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11 best bets for Summerlicious 2011: our chief critic Chris Nuttall-Smith makes his picks

The imported Neapolitan pizza oven at Fabbrica (Image: Karon Liu)

Now in its ninth season, the city-run ’Licious phenomenon (there are both summer and winter incarnations, in case you’ve been living under a pizza stone all this time) shows no signs of tiring, even if every year it seems to enrage more and more curmudgeonly downtown diners who don’t much like sharing their favorite restaurants with the plebes. Summerlicious succeeds precisely because it makes inaccessible restaurants accessible, even if it’s only for two weeks each July. The big list (there are 150 participating restaurants this year) will never include the hottest, newest, most interesting restaurants in the city—those places don’t typically need the help. It typically does include more than its share of dogs. But there are plenty of places in between: proven, well-run, inviting rooms with committed kitchens. We’ve picked a few of the best.

The Drake
read our review | see the menu
Chef Anthony Rose’s smart, homespun cooking puts the lie to the oft-heard Torontonians-don’t-like-to-eat-in-hotels complaint. The Drake is a glaring exception, at very least. Rose’s Summerlicious lunch menu is a steal at $20: choices include sweet tomato alphabet soup, for instance, followed by fried chicken that’s goosed with cumin and dry mustard, then salted butterscotch for dessert. The $35 dinner is also great value, if slightly less of a deal: the menu choices are the same, save the addition of (the freakishly amazing sounding) roast pig with chipotle-stewed beans and pico de gallo.

read our review | see the menu
Mark McEwan’s newish uptown Italian place mostly plies the “rustic Italian” canon that threatened, like a 40-storey, hideously anthropomorphized bucatino, to overtake the city last year. It’s well-prepared stuff, though: blistery crusted pizzas from the Neopolitan oven, wickedly creamy pastas and outstanding desserts, all in one of the most inspired spaces in town (witness the unisex handwashing area outside the washrooms: it’s neck-wrenchingly beautiful, but also totally confusing if you want to, oh, wash your hands or find a toilet). Though there’s a good-looking $20 lunch menu, dinner’s when you want to be here. The $35 prix fixe choices include polenta with pork ragoût, risotto with peas and guanciale and a chocolate terrine.

Globe Bistro
read our review | see the menu
Ed Ho’s growing empire of high-priced, local-focused kitchens started at this two-storey Danforth location. I’ve eaten well here, and the Summerlicious menus look good. Best bets on the $20 lunch menu: the yellow tomato and gin gazpacho with basil jelly, followed by the farmer’s bi bim bap, made with honey mushrooms, Chioggia beets and garlic scape kimchee, and the panna cotta with sea buckthorn coulis. For dinner ($35), I’d try the Wellington County flatiron steak with duck fat frites.