Visiting Ontario soon? Make sure you take this list with you!
While most people who visit Canada tend to make a beeline for Vancouver because of its “World Most Livable City” status, there is actually plenty to do and see in Ontario as well. This Canadian province is larger than Spain and France combined, and like most of Canada, offers an abundance of nature and outdoor activities. With its vibrant and diverse mix of cultures, Ontario is also a foodie haven. After a sumptuous media tasting at The Westin Singapore’s Cook & Brew, we couldn’t resist asking Executive Chef Aaron Foster, an Ontario native, for his recommendations on the best food in the region.
Here are Chef Foster’s picks:
“I love Chef Mike Wilson’s play on the classics, and he uses lots of fresh local products. You can see his passion for his food in every plate. Mike also always has one of the best cheese plates in town – on his menu he usually includes a mix of local Canadian artisan and international cheeses. It’s also a great place during Toronto International Film Festival to celebrity watch. I was at Luma a few months back when Mike was planning his new menu and I was lucky enough to try the Baked Clams Casino, which was outstanding, and the Lobster + Scallop sausage, which was shockingly good. Both are on Mike’s spring menu at Luma and it’s definitely worth the trip to try.”
350 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3C6
“This is some of the best Thai food I have had outside of Thailand. It’s nothing fancy, but just perfectly executed Thai food. They do not take shortcuts in any of their dishes. The Pad Thai here is made with tamarind not ketchup, and the curry pastes are made fresh not from a package. Any of the Panang Curries would be my first choice.”
203 Lakeshore Rd E, Mississauga, ON L5G 1G2
“Although a lot of people consider this as just another college BBQ restaurant, it’s so much more. I truly cannot go to Toronto without stopping at Lou Dawg’s. Sean and Daryl, the owners work magic with the smokers and behind the bar. Sean treats his meats with the utmost respect; he takes a no shortcut attitude when it comes to BBQ and believes ‘the longer the better’. The beers are always cold, the music is always soulful, and the food is always perfect. Lou Dawg’s does the king of brisket sandwiches, so I am always diving into the Pulled BBQ beef brisket sandwich with a side of the “Mighty Loutine” – this is Sean’s play of Canada’s national dish, Poutine.”
76 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON M5G 2A7
“I was just back in Toronto in early April, and a few friends took me to Byblos – an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant with a modern twist. It’s a sharing plate menu so go in and order a bunch of plates to share with your friends, and eat as much as you can!
It’s hard to choose just one dish at Byblos, but the ‘Tuna Ceviche with Green Schug + Crème Fraîche Buttermilk + Squid Ink Chip’ has stood out in my mind as one of the best things I have eaten in a while. Again, nothing flashy as the dish was just perfect. ‘The Spanish Octopus Fingerling Potato + Biber Chili Vinaigrette + Preserved Lemon’ had octopus that was cooked to perfection, and the Biber chillies added the perfect kick at the end.”
11 Duncan St, Toronto, ON M5V 3M2
“Massimo is the king of Italian food in Canada. I had the honour of running the kitchens at Mistura and Sopra for Massimo many years ago so when I heard he just opened Capra’s kitchens, I knew he wouldn’t disappointed. Massimo always keeps his food simple, serving classic dishes with a modern twist, and expects perfection. What is great about Capra’s kitchen is Massimo has nothing to prove, so he is just cooking what he wants to cook and has fun with it.
I love the ham, lobster, and salt cod croquettes, but my all-time favourite is a dish I cooked many times during my tender with Massimo – his wild boar ravioli. This is truly one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten. In Capra’s Kitchen, Massimo prepares some of the best pizzas in the Greater Toronto area.”
1834 Lakeshore Rd. W. Mississauga, ON L5J 1J7
“Los Colibris is always a must-go for me in Toronto. Chef Elia Herrera hails from Córdoba, Mexico and has made a switch from the pastry kitchen to become the Executive Chef of this amazing Mexican restaurant. Elia does no-nonsense Mexican recipes passed down from generations of her family and the food is truly amazing.
Elia cooks one of the best Octopus dishes I have ever had. ‘Guarache de Pulpo en su Tinta’ is octopus on a thick corn tortilla with basil jalapeño, oil, squid ink, and habanero mayo. It’s sweet, sour, and spicy, with that truly earthy Mexican flavour. I am also a sucker for her ‘Tesmole Rojo de Cerdo’. It’s a dish of slow-cooked pork shoulder, masa dumplings, and seasonal vegetables in an epazote-clanepa broth. Like I said, Elia used to be a pastry chef so for desserts I can’t pick one. Do try them all, and you will not be disappointed. Her chocolate work is out of this world, and she does ice-creams that I would fight for.”
220 King St W, Toronto, ON M5H 1K4
The Smokin’ Buddha
“What isn’t there to like about the Buddha? Kevin, the owner, is a hippy of sorts turned businessman. He started the Buddha out of a trailer and was set up at local markets, selling Jamaican patties and Pad Thai. Then he decided to open a free-standing restaurant, and based the menu on his favourite foods from his travels around the world. Kevin has some amazing stories, and loves to tell them. I love the one about when he was working at a mushroom farm in Japan, made hockey sticks and taught the local kids how to play road hockey.
The food is as authentic as it can be for Asian food found in a small Canadian town, given that it’s being cooked by a bunch of white dudes who started cooking in pubs and bars. But what stands out to me is the passion and the love that you see, feel, and taste in the food.
I have and always will continue to love the Saag Paneer. I always look forward to this paneer – maybe it’s because you cannot get Indian food for a good 160KM when in Port Colborne or maybe it’s the pint of Steam Whistle beer I always have with it. Living so close to Indonesia now, I would like to think that I have an understanding of Indonesian food and must say that the beef rendang at the Buddha is really good. This dish checks all the boxes off the list for this dish.”
At the Old Train Station 265 King St. Port Colborne, ON L3K 4G8
“Korean tapas? Yes please! Love this place. I can go there in a pair of shorts, T-shirt, and flip flops. No one bothers me, and I can eat some amazing Korean comfort food with a Canadian twist. The beer list is small but has everything you need. They also have a team of amazing bartenders who can make anything and are really passionate about the craft. The kitchen team is small, young and may I say hungry? They just want to rock out great food. I was talking to a cook when I was there the last time and he told me that all he wants to do is to “blow people’s minds”. I don’t know about you but that is my kind of cook.
What do I eat there? Anything and everything! But my favourites are the Philly Cheese steak sammi, “the Loose”, which is Korean Mac and Cheese with a kick. I am Canadian so Squash poutine it is, but like I said everything is great, and don’t forget the cocktails.”
90 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Z4
“Lee is a must when in Toronto because if it wasn’t for Chef Susur Lee, Toronto would still be known as that simple “Meat & Potato Town”. Susur changed the face of the restaurant scene first in Toronto when he was the chef at Peter Pan, and truly transformed it when he opened Lotus. It’s hard to find a top-end kitchen in Toronto without one of Susur’s disciples in it. Susur runs the kitchen with the school of hard knocks in mind, and when a cook leaves after one or two years, everyone wants to hire them. When you go to one of Susur’s restaurants, you expect perfection and Lee does not let you down. They offer a small sharing plate menu that changes with the seasons, using only the best local Ontario products and what Canada has to offer from coast to coast.
One of my all-time favourite dishes at Lee is the “Singapore Slaw”. It’s Sursur’s version of yu sheng with 16 ingredients, piled a mile high and tossed at the table. The Peking Sui Duck is heavenly; it’s served with Foie Gras pate, traditional Beijing garnish, and of course, steamed pancakes. I think Lee is one of the best places for cocktails in Toronto and his spin on Canada’s own cocktails “The Caesar” is great to sip the night away with.”
601 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1M5