1111 Queen St. E., 416-792-4157, ascarienoteca.ca
Leslieville’s noodle joint for grown-ups has understated decor, well-matched wines and an innovative menu. Tender chunks of octopus are slightly charred and soaked in red wine before being pressed into a terrine and topped with pungent black olives and intense bits of orange. Eight fat agnolotti, sitting in a light leek broth, hold cauliflower and escarole; they are soft but toothsome and the broth keeps the pasta moist. Sweets include a zippy yet rich lemon pudding.
1801 Gerrard St. E., 416-546-6261, bodegahenriette.com
This jack-of-all-trades spot, tucked away on a residential stretch of Gerrard, is worth seeking out. It’s homey, casual and practical, with a section devoted to pantry essentials: butter, milk, produce, baked goodies, coffee, and gorgeous bread from Petite Thuet. In fact, chef Adam Weisberg previously worked with Mark Thuet, and his French training shows. A perfectly roasted marrow bone is made even better with a layer of crunchy golden crumbs and a couple of pinches of tangy gremolata; lightly smoked, silky-smooth chicken liver pâté is divine with crispy toasts and apple-pear compote. A succulent braised beef cheek comes on a velvety pool of celeriac purée, topped with a tempura scallion and sake-ginger gastrique; and a ramekin of buttery roasted root veggies is garnished with mild harissa yogurt and sweet-and-spicy pecans. The beer list is impressive for a 25-seat local, with plenty of craft brews and interesting imports available on tap and by the bottle. House-made doughnut holes from the café counter should satisfy any sweet teeth.
1386 Gerrard St. E., 416-405-8080
Spicy snacks and Shah Rukh Khan DVDs are natural partners—or so goes the thinking at this hybrid Indian dive–slash–Bollywood video store. The Bombay burger brings a potato patty slathered with potent chickpea curry on a fluffy bun. Thick-cut, masala-dusted fries come doused with rich yogurt, spicy green chutney and tangy tamarind sauce. A puffy slice of fried bread drips with grease but gets a punch of flavour from rich chickpea curry.
1352 Danforth Ave., 647-271-3949, citybetty.com
Keeping track of chef Alex Molitz is a full-time job. He first drew noticefor hunter’s feasts and bacchanalian brunches at Farmhouse Tavern, before sneaking off to the brilliant but short-lived Prohibition-themed Geraldine, and Waupoos Estate in Prince Edward County. Now he’s found his happy place at City Betty, allowing him to rediscover everything there is to love about farm-to-table cooking. In the weeks this spring when other chefs were dreaming up elaborate uses for ramps, Molitz simply pan-fried them in butter and highlighted their garlicky flavour with a sharp vinaigrette for unpretentious perfection. He inverted a stuffed avocado, layering creamy slices over pickled chilies and straight-off-the-plane Fogo Island shrimp. The basics-are-best ethos carries over to the desserts, like a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, ready for dunking in a frosted glass of bourbon and almond milk.
106 Broadview Ave., 416-362-8439, thebroadviewhotel.ca
Victorian-era taverns are the unlikely inspiration for John Sinopoli’s novel chophouse in the recently hipsterized Broadview Hotel. It’s impressive how he translates that past into something temptingly up-to-date, lavishing a braised rabbit leg with a lavender jus, dressing a buttery slice of toasted brioche with roasted hen of the woods and chanterelle mushrooms, and ratcheting up the tang of venison tartare with house-pickled mustard seeds and the orange yolk of a quail egg. The standout is an elk chop, which, along with the leather-top tables, the hard liquor cocktails and the dimly lit room, is a time machine to a cigar smoke–filled men’s club. You have a choice of sauces for that 14-ounce chop, but don’t bother: salt and pepper are enough to highlight the meatiness. In this particular case, the Victorians had it right.
Descendant Detroit Style Pizza
1168 Queen St. E., 647-347-1168, descendantdsp.com
Descendant’s square, sauce-on-top, Motown-style deep-dish pies are perfectly chewy, delightfully greasy and crunchy around the edges.It’s an imposing shape, but due to the unexpectedly airy (and addictive) nature of the pie, it’s possible to put away more slices than one might initially think possible–or advisable. The pies are topped with cheese and thoughtfully selected toppings: who else in town is putting slow-roasted garlic cremini mushrooms, double smoked bacon, lemon zest and truffle sauce on pizzas, as Descendant does with the Truff-Ghi? They taste as good as they look, but a post-pizza lie-down will seem like a good idea.
1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663, eastsidesocial.ca
The ideal neighbourhood local—not too crowded, not too noisy, just-right prices—goes strong in Leslieville. The nautical theme is campy without being kitschy, and the fare is refined comfort food at its best. Bar snacks, like devilled eggs topped with smoked trout, are perfect with the bar’s bracing cocktails. Moist salt cod balls dipped in tomatillo salsa or romesco make an irresistible starter, as do brandy-buttered mushrooms on toast. Mains bring a crispy skate-wing schnitzel drizzled with tart caper butter, sided by a luscious potato salad and a heaping plate of craggy fried chicken.
Gare de L’est
1190 Dundas St. E., 416-792-1626, gdlbrasserie.com
Dinner and a show no longer means having to schlep all the way downtown—and pay $40 for parking. The new Streetcar Crowsnest is a residential-entertainment complex at Dundas and Carlaw: the contemporary Crow’s Theatre provides the entertainment, and the handsome Gare de L’Est Brasserie the meal. The kitchen—run by chef de cuisine Mathew Gulyas and the east-side tag team of Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli (Broadview Hotel, Ascari Enoteca)—specializes in Parisian classics. Pre-theatre menus are available, starting at $35. For a nightcap, the by-the-glass wine list is littered with trendy picks that are typically bottle-only. And yes, there’s plenty of street parking nearby.
Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant
1220 Queen St. E., 416-469-5225, Facebook
Owner Gio Rana has created the cheerful, neighbourly atmosphere that most restaurateurs dream of—the kind of place where kids know what they want before they sit down and servers hug regulars goodbye. The busy kitchen churns out simple family-style dishes. There’s no innovation on a plate of figs with prosciutto and gorgonzola, but the ingredients are so excellent that they come to life on their own. There’s a plate of gnocchi on every table: the dumplings are huge, dense and miraculously ungummy, though their Bolognese sauce is too sweet. Juicy involtini (pulled pork rolled up with rib-eye) soak up a rich, salty jus. Desserts are either boring (a dry chèvre cheesecake) or weird (a handful of flavourless blueberries baked into an otherwise fluffy brownie).
Goods and Provisions
1124 Queen St. E., 647-340-1738, goodsandprovisionsrestaurant.com
This belle époque room in Leslieville is charming, if not a little too dark and a little too loud. The menu is shamelessly meaty, and the kitchen makes clever use of Asian ingredients mashed up against classic European and Canadian recipes. A knob of nori butter melts into a Flintstone-worthy slab of seared P.E.I. beef, and two fat fish tacos wrapped in soft tortilla shells are sided with house-made kimchee that’s mouth-hurting-hot, but good. The bar stocks plenty of bourbon, serving cocktails in vintage cut-glass stemware. Servers are knowledgable and chatty—when you can hear them over the din.
Greta Solomon’s Dining Room
1118 Queen St. E., 647-347-8640, Facebook
Owner Darlene Mitchell hails from Newfoundland—home of cod tongues and flipper pie—but the food she and chef Miriam Echeverria serve in this tiny Leslieville room is unmistakably French. A pan-seared sea scallop, sourced from neighbouring Hooked, is flanked by crispy bits of oxtail, radish slices, plump raisins, turnip purée and pickled cauliflower, and piping-hot swiss chard gratin with bacon is sauced with creamy mornay and topped with gruyère. Ontario beef tenderloin is served on fingerling confit potatoes, and spectacular morels—done up in duck fat and demi-glace—are dressed to impress in chive-studded béarnaise. The wine list is long and thoughtful for such a diminutive spot, and the desserts—like a deconstructed fruit tart wrapped in a shortbread collar with elderflower chantilly—equally so.
1471 Gerrard St. E., 416-792-1590, lakeinezto.com
Chef Robbie Hojilla—formerly of Ursa, Hudson Kitchen and the Harbord Room—has landed in Little India. At Lake Inez, a boisterous Filipino restaurant just west of Coxwell, Hojilla adds personal touches to the dishes he grew up with. Crispy fried chicken wings are coated in honey-garlic adobo and sprinkled with sesame seeds and fiery chilies, and skewers of tender pork are glazed in 7-Up and soy sauce, then grilled over Japanese charcoal. They’re perfect bites to go with one of the many natural wines or excellent local beers on offer—Lake Inez is run by the folks behind the Wren, another A-plus craft beer bar on the Danforth.
226 Greenwood Ave., 416-462-2703, mahasbrunch.com
At this tiny east-end kitchen, owner Maha Barsoom and her family send out over-the-top-delicious Egyptian food. Their falafel—flatter and darker than their Lebanese counterparts, and sesame seed–encrusted—are a contender for the city’s best. Pulled roasted chicken on brioche is dry and vinegary, but the Pharaoh’s Shrimp Po’ Boy is clever and tasty: tender shrimp, fried in a crisp batter, is stuffed into a warm pita and liberally sauced with tomeya, an Egyptian garlic mayo. Uninspired desserts are not made in-house, but the killer honey-cardamom lattes are.
Maple Leaf Tavern
955 Gerrard St. E., 416-465-0955, mapleleaftavern.ca
Once an east-end dive, the 107-year-old tavern has been given new life, thanks to a two-year, $1-million makeover designed to position it as a legitimate dining destination. Chef Jesse Vallins churns out what might be his best food to date, much of it from a wood-burning oven. The roasted vegetable salad with fried halloumi gives the kitchen a chance to grill up whatever’s in season, and the burger—a patty of ground strip loin topped with house-made cheese, garlic mayo and dill relish—could hold its own against any of the city’s best. Kegged rye and gingers (made with artisanal ginger beer, natch) are a fun touch.
550 Danforth Ave., 416-466-0400, pizzerialibretto.com
The Danforth location is a less frenetic version of the wildly popular Ossington pizzeria. Tables span two floors, so the space feels less cramped, and the owners have made the merciful decision to take reservations. There are two wood-burning ovens manned by pizzaiolos turning out Libretto’s signature blistered, charred and chewy Neapolitan pies. One superb version brings caramelized onion, pork belly and bomba, a spicy Italian relish. Aggressively attentive servers clear plates before they’re clean.
Pinkerton Snack Bar
1026 Gerrard St. E., 416-855-1460, Twitter
With a room decked out in antiques, reclaimed wood and retro lighting, and a playlist of throwbacks, Pinkerton’s feels like a Parkdale transplant. It’s not difficult for two people to eat everything on the short menu here. Best bets are the Laotian-style beef tartare and the tuna tostada, a messy but delicious plate of raw albacore, crispy won tons, avocado crema, chilies and nori. Of the classic cocktails, the smooth and citrusy paper plane is exceptional.
Queen Margherita Pizza
1402 Queen St. E.,416-466-6555, qmpizza.com
On the roster of Neapolitan pizzerias, Queen Margherita is slightly better than Terroni and slightly inferior to Libretto. It’s also a friendly, convivial place, with a smart three-course prix fixe that suits the crowd of families and birthday partiers. The popular diavola pizza, blasted in a stone oven, has hot peppers, roasted black olives and spicy sopressata on a thin, nicely blistered crust.
White Lily Diner
678 Queen St. E., 416-901-7800, whitelilydiner.ca
He’s got 20 years and six kitchens under his apron strings, but at this east-end diner, chef Ben Denham is keeping it small and simple. The focus is on southern classics done up in surprising ways, and made with is local meats and produce. Golden rosti-like hash browns come topped with malt mayo and green onion, and charred broccoli, dusted with shaved aged ricotta, swims in a naughty-but-nice sausage gravy. Delicately smoked salmon and tuna arrive with greens and a surprisingly well-matched asiago and lemon dip. The Reuben stacks house-made rye with (also house-made) sauerkraut, a pink-in-the-middle beef patty, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese. Desserts are all made on the premises, too: butter tarts hide maple- and bourbon-plumped raisins, and perfect yeast doughnuts, including one glazed with chocolate and finished with a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt. Service is super-friendly and diner-fast.
819 Gerrard St. E., 416-778-5171, wynonatoronto.com
Former Ufficio chef Jeff Bovis has succeeded in opening a restaurant and wine bar that is both casual and romantic, including a street-facing display window that, when it’s open on a warm summer evening, makes the unfolding streetscape seem as inviting as anywhere in the city—especially after a glass or two of skin-contact grenache rosé or something else from the wine geek-friendly, on-trend card. There’s a rustic Mediterranean bent to just about everything on the menu of pastas, crudos and seasonally driven produce dishes. Everything is meant to be shared, even if it’s hard to forfeit anything from a mound of spaghetti tossed with Ontario zucchini, anchovy and bottarga, topped with a snow-capped peak of stracciatella. And a whole branzino, drizzled with brown butter and buried under an avalanche of olives and capers, wouldn’t look out of place at a small-town taverna.
See Toronto Life’s article here.