I've read a lot of 'top 5' or 'top 10' restaurants in Toronto guides, and a lot of them make me frown.
But what is a restaurant guide, if not just a fancy opinion column with pretty pictures of food? So I thought I would offer up my thoughts since I seem to find myself in a lot of restaurants throughout the city.
This is not a 'top 5 cocktails' or 'top 5 pizzas' type of thing, it's just a shortlist of restaurants that have impressed me and deserve a try (in my opinion).
THE HOTHOUSE CAFE
35 Church St. (at Front)
OK, so I've been going to the HH Cafe for about half my life, and would like to think I have earned getting good service there. But the truth is, I've always received good service there, except maybe once or twice (not bad if you consider that I've been there probably an average of 20-30 times a year over the last 16-17 years). The flatbread pizzas are awesome, the pasta and jambalaya are great, mussels are yummy, prices are very reasonable, servers are smiley and efficient (and they know who I am!). Not to mention the patio is large and in a great location for people watching. My fave spot to eat in the city, probably always will be.
3080 Dundas St. W. (at Quebec Ave.)
Littefish is a charming brunch spot in the Junction. The scrambled eggs, heuvos, sausage and pancakes are to die for, the coffee is always fresh, and there are homemade cakes and treats as well. The service is very friendly and personal; the only drawback is sometimes waiting for a table, although it's well worth the wait. Oh yeah, and my partner says the bathroom is immaculate, so points for that!
SIDECAR BAR AND GRILL
577 College St. (at Manning Ave.)
Talk about a high-class dining experience without a high-class price tag! The Sunday-through-Wednesday prix fixe menu (including appetizer, main and dessert) is easily worth the cash ($25 as of April 18, 2011), but there are lots more to feast on including ricotta gnocchi and braised oxtail. Sidecar has quite the extensive wine list. Service and atmosphere are great.
1554 Queen St. W. (at Dowling Ave.)
Mitzi's is a fun spot with a menu that covers off (weekend) brunch to dinner in fine fashion. The blackened haddock (and chili lime chicken) tacos are yummy, as are the black bean burritos and burgers. But what's best about the place is the atmosphere; it's in a great spot, the back patio is awesome, the bar selections are plentiful, the staff is friendly and chatty, and the place always seems fun (even not during the evenings when live entertainment takes over). My last visit there recently had a band featuring a bagpipe; a bit loud, but sounded great from the patio! Plus there was a guy who played there on April 15 with my last name; I should've been there to get his autograph...
5 Mercer St. (At John St.)
Milagro actually has three locations, but I'll focus on the one I've actually been to. When I first walked in (don't be afraid of the curtain!) I was greeted with warmth by the staff and handed a huge menu with a huge list of drinks. I'll just say the margaritas are worth the coin and as for the food... well, the burrito tinga was huge and stuffed full of goodness and the enchiladas were worth writing home about (or at least blogging about!)
2848 Dundas St. W. (at Keele St.)
From outside it doesn't look like much, but inside is a different story. The food is about as Mexican as I think you can get without being in Mexico (in fact, their slogan is 'the best Mexican food outside of Mexico'. Or something like that). The music varies from traditional to alternative while you munch on yummy tacos and burritos and sip a Bloody Maria or a Jarrito's Mexican soda. Vive la revolucion! (Sorry, it had to be said.)
1475 Danforth Ave. (near Coxwell Ave.)
This is the only Tunisian restaurant (that I know of) in the city of Toronto. The food takes a bit of waiting for, but it's well worth it. Try the Merguese sausage or chicken saffron with pasta. They both go well with guava juice (conveniently also on the menu). It's a small place, but there's usually an open table. The chef (and owner) is friendly and seems to genuinely appreciate his customers.
MILL ST. BREW PUB
55 Mill St. Building 63 (in the Distillery District)
Yup, it's a pub. But it's better than your average pub. First of all, Mill Street makes awesome beer and they're all available here (with your meal or in the adjacent store). And some might not expect to get lobster at a 'pub', but the lobster grilled cheese on the menu is surprisingly good. The burgers are pretty darn good too. You can even earn your MBA here (Master of Beer Appreciation), a stamp card that carries rewards. Oh, and the patio offers a view of the distillery district... need I say more?
1460 Gerrard St. E. (at Craven Rd.)
This place is awesome. You can eat South Indian cuisine until you almost explode for a relatively little amount of cash, and every dish that I've tried (all the dishes here are vegetarian) tastes great. The deep fried onion pakoras are a great way to start.
What do you think, people? I'd love to hear your picks.