The past year has brought a never-ending series of challenges for Toronto’s restaurant industry. The ongoing strife, however, has driven innovation. Looking back at the past year, it’s truly amazing that restaurants have been able to stay open at all, let alone manage to delight and surprise us with multi-course takeout tasting menus, thoughtful cocktail kits, chef-driven markets, and countless other groundbreaking transformations.
BEST DATE NIGHT
There’s a passion and vibrancy to Italian spot La Palma’s interior that might seem impossible to replicate at home — until one samples its simple but sumptuous take-away menu, lights a candle or two, puts on a record, and dims the lights. Talk is easy even though your mouths are sure to be full when splitting the cacio e pepe pizza or, perhaps, the 100-layer lasagna. Smooth tiramisù for dessert will seal the deal.
BEST FINE DINING
One of the city’s top restaurants, contemporary French hot spot Alo offers weekly five-course menus to be devoured at home that are as detailed and carefully constructed as if you were nestled in the restaurant’s sorely missed dining area. With dishes ranging from black striped sea bass crudo to cavatelli pasta to east coast scallop and pork belly, this is the definition of fine dining – at home.
THE MICHELIN MAN
Even in takeout form, Sushi Masaki Saito continues to offer one of Toronto’s best dining experiences. The restaurant has hosted several limited-time takeout pop-ups over the past year featuring omakase boxes hand prepared by the Michelin-starred chef.
BEST MEAL KITS
Konjiki Ramen is making it possible to enjoy its Michelin-recognized ramen in the comfort of home with its new frozen ramen kits. Each of the two kit options comes with three sets of ramen noodles, soups, and toppings, with smokey black tonkotsu and spicy miso ramen among the choices available. Diners can also add on extra savoury toppings like pork chashu and braised pork belly.
BEST BOTTLE SHOP
Babel temporarily paused its food takeout service last November, but its pop-up bottle shop is still going strong. It features a well-curated selection of wine, beer, cocktail kits and spirits, including exclusive spirits, made in partnership with Dillon’s distillery, for its sister restaurants Canoe and Maison Selby. Auberge du Pommier’s manager and wine educator, Anna Jarosz, offers free virtual wine consultations.
BEST NEW CHINESE
Toronto is home to hundreds of Chinese restaurants, but Sunny’s Chinese, a not-so-secret pop-up, takes the top spot. The menu can’t be found online — you’ll have to sign up for the newsletter to receive it. Menus feature dishes that honour regional origins. Past menu items have included twice-cooked pork with long pepper, Chinese-style dumplings, scallion and ginger snapper and stir-fried bok choy with garlic sauce.
Local Public Eatery was one of the first adopters of the restaurant-turned-market concept and continues to offer an excellent selection of goods for home cooks. Dubbed the Local Corner Store, the Leaside restaurant features signature ingredients like fire-roasted salsa and garlic chili sauce, as well as DIY meal kits and heat-and-eat dishes like braised short ribs.
Restaurateur Grant van Gameren’s latest may have recently pivoted to a chicken joint called Don Pollo, but it’s still offering “Quetzal at Home,” a luxe multi-course to-go kit that brings the best of the Mexican spot’s cuisine to your door. Worth every dollar, its prix fixe dinner menu shifts by the week. Throw in a Quetzal cocktail and the only thing your wallet will regret is not springing for more.
Through its name alone, which translates to “craftsman heart,” Bedford Park–based Shoushin promises authentic, well-made edomae-style sushi with a refined taste. That’s thanks to chef Jackie Lin, who has worked for two decades as a sushi chef and for whom simplicity and elegance are key — in both the restaurant’s space and menu. To taste Shoushin’s sushi is to taste dedication.
Home of $5 tacos, Gus Taqueria has been serving up a taste of Mexico to Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood for just over two years. All tacos come enveloped in a handmade corn tortilla, and there are 10 protein options to choose from, including barbacoa (braised lamb) and mushrooms for a vegetarian option. Gus Taqueria also makes its salsas and many toppings in-house.
BEST COCKTAIL KIT
With both originals and classics decorating the Cloak Bar’s menu, you can pick up everything from a tequila milk punch or a rye & pandan manhattan to a whole Ontario-sourced wine-tasting kit. The Cloak Bar now also boasts a cocktail hotline, where you can place instant, custom orders via Instagram or head bartender Farzam Fallah can rustle up a recommendation just for you.
Italian eatery 7 Numbers has worked with chefs and restaurants across the city this year, including hosting a taco pop-up with the former owner of Fonda Lola, Andreas Marquez. Most recently, the restaurant teamed up with Stock-in-Trade butcher shop for a weekly in-house residency. The butcher shop will soon be a permanent fixture at the Danforth location and will have its own side entrance.
In its efforts to adapt to a changing world and industry, Pizzeria Libretto got quick and clever, selling pizza — its beloved Italian staple — in frozen form. Easy to heat up and devour entirely in one’s home, this new feature had been in the making for some time, with president Max Rimaldi having had the idea six years ago. The frozen menu is now carried by several top Toronto grocers.
BEST MODERN DINER
A Yonge Street mainstay for over four decades, Rosedale Diner continues to delight Toronto with its creative selection of Canadian and Middle Eastern dishes. It also has an impressive range of biodynamic, organic and natural wines.
BEST OPENING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Ranging from house-made dip platters to spicy skewers and meaty mains finished with fresh herbs, Amal’s flavourful dishes will break you out of even the deepest takeout rut.
BEST WINE BAR AT HOME
There’s always been a singular low-lit intimacy to Grey Gardens, Jen Agg’s Kensington Market wine bar. Although you can’t perfectly recapture the experience of sipping a glass of crisp wine over smoked fish – chips n’ dip, its bottle shop offers a taste of the experience with offerings ranging from a citrus spritz cocktail for two to a biodynamic Malvazija from Slovenia.
BEST BAR SNACKS
Queen West’s 416 Snack Bar has transitioned to takeout with “meal format snacks.” The multi-person whole fish platter has been miniaturized into the “jerk fish for one,” and small plates have been upsized.
BEST GHOST KITCHEN
Opened in October 2020, Coast by MDP isn’t actually a physical restaurant at all, but a ghost kitchen with a delivery-only model run by Matt Dean Pettit, the chef behind Rock Lobster. This top spot for surf and turf in Toronto serves up seafood favourites, including lobster rolls, a cheesy lobster poutine, beer-battered fish sandwiches and, of course, a creamy seafood chowder. It recently expanded to Vaughan.
Inspired by traditional Thai cuisine, Mugi is a purely plant-based Thai restaurant that makes all of its curries and chili sauces in-house. Fish sauces and shrimp pastes commonly found in Thai dishes have been replaced by Mugi’s own plant-based recipes. All of the noodle dishes, like the Chaiya pad Thai, use sweet potato noodles instead of gluten-based or rice-based noodles, and everything on the menu is vegan.
BEST CHEF-MADE PRODUCT
The Sanjeev Masala Co. spice line from Host Hospitality Group is based on the blends developed by late founder Sanjeev Sethi. It’s made to help diners build a pantry of Indian culinary staples.
Ossington bistro Union offers an outstanding weekend brunch menu that includes dishes like simple but superb Flat Top Breakfast with double-smoked bacon and the BBQ rib benny with spicy aïoli.
Charbroiled cheeseburgers and home-cut fries are the only things on the menu at Harry’s Charbroiled. Formerly operating out of a food truck, Harry’s has found a new home on Palmerston Avenue in the former home of Woodlot in the Little Italy neighbourhood. Although we were sad to see Woodlot go, we’re happy to see the space serving as a permanent home for Harry’s.
With summer just around the corner, Beach Hill Smokehouse is ready for barbecue season and eager to serve up some Southern hospitality with its mouth-watering selection of smoked meats. Inspired by the traditional smoking practices found in central Texas, Beach Hill sells its meats by the half-pound. A variety of meaty sandwiches is also on offer, along with family-sized cookout kits.
BEST INDEPENDENT CHEF VENTURE
With Leña temporarily closed, chef Julie Marteleira founded Petisco Kitchen, an Instagram-based food business, with her mother and sister. It specializes in traditional Portuguese dishes.
BEST HAUTE CUISINE
Iconic French restaurant Scaramouche continues to prove why it’s an enduring Toronto favourite with a takeout menu that includes dishes like soy-sesame glazed roasted duck breast with duck confit dumplings.
BEST ON A BUDGET
A favourite for classic Italian-American staples and red sauce pastas, Sugo’s friendly neighbourhood vibe and affordable homemade comfort foods make it a must-visit for when a craving for Italian food strikes. With most items priced under $16, Sugo serves a variety of sandwiches, pastas, salads, and small plates, including veal parm, stuffed peppers, and house-made ricotta gnocchi.