First time in Toronto
My husband and I will be in Toronto Labor Day weekend, staying downtown. I have never been to Toronto and want to go to some great restaurants while we are there. Places can be mid to upscale and vegetarian friendly if possible. Would love suggestions of the best of the best.
First off, may be you should let us Toronto hounds know where you folks are coming from? No point recommending you Japanese if you are from Japan! Right?!! Ha!!
Irrespective, for first timer, try booking a window seat at 'Canoe' for great 'Canadian' cuisine with a fantastic view of Toronto's downtown!
Let us know what type/ethnic cuisine you like and we'll go from there.
Ah justxpete!! But I am using 'great' in conjunction with 'Canadian' ( local/Canadian ingredients like Niagara fruits, Arctic Char, Quebec Foie Gras, Ontario Lamb, Lake Huron Pike, Berkeshire Pork...etc ). Besides, within the downtown core, comparing to others, Canoe's cuisine is way up there.
Since you will be staying downtown, check out the menus & reviews online for Nota Bene, Richmond Station & Origin. The newly opened The Chase is also getting good buzz, and Gabardine is fun for lunch. Further west, look at Yours Truly, The Grove or Delux in the Ossington area. Just very slightly north of where you will be staying you could also try Splendido or Harbord Room on Harbord Street. Whatever you decide, as you are coming to TO on a busy weekend, you will want to get reservations ASAP. Enjoy the city!
You want the Harbord Room or THR & Co on Harbord Street about a 15 minute walk southwest. Same owners, both with patios but you'll need reservations. Mela at Yonge and Yorkville is a tiny vegetarian cafe specializing in Italian. Cheap for the neighbourhood!
And +1 for Woodlot but you'll need reservations.
Within very easy walking distance from where you're staying there's Blu (Italian) and Mideastro (Lebanese/Israeli,) both on Yorkville before Bay, and then round the corner on Bay itself there's Pangaea (International).
My "special occasion" restaurant is inevitably Scaramouche on Avenue Road. It was also given the number one spot in Joanne Kates recent list of Toronto's hundred best restaurants.
If you are from Washington DC, I would definitely head over to Crown Princess for a Chinese Dim Sum lunch!! Nothing like that in the Capitol!
If you are looking for 'the best of the best', perhaps you can start here.
I've never had a bad meal at Splendido, so I would have to concur with the poll above.
Toronto has a very diverse dining scene so you should have no problem finding places to try out. However, rather than trying to find 'the best', perhaps focus on restaurants that may not be available in DC that sound interesting to you. The best French/Italian restaurant in Toronto likely won't be much better than those in DC if at all. But as Charles suggested, you may not be able to try a good Chinese restaurant in DC, but you would be able to here in Toronto. Or perhaps some Indian, or Thai.
Just have an open mind and you should be fine!
For a great vegetarian or vegan lunch or dinner, and freshly squeezed juices in generous quantities, go to any of the "Fresh" locations:
But bring your earplugs if you can't get a patio seat.
For civilized high end dining where you don't have to roar at each other I recommend Chiado http://www.chiadorestaurant.com/
and Scaramouche http://www.scaramoucherestaurant.com/ - you will get great food and polished service.
Other than the above suggestions I love Note Bene. It's upscale and excellent.
If you would like to let your hair down for a day, and experience Toronto as a local would, I suggest you try a food tour of Kensington Market - I would start at lunchtime with a couple of dim sum items from Rol San on Spadina, It's a bustling place, the staff are busy and may appear to be brusque, but they're just shuffling hundreds of hungry diners, so don't be put off, you may need to share a table if it's busy. The Har Gow and Sprimp Dumplimgs woud be good enough to get you started.
After that, cross the street and go into Kensington Market to Seven Lives for a couple of octopus or pork tacos - try to go at off peak hours (2pm?) - they are insanely popular for good reason http://www.sevenlives.ca/
Grab your tacos and stroll over to Belleview /Denison Square Park, sit in the sun and watch the local action.
Check out the funky Portuguese housewares store called Sasmart on the north side of the park. You can get a deal on Emile Henri Tagines and other dishes.
Definitely have coffee and a crepe at the casual Hungarian patio called Krepesz - lovely people, delightful and gracious service. Coffee is mild and agreeable, my favourite crepe is plain with lemon juice and a small dust of sugar - always a delight, crispy edges, yum.
If you are still hungry, cross the street and go to Toritos the Spanish tapas place - they have a patio at the back, and great food. But they don't open until 6pm I think.
There is an unfortunate trend in Toronto for new "hip" restaurants to be so loud that you feel your ears are bleeding, so when you make your reservations, ask about the noise level.
Globe Bistro on the Danforth has a quiet roof patio and if you like oysters they have a "buck a shuck" deal during happy hour, wine and beer half price between 4pm and 6pm.
I vouch for the food - good place to eat, great service.
Hope you enjoy your first visit to Toronto, let us know how you got on!
Just back from my trip. Ended up changing some plans at the last minute, but ate pretty well.
Lunch Nota Bene was good, not totally amazing, had the fish and chips which I thought were overpriced and the chips were below average.
Lunch through Kensington Market; bagel from Nu Bagel was good, pickle and vegan sausage from the canning place, good, not fantastic, cookies from a bakery, I can't remember the name, but was very disappointed.
Lunch Cont at New Sky for Chinese. Food was good, but service was terrible, I think they forgot our order.
Dinner we switched to Habor Room which was very tasty, but the service was also super slow and the desserts didn't sound so excited so skipped it, which I hate to do :)
Went with friends to Udupi Palace for dinner, which was also just ok.
Thanks for all your help!