2579 Yonge, at Briar Hill, Toronto
Blending elements of Hungarian, Turkish and Italian cuisine, thiss Old World Romanian resto definitely does not suck. Instead, find hearty, not too heavy grub with unexpected twists of vinegar and sweetness.
What else? Dracula's Grill Plate, a sampling platter of lightly breaded schnitzel, perfectly charred pork chop and kebab-like mititei meatballs sided with oven-roasted Yukon Gold spuds and homemade sour pickles; Romanian-style goulash alongside creamy polenta daubed with sour cream; Transilvania Platter for two or more of smoky eggplant puree, creamy roe, potato salad, salami and Balkan feta; sauteed chicken livers with first-rate mashed potatoes; semi-sour white bean soup thick with smoked pork hock and pickled tarragon. Complete meals for $35 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a shot of Stolichnaya. Open Tuesday to Thursday noon to 10 pm, Fridayand Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 10 pm. Closed Monday.
Vegetarians beware: this Serbian joint offers mostly meat, meat, and more meat! Best: wine-marinated grilled chicken breast; assorted schnitzels like cordon bleu with prosciutto and cream cheese; Serbian butter beans with garlic farmer's sausage; daily specials include slow-roasted pork or beef stroganoff with scalloped potatoes; massive meat platters of chop steak, schnitzel, sausage, grilled steak with potato salad, red pepper puree and raw Spanish onion; buttery walnut crepes for dessert. Complete dinners for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and an imported beer.
Open Wednesday to Monday 4 pm to 2 am. Closed Tuesday. Serving: lunch | dinner |
A comfy neighbourhood spot, this Mauritian restaurant serves spice-powered dishes that combine elements of Indian, Thai, French, Cajun and African cooking. Call it crossroads cuisine. Figure in a low-fat, low-carb lineup and extremely reasonable prices, and it's easy to understand Blue Bay's long-running success. Best: dense pan-saut?ed hake (a cod cousin) in garlicky ginger sauce; tender baby octopus tendrils in fiery curry; daube of chicken, a boozy spice-rich tomato stew thick with dark chicken meat and potato; Touffe Legume, mixed Asian veggies spiked with tiny red Thai chilies; Mine Frire, a hot and cold collision of spaghetti-like noodles and crunchy napa cabbage. Complete dinners for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine or an imported beer.
Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 10 pm. Closed Monday.
The nomadic cuisine of the Hakka has travelled from Manchuria to Southeast Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent to the Caribbean, and now to Scarborough. Is this Indian Chinese food the next Szechwan? Er, no. But it's tasty if savvily selected. Best: Shrimp Manchurian Noodle laced with anise, Hakka Bean Curd with more minced shrimp and shredded chicken, winter-melon buttons, vegetable pakoras, spring rolls, and lychee kulfi. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao.
Open for lunch Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 3 pm, for dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm.
Self-serve Filipino fare from a friendly pan-Asian fast food cafe. Bland or subtle? Decide with chicken or pork adobo specials alongside saut?ed glass noodles and far eastern greens. Low fat shrimp roll snacks. Complete dinner per person $10 (less at lunch) with taxes.
Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday noon to 9 pm.
One of Toronto's few Afghani restaurants, this garishly lit eatery offers mains heavy on meat, unusual starters and limited veggie options. Best: like its name suggests, kebabs - chicken, lamb or beef - served with sweet and nutty brown basmati rice strewn with steamed carrot julienne and plump raisins, and sided with spicy pumpkin pur?e and minty minced spinach; dumplings - ravioli-like wontons, really - stuffed with leeks and spinach, topped with ground lamb and yogurt and nudged with green chili-spiked hot sauce; cooling pistachio custard. Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes and tip.
Open Sunday to Thursday noon to midnight, Friday and Saturday noon to 2 am.
Toronto's only Algerian eatery, this terrific take-away offers Mediterranean mains combining Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Greek grub and twists it through unique spicing. There's a lot more here than falafels and baba ghanouj. Best: super-moist slow-cooked chicken tagine with green olives in lemony jus over couscous; tender char-grilled lamb's liver brochettes; whole grilled sardines with tomato rice and tabbouleh; superb housemade baklava and other honey-drenched nutty pastries. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a mint tea.
Open daily 10 am to midnight except Friday 10 am to 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm to midnight.
Aussie and Kiwi culture abound
467 Bloor West, at Brunswick (Annex), Toronto
Sophisticated urban cool in an area known for sushi and falafel. In other words, Goldfish without the clutter. Best: deconstructed Lobster Ravioli strewn with crustacean meat, sauced in a seafood bisque and decked with chive antennae; lamb two-ways - Quebec leg and Australian rack with Pommes Dauphinois and seasonal veggies; melt-in-the-mouth seared foie gras with brioche toasts, roasted pear and citrusy sauce bigarade; lunchtime steak frites with green peppercorn sauce and matchstick frites; velvety seasonal soups like roasted fennel with curry and tarragon-infused oil. Complete meals for $55 per person ($25 lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine.
Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11:30 pm. Sunday brunch 11 am to 3 pm and dinner 5:30 to 11pm. Closed Monday.
Vegetarian -- All Veg Restos Reco'd from Now! MagCafe 668 (Vietnamese)
668 Dundas West, at Denison, Toronto
NOW's 2002 Best Restaurant in a recently redecorated storefront just west of Chinatown offers innovatively updated Buddhist vegetarian cooking. This intimate Vietnamese spot rocks the mock with kick-ass spicing that includes unorthodox garlic and onion if requested. Best: to start, 668 Salad with shredded deep-fried tofu, cucumber, carrot, peppers and grilled cashews, or cold rice-paper-wrapped Summer Rolls stuffed with slivers of deep-fried tofu, carrot, cellophane noodles, wood-ear and Thai basil; king mushrooms with faux sirloin over stir-fried mixed peppers, snow peas and baby corn; Spicy Tofu - large cubes of silky-centred deep-fried tofu in a chili-spiked sauce thick with julienned carrots, bell peppers and snow peas; Vegetarian Curry with tofu pork, carrots, chewy Chinese mushrooms, cauliflower and napa cabbage in tasty yellow gravy; goofy but good deep-fried 'shrooms in batter dunked in sweet 'n' spicy lemon grass dip; for dessert, deep-fried bananas in yummy coconut cream. Complete dinners for $15 ($10 lunch) per person, including all taxes, tip and a ginger beer. Open Tuesday to Friday 12:30 to 9:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 1:30 to 9:30 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: two steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
An Indian vegetarian fast-food chain in the GTA's northwest, what it misses in ambience - think donut shop - is made up for by first-rate medium-spiced veggie curries sold in multi-sized takeout containers. Warning: as at most Indian spots, almost all dishes come heavy with ghee (clarified butter), but by the time you get your feast home, the ghee - high in calories and cholesterol - will have risen to the top and is easy to remove. Best: dry turmeric and coconut curry with crunchy red and green peppers, cauliflower, potato and onions; chickpea kofta balls; mild shahi paneer cheese in a sweet tomato gravy laced with slivered almonds; cheesy peas - gingery garden peas 'n' paneer; sugary shredded-carrot halva rich with almonds and sultanas layered with silver leaf. Other location: 199 Advance Rd, at Dixie, 905-799-1625; 755 Dundas West, at Mavis, in Mississauga, 905-848-3933. Complete dinners for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9 pm, Friday and Sunday 11 am to 9:30 pm, Saturday 11 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Some may be put off by the way this bare-bones Indian vegetarian kitchen looks, but the inexpensive spice-intensive - salty, sweet, fiery, sour - snacks dished up here cause the palate to detonate in myriad directions. And everything - except drinks - is two bucks on Tuesday! Best: Bhel Poori, spice-drenched basmati mined with chilies, firm boiled potatoes, crunchy chickpeas, lentils and coriander leaves; Sev Poori, milky yogurt dusted with cayenne and shredded crispy rice roodle sheet kicked with minty relish; Dahi Vada, lentil-flour doughnuts in cool yogurt or fiery sambar; daily thali with veggie subzi - say, eggplant, zucchini, lentil dal or cheesy matar paneer - and basmati, roti and papadam. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and a large tip. Open Tuesday to Sunday 12:30 to 9:30 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
Further proof Queen East is the new Queen West, and healthy the new hip. Lounge and light funk set an upbeat tone in a calming green and birch room, with tin ceiling, diner-style tables and a selection of organic fair trade goods on offer next to a rack of browsable books. Service is helpful and friendly without a hint of attitude, and it's clear the place has a loyal following. Bonus: discounts on selected regular menu items encourage customers to try something new. Best: as the name suggests, juices are the focus - surprisingly tasty Rise Up, a blend of garlic, parsley, carrot and celery sweetened with apple juice that counters cold symptoms; carrot and beet Iron Beta Blast packs a gingery punch; nourishing almond beet salad - an earthenware bowl brimful of roasted root veg and shallot wedges on a bed of spinach garnished with toasted almond slivers, dried cranberries and light champagne vinaigrette as either main or starter; with a texture similar to a moist falafel, Ancient Grains Burger mixes organic amaranth, lentils, soy mash and almonds with tasty tahini mayo, roasted tomato and alfalfa sprouts and arrives on slightly toasted fresh flax bread sided with mixed greens and lovely baked home fries. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a juice. Open Monday and Tuesday 9 am to 7 pm, Wednesday to Friday 9 am to 9 pm, Saturday 10 am to 9 pm, Sunday 10 am to 7 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Though its Red Cat Trading haute chinoiserie decor remains, this virtually luxurious vegetarian kitchen has improved significantly since its debut three years ago. Warning: turns into a vegan disco later in the evening. Best: at brunch, scrambled Tofu Rancheros with halved 'n' grilled new-potato home fries, rice-stuffed roasted tomato, mild salsa and guacamole and super house-baked toast; Autumn Drum, a steaming bowl of brown rice topped with sweet-glazed barbecued tofu or sliced raw avocado, grilled peppers and spicy lentil dahl; Thai-style soups like creamy sweet potato with coconut milk and Srirachi hot sauce; at dinner, wild rice 'n' tempeh croquette over warm cranberry apple salsa and sided with sweet potato mash and the night's veg. Complete dinners for $40 per person ($20 at brunch), including all taxes, tip, and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Friday 5:30 to 10 pm, Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm, and for brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Access: One step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
A low-key hole in the wall on the fringe of Chinatown East and Riverdale, this vegan spot presents splendid Chinese all-veggie dishes, many featuring meat made from tofu or gluten. Best: peppery mock chicken with deep-fried tofu, green pepper and wood-ear fungus; eggplant and bean-curd casserole in black-bean sauce; ultra-gingery ginger fried rice; Szechuan spicy tofu with mushrooms; huge meal-in-one soups. Complete dinners for $10 per person ($7 lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Inexpensive southern Indian-style vegetarian grub in possibly the city's most squeaky-clean eatery. Spicing is decidedly meek to appeal to all ages at this U.S. franchise, so bring the kids and the grandparents. Best: holey-as-Swiss-cheese special Rava Masala Dosa laced with green chilies, topped with mild potato 'n' onion masala, soupy sambar loaded with veggies and a cautious kick of coconut and coriander chutneys; chili pakoras - sweet, battered and deep-fried banana peppers stuffed with potatoes and peas; smoky chickpea chana served with grilled chapati and basmati rice; tissue-thin crisp paper dosa with the usual sides; sweet carrot halwa puraed pudding for dessert; sugary mango lassi to sip. Complete dinners for $12 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open daily noon to midnight. Licensed. Access: six steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
A plain white-on-white room decorated with a ceiling trellis dripping plastic plants, this storefront eatery features typical health-food fare like steamed veggies, tofu and brown rice. But the separate South Indian menu includes veggie curries, chutneys and breads that make nutritious and tasty meals. Best: all-inclusive Indian Assortment for two or three diners - tamarind and coconut chutneys, sour anchaar pickles, puffed puri or flat pappadam bread, samosas, potato bonda and fritter-like bhajia, potato with green pea and spinach subzis; bistro-incorrect but acceptable French onion soup; wheat-free Dutch apple crisp. Complete dinners for $15 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Monday and Tuesday 11:30 am to 9 pm, Wednesday 11:30 am to 6:30 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to 9 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Originally located in the Market, this all-natural - no dairy, egg, refined sugar, artificial colouring or preservatives - vegetarian cafeteria offers more than just nutritious baked goods. Best: genuinely hot 'n' spicy deep-fried tofu with crunchy onion; sweet multi-bean and corn chili sided with nutty lentil brown rice; creamy potato, carrot and tofu curry; lasagna-like Rice Noodle or Tofu Banquet layered with veggie-full tomato sauce served with house roughage - lettuce, green pepper, red cabbage - in dilled soy dressing; old school butter tarts and whole wheat almond croissants. Complete meals for $7, including all taxes and a butter tart. Open daily 9 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Not much to look at, this alternative veggie venue in the Annex offers economical and nutritious dinners, and they're not afraid of the spice rack! Best: country garden soup (split peas, red and white kidney beans, carrots, cabbage, celery and tomatoes in a dense veggie broth); spinach and squash pie, a substantial wedge of pulpy veg spiked with sage; daily shepherd's pie and nut 'n' mushroom loaf daily variations paired with brown rice, steamed zucchini and carrots along with a creamy-basil-dressed salad of romaine, purple cabbage, green beans and Brussels sprouts; yeast-free mini-rotis like the hellfire Caribbean potato, spinach and onion and the less infernal adzuki bean, sesame seed, coriander, tahini and thyme - get any six to take out for $9.90! Complete dinners for $10 per person, including all taxes. Open daily 11 am to 10 pm. Closed holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Possibly the bleakest-looking eatery in town, this austere Chinese vegetarian spot makes up for its lack of decor with honest, clean-tasting noodle and 'shroom dishes. Bring your own garlic. Best: toasted cashew nuts with mixed stir-fried veggies; Chinese black, button and straw mushrooms with bok choy; massive spring rolls stuffed with sprouts, carrots and mushroom or soya rolls filled with mung beans and chewy cloud ears; deep-fried wontons wrapped with gluten and dipped into old-school sweet 'n' sour sauce. Complete meals for $8 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Wednesday to Monday 11 am to 8 pm. Closed Tuesday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
A spin-off of the successful all-organic market that happens here every Saturday, this whole foods takeaway is surrounded by a slew of fast food joints in what was once an abattoir. Great wheat-free baked goods and homemade organic salsas, too. Warning: optional cold cuts in a few sandwiches. Best: daily seasonal soups like split pea or veggie chili; cheesy spinach ricotta quiche; sweet potato and kale salad in garlic ginger dressing, and mixed bean tofu with apple cider vinaigrette; delish single-portion pie made with James Bay wild blueberries; organic free-trade coffee. Complete meals for $8 per person, including all taxes, tip and a just-squeezed organic juice. Open Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday 8 am to 4pm during Market. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
This ovo-lacto vegetarian eatery serves up healthy and nourishing meals that often hit the spot despite some of the weirder mock-meat specialties. Best: asparagus hand roll - tender stalks, pickled carrot, meaty mushrooms, and leaf lettuce in a toasted-nori wrapper; fried udon noodles with baby corn, spinach, julienned red pepper, chewy 'shrooms, and tofu beef that's actually quite tasty; King's Noodle Soup with slurpable rice noodles, broccoli and deep-fried tofu; crustless quiche, a delicious blend of sundried tomato and cheese - feta, mozzarella, cottage - couscous, spinach and eggs; Greg's great green tea ice cream for dessert. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 9:30 pm, Saturday 10 am to 9:30 pm, Sunday 11 am to 8:30 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Buddhist vegetarian cooking takes tofu and wheat gluten by-products and turns them into tasty and textured meat substitutes with the culinary contrasts inherent in Vietnamese cuisine. Best: raw rice wrappers packed with crunchy jicama, lettuce and mint leaves, peanuts with a sweet and sour citric vinegar dip; honeyed lemon faux-poulet drumsticks; glutinous agar salad with juliennes of carrot, daikon and imitation fish sauce dressing; faux-beef satay with peppers and lemon grass, sesame and peanut sauce; organic shakes like durian, soursop, or avocado; fried banana fritters and silky honey-ginger tofu pudding. Complete dinner for $10 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Sunday to Monday 11 am to 10 pm. Closed Tuesday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Located in a church just north of Yorkville, this Hare Krishna haven offers a tasty mostly south Indian veggie spread sold cafeteria-style in the temple's modest basement. No proselytizing and it's tax deductible, too. Best: no set menu, but expect things like hearty lentil dahl studded with cinnamon bark and whole chilies; meatball-like chickpea kofta with yogurt sauce; puraed Brussels sprouts or tofuesque cabbage paneer sabzis; roti lashed with curry leaf; chapati; papadam; cooling cabbage and carrot slaw; halwa semolina pudding with raisins and honey. Complete dinners for a suggested $7 donation ($5 for students), no tax, no tip and a glass of bottled water. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch noon to 3 pm and for dinner 6 to 8 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Cash only Access: 10 steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Bare-bones Chinese and Vietnamese vegetarian family spot complete with high chairs and sticky tables. Spicing is limited to white pepper, very light soy and vinegary Srirachi-style hot sauce. Warning: no garlic and lots of burning incense. Best: crunchy deep-fried spring rolls stuffed with al dente taro and carrot julienne dipped into sour nuac cham; deluxe mixed vegetables - vibrant snowpeas, brocolli, carrot flowerets, bok choy, Chinese 'shrooms and faux barbecued pork - in mild brown gravy (famous Bo De sauce, apparently) over stir-fried egg vermicelli; deep-fried taro nest loaded with braised mushroom, diced bell pepper, eggplant and okra; to drink, Cafa Sua Da jet fuel. Complete meals for $15 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic brewski. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: 17 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Formerly just Juice For Life, the three-outlet Fresh By is Toronto's most successful vegetarian chain. But like other fast food joints, preparation suffers from streamlining. Expect beginner's brown rice sushi and over-priced salads. Best: Tantric Rice Bowl - a sizable helping of brown basmati rice with chunks of ripe avocado, red pepper and cucumber, topped with marinated arama sea algae, toasted pumpkin seeds and pea-green sprouts is too dry with a meagre sesame wasabi sauce; Mushroom Onion Burger - a vegetarian patty containing almond grain, barley and shredded vegetables with fried 'shrooms and onions, served à la carte, needs a condiment other than ketchup to help moisten and flavour. Other locations: 521 Bloor West, at Bathurst, 416-531-2635 and 336 Queen West, at Spadina, 416-599-4442. Complete dinners for $20 ($15 at lunch) including all taxes, tip and a glass of vital fluid. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier free. Rating: NN
A very popular Montreal franchise, this vegetarian cafeteria delivers over 100 menu selections daily - some organic, all noted for egg and dairy allergies - on the first floor of an office building just off Yonge. Expect hearty soups, an extensive build-it-yourself salad bar, just-squeezed juices and several shipped-in meatless mains. Pay the same price per pound whether it's coleslaw or cheesecake. Best: potato and leek pot pie, couscous veg in turmeric, wild rice with almond slivers, for dessert, carob and pear chocolate mousse torte, pulpy pumpkin pie; for macrobiotics, miso soup, steamed kale with brown rice, tasty squash with dried cranberries. Complete meals for $35 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier free. Rating: NN
Opened in the 70s, this west-side institution just north of High Park is Toronto's longest running vegetarian restaurant. More hippie than hip, the vibe's as laid-back as a potluck social in a church basement. With doilies. Very earnest, very dull. Best: Yumwiches - a taste sensation originating in Buffalo, N.Y. - soft tortilla wraps stuffed with the likes of pecan-crusted tempeh, mild-mannered guac and devilled organic tofu; wholegrain soyburgers optionally topped with dill pickle and soy cheese; fair trade organic coffee. Complete meals for $25 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 am to 8:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, Sunday 5 to 8:30 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
Serving Toronto since we forgot, Kensington head shoppe Roach A Rama deals more than tokin' paraphernalia, Bob Marley incense and back issues of High Times to a soundtrack of Dave Mathews bootlegs. This tiny adjunct joint also happens to be Toronto's only - make that only admitted - cannabis cafa. Warning: cold cuts on a few sandwiches. Best: stoner munchies like hemp granola with organic yogurt, and sandwiches such as sun-dried tomato, chèvre, spiced tofu and hemp pesto on challah; to drink, herbal tea or hemp-roasted coffee. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 8 pm, Friday 11 am to 9 pm, Saturday 10 am to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
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