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Review: Boots ‘n’ Bourbon brings the Wild West to Toronto’s east end

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Boots ‘n’ Bourbon 1 star½
725 Queen St. E., 647-348-0880

Matt Pettit, the entrepreneurial chef behind the Rock Lobster mini-chain, has brought the Wild West to the east end. His new saloon, formerly the ­Riverside Public House, is a honky-tonk fantasy of saddle-covered stools, ­Stetson-hatted bartenders and, yes, a thrashing mechanical bull. The kitchen stays on theme, churning out fried bar staples and spiced-up American South favourites.

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Review: Agave y Aguacate serves excellent Mexican food in a refined new space

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Agave y Aguacate 1 star½
35 Baldwin St., 647-748-6448

Two years after closing his cultish Kensington Market food stall, chef Francisco Alejandri has found a permanent home for his excellent Mexican food. The room is as loud and bright as a Day of the Dead festival, but the overall effect is refined—a perfect complement to Alejandri’s inventive dishes.

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Review: The Carbon Bar serves some of the city’s best pork ribs in an awfully fancy room

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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The Carbon Bar 1 star
99 Queen St. E., 416-947-7000

The latest venture from the venerable restaurateur Franco Prevedello is an awfully fancy setting for a platter of ribs. Instead of the usual barnboard and bone buckets, the cavernous room at Queen and Church is outfitted with leather banquettes, buff mahogany tables and arty signage. The clientele of ad execs and TV talking heads sip bourbon cocktails in an ’80s reverie. Dinner is a mostly successful southern diversion for David Lee, also the chef at the prim Nota Bene a few blocks west.

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Review: Fonda Lola stands out from the Mexican pack with Aztec recipes and kombucha-spiked sangria

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Fonda Lola 1 star
942 Queen St. W., 647-706-9105

Chef Howard Dubrovsky cooks ancient Aztec recipes inherited from his aunt, a Mexican anthropologist. He’s hoping the gimmick will help his place stand out among the city’s numerous other taco spots and, for the most part, he’s successful. He brightens a pozole verde soup with tomatillos and plenty of cilantro, and packs tiny quecas with molten oaxaca cheese and huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn. The fried panela poppers, made with smooth cow’s cheese and cornmeal, are at once crunchy, gooey, salty and sweet. Also unique are the sangrias, made with house-brewed ­kombucha and smoky horchata.

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Review: Reds Midtown hits flavour highs and lows at Yonge and Gerrard

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Reds Midtown 1 star
382 Yonge St., Unit 6, 416-‎598-3535

The popular Financial District power restaurant has expanded northward. Its new location, a 6,800-square-foot behemoth in the Aura condo tower at Yonge and Gerrard, is a dizzying but successful mishmash of gentlemen’s club leather, industrial accents and artsy vintage kitsch—and, like its downtown counterpart, it’s always packed.

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Review: It’s All GRK serves upscale gyros and souvlaki on trendy Queen West

(Image: Megan Leahy)

(Image: Megan Leahy)

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It’s All GRK 1 star½
756 Queen St. W., 416-703-7888

Queen West’s new souvlaki shop takes an upscale approach to casual Greek staples: the room is adorned with gleaming olive oil tins and Edison bulbs strung on blue and orange ropes. The simple menu—four meats, four ways, with a choice of salads or starchy sides—allows the ingredients’ impeccable freshness to shine through.

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Review: Pukka brings modern Indian cuisine to St. Clair West’s restaurant row

(Image: Valerie Howes)

(Image: Valerie Howes)

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Pukka 1 star½
778 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-342-1906

The latest addition to St. Clair West’s burgeoning restaurant row blends polished bistro decor (exposed brick, industrial track lights, banquette seating) with modern Indian cooking. The chefs—Scaramouche veteran ­Cornel D’Silva and Amaya alumni Kirti Singh and Dinesh Butola—look to Goa for some of their more inspired dishes, including a creamy scallop-shrimp curry and pork vindaloo braised in a puckery blend of garlic, ginger, chilies and red wine vinegar.

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Review: La Cubana, the retro diner on Roncey, serves sophisticated Cuban snacks

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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La Cubana 1 star
392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500

Even on a rainy night, there’s a queue to get into La Cubana, the new Caribbean restaurant from Corinna Mozo, chef-owner of Delux on Ossington. She modelled the seafoam green room on a diner her grandfather once ran in Cuba.

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Review: Soos brings Malay street food and clever bar snacks to Ossington

Sweet chili chicken wings from Soos on Ossington (Image: Caroline Aksich)

Sweet chili chicken wings (Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Soos 1 star
94 Ossington St., 416-901-7667

This new family-run spot mixes familiar Ossington cues—dangling Edison bulbs, sharing plates and citrusy ­cocktails—with refreshing details, like pops of tropical colour from chili-red chairs and patterned blue wallpaper. The result is a restaurant greater than its parts, one that delivers classic Malaysian dishes alongside clever bar snacks without seeming kitschy.

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Review: El Catrin brings Mexican-for-the-masses to the Distillery District

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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El Catrin Destileria 1 star½
18 Tank House Ln., 416-203-2121

Chef Olivier Le Calvez moved from Mexico City to Toronto to oversee this huge new Distillery District restaurant. The high-ceilinged room, formerly home to the Boiler House, is packed most nights with tourists, after-work tipplers and local condo-dwellers. Le Calvez’s extensive Mexican-for-the-masses menu contains a few jewels, such as flaky crab cakes and baja tacos—clumps of perfectly fried haddock cooled by creamy chipotle coleslaw and piled on flour tortillas. The night’s best dish is the intensely shareable chuleton a las brasas: a buttery, spicy 16-ounce rib eye served on a hot grill with sizzling jalapeño, corn and tomatillos. Other dishes have only one note, like the tacos al pastor (overwhelmed by guajillo) and a limpid, miniscule mahi-mahi ceviche that tastes only of tamarind. To close the meal, there’s powerfully rich Mexican fudge topped with bacon and walnuts and an impressive tequila selection.

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Review: Hudson Kitchen, the Dundas West restaurant that hosted TIFF’s most paparazzied parties

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Hudson Kitchen 1 star
800 Dundas St. W., 416-644-8839

Before it even opened, the new restaurant at Dundas and Palmerston was hosting TIFF’s most paparazzied parties. The buzz has held strong ever since. A distracted hostess directs walk-ins to the small front bar for retro-tropical cocktails like a colada made with three types of rum (the liquor of the moment). The kitchen struggles to keep up.

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Review: Beryl’s Pepper Pot brings Jamaican home cooking to Queen East

(Image: Beryl's Pepper Pot/Facebook)

The jerk pork platter at Beryl’s Pepper Pot (Image: Beryl’s Pepper Pot/Facebook)

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Beryl’s Pepper Pot 1 star
1610 Queen St. E., 647-748-1400

The popular Ajax restaurant has opened a new location on a not-quite-Leslieville, not-quite-Beaches stretch of Queen East. The specialty is Jamaican home cooking, served in a simple fast-food setting by cheerful staff. The fragrant, herbaceous jerk makes a nice, earthy marinade for soft slices of pork. Long-simmered chicken stew is saucy, savoury with onion, garlic and thyme and disintegratingly tender. Coconut-scented rice, peas and a dollop of sweet coleslaw accompany each dish. Weekend breakfasts specials include wonderfully soft ackee and salty cured cod, underserved by bland, stodgy sides like dry dumplings and brick-hard green bananas.

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Review: Delica Kitchen, the new Leslieville location of the gourmet lunch counter

(Image: Delica Kitchen/Facebook)

(Image: Delica Kitchen/Facebook)

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Delica Kitchen 1 star ½
913 Queen St. E., 416-546-5408

Last summer, Devin Connell closed her Queen East chicken-and-waffles place, Paulette’s, and opened a second location of her midtown lunch counter in its place. The menu advertises wholesome ingredients and inventive flavours, and mostly delivers.

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Review: Brussels Bistro serves excellent French food in a cozy Victorian house in The Beach

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Brussels Bistro 1 star ½
1975 Queen St. E., Unit A, 416-694-0004

Chef Roger Stefan Wils’ Belgian bistro is perfectly suited to the Beaches, serving excellent French standards in the small open kitchen of a Victorian house.

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Review: Dundas Park Kitchen brings good, old-fashioned home cooking to Roncy

(Image: Megan Leahy)

(Image: Megan Leahy)

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Dundas Park Kitchen 1 star ½
2066 Dundas St. W., 647-351-4793

Walking into this new Roncesvalles sandwich shop feels like sneaking through the back door of a calm, rustic prep kitchen: most of the floor space is given over to open cooking stations, but thoughtful touches—fresh-cut sunflowers, pressed tin tiles—keep the room warm. Chefs Alex Tso and Melanie Harris prep fresh lunch staples using quality ingredients.

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