13 of Toronto’s best Canadian restaurants
Our highest-rated spots in the city for Canadian cuisine
A seat in Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth’s candlelit restaurant is one of the toughest reservations in town (especially on a Saturday night). A visit amounts to a gourmet tour across the country, starting with Red Fife wheat bread and high-fat Eastern Townships butter. Caballo does brilliant things with fish, like dusting a slab of albacore with a powder he’s made by dehydrating the tuna’s blood—it imparts a salty, iron-rich punch to a complex plate of blanched heirloom tomatoes and slivers of raw, crunchy shishito peppers. The star of the night is a beef course of applewood-smoked shoulder, braised cheek and crunchy-creamy fried sweetbreads.
On the 54th floor of the TD Centre, chef John Horne emphasizes Canoe’s Canadiana theme through provenance: creamy Thunder Oak gouda coats a wondrously rich soup of three-day-caramelized Holland Marsh onions and bone marrow; the gnocchi that accompany a buttery wedge of Great Lakes walleye are made of specially sourced potatoes from Alliston. Desserts can be overwrought, like a tribute to Niagara peaches in which the fruit is lost amid all the add-ons, including a pile of Pop Rocks. Servers are as polished as at any O&B restaurant, and are experts in the treasure-filled wine list.
Instead of the naked Edison bulbs and subway tile of so many new restaurants, there’s a moody forest mural at Borealia, 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.
The austere room decorated with a national park’s worth of wood panelling is a clue you’re in for a serious lesson in True North cuisine. Chef Jeff Kang’s Canada includes twig-shaped knives for spreading house-made ricotta on sourdough; PEI oysters dressed with a bracing jalapeno-cucumber granita, served in a bowl of chilled beach stones; 12-hour-braised lamb shoulder, served with charred gem lettuce; a whole-roasted dry-aged duck breast; and, possibly the prettiest dish of the year, a lattice of pink and fatty trout slices, rounds of radish and pickled cucumber, sprinkled with dill and perched in a pool of horseradish cream.
It’s completely understandable that, walking into the narrow front room of chef Geoff Hopgood’s dark and cozy Haligonian joint, you might expect a whiff of briny Atlantic air. Instead, you’re greeted by staff who exude authentic East Coast warmth. The specials, like a lobster salad brightened with dollops of lemony aïoli and microgreens, are typically fresh, simple and fun, showcasing seasonal and responsibly harvested seafood from the Maritimes. Refined takes on Nova Scotian junk food round out the menu offerings, like oatcakes topped with bracing mackerel, fried sweetbreads served alongside slightly rubbery Digby scallops, and the signature garlicky-sweet donairs. Desserts are stylish and playful: a homemade toffee candy bar and a tremendous cloud of blueberry-streaked funnel cake that’s all golden-good fun.
On a quiet stretch of Ossington, two tasting menus showcase Justin Cournoyer’s hyper-local ingredients and ultra-modern techniques. Both the four- and seven-course chef’s cards open with a plate of candied lichen, crisp as a fried spider’s web and gently sweet. Cured capelin add acidic complexity to a satisfying bowl of tender beans cooked with mirepoix, but in another dish, carefully cooked and flavourful winter vegetables aren’t supported by the slightly sour miso broth—sometimes the kitchen values presentation over exciting flavour. Soft carrots complement the stewed apricots in a dessert that brings the meal to a fine finish.
The ideal neighbourhood local—not too crowded, not too noisy, just-right prices—goes strong in Leslieville. The nautical theme is campy without being kitschy, and the fare is refined comfort food at its best. Bar snacks, like devilled eggs topped with smoked trout, are perfect with the bar’s bracing cocktails. Moist salt cod balls dipped in tomatillo salsa or romesco make an irresistible starter, as do brandy-buttered mushrooms on toast. Mains bring a crispy skate-wing schnitzel drizzled with tart caper butter, sided by a luscious potato salad and a heaping plate of craggy fried chicken.
Since 2012, this Junction Triangle spot has been an ode to all things rustic Canadiana: a vintage Moffat stove holds cutlery, and the walls are covered in frames cradling antlers, LP covers and antique photos. The kitchen is committed to local, seasonal fare, and prosaic menu items bear little more description than “fish dish” or “veg harvest,” allowing chef Tom Wade to make use of what’s available. The roasted bone marrow and the Mother and Child (a duck-themed scotch egg) offer the requisite meat fixes, and the Barnyard Burger—a beef patty with thick-cut bacon, goat cheese, a fried duck egg and Russian dressing—is still one of the best burgers in town.
After a year of making elevated bar snacks at Riverside’s Hi-Lo, Dave Mottershall, armed with Kickstarter funds, moved to Queen West. There are excellent à la carte dishes like the Pig Mack, with house-made pancetta and special sauce on a delicate milk bun, but we recommend the nine-course tasting menu, which brings a barrage of flourishes and garnishes: a cube of crispy pig’s head tagged with ramp mustard, thin leaves of cured pork shoulder dotted with a 50-year-old balsamic, and a log of bone marrow dusted with shaved, cured egg yolk that plays like an aged parm. Knowledgable servers can explain the complex plates as well as they can flavour-profile Niagara wines or craft ciders.
Find the nondescript entrance, skirt around the open kitchen that looks to have been cobbled together overnight, catch the attention of a server in the gloomy rear dining room and you’re in for a treat: chef Guy Rawlings, after a pause to help manage Grant van Gameren’s restaurants, is cooking again. He douses heirloom tomatoes in a fiery house hot sauce, crowns waxy new potatoes with a bubbling mass of funky brie de Meaux and marries a silken goose creton, to be smeared on pan-fried bread, with a grainy mustard given extra oomph from a spell in the smoker. The pinnacle of the current pickling fad may be the autumnal plate of cabbage, carrots and beans, so sour your mouth will pucker for hours. Like the menu, the drinks list is to the point and dedicated to small artisanal producers. Nothing, not the thrift-store teak seating or the lumpenly luscious caramelized apple tart, is especially elegant—Rawlings is too busy chasing next-level flavour intensity to worry about pretty.
The nose-to-tail-to-entrail menu in this windowless room in the Templar Hotel’s basement brings some very good Québécois food. Creative extras by chefs Danny Hassell and Joseph Awad make even common dishes surprising: a braised octopus tentacle on a marrow-filled shank comes with uni-slathered toast, buttery potato purée and beef tendon chips, the pretty assemblage brightened by lemon-dressed purslane. For less adventurous diners, there’s an excellent breaded whole quail with sweet maple barbecue sauce, and a luxurious duck-stuffed ravioli smothered in torched, whipped mascarpone. Complicated cocktails are pricy and potent.
Out of her hard-to-miss Queen West kitchen, Ivana Raca serves beautifully composed bistro fare. A rich soup of white asparagus and celery root, the ivory surface rocky with jerusalem artichoke chips and flecks of chive, is the best place to start. Peruvian bell peppers—tender little firecrackers shaped like spinning tops—add just enough heat to spiced pork meatballs and ricotta-stuffed gnocchi. Desserts are worth the calories. A hazelnut chocolate tart is as dense as it is dark, while a spiced orange semolina cake, under a scoop of honeyed goat yogurt, is deceptively light. Some cocktails are too sweet, so turn to the lengthy list of wines instead.
Subway tiles, vintage posters of the city and a great glass cockpit of an entrance allude to the restaurant’s subway theme without actually conjuring the messy reality of public transportation. Here, chefs Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan offer an ambitious menu. Tiny cubes of tuna tartare, gently seasoned with tamari and horseradish, sitting on slices of hakurei turnip, show the kitchen’s delicate side, while pork meatballs with cornbread croutons are deliciously rustic. In a nod to the restaurant’s bustling lunch crowd, one of the city’s top burgers—medium-rare on a milk bun with beet chutney and aged cheddar—is serious enough for dinner, but a lobster capellini, while generous with the crustacean, lacks personality. Desserts, like an ultra-rich PB&J pudding, are as playful as they are tasty.
An earlier version of this post did not include Edulis or Actinolite. They have since been added to the list.