The best restaurants in Toronto don't have to be all lobster and foie gras and candlelight (although no one is complaining about any of those things). Grand Electric has amazing tacos for reasonable prices, as well as a lovely drink list. The menu is displayed brightly in chalk. You buy per taco and toppings are as tempting as beer battered tilapia with lime mayo or crispy cauliflower with pickled serrano pepper. You can also get your guacamole and chips and your tuna ceviche - in fact, this place is known for having killer seafood. Even though it may be stereotypical, Grand Electric knows its way around a margarita with a sugar/salt rim.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Toronto knows well that food need not be only high end to be excellent. Grand Electric is popular for a reason.
Courtney's expert tip: No reservations are taken, so prepare to wait at least 30 minutes for your table.
If you are looking for a unique twist on a filling Vietnamese sandwich, you certainly can't go wrong with Banh Mi Boys. Right on Queen and Spadina, the sandwich shop takes the Vietnamese construct and gives it multicultural twists, from Korean to Japanese. People line up out the door in anticipation, serving the grab-and-go style quite nicely. It is a skinny, hip and modern restaurant which serves its sandwiches on retro checkerboard paper. Banh Mi Boys was an overnight sensation for Toronto foodies who had no idea how great five-spice pork belly could taste. Other mouth-watering choices include duck confit or kimchi fries slathered in mayo, kimchi and slow roasted pulled pork. Now it's your turn to get on the Banh Mi train.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Affordable yet delectable, Bahn Mi Boys shows that food that is made quickly need not have anything in common with "fast food."
Courtney's expert tip: They have a secret menu, which you can find out if you ask the cashier. However, best to do this when the lineup is not cascading onto the street.
Buca is right in the heart of downtown Toronto, and it earns every loonie it receives. Dimly lit with brick walls, the ambience is charmingly rustic. The menu changes daily and utilizes ingredients that capitalize on flavour profile more so than popularity of ingredients. Lamb brains might be wrapped in prosciutto as an appetizer. Don't question it and your tongue will ultimately decide that it is a very good idea indeed. Extravagantly rich dishes include duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, or pork braised in 34 year old wine vinegar and then strewn across a pizza. The final result is lavish, memorable and upscale Italian food.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Buca stands out in a city full of Italian restaurants. Their daily menu is outstanding.
Courtney's expert tip: Go with a group to get the full experience. The extensive menu was meant for sharing.
Chef Scott Vivian spent time early in his career cooking under Jamie Kennedy, the chef most often associated with farm-to-table cuisine in Toronto. When he opened his own restaurant, Beast, in 2010, it was no surprise that it celebrated local farmers and producers with indulgent dinner and brunch offerings. As expected with a name like Beast, many parts of many animals are utilized to add pizzaz to dishes. A dinner example is their take on a Canadian poutine, with fried gnocchi standing in for the french fries, braised rooster replacing plain gravy and cheese curds staying the same (why mess with perfection?). The popular brunch presents dishes that can't be found anywhere else. Challah french toast is topped with duck confit, cranberry mostarda and whipped creme fraiche.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Whether you are going brunch or dinner, Beast is one of the best places to feed your inner beast in Toronto.
Courtney's expert tip: Beast is one of the city's most popular brunch spots, and doesn't take reservations. Show up early to guarantee a table.
Scaramouche has one of the best dining views of Toronto. The sublime food has been receiving raves for over 30 years and this is one of the rare restaurants that keeps impressing. The tables by the floor to ceiling windows are a hot commodity, so if you plan on acquiring one, call well in advance. Classic French dishes range from beef tartare to fois gras. First courses are filled with extravagant yet seasonal ingredients, such as warm lobster and truffled gnocchi. Orders are sizeable, including the oysters that wash down nicely with the impressive wine list. If you would prefer to bring your own wine, corkage is available for $35 a bottle. The coconut cream pie is a must.
Khao San road is the backpacker's ghetto in Bangkok. Judging by the line-ups out the door, Torontonians were desperately seeking authentic Thai food. Communal tables, a hip vibe and the freshest of ingredients lead to an eating experience that will blow your Thai takeout out of the water. Menus cater to eating preferences, from vegan to gluten free. Dishes may appear standard, but when you try the Green Curry or Pad Thai with fresh noodles and sauce that has been motor and pestled to perfection, you will think differently. They don't take reservations, so come early to make an informed food decision. Fond food memories await.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: This Thai food can be authentic or North Americanized. No matter what, it is fantastic.
Courtney's expert tip: If you are a spice connoisseur, here is the Khao San Road legend: no spice, mild, medium, spicy, Thai spicy, extreme spicy, top spicy. Tread carefully, as you can't retract your decision. For the good of your tongue, start lower on the scale than you think.
The Black Hoof initially sounds like the place you would go on a dare. From horse tartare to tongue on brioche, the menu can read like an episode of Fear Factor. Don't let your preconceptions fool you, as it is truly carnivore heaven. Open since 2008, The Hoof has demonstrated the joys of offal and other unusual bits of animals. It has gained acclaim and the fondness of many, including the adventurous palate of Anthony Bourdain. People line up nightly for this hot spot. Expect to make reservations, and if you need to wait for a table you can choose one of the inspiring cocktails. Owner Jen Agg's mixology background shows in the cocktail menu, which makes use of a wide variety of liquors, juices and spices.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: An imaginative take on a new trend, with fresh food that is made entirely in house, from the charcuterie to the cocktail garnishes.
Courtney's expert tip: The Black Hoof openly admits that their hours are weird. Although most Toronto restaurants close Monday, The Black Hoof closes Tuesday and Wednesday. On other nights it opens at 6pm and closes at midnight. What else would you expect from an inventive nose-to-tail establishment?
With cozy golden lighting, solid wood furniture and a grand piano providing background music, Jacobs & Co has not missed a detail. Situated in downtown Toronto, the service, food and atmosphere is consistently top-notch. Jacobs & Co showcases its dry aged beef in the middle of the dining room in a climate controlled glass case. Chef Danny McCallum is incredibly proud of the fresh food that he serves, with the steaks aged, butchered and portioned on the premises. They have a french frier that only uses duck fat to make the most crisp and addictive french fries that you have ever tasted. They also supply Canadian flavour with poutine on the menu, but it is classed up with fois gras chicken gravy.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: When the sides are as good as the steak, you know that you have found a steakhouse to remember.
Courtney's expert tip: You can bring your own wine for a $50 corkage fee.
Plants are having a moment. Plant-based cuisine used to be the exception and now may be the rule in Toronto, with restaurants like Planta proving that vegetables need not be boring. Marketed as plant-based rather than vegan, this fresh and airy restaurant specializes in delicious food from around the globe that any meat-eater would be proud to chomp. Planta burgers have mushroom bacon, pickles, tamillo mayo and spiced fries. Carrot dogs with carrots in the place of pork come loaded with sauerkraut, dill pickle and mustard. Once you get over the idea of eating a carrot in a bun, it is surprisingly good. The creative and innovative dishes are plated beautifully. Get your Instagram feed ready.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Dark, romantic and prepared to make you feel good about what you just ate - if only all decisions in your life could be so adult.
Courtney's expert tip: If you eat vegetables more often, the truffle fries don't count. Right? RIGHT?
When chef Lynn Crawford opened this restaurant on Toronto's east side in 2010, she brought a different dining style and some celebrity to the Riverside neighbourhood. The star power comes from Crawford herself - known for stints as a Food Network personality and her years running the kitchens at Four Seasons Hotels in Toronto and New York City. As for dining style, rather than offering a traditional a la carte menu, Crawford and her team set a different four-course dinner each night of the week, built around fresh, local ingredients and simple farm-to-table cooking. One night diners might be treated to Ontario lamb, while fresh-caught trout is served the next. The mostly Ontario wine menu echoes the restaurant's local spirit.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Wholesome, fresh, local food and a chef that makes the dishes sparkle with originality.
Courtney's expert tip: Watch for the chef Lynn Crawford. She can often be spotted in the back kitchen or making her way around the restaurant.