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Hot Tables Toronto: The Restaurants That Defined 2013

By Suresh Doss
December 16, 2013

This year, Toronto food lovers went crazy for everything from gourmet doughnuts to slurpy bowls of ramen and from fried chicken to octopus tacos. Here's a list of our favorite newcomers from 2013 - sound off in the comments if we missed one of your top picks.

  • Home of the Brave

    The owners behind the hugely successful La Carnita taqueria took a different approach with their second outpost, Home of the Brave, which celebrates all things Americana. Chef Alex Hamilton's menu pays tribute to regional classic American dishes, from Southern barbecue to diner grub. His signature plate (pictured) is the Kentucky fried handshake sandwich, juicy chicken thigh served with the fried foot. Not to worry, the appendage comes off easily, and is crispy and delicious. The drink menu has also become a sensation, featuring a rotating cocktail list curated by guest bartenders from the US.
    Signature dishes: handshake sandwich (pictured above), beets, johnny cakes with smoked trout.

    589 King Street W; 416-366-2736

  • Amsterdam Brewhouse

    Amsterdam Brewing Co. opened this lakeside restaurant earlier this summer to celebrate 27 years as a Toronto brewery. The massive multi-level spot is one of the largest beer-themed restaurants in the country, with enough room for over 500 diners and drinkers. Over a dozen taps feature Amsterdam's popular brews, including the Boneshaker IPA, Amsterdam Blonde and raspberry wheat. The real treat is brewmaster Iain McOustra's small batch beers, which are released in limited quantities at the bar and the retail shop.
    Suggested dishes: Enjoy a cask flight, and ask for McOustra's current cask offerings.

    245 Queens Quay West, South Building; 416-504-1020

  • Seven Lives

    Toronto's taco craze showed no signs of stopping in 2013, as Seven Lives drew massive crowds from the moment the doors opened to the little taco haven in Kensington Market. Toronto Underground Market's latest alumni to open a brick-and-mortar establishment, Seven Lives' California-style tacos (like spicy shrimp, above) are easily some of the best in the city. Top dishes include the mahi mahi and octopus tacos.
    Signature dishes: spicy shrimp tacos with cheese, octopus with pumpkin seed mole.

    69 Kensington Ave; 416-666-6666

  • Bar Isabel

    It's been a rocking year for Grant Van Gameren's Spanish-influenced bar on College West. Since opening, the restaurant has been praised  for its casual atmosphere, wildly delicious food and inventive cocktails (courtesy of barman Michael Webster). Gameren has created one of the most unique menus in the city, loosely focusing on Spanish cuisine, offal and cured meats. Head Bar Isabel for a pite and you'll be slurping hot bone marrow, passing around sweet breads, diggin into chunks of fried chicken and cutting into a whole grilled octopus. Finish the night with a Isabel Old Fashioned (bourbon, mole bitters and Angostura), and a slice of Basque cake.
    Signature dishes: Whole grilled octopus with potatoes, smoked sweetbreads, charred leeks.

    797 College Street; 416-532-2222

  • Aft Bar

    Riverdale's Aft bar focuses on two things: barbecue and bourbon. Designed by Brothers Dressler with a focus on locally-sourced elements (including the fixtures, lighting and curved bar), this tiny smokehouse has one of the best whisky lists in the neighborhood. Chef Christian Butcher and pitmaster Lawrence La Pianta highlight regional American cuisine, especially Southern barbecue. Ribs and smoked chicken wings arrive with a selection of house-made hot sauces; weekends are dedicated to Texas BBQ with a chalkboard menu offering the kitchen's latest smoker experiments.
    Suggested dishes: sticky ribs (ask for the hotsauces!), smoked wings

    686 Queen Street E; 647-346-1541

  • Takht-e Tavoos

    We started to see more attention to ethnic food across the city this year, as chefs started to put modern takes on international cuisine. Prime example: College West restaurant Takht-e Tavoos brought unrestrained Persian home-cooking to Downtown. The restaurant presents approachable takes on classic Persian delicacies (including a brunch menu), without holding back on punchy flavours. Nearly everything on the menu is delicious and optimal for for sharing. Toronto chefs and cooks quickly adopted it as a favourite, crowding the little restaurant for its signature Persian delicacy, kaleh pacheh - a hearty soup of sheep's head and hooves served with hot Persian flatbread, onions and pickled garlic.
    Signature dishes: haleem, kalleh pacheh

    1120 College St; 647-352-7322

  • Porzia

    With each plate of creamy chicken liver agnolotti Chef Basilio Pesce made another Toronto food-lover swoon. At his Parkdale eatery Pesce, he presents an onslaught of delicious homestyle Southern Italian dishes. Like a refreshing yet spicy citrus salad (grapefruit, lemon, orange, chilies, mint and pomegranate), or burrata served with horse Bolognese, eggplant fritti and shishito peppers. Go hungry and be prepared to stay for hours. Luckily the drink menu is chock full of interesting cocktails and plenty of regional Italian wines by the glass. 
    Signature dishes: blood pudding, gnocchi

    1314 Queen Street W; 647-342-5776

    (Photo by Renee Suen)

  • Kathi Roll Express

    Opening on Toronto's historic Yonge Street, Kati Roll Express' opening went mostly unnoticed. But quickly enough, the Indian street food restaurant has built a cult following for its spicy house-made parathis stuffed with ingredients like butter chicken, chickpeas and spiced potatoes. A fusion menu is also available, mixing classic Indian flatbread with Korean BBQ chicken and Thai-style grilled shrimp. The rotis are shareable, so best go with a few friends and order a half dozen of them.
    Signature dishes: lamb kebab roll, chicken tikka roll.

    692 Yonge St; 647-748-8573

  • Touhenboku ramen

    Touhenboku is the latest and most exciting addition to Toronto's ramen scene. Unlike most other ramen bars in the city, all the noodles at Touhenboku are house-made, courtesy of an imported noodle-making machine from Japan. Also unlike other ramen shops, chicken, not pork broth, is used in most of the dishes.
    Signature dish: Spicy Touhenboku ramen,

    261 Queen St. W; 416-596-8080

  • Patria

    Regional Spanish cuisine in one of the sexiest spaces in Toronto, Patria's allure is not only its gorgeously designed dining room and tapas bar space, highlighted by 15th-century inspired paintings and a 505 sq ft cross stitch art Installation by Laura Carwardine but also its menu of rustic Spanish Tapas. Dining at Patria requires full feast-mode, start off with a plate of blistered shishito peppers and any of the cocas (flatbreads), then work your way through the ración (share plates) and large-format paellas which are loaded with cuttlefish, langoustine and monkfish. Patria also features one of the best Spanish wine lists in the city, with plenty of hard to find bottles. Note: Patria opened in Nov 2012
    Signature dishes: cocido madrileño, paella patria, palacios chorizo

    480 King Street W; 416-367-0505

    (Photo from Patria website)

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