Best of 2016

This time of year always calls for best-of lists. Here are mine.

Best New Restaurants in Toronto

Of new restaurants I’ve tried in Toronto this year, here are my top three. Their food is excellent, full of flavour and intensity.

Canis: Canadian, seasonal
746 Queen Street West

Before Canis, Chef Jeff Kang was most recently at the Shangri-La Hotel and before that cooked in Vancouver. His approach to food is very layered. His roast duck, a notoriously difficult dish to make tender and juicy, was practically perfect, especially since he used Muscovy duck which can be tough. His desserts all come in bowls – right on-trend.

STK: Steakhouse
153 Yorkville Avenue

Yes it’s a chain, but here’s a chain that really works. It is one of the most fun dining scenes in Toronto and a real party palace. The venue is stunning and there is an on-site DJ who tailors the music to the crowd (a relief after some of the music I hear in other restaurants!). It’s a steakhouse and the food is excellent. There are lots of smaller dishes, which are good if you’re going to take kids.

Piano Piano: Italian
88 Harbord Street

Victor Barry decided to downscale from his chic and sophisticated restaurant Splendido. He has produced a spot that is casual and fun, and the food is very, very good. It’s pizza and pasta, but also a whole chicken for two. Snazzy sides (the Brussels sprouts are a must), affordable wines and kid-friendly – but you will have a great meal no matter your age.

Best Restaurants Outside of Toronto

I love to travel, and when I travel I love to eat. Here are my top three restaurant picks from the places I’ve visited this year.

Bo.lan: Thai, local
Bangkok, Thailand

This sophisticated Thai restaurant is helmed by Duangporn Songivsava (Bo) and her husband Dylan Jones who met while they were both cooking at David Thompson’s Thai restaurant in London, England. They moved to Bangkok and opened this beautiful restaurant where the food is elevated but approachable. The front of the house is efficiently run by Kiki Sontiyart, who graduated from the Stratford Chefs School.

Maido: Japanese Peruvian
Lima, Peru

Maido is a Japanese Peruvian restaurant with the emphasis on Japanese. When you sit down, they ask if they can just bring you dishes. If you say yes, the dishes keep coming until you say no. Every dish was superb. I especially loved the foie gras sushi and the sea urchin. They have some Chinese-influenced dishes, too.

Rooster and the Pig: Vietnamese American
Palm Springs, California

Chef Tai Spendley sources everything locally and makes it all fresh to order. The flavours here know no boundaries. There is nothing on the menu that you wouldn’t want to eat. The crispy red snapper and pork belly fried rice are especially good, as is the tea leaf salad. Don’t try to order food to go – he won’t do it.

Old Favourites

Year after year, these are the restaurants I can always rely on for a great meal. 

Scaramouche: Canadian
1 Benvenuto Place

This is our go-to spot for celebrations. The food is always outstanding and the service is so unobtrusive you don’t even notice it – the best in Toronto. The wine lists and pairings are always exceptional, and the desserts have a homey touch about them that I love.

Zucca: Italian
2150 Yonge Street

I think that Andrew Milne-Allan is one of the most competent Italian chefs in Toronto. His house-made pasta is always combined with interesting ingredients for unusual flavours. Everything changes seasonally and there is an emphasis on vegetables. The salads are original and the grilled fish is always perfectly cooked and seasoned. My favourite dishes are the grilled orata and the crispy, crackling Cornish hen.

Richmond Station: Bistro, local
1 Richmond Street West

Richmond Station is a trendy downtown bistro where everything is made from scratch. They even bring in their own sides of beef which they cut up themselves, making for some interesting dishes with the lesser known parts. Their hamburger is a benchmark and I love the skate. This is bistro food done really well.

Foxley: Asian/Latin American
207 Ossington Aveue

Year after year, some of the best meals I have in Toronto are at Foxley. The restaurant has been open for 10 years and its standards have never lowered. Two of my favourite dishes there are the tempura oyster hand roll and the arctic char ceviche.

Most Interesting People

My work allows me to meet new people all the time. I was especially pleased to spend time with these three people this year.

Andy Ricker is the owner of Pok Pok in Portland and New York, and the person that put Thai food on the map for many Americans. He is a huge authority on Thai food.

Molly Wizenberg is the face behind the popular Orangette blog, owns two restaurants and a bar and is an all-around fascinating woman.

Jane Sigal brings her thoughtful approach to food writing, including her work for Food & Wine magazine and her book Bistronomy.