150 Queen St W., 416-531-5042,

The art hotel and party hub that’s defined Toronto’s hipster culture for more than a decade still turns out very good food and drink. Executive chef Ted Corrado’s menus cater to every  potential dining need, from açai bowls for early-morning go-getters, to splurge-level pub dishes at night. There’s even a standalone snack menu meant to be paired with post-work pints and the Drake’s original cocktails: the slow-sipping old-fashioned with brown butter-infused bourbon, cigar tincture and mole bitters is deserving of a visit on its own.

669 Queen St. W., 647-346-2377,

Lester Sabilano and Daniel Cancino have a valuably rare understanding of how colonial history influences a cuisine’s flavours (in this case, the Spanish-Chinese-Malaysian mélange of the Philippines) and more important, how those flavours can be sold to a mainstream audience. Pancit, a typically egg-heavy noodle dish, is lightened up with a handful of green peas, chopped mint and red chili. The pork inasal—7 Up-marinated pork chop grilled, chopped and tossed with cooked pineapple and pearl onions—is sticky, sweet and excellent. For dessert, there’s halo-halo, a colourful sundae of strawberry jelly, purple taro ice cream and sugar-soaked mung beans, every ingredient of which is house-made.

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

Candles are the primary source of light in this windowless dining room, defying Instagrammers. Chef Guy Rawlings advocates food sustainability and zero waste, so his cooking, it follows, is unlike anything around; he’s preoccupied with dry aging, curing and fermentation, and the results are often as pucker-inducing as they are tasty. His duck breast, aged four weeks and accompanied by wedges of pickled radish, is first rate, as is an even meatier entrée of wild rice and maitake mushrooms pan-fried in smoked fat. He pours a rich, clear broth of chicken, beef and pork, and his own chamomile malt vinegar, over charred baby romaine; while the vinegar for a bright salad of summer peas, house-cured lamb bacon and crème fraîche is made, amazingly, from coffee—it’s delicious.

785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773,

Diners sit on red plastic stools at a communal table under a canopy of Thai flags and kick back with a lemongrass rum cocktail. For his chicken laab, Monte Wan swaps out the usual fine-ground meat for deep-fried breaded chunks, like gourmet morsels of KFC. Khao soi rates a cut above for the rich depth of the broth and the crispiness of its deep-fried chicken cutlet. The dish that sums the place up is an irreverent variation on pad Thai that Wan calls pad mama, a tangled heap of thin noodles and scored sections of hot dog that, in the heat of the pan, open into garish pink blossoms.

Rickshaw Bar
685 Queen St. W., 647-352-1227,

Noureen Feerasta’s menu skips merrily across the Indian Subcontinent. Mung bean chaat salad, crunch on crunch, with sweetly savoury tamarind and ginger, would make any bhel puri wala proud. Spicy fried chicken thighs have their deep, delicious gochujang and Kashmiri chili flavour offset by cooling jicama slices, and the Ismaili beef curry is dynamite. Falooda—rose water and vanilla bean gelato—receives added richness from the presence of malai, an intense clotted cream.

720 Queen St. W., 416-504-1992,

The flagship Terroni on Queen West still runs like a well-oiled machine: the atmosphere is relaxed, the service is friendly and competent, and the kitchen consistently produces well-executed southern Italian plates—a significant accomplishment given the massive menu. As essentially flawless meal begins with the Farinata con le Barbabietole, a hearty salad of roasted beets, heirloom carrots, arugula, watercress and sunflower sprouts, served on a crisp chickpea pancake and topped with an elevating sprinkle of crushed pistachio and mint. Focu Meu, a pizza of tomato sauce, mozzarella, pan-fried eggplant, smoky ‘nduja and a layer of shaved parmigiano, is a standout pie.