When it comes to Toronto’s culinary scene, it’s amazing how one guy leaving town can cause such a commotion.
I’m as sorry as the next foodie that Susur Lee headed to Manhattan, but there are still so many opportunities for good eating in this city that I won’t be shedding too many tears.
Here’s a list of 10 of my favourite places scattered throughout the GTA. These are not the 10 “best” restaurants. Only one or two are even what you’d call expensive. They’re just 10 places that serve a particular dish or style of food I really like. And that’s the main reason to go to a restaurant, right?
Allen’s, 143 Danforth Ave.
It’s a great pub with a beautiful backyard to dine in during the warm months, but I come here for the best burger in the GTA. Freshly-ground, high-quality beef served as rare as you like it with superb sweet potato fries and a beer list to die for. Heaven.
Peak Top, 3255 Rutherford Rd.
Concord, (905) 738-0838
For me, Chinese food means barbecue and there’s none better than what you can find here. This location in Vaughan Mills Plaza looks elegant, but it’s the meat you’ll remember: the crunchiest duck, crackling pork and chicken so crisp-skinned you’ll cry.
Centre Street Deli, 1136 Centre St. Thornhill, (905) 731-8037
My childhood deli memories are from Manhattan, not Montreal, but I find this place the real thing, as do many who grew up swearing by Schwartz’s. Smoked meat is king here, hand-carved and spicy with the authentic peppery tang that keeps you coming back.
Splendido, 88 Harbord St.
You’ve got to have one place for special dining occasions and – now that Susur is closed – there’s no need to choose. This is, hands down, the class act in town. Perfect service, exquisite presentation and – of course – magnificent food. Best of all, there’s not a whiff of snobbery about the place; they make you feel at home.
Batifole, 744 Gerrard St. E.
I may be prejudiced because it’s near my home, but many people besides me hail this as the best French bistro in town. The room is small and the tables are rickety, but the prices are low and the food is superb. If Beef Cheeks are on the menu, order them!
Il Gelaterie Artigianale
647 Mt. Pleasant Rd.
Strictly speaking, gelato isn’t ice cream, but sweet frozen eating in this city doesn’t come any better than here. They’ve usually got more than 30 flavours and it’s the best I’ve tasted outside of Florence. Chocolato al Peperoncini (with red pepper) is a killer.
Tutti Matti, 364 Adelaide St. W. (416) 597-8839
Convivial at lunchtime, romantic in the evening, this Tuscan dining room is true to its school: no pizza and hardly a tomato in sight. But there’s pastas and polentas you won’t forget and heady game dishes (like their wild boar ragu) you won’t find anywhere else.
JK Wine Bar, 9 Church St., JK at the Gardiner, 111 Queen’s Park, Gilead Café, 4 Gilead Pl.
(416) 362-1957 for all venues
Okay, if I have a favourite chef now that Susur is gone, it’s Jamie Kennedy. He saw where dining was going in other cities and led the way in Toronto. Small plates, lots of wines by the glass and an atmosphere that is relaxed, yet classy.
Best of all, his new casual Gilead Café lets you bop in anytime and get the best fries in town ($4) or a deluxe poutine that changes every day ($8). Lots of yummy takeout, too.
Sushi Kaji, 860 The Queensway
This ain’t your daddy’s sushi joint. Don’t come here looking for California rolls, but an experience that approaches pure art. No à la carte, but exquisite tasting menus at $80 to $120. Sit at the bar to watch Mitsuhiro Kaji make magic out of raw fish. Unforgettable.
Burrito Boyz, 120 Peter St., (416) 593-9191
218 Adelaide St. W., (647) 439-4065
9 Stavebank Rd. N., Mississauga, (905) 891-2699
Purists will tell you it isn’t real Mexican. All you need to know is that it’s delicious, cheap and high quality, with their Halibut Burrito one of tastiest things in the city. But avoid the downtown locations after the clubs close. Drunk people eating burritos. Not pretty.