PLANET KENSINGTON 1971/ 2 Baldwin, 416-341-0310 Whoever thinks punk’s as dead as Sid Vicious’s post-Pistol solo career has never visited this black leather ’n’ leopard print wreck room, where middle-aged men with green mohawks party like it’s 1979. Across town, at the Danforth’s Eton Tavern, another bunch of retro hellraisers gather every Saturday afternoon for its Newfie matinee to belt back straight-up screech, arm wrestle and heckle the Down East country combo.
CAJUN CORNER 920 Queen East, 416-703-4477 Forget Tim Hortons and kiss Krispy Kreme goodbye. The finest fritters in town aren’t found at a fast food franchise but at this east-side specialty shop that offers New Orleans-style beignets. Only available on weekends and sold by the dozen, these highly addictive deep-fried nuggets will have you wondering what happened to the hole until your first bite. It’s on the inside!
SYRIANDIPITY 671 Queen West, 416-366-3633 Open a few months, this modern Middle Eastern take-away’s chickpea patties are the meatiest around. Akram’s in the Market ups the ante by using a combination of fava and soy beans instead, as well as wrapping its falafel in whole wheat pitas from Arz Bakery on Lawrence East, while Yonge Street’s Pita Break bakes its own double-thickness flavoured flatbreads.
BEST $5 LUNCH
MOTHER’S DUMPLINGS 79 Huron, 416-217-2008 This spotless subterranean Chinese café specializes in delicious housemade Chinese dumpling and noodle dishes that are as much a treat for the pocketbook as for the taste buds, the most expensive priced at $4.95. Runner-up: two $2.50 veggie dogs topped with sweet fried onions at Ernie’s hot dog cart at the top of Victoria outside Ryerson.
BEST GREASY SPOON
THE STEM 354 Queen West, 416-593-0530 You can’t begin the day any better than with a leisurely plate of eggs over easy sided with home fries, toasted brown and a steaming cup of coffee, parked in the window booth at this most quintessential of Queen West eateries, sun streaming through the glass, morning paper in hand. Now that every other spoon in town has morphed into a trendy trat, the Stem, in business for more than 50 years, deserves a commemorative plaque from the historical board.
BEST GOURMET SUPERMARKET
CHEESE BOUTIQUE 45 Ripley, 416-762-6292 Think Whole Foods is expensive? This hard-to-find one-stop grocery in south Etobicoke makes Pusateri’s look like Price Chopper. As operettas play over the PA, locals swarm the aisles of this two-storey space drinking espresso and filling their baskets with pricey organic produce while staff hand out free samples from the wine cellar and cheese-aging vaults. A tour is offered, and celebrity chefs hold cooking demos in the trellis-laced atrium. Almost makes four bucks for a tomato worth it.
BEST GROCERY STORE
PUSATERI FRUIT MARKET 497 Church, 416-923-2043 No, not Pusateri’s Fine Foods on Yorkville and Avenue Road, but second cousin Joe’s immaculate fruit ’n’ veg stand in the heart of the gay village. For 40 years he’s been hitting the Food Terminal daily to guarantee the top produce for his loyal customers. He also stocks his freezer cases with the likes of crab and ricotta agnolotti and his shelves with homemade apple pie. Bonus: the Garage sandwich emporium has just set up shop in the rear of the premises.
BEST HOME DELIVERY
DANGEROUS DAN’S 714 Queen East, 416-463-7310 It’s late. You and your drinking buddies have been hitting the Jägermeister when the munchies strike. Why settle for cardboard pizza or substandard chow mein when you can have one of Dan’s humongous 8ounce hamburgers delivered to your front door? Available from noon to midnight, Dan’s delivery zone takes in most of the east side and extends across the DVP into Cabbagetown, the Church Street village and the downtown core. For the boundaries, check out www.dangerousdansdiner.com.
BEST ICE CREAM
GREG’S 750 Spadina, 416-962-4734 Greg Mahon jokes that he cooks them over a campfire out back on sticks, but the roasted marshmallows in his most acclaimed ice cream flavour are reason alone to cause year-round lineups out the front door of his tiny Annex parlour. In the Beach, Ed’s Real Scoop uses Callebaut chocolate to spectacular effect, St. Clair’s La Paloma keeps it traditionally Italian with gelato, and Finch East’s Soy-N-Joy carries a super line of vegan ice cream that could convince Elsie the Cow it’s dairy.
DHABA 309 King West, 416-740-6622 Of the hundreds of Indo eateries scattered across the GTA, only this upscale room on downtown’s touristy restaurant row gets the mix of traditional technique and contemporary polish exactly right. Though most are familiar with its terrific daily lunch buffet, check out the nightly $30 four-course prix fixe to truly experience owner/ chef P. K. Singh’s cooking at its most creative.
THE BIG RAGU 1338 Lansdowne, 416-654-7248 Judging by the sorry state of our Italian restos, one would never guess that Toronto is the second-largest Italian-speaking city in the universe. Sure, La Bruschetta and Marcello’s nail the southern family vibe, but only this trad trat gets it to a tee. Dripping candles in Chianti bottles? Check! Redand-white gingham on the tables, oldschool spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, Louis Prima and Dean Martin on the sound system? All aboard! Though it might not be the most sophisticated spot on the Corso Italia, there’s certainly none more authentic.
BEST JUICE BAR
THE BIG CARROT 348 Danforth, 416-466-2129 Located on its own common, Toronto’s first organic source for juices features more than two dozen cleansing cocktails and vegan shakes as well as a short card of ecologically conscious salads, soups and sandwiches. Queen East’s Pulp Kitchen is also worthy, offering nearly 20 nourishing elixirs, including our fave, Detox Darling, a blood-purifying blend of organic apple, kale and lemon juices mixed with wheatgrass and milk thistle.
EL SOL 1448 Danforth, 416-405-8074 Though an overabundance of Tex-Mex cantinas serve bastardized grub to gringos who don’t know any better, Toronto has virtually no authentic Mexican eateries. Of the few that aspire, only El Sol’s Yolanda Paez’s charming east-side spot comes close – spice-rich moles, chile relenos and dynamite guacamole. And, yes, her kitchen takes its time. El Sol should really be called El Slo. If you want fast, there’s always Taco Bell.
URBAN HERBIVORE 64 Oxford, 416-927-1231 With apologies to our Martha, Toronto’s most magnificent muffin isn’t found on Echo Beach. This vegan co-op headed by Fressen’s Stephen Gardner produces the most potent pick-me-up in Kensington since the Greeks stopped serving “special” coffee. Packed with organic fresh fruit – ridiculously ripe raspberries, sunkissed pineapple – and more fibre than seems necessary, and priced at two bucks each, is there a better instant breakfast in town?
BEST NEW COCKTAIL LOUNGE
DOKU 15 8 Colbourne, 416-368-3658 Despite the fact that it doesn’t officially open until early December, this swanky watering hole just off the lobby of the impossibly chic Cosmopolitan Hotel has already attracted Hollywood A-listers Kate Hudson and Woody Harrelson to its low-key glamorous digs. In the tall, narrow, elegantly minimal space, a long, low banquette faces a bar that looks like it’s made of melting chocolate. Local fashionistas are already in a tizzy over its imminent lineup of 15 sake-tinis, and paparazzi will appreciate that every celebutante’s visible from the street through the all-glass facade.
ULTRA 314 Queen West, 416-263-0330 The backyard terrace complete with wading pool, cabanas and massage technicians atWellington West’s C Lounge may have hyped it into the headlines this summer as T.O.’s
hottest al fresco scene, but downtown’s most exclusive party took place on the roof of the old Bamboo. Equipped with comfy white-on-white South Beach couches and billowing kaftanesque drapes, the deck couldn’t be more not-Queen West if it tried. Next season, let’s hope Ultra ditches its exclusionary dress code. Who says Bermuda shorts aren’t cool?
BEST PLACE TO EAT WITH YOUR HANDS
PHIL’S ORIGINAL BBQ 838 College, 416-532-8161 Next to authentic Mexican food, the one thing Torontonians crave that they can’t get locally is Southern U.S.style barbecue. Though many claim to ’cue the real thing, only Phil Nyman’s west-side smokehouse gets it right: slow-cooked ribs, chicken, pork shoulder and beef brisket that are as much fun to get all over your face as to eat.
BEST REASON TO CONVERT TO VEGETARIANISM
CAFE 668 668 Dundas West, 416-703-0668 We’ve been fans of chef Ngoc Lam’s and partner Hon Quach’s marvellous Southeast Asian vegetarian café for so long now – four years and counting – that every time we return it’s like coming home again. Their refreshingly complex card is comforting as well: vibrant salads loaded with shredded herbs and toasted nuts, deep-fried tofu mains served over crispy madeto-order noodles, and to finish, lightly battered bananas in coconut cream.
GANDHI 554 Queen West, 416-504-8155 Priced at $10.49, the butter chicken roti sold at this west-side East Indian eatery is not only the tastiest in town, but one of the most expensive – and worth every penny, if only for the house-made wrappers cranked out on a pizza press. For Caribbean-style roti, none is more generous than the substantial 26ouncer served at St. Clair West’s House of Gospel, a dozen or so shrimp in a fabulously flaky dahlpuri wrapper.
SUNNY CAFÉ 322 Bloor West, 416-963-8624 Haven’t a clue what to feed a vegan dinner guest? Tucked away in a corner of an Annex health food store, Toronto’s first and only organic dairy-free take-away also offers downtown’s most extensive health-conscious salad bar. It features old standbys like macrobiotic brown rice with steamed broccoli and beets as well as garlicky tomato tofu salad and Asian greens in sunflower oil vinaigrette, all sold by the kilo.