Chef's Pick: Toronto's 10 best new restaurants

We asked T.O.’s top chefs to dish on their favourite new eateries and whittled down their picks to this delicious list...


Published:

The Judges

It may have been a bad year for... well, just about everything. But luckily for our taste buds, 2017 was a fabulous year for food, in which we saw some highly anticipated restaurants open their doors and start serving some truly incredible dishes.

Regardless of whether we were tucking into a French dip sandwich in a Victorian semi or enjoying a sit-down dinner and cocktails with friends, it's safe to say Torontonians weren't short of fabulous food options.

We asked Toronto's best chefs, restaurateurs and food experts to share their favourite new restaurants from 2017. Here are their top picks:

THE JUDGES: Daniel Boulud, Massimo Capra, Kate Chomyshyn, Roger Mooking, David Lee, Renée Bellefeuille, Michael Bonacini, Suzanne Barr, Zane Caplansky, Missy Hui and Cory VitIello


No. 10
TENNESSEE TAVERN


IMAGE: AJ Fernando

“Why do I love the Tennessee Platter? Simple: I’m a huge honkin’ platter of meat kinda guy. Obvs.” —Zane Caplansky, Caplansky's Deli

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: If there’s one thing we know about noted chef and restaurateur Grant van Gameren, it’s that he can turn out upscale and downscale without either option feeling disingenuous. To wit: Tennessee Tavern. Found in the nether regions of Parkdale, Tennessee is a testament to van Gameren’s skills. The dark, sprawling space with a scruffy past has walls laden with oddities (crucifix collection, anyone?) and an eastern Euro menu that gives and gives. Dunk cheesy perogies in a vat of sour cream, plow through eggs speared with kielbasa and, if you’re brave, finish off that pile ’o meat that houses everything under the sun. And yes, there is rakija to be found. If you’re lucky, you’ll happen upon the resto during a wild eve, like say, a perogy-eating competition complete with a Balkan brass band playing tunes in the background. True story.
MUST-HAVE: Cheesy perogies
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Harry's Char Broil and Dining Lounge
$$
Tennessee Tavern, 1554 Queen St. W., 416-535-7777

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No. 9
DRAKE COMMISSARY


IMAGE: Colin Faulkner

“The bread and pastry selection is fantastic. Definitely go for chocolate babka and an Americano any time of day!” —Renée Bellefeuille, AGO Bistro

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: Surprising no one, the Drake has gone and done it again. Remember when the original Drake Hotel first surfaced on West Queen West, breathing a gigantic culture-y breath into the once-shabby strip? The 8,000-square-foot Commissary is now pumping new life into the Junction triangle. Drake exec chef Teddy Corrado oversees the culinary utopia, which dishes out made-from-scratch everything. Bakery and bar, takeout joint and restaurant, theatre of food and café, the Comm is quite the multi-hyphenate. Grab house-baked goods for home (veggie croissants! Mutsu apple pie!), get smorrebrod with house-pickled herring for your mid-afternoon desk snack, or sit yourself down for a proper meal. The kitchen, visible through a glass wall, invites patrons to ogle the chefs as they go about their daily duties, whipping up everything from Moroccan grilled chicken to Roman-style ’za topped with foraged ’shrooms, Parm and arugula pesto. It’s a lifestyle.
MUST-HAVE: Moroccan grilled chicken
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Drake 150
$$
Drake Commissary, 128 Sterling Rd., 416-432-2922

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No. 8
ATLAS


IMAGE: CJ Baek

“I have a ton of respect for Doug. The food is big on authentic, rich and bold flavours.” —Michael Bonacini, Oliver & Bonacini

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: If you’re a foodie worth his or her, um, salt, you’re already well acquainted with Niall McCotter and chef Doug Penfold. The duo first charmed the city with the Spanish Cava, followed with their French boîte Chabrol and has moved onto Moroccan fare with Atlas. Chef Penfold was mesmerized by the north African cuisine while travelling the country. His menu offers plenty in terms of app-y bites and dips. Harcha skillet bread goes with the charcoal grilled eggplant zaalouk, or amlou, a spread of ground almonds, argan oil and wildflower honey. And yes, there are tagines to share. Go roasted goat with okra and squash or cod with zucchini, preserved lemon and sun-dried tomato. Dessert means M’hanncha, Penfold’s take on serpent cake. Baked-to-order, the almond phyllo pastry arrives warm tableside and is drenched in date syrup. Close your eyes and breathe in Marrakesh.  
MUST-HAVE: Harcha skillet bread and charcoal grilled eggplant zaalouk
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Cava
$$$
18 Dupont St., 416-546-9050

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No. 7
KIIN

“Chef Nuit’s dishes are inspiring and remind me how important cooking from the soul really is. It's an honour to eat her food.— Suzanne Barr, Kid Chocolate

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: Anyone who has been to Thailand can easily conjure up sticky nights spent at food stalls. There, heaping portions of noodles seasoned with palm sugar, fish sauce, peanuts and spice are de rigueur. But at Kiin, the latest restaurant from chef Nuit Regular and her husband Jeff, the diner is transported into a very different version of Thailand. Inside, the eatery is oh so pretty, thanks to stained glass shutters, potted plants and velvet banquettes. The cuisine is just as intricate as the room: made for sharing, the food looks to all regions of Thailand and includes royal Thai dishes, a saved-from-extinction cuisine. Handsome khao yum arrives in a giant golden bowl filled with rainbow-hued mounds of jasmine rice, pomelo, edible flowers and more. Gaeng boombai, a meatier option, sees braised beef short rib surrounded by ladles of fragrant tamarind sauce. But if there’s one must-eat, it’s the Roy Thai platter, a diorama of perfect dumplings that seduce with every bite. This food is as far away from pad Thai as Toronto is from Bangkok. 
MUST-HAVE:
Gaeng boombai
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Sukho Thai
$$$
326 Adelaide St. W., 647-490-5040

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No. 6
ALOETTE

“The food is delicious and exactly what I have come to expect from Patrick. After years of working side by side with him in the Daniel kitchen, I’m proud to see everything he has accomplished with Alo and now Aloette.” —Daniel Boulud, Cafe Boulud

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: At Aloette they take your coat. For a diner, that’s pretty fancy. With his first restaurant, Alo, chef Patrick Kriss showed Toronto that fine dining wasn’t dead. At baby sister Aloette, the greasy spoon is reimagined. Servers wear spiffy bow ties, the wall panelling is sleek, and every so often, Kriss pops in to check that all is running perfectly. The menu delivers comfort food gone glam. Sit down and you’re promptly given adorable mini toasts with whipped bone marrow butter. Most tables order the iceberg wedge — a jaunty salad that comes topped with avocado, puffed rice, candied pumpkin seeds and flurries of Parm, all laced in chive cream. But the burger is just the ticket: cooked to medium, the patty is topped with lettuce, onion, melty Beaufort cheese and a cheddar cheese aïoli. Pair with their velvety malted chocolate milkshake (spike with booze if you’re in the mood). And when you leave, they’ll put that coat right back on you. 
MUST-HAVE: The Aloette burger
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Marben
$$
163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-3444

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No. 5
LA BANANE

“Anything they do with duck is a winner. And I’m a sucker for well-executed classic potatoes.” —Missy Hui, Fabbrica

"My wife and I love the raw bar and the appetizers — especially the duck terrine, vol-au-vent and tartare." —Massimo Capra

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: In French, avoir la banane means you’ve got a big grin on your face. So it’s fitting that, prior to opening La Banane, chef Brandon Olsen was known for his fried chicken and chocolates, food that tends to put smiles on faces. But at his contemporary bistro on Ossington, Olsen reaches much further in his quest for happiness. Inside, the space makes you feel like you’re part of the artsy crowd thanks to filmmaker Sarah Keenlyside, Olsen’s partner in life and love. Keenlyside worked with design firm Mason Studio on the interiors and outfitted the resto in works of art. Meanwhile, the cuisine is a spin on classic French fare with plenty of seafood from the raw bar. Chilled king crab meets crème fraîche and cocktail sauce; an omelette gets a treatment of caviar (if you wish); and an 18-ounce rib steak is gussied up with some classic Bordelaise sauce, built on red wine, bone marrow and butter. And yes, one can’t help but order the well-named Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg, a dessert offering that is the child of an ostrich and one Jackson Pollock. Smash into it with a golden spoon and — voila! — truffles! Olsen’s work is done. 
MUST-HAVE: The Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Bar Isabel
$$$
227 Ossington Ave., 416-551-6263

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No. 4
PINKY'S CA PHE


IMAGE: CJ Baek

“They serve up fun and tasty food at a great price in a really cool atmosphere. Definitely worth a visit!” —Kate Chomshyn, El Rey & Quetzal

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: Pinky’s Ca Phe is a rollicking good time. Tucked into a Victorian semi, the space is tricked out with potted plants, vintage photos from Vietnam and plenty of tinsel. It feels exactly like you’ve stumbled into your coolest friend’s home. The innovative menu parcels Vietnamese flavours into new packages. Tiger’s Milk Ceviche is yellowfin tuna with scallops and surf clams delivered in a pool of coconut milk and tom yum sauce. Scoop up with taro chips. The French dip sandwich goes Vietnamese with thin slices of brisket and melty Asiago housed in a baguette with hoisin sauce plus pho broth for dipping. So Fly Rice packs a wallop of flavour thanks to deep-fried soft shell crab with salmon roe, julienned egg crepes, fish sauce and plenty of cilantro. Order Hua-Hua iced tea — all the liquors poured into an adorable teapot — and make an eve of it.
MUST-HAVE: Tiger's Milk Ceviche
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Oddseoul
$$
53 Clinton St., no phone

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No. 3
CAFÉ CANCAN


IMAGE: Courtesy of Café Cancan

“Victor Barry loves food! He is cooking classic dishes and making them new. Café Can is like going to Vic’s house for dinner.” —David Lee, Nota Bene & Planta

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: Chef Victor Barry’s latest restaurant is, quite possibly, the prettiest room in town. Done up to the nines and tens by effervescent designer Tiffany Pratt, Café Cancan is dressed in the colour of bonbons and radiates joy. So why not have fun?! Sip on a champagne tipple and toss back a few east coast oysters. Tater tots are gussied up in crème fraîche and caviar, just because, while French onion soup gets Gruyère and shreds of short rib. There’s Barry’s burger, a nod to past tenant the Harbord Room and their famed burg. The dishy Cancan version is an eight ounce Cumbrae’s beef patty sandwiched in a house-made potato bun with more of that Gruyère. They also do brunch, which means that croque madames, with all that smoked ham and béchamel goodness, can be bookended by French 75s. Merveilleux!
MUST-HAVE: Fresh East Coast oysters
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Piano Piano
$$$
89 Harbord St., 647-341-3100 

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No. 2
GREY GARDENS


IMAGE: CJ Baek

“I like the smoked fish chips ’n’ dip. Great bar snack while you’re waiting for a table. Grey Gardens has assembled one of the most talented teams, both front and back of house in the city.” —Cory Vitiello, Flock

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: It goes without saying that Jen Agg is a polarizing figure. Love her (she’s a badass woman in a tough industry) or love to hate her (she’s snark personified), it’s hard not to fall for her restaurants. At Grey Gardens, Agg has enlisted chef Mitchell Bates and partner in crime Peter Jensen to run the kitchen (both hopped over from Shōtō). The duo delivers a seasonal menu that can be dubbed new North American, yet refuses to settle on one culinary region. Fancy snacks (for fancy prices) are the name of the game here. Shrimp arrive with paper-thin slips of radish and carrot, set off by crisp curls of lardo for a dish that somehow transforms wintry flavours into summery bites. A duo of plump scallops with a caramelized hat meet shimeji ’shrooms and black XO sauce with nutty hits thanks to sunchoke. And buckwheat hand torn noodles come topped with hunks of crab, matsutake mushrooms and a smattering of pine nuts. No reso? Just walk in and sit at the bar. Easy.
MUST-HAVE: Shrimp & Lardo
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Black Hoof
$$
199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552

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And the winner is...


No. 1
LA PALMA


IMAGE: Courtesy of La Palma

“As a fan of Campagnolo, I was excited to check out their new, more casual spot. La Palma has a great vibe and is good for an afternoon coffee and croissant at the walk-up counter, or a sit-down dinner with cocktails with friends and family.” —Roger Mooking, Food Network Canada

OUR EDITORS’ TAKE: With its prime location, lickable decor and roster of menus that simply don’t quit, La Palma was destined to be a hit from day one. But for chef Craig Harding and his designer wife, Alexandra Hutchison, opening a new Dundas West eatery wasn’t actually in the plan. Happy with Campagnolo, their rustic Italian resto, the partners couldn’t resist a new project when they heard their neighbours were retiring and the spot was up for grabs. Hutchison transformed the room into an airy space reminiscent of Venice Beach, while Harding crafted Italianish day-to-night menus where every dish begs to be ordered. A winsome crowd populates the room at all times of day: biting into pain au chocolat before the whirl of the day begins, sipping on cocktails during the blue hour and going full-fledged dinner after dark. Blistered pizzas arrive from the wood-burning oven, topped with fig, a duet of cheeses and Ontario honey. The 100 Layer lasagna marries both béchamel and bolognese sauces, while the veg options, like cauliflower studded with roasted grapes, are never an afterthought. La Palma is, hands down, Toronto’s best new restaurant.
MUST-HAVE: The 100 Layer Lasagna
IF YOU CAN'T GET A TABLE TRY: Woodlot
$$
849 Dundas St. W., 416-368-4567

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