Toronto’s top 10 late-night snacks, and where to find them
The city's best midnight specials are a mix of adventurous tastes and playful spins on classic junk food.
Pinkerton Snack Bar
1026 Gerrard St. E., 416-855-1460, @pinkertonsnackbar
This new east-end snack bar, decked out in industrial metal salvaged from the Leslie Street Spit, feels like a piece of Parkdale wedged between Riverdale and Little India. While the rest of the quiet ’hood slumbers, chef Andy Wilson turns out a short menu of Asian-influenced small plates (fried tofu with papaya salad one night, Sichuan squid the next) for the resident party animals, all of whom seem to know one another. Behind the bar, Marc Baglio concocts excellent classic cocktails to a playlist that includes both hip-hop tracks and ABBA’s greatest hits.
Eat this: The laab-style tartare (bottom centre), a spicy Laotian mash of lime-laced chopped sirloin, topped with a raw quail’s egg and served with crispy cassava chips. $10.
Drink this: A velvety, bourbony boulevardier. $12.
505 College St., no phone, thisisbarraval.com
From the early morning to late at night, pouty scenesters slouch into the Dalí-esque woodwork, tooth picking their way through manchego-and-jamón croquetas and imported tins of razor clams. The space is almost always jammed (consider yourself lucky if you score a barrel to lean against), but the chaos is of the organized variety, with affable servers deftly slinking through the crowd and translating the Spanish menu.
Eat this: The cojunados: two pieces of toasted baguette, each layered with smoked bacon, spicy chorizo, roasted piquillo pepper and a wee sunny-side-up quail egg. It’s the best of breakfast in a few small bites. $10.
Drink this: The Vicki Witt, made with bourbon, dry vermouth, Angostura bitters and peach liqueur. It’s boozy and quenching all at once. $15.
1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416, barfancy.ca
A neon tiger lights the way down a Queen West alley to Jonathan Poon’s no-frills snack bar, which offers some of the best late night grub in a neighbourhood that’s bursting with the stuff. From 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., customers devour fried chicken, slurp oysters and shout to be heard over the DJ playlists. Almost everything on the menu is cheesy, meaty or really damn spicy, but there’s great local beer and cider to cut through the grease and heat.
Eat this: The Dirty Nachos, a mound of store-bought chips dressed in salt and vinegar, then drowned in a pool of fluorescent-orange “cheez.” The glorious mess is covered with shredded lettuce, sour cream, jalapeños and pickled red onions. $9.
Drink this: A classic old fashioned ($12) or one of the rotating local beers on tap ($9).
The Bar at Alo
163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-2222, thebaratalo.com
Nighttime at Queen and Spadina has never been this classy. The wait to get a table at Patrick Kriss’s restaurant might be months long, but seats at the bar are reserved for walk-ins and come with access to a special menu of rotating snacks: crispy pork belly, sea scallop ceviche and buttery caramel pâte à choux among them. Bar manager John Bunner whips up cocktails from a list of 33 options while light from the street bounces off a kaleidoscope of liquor bottles.
Eat this: A do-it-yourself ssam plate with a confit duck leg, pickled veg and crisp bibb lettuce. It’s a meal in itself. $22.
Drink this: The Poor Sport, a herbal and citrusy bourbon concoction that’s dressed with a Cerignola olive the size of a Ping-Pong ball. $16.
252 Dupont St., 647-352-3337, barbegonia.com
Chef Anthony Rose, a man known for greasy-spoon grub, trashy ribs and elbow-to-elbow dining, has opened one of the sexiest spots in town. At his Dupont bistro, couples canoodle by candlelight over marble-topped tables, sharing plates of fromage and popping gougères in between sips of cocktails called Young Money and Black Betty. Everything on chef Trista Sheen’s menu is meant for grazing, like sardine-topped tartines, luscious steak tartare and salt-cod croquettes.
Eat this: The good-enough-for-dessert pear foie gras and liver parfait, served with buttery brioche toast soldiers. $11.
Drink this: The Sun Also Rises, a dainty coupe filled with gin, grenadine, clementine juice and a splash of bubbly. $14.
2 Lakeview Ave., no phone, @hanmoto_
At Oddseoul’s izakaya cousin, ball-capped servers deliver chef Joe Kim’s Japanese takes on junk food: sloppy sandwiches, oozing fried eggplant and boneless wings stuffed with bacon. Customers hunch over too-small Arborite tables, dining by neon light, drinking cocktails made with far-flung ingredients like shiso, shochu, Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves. In true izakaya form, the beer is of the easy-drinking variety.
Eat this: The deliciously messy Moto Bun, a sweet coco bun stuffed with hot Japanese chicken curry and cold Jamaican slaw—a steal at only $7.
Drink this: The refreshing and effervescent North Town Nashi, which blends Mizu shochu, lime, Asian pear and shiso leaves. $11.
Maple Leaf Tavern
955 Gerrard St. E., 416-465-0955, mapleleaftavern.ca
One of the sketchiest dives in the east end recently came back to life via a $2-million makeover. It’s the place for Riverdale locals to catch up over a pint or watch the game—and, between the patio, two dining rooms and mammoth bar, there’s room for just about all of them. Chef Jesse Vallins (formerly of the Saint) runs the kitchen, serving late-night snacks like shrimp cocktail and steak tartare.
Eat this: The excellent strip loin burger loaded with house-made cheese, tangy dill relish and garlic mayo, all smushed into a freshly baked sesame-seed bun. Served with fries. $20.
Drink this: A hyper-local rye and ginger highball made with ginger beer from Burlington’s Nickel Brook Brewery and whiskey from Toronto’s own Gooderham and Worts. Bonus: it’s available on tap. $11.
75 Portland St., 416-599-2822, buca.ca/bar
At Rob Gentile’s cavernous café, tables and bar stools are full from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. At night, the kitchen swaps out pistachio cannoli for burgers on bombolone buns, and the crowd shifts from coffee-stained freelancers to chic King Westers about town.
Eat this: Take a cue from every second person in the place and order the porchetta schiacciata: tender roast pork stuffed into herbed focaccia and topped with mascarpone, apple mostarda and green, garlicky agliata. $14.
Drink this: Any wine that the suave servers suggest, or the bubbly and citrusy Dolceamaro, made with Martini Rosso, Amaro Montenegro, prosecco and orange. $13.
503 College St., 647-341-8882, dailoto.com
Nick Liu’s brasserie DaiLo closes early, but his moody cocktail lounge upstairs is open until last call. He offers a late night take on yum cha, the brunchy ritual of dim sum and tea, but instead of dumplings, he serves mod snacks like KFC popcorn tofu and crispy confit duck wings.
Eat this: Liu’s calling card is the Big Mac bao: beef, pickles, shredded lettuce and special sauce encased in a pillowy steamed bun. $6.
Drink this: Pan the Man, a tropical rum-and-sherry concoction served over crushed ice. $14.
The Cloak Bar
488 Wellington St. W., 416-710-7697, marbenrestaurant.com
This basement speakeasy is always locked: guests have to text their name and party size to the phone number on the door. Then it’s a short walk down a hallway and through a velvet curtain into the cozy Cloak Bar, a sort-of-secret spot where patrons sip cocktails by candlelight in horseshoe banquettes. The all-night food menu shrinks British pub food into bite-size snacks, like shepherd’s pie croquettes with HP-laced mayo.
Eat this: Deep-fried shepherd’s pie croquettes, made with ground pork, lamb and beef. $11.
Drink this: The sweet-tart Madeira sour made with fortified wine, plum amaro, sandalwood, chipotle and lemon over crushed ice. $13.