The Top Five
Introducing: The Top Five
My mom has spent the last three years living her best life in New York City. As a new resident of the Empire State, she set out to explore the many restaurants. With the five boroughs having more than 20,000 eateries, it quickly became critical to limit repeat restaurant visits. Out of this came the idea of The Top Five.
The simple concept is that you have five restaurants in your roster that you can return to, and all other dining experiences should be to places you haven’t tried. As you go to new restaurants, you constantly evaluate – does this replace one of my existing top five? If not, neatly pack that restaurant experience up in your memories and continue down the path of new culinary adventures.
My current Toronto Top Five are as follows, in no particular order, as the Top Five has no ranking.
A homey space with terracotta floors, vintage stained-glass light fixtures, an open kitchen and a long bar with a brick backdrop running down one side of the space. The kind of restaurant you’d go to for an intimate conversation over a bottle of wine, and a table you’d want to linger at long after your meal is done.
Their Roman classics – like cacio e pepe and bucatini all’amatriciana – are incredible, and I have eaten my way through several plates of these dishes at many great restaurants in plenty of cities.
Coming from someone who rarely wants to return to the same restaurant twice, I would gladly eat these two pastas for the rest of my days.
Enoteca Sociale is now offering meal kits to go – cook one of their delicious pastas in the comfort of your own home.
Why Top Five (WTF)?! Enoteca Sociale has a philosophy of making ‘simple & honest Roman cuisine that can be shared with friends and family’, which just might be the tagline of my ideal restaurant. It’s a place where you opt to order multiple pastas for the table, even if you are dining solo, because it would be a shame not to. And where you sip your wine more slowly so you can stay just a little longer, surrounded by the lull of conversation and the buzz of a really special neighbourhood haunt.
Red and white checkered tablecloths, and a genuineness about it that makes you feel at home.
My go-to is the rigatoni with a side meatball, and a bottle of house wine to share.
Honestly, everything is simple & delicious – there is a reason why their perfect mound of spaghetti has taken over Toronto Instagram accounts and is instantly recognizable to any local foodie.
If the line is too long, you can order takeout. I most certainly won’t judge you for eating a pile of delicious pasta in your car.
Also, opt to take home a jar of their Sugo – sauce – to elevate your at-home creations.
Why Top Five (WTF)?! No fuss, simple craveable pasta that tastes better than Nona’s best. The last time I went there with my boyfriend, two of us ordered three pastas, two meatballs, a Caesar salad, garlic bread and a bottle of wine. Despite being warned that was a lot for two, we pressed on, excited by the prospect of taking home leftovers for seconds. There’s a reason why there is always a line here.
Multi-level, multi-room dining in what feels like a big house. Versatile for all occasions without feeling too generic – date night, birthdays, family meals, work events etc. The rooftop patio is a true showstopper!
Classic Italian with choices for your pickiest friend:10+ pasta and 20+ pizza options, plus a spread of appetizers and scrumptious mains.
The patio doesn’t take reservations, so get there a little early to secure a table.
Also, pick up some Italian staples to take home – highly recommend their Peperoncini Piccanti.
Why Top Five (WTF)?! Terroni, with many restaurants throughout the city, is on my list specifically for the Price Street location and its fabulous rooftop (although the food is great at all locations). As you laze in the white chairs, soaking up the fleeting summer sunshine, gazing at the old railway station to the north, you may feel like you’re looking out over a piazza. Terroni Price Street is my European escape in the city. I’ve spent many afternoons basking in the sun sipping on an Aperol Spritz, or a few, enjoying the simplicity of good company on hot summer days.
Heading down the stairs into Pai is like being transported to vibrant Northern Thailand. The walls are donned with flags & memorabilia and the kitchen is open and bustling. You’ll instantly feel cooler just by stepping foot into here.
Authentic Northern Thai food with depths of flavour. My latest go to is the Pad Gra Prao, but everything from the classic Pad Thai to the curries to the papaya salad is delicious.
Be sure to select the appropriate spice-level based on their unique descriptions, like the “Farang Spicy: okay, you like it hot…but foreigner hot”.
Check out their weekday Pai Market lunch selection or order for delivery – their food is neatly packaged and travels well.
Why Top Five (WTF)?! Pai is one of the city’s restaurants that I’ve returned to most, as it offers a simple combination for a guaranteed good time. The food is consistently excellent – full of flavour with customizable spice levels – and the vibe is always buzzing. Pai is versatile – works for a date, sharing food with friends or even a solo meal.
Multiple locations throughout the city – all are casual & cool, with colourful decor and funky dishes. Perfect for a casual date or a catch-up with friends.
Be sure to get an array of tacos – it’s best to order multiple flavours for the table and share. Personally, I dream about the chorizo taco and coming from a girl who never liked crispy shell tacos – Playa Cabana’s are worth coming back for more!
Tip: Save some room for churros and be sure to get a margarita on the side.
Each location has a slightly different name and menu. Some locations are more known for burritos, while others have a larger taco offering. Make your way through them all to find your favourite!
Why Top Five (WTF)?! In my humble opinion, Playa Cabana serves the best tacos in the city (to the point where I borderline refuse to go elsewhere). Their flavours are so punchy, and their sauces are bang on. There hasn’t been a single menu item that I haven’t enjoyed.
More to Explore
Old Favourites & Runner-Ups
Sometimes a Top Five may get replaced, but certainly never forgotten. These are solid spots with great food & great vibes, and worth checking out in their own right. Sometimes they’ve moved here because they’ve sadly gone out of business, so be sure to check their website before making any plans!
Warm neighbourhood restaurant with dim lighting and wooden accents. Perfect for intimate conversations shared over comfort eats and cider.
HFC serves the burger I can’t stop dreaming about.
They also have unique, flavourful sauces that elevate many of their eats. Plus, they have chickpea fries – how cool is that?!
Don’t know what cider to order? Opt for a flight & try a few!
Why Top Five (WTF)?! When I first ventured here, I almost couldn’t place an order because I was torn between all of the amazing choices. HFC feels like all of my guilty pleasure cravings – fried chicken, burgers, mac and cheese – but with an elevated freshness and local, ever changing seasonal ingredients.
Each of their locations has a distinct vibe – Buca King St. is my go-to for a romantic date night, with the main dining area sunken into a semi-underground, high-ceiling, brick walled old boiler room. Bar Buca Eglinton is my favourite spot for an airy Saturday morning breakfast.
Whatever you do, get the nodini (warm rosemary, garlic, olive oil bread knots that may change your life). They’re addictive and I eat them like popcorn.
Order pizza to cut with scissors at Buca or the cacio e pepe Pugilese style pizza at Bar Buca. Alternatively, if you are looking for something to warm you up on a chilly day, opt for the cavatelli al forno and melt into cheesy heaven.
For breakfast, the uova in purgatorio was so good, I tried to replicate it at home (it never beats the real deal though). I genuinely wake up with serious cravings to sop up the spicy tomato sauce with their warm grilled bread.
Bar Buca has grab-and-go lunch options that will help satisfy a mid-day craving.
They also have inventive cocktails – I won’t blame you if you settle in for couple at brunch. Or pop by Bar Buca between 4-6PM on weekdays for their Aperitivo – every time you order a drink, you get a plate of food. Choose from cured meats, flatbreads, olives etc.
Alternatively, order one of their make-at-home pasta, pizza or nodini kits.
Why Top Five (WTF)?! The King Street Buca downstairs dining area has a vibe that is just inexplicably cool with exposed brick and raw, unedited character. It reminds me of a happening hot spot in New York City – it’s edgy and somehow makes me feel like I’ve slipped into an exclusive party. Apparently the incredible, cavernous space inspired Buca’s name.
Bar Buca Eglinton is my local spot – it feels airy, modern and has a menu that I could eat from on a daily basis. It’s rare for me to find a restaurant where I want to return to try almost every item on the menu. That’s Bar Buca for me – it hits the spot every time and leaves me desperate to try 5 more options.
(And okay yes, this pick is technically a cheat as I’ve listed two restaurants. But they’re owned by the same group and therefore, I’m giving myself a pass.)