Mexican street food reborn in the market, a greasy spoon–less diner on Dupont, and Liberty Village’s latest bistro
Agave y Aguacate
214 Augusta Ave., 647-208-3091
Chef-owner Francisco Alejandri’s excellent food stall is the headliner in a shoestring–budget Latin American food court in Kensington Market. It consists of little more than a stainless steel prep table with a deep fryer, two induction burners, a small refrigerator, a toaster and a food processor. Alejandri, who wears a suave white Panama hat while he works, is an exceedingly good cook. He does a fantastic flank steak salad—the meat, sliced into thin strips, is tossed with tomatoes, red chilies, red onion, cilantro and lime juice, then garnished with house-fried tortilla chips. It makes for a brilliant lunch. The lime charlotte is better than most desserts you get in proper restaurants: the sweet-sour lime curd and Maria cookies are decadent but light with a squirt of lime juice and a drizzle of arbequina olive oil. Wait times can exceed 20 minutes but the trade-off is that the place is incredibly cheap. It would be thrilling to see what Alejandri would do with more space and a properly equipped kitchen. Closed Monday.
268 Howland Ave., 416-944-1606
The strip of Dupont west of Casa Loma needed a welcoming neighbourhood place (the adjacent Indian Rice Factory has had the monopoly for decades), and Fanny Chadwick’s, a diner-bistro hybrid, will easily fill the void. The crowd is a mix of students, seniors and families (in a nearby booth, a father explains intellectual property law to his five- and seven-year-old boys, who are clad in karate uniforms). The food—diner-inspired, locally sourced fare at upscale prices (pan-seared fish and chips are $18)—is generally good, but editing would help some of the cluttered dishes shine. The gravlax salad, for example, features naturally raised, Ocean Wise–approved steelhead trout, but the delicate fish is masked by a deluge of horseradish vinaigrette and a grab bag of greens, croutons and pickled vegetables. A bowl of steamed clams, on the other hand, is pared down and delicious in a flavourful herbed vermouth sauce. The Rowe Farms corned beef is fall-apart tender and pairs perfectly with smoky, molasses-kissed baked beans. Forgo bland desserts, like a starchy sweet potato butter tart, in favour of a latte from the Elektra espresso machine. Closed Monday. Mains $16–$22.
Liberty Belle Bistro
133 Jefferson Ave., 647-352-3553
Aidan Pascoe is brave: his debut restaurant is a traditional bistro in a city that needs another steak frites like it needs another pothole, and it’s in Liberty Village, the Bermuda Triangle of cooking (Brad Moore and Donna Dooher have mysteriously lost their mojos in the condo-and-chain-resto-filled area). With its saloon-style bar, the room is more Montana than Montparnasse, but it’s buzzing on a Thursday night—a credit to Pascoe’s attention to detail. Housemade pickles are crunchy and spicy; fresh ketchup tastes like tomatoes (instead of corn syrup). Appetizers are fine but cartoonishly large—three fried risotto balls are the size of bocce balls. Cornish hen is spatchcocked and seared to crisp up the skin. It would be perfect if the hen weren’t slightly over-salted and the potatoes slightly overcooked. As for the steak frites, the meat is well-seasoned but chewy and the frites are limp. Desserts shine: frangipane with tangy house-made sour cream ice cream is light and refreshing. The lone hostess handles all nine tables with charm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Mains $16–$28.