Talk about lousy timing. The very same March week we planned to release this ranking of the city’s best new places to eat… well, you know what happened. Suddenly, a list of closed restaurants didn’t seem like critical reading material. As the weeks grind by, it’s hard to remember the Before Times. What was it like to make dinner plans with anyone not in your immediate household? Even if they discover a vaccine tomorrow, it’s even harder to imagine we’ll return any time soon to communal tables, sharing plates, close-talking servers and not seeing every surface and exhalation of micro-droplets as a mortal threat.
Restaurants were already a precarious business with a low survival rate. A month into the lockdown, the industry association Restaurants Canada reported that 800,000 employees across the country were out of work and one in 10 restaurants had given up and closed permanently. There’s a terrifying chance only the big chains will survive. As I write this, each of the 15 restaurants on this list are hanging in. Some, like the hyper-exquisite Sushi Masaki Saito, which bases a good part of its appeal on sea creatures flown in daily from Japan, are optimistically booking reservations for early summer. Nine of the 15 have pivoted to takeout and delivery, as we’ve indicated in the reviews below. And from the moment the province relaxed its rules to allow restaurants and bars to sell booze with food purchases, many have also been liquidating their cellars at near cost—no complaints here, given the wait to get into an LCBO.
Favorites, a Thai barbecue restaurant on Ossington that’s my number-one pick for best new restaurant, is offering six-packs of Singha along with a delicious dry-aged rib-eye pad see ew, pineapple fried rice and smoky curry chicken wings. They’ll even hand you a shot of whiskey with your order, to numb the pain of another day spent being apart, together. It’s all terrific—and a welcome break from home cooking—but it’s not quite the same.
Which brings us to the inevitable question: why bother to share this list of largely inaccessible restaurants now? Think of it this way: aside from following distancing protocols and endlessly washing our hands, the most that any of us who aren’t front-line workers or epidemiologists can do to contribute to our species’ survival is to indulge in some magical thinking. And it doesn’t hurt to plan what we’ll be doing when life returns to something closer to normal. Consider this your wish list.