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Introducing: Rush Lane, a modernist snack bar and booze laboratory on Queen West

Name: Rush Lane
Contact Info: 563 Queen St. W., 416-551-7540, rushlaneto.com , facebook.com, @rushlaneco
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Previously: Hot Wings Grill and Rib House
Owners: Jordan Bushell, Alexis Arrowsmith, Simon Hooper, Doug Twigger and Brett Klyszejko
Chef: Chris Scott, the former chef de cuisine at Bero in Leslieville

The Drinks: Rush Lane is owned and operated by a pack of experienced bartenders, so it’s no surprise that the drinks list is pretty interesting. It consists of ten complex cocktails made with far-flung ingredients like “beet grenadine,” “hopped grapefruit bitters” and a type of seasoned vodka that’s been banned in the US since 1978. In the back of the room, a glass-walled laboratory is crammed with tech gadgets, including a rotary evaporator (for flavour-extraction), a centrifuge (for separating substances), a tissue tearer (a next-level hand blender) and a Clinebell ice machine, which can freeze a 300-pound block of clear ice in a day.

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Introducing: Little Sister, a new Indonesian snack bar from the owners of Quince bistro

Introducing: Little Sister

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Name: Little Sister
Contact Info: 2031 Yonge St., 416-488-2031, littlesistertoronto.com, @littlesisterto
Neighbourhood: Davisville Village
Previously: Lucca Fine Linens, a fancy home shop
Owners: Michael van de Winkel and Jennifer Gittins, who also own Quince Bistro
Chef: Michael van de Winkel

The Food: Chef van de Winkel grew up in Amsterdam and spent time working as a chef in the Dutch Navy. There, he learned to cook a colonial-era Indonesian meal called rijsttafel (Dutch for “rice table”). Years later, he continued the tradition in Toronto, where the colourful feasts were a huge draw at his midtown bistro, Quince. Now van de Winkel and co-owner Jennifer Gittens have moved the Dutch-Indo cuisine to a venue of its own. At Little Sister, the menu sticks mainly to the kind of snacks you can eat with your hands: croquettes, skewers and Indonesian-style rendang tacos.

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Introducing: Braised, a new Leslieville bistro from the owner of Lolita’s Lust

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Click to view gallery (Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Braised
Neighbourhood: Leslieville
Contact Info: 896 Queen St. E., 416-519-6280, braised.ca
Previously: Bistro 896, which lasted less than a year in the space
Owner: Sam Scanga, who also owns the Danforth stalwart Lolita’s Lust
Chef: Candace Chase (Trinity Taverna)

The Food: As the name implies, most of the food served at Braised undergoes some form of braising (i.e. searing, followed by simmering in liquid) before being plated. The menu veers toward traditional Euro fare (bruschetta, calamari, braised lamb shoulder), but chef Chase flexes her creative muscles with some less conventional dishes, like braised pork-cheek croquettes with cranberry coulis and tartar sauce.

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Introducing: Pai, the new Thai clubhouse from Nuit and Jeff Regular

Name: Pai
Neighbourhood: King West
Contact Info: 18 Duncan St., 416-901-4724, paitoronto.com, @PaiToronto
Previously: A Golden Griddle
Owners: Sukhothai and Sabai Sabai owners Jeff and Nuit Regular, with Janet Zuccarini (who also owns Gusto 101)
Executive Chef: Nuit Regular

The Food: Thai food experts Nuit and Jeff Regular are slowly introducing Torontonians to Thailand’s full panoply of regional cuisines. They serve central-Thai food at Sukhothai, northeastern Isan cuisine at Sabai Sabai and now, at Pai, traditional dishes from the country’s far-northern tip, which is known for its particularly fragrant and spicy food. Options include a gingery gaeng hunglay curry with oxtail, a pork-and-offal salad, and a DIY papaya salad with salted crab. (The plates are served family-style, and eating with your hands is strongly encouraged.) A simpler menu of bite-sized snacks (e.g. pork rinds, mussels) is available at Bebop, the casual, all-day snack bar.

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Introducing: Cellar Door, a serious southern Italian restaurant at Lakeshore and Islington

Introducing: Cellar Door

Click to view gallery (Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Cellar Door
Contact Info: 3003 Lakeshore Blvd. W., 416-253-0303, cellardoorrestaurant.ca, @cellardoorTO
Neighbourhood: New Toronto
Chef/Owner: Robert Rubino, a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) graduate who trained abroad at Michelin-starred restaurants like Ristorante San Domenico in Bologna, Italy, and L’Atelier Joel Robuchon in Paris, France
Pizzaiolo: Rodrigo Palacio

The Food: Wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas and other dishes from Rome and Calabria, a region in Southern Italy. A rustic, Calabrese-style pasta combines thick-cut buckwheat noodles with clams, scallops prawns, mussels and preserved chilis. Unlike most Italian chefs, Rubino cooks his food without butter or oil, and then adds a splash of good olive oil prior to serving.

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Introducing: Eastside Social, a new Maritime-themed restaurant near Queen and Carlaw

Introducing: Eastside Social

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Name: Eastside Social
Neighbourhood: Leslieville
Contact Info: 1008 Queen St. E., 416-461-5663, eastsidesocial.ca
Previously: Italian bakery and brunch spot The Upper Crust
Owners: Former Ruby Watchco co-owners Cherie Stinson, of Restaurant Makeover fame, and her husband Joey Skeir
Chefs: Chris Mentier (Céilí Cottage) is helming the kitchen with the help of Stefan Skeene (Ruby Watchco)

The Food: Born-and-bred Haligonians Stinson and Skeir wanted to bring Maritime cuisine to Toronto’s east side. Rather than sticking to straight-up Scotian food, the menu lists coastal fare from spots around the globe, including Peru (sea bream ceviche with pink grapefruit), Portugal (cod croquettes), Mexico (surf-and-turf tacos) and New England (clam chowder). There are also a few contemporary British dishes, like a Yorkshire-pudding poutine swimming in rich demi-glace.

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Introducing: Mr. Ciao, a new Italian restaurant on Gerrard from the owners of AAA Bar

Name: Mr. Ciao
Neighbourhood: Riverdale
Contact Info: 598 Gerrard St. E.,  416-901-8711,  mrciao.ca, @MrCiaoTo
Owners/Chefs: Racquel Youtzy and Tiziano Pivetta, who also own AAA Bar on Adelaide

The Food: Situated smack in the middle of Chinatown East, the pizza-pasta joint offers a handful of homey Italian dishes—deep-fried olives, seafood linguini—as well as less conventional items, like mozzarella-stuffed “egg rolls” and Peking-duck pizza topped with wasabi peas. The restaurant’s specialty is pizza fritta, a Neapolitan street snack that takes all the gooey decadence of regular pizza and adds a crunchy, deep-fried crust (the Mr. Ciao version is hand-stretched, flash-fried and finished in a stone oven). For dessert, there’s an Italian take on churros: sticks of fried pizza dough rolled in cinnamon sugar and topped with scoops of maple ice cream.

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Introducing: Tilde, the taqueria it took a neighbourhood to build (in exchange for tacos)

Name: Tilde
Contact Info: Tilde, 699 Danforth Ave., 416-469-8226, tildetaco.ca, @tildetaco
Previously: Bistro 699
Owner/Chef: Gauravi Shah, who co-owns Tilde with her husband

The Food: After working as a nuclear engineer for five years, Shah dropped everything to enrol in culinary school at George Brown. Her debut restaurant is technically a taqueria, but the menu is hardly traditional—tortillas come topped with gochujang-spiced chicken and curried Bengali fish in addition to more familiar options, like pork with mole sauce. Appetizers include chicken wings, nopal (cactus fritters) and, of course, chips and guac.

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Introducing: Rasa, The Food Dudes’ new restaurant in Harbord Village

Click to view gallery (Image: Megan Leahy)

Click to view gallery (Image: Megan Leahy)

Name: Rasa
Neighbourhood: University
Contact Info: 196 Robert St., 647-350-8221, rasabar.ca
Owners: The Food Dudes
Chef: Adrian Niman of The Food Dudes, formerly of North 44

The Food: The restaurant’s name is derived from the Latin phrase tabula rasa, which means “blank slate.” Fittingly, the menu doesn’t adhere to any particular culinary tradition, borrowing instead from multiple global cuisines, including French (bone marrow beef tartare), Italian (egg-yolk gnudi with smoked carrots and kale) and South American (lamb ribs with chimichurri and “pickled things”).

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Introducing: Lucky Red, the new bao shop from the Banh Mi Boys brothers

Name: Lucky Red
Neighbourhood: Chinatown
Contact Info: 318 Spadina Ave., 416-792-8628, luckyredshop.com
Previous Tenant: Vietnamese sandwich shop Cali Banh Mi & Che
Owners/Chefs: David, Phil and Peter Chau, the fraternal trio behind Banh Mi Boys

The Food: Thirteen different bao-style sandwiches, each served on a steamed-milk or egg-baked bun. Fillings range from relatively typical (XO-doused fried oysters, five-spice barbecue pork) to decidedly nontraditional (beef brisket slathered in ballpark mustard, marshmallow s’more). For the bao averse, there are also lo-mein bowls topped with pork belly or barbecue chicken.

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Introducing: Mata, the South American restaurant that replaced Keriwa in Parkdale

Name: Mata
Neighbourhood: Parkdale
Contact Info: 1690 Queen St W., 647-691-0234, matabar.ca, @MataBarTO
Owners: Sharath Dwakarnathan, Steve Fernandes, Felipe Faccioli, Patrick Fraser and Tulio Lessa
Chefs: Felipe Faccioli, Patrick Fraser and Tulio Lessa

The Food: South American ceviches and sandwiches, plus some North American dishes with Latin twists, like beef-cheek poutine with Cassava frites instead of traditional Yukon Golds. Chicken hearts are smoked, deep-fried and served on a bed of cauliflower purée. For less adventurous eaters, there are burgers and barbecue, although the ribs are dressed in a guava-based sauce and the sliders use a Brazilian top cut called picanha, smothered in a creamy South American cheese that has the consistency of thick béchamel.

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Introducing: Cluny, a massive (seriously, massive) new bistro in the Distillery from the owners of El Catrin

Name: Cluny Bistro
Contact Info: 35 Tank House Ln., 416-203-2632, clunybistro.com, @ClunyDistillery
Owners: Distillery Restaurant Corp, the group behind El Catrin, Pure Spirits, Archeo and The Boiler House
Chef(s): Executive chef Paul Benallick, whose 20 years’ experience includes stints at Jump, Stock, Auberge du Pommier and George Brown College’s The Chefs’ House. He works alongside pastry chef Chris Kwok and “boulanger” Lucas Craig

The Food: Updated bistro dishes, like chili-ginger frog legs and Buffalo sweetbreads, plus an on-trend assortment of crudos, ceviches and seafood tartares (including an unconventional “Nicoise” tartare with egg, French beans and olives). More traditional options include French onion soup, brie-slathered brioche and six different steak-frites platters. Those wishing to indulge (or impress) can take advantage of the “foie gras this or truffle that” supplement, which buys a few ounces of foie for the table—or a whole truffle at near-wholesale cost.

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Introducing: Portland Variety, the new tapas restaurant on King West from the owners of Le Gourmand

Name: Portland Variety
Neighbourhood: King West
Contact Info: 587 King St. W., 416-368-5151, @PortlandVariety
Owner: Ralf Madi and Milton Nunes of Le Gourmand
Chef: Jo Castrinos, formerly of Patria and Splendido

The Food: For sit-down meals in the restaurant’s dining room, chef Castrinos borrows from French, North African, Spanish and even Greek cuisine to create a menu of not-quite-traditional tapas plates, like grilled octopus with smoked tomatoes and a whole sliced rib eye served with caramelized onions. Casual snackers can pair their cocktails with a rotating selection of pinxtos (small Spanish snacks) in the front café area, where tiny skewered bites are artfully displayed on the marble bar.

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Introducing: TLP, a $10-lunch counter from the team behind Barberian’s Steakhouse

Name: TLP
Neighbourhood: Downtown Core
Contact Info: 15 Elm St., 416-662-3546, @TLPSandwich
Owner: Pat Orgera, Jon Andrews and Arron Barberian, owner of Barberian’s Steakhouse
Chef: Bob Bermann, previously the chef and co-owner of Boba

The Food: Take-away sandwiches with classic toppings. Rather than focusing on what’s trending, owners Orgera, Andrews and Barberian designed the menu with portability in mind: the sandwiches are carefully engineered to travel well without getting soggy. Among the options: a chicken-thigh club, a fried-calamari sub and the namesake TLP, a spin on the BLT with peameal instead of strip bacon. Patrons are strongly encouraged to add their preferred amount of Kozlik’s mustard, and to pair their sandwich with chunky steak fries.

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Introducing: Rock Lobster Leslieville, which has a kids’ menu and three (three!) patios

Introducing: Rock Lobster Leslieville

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Name: Rock Lobster Food Co. (Leslieville)
Contact Info: 1192 Queen St. E., 416-533-1800, @rocklobsterfood, rocklobsterfood.com
Owners: Matt Dean Pettit and Mike Homewood, who also own nearby Boots ‘n’ Bourbon, along with partners Darryl Fine and Alan Thomson
Chefs: Executive chef Matt Dean Pettit and corporate chef de cuisine Deron Engbers

The Food: Fans of the Ossington and Queen West locations will recognize the lobster boils, lobster rolls and elaborately garnished lobster-tail Caesars. Everything else is new, including lobster bruschetta, a fried-clam roll with Sriracha mayo and a few vegetarian dishes. There are also kids’ options, like mac ‘n’ cheese topped with crumbled Goldfish.

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