Toronto’s best gourmet food on a budget right now
503 College St., 647-341-8882, dailoto.com
For two long years, Nick Liu held a series of pop-up dinners, swearing he was about to unveil his own place. When it finally happened, he was crushed under an avalanche of hype: DaiLo was an instant hit. Liu went beyond his gimmicky gourmet riffs on fast food and tapped into his Hakka roots with crispy whole trout, tart green papaya and spicy ground pork salad. His best dish sounds like a crime against fruit but is one of the most exciting innovations on the menu: hot watermelon.
2314 Lake Shore Blvd. W., 647-349-8424, tich.ca
The best new Indian food isn’t on Gerrard or out in Brampton. It’s in sleepy South Etobicoke, prepared by chef Sujoy Saha, who previously worked at the now-defunct Indian Rice Factory, and a tandoor expert named Mandy Jawle, who came from New York’s Junoon. The Kerala-style curry, swimming with chunks of lobster and shrimp, and flavoured with fresh tamarind, ginger and sweet coconut milk, is addiction-worthy.
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100, mrflamingo.ca
Chef Andrew Tham’s short, always-changing menu at this cool bar-restaurant hybrid includes dishes that are date-night calibre. It balances simple bar snacks (pickles, potato chips, spiced olives, shishito peppers) with sophisticated dishes bolstered by ultra-luxurious ingredients—like the made-to-order burrata that comes with roasted fennel, pickled onions, confit garlic and basil, or smoked and pan-roasted trout served with a veggie and sunchoke hash.
810 Queen St. E., 416-465-2500, tabule.ca
This Middle Eastern restaurant in Riverside is out to impress, with a focus on efficiency, precision and presentation. Cauliflower florets are flash-fried and drizzled with tahini for a veggie appetizer that’s as much fun to eat as popcorn shrimp; the ma’anek, a Lebanese sausage, is made with ground beef and pine nuts.
414 Dupont St., 647-340-6142, fatpasha.com
Anthony Rose’s Israeli-inspired restaurant is just as bustling as his nearby operations, Big Crow and Rose and Sons. Dishes are infused with Ashkenazi and Sephardic flavours, like a latke platter topped with salmon pastrami and a smoked pickerel fillet; or a broiled cauliflower stuffed with tahini, pine nuts and halloumi. If hummus is your thing, they have that, too: the creamy spread is drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and, if you like, heaped with braised lamb meatballs or Swiss chard.
2766 Dundas St. W., 416-604-9992, honestweight.ca
Fishmonger extraordinaire John Bil runs this Junction fish shop and restaurant. Fish crudo—great slabs of whatever’s in season—gets all that it needs from fruity olive oil, citrus segments and chili. There’s no fish and chips here, but there is okonomiyaki: a savoury, seafood-stuffed Japanese pancake made from cabbage and yam that comes topped with more fish (smoked this time) and shards of bonito.
785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773, stnnana.com
Monte Wan’s two-year-old Thai restaurant on Queen West is edgier than its sister spot, Khao San Road, with a menu that focuses on dishes you don’t often see in North America. The list includes laab (ground meat mixed with herbs and toasted rice) and a traditional noodle soup commonly served off of riverboats on the canals of central Thailand, made with three cuts of beef and a flavour-boosting shot of blood.
794 Dundas St. W., 647-350-8999, patoistoronto.com
You wouldn’t think it’s wise to mess with chow mein—until you try Craig Wong’s bastardized version with churrasco-roasted jerk chicken. Like Nick Liu, he’s one of a new cohort of chefs who are light years past “ethnic” food. He’s chasing the flavours of his youth, pairing pierogi-style pot stickers with kimchee-flavoured sour cream, and burgers served on Chinese pineapple buns. They’re delicious, totally Toronto mash-ups.