Joanne Kates’ love letter to Toronto restaurants

Our critic shares some of her favourite places to eat in the city

I am in love with too many Toronto restaurants to list. For almost 50 years (!!) I’ve been getting paid to go to restaurants and write about them, and I’ll fight anyone who says they have a better restaurant scene than we do. 

Have you eaten Chinese in San Francisco? Ours is more diverse and better. Tried for much other than French in Paris? Other than the fabulous falafel in Le Marais and the occasional pho, one is hard-pressed to find the variety we enjoy. Even in New York, where I love to eat, it’s a little harder to find all the different global eats. They’re there, but you kinda have to know.…

So this is a love song to the Toronto restaurant scene, where we can visit pretty much every region in the world, gastronomically speaking. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a Torontonian for many reasons. High on the list is how well we eat.

I like cheap ’n’ cheerful for weekday drop-ins. My fallback lately has been pho. Top three are Pho Tien Thanh and Golden Turtle on Ossington and Pho Hung on Spadina.

At the first two I eat chicken pho. Great chicken stock, fragrant, loaded with Thai basil, lime and sawtooth coriander. Pho Hung has a huge menu, and I favour the vinegary special bamboo shoot soup with vermicelli, toasted peanuts and a side of duck coleslaw to dump in the soup. 

On the beloved Asian soup front, I also eat ramen all over town. Both College and Bloor West are rich with ramen. 


White sesame shio ramen at Ramen Isshin

I adore the luscious eggs Benny on St. Clair at Emma’s Country Kitchen. Then there is the recent explosion of taquerias. A Sunday stroll through Kensington Market offers oodles of wonderful tacos. Toronto has excellent taquerias all over town, oh great joy. Low risk there, I’ve never had a bad taco in Toronto. Or a bad salsa verde. 

As a lifelong Sinophile, I’ve never been less than overjoyed by Chinese food in Markham and on that glorious foodie avenue, Spadina.

My fav Chinese resto is Taste of China. I eat their addictive Hong Kong giant crab with deep-fried minced pork and scallions and garlic, salt and pepper egg tofu with oyster mushrooms, and snow pea greens with garlic. Raise a Tsingtao beer to salute TO restos.


One of many courses at Partick Kriss’ Alo

But life is not all beer food. As a certified queenly type, I confess to frequenting snazzier spots when the exchequer permits. You’d be hard pressed to find a more fabulous restaurant than Alo — anywhere.

And how about Scaramouche, home of ultra-delicious food and de luxe service? And Edulis, a tiny precious jewel of the tasting menu yummies. And Shoushin for their superb Japanese omakase tasting menu.

In the middle ground between the two extremes of expense, I favour Zucca for their impeccable Italiana; the Scaramouche Pasta Bar is a helluva consolation prize when the main restaurant feels too costly.

I like Flock for their good chicken and healthy tasty salads. I’m happy eating sushi at Sushi on Bloor and Edo-Ko in Forest Hill village. I like FK on St. Clair, and I can’t wait till my beloved Cava reopens downtown.

Speaking of the future of restaurants, for many of our favourites in Toronto, there may not be one. A small business with low-profit margins is not a good thing to own right now unless you sell hand sanitizer. So think about your favourite restaurants.

They’re going to need more than my love song right now. Please consider buying gift certificates from your favourite restaurants, to help them survive these hard times.

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