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Review: At King West’s Wilbur Mexicana, grilled veggies are the way to go

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Wilbur Mexicana 1 star
552 King St. W., 416-792-1878
Wilbur Mexicana 1 star
552 King St. W., 416-792-1878

Somewhere on the spectrum between Mexican fast food chains and hipster taco joints is Wilbur on King West. Diners order at the counter, grab bottles of Mexican cerveza (or craft sodas from a state-of-the-art fountain) and take a seat in a sleek room with floor-to-ceiling windows, subway tile and dark wood accents. There’s a self-serve hot sauce and salsa bar, with house-made condiments like a tart pineapple-habanero salsa—the perfect pairing for a grilled avocado taco layered with feta-like cotija cheese and a smoky-creamy chipotle crema. The pulled pork burrito is dry and under-salted, but grilled Mexican street corn smothered in more crema and cotija is a savoury-sweet winner. No desserts.

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Review: Parlor Foods and Co. serves Canadiana (and oddly delicious cheddar ice cream) on King West

Introducing: Parlor Foods

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Parlor Foods and Co. 1 star
333 King St. W., 416-596-0004
Parlor Foods and Co. 1 star
333 King St. W., 416-596-0004

Barnboard and burlap give Parlor a cottagey feel. On the menu are the hallmarks of modern Canadian cuisine: maple syrup, smoked salmon and pickerel, and local wines, small-batch spirits and craft beers. Onion tots, served piping hot from the fryer, are crunchy but filled with overly sweet caramelized onions. The accompanying aioli with sumac, coriander and scapes is good, but it can’t save the tots. Lobster carbonara brings perfectly poached claw meat, guanciale and rich egg yolk atop slightly claggy fettuccine. The butter tart brings a small mason jar of undercooked custard and two freshly baked shortbread cookies in place of a crust—it doesn’t work all that well. Instead, opt for buttery apple strudels topped with odd-yet-delicious cheddar ice cream.

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Review: Nana serves fiery Thai food stall dishes to Queen West heat-seekers

Introducing: Nana

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Nana 2 star
785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773
Nana 2 star
785 Queen St. W., 647-352-5773

Of the many new wave Thai places to open in the last year, this diminutive spot, run by Khao San Road’s gregarious chef-owner Monte Wan, hits the most food stall-by-the-side-of-a-road notes, between the cobblestone floor, red plastic stools, and cases of Chang beer by the door. A line forms early, such is the appetite for Wan’s studiously authentic regional food, which ping-pongs between addictively greasy kitsch (thin noodles with tofu and hot dog chunks fried until they open like pink pork florets) and dizzyingly complex combinations of texture and taste (the khao soi, a rich coconut curry with egg noodles, bean sprouts and slices of chicken). Servers deliver a fulsome selection of fresh chili, chili flakes and hot sauce to your table, in case the already building heat isn’t adequate. To cool down, the bar makes trendily frothy cocktails, like a rum and coconut milk concoction perfumed with lemongrass.

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Review: Città makes for a fun CityPlace hangout, but don’t expect top-notch Italian

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Città 1 star
92 Fort York Blvd., 416-623-9662
Città 1 star
92 Fort York Blvd., 416-623-9662

The new casual Italian restaurant in CityPlace’s condo village is the latest project from Toronto’s resto-lounge titan Hanif Harji, who hired chef Ben Heaton fresh off the closing of his critically celebrated—though frequently empty Dundas West Brit pub—The Grove. The place has a posh party vibe, with approximately 20 beaded boudoir chandeliers, black leather banquettes and an affluent condo crowd who seems eager to let loose with ice buckets full of Prosecco and tables crowded with high-priced pizza.

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Review: Ovest serves delicate, rustic Italian dishes to the King West crowd

(Image: Jackie Pai)

(Image: Jackie Pai)

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Ovest 1 star ½
788 King St. W., 416-214-6161
Ovest 1 star ½
788 King St. W., 416-214-6161

The rustic-meets-industrial decor of this new, massive King West spot will be familiar to those who’ve sampled the city’s trendiest Italian spots, as will the enthusiastic, accented service. Cranked prices reflect the fashion-conscious clientele (Liberty Villagers and King West nightlifers) who arrive in droves. The expert technique of ex-Terroni executive chef Luca Stracquadanio and his kitchen team is highlighted in nearly every intricately presented dish. Lemon and olive drizzle tops lightly smoked, buttery soft swordfish, punctuated with bright and punchy marinated anchovies. It’s a must-order. Gnocchi, prepared with squid ink and served with a generous helping of sweet lobster, are good, if a little doughy. A wood-oven pizza topped with mortadella meets the city’s unusually high standard for Napolitana-style pie. A rabbit secondo really showcases Stracquadanio’s skill, with the meat first cooked sous vide, then rolled with porcini and speck, grilled and served on a cauliflower puree. The wine list offers more than 150 bottles.

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Review: Bar Fancy, Jonathan Poon’s new snack bar on Queen West, is an easy win

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Bar Fancy 2 star
1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416
Bar Fancy 2 star
1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416

With Chantecler, Jonathan Poon proved he could make an ambitious restaurant work in down-and-out Parkdale. His latest project is comparatively easy: a casual snack and drinks place, reached down an alley, smack in the middle of the Queen West bachelorette party district. It’s casual in the extreme: tables are small and closely packed, baseball capped servers crank the volume on Young Americans, and there’s not a mixologist for miles (the drinks list is, for this ’hood, impressively cheap and limited to bar rail and microbrews). Food comes on melamine plates but is coyly posh: smoky shaved ham shoulder and extra-old cheddar with crusty bread, slices of royal gala and a dipping pot of flowery honey; minerally malpeques with a Vietnamese-inspired sauce; and deep fried chicken in a thin, five-spiced batter. His chicken wings, coated with a Szechuan numbing salt that builds with each bite until your mouth burns like a five alarm fire, seems like a cruel joke on the street’s punters.

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Review: Dandylion brings intricate, Scandinavian-influenced dishes to Queen West

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Dandylion 2 star ½
1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100
Dandylion 2 star ½
1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100

Jay Carter spent a decade cooking under Susur and two years as exec chef at Centro before striking out on his own. His dad helped renovate a former bar into a cramped but elegantly understated room of polished concrete, softly lit marble tables, and exposed heritage brick that shows the ghostly traces of long-gone beams and staircases. His first menu is only nine items long and betrays a Scandinavian influence, like a salad of smoked trout, oniony cream, dill, microgreens and salty pops of roe, or cubes of confit chicken under a crunchy blanket of toasted rye. Not all of his experiments succeed: a daily special of white fish is perfectly poached but overpowered by a zealous dusting of smoked paprika. Orange zest and a puddle of crème fraiche elevates a humble walnut tea cake into the sublime.

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Review: Yunaghi, the Japanese bistro at Harbord and Manning, is unusual but rewarding

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

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Yunaghi 2 star ½
538 Manning Ave., 416-588-7862
Yunaghi 2 star ½
538 Manning Ave., 416-588-7862

Before opening this peculiar but ultimately rewarding Japanese bistro, the chef Tetsuya Shimizu spent 12 years studying kaiseki in Tokyo and two years in the kitchen at Yours Truly, the recently shuttered molecular gastronomy restaurant on Ossington. Both inform his set-course dinners of seven or nine dishes, which are by turns traditional (a pot of dashi tea poured tableside over a slice of yellowtail sashimi, the heat of the liquid slowly poaching the luscious fish) and experimental (a Gehry-esque scattering of fall veg—roasted beets, blanched beans, pickled squash—comes dressed with a bacon-infused snow and a tofu–Grana Padano smear). Awkward, inarticulate servers have a tough time explaining each complicated plate’s constituent elements. One night’s highlight: a fantastically tender roast duck breast with rounds of confit leek, their crispy, chip-like exterior hiding a dense and deeply oniony core. Desserts, like a silky panna cotta layered with wafers of crunchy feuilletine, are comparatively simple. The room, formerly J.P. Challet’s Ici Bistro, has been stripped of its francophilia, the only décor an orchid in the window, while the plink-plonk-plink of Herbie Hancock makes an apt accompaniment to the meandering meal.

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Review: Nuit Social is a slice of civilized heaven on West Queen West

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Nuit Social 1 star
1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848
Nuit Social 1 star
1168 Queen St. W., 647-350-6848

The strip of Queen West between Ossington and Dufferin has always needed a grown-up alternative to the late-night pubs, poutine and pizza that feed The Drake’s and The Gladstone’s club crowd. It finally has one. At 11 p.m. on a Friday, you can walk in without a wait, order a glass of off-LCBO wine and build your own charcuterie board. The meats, from Ontario and Europe, include beechwood-smoked speck from Austria edged with gauzy fat, and there’s an excellent selection of small-batch cheeses, like a Wisconsin merlot satori that packs good wine pong, plus five kinds of olives (the lemon-zesty picholines are a must). The fritti are consistently hot, crisp and greaseless, like the killer golf ball–sized saffron arancini, and crackling cornmeal-crusted calamari. Lighter dishes are also well made: tiny brown-butter-fried scallops slicked with butternut squash purée and dotted with delicate Brussels sprout leaves and micro greens, for example. Crumbly New York–style cheesecake, both made and topped with Parmesan, is as dry and weird as an episode of Twin Peaks. Instead, linger over a nightcap around the colourful stained-glass bar, and soak in the blessedly mellow mood amid the neighbourhood’s all-night party.

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Review: Mr. Flamingo has tons of cool cred (and pretty great food)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

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Mr. Flamingo 2 star
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100
Mr. Flamingo 2 star
1265 Dundas St. W., 647-351-1100

The staff at the new 34-seat restaurant on the corner of Dundas West is a dream team of food-world hipsters. The place is owned by Mikey Apples, who also owns the dive club Bambi’s downstairs, and Fan Zhang, the former chef at 416 Snack Bar. Cool cred combined, they run an archetypal west-end hang filled with obscure dance beats and the sound of cocktails shaking, 20-somethings in a uniform of top-knots, slouchy Ts and Converse high tops, and salvage shop furnishings. The food is mostly very good—not quite special-occasion fare, but definitely date-night-level.

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Review: Nodo, the Junction’s new red-sauce restaurant, serves crowd-pleasing (if unrefined) classics

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

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Nodo 1 star
2885 Dundas St. W., 416-901-1559
Nodo 1 star
2885 Dundas St. W., 416-901-1559

Across from the Indie Ale House microbrewery and beside Cantina’s taco party, comes a solid new red-sauce restaurant—the third point in a triangle of dining trends. The owners are three Italian guys who’ve been friends since high school, and they’ve seemingly instilled that happy, known-you-forever warmth in their servers. The large, checker-board-floored space is entirely comfortable: bare wood tables are topped with bread baskets and banquettes are filled with post-work marrieds. The Sicilian-focused menu is equally as casual, with the extensive boot-based wine list divided by price (bottles under $35, under $55) and the pastas and pizzas outnumbering the tiny mains section by the dozen.

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Review: The fusion cooking at Patois is bold, ambitious and strangely satisfying

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Patois 1 star ½
794 Dundas St. W., 647-350-8999
Patois 1 star ½
794 Dundas St. W., 647-350-8999

The latest fusion to hit the Toronto dining scene is Asian-Caribbean, courtesy of chef Craig Wong, whose Chinese family lived in Jamaica for three generations. The room feels just like an island patio—it’s loud, kitschy, crowded and sweltering. Wong swirls together jerk, hoisin and five-spice into strangely satisfying combinations.

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Review: Thoroughbred on Richmond Street West is an excellent post-work party spot

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Thoroughbred 2 star
304 Richmond St. W., 416-551-9221
Thoroughbred 2 star
304 Richmond St. W., 416-551-9221

The DJ’s electro-indie-pop thrums and the well-crafted cocktails go down far too easy at this quintessential after-work party spot. The owners debuted their high-low concept at the Underground Market, where they sold foie gras pop tarts. Thoroughbred’s sharing menus (one vegetarian, one omnivorous) have that same winning mash-up.

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Review: Leslieville’s Eastside Social may be the perfect neighbourhood local

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

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Eastside Social 2 star ½
1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663
Eastside Social 1 star ½
1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663

The ideal neighbourhood local—not too crowded, not too noisy, just-right prices—can be found in Leslieville. Eastside Social’s nautical theme (brass porthole outside, lobster trap–shaped lights within) is campy without being kitsch, and the food, cooked by former Ceili Cottage chef Chris Mentier, is refined comfort at its best.

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Review: Colette Grand Café is expensive, conservative and mostly good

(Image: Erin Leydon)

(Image: Erin Leydon)

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Colette Grand Café 1 star ½
550 Wellington St. W., 647-348-7000
Colette Grand Café 1 star ½
550 Wellington St. W., 647-348-7000

The new restaurant in the Thompson Hotel is ultra-polished and styled after an airy Riviera brasserie. It’s run by the Chase Hospitality Group and radiates—for better or worse, depending on your dining tastes—a corporate vibe.

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