12 of Toronto’s best fusion restaurants
Our favourite places for truffled fried rice, pastrami spring rolls, Vietnamese duck confit crêpes and Korean-Ukrainian cabbage rolls
On the third floor of the Momofuku complex awaits one of the city’s most deluxe dining experiences. Twenty-two lucky diners sit at a black granite bar that surrounds a lab-like open kitchen where a group of cooks work like calm, methodical scientists, preparing nightly tasting menus. On one occasion, a menu progressed from geoduck to sweetbreads to a pea custard laden with trout roe to a corn-stuffed raviolo topped with a crumbling of cotija cheese to a blueberry sorbet with mini-doughnuts made from taro. Eight courses, $120. An extra $85 for pairings. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In the four years since it opened, the formal David Chang spot hasn’t stopped growing, adding lunch service, special collaborative events with visiting chefs, and more large-format feasts, like beef brisket served with steamed buns. The soaring room, with a prime view of the core, is packed even early in the week. A seasonal menu changes frequently but always includes variations on a steamed Chinese bun (perhaps stuffed with crunchy breaded karaage-style chicken, pickled ginger and a squirt of eggy mayo) and lettuce wraps (sometimes with so-flavourful-you-might-mistake-it-for-secreto pork, chrysanthemum mustard and black bean barbecue sauce).
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. Closed Monday.
The owners of Food Dudes catering have opened a room that resembles a civil war–era cabin. The menu lists 15 sharing plates and includes light and fresh yuzu albacore tuna cubes on squid ink brioche, and hearty Korean-Ukrainian kalbi steak cabbage rolls. The fish board, dotted with candied-salmon jerky and slices of supple cold-smoked salmon, is a great opener. Roast Ontario lamb brings a fan of scarlet slices coated in demi-glace, sided by plump celeriac-filled pierogies and baby carrots. Desserts, like a passion fruit–infused chocolate ganache with toasted marshmallow, are worth the splurge.
The most satisfying dishes at Susur Lee’s glossy Dundas West spot are a meticulous mix of contrasts—raw-cooked, rich-tart, crunchy-creamy, sweet-sour, east-west. A juicy rack of curry-crusted lamb sits on pools of rich tomato-lentil stew that’s infused with lime leaf and mustard seed, with sweet mango and fresh mint-chili chutneys for dipping. (The crunchy quinoa-crusted banana fritters it comes with turn into flavour bombs after a good soak in the strangely harmonious puddles.) The fuchsia-and-orange room, designed by Brenda Bent (Lee’s wife and the namesake of the place), is worth exploring for its fascinating dioramas and archival photography. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for the ponytailed master himself; he still pops in to ensure his high standards. (If this visit is any indication, they do.) Closed Sunday.
At this maritime-inspired Parkdale room helmed by ex–416 Snack Bar chef Jon Vettraino, cubes of roasted kuri squash served with a tart ramp leaf purée, croutons, cashews and anchovy butter evoke holiday stuffing in the best way. The Hard Salad is a pimped-out caesar with pickled turnips, purple and sharp, mellowed by savoury fried shallots, shaved almonds and a dusting of grana padano. A wee portion of swordfish crudo is fresh and cool, but ultimately overwhelmed by all its accompaniments: pickled sea asparagus, Trinidad peppers, shiso, mustard seeds and crispy chicken skin. The duck confit crêpe—like a fancy Vietnamese banh xeo—is seasoned with sweet mayo, chilies, peanuts and mint. The two lone desserts, an apple-and-almond streusel tart and a pumpkin pudding, are both excellent.
This sleek new French-inspired Korean restaurant brings contemporary techniques (sous-vide octopus) and trendy ingredients (mugwort ice cream) to its changing menu. For $65 per person, chef Paul Kim offers diners the option to sample the entire card. His artfully composed plates—like a kimchee-and-perilla-seed bouillabaisse, tender dumplings filled with duck confit and foie gras, or intense kalbi sliders with pickled daikon—seem tailor-made for Instagram. Strong, well-balanced cocktails pair well with the dishes, and hyper-modern desserts, like shards of red bean sponge cake with yuzu curd, keep sweetness in check while emphasizing texture.
A gastropub in Little India named for a Michigan lake, with a Byzantine mosaic (of British artists Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf), serving a pan-Asian menu somehow feels very Toronto. Robbie Hojilla’s best dishes—a refreshing Thai winter vegetable salad with a zippy fish sauce and chili-based dressing, or his B.C. snapper curry with squash and savoy cabbage—are deliciously comforting. By comparison, braised mussels with smoked ham hock and pork crackling, or a beefy take on a bo ssam let down by its ho-hum sides, lack the focus of the more nuanced dishes. A deep bench of Ontario beers makes for fun and easy pairing. Chiffon cake with calamansi lime curd and shards of meringue and whipped cream is a perfectly eclectic finish.
This sister spot to Bambi’s, the dive bar downstairs, is an archetypal west-end hangout. The food is date-night-calibre good—but not special-occasion fare. The menu alternates between simple Italian dishes and sparklier flashes of Asian fusion. The former brings chewy fettuccine in lacklustre ragoût (it needs more umami depth and chili zing), while the latter dazzles with oysters broiled in lobster hollandaise, popping with salty tobiko. The sole dessert is a hot doughnut with caramel sauce—pure nostalgic goodness. Closed Sunday and Monday.
The owners of Quince recently closed shop, and gave their white-linened Yonge and Eg room a cooler vibe and a gin list 42 bottles long. The menu focuses on Dutch staples with Indonesian flavours—a delicious hybrid born of the countries’ colonial history. War Fries are the poutine of the Netherlands: drenched in sweet peanut sauce, and dotted with mayo, scallions and bird’s eye chilies, they’re guilt-inducing excellence. Other plates—like a seared steelhead trout, and charred broccoli with preserved lemon and sambal metah, a tangy relish—are more refined, and consistently capture the punchiness, depth and freshness that makes Indo-fusion food so satisfying. Little touches, like house-made tonic, imported caramel sauce for the olie bollen (apple-currant fritters) and servers who deliver culinary history without being obnoxious, make guests feel like they’re still in fine-dining hands.
Two dining areas create two distinctive vibes: the bright side is all exposed brick and beam, breezy and casual, while the dark side is the ghost of the former lounge, a dimly lit cave of banquettes and dark herringbone-patterned floors where bartenders sling $18 cocktails. But it’s not the only ghost that haunts the space. Phantoms linger in the form of a menu that changes little from year to year, let alone season to season. If you beat the crowds and cadge a table, you can sup on Susur Lee’s greatest hits: his 19-ingredient Signature Singaporean-style Slaw remains worthy of the hype; heaps of herbs, julienne and pickled vegetables, noodles and seeds doused in Japanese plum dressing play their roles and, tossed tableside, coalesce into sweet, salty, savoury, crunchy theatre. The chocolate peanut butter bar is still kicking around the dessert card—though that’s not a bad thing.
The owners of 416 Snack Bar at Queen and Bathurst replicated the bourbon-jacked buzz that made their first place so much fun. Dishes here include Chinese-American snacks and Jewish deli staples. The just-fatty-enough tongue sandwich with grainy mustard on a salt-crusted pretzel bun is the best. Deep-fried tofu cubes are a close second—golden-crisp with custardy centres, they’re an excellent version of the pan-Asian cheap eat. You can probably get better Peking duck on Spadina, but it won’t come with fancy cocktails.