Top Toronto Restaurants

With over 7000 restaurants in the city, some of the top Toronto restaurants offer an abundance of dining choices and tastes from around the world. Toronto is a hot spot for some of the best dining in North America. Food critics flock the city to rate the latest of “What’s Hot” and “What’s Not.”

Restaurant Rating

Ratings are based on the quality of food, service and atmosphere. Prices are based on one person dining (appetizer, entrée, dessert, alcoholic beverage) including tax and tip.

Scale of 1 – 10

  • Good: 1 – 3
  • Very Good: 4 – 6
  • Excellent: 7 – 8
  • Outstanding: 9
  • Flawless: 10

Top 5 Toronto Restaurants by Category

The following list is a short guide to the top 5 Toronto restaurants I have frequented over the years who I have found to provide above average to exceptional food, service and atmosphere. By category, they include:

CONTINENTAL

Canoe
66 Wellington St. W. (at Bay), 416-364-0054
Closed Saturday and Sunday
www.canoerestaurant.com

Located on the 54th floor of the TD Bank Tower, well dressed business diners rush in ready to make deals over lunch. As evening arrives, the business rush is over but is quickly filled with the general public. The prized tables along the window provide breath taking views of the city. The menu features Canada’s best ingredients and is focused around regional Canadian cuisine. Executive Chef Anthony Walsh and his kitchen brigade execute each dish with finesse. Besides the stunning views, don’t forget to take a look at the restaurant’s open concept kitchen to have a glimpse of the pros at work. Appetizers include Canoe’s popular raw bar selection for $72 which features a variety of fresh seafood to share. Mains, one must try the Bison Striploin served with mushrooms and a peppercorn sauce. This thick cut and lean meat is full of flavor and should be ordered medium rare. For dessert, the warm, mini “timbit like” donuts served with warm chocolate dipping sauce are to die for – sugary and light. Service is professional but friendly. Food is explained in detail by ingredients used, method of preparation and service style. Waiters are attentive but not distracting and timing has been perfected. If you are true foodies and have high standards, Canoe is the place you can count on. Make sure to call ahead at least one week in advance if you like a table next to the window. Rating: 10 (flawless), Price: $95-$115.

JAPANESE

Sushi Kaji
860 The Queensway (at Islington), 416-252-2166
Closed Monday and Tuesday
www.sushikaji.com

Perhaps, the finest sushi in the city, sushi master Mitsuhiro Kaji continues to capture the attention of food critics for his masterful creations. Food critic, James Chatto wrote, “I believe his sushi and sashimi is the best in Canada.” Indeed, Sushi Kaji offers the freshest selection of fish. Kaji directly orders all his fish from Tokyo bay and only serves fish the same day he has purchased it. Leftover fish is never used the next day. Kaji doesn’t joke about freshness. Don’t’ be surprised to see the shrimp still jumping on your plate. Even soy sauce is made from scratch with dried bonito. Unlike most Japanese restaurants, Sushi Kaji only serves “omakase” meaning chef’s choice. Options are offered at $80, $100 and $120. For the perfect complement, try one of the fine imported sakes. Service is friendly and polite although the all Japanese staff shows signs of shyness. Kaji has also been known to keep quiet during service. So if you are sitting along the sushi bar, don’t expect a conversation. Rating: 9 (outstanding), Price: $115-170 based on “omakase” menu.

STEAK & SEAFOOD

Zorro’s Steak and Seafood House
7171 Torbram Road (at Derry), 905-671-1149
www.zorrossteakhouse.com

Since opening in 1975, Zorro’s has served affordably priced top quality steaks and seafood. Peeking through the doorway, patrons may feel intimidated by its “châteaux like” interior and tuxedo clad waiters, but not to worry, the restaurant accepts all patrons with its casual dress code. The menu features your typical steak and seafood house; a variety of steaks and seafood at market price. The shrimp cocktail appetizer at $22.95 may be pricey, but well worth it. The colossal size shrimp are chilled at the right temperature and is succulent and sweet. Favorite mains include Zorro’s USDA prime rib cut, a thick 30oz bone-in served au jus for $38.95. Warning: If you order this, there is a good chance you won’t finish, but its makes an excellent snack the very next day. A smaller version is offered at $34.95. All mains come with your choice of rice or fries and a salad. If you have never experienced table side cooking, I recommend ordering the Caesar salad, $8.50 which is made in front of you. If you have room at the end, the homemade cherry cheesecake is highly recommended. You may even want to bring one home for later. Service is impeccable as compared to fine dining restaurants in Europe. Waiters and waiter assistants work side by side ready and attentive. This is a dining experience you cannot miss. Rating: 9 (outstanding), Price: $75-$100.

BISTRO

Jacques Bistro du Parc
126A Cumberland St. (at Avenue Rd.), 416-961-1893
www.jacquesbistro.com

Tucked away upstairs above a lingerie boutique store in Yorkville is this cozy petit restaurant. Jacques Bistro du Parc has continuously provided top quality food and service over the last 10 years I have been there. Chef and owner Edith Piaf and his staff of bilingual waiters are like family and have stuck together since opening. The menu is simple that features fluffy omelettes, mussels cooked in an aromatic broth and French onion soup topped with gooey gruyère cheese which just may be the best in the city. For mains, the steak & frites is always a safe choice, but those wishing to be a bit more adventurous should try the perfectly cooked sweetbreads served with sautéed mushrooms and apples. For a classic French dessert, you must have the tarte tatin which is preordered in the beginning as it is made to order. Wines are affordable with focus on France. Service may be lacking at times when the tables are full but in most occasions it can be excellent to near flawless. How many restaurants can actually remember your favorite appetizer after having not dined there for two years? Impressive! Rating: 8 (excellent), Price: $65 – $75.

CHINESE

Asian Legend
418 Dundas St. W. (at Spadina), 416-977-3909
www.asianlegend.ca

Set in the heart of Toronto’s busy Chinatown, Asian Legend is not your typical Chinese restaurant. Once a popular spot just for its traditional Northern Chinese cuisine has now turned into an attraction for its newly modern designed space. Split into two floors, the upstairs is the main dining area, a clean all white faux leather banquettes with dark brown trimmed wood while the downstairs is a private dining area that can accommodate meetings or other functions. The menu is extensive and offers something for everyone. A must have is the restaurant specialty, its famous steamed soup dumpling filled with pork ($5.50). Sometimes referred to as “dragon dumplings” in China, these dumplings are piping hot. Be careful not to burn yourself. Another highly recommended dish is the chunky beef noodle soup, a rich flavorful broth with super tender beef. A personal favorite of mine is the minced meat with noodles in Peking duck sauce, a slightly salty and sweet blend of ingredients served with julienned cucumbers that cut the saltiness and sweetness – a truly satisfying meal. Overall, Asian Legend serves excellent Chinese food. Service still needs improvement, so don’t expect five-star service. Rating: 6 (very good), Price: $15-$20.

Need more info?

A list of the top Toronto restaurants can be further searched on Toronto.com, Martiniboys.com and Torontolife.com.

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Restaurant Etiquette – Part 2

This is a continuation of the restaurant etiquette series. In Restaurant Etiquette part 1, I wrote about the proper etiquette for getting a table, if your running late, or returning the food. This edition will discuss the etiquette behind automatic gratuity, table seating, menu specials and options.

Automatic gratuity

You are part of a party of six and you were charged a standard 15% gratuity for large parties. You received terrible service. What can you do?

Automatic gratuities are placed to ensure the waiter will receive a fair share of tips for providing a level of service. However, Brette Gabel, a waiter from Fresh restaurant in Toronto views service charges as rude and says “My service, hopefully, has been satisfying enough that they would want to tip me maybe even 20 percent.” Is there anything you can do if you have received poor service?

Solution:

If a tip policy has been well advertised on the menu, then in most circumstances there is not much you can do. If you were completely unsatisfied with the service, you should discreetly speak to a manager or the maitre d’. No restaurant manager wants to hear negative word of mouth.

Make sure you clearly offer specific examples of the service such as, it took 20 minutes for our drink orders to be taken or it took 45 minutes into dinner service for our appetizers to arrive. This still won’t guarantee you from not paying the service charge, but you may be offered a discount or a complimentary meal at a later date.

Table seating

You are not happy that you have been seated next to the washroom. Should you wait and tell the waiter?

Unless you have made a request to be seated in a specific area of the restaurant, then normally you will have to accept the assigned seating from the host/hostess.

Solution:

Never wait until you are seated and speak to the waiter about your table. If you are not happy, speak up right away and let the host/hostess know. Again be specific; too noisy, too tight, too close to the washroom.

Most times, the restaurant can accommodate your request unless the restaurant has reserved specific tables. If you want to avoid all the trouble, the best option is to make a reservation and specify where you prefer to sit.

Menu Specials

Your waiter has informed you of the restaurant specials for the evening but did not mention about the price. You don’t want to look cheap, but how can you find out the price?

Some restaurants will have specials written on a blackboard which will include the prices while other fine dining restaurants rely on their waitstaff to inform the customer. If you have guests with you then enquiring about the price specials may be embarrassing. How do you avoid this?

Solution:

Generally, a restaurant special will be priced within the price range of the restaurant’s menu. Without sounding too direct or rude, a more polite way of asking is, “What price point are the specials?” instead of asking, “How much is that?”

Menu Options

There are too many menu choices to choose, but you are unsure which one you would like to order. Where should you start?

Ordering can be stressful for some people. A menu may be so appealing that you may feel overwhelmed with the variety of choices and you just don’t want to make the mistake of ordering something you may regret.

Solution:

Keep in mind of what you enjoy and what you feel like having. Ask the waiter for recommendations, but avoid asking questions like, “Is the pork chop good?” We each have different likes and dislikes. A better approach is asking your waiter, which items are the most popular or what is his/her favorite dish?

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Restaurant Etiquette – Part 1

The restaurant you were hoping to go to is booked. What do you do? You are late for a reservation. Do you call and let the restaurant know exactly when you will be arriving or do you bend the truth? The food has arrived and you realize that there is something that you absolutely dislike. Do you send the food back?

These are typical restaurant situations that we face as customers and what we as restaurant owners have to face everyday. Are there actual rules written in stone to what you should do? This is all part of restaurant etiquette.

Getting a table

You have been desperately trying to get into this hot restaurant but it’s always fully booked. What can you do?

Some of the hottest and trendiest restaurants are booked well in advance and some up to 2-3 months such as the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Unless you are some big shot celebrity or important business figure, scoring a table will be near impossible.

Solution:

Place your name on the waiting list like everyone else. You may want to inform the host/hostess that you are open to other dates if they become available. Even the very best restaurants experience no shows and cancellations. Don’t be afraid of calling the restaurant again to check on any recent cancellations.

Running late

You are stuck in traffic and you don’t want to lose your reservation. Do you inform the restaurant you will be late?

There is a purpose of having a reservation system. Restaurants never expect all customers to arrive on time. That would be too perfect. What we do expect is a courtesy call if you are running late. The worst that can happen is you lose your current reservation but you may be able to get seated at a later time.

Solution:

If you know you will be running late for a reservation, call the restaurant immediately. Most restaurants have taken into consideration a 5-10 minute delay. However, as a courtesy, it’s always better to inform the restaurant exactly how long you will be late. There is nothing worst then bending the truth and saying you will be there within 5 minutes when you know that you are really 15 minutes away. A restaurant appreciates honesty.

Remember, other customers have booked reservations. Therefore you may be delaying the next party. In a case where the restaurant has to give your table away, apologize and kindly ask if there is a later seating available.

Returning food

You just had a chance to taste your food but you don’t like it. Do you send it back to the kitchen?

Complaints are the best gift a restaurant can receive. Sounds ironic, but it’s the only way a restaurant can truly improve. So if you don’t like something about the food you ordered, you should inform a waiter or speak to a manager right away. Even if we think your wrong, we will still listen to your complaint and are open to suggestions. However, there is a fine line between when it’s the kitchen’s fault and the customer’s wrong doing.

Solution:

If you noticed that the food you ordered wasn’t prepared as what the kitchen promised or what the menu described (i.e. overcooked, missing sauce) than by all means speak to the waiter and send it back to the kitchen. However, if you notice there is something on the plate that you don’t eat for some reason, then unfortunately it becomes your problem. In the case that you notice something on the plate that you are allergic to but did not realize it was in the dish, really this is still your problem.

However, if you politely inform a waiter your mistake, most restaurants will accommodate your request in offering an alternative dish. If you do have an allergy, you should always inform the waiter during ordering.

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