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Introducing: Touhenboku, the ramen shop’s new sushi restaurant in the Distillery District

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Touhenboku
Neighbourhood: Distillery District
Contact Info: 42 Gristmill Ln., 416-368-8686
Previously: Café Uno
Owner: Zuimei Okuyama
Chef: Veteran sushi chef Aki Kitao, who previously worked in upscale sushi restaurants like Toshi Sushi and Ki

The Food: Unlike Touhenboku’s casual ramen shops on Queen West and Yonge Street, the chain’s Distillery location focuses primarily on sushi. Chef Kitao’s menu includes over 21 types of fish, which are sliced, rolled and torched in both traditional and novel ways. A tuna-scallop roll is blasted with a blow torch and topped with house-made sour plum paste and a sweet miso-sesame glaze. For $45, the chef will prepare a 14-piece omakase (i.e. tasting menu) with interesting options like uni (sea urchin),  tarabakani (king crab), and aji (Spanish mackerel) wrapped in Japanese mint.

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Introducing: Mean Bao, the Chinatown bao shop’s new Queen West location

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Mean Bao
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Contact Info: 167 Bathurst St., 416-862-7737, meanbaotoronto.com
Previously: A short-lived burger shop called Burger Press
Chefs/Owners: Both the original location and this new outpost are co-owned by Jones and James Cheung, along with their nephew and niece Scott Ching and Erin Cheung. Everyone plays a role in the family business, including grandma.

The Food: Silky bao are piled with savoury ingredients, like peppery barbecue chicken with pickled daikon, or house-braised pork belly topped with a crunchy mixture of peanuts and black sugar. The “Sloppy Jones” is a bao-ified version of dan dan mien, a traditional Szechuan noodle dish made with minced pork, chili oil and scallions.

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Introducing: Parlor Foods & Co., a rustic Canadian restaurant and cocktail lounge on King West

Introducing: Parlor Foods

Name: Parlor Foods & Co
Contact Info: 333 King St. W., 416-596-0004, parlorfoods.com, @parlorfoods
Neighbourhood: King West
Co-owners and chefs: Jason D’Anna and Brett Howson

The Food: Parlor’s comfort dishes are punched up with distinctly Canadian additions, like a swipe of pure maple syrup on a simple charcuterie platter, or ribbons of cold-smoked sockeye salmon in an elegant Nicoise with creme fraiche and pickled beans. Adventurous carnivores may appreciate the unconventional proteins on offer, including sweetbreads (disguised as chicken wings) and horse, which is served raw and paired with a roasted bone-marrow luge.

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Introducing: Borealia, a new all-Canadian restaurant on the Ossington strip

Borealia

Borealia’s braised whelk. (Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Borealia (which was one of the alternative names proposed for Canada during confederation)
Contact Info: 59 Ossington Ave., 647-351-5100, borealiato.com
Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
Previously: Ardor Bistro
Owners: Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris. The pair met while working at Waterfront Wines in British Columbia. They married last year.
Chefs: Morris, with sous chef Fabrizio DeCicco (previously of Bellwoods Brewery)

The Food: Borealia serves Canadian cuisine befitting its pre-confederation name. There’s no poutine, no tourtière, and no Nanaimo bars. “We were inspired by the immigrants that built Canada and how they tweaked their recipes to work with the indigenous plants,” says Wu. The restaurant’s whelk, a giant sea snail braised in a kombu beurre blanc and served on a soya-spiked bed of seaweed and burdock, blends French and Chinese cuisine. Other dishes on the menu draw from antique French, British and Chinese recipes, some of which date all the way back to Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. The oldest dish on the menu is the pemmican, once a high-calorie staple for First Nations people and, later, Arctic explorers. Instead of a fatty wad of powdered meat mixed with dried fruit, Morris reimagines the dish as a pretty plate of bison bresaola topped with shaved lardo and juniper-pickled blueberries.

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Introducing: NAO, a new Asian steakhouse on Avenue Road from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: NAO (an acronym for “New and Old”)
Neighbourhood: Yorkville
Contact Info: 90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141, naosteakhouse.com
Owners: Charles Khabouth, Hanif Harji, Stuart Cameron and Tim Foley
Chefs: Stuart Cameron (also the exec chef at Patria, Weslodge and Byblos) and chef de cuisine Andrew Bradford.

The Food: The Asian-American fusion trend finds full expression in this plush new steakhouse from restaurant impresarios Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji. NAO offers some caveman-sized cuts of beef—including a 64-ounce rib steak that’s carved tableside—but it’s not just a boys’ club. “We wanted NAO to be female-friendly,” says Kabbouth. Lighter options (salads, tartare) are punched up with predominantly Japanese flavourings, like miso, yuzu, ponzu and “Bull-Dog” sauce, a sweet and savoury Japanese condiment. (NAO makes its own version in-house.) Cameron spent months researching and sourcing the very best of everything, including fresh wasabi from B.C., Wagyu beef from Japan and bamboo barrel–aged finishing salt from South Korea.

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Introducing: Buna’s Kitchen, a homey new lunch counter in the Entertainment District

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Name: Buna’s Kitchen
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Contact Info: 388 Richmond St. W., Unit 5B, 647-342-5506, facebook.com
Previously: Sido Shwarma
Chefs/Owners: George Brown alums Grace An and Taylor Heon met in culinary school and opened a catering company together, Food Parade, before going the brick-and-mortar route with Buna’s.

The Food: Owners An and Heon are determined to bring old-fashioned home cooking to the downtown core. (Buna is Hungarian for “grandma”). The short menu includes sandwiches (pulled pork, duck confit), poutines and salads, plus a daily changing pasta special. On one visit, it’s bolognese; on the next, it’s fettuccine in a simple marinara sauce.

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Introducing: Baju, Zane Caplansky’s laid-back barbecue joint at The Monarch Tavern

baju-intro

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Baju BBQ
Contact Info: 12 Clinton St., 416-531-5833
Neighbourhood: Little Italy
Owners: Zane Caplansky (best known for his eponymous deli and food truck) and The Monarch Tavern’s Michael Dorbyk
Chefs: Dan Green and Kyle Wyatt, the duo behind pop-up culinary collective Mise En Place

The Food: Baju ascribes to the “Meat and Three” philosophy, which holds that barbecue is best enjoyed along with a trio of equally filling side dishes. At Baju, pulled pork, sliced brisket, spicy Texas sausages and dry-rubbed ribs can be combined with heaping servings of beans, collard greens, cornbread or deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese nuggets. It’s a simple, soul-infused menu that doesn’t try to rewrite the classics. Explains Caplansky, “This is driving down a country road in Kentucky and finding a great shack that makes ribs, where that’s all they do. We’re keeping it simple.”

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Introducing: Ovest, a polished Italian restaurant on King West from ex-Terroni chef Luca Stracquadanio

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

Name: Ovest
Contact Info: 788 King St. W., 416-214-6161, ovest-to.com, @Ovest_TO
Neightbourhood: King West
Owner: Marco Celio, the former general manager at both Buca and Buonanotte
Chef: Sicilian-born chef Luca Stracquadanio, previously the executive chef at Terroni LA and La Bettola di Terroni in Toronto

The Food: In addition to thin-crust pizzas and truffle-strewn pastas, the debut menu at Ovest includes some interesting departures from typical trattoria fare. A nontraditional caprese salad, for example, combines tuna tartare with whipped Buffalo mozzarella and salsa verde. The swordfish carpaccio—chef Stracquadanio’s signature dish—brings thin slices of smoked fish sprinkled with slivered fennel, orange segments and white anchovies. (“I want to surprise my customers with juxtaposing elements,” says the chef.) Desserts, like the chocolate nest pictured above, are almost too pretty to eat.

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Introducing: Dandylion, a modern bistro on Queen West from former Centro chef Jay Carter

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Dandylion
Contact Info: 1198 Queen St. W., 647-464-9100, restaurantdandylion.com
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Chef/Owner: Jay Carter, who worked for 10 years under Susur Lee (first at Susur, then Lee) before becoming executive chef at Centro

The Menu: “I want people to feel nourished and revived,” says chef Carter of his debut menu. His dishes are sophisticated but not too fussy. Take, for example, an elegant confit chicken dish paired with celery root and toasted brioche crumbs, or a silky poached egg sprinkled with crunchy puffed grains (referred to on the menu as “savoury granola”). There’s no one unifying cuisine at play—Asian and European flavours show up together in a persimmon salad with sprouted black lentils and Marcona almonds, while the stark white dishes and veggie-focused plates suggest Nordic influences.

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Introducing: Wahlburgers, the new Toronto outpost of Mark, Donnie and Paul Wahlberg’s Boston burger shop

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Wahlburgers
Contact Info: 46 Blue Jays Way, 416-489-8922, wahlburgers.ca, @WahlburgersCA
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owners: The Wahlberg brothers (Mark, Donnie and Paul), Starwood Group president Bruce Greenbeerg, Metropolitan Hotels president Henry Wu and Difference Capital executive chairman Michael Wekerle.
Chefs: Executive chef Paul Wahlberg and head chef Vincent Leung, who’s also the chef de cuisine at Luckee next door

The Food: Beef and turkey patties are grilled-to-order and piled high with veggies, bacon strips and condiments (including chef Paul’s secret-recipe “Wahl sauce,” which is pretty similar to Thousand Island.) Non-burger options include hot dogs, salads, grilled cheeses and a seared-chicken sandwich named after Donnie’s wife Jenny McCarthy.

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Introducing: Pizzeria Libretto’s much-anticipated (and PATH-accessible) downtown location

Introducing: Pizzeria Libretto

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Pizzeria Libretto
Contact Info: 155 University Ave., 416-551-0433, pizzerialibretto.com, @PizzaLibretto
Owner: Libretto Restaurant Group
Executive Chef and Partner: Rocco Agostino
Chefs di “Cucina”: Tiffany Wong and sous chef Carmen Mach

The Food: The new Libretto serves the same simple, seasonal food as the chain’s Ossington and Danforth locations. The menu is divided between rustic Italian starters (including chef Agostino’s namesake arugula salad with squash and beets) and generously topped Neapolitan pizzas, which are flash-baked for 90 seconds each. At $15 for three courses, the weekday prix-fixe lunch menu is one of the better deals downtown.

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Introducing: Wilbur Mexicana, the slick new Mexican restaurant on King West

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

Name: Wilbur Mexicana
Contact Info: 552 King St. W., wilburmexicana.com, @WilburMexicana
Neighbourhood: King West
Owners: Will Cumberland, Baird Cumberland and Stephen Chan
Chefs: Daniel Janetos, previously the chef de cuisine at Farmhouse Tavern, and Mario Escobar

The Food: The short menu sticks to simple Mexican street food dishes, mostly of the tortilla-wrapped variety (tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc.). To start, there’s queso-topped corn and traditional guacamole with chips. The salsa bar stocks eight condiments of varying intensity, including a dare-worthy blend laced with ghost peppers. 

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Introducing: Bar Fancy, Chantecler chef Jonathan Poon’s new Queen West snack bar

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

Name: Bar Fancy
Contact Info: 1070 Queen St. W., 416-546-1416, @BarFancyTO
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Owners/chefs: Chantecler’s Jonathan Poon and former Fabbrica chef (and Chopped Canada contestant) Jesse Fader

The Food: “Cheap and cheerful” is how Poon describes the dishes on his short snack menu. “We take a serious approach to food, but it isn’t—ironically—fancy.” Everything’s plated on colourful Melamine tableware, including two different chicken dishes: jumbo wings seasoned with mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns and fried chicken pieces paired with pickles, butter and springy white Wonder Bread. The menu will soon be expanded to include some larger options, like a 32-ounce rib-eye steak.

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Introducing: Louis Cifer Brew Works, a huge new brewpub on the Danforth

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Name: Louis Cifer Brew Works
Contact Info: 417 Danforth Ave., 647-350-5087, louisciferbrewworks.com, @LouisCiferBW
Neighbourhood: Riverdale
Previously: Longstanding Greek restaurant Myth, which closed in 2010, followed by two short-lived tenants (Legion sports bar and 417 Restaurant)
Owners: Erin Gamelin and Craig Abbott, who also co-own the nearby Stout Irish Pub.
Chefs: Angel Sevilla and head brewer Christine Nagy

The Food: The menu includes pub staples (burgers, nachos) and a handful of more upscale options, like a rack of lamb with sour-cherry gastrique. Dishes are infused with beer wherever possible—the house ale adds flavour to an onion soup, a cheese fondue and a plate of PEI mussels. This being the Danforth, there’s also a kids’ menu.

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Introducing: Fresh Off The Boat, a new seafood sandwich shop on Queen West

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Name: Fresh Off The Boat
Contact Info: 404 Queen St. W., 416-603-3333, @FOTB416
Previously: IWing Pizza & Wings
Neighbourhood: Queen West
Owner/Chef: Quinten Tran, one of the founders of the Buster’s Sea Cove food truck

The Food: The chalkboard menu lists about a dozen seafood sandwiches, salads and other dishes, most of which have a slight Can-Asian flair. The signature “FOB” sandwich (described as an “Asian po’boy banh mi”) is a battered-catfish sub topped with kimchi and smoky aioli. Other options include a lobster roll, a grilled halibut salad and an entire soft-shell crab served on a brioche bun. Chunky fries and broccoli slaw are available on the side.

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