'Tis the Season: Toronto's Top Restaurants for Prime Outdoor Dining



We are much more forgiving of restaurants when they supply us with a side of the great outdoors. The bread might not be as soft and doughy, your main might not be the precise temperature, but who cares? You are in those glorious few months when the sunshine is beating down on your skin, the ice is melting in your glass and...we're sorry, what were we saying?

Toronto is serious about its dedication to the patio. Foreigners may laugh, but as soon as it gets above 10 degrees Celsius, it is fair game to don board shorts and sit outside under an umbrella. You need only experience one brutal winter to understand: Torontonians earn their tan lines. Patio dining becomes a commendable sport.

If you are suddenly feeling athletic, we have the restaurants that are so hopeful for the warmer season, they are almost more patio than interior space. This includes the romantic and ornately French Cluny in the Distillery, or pizza served on a suburban tree-lined street at F'Amelia.

There are times for winter jackets. There are times for hibernation. The summer is the time to meet your neighbours and to recognize the diverse 5-million-plus population in Toronto. See you outside!



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Local and seasonal nachos? Well, Against The Grain tries to be as local and seasonal as they can be, and the pickings get even broader in the spring and summertime months. They work seasonally, resulting in salads and sandwiches that are as fresh as the air around the Harbourfront area. The dough for their flatbread is leavened with - what else? - Mill Street organic lager. (Guess what it pairs well with?) The Canadian fusion food fluctuates from French (steak frites) to Indonesian (Nasi Goreng). It's really all about the lakeside patio during the summer months. Take in the view.


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With all of the accents and umlauts in the restaurant name, you might expect Tabüle to be a little fussy. It does offer a chic vibe, but the attention to detail stays where it belongs: in the food. From a crunchy falafel salad to succulent meats, this wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant seduces the tastebuds (and the belly dancer that occasionally performs seduces other areas). It is a small venue with dim lanterns and Moroccan accents setting the mood. The patio extends the limited seating during the summertime, with charming cushioned benches and wooden tables, allowing you to nosh until the sun comes down.


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Amsterdam Brewhouse has a patio in Toronto that rivals the best. The brewhouse is an impressively large space with a waterfront view on all sides. The beer is what it is about for most patrons. There are amazing fresh and local picks, many of which are brewed in small batches. However, one cannot live on beer alone. The menu is fusion friendly, with hand-cut fries as the basis for the Canadian poutine. Offerings include lemon chicken schnitzel and baked potato pizza. Or you can always just order a pretzel and a few appetizers and be honest: you were just going for the beer anyway.


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Downtown

 

Bar Buca in the heart of downtown Toronto is dedicated to the art of eating, whether that means a planned sit-down meal or a gourmand snack in between meetings. The inside space is charming, with brick walls and patrons that wear glasses that questionably don't have a prescription. The courtyard patio is industrial, with orange chairs set around rectangular wooden tables that are decorated with wine glasses as if to say, "We know you are here to drink. Don't even pretend." The 50-person-capacity patio is not covered and not heated, so be sure that the weather is one of those scalding Toronto days where it feels like the seat is going to melt right off of those orange chairs. Bring sunscreen.


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Cabbagetown


 

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. The open air patio is large, yet it always seems to be packed in the summertime months.


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Omelette du jour. L'Hamburger. Even if you don't speak a lick of French, food sounds even more appetizing and sexy when it is French-ified. Colette Grand Cafe knows sexy food, with dishes so beautifully presented it would make anyone sign up for Instagram, just to brag. Lunch offers a salad bar buffet, with market salad, grilled meats and seafood and fine cheeses. The lettuce is just a small detail. Brunch and dinner are equally impressive, with everything from fois gras to oysters designed to take the edge off. During the summer months, it is highly recommended to sit outside on one of the bistro chairs in the outdoor pavillion. First come, first served.


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Drake Hotel Lounge
Photo courtesy of Connie Tsang


 

The Drake is not right in the centre of Toronto, but it sure feels like it is when you arrive. A hub for the fabulous, this revamped space manages to be edgy yet elegant. It offers everything from brunch to late night entertainment with world class musicians, guest DJs and even poetry slams. The sky yard rooftop is always packed to the brim, regardless of the time of year. There is an Apres Work menu from 4 to 7, offering sleek cocktails such as the Brown Butter Maple Old Fashioned. Or visit on a Monday evening for even cheaper drinks. Grab a couple to get you through a night of dancing and schmoozing, even if you are just chatting to your plus one.


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Cluny Bistro takes French food and makes it unfussy. You can have your caramelized onion soup and moules frites but you don't need to have a side of snobbery. Even so, the backdrop for your dining experience is absolutely stunning with high ceilings and will have you convinced that the Eiffel Tower is within walking distance. The large patio fits 100 people and its cobblestone floor transports you right to France. Just being in the Distillery outside on a beautiful summer day, eating duck confit pot pie should have you convinced that you have done something right in this life.


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Is there anything more summery than a margarita and a giant bowl of guacamole? Well, there probably are lots of things, but for the purpose of this article let's pretend that is it (I do have a word count, after all). El Catrin is located in the Distillery and the outdoor patio is a mixture of old world charm with modern touches. It epitomizes their take on food, which is a mixture of authentic Mexican food and modern fusion. The plates are tapas style, which is all the better for sharing with friends. You can always get more guacamole if one of you goes overboard.


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La Societe doesn't have an official dresscode, but coming from the Yorkville area of Toronto, people dress to impress. Although the patrons certainly have jobs, they seem be equally adept at holding a champagne glass. La Societe has a wine list as lengthy as the food menu. As with most French menus, meat and seafood takes centre stage. Thursday is oyster night, where you can get one oyster for $1 (like potato chips, we imagine you won't stop at just one). Executive chef Ben Heaton has come with an impressive culinary resume to stand out as one of the most talented chefs in Toronto. During the summer, two open air patios are filled to the brim, one overlooking Bloor street and one on street level.


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Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney

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