The best restaurants on Queen West

The best restaurants on Queen West

Toronto Life's top tables on the bustling strip

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

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.

 

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Aloette
163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-3444, aloetterestaurant.com

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.

 

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Après
1166 Queen St. W., 647-292-3317, apreswinebar.ca

The wine list at Jeff Kang’s monastery-chic wine bar is primarily drawn from natural and low-intervention wineries, and everyone on staff is a wine geek: one server went so far as to have “Syrah” tattooed on the back of his hand. Kang’s short, pairing-friendly nightly menu is more relaxed than the ingenious, tweezer-assembled cooking at Canis for which he’s known. Each plate is nevertheless a stunner: he brushes a final coat of fermented black bean sauce on braised short ribs; stacks steamed Salt Spring Island mussels, in a sauce of caramelized whey, on a cube of potato pavé; and prepares a small selection of handmade pastas, like a tagliatelle tossed, ramen-style, with chili-flecked sausage, egg yolk and shredded cabbage. Sandwiches of breaded, deep-fried skate wing are greasy heaven. Kang envisioned people coming to Après after work, but it’s also perfect for those nights that aren’t complete without a post-dinner glass or bottle and some snacks. In my experience, you’d do just as well to make it the main event.

 

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

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.

 

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Dandylion
1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100, restaurantdandylion.com

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.

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

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Nana
785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773, stnnana.com

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.

 

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Planta Queen
180 Queen St. W., 647-812-1221, plantarestaurants.com

For some, a weekend just isn’t complete without a visit to Rol San, the Pearl or Crown Princess, for carts piled high with baskets of har gow, rice noodle rolls and soup dumplings. But Planta Queen serves up a different kind of dim sum every Sunday afternoon. Here, chef David Lee sends out meat- and dairy-free dishes that replicate the dim sum experience for people living that plant-based lifestyle. In a setting way sleeker than your average Chinese banquet hall, guests chopstick their way through spicy kung pao eggplant, umami-packed cubes of XO tofu, crispy veggie-stuffed gyoza, addictive “chickn”-fried chanterelles and heaping bowls of dan dan noodles and pineapple fried rice dotted with curry cashews and goji berries. And the meatless, mushroom-based Mac Bao, slathered in sweet hoisin sauce, does a nice job of standing in for those other buns.

 

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

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.

 

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Terroni
720 Queen St. W., 416-504-1992, terroni.com

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.

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