The 13 best restaurants in Trinity Bellwoods and Little Italy right now
Our highest-rated restaurants in these two 'hoods
Few restaurants in the city are as tough to score a table at than Grant van Gameren’s Spanish tavern on College. That’s because few places deliver as much joy for 50-odd dollars per person. Three years in, GVG and his team have nailed their brand of Barcelonian party food mixed with Torontonian nose-to-tail edge. Toasted montadito is layered with spicy sobrassada, earthy-sweet honey and foie gras shavings so fine and fatty they melt on contact. Smoky sweetbreads—crackling and creamy—on slices of raw albacore are kicked up with pickled green tomatoes and bound by deep, dark brown butter–caper sauce. The Basque cake doused in boozy sherry cream is a buttery delight. The room, a hideous pastiche of wood panelling and ’70s rec room light fixtures, is so ugly it eventually grows on you, especially after midnight when you stumble out full and happy.
Instead of the naked Edison bulbs and subway tile of so many new restaurants, there’s a moody forest mural at Boralia, and a cedar trellis that runs across the ceiling, evoking a Vancouver Island boathouse. The room has personality, as does Wayne Morris’s cooking. He’s inspired by historical Canadian recipes, like pigeon pie with a crust more buttery than any pioneer ever imagined. The highlight one night is a casserole of dense salt cod quenelles, their marine flavour ratcheted up by tender lobes of lobster.
When the brunch destination Grace closed, chef Nick Liu nabbed the location and opened DaiLo, a room with a vintage teahouse vibe—gold mirrors, intricate screens and murals of birds and cherry blossoms. His shared-plates menu offers spring rolls stuffed with Caplansky’s famous pastrami, and crispy mini-tacos filled with ground duck and the crunch of pickled Asian pear. Liu steams rice with star anise, ginger and cinnamon, fries it with egg and chili-barbecue tofu, and then adds truffle paste, truffle oil and black truffle shavings—it’s sweet, spicy, funky and wholly addictive.
Husband-and-wife owners Frank Parhizgar and Shawn Cooper have concocted the perfect mix of fancy food, formal service and casual room. Parhizgar’s tuna carpaccio-tartare duo, capped by two Mylar-thin taro root chips, is light and modern. His 12-ounce strip loin—aged in the basement for 68 days, sizzled rare and topped with shaved truffles—is easily one of the best steaks in Toronto and half the price of similar cuts in the downtown core.
Chef Tetsuya Shimizu’s set-course dinners are by turns traditional (a pot of dashi tea poured tableside over yellowtail sashimi, the hot liquid slowly poaching the luscious fish) and experimental (a scattering of root vegetables dressed with a bacon-infused “snow” and a tofu–grana padano smear). One night’s highlight: a fantastically tender roast duck breast arrives with rounds of confit leek, their chip-like exteriors hiding a dense, oniony core.
Grant van Gameren has replicated the suave yet oh-so-slightly louche quality of the kind of Barcelona tapas bar where you grab an espresso on the way to work, meet friends for five o’clock cocktails, and perch with a paramour late into the night on stools in a corner, grazing from plates of lusciously fatty chorizo and gildas of speared olives, Italian peppers and pickled pearl onions. The menu is weighted to seafood, much of it steamed and served in the cans in which it’s been preserved. The standout option is pungently delicious razor clams and sweet peppers. Mutton-chopped bartenders push a long, on-theme list of sherries and rare vermouths, yet the real treats are artisanal concoctions, like the sweet-tart Dopeness of Amontillado, Seville orange marmalade and, for healthy measure, a dash of bee pollen.
Jen Agg’s flagship gastropub holds steady, even as restaurants on the block she pioneered seven years ago morph to reflect the latest fads. Chef Jayde Burton delivers signature Hoof dishes, like piquant horse tartare, but additional dishes, including squid ink cavatelli painted with fiery ’nduja, are must-orders. The charcuterie board often includes a gamey surprise—one night, a dense, peppery house-made seal salami. The brief wine list always has unusual by-the-glass offerings.
207 Ossington Ave., 416-534-8520, no website
While Ossington may have changed, the appeal of Tom Thai’s eclectic pan-Asian menu hasn’t. His ceviches—wild Nunavut arctic char with green apple and ginger, or scallops with kumquat and grilled jalapeños—are rendered in bright flavours with invigorating acidic kicks. Like a good song that’s been way overplayed, kale salad elsewhere is something of a bore, but the version here—tender and yielding beneath a pecorino cap—can now be considered a classic. For dessert (if on offer), the green tea crème brûlée is worth saving room for.
After a recent renovation, this Vancouver import replicates the raucous clamour that Toronto has come to expect from its Japanese izakayas, as well as their characteristic culinary sophistication. Attractive servers handle questions about the food as deftly as they do the blowtorch used to sear slices of cured mackerel tableside. Mild pickled daikon, eggplant and cucumber make fine palate cleansers between bites, but the kimchee could be a bit gutsier. A bo ssam–like platter allows diners to create their own messy mini lettuce bundles filled with pork belly, apple-yuzu jam, tangy pickled onion and crunchy fried wonton skins. A hot stone bowl of rice has salt from miso, richness from minced pork and snap from fresh chives; its energizing warmth will inspire return visits. There’s a fine selection of sake and shochu, served in frozen bamboo shoots.
At this Queen West spot, you 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, a curry with egg noodles, 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.
Matt Blondin made his name cooking sublimely comforting bowls of shrimp and grits at the defunct Acadia, as well as during his short tenure at Momofuku Daishō. Now he’s taken over an elegant room on Ossington with a Carolinas-inspired menu of hot-from-the-oven cornbread, boudin balls, fried chicken, beef ribs rolled in puffed amaranth and, yes, his famous grits, this version studded with andouille sausage. The bar, run by talented fellow Momofuku expat Alex Harber, turns out smooth, head-whomping dark-liquor classics, plus back-in-vogue drinks like a puckery strawberry shrub precisely balanced with sweet vermouth and whiskey. If only every Toronto restaurant took the odd southern detour.
Soos has all the familiar Ossington signifiers: patrons sport ironic moustaches and intricate sleeve tattoos and order from an encyclopedic cocktail menu. But the dishes, inspired by the street food of Malaysia, are original, exciting and consistently excellent. The kapitan tacos are stuffed with lemongrass- and lime-flavoured chicken, and served on fluffy coconut crêpes; laksa dumplings brings silky cubes of housemade tofu floating in a rich, subtly fishy curry broth; and the red chili chicken is fried to crispy perfection, then doused in a fiery, tongue-tingling spice rub. For dessert, the pisang goreng delivers a mountain of neighbouring Bang Bang’s burnt toffee ice cream topped with a crunchy fried banana.
Open since 2009, chef Teo Paul’s superb Ossington bistro maintains a base of loyal patrons who keep it buzzing but not overwhelmingly busy. The kitchen is committed to sourcing locally grown produce and ethically raised meat, which comes from nearby Côte de Boeuf, also owned by Paul. The menu skews French with some strong Canadian influences (like the exceptional elk sliders), and the portions are hearty. The sublime steak -tartare, paired with a spicy habanero paste, grainy dijon mustard and bread-and-butter -pickles, is a meal on its own. Desserts, like the maple bread pudding, are excellent, but a night here is best finished with an expertly made cocktail at the marble-topped bar.