Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef.
This week, we’re going international! Join us in Toronto, Canada — widely recognized as one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. As such, you know you’re going to find a wealth of dishes to satisfy any palate. In fact, parsing the city’s menus without expert advice is an incredibly daunting task. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of celebrity chef Gail Simmons.
Born and raised in Toronto, Gail is a renowned culinary expert, writer, Food & Wine Special Projects Director, Top Chef judge, and producer of the new Food Network series, Star Plates, which premiered on September 27.
Of the new show, Simmons told us:
It’s about taking celebrities from all different genres and throwing them in the kitchen of one of their favorite chefs. They get to experience life as a line cook for one crazy day and then cook for whoever comes to the restaurant.
We’ve had some incredible people join us; both chefs and actors.
Colin Hanks, Alyson Hannigan, Mindy Kaling, and Minka Kelly are just a few of the celebrities we’ll see throwing on an apron and getting to work in the kitchen, where they’ll learn to make their favorite dishes at their favorite restaurants.
Speaking of favorite restaurants, it’s time to check out Gail’s favorites in Toronto!
I should preface this by saying that Canada, being very north of Mexico, well…there just isn’t the Mexican influence or history of great Mexican food like there is in the states. There is now, up-and-coming great Mexican food. There’s a great new place that I love to go to, great cocktails, great food, and really fun, called Playa Cabana.
Asian food is such a massive, broad category. It’s an entire continent of food; it’s hard to pick just one! There is a modern restaurant that I love that’s a very loosely Asian, sort of gastro-arty place called DaiLo.
There’s a lot of great sweet food in Toronto. I’m really into a place called Sweet Jesus. It’s a really awesome soft serve ice cream sundae place. They make amazing ice cream concoctions; ice cream, popsicles, delicious soft serve.
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at long last, the lobster mushrooms have made their way to shōtō’s counter, combined with red pepper because, well, they’re both beautifully in season right now. the idea for this dish came from a favorite of chef jed smith: deviled crab on toast. the soup gets seasoned with kozlik's sweet and smokey mustard and pomegranate molasses for an extra tart finish. a pinch of smoked paprika and crispy potatoes rounds everything out.
David Chang from Momofuku (in New York) has a place in Toronto called Momofuku Shoto. It’s very different from the one in New York. It’s more like his Momofuku Ko, in that it’s a tasting menu. It’s really special and really amazing.
There’s also a great steakhouse that’s young and cool and high-end called Jacobs & Co. that I really like. I’d also say, there’s a chef, Mark McEwan, in Toronto who’s been around forever and he’s really incredible at what he does. His restaurants are exceptional and one of them is called North 44.
There are so many places I love for casual dining. Hopgoods Foodliner, The Black Hoof, another restaurant called Buca. And then, really casual, that’s great for families, has great outdoor patio dining, that’s a classic in Toronto is Terroni.
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We went to Buddha Vegetarian in #Toronto last night for a feast including spring rolls, soya rolls, spicy tofu with chili sauce, mock beef in black bean sauce w/ rice noodles and imitation duck with lemon sauce. Boy can I over-order! Anyway, the tofu was our fave. #leftovers
There’s two that I like. One is called Fresh, and it has been around for a really long time. They were the first in Toronto to do really great bowls, you know, amazing grain bowls, salads, vegetarian burgers; I really like a lot of what they do. Then there’s also a lot of really amazing vegetarian Chinese food. I used to eat at Buddha’s Vegetarian, growing up.
There’s a lot of great brunch in Toronto. My favorite is called Rose and Sons. Another place that I absolutely love is Aunties and Uncles. They’re both really cozy and casual, and the menus offer just perfect breakfast and brunch. They’re creative but also comforting. I’m generally a savory brunch person and both of these places do egg dishes really well.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
This one is kind of tricky. Toronto isn’t necessarily known for a specific, iconic food. One thing that I think most people outside of Toronto don’t even know about is the peameal bacon sandwich. Peameal bacon is what Americans call Canadian bacon. You don’t call it Canadian bacon in Canada. There’s a place in St. Lawrence Market, which is our big farmers market, that makes very iconic peameal bacon sandwiches. It’s called Carousel Bakery. Everyone in Toronto knows about the peameal bacon sandwiches at Carousel Bakery.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Black Hoof is a delicious restaurant, really known for their offal meats; gizzards, ears, really great pig ears, really great bone marrow. They do horse tartar!
There’s these things called butter tarts, and they’re a very Canadian, specifically Torontoan/Ontarian treat. It’s basically a miniature tart that is sort of like a pecan tart without the pecans. So it’s just that sugary, gooey middle without the nuts in it. You can find them at so many bakeries in Toronto. It’s a very Canadian thing.
This one’s my down and dirty guilty pleasure. There’s an old diner counter that’s been around for — I don’t even know — but it’s been around forever, called Vesta Lunch. I think it’s open 24 hours. I’ve been there really late at night, and when I really want some serious hangover food, I would go there. I get a bacon, egg, tomato sandwich on a roll, or a cheeseburger. It’s not fancy, and the guy’s been there forever, and it’s a classic.
Ruby WatchCo is a small, beautiful, prix fixe restaurant that would make for a fun date night. A great chef named Lynn Crawford owns the restaurant.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
Earlier I mentioned Rose & Sons. The guy who runs it, Anthony Rose, owns a few restaurants, and I love them all. Fat Pasha, which is Middle Eastern, a barbecue place called Big Crow, and a bar called Bar Begonia. I just love everything he does. I always hit one of his restaurants up when I’m in Toronto.
Thank you, Gail Simmons, for taking us on a culinary tour of Toronto!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Baltimore,Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!