This is pretty well “mission impossible” – a fool’s errand – trying to pick Toronto’s 10 best Italian restaurants; a city with (arguably) the most Italian restaurants in the world outside of Italy thanks to its massive Italian population.
People are passionate about their neighborhood favorites and many an argument has broken out over who has the best pizza, the best lasagna, the best cappuccino...
Many of the original spots are still operating in the city’s “Little Italy” section of College Street West while other have sprung up over the years in the suburb of Woodbridge as many in the Italian community have moved farther north.
However for those who wish to remain in the urban core, here then (alphabetically) are 10 restaurants that can all take their place on any Best 10 list. Please feel free to argue.
This little Leslieville favorite has been hosting its regulars for some years; some nights it seems like a private party. Alas, even though it is located on Queen East, not that many non-area residents have discovered the charms and culinary expertise of this spot. Too bad, because the relaxed ambiance, wonderful cuisine and lower-than-expected prices are a real find. Try the Meatball Panini. 1012 Queen Street East.
2. Bar Italia
One of the first and most authentic Italian bar/restaurants in Little Italy is still as popular, and populated, as the day it opened many years ago. Back then, however, the customers were all Italian. Now the young and trendy have taken over. This is the place for authentic Italian food – you can’t go wrong with their spicy meatballs and tomato sauce. Make sure you order extra Italian bread to sop up that sauce. 583 College Street.
Another Little Italy café that would make any top 10 list by its 45-year tradition alone. The “Dip” has one of the most popular patios in the city with a clientele ranging from Italian grandfathers (not so many grandmothers) and young, trendy urbanites, all sipping espresso and nibbling from a sampler platter of spicy meats and cheeses. All Italian, of course. 594 College Street.
Fried calamari and shrimp at Café Diplomatico (credit: Café Diplomatico)
This little Beach area family restaurant does a booming business, filling every table on weekend nights as well as hosting a steady stream of take-out orders and lines for pickups. The pizza is thick crust with a wonderful blend of cheese and sauce. Take some time to sit on the Queen Street East porch with traditional checkered tablecloths (across from the Beach Cinema) with a glass of wine and Giorgio’s amazing grilled calamari.1646 Queen Street East.
Longtime regulars from the Forest Hill area, as well are first timers, are greeted like long lost friends by the genial Roberto Martella and his busy, bustling staff. The flavors of Italy are matched by the spectacular artwork of the ancient looking (but not really crumbling) wall designs with Italian movie posters. The restaurant also hosts monthly Italian culture nights, wine demonstrations and “Language and Linguine”, and a combination of language/cooking courses. 2035 Yonge Street.
This was a desolate and downtrodden area of the city when Al Carbone opened the little narrow, very cool Kit Kat. It has since become known as “restaurant row” – blocks and blocks and blocks of packed restaurants and bars. Al is the original and features his old-world Italian cuisine with some creative 21st century Italian creations. Also conveniently located across the street from the TIFF/Bell Lightbox, a mecca for movie lovers. 297 King Street West.
Brother and sister team Federico and Eleanora Caldato have transported their family and village (Treviso) recipes from Northern Italy. Their famous thin crust pizza has gained a city-wide reputation for “the best” in just a few years. Try the proscutto et funghi” – with a fried egg in the middle. Or perhaps their Polippo salad for the seafood lover. This little hidden away location with its warm ambiance and friendly service has earned them an ever-faithful client. 260 Ontario Street.
Grilled chicken from Mangia & Bevi (credit: Facebook/Mangia & Bevi)
Another spot with legions of culinary devotees addicted to classic pizza (only found in Naples) and platters of pasta and seafood made from secret chef recipes from “the Old Country”. The 900-degree wood-burning oven is their secret weapon in creating pizza fans – as well as Libretto’s insistence on using only the purest ingredients from Italy. 221 Ossington Avenue.
9. Strada 241
The chef/owners converted this old warehouse space in the heart of Chinatown into a spacious and beautifully renovated homage to gracious Italian dining. The restaurant is always popular at lunch hour with stuffed sandwiches and pizza slices to go. Dinner is a much more relaxed affair with pasta and seafood specials. Make a reservation for their excellent Sunday brunch. 241 Spadina Avenue.
10. Terroni Adelaide
This restaurant has devotees who lay claim to their favorite pizza place with a fanatical zeal; try and avoid an argument with them. (Approach with caution!). Their original location in the historic Adelaide Court House is a massively impressive building that complements the pure Southern Italian cuisine. For something special, try the Funghi Assoluli – baked oyster mushrooms, parmiagian cheese, bread crumbs, extra virgin olive oil and arugala. Also located at 1695 Yonge Street, 720 Queen Street East and 802 South Spring Street, Los Angeles. 57 Adelaide Street East.