Where to eat in Toronto Right Now
Toronto. The Big Smoke. Tdot. The Six. The City formerly known as Toronto. My hometown has had more monikers than Puff Daddy (P. Diddy? Who even knows?). In addition to its most recent rebranding (thanks to Drake), the City has upped its cool factor and has developed a killer food scene. While having a reputation for some of the most authentic multinational cuisines in the world, boasting areas such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal and Koreatown, the Six has grown up and got fine in the process. (I see you).
Food culture has always been prevalent in Toronto but the world has now seemed to take notice. With appearances on Anthony Bourdain's famed TV shows and the rise of local celebrity chefs, the food scene has matured (its hard to tell because, botox). Bye-bye awkward teen years, hello hot-without-trying millenial.
Below we have complied a list of favourite old and new restaurants you should visit this summer. The qualifiers we used for determining the list were places with good food and drinks but that also had great buzz and atmosphere, which is really what summer dining is all about.
Ok, so in case you've been living under a rock, or you've been in hiding until the Trump administration is over (understandable), you will know that veganism is currently all the rage. Vegan, vegetarian and plant-based cuisine is having a peak trendiness moment (its like the fidget spinner of eating). This is partly because people's social consciousness about the benefits of the lifestyle have evolved, and also because we all watched the same documentary on Netflix.
In any case, whether you are full blown vegan or just dabbling in the organic gluten-free pond, Planta is definitely a place to check out. The restaurant is a relative newcomer but on the night we visited (a random Tuesday), the Yorkville location was absolutely packed. The unassuming exterior leads guests to a chic and inviting dining room - the leafy wallpaper was not lost on me.
The waitstaff is well versed in the menu, which can best be described as eclectic. There are a variety of vegan pizzas, kimchi rolls, Moroccan and Thai salads, as well as vegan burgers, lasagne and pasta. The standouts for me were the vegan crab cakes and the chicken fried mushrooms (which were like chicken fingers, without the chicken). An accessible price point and a relaxed but bustling atmosphere makes this place return-worthy even for those who regularly eat meat (savages).
Lee is the O.G. of Toronto restaurants, thanks to its owner and celebrity chef, Susur Lee (Top Chef Masters). The venue in the heart of the Entertainment District, has seen a number of transformations over the years. When I first visited almost 10 years ago (being interviewed for my first law job), it was actually two separate restaurants (both run by Lee). The space has since been revamped to include cozy lighting, a large glowing bar (very cool) and the amazing sidewalk terrace space it now boasts.
The real reason it has survived and continued to thrive though is simply because the food is fantastic. Lee's signature dish is the Singaporean Style Slaw (pictured below), which contains 19 ingredients including edible flowers. Its incredible. Additional favourites are the "Luckee" Shrimp Cheung Fun and the Spicy Crisp Tofu.
3. Piano Piano
Piano Piano is the newest addition to the Toronto culinary landscape. Housed in the old Splendido space, Piano Piano offers casual Italian offerings, including some of the best pizza and garlic bread I've ever had. Gorgeous interiors might give the impression that the food will pretentious, but fear not. The restaurant and the menu is family friendly but into the evening the place also has a busy bar scene. Reservations are necessary and hard to come by during these early opening days.
If you are feeling especially indulgent order the carrot cake for dessert. The menu says it serves two but we barley made a dent in it with four people. Four very happy people.
4. El Catrin
El Catrin, in the Historic Distillery District, is my favourite Mexican restaurant in Toronto. During the summer their terrace, with its hanging overhead tea lights, is the best in town. The interior of the place is just as cool with street art murals painted by Mexican artists specifically flown in for the project, and an impressive floor-to-ceiling bar.
Now I'm not a tequila expert, but I do know an incredible margarita when I meet one (last time I met 5 or 6). I also know a tequila hangover is categorically the best of all hangovers.
The food is a sharing concept with traditional tacos, burritos and ceviche as well as some standout specialty items. I recommend the esquites, charred corn off the cob, and if you are feeling daring you have the option of adding crickets to your guacamole.
Of course Drake's first venture into the F&B world was gonna be in the Six, and of course it was gonna be on this List. A joint venture between chef / restauranteur Susur Lee and Drake, Fring's has lived up to the hype. The venue boasts an impressive bar upon walking in, with a chic eclectic decor (although the faux fur pillows can go), and a dimly lit dining room as well as outdoor terrace seating. On the weekends the basement lounge called Diablo is opened for drinks / private events.
The menu is an interesting mix of southern comfort and asian influences. Standouts include the Fried Chicken with Hong Kong style Waffles, the Tuna Watermelon Ceviche and the Crab Cakes. The restaurant also provides a cocktail list made exclusively with Drake's own Virginia Black whiskey label which is very good. As you head downstairs there's a neon "Six on a Wave" sign that you are obligated to take a photo with.
If you are a sushi lover, Blowfish is a must-visit in Toronto. The original King Street location has been there forever, with a subsequent venue opening about 2 years ago in the heart of the Financial District. The venue is very much a scene, highly moody and escalates in volume throughout the evening (this is also how I describe myself to strangers).
The cocktail menu is always on point here, and we recommend trying the spicy tuna on crispy rice and the spicy tuna with rock shrimp. Happy dining!!