HOME > Chowhound > Ontario (inc. Toronto) >


Unpretentious. In Toronto?

I'm looking for a dinner spot in Toronto that is suitable for 6 people (so, Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar is probably out), has great food, a great ambiance and is NOT trendy - i.e. no tapas menu, no DJ, no 3 million dollar interior!! Lately I am finding the restaurants in Toronto disappointingly sterile (the decor that is), pretentious and very expensive for what you get. Maybe it's just me? Can anyone help me? Thanks!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. why not JK...that sounded personal? (or i could be wrong) ...they can't handle 6 people??

    1. Foccacia on Hayden Street has been discussed a number of times. I really enjoy the food. It's a little restaurant but it can certainly accommodate your request. The resto has a web site. The one caveat is the bigger than life waiter, Larry.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Zengarden

        No, please no, not Foccacia. Based solely on CH raves, I took 2 friends in January. As promised, Larry the waiter was a hoot. When he greated us, I said "you must be Larry the waiter," which put half the restaurant in stitches (regulars no doubt). Larry even went so far as to annoint us each with new names. So it was definitely unpretencious and lots of fun. But the food was so subpar. I had veal parm and it was like shoe leather. My friend's meals were so-so, according to them--food wise, nothing was a standout. Larry was great, but as the only server, there were definitely lags in the service. Based on all the raves I found on CH, it was definitely a big come down.

        I left feeling like I should have said something about the food, but Larry was just so nice, I didn't have the heart. I've spent a few lost hours debating my gutless, guilt trip here. If there is a CH-approved therapist for this kind of thing, please let me know.

        For great food, unpretencious service, no tapas, no DJ, I'd choose (in no particular order)
        Zucca (hands down my favourite Italian resto--I love these guys)
        Batifole (French food, brought to the table by the humble chef--at least I think he is the chef) (and you can't get much less pretencious than Gerrard and Broadview)
        POP Bistro (quirky, small and very good food--with 6 people, you will fill half the restaurant)
        Avant Gout (I haven't been to their new location yet, but like Pop, kinda small and quirky, with an incredibly memorable creme brule--recently saw a not so good review on servce)
        Oh, and for seafood, I'd choose Starfish. But be warned, they prepare the food in a first in first out order, so if you come in behind a large party, you can wait awhile between courses.

        1. re: dinin and dishin

          Oh, and I would add Bar Mercurio to that list as well. Excellent thin crust pizzas. Love the interior as well.

      2. One of the best values in the city, in my view, is Le Paradis, a consistent, French-style bistro on Bedford Road, just north of Davenport. The food is not great (one of your requests), it's merely very, very good, and tasty - and reasonably priced. It rarely advertises because it doesn't have to. It's invariably busy with regulars, many of whom have been going there for years for the satisfying food, but also for the pleasant, professional service. easy-going atmosphere and well-priced wine list. No DJ, none of the other distractions you want to avoid. Definitely not trendy. Just good food at a good price in a charming location. There's a reason Le Paradis has been around for about 30 years. It delivers the goods to those who aren't on an expense account.

        4 Replies
        1. re: juno

          I gave up on Le Paradis about three years ago. It seemed to me that the quality of the food had been going downhill very gradually until then. On this last visit, I had had a craving for tarragon chicken; where best to satisfy the craving, right? It was awful, as was the rest of the food, and our server was rude and abrupt.

          juno, have you been there recently? I'd like to give it another try if things have improved.

          1. re: FlavoursGal

            To FlavoursGal:
            I get to Le Paradis every few months and can't recall ever having a bad meal there, or bad service. The place is consistently strong on bistro cooking, which is one of the things I like about it. If things started going downhill three years ago, as you suggest, I didn't notice it. I've had the tarragon chicken at least once in that three-year span, and didn't spot any slippage in quality at all, though I lean to some of the other classic bistro dishes on the menu. But, if you've had lousy times there, I suppose it's not as consistent as my experiences there tell me it is. But for me, Le Paradis is a winner - as is Zucca, another consistently good joint mentioned on this thread.

            1. re: juno

              Thanks, juno. I'll definitely give it another try. I didn't find it starting to go downhill three years ago, though; that's just when I stopped going there. I'd felt it slipping about five years ago.

          2. re: juno

            I agree 100%. You cannot beat the price for consistent food and service. It's a place to eat dinner and enjoy company with no distractions. In fact, I couldn't even tell you what is on the walls or what the place really looks like!

          3. Thanks for the suggestions, I will definitely check out Le Paradis and Foccacia. No, nothing personal against JKWB, just thinking that 6 people for dinner on Saturday night could be tricky, with only 2 I'd be all for it.

            2 Replies
            1. Grano seems to get very little mention on this board. Was there last night about 9pm and it was packed . Although I did not eat as I was meeting a friend for drinks at the bar, it certainly had a great vibe. The food that I saw going by looked good. Lots of regulars getting warm friendly service. I think this meets your criteria of great food and ambience without pretention or trendiness.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ishmael

                you're lucky to get your food at Grano during the day. Unless Roberto is bringing it to you....

                1. re: nummanumma

                  If you're looking for a quick lunch, Grano may not be the place for you. I have enjoyed a few lunches there with no timing problems.

              2. I would go to Boulevard Cafe on Harbord Street and I have no alternate. And I find free parking.

                If I had to take the Queen to dinner in Toronto I would take her to Zucca. She probably will get a beautiful and interesting meal. The problems for peasants like me are (1) not enough to eat (b) so refined that sometimes there is just too little on the plate in terms of flavour and interest and the food falls short (c) a bit expensive , and when I get a plate as in (b)
                I really resent it.


                1. How fancypants, yet unpretentious are you thinking? I really really like Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant, but only on an off-night like a Sunday--on busy nights it's too busy and loud. Also on that block is Tomi-Kro, which is awesome, but again, on off-nights. I find the cooking is better when the place is a little less packed.

                  And La Pallette gets some knocks on the board, but we had a wonderful meal there, and were totally charmed when, because my honey was waffling between a few different wines, the server brought us a little of each so he could try them before deciding.

                  Camerini on Mount Pleasant is great little family-run Italian place with excellent food, and it's about as far from a three million dollar interior as my Ikea-and-yard-sale living room.

                  And Focaccia--I've only eaten there once, but the food was excellent, and I left madly in love with Larry...mostly because he kept suggesting excellent alcohol to go with every course, so I was a lil' sloshed by dessert, but I can't think of many better reasons for falling in love with someone than their suggesting you drink more...

                  1. The Rosebud at Queen and Bathurst is a wonderful little place. With a modest but warm and comfortable interior and fantastic food that is not odd fusion or cutting edge - just excellent cuisine. They have a typical variety of dishes consisting of pastas and fairly substantial meats (lamb, chicken, venison, steak) but with some inspired touches; I quite remember a spinach and oxtail gnocchi that was unique and delicious.

                    Service is excellently unobtrusive but warm and personal.

                    They are a small restaurant though so reservations are a must. If you do a search for other Rosebud reviews I've found they echo my opinion...

                    1. Barrio on Queen East would be a good choice - good food, unpretentious, etc. Definitely make reservations for 6 people.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: pescatarian

                        Sorry, I didn't realize you said, no tapas, Barrio is kind of a tapas menu (although still very good)

                      2. With a party of 6 at JK Winebar I would heartily recommend getting there around 6.30pm or earlier.

                        Although there are no reservations in the evening, often a phonecall to reservations and a chat with one of the managers (Laura or Aron) to explain your situation can reap dividends... if you catch them in a good mood!

                        Trust me, I know about these things...


                        1. Gio's at Queen and Leslie...so unpretentious it doesn't have a sign out front, just a big nose attached to the exterior. Place was a former bank of Nova Scotia, which, other than hanging a few chandeliers, I don't think they've repainted. In act the bullet holes from when I held it up are still in the wall...regardless the food is very good, very simple italian, the service is fun (i.e. the servers actually seem to care that you have a good time) and the prices are fairly reasonable. Just don't go there wearing a mask and brandishing a handgun

                          1. Grapefruit Moon, Bathurst and Bloor. Unpretentious, decent wine, great microbrew on tap, Food is not pretentious or expensive. No tapas, no DJ, no 30 million dollar interior. Just rasta rolls, charming staff and a vintage cruiser bike on the wall.

                            1. I really enjoyed Cafe Leopold at St. Clair and Christie -- very unpretentious, casual decor and excellent food. Not too pricey either.