"We love food. We love wine. We love racing." So declares the website of Ascari Enoteca, named after 1950s racing legend Alberto Ascari. Pasta is made fresh in house every single day and the menu changes both seasonally and locally. There is a nice variety of red and white wines by the bottle or the glass, but you can also pamper yourself with a flight and have 2oz pours of some fine selections. Small bites are simple but executed beautifully, such as skewers of lamb with lemon zest and Maldon salt. The pasta sauces complement the fresh noodles, with ingredients ranging from smoked cod to zucchini flowers adorning the plate. Flawless food in reasonable portions; this is a neighborhood restaurant that shines.
Recommended for Italian because: Small and intimate, with memorable menu items by a staff who loves food.
Courtney's expert tip: Visit every second Monday of the month for Wine Killas. Half-priced bottles of wine combined with a DJ spinning hip hop makes for a very good start to the week.
A celebrity magnet if ever there was one, Sotto Sotto was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve 2014. It didn't take long for it to become a phoenix a few doors down, allowing Drake to have his "second home" once again. Sotto Sotto (meaning "underneath") offers flattering candlelight, attentive service, and a massive menu of simple classics and more complex creations. Owned and run by Roman Marisa Rocca, there's an abundance of seafood, salads and meat options. Pasta is available as second or main courses; try traditional spaghetti al Pomodoro or bucatini tossed with tomato sauce, pork cheek and pecorni. Main courses feature veal, beef, seafood and poultry, and there are several divine risotti options.
Recommended for Italian because: The same Sotto Sotto, but bigger. Room for more gnocchi.
Courtney's expert tip: If you're going during the Toronto International Film Festival, be sure to have a reservation. You will likely run into someone famous. Keep your cool.
2009 was a memorable year for restaurant openings in Toronto, and Local Kitchen and Wine Bar was among the notable debuts. Childhood friends Fabio Bondi and Michael Sangregorio teamed up to open the space. It's tiny and decorated in an unpretentious style, resembling a hole-in-the-wall you might find while wandering around Florence. But don't judge a book by its cover, because chef Bondi's food packs this place on a nightly basis. The small menu of locally sourced ingredients features a selection of cheeses and meats, including the fresh house-made mozzarella, served warm with tomatoes and basil. Three or four types of pasta and two protein-based mains are served each day. The former might be smoked potato gnocchi with rapini and taleggio cheese, while locally sourced fish and beef are paired with vegetables in season.
Recommended for Italian because: Attention to every detail results in beautiful Italian food and Local Kitchen does it right.
Courtney's expert tip: If you fall in love with their pasta, consider learning how it is made in one of their popular pasta classes.
This restaurant is on Amelia street, so it could not be more aptly named. However, the restaurant's amiability extends far beyond the entrance. Owners and waiters learn your name quickly and don't rush you through your Northern Italian dinner. F'Amelia is a cozy trattoria tucked on the corner of a residential neighbourhood. It feels like you were plunked right in Tuscany, and the gently blistered pizza crusts say no differently. Try the pappardelle with rosemary braised rabbit, or one of their signature pies which use San Marzano tomatoes. The wine list has many affordable options to savour over the evening. Only the best for you.
Recommended for Italian because: F'Amelia takes its pizza seriously and the rest of the world takes their love of pizza seriously.
Courtney's expert tip: Wine Wednesdays mean that bottles priced over $100 are half price. It's your chance to sip something extremely special with your pie.
Sometimes going out for Italian food seems counterintuitive. How hard is it for you to stay at home and boil some pasta? Blu gives you Italian food you cannot make yourself at home unless you have ample time and have studied under masters (or grandmothers) in Italy. With a romantic setting and live music every weekend, it is the perfect place to slurp some pasta with someone you love (or at the very least, like). Try the truffle wild boar ragu with wild mushrooms over sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi for a dish that will make your eyes roll back into your head.
Recommended for Italian because: Dark, sexy, romantic and with pasta? Sign us up.
Courtney's expert tip: Even though Blu will show up on Winterlicious and Summerlicious menus, try to go at other times. The service will be better for it.
Some people have been to Italy and fondly remember the flavors. For others, the closest they have come is watching Under the Tuscan Sun on the W Network. In either case, going to Tutti Matti is a flavor experience that is rare in downtown Toronto. Chef Alida Solomon trained in Tuscany and her succinct menu celebrates Tuscan flavors. Her kitchen is open concept in the middle of the restaurant. Meals are robust, like short ribs with beer, rosemary and oranges. The appetizers are equally luscious and well proportioned, changing seasonally to accept the temperature outside. It will be hard not to try to cram as much of this perfectly balanced food into your mouth.
Recommended for Italian because: Made-from-scratch ingredients with a reasonable price tag, right in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Courtney's expert tip: Don't come here expecting a chicken dish. Tuscans don't do chicken. Believe us: you aren't missing out.
This is the real deal kind of pizza. You may find yourself enthusiastically affirming the taste of real Neopolitan Pizza at Pizzeria Libretto in Italian. Or, if words fail you, "Mmmm" works well in most languages. This pizza has a soft chewy crust that is beautifully blistered by the piping hot oven. Each pizza is made as a single serving and is not overwhelmed with toppings. Cheese and toppings such as whipped ricotta or spicy salami merely accent the pie, allowing it to be melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The result is a meal that feels lighter than it looks. Even people who are convinced they will just have a slice may find themselves downing a whole pizza. Perfect to eat and then take a nap.
Recommended for Italian because: Pizza with a thin, doughy, blistered crust and only the freshest of toppings. You may start feeling like Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love.
Courtney's expert tip: Expect to wait for a table. Not to worry; the neighborhood has some great bars to sit in while your mouth waters in anticipation.
Piano Piano refers to the Italian phrase "piano piano va lontano," meaning, "slowly slowly we go further." But you already knew that; you clever person you...what about the food? Taking the place of 25-year-old restaurant Splendido on Harbord Street, Piano Piano has an open kitchen with nothing to hide. Made-from-scratch pasta comes in such flavors as Canestri alla vodka with a creamy tomato, chili and marscapone. Pizzas have modern ingredients like wilted dandelion. And should you find yourself without a sitter, this is an extremely family-friendly environment. The kid's menu has nary a chicken finger in sight, but "fun, healthy and delicious" options designed for wee bellies. (Peeled orange slices come on the side.)
Recommended for Italian because: A family-friendly restaurant that does not specialize in chicken fingers? We bow down to that.
Courtney's expert tip: The menu is designed like a newspaper and changes every four months, giving you a reason to eat out more often if you like that sort of thing.
Buca is right in the heart of downtown Toronto, and it earns every loonie it receives (which may be a heavy way to pay). Dimly lit with brick walls, the ambiance is charmingly rustic. The menu changes frequently to ensure freshness, utilizing ingredients that capitalize on flavor profile more so than popularity. Mutton leg may be seasoned with rosemary as an appetizer. (Don't question it.) Extravagantly rich dishes include duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu or bone-in Angus dry-aged for 45 days (and served at an impressive 36 ounces). The final result is lavish, memorable and upscale Italian food.
Recommended for Italian because: Jamie Oliver declared in 2011 that a meal at Buca was his "favorite of the year." Some years have passed, but it may still hold true.
Courtney's expert tip: Their prosciutto is aged for 18 months and is a standout.
Enoteca Sociale is built around the idea of wine bars in Rome. Enoteca Sociale manages to take basic ingredients and elevate them. The pasta is made in house, as are many other dishes, including the freshly baked bread that tempts on each table. If you like the experience of eating off of your date's plate, a la Lady and the Tramp, appetizers under the menu column "Piatti Sociale" are all unique and delectable. The wine list has over 80 selections from Italy but also includes fine Ontario reds and whites. Normally you have to splurge on a bottle in order to sample the good stuff, but Enoteca offers tastes, glasses, quartinos (a carafe that can hold a quarter of a liter of wine) or bottles. You won't forget this dinner.
Recommended for Italian because: Impeccable service without a whiff of pretension. Sharing is encouraged, but the dishes are so good you might not want to.
Courtney's expert tip: The gnocchi is embarrassingly good. These melt-in-your-mouth pillows may make it hard to form a sentence after eating, as no words suffice. Try them.