We love Toronto’s loud, low-lit, well-lubricated restaurants as much as the next taco enthusiast, but sometimes, a hungry diner just wants to tuck in somewhere friendly and reliable. Here are our favourite underrated spots across the city.
Mangia & Bevi
Tucked in a labyrinthine industrial office complex, Mangia & Bevi features salads, pastas, and paninis—but it’s the pizzas, made with a chewy base, that are the true revelation. Try the burina ($17), a salty, spicy pie topped with sausage, pancetta, and whole cloves of roasted garlic, and wash it down with one of the daily featured wines.
260 King St. E., 416-203-1635.
Kingsway Fish & Chips
You’ll notice the teapots first—at least 300 of them, stacked neatly on shelves and in cupboards. It’s an appropriately British flourish for this 43-year-old shrine to fish and chips, where the halibut is soft and sizeable, encased in a glistening crust that shatters on impact. Opt for “Two & a Few” ($18), which brings a pair of pieces and a pile of golden fries; for the more restrained, one and some will set you back $11.
3060 Bloor St. W., 416-233-3355.
Plunked on a quiet corner in Corktown, this cozy haunt brings in a steady stream of well-accessorized locals and the theatre-bound, all of whom pick away at plates of perfectly seasoned steak frites ($26) and creamy mac and cheese ($15). The comfort food–focussed menu rarely changes (a wise move that satisfies the loyal clientele), but new additions like Arctic char with wild leeks, brown butter, and a potato purée ($24) show that longtime chef and owner Constance Guitard has a knack for homey food with a refined touch.
354 King St. E., 416-777-9339.
CHEF PICK: The Greek Grill
Forget the Danforth: The city’s best Greek food can be found on the edge of East York. Beautifully seasoned chicken gyro slowly roasts on a spit ($6.50 for a pita sandwich), calamari comes perfectly crisp ($15), and juicy hunks of pork are grilled expertly ($13). “I haven’t had Greek food this good since I was in Athens,” says Rob Gentile, chef at Buca and Bar Buca. “It’s simple food, but really well done. You know it’s the real deal because the kitchen is packed with older Greek men.”
128 O’Connor Dr., 416-461-5200.
At his seven-year-old Yonge and Eg spot, Coquine owner Rob Prete transplants a piece of Paris to Midtown. French classics like moules frites ($16), cassoulet ($25), and Pernod-inflected escargots ($9) abound, and a streetside patio, which wraps around the front of the restaurant, comes alive in the warmer weather.
2075 Yonge St., 416-322-6767.
Bread & Roses Bakery
Though this spot is no secret to Bloor West Villagers, it’s not yet a pastry-pilgrim mecca. Start with one of their loaded turkey sandwiches with meat carved straight from the bird, house-made cranberry sauce, and stuffing ($6). Or skip right to dessert, with a pile of enormous, chewy, chocolate-covered macaroons ($1.25).
2232 Bloor St. W., 416-769-9898.
Swirl Wine Bar
Look for the small hanging sign, then go through what appears to be a residential door (because it is) and up a flight of stairs to this cozy Leslieville spot. Wine here is taken seriously without being stuffy, and prices are reasonable. There isn’t a working kitchen, but the fridge is stocked with “jars”—mini Masons filled with prepared cheeses, spreads, spiced nuts, and marinated olives ($5–$10)—and there are cheese and charcuterie plates ($15) for bigger appetites. Grab a board game from the pile (might we suggest Dirty Dancing?) and play while you sip.
946 Queen St. E., 647-351-5453.
CHEF PICK: Jim’s Restaurant
Hot sandwiches, barbecue chicken, and Greek dishes make up the better part of this longtime Leslieville diner’s menu, which does not (unlike neighbouring spots) feature the words “artisanal” or “organic.” “It really is the best example of what happens when a neighbourhood gentrifies: The place is packed with guys wearing suits and people who look like they’ve been drinking in an alley all night,” says The Beverley Hotel’s chef, Eric Wood. Although Jim’s is known for its Western omelet sandwiches ($5), Wood recommends the peameal on a kaiser ($6). “It basically comes as a bacon steak!”
897 Queen St. E., 416-463-6535.
The New Yorker Deli
If you somehow missed the name of this deli, the dreamy landscape murals of the Big Apple (with an oversized Statue of Liberty front and centre) will get you sorted. The giant menu features all-day breakfast and bagel platters, but it’s the hot sandwiches that draw loyal customers. Go for the deli’s specialty, the corned-beef combo ($11.99): Thin slices of warm, salty beef are stacked high between pieces of soft, light rye and served with crispy latkes and sour pickles.
1140 Bay St., 416-923-3354.
CHEF PICK: Kovalsky Restaurant
With its Polish and Eastern European dishes, Kovalsky Restaurant is not the place for a nice, light snack. Instead, bring an appetite and sate it with comfort-food specialties like schnitzel, sausage, goulash, and, of course, pierogies. It’s the neighbourhood local for This End’s Up owners Adam Urquhart and Karen Young. Among their suggestions: bigos (sauerkraut mixed with taters, $8.99) and kopytka (the Polish take on gnocchi, $8.99). “In my humble opinion,” says Urquhart, “Kovalsky does Polish food better than Café Polonez on Roncesvalles.”
667 The Queensway, 416-201-6999.
Originally Shaw Grocery, this Junction Triangle business has been family-owned and -operated since 1964. The veal sandwich is made-to-order and rests on a giant, pillowy Kaiser ($6.75). You can have it as is, or deck it out in toppings: Hot peppers, onions, and mushrooms are free, while grilled eggplant, cheese, zucchini, or sweet peppers top out at $1 each. There are a few tables if you choose to eat in, or you could take your masterpiece for a walk along the nearby West Toronto Railpath.
1419 Bloor St. W., 416-531-7367.
Bite & Sip
From the home of eight-cent ladies fashion briefs and batteries of questionable longevity comes the finest soft pretzels in the city. For over a year, the sprightly Milka Cobanov has been operating her small shop within the walls of Honest Ed’s, selling sandwiches, smoothies, and—the main draw—handmade pretzels. Gargantuan twists ($2.49–$2.99) put ballpark offerings to shame, but we’re partial to the dense, buttery “bites” ($2.99 for 14), which come studded with salt or dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
571 Bloor St. W., 416-536-0458.
Torontonians might not line up for okonomiyaki the way they will for ramen, but this Japanese pancake house has been around since 1978, so it’s doing something right. First-timers should try the seafood deluxe pancake ($12.95), stuffed with scallops, squid, fake crab, and big pieces of shrimp, then slathered with tonktasu (a thicker Worcestershire) and kewpie mayo. The chicken ($6.95) is a filling alternative for the non-seafood lover in you.
23 Charles St. W., 416-925-6176.
CHEF PICK: Boo Radley’s Bar & Grill
This small-town bar in a big city serves up pub-fare favourites alongside pints of local lager, and the leafy side patio is a nice refuge from a concrete-heavy stretch of Dupont. Farmhouse Tavern’s Alexander Molitz says, “It’s my true local, where they feed my need for grilled-cheese sandwiches [$10].” On Sunday afternoons, Moritz will “steal away from work at around 4 p.m. and run over to enjoy Boo’s standing Sunday prime-rib roast with Yorkshire pudding, jus, and all the fixings [$16.95]. And, of course, a pint of Beau’s. Then it’s back to work for 5 p.m.” Be sure to bring some change for the AC/DC pinball machine.
1482 Dupont St., 416-516-9992.
Indian Roti House
Brave the streetcar-track and condo construction by the water for this roti restaurant that rivals its well-treked Parkdale cousins. Giant, hefty rotis (some are vegan) are made to order, with spices that are roasted and stone-ground in-house. The lamb tikka masala roti ($9.95) is a good entry for those who love heat, while the butter chicken ($10.95) is a rich, milder option.
256 Queens Quay W., 416-260-6666.
The Beech Tree Pub
The word “pub” is something of a misnomer for this gem in the Beaches’ north end. The place is quiet enough to bring a date, the kitchen is accommodating to picky kids, and the new spring menu is heavy on Ontario offerings. Pork-tenderloin medallions are lifted by the tartness of poached rhubarb ($20), while a soft-poached duck egg on toast brims with warm mushrooms ($11).
924 Kingston Rd., 416-399-4444.
The spacious Ema-Tei does it all: There are grilled fish necks, yakitori, and curry, plus hot pot, omakase, and hey, even a children’s menu. Try the special bento box ($30), which is a nice departure from the tired teriyaki and rice. On one recent visit, it included charred kingfish with black-bean sauce, black cod with marinated daikon, bacon-wrapped asparagus, nigiri sushi with a proper fish-to-rice ratio, and almond-crusted fried chicken.
30 St. Patrick St., 416-340-0472.
CHEF PICK: Bánh Cuon Pho Gà
Café Boulud chef Tyler Shedden came across this little Vietnamese place six months ago, while driving around his neighbourhood. “I order the number 7: pho with brisket, tendon, tripe, and rare beef [$6]. The broth has a lot of anise and cinnamon,” he says. Having spent a few months in Vietnam years ago, Shedden knows that this place doesn’t dumb it down for Canadian tastes. “Normally, if you order a chicken soup, they just do chicken breast. Here they do it proper, with dark leg meat, liver, gizzards, heart, and some fat [$6]. It’s the best I’ve had yet in Toronto.”
1772 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-651-3771.
There’s no loud music at this Mexican restaurant, no ironic iconography, and no reclaimed wood. Instead, portions are big, prices are low, and every meal begins with complimentary chips and guac. On weekends, you’ll see neighbourhood families catching up with the staff in Spanish. Be sure to try the lengua (beef-tongue tacos, $13.90 for four), with meat that’s shredded, moist, and piled high on tortillas. This is also the place for tortas and steaks—and if you’re with a group, get the smorgasbord of meat known as parrilladas (from $49).
1216 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-342-0262.
There are endless aisles of produce and seafood here—and enough Melona ice pops see you through a summer without A/C—but the real draw is the giant food court. Do not leave without ordering the spicy Mom’s Chicken, the grocer’s take on Korean fried chicken. At $12.98 for a half (or $21.98 for a whole), it’s a steal, with hunks of gloriously crispy bird tossed in a sticky, semi-spicy red-pepper sauce. The chicken takes 30 minutes to cook, so call ahead.
7040 Yonge St., 905-882-0040, and 865 York Mills Rd., 647-352-5004.
Gwailo chef (and Markham native) Nick Liu’s top suburban eats
Saigon Star: “Order the curry crab with a Vietnamese roll or roti—the sauce is epic!”
330 Hwy 7 E., 905-731-721.
Sun’s Kitchen: “The pulled noodles are the star of all the dishes, but my favourites are the Dan Dan noodles [$5.97] and the cold spicy minced pork [$6.86]. So cheap!”
4300 Steeles Ave. E, unit F5, 905-947-8463.
Ding Tai Fung: “This is the place I go to the most. Everything is great here, but the Shanghai xiao long bao is the best in the city.”
3235 York Regional Road 7, suite 18b, 905-943-9880.
Mistaan Sweets: “They make the best samosas. Twelve for $4—what a deal! My dad also loves the Indian sweets there.”
478 McNicoll Ave., 416-502-2737.
John’s Chinese BBQ: “There’s an awesome off-menu char shiu served with braised sweet soybeans. It’s Asian pork and beans!”
328 York Regional Road 7, 905-881-3333.
Omei: “This is old-school Chinese in Richmond Hill. They have a sick king crab or lobster four-course menu. This is one of my parents’ staples.”
420 York Regional Road 7, 905-881-8188.
What’s your favourite hidden-gem restaurant? Tell us about it in the comments section below.