Toronto seems to be perpetually trapped in the undertow of ebbing restaurant trends… or blessed, depending on how you view it. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean are the latest culinary crazes. Thankfully, they seem to be breaking the tiresome mold of single-item variants (the restaurants that center around a dish rather than a more robust dining culture).
With one successfully themed eatery, say tacos of 2011 or ramen in 2013, new entrants into the market are aping menus and mirroring concepts – capitalizing on the frivolity of Toronto diners. I’m not averse to the intrigue of a new taqueria or a bowl of tonkotsu – in fact I love the food – but sometimes it seems there are only so many restaurants that can occupy the bulging burger bubble, or so many chicken parts one can pop on a yakitori skewer.
This past year Toronto was treated to several sensational Spanish tapas restaurants. Lauded newcomers like Carmen, Bar Isabel and Valdez each offered diverse atmospheres and equally distinct menus. It was a refreshing diversion from the one-item wonders. Similarly, the restaurants below that showcase the glorious gastronomy of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eats are an equally fresh breath of air…
Recent additions to the Mediterranean landscape in Toronto include another dazzling gem by the untamable tandem of Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji (Patria, Weslodge), called Byblos. Their upscale amalgamation of Greek, Moroccan, Israeli, Lebanese and Turkish treats couldn’t be farther off from nearby King West snack bar, The Greek. Think whole char-grilled fish and hand-rolled couscous versus Greek poutine and fried halloumi sticks.
It’s All GRK
This new Greek restaurant on Queen West is somewhat akin to a single-serving sensation, however they’re one of the few gyro joints to establish themselves off the Danforth in recent years. Their phenomenal pita sandwiches have taken hold with hungry diners who will soon be served at two new locations.
Me Va Me Express
Also coming to Queen West is uptown Middle Eastern mainstay Me Va Me Express. Along with shawarma and schnitzel platters, nose to tail fanatics will flip over their Jerusalem Mix, a heavenly assortment of chicken thighs, chicken hearts and chicken liver with sautéed onions and spices.
If you head even further north… okay… way further north, Saluf is a notable mention for any kosher diner or hummus lover. They’ve got the best laffa in the game (in my humble opinion). If they made a move downtown they’d undoubtedly challenge the soon to be erected S. Lefkowitz, a hummusia by Ezra Brave that will take over his Dundas West cafe, Ezra’s Pound.
District Oven is another more refined option. The Dufferin Grove space features ornamental tin ceilings, walnut tabletops and is centered around a large stone oven. Rose City Kitchen cooks similarly delicate flatbreads in their stone oven, but offers a more plebeian, eat-and-exit environment at their 15-seat Queen West sandwich and snack bar.
Start heading east and you’ll find the sign up at the soon to be opened M’zaar. They’ll be serving “fresh Lebanese food with a twist” near Yonge and Wellseley. Continue along to Cabbagetown, and you’ll see 650 Café Bistro has also expanded their Mediterranean meal offerings.
Finally, the Duke of Dupont eats, Anthony Rose, is getting in on the Middle Eastern game with Fat Pasha. Slated to open this spring, the casual, yet potentially raucous 50-seat dining room and patio will place Israeli edibles like shawarma and shakshouka in the former space of Indian Rice Factory.
Count ‘em up. Eleven new Middle Eastern and Mediterranean temples of mow move into the ‘hood in a few short months. Are there more to come? I’d put down a penny or two that say “yes.” And I’ll happily indulge, as long as the menus continue to resemble disparate, yet delectable shades of one another.
Which of these new Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants are you dying to try? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.