Where to eat, drink—and yes, spot celebs—during TIFF
Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen For a rum list that travels the globe
Janet Zuccarini is already a well-known fixture of Toronto’s food scene (she owns Trattoria Nervosa and Gusto 101, after all) but her L.A. trattoria, Felix, was granted the title of best new restaurant by Esquire in 2017. So we won’t be surprised if some of La La Land’s finest show up at her newest place, based on reputation alone—as singer Janelle Monáe did last year. Chubby’s menu skews classic Jamaican (oxtail stew, jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish), but a handful of dishes (we’re looking at you, kale and pomegranate salad) veer far from tradition. Rum aficionados will dig the 12-deep list of international rums, but the real star of the drinks menu is the Calabash Bay, a mix of white rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk, served in a hollowed-out pineapple with two straws for sharing. 104 Portland St., 416-792-8105, chubbysjamaican.com.
Labora For the fast-and-furious tapas
The Spanish, inventors of tapas, are masters of the quick sip-and-snack, which makes this King West bar and restaurant an ideal destination for a little recharge between screenings. Something from the impressive imported vermouth selection—on ice or splashed with cava or soda—is an excellent starting point, paired with something salty from chef-owner Rob Bragagnolo’s tapas menu: plump boquerones, blistered shishito peppers or mini calamari sandwiches. For a longer stay, a two-person pan of paella mixta is an appropriately Spanish option— along with more wine, more vermouth and more cocktails, of course. 433 King St. W, 416-260-9993, labora.to.
Aloette For a five-star burger fix
You don’t need to be a movie star to get a table at Alo these days, but it helps. For those without A-list cred, Alo’s walk-in-friendly sibling two floors below, Aloette, is the answer. The food is more casual—polished continental dishes served in a refined diner setting—but it’s no less obsessed-over by chef-owner Patrick Kriss’s kitchen troops. The outstanding Aloette burger, topped with golden-grilled Beaufort cheese, is a mainstay, as is what must surely be the best iceberg wedge salad in town. 163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-3444, aloetterestaurant.com.
Coffee Oysters Champagne For the secret speakeasy
There’s more to Coffee Oysters Champagne than coffee, oysters and champagne—but this is TIFF, so we’re mainly concerned about hitting those last two items, and hitting them hard. The splashy King West lounge is all about bubbles and bivalves in the millennial-pink main bar, where even Cristal is served by the glass. Or you can find larger dishes, like grilled octopus and steak tartare at à toi, the restaurant’s moodier secret speakeasy accessed through a hidden entrance in the champagne room. It should prove popular with celebs who want to avoid the prying eyes of paparazzi. 214 King St. W., sipshucksip.com.
Kiin For the royal treatment
For those who want to dine like royalty (including one-time guest Stanley Tucci), chef Nuit Regular’s Adelaide dining room showcases dishes inspired by a type of Thai cuisine historically prepared for the country’s kings and queens. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when a polished brass bowl of khao yum lands on the table, filled with colourfully dyed mounds of jasmine rice and an entire garden’s worth of herbs, edible flowers and seasonings imported directly from Regular’s homeland. 326 Adelaide St. W., 647-490-5040, kiintoronto.com.
Sara For the (sort of) no-phone policy
For many of its attendees, TIFF is one big 11-day party. That makes this aesthetically optimized King West restaurant a natural destination, because this is party food—grown-up party food. It may seem mildly transgressive to scarf down Wagyu reubens, chorizo dumplings and “french fries”—schmaltz-fried sticks of compressed potato—in such a bright, practically spa-like space. But perhaps this is why guests are invited to stash away their phones in specially designed tabletop cubbyholes: all the better to suppress visual evidence of such gleeful gluttony. 98 Portland St., 416-985-5721, sara.restaurant.
Mother Tongue For sensational late-night snacks
Post-show dinner or drinks? When the answer is both, this hopping two-level hideaway at the back of the Templar Hotel is just the ticket. The lower level is home to a 44-seat bar and lounge, with signature cocktails named for Toronto nightspots of yore. Upstairs, there’s another bar with its own cocktail list, and a 46-seat dining room where chef Francis Bermejo explores Filipino cuisine and amplifies its Spanish and Asian notes. The soy-and-sesame-braised Korean beef ribs are a standout, but for late-night snacking, there may be no better finger food in all of the TIFF corridor than Bermejo’s Guangzhou chicken wings, rubbed with spices and drizzled with honey and Thai chili to sticky, spicy gloriousness. 348 Adelaide St. W., 647-243-5858, mothertongue.ca.
Baro For a rooftop patio party
It’s always a party at Baro, Steve Gonzalez’s clubby Latin American restaurant on King West, especially at Pablo’s Snack House, the second-floor lounge with cushy couches and mood lighting. Here, guests can enjoy a slightly more private space in which to indulge in the “Eat Like Jefe!” menu, a bunch of sharable plates, including Gonzalez’s OG Duck Chaufa, fancy fried rice dotted with duck confit. (For those without the deep pockets of past guests like Salma Hayek, Pablo’s Fiesta Hour goes down every day between 5 and 8 p.m., with a menu of $5 drinks and snacks.) Then it’s up to the covered rooftop patio to keep the festive momentum going with pitchers of sangria, rain or shine. 485 King St. W., 416-363-8388, barotoronto.com.
Momofuku Kōjin For some sizzle with your steak
Jake Gyllenhaal, Al Pacino, Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson have been spotted casually slurping ramen at the ground-floor Noodle Bar during TIFFs past. But the biggest draw these days is the upstairs Kojin, a happy marriage of Ontario-raised meat and produce and South American culinary technique—not to mention some knockout cocktails, like the tequila-powered Smoke and Mirrors—all fuelled by a sizzling wood-burning grill. 190 University Avenue, 647-253-6225, kojin.momofuku.com.
Lavelle For literal and figurative star-gazing
Nothing says extravagance and exclusivity like a rooftop bar with a gosh darn swimming pool as its centrepiece. And even if a guest doesn’t have the required pass to take a dip, they can still take in sweeping 360-degree views of the city from its perch 16 storeys above King West, while munching on fancy finger food like truffle fries, maki rolls and lobster tacos topped with caviar. The Chez Sliders—baby beef burgers dressed with Ontario cheddar and a tangle of caramelized onions—have filled a few famous bellies, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s. 627 King St. W., 16th Floor, 647-347-9353, chezlavelle.com.
Ascari King For a sequel that rivals the original
This new west-end spinoff of Leslieville’s Ascari Enoteca specializes in minimalist, seasonal Italian fare: the fewer main ingredients, the better to showcase the quality of the goods. Early stars included a wodge of Wisconsin burrata adorned with spring peas and baby gem lettuce; ricotta- and mascarpone-stuffed agnolotti topped with fried zucchini flowers; and a pool of polenta sprinkled with milk-braised salt cod, parsley, parm and crispy shallots. One holdover from the east-end original: a tangle of spaghetti carbonara with house-cured guanciale, pecorino, black pepper and a gorgeous golden egg yolk. 620 King St. W., 416-366-3673, ascari.ca.
Bar Buca For snacks between flicks
It’s not impossible to get a table at Buca—Rob Gentile’s O.G. Italian restaurant, known for its duck offal ragu and scissor-cut pizza—but it’s even easier to simply drop by his no-reservations spot across the street. Which makes it perfect for festival-goers to pop in for a quick snack between films. Don’t skip on the gnocco fritto, puffed-up pockets of fried dough, to be cracked open and filled with the spicy ’nduja that comes on the side. And the pizza Pugliese, with its focaccia-ish crust made with Yukon Gold potatoes and topped with things like smoked mozzarella and salumi, is next-level. 75 Portland St., 416-599-2822, buca.ca.
General Assembly Pizza For pizza with famous roots
Visiting New Yorkers craving a taste of home may want to hit up this quick-service spot. That’s because the recipes here were developed with help from Anthony Falco, a pizza guru who previously worked at Roberta’s, a Brooklyn pizzeria with a cult following. Chef Cale Elliott-Armstrong pulls out pizzas that are chewy and blistered in all the right places, serving them alongside kegged negronis. We’re partial to the Sergeant Pepe, a white pizza topped with parm, mozzarella and taleggio that adds some extra oomph to the crust. 331 Adelaide St. W., 416-583-5571, gapizza.com.
Mira For a head-turning dessert
With its discreet entrance down an alleyway lit by lanterns, Mira feels like a secret. Here, chef Janet Hoediono prepares super-trendy Nikkei cuisine, a blend of Japanese and Peruvian influences, which means plenty of fish dishes. (It also means plenty of pisco and chilled sake.) For dessert, there’s El Huevo Malo, the “bad egg,” a gargantuan chocolate globe, cracked open tableside to spill out bread pudding, raspberries, yuzu marmalade, coffee ice cream, chunks of honeycomb and edible flower petals. It’s been ’grammed more times than cutie-pie Finn Wolfhard. 420A Wellington St. W., 647-951-3331, mirarestaurant.com.
Grand Cru Deli For the casual caviar service
Located just across from the Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond Street, this new wine bar that doubles as a deli is a marquee player for pre- or post-screening refreshment. Sommeliers run the show, and the star bite is a muffuletta for two that masterfully layers cold cuts, cheese and giardiniera on a pillowy house-baked sesame focaccia. However, there’s also fancy-schmancy caviar (served with Ruffles). 304 Richmond St. W., 416-551-9221, grandcrudeli.com.
Kōst For bubbly by the glass
It’s pronounced “coast,” and it’s the sleek restobar with a pool on the rooftop of Charles Khabouth’s Bisha Hotel, 44 storeys above the ground. The hotel has seen the likes of Kit Harington, Emma Thompson and Jake Gyllenhaal stay in its suites, and a bunch of other famous faces have been to Kost, including Shaquille O’Neal. The Baja-inspired menu means a lot of avocado (toast, salad) and seafood (oysters, shrimp cocktail, ahi tuna), and the long wine list features a bunch of bubbly by the bottle (up to 800 smackers for a Krug Grand Cuvée Brut) and glass, including a pour of Spanish cava at a slightly more reasonable $14. 80 Blue Jays Way, 44th Floor, 437-800-5938, kosttoronto.com.
Montecito For celeb-approved taters
Film producer Ivan Reitman’s Entertainment District restaurant is never not a TIFF hot spot. His California-by-way-of-Canada kitchen is steps away from the Lightbox and has hosted Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union and Margot Robbie over the years. Canadian ingredients are always given top billing on the seasonal menu of good-for-you comfort food classics, including all kinds of veggies and proteins sourced from local farms and suppliers. And if the kitchen’s signature smashed, fried and pecorino-sprinkled potatoes are as good as Sandra Bullock thinks they are (she ordered two helpings of the taters in 2015), you’re going to want to tack those onto your bill. 299 Adelaide St. W., 416-599-0299, montecitorestaurant.ca.
Jacobs and Co. For an evening of total indulgence
Instead of celebs, the gawking here is mostly at the exquisite cuts of beef in various stages of dry-aging; at the cheddar popovers, each the size of a floodlight bulb; and at the names and prices on a list of wine bottles that numbers into the low thousands. The cheque comes with some gratis coffee cake muffins to take home—they’re so popular that, rumour has it, door staff at nearby King West clubs have been known to waive the cover charge if you’re willing to grease their palms with a few of the sweet treats. 12 Brant St., 416-366-0200, jacobssteakhouse.com.
Shook Kitchen For early-morning eye-openers
TIFF isn’t only for night owls. Early-morning cinephiles looking to fuel up before a 9 a.m. screening can hit up this new Israeli kitchen and market for grab-and-go rosewater lattes, date-tahini smoothies, saffron Danishes and other Middle Eastern eye-openers as early as 7 a.m. For the midday and evening crowds, there’s an exclusively vegetarian menu of assertively fresh, herb-laden sharing plates, shakshukas and dips paired with pillowy, za’atar-dusted pitas fresh from the kitchen’s two live-fire ovens. 77 Portland St., 647-484-7476, shookkitchen.com.
Planta Queen For vegan gyoza and dragon rolls
Celebrities and festival-goers living that #plantbased lifestyle no longer need to hoof it up to Yorkville between screenings for Planta’s vegan eats. That’s because chef David Lee recently opened up the restaurant’s fraternal twin on Queen West, in what used to be Nota Bene. This second Toronto location (there’s also one in South Beach) serves a different menu of meat- and dairy-free dishes. Here, the focus is on Asian flavours inspired by Lee’s upbringing, like dumplings, dan dan noodles, kung pao eggplant, pineapple fried rice and—two items that should prove very popular during TIFF—vegan sushi and dim sum brunch. 180 Queen St. W., 647-812-1221, plantarestaurants.com.