416 Snack Bar: $$$$ — 181 Bathurst Street
You simply haven’t been to Toronto if you haven’t been to 416 Snack Bar. Aptly named for the city’s dominant area code; this candle-lit, hole-in-wall joint just north of Queen and Bathurst is jam-packed until 2 am seven nights a week. And for good reason. Proudly cutlery-free, 416 Snack Bar has been serving up some of Toronto’s most memorable and, not to mention, reasonably priced bites for over seven years. Vegetarian or not: go for the oozing, mozz-stuffed Eggplant Sangwich Double Down. Want something meatier? The Rueben will leave you wondering if you ever need to head to Montreal or NYC again. 416 is simply a Toronto must – it even says it in the name.
Hanmoto: $$$$ — 2 Lakeview Avenue
From the geniuses behind one of Ossington’s most popular Korean snack bars – Odd Seoul – Hanmoto is the slightly newer, more Japanese-inspired version. But it’s not your typical, run-of-the-mill izakaya-style spot as one might expect. Just like the Odd Seoul, this tiny, dark-lit, reservation-less spot hits you with a remarkable aroma as soon as you step in and you know you’re in for a treat. From the roe and grieven-topped devilled eggs to the pork dumpling-stuffed ‘Dyno Wings’ and crisp rice seasoned miso ice cream, each and every plate will leave your mind completely blown.
Aloette: $$$$ — 163 Spadina Avenue
The younger, cooler, more spontaneous brother of one of Canada’s best – Alo. And just like a younger brother, Aloette is hiding in the shadows beneath its older sibling at the busy corner of Queen and Spadina in downtown Toronto. But one visit to this ‘upscale’ French-inspired diner, beginning with two (complimentary) slices of warm, cheddar-crusted potato bread and house churned yeast butter will have you immediately hooked. Not to mention the blue cheese-free, avocado and pumpkin seed-topped wedge salad of your dreams. Finish off with the seasonal ice cream sundae, reminding you of a greasy spoon and Michelin star experience all in one bite; and proving that Aloette may look younger but is certainly no less mature.
Bar Raval: $$$$ — 505 College Street
Toronto’s only true tapas restaurant. There, I said it.
Over the past ten years, Toronto has notoriously confused small, spontaneously timed share plates for ‘tapas’ and this couldn’t be more incorrect. First: tapas are S-P-A-N-I-S-H, not Italian and certainly not Asian fusion. Second: a tapa was initially a piece of stale bread placed on top of a cocktail to prevent fruit flies from entering. With this, it evolved into more elaborately topped toasts and toothpick-daggered pintxos sitting, waiting – FREE – like bar nuts, when you purchased a cocktail at the bar. Okay, so hold the fruit flies. And nothing’s free in Toronto, but this is about as close as we’re going to get to tapas.
Enter into this carved out, wooden cave on a Saturday morning and you’ll find daily specials – like Spanish tortilla (essentially a frittata), red pepper-topped ‘kitchen bread’ and caramelized Basque cheesecake – sitting, waiting on the counter ready to be eaten. At nighttime, enjoy the lightly coated, honey and rosemary-topped eggplant slices; buttery Galician octopus or the cloud-like and, honestly, life-changing stracciatella and boquerones on toast. But there’s no reservations and there are basically no seats, so come prepared to stand. Taking your parents with? I’d grab a reservation for a nice table at Raval’s older sister – Bar Isabel – just down the road.