Toronto chefs and restaurateurs on the best dishes they ate in 2023

Toronto chefs and restaurateurs on the best dishes they ate in 2023

From a caesar salad to a fancy fish dish

We reached out to 13 of the city’s chefs and restaurateurs to find out their most memorable meals of the year. From a fancy fish dish that was part of a seven-course dinner to a caesar salad and fries, these are the plates they’re still thinking about.

Related: Toronto Life’s most popular food stories of 2023

Abrielle's carrot cake
Photo courtesy of Susan Flores
Susan Flores, pastry chef at 1 Hotel Toronto

The dish: Abrielle’s carrot cake

“I’m a pastry chef, so it’s no surprise that the best dish I had this year was a dessert. A former chef of mine is part of the team that opened Abrielle, so I had to pay a visit and sample the entire dessert menu. Their carrot cake, with its modern take on the classical recipe, is one of the best renditions I’ve tasted. It’s perfectly light and moist with a lovely coconut mousse and delightful hints of cinnamon and rum. It was hard not to immediately order another one.”

Nuit Regular, chef and co-owner of Pai, Selva, Kiin, Sukhothai, Rendezvous East and By Chef Nuit Catering

The dish: Casa Paco’s squid ink paella

“I had been hearing such amazing things about Rob Bragagnolo’s new restaurant, Casa Paco, so I was very excited to check it out with my family for a leisurely Sunday lunch. I loved the squid ink paella. The balance of flavours and the texture of the rice were absolutely perfect. Eating this dish was so memorable for me, not only because it was so delicious but because my whole family was enjoying it together. We don’t get to eat out together very often because we all have busy schedules, so to be able to enjoy this dish with my husband, Jeff, and our kids was a very sweet memory for me. I also loved seeing chef Rob work with his wife, Caroline—that really spoke to me because Jeff and I work together at our restaurants. Seeing them work together on something they are so passionate about helped make the experience that much more special.”

Kate Taylor Martin, owner of Nutbar

The dish: Mezes’ make-your-own-tapas plate

“I’ve been going to Mezes on the Danforth with my family since I was 13. And now that I live in Riverdale with my own family, I love walking up the street to get the same warm hospitality and consistently simple yet delicious dishes I’ve been enjoying for so many years. My favourite thing to do there is make my own plate from the assortment of tapas— grilled calamari, saganaki, Greek fries, elliniki, tzatziki and pita. The key to making the ideal bite is to pair the hot, sizzling saganaki—as soon as the flame goes out—with some of the perfectly chewy calamari, a bit of the best Greek salad for a burst of freshness, and then a swipe of the creamy and explosively flavorful tzatziki. It sounds like a lot all at once, but it’s unbelievably delicious and addictive.”

A plate of Nova Scotia lobster, confit duck fat potatoes and lobster claw tartare
Photo by Joshua Best

Craig Wong, owner and chef of Patois and JunePlum

The dish: Lucie’s Le Homard

“My good friend Yannick Bigourdan has meticulously been planning the opening of Lucie for years. Heading up their kitchen is Arnaud Bloquel, a French chef who grew up in the Caribbean. I was intrigued when I heard about his background, and I’m hoping to hang out with him soon so we can share stories and eat up a storm across the city. I’ve dined at Lucie twice already, and I’m especially fond of Arnaud’s sauces. They’re very intricate, with plenty of creative pairings, like a red wine butter sauce with seared scallops and black truffle. All my plates went back to the kitchen wiped clean. When I read the menu, the lobster was the dish that caught my eye. Lobster and confit potato? Yes. Potato and Comté cheese? My favourite. Armagnac and coffee? Classic. This combination may seem sacrilegious to some, but in chef Arnaud’s hands, these premium ingredients all became greater than the sum of their parts. Like a synchronized fireworks display, it totally blew me away.”

Ruth Tal, founder of Fresh Kitchen and Juice Bar

The dish: Gia Restaurant’s tonnarelli tartufo

“My love for Gia first began when I heard about Stefano’s Sandwiches in 2021. I saw an Instagram post from my favourite Canadian actor, Dan Levy of Schitt’s Creek—best show ever—about their amazing vegan fried-chicken sandwich. After trying it, I became a die-hard fan. Fast forward to today, and Stefano’s founder, Jennifer Coburn, also has a beautiful upscale plant-forward Italian restaurant around the corner from where I live. I was so happy to discover that Gia was Jenny’s place. The tonnarelli tartufo, with house-made cashew truffle butter sauce and Burgundy truffles, is my favourite pasta dish at Gia. It melts in your mouth, and the intricate combination of herbs and seasonings beautifully complements the plant-based cheese and organic soy. I literally swoon when it arrives at the table.”

Colin Henderson, chef de cuisine at Café Boulud

The dish: Grey Gardens’ surf-and-turf pasta

“My best dish I ate this year was the surf-and-turf pasta from Grey Gardens, nestled in cozy Kensington Market. It’s cavatelli with clams, sausage and fennel. It was rich and tasty, with a natural brininess from the clams, and it just made me want to keep eating more. The dish is simple yet done very well. Sometimes that’s the best thing about pasta: the simplicity.”

The striped bass and red wine course at Restaurant Twenty Victoria
Photo courtesy of Michael Lam

Michael Lam, co-owner of Good Behaviour Ice Cream

The dish: Twenty Victoria’s striped bass and red wine

“Twenty Victoria prominently focuses on seafood, so it comes as no surprise that their striped bass with red wine—one of seven courses from the restaurant’s set menu—stood out as one of my favourite dishes this year. The impeccably cooked fish, accompanied by a luscious brown butter sabayon, was complemented by a velvety red wine sauce made from the bass’s bones. Exceptional dishes such as this are characterized by layers of flavour and texture, and the addition of young fava shoots provided the perfect finishing touch to an outstanding and thoughtfully crafted dish.”

Tara Tang, co-owner and pastry chef of J’s Steak Frites and Miss Aida

The dish: Pink Sky’s cioppino

“Pink Sky’s cioppino—an Italian American seafood stew—features mussels, clams, shrimp, white fish, fennel and onion in a tomato broth and is served with toasted sourdough. It’s a hearty dish, and it’s amazing to enjoy it during Toronto’s cold winters. The seafood in the cioppino is so fresh and delicious, and there are so many different flavours to taste—it’s definitely a dish meant to be savoured. The way I recommend enjoying it is as follows: dip the crispy toasted sourdough into the broth and then dig in to the seafood.”

Imrun Texeria, founder and chef of Wanderlust by Imrun Texeira

The dish: Mumbaikar’s masala chili chicken lollipops

“The masala chili chicken lollipops at Mumbaikar are a feast for the senses, offering a perfect balance of heat, savoury richness and aromatic spices. The spices not only infuse the chicken with a warm, earthy essence but also impart a beautiful colour. The touches of garlic and ginger elevate the aroma, creating an enticing fragrance that promises the perfect bite. The exterior offers a satisfying crunch thanks to a delicate coating that crisps up during cooking, and the juicy, flavourful meat underneath contrasts with the crispy exterior, creating a textural delight. They’re perfect as a show-stopping appetizer or a standout dish in a spread. They’re so good that I usually get another order to go so I can eat them for breakfast the following day.”

Photo by Daniel Neuhaus

Adam Pesce, founder of Reunion Coffee Roasters

The dish: Dotty’s caesar salad and fries

“With an eight-month-old baby at home, we feel very fortunate to be within walking distance of Dotty’s. It gives us a taste of being out in the world, and they’ve created such a wonderful family-friendly environment for the neighbourhood—not to mention the incredible food. It’s become an end-of-the-week tradition for us to stop in for an early dinner with our daughter. She’s already a regular at one of the best restaurants in Toronto! The caesar salad and fries are both perfect versions of what they are: classics. They go with everything on the menu—which changes regularly but is always all hits—or are great on their own. The caesar has the most generous amount of parm I’ve ever seen on a salad. And the fries are both crisp and fluffy—they remind us of fish and chips in the best way.”

Claudio Aprile, culinary director at Via Allegro Ristorante and Di Mario’s Trattoria

The dish: R&D’s Peking duck

“What I love about this duck dish is that the duck itself is very simply done: it’s brined, then it’s slow-cooked for three hours. At its core, this is a very simple preparation, served with steamed buns, cucumber, hoisin and scallions for a classic Chinese flavour combination. Chef Eric Chong has come a long way in a very short period of time. He was the first-ever winner of MasterChef Canada, which is where we met. He’s an incredible talent, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his new restaurant, which is scheduled to open next year.”

Craig Pike, founder of Craig’s Cookies

The dish: Alobar Yorkville’s Dover sole

“Couple this with Alobar’s fries and a glass of wine, and it’s a simply perfect dinner. I discovered this dish with my best friend, who shares my love of seafood and beautifully executed culinary experiences. The delicate preparation of the fish allows the flavour and texture of the sole to shine. As a Newfoundlander who grew up with the freshest of seafood, this dish is everything I want.”

Chef 88's claypot eel
Photo courtesy of Colin Li

Colin Li, chef and owner of Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant

The dish: Chef 88’s stir-fried eel in clay pot

“For this dish, eel is stir-fried with aromatics—garlic, onion, green scallions, cilantro—then tossed in a mixture of soy sauce, chu hou (soybean) paste, hoisin and Shaoxing wine. This dish is the best because of the freshness of the eel, which are taken live from the in-house fish tanks and arrive at the table roughly 20 minutes later. Chu hou paste and Shaoxing wine add a pure sweetness, and the char from the clay pot helps lock in the flavours of the eel.”