Discovering restaurants on your very own
You guys sure know your pizza, Chinese all-you-can-eat, sushi buffets, Chinese, pizza, bistro, Chinese, Italian, pizza, fish & chips. I've gotten some great tips, and for that I'm truly appreciative. (I didn't realize there were so many so-called hidden gems in the suburbs!)
Okay, but there MUST be some other places. I've found several obscure and pretty good restaurants, just by driving around (I do NOT rely on Now or Toronto Life or the newspapers to provide this information) - Uzbek, Burmese, Ecuadorean, Turkish (people think Anatolia is the only Turkish restaurant in Toronto, because that's the only one that's been written up), etc.
How do you find your "own" restaurants around Toronto? Do you seek info from people of various ethnic/ethnic backgrounds? Do you walk/cycle/drive around in various neighbourhoods on a quest for the unusual?
I'll speak to criteria for Chinese restaurants, because I'm Chinese, and don't necessarily go by the reviews.
I look for place that is clean, well lit, but doesn't have tablecloths. It helps if some of the clientele is Chinese, but that doesn't stop me (particularly if I'm outside of Toronto). The restaurant usually looks a bit stark (because real Chinese don't care about decor, only food), with few signs of Chinoiserie (which suggests that they bend over backwards to suit western tastes).
Something that you can try at a Chinese restaurant that takes real guts in western restaurant is ordering something not on the menu. This is easiest if there are two things on the menu that are close, but not exactly what you want. Since most Chinese food is assembly, it shouldn't be a big deal. Sometimes the waiter hesitates, but when I say that I'll pay for whatever it costs (which may be a dollar or two more), he or she usually goes back to the kitchen, and comes back to confirm that the order is okay.
One interesting tip that I've tried from an American friend is to prefer Chinese restaurants in strip malls. (Again, this is when outside of Toronto). His reasoning is that these restaurants have to rely on repeat business, and most strip malls are not destination shopping locations. Thus, people have to go out of their way to get to that restaurant.
I must admit I'm not that original when it comes to finding new restaurants. I go to places that friends recommend, or follow NOW magazine recommendations like all the other lemmings who think they're in the know, although I'm not entirely happy with it. I wish I could be more adventurous, but I don't have a lot of disposable income for eating out, and for the most part prefer to go with the safe bets.