As I’m sure we are all well aware, dining out has become quite the social sport in cities the world over and our hometown of Toronto is certainly no exception. We have thousands of options when it comes to eating out in the TDot and it seems that each week new doors open promising something fresh and different from what we already know.
Now you’d think with such a rapidly expanding scene we could easily be restaurant hopping every night, trying something new and never having to worry about finding a seat for our bums and some good food for the soul. Unfortunately that is far from the case.
Thing is, out of the thousands of eateries available there are really only a handful that are worth the trek. Great food, amazing service, and perfect ambiance may sound like an easy checklist, but take my word for it when I say that it is hard to get right. And if one does manage to score high in every category, it is yet another challenge to hit that same note night after night, table after table.
So needless to say, when taking into account the ‘Is it worth hauling my ass off of the sofa and outta the door in -15 degree weather?’ factor, our ocean of restaurants is, in reality, a rather small pond. What we are left with is a condensed list featuring the go-to places, aka the hotspots/trendy joints/places to be seen, and although you may be a lot more likely to enjoy your evening at such a spot, you may well find yourself waiting a lot longer to even get through the door thanks to high demand and the ever popular ‘no reservations’ rule.
So what is one to do? Depending on your locale of choice, the rules will differ. Some you won’t even stand a chance without making a reservation three weeks in advance, while others may only require a 30-minute hangout at the bar which provides the perfect excuse for a pre-dinner cocktail…
We rounded up just a few of the coolest places to eat in Toronto right now and advice on how to ensure you’re not waiting out in the cold when feeding time comes around.
The County General
Superbly executed comfort food, perfectly blended cocktails, and friendly and efficient service makes this Queen West joint burst at the seams. They do take reservations for dinner but they only have seven tables of two, so if you’re booking for something special, get it done ASAP. The bar is kept for walk-in traffic and if they can’t seat you right away they do have a waitlist and will call you when a table is ready. Brunch is cray and they do not take reservations, so be prepared to go on a long list. They estimate a waiting time of anything from 20 to 45 minutes, but if you can handle the wait you’ll be more than rewarded when you order. (Watch their their Korean Fried Chicken being made below to see why.)
This quaint spot is nestled just off the hustle of College Street and the warm ambiance and stellar fare make it necessary to plan in advance, particularly on a weekend. They do take reservations so take advantage of that rarity and get ‘er done. For dinner on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night they suggest booking at least a week in advance and even then there is no guarantee, so best to play safe and get your name in the book two weeks before you plan to visit. There are seats saved for walk-in traffic at the bar and at the ‘Bakers Table’, a communal table situated on the main floor. If there’s nothing available they will take your name and number and put you on a waitlist; you can expect up to an hour wait during a busy dinner service. You are on College so there are oodles of places to go to work up an appetite with a martini or two. If you’re looking for an early dinner, you should have no trouble getting sat sans reso as long as you’re in the door by around 6pm.
Thanks to good food and totally reasonable pricing, Gusto 101 is a popular King West spot and as a result there can be quite the lineup – particularly at busy times and especially in the summer season. When they first opened their doors they had a strict no reservation policy but have altered it a little to allow peace of mind for those who need to plan ahead. If you are on a time crunch you can make reservations for an early lunch at noon or an early dinner at 6pm. If these times don’t work for you then you will simply have to try your luck. You will find less of a wait at lunch as people are generally in a rush to get back to work, but if you go in the middle of dinner service (6:30pm to 9pm) you can expect to wait anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. They do have a bar but it is usually full with other waitlisters. Good news is that they will take your number and text you when your table is ready so you can always pop next door to the Bier Markt or across the street to The Spirit House to grab a drink while you wait.
When you’re in the mood for tacos, or even if you’re not, these guys pump out some of the most creative and delicious versions in the city. It is a modestly sized place with quite the reputation, so you gotta be patient if you want to get your paws on a beef cheek taco… I just salivated on my keyboard. They take zero reservations and you can bet that if you roll up at a common feeding time – like 12:30pm or 8pm – you can expect a good 30 to 45 minute wait. If you hate waiting try your luck on either side of the rush, even if you can’t get in right away your wait time will likely be cut in half. They do operate a waiting list and the host will text you when they’re ready for you. You have 10 to 15 minutes to return so you can grab pre-drinks at anywhere from the Cadillac Lounge to The Drake Hotel.