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Your Favourite Restaurants: Where to Dine—Readers’ Choice Awards 2008

Each year, we ask you, the readers of Where Toronto and Where.ca, to name your picks of what you deem to be the city’s best restaurants. Thousands of you voiced your opinions, and the results are in! For the past 11 years, we’ve handed out the Most Memorable Meal Awards, but 2008 marks our official renaming of the program as the Where To Dine Readers’ Choice Awards. So if you’re wondering which gastronomic gem to try next, peruse the following 20 categories and raise a glass to this year’s winners and finalists—as chosen by you.

AMBIENCE
THE SULTANT’S TENT & CAFÉ MAROC
Moroccan lanterns, a Casablanca-style bar and tented booths set the stage for a feast fit for a sheikh, with live entertainment—in the form of belly dancers—to match. Join them if you dare (really!), or lounge against saffron-hued cushions while listening to traditional beats and enjoying North African fare like harira (lentil soup) and maftoul (beef pastry cigars). 49 Front St. E., 416-961-0601.
FINALISTS: 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower, The Real Jerk, Southern Accent, Trattoria Sotto Sotto

BAR
THE DRAKE HOTEL
This one-stop hipster spot—it’s a hybrid cocktail bar, café, sushi bar, hotel, restaurant and performance venue—is Queen West’s answer to what to do any night of the week. The Palm Springs–inspired Sky Yard, arguably the city’s most happening patio, mixes a mean cocktail menu of drinks like the Mata Hari (pomegranate, cognac, chai tea and vermouth). 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.
FINALISTS: Eight Wine Bar, Irish Embassy Pub & Grill, Lobby, Panorama

BREAKFAST/BRUNCH
CORA BREAKFAST & LUNCH
A family restaurant open only—as its name may suggest—for breakfast and lunch, Cora excels at freshly prepared brunch dishes. This sunny, casual eatery has a six-page menu of lip-smacking treats inspired by Quebec country cooking, including stuffed crepes, waffles, and old-fashioned pancakes with a choice of more than 20 different toppings. 277 Wellington St. W., 416-598-2672.
FINALISTS: Fran’s, Hot House Café, The Pickle Barrel, Sunset Grill

BUSINESS LUNCH
BÂTON ROUGE RESTAURANT & BAR
Professional, efficient service caters to time-sensitive business lunches—you can easily enjoy a meal in less than an hour here. Pair crispy shoestring fries with the resto’s legendary barbecue-flavoured baby back ribs for meat that falls from the bone at the slightest provocation. Candlelit decor and dark-red wood booths are equally conducive to romantic dining. 216 Yonge St., 416-593-9667.
FINALISTS: Bymark, Canoe, Jump Café & Bar, Reds Bistro & Wine Bar

CAFÉ
7 WEST CAFÉ
Open 24 hours a day, this cozy nook—a hop, skip and jump from the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets—offers comforting nosh like vegetarian chili and dulce de leche cheesecake. Drinks range from mochaccinos and macchiatos to martinis and hot toddies. Chill out on one of three dimly lit storeys or the tiny romantic upstairs patio. 7 Charles St. W., 416-928-9041.
FINALISTS: Aroma, B Espresso Bar, Balzac’s Coffee, Holt’s Café

CHINESE
LAI WAH HEEN
This “luxurious eating place”—the direct translation of Lai Wah Heen—categorically lives up to its name. Original Chinese calligraphy adorns a serene beige-and-black dining room with a 12-foot ceiling. Try exotic Pacific Rim eats, created by executive chef Ken Tam and dim sum chef Terence Chan, like two-course Peking duck and their mouthwatering Szechuan-style braised sliced pork, flavoured with sweet soy sauce, garlic and spicy chili. Metropolitan Hotel, 108 Chestnut St., 416-977-9899.
FINALISTS: Asian Legend, Pearl Harbourfront, Spadina Garden, Szechuan, Szechuan

FAMILY
THE PICKLE BARREL
This 32-year-old restaurant boasts more than 300 menu items—from deli sandwiches to all-day brekkies to low-carb options—and is still as value-oriented and family friendly as it ever was. Free fountain pop refills and a kids’ menu with fun items like dinosaur chicken nuggets make this a popular destination for all generations. Atrium on Bay, 312 Yonge St., 416-977-6677; Yonge-Eglinton Centre, 2300 Yonge St., 416-485-1244; Yorkdale Shopping Centre, 1 Yorkdale Rd., 416-785-8881; plus other locations.
FINALISTS: Fran’s, Hot House Café, Jack Astor’s, The Old Spaghetti Factory

FINE DINING
CANOE RESTAURANT & BAR
Perched high atop the 54th floor of the TD Bank Tower, Canoe affords stunning city views. Creative Canadian fare conceived by executive chef Anthony Walsh includes such delights as B.C. spot prawn chowder with Ontario fiddleheads accompanied by spiced wild leek and Yukon rouille, and tasty desserts like a frozen fireweed-honey butter tart. Impeccable service and flawless hospitality make this downtown haunt a hit. 66 Wellington St. W., 416-364-0054.
FINALISTS: Chez Victor, North 44°, Scaramouche, Susur (now closed)

FRENCH
LE PAPILLON
Famous equally for its crepes Bretonnes—served savoury or sweet—as for its French onion soup, the Parisian bistro decor and the wines here will set your taste buds aflutter. Formerly on Church Street, this dining spot popular with the pre-theatre crowd just spread its butterfly wings and landed at its current Front Street location. 69 Front St. E., 416-367-0303.
FINALISTS: Auberge du Pommier, Bistro 990, La Maquette, Le Paradis

GREEK
CHRISTINA’S ON THE DANFORTH
Pastel walls at this restaurant on The Danforth will make you feel like you’re on an Aegean isle; outdoors, you’ll find Greektown’s only year-round heated patio. Sample Mediterranean faves like moussaka, five kinds of souvlaki and lots of lamb dishes. On weekends, clap or dance to live Greek bands and a belly-dancing performance. 492 Danforth Ave., 416-463-4418.
FINALISTS: Astoria, Myth (417 Danforth Ave., 416-461-8383), Pan on the Danforth, Penelope

HOTEL
TUNDRA
The name says it all: this restaurant is decidedly Canadian in cuisine and design. In the dining room, large sail-like columns exuding light cast a warm ambience. Pre-theatre menu options—slow-poached Atlantic salmon, artisanal Quebec cheese and such innovations as Nova Scotia lobster macaroni and cheese—tempt international palates. Hilton Hotel, 145 Richmond St. W., 416-869-3456.
FINALISTS:BB33, Chez Victor, Epic, Truffles

INDIAN
309 DHABA INDIAN EXCELLENCE
A recent Food Network TV-show makeover has made sure this Indian resto in the heart of the Theatre District looks as good as its fare tastes. Chef P.K. Ahluwalia creates inventive and flavour-intensive Northern Indian cuisine like juicy prawns cooked on wood charcoal and served sizzling, or health-conscious tandoori delicacies baked in a traditional clay oven. 309 King St. W., 416-740-6622.
FINALISTS: Babur, Bombay Palace, The Host, Little India

ITALIAN
TERRONI
Whichever location you frequent—Queen Street’s sunny patio, Balmoral’s inviting space or Adelaide Street’s charming old courthouse—you’re guaranteed traditional Southern Italian food in a lively atmosphere. Select from 15 seasonal pastas, secondi like tagliata di manzo (thinly sliced grilled beef) and, of course, pizza! Thirty kinds abound, from the classic margherita to the yummy cheese-laden puzza. 720 Queen St. W., 416-504-0320; 1 Balmoral Ave., 416-925-4020; 57A Adelaide St. E., 416-203-3093.
FINALISTS: Bellini’s Ristorante, Grazie, Il Fornello, Trattoria Sotto Sotto

JAPANESE
KI MODERN JAPANESE + BAR
In Japanese, “Ki” means pure, undiluted or raw—just the kind of experience you get at this Financial District delight by watching chefs prepare dishes in the open kitchen or sushi bar. Try the restaurant’s unforgettable velvety miso soup, lobster tempura, yuzu-marinated lamb or sophisticated cocktails. Don’t miss the impressive blown-glass sculpture at the front entrance. Brookfield Place, 181 Bay St., 416-800-1384.
FINALISTS: Bikkuri Japanese Restaurant, Crispy Roll, Ematei, Yamato

ROMANTIC
360 THE RESTAURANT AT THE CN TOWER
What could be more romantic than slowly revolving for a bird’s-eye view of Toronto’s skyline through the window at the highest restaurant in the city? Paired with one of 550 international wines, imaginative offerings like venison ragout or dark chocolate marquise with Calvados crème fraiche and honey roasted almonds will leave you as enchanted as the panorama. 301 Front St. W., 416-362-5411.
FINALISTS: Canoe, North 44°, Scaramouche, Trattoria Sotto Sotto

SEAFOOD
RODNEY’S OYSTER HOUSE
Considered by Gourmet magazine as one of the world’s best oyster bars, this longtime Toronto fave offers 22 varieties of shucked-to-order oysters, imported daily from the restaurant’s own beds in Prince Edward Island and abroad. Sit in the outdoor garden for a relaxed picnic setting, or enjoy the homey, chic-casual interior appointed with seafaring paraphernalia. 469 King St. W., 416-363-8105.
FINALISTS: CFood, Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco, Mediterra, Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill

SERVICE
TRUFFLES
Dignified dining at its best on the posh Four Seasons Hotel’s second floor features soaring ceilings impeccably decorated with murals of the gardens at Versailles. In-the-know epicures revere this as the best place to get your truffle fix—try the truffle-foam spaghettini with Perigord Black Gold. Sommelier Sara d’Amato can advise on more than 450 labels. Four Seasons Hotel, 21 Avenue Rd., 416-928-7331.
FINALISTS: Bâton Rouge Restaurant & Bar, Chez Victor, Hy’s Steakhouse, Splendido

SOUTH ASIAN
SALAD KING (335 Yonge St., 416-971-7041)
This hot—as in spicy—beloved Thai food spot offers a heat range of one chili pepper (mild) to 20 chili peppers (infernal flames may shoot out of your ears). Eat on the main floor at sleek communal tables, or retreat upstairs for fine dining with more high-end menu choices. 335 Yonge St., 416-971-7041.
FINALISTS: Bangkok Garden, Golden Thai, Matahari Grill, Monsoon

STEAKHOUSE
RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE
Broiled to your exact order—from rare to well-done—each aged-to-perfection, hand-cut USDA Prime beef steak is seared at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to lock in the corn-fed flavour and natural juices, then served sizzling. Is there any better reason to go? The comfortable downtown space is well-suited to both business meetings and romantic tête-à-têtes. 145 Richmond St. W., 416-955-1455; 77 City Centre Dr., Suite 100, Mississauga, 905-897-8555
FINALISTS: Barberian’s Steakhouse, Canyon Creek, Hy’s Steakhouse, The Keg Steakhouse

WINE LIST
REDS BISTRO & WINE BAR
Downstairs, the bustling environment of Reds Café & Wine Bar—offering Toronto’s largest selection of wines by the glass (over 50!)—attracts many from the nearby Financial District for drinks and dining amid a modern backdrop of wood, glass, marble and brick. Upstairs, Reds Bistro serves culinary specialties inspired by Niagara and international wine regions, with suggested wine pairings for each course (like Spring Bank Farms elk carpaccio matched with a Venetian Valpolicella). 77 Adelaide St. W., 416-862-7337.
FINALISTS: Barberian’s Steakhouse, Chez Victor, Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Via Allegro

WILLIAM ASHLEY SILVER SERVICE AWARD
Top concierges reveal their pick for best service.
Members of the elite international concierge association Les Clefs d’Or have the inside track on the city’s best. This year, they voted Vaticano Trattoria the hands-down winner for service. Tucked away in tony Yorkville, this expansive, luxe eatery—with white tablecloths, plush chairs and mood lighting that’ll make you feel as though you’ve been teleported to Italy—has drawn celebs like Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren and Jackie Chan. Executive chef and proprietor Felice Vacca, a Roman-born transplant, has brought with him an arsenal of Italian fare, like spaghetti maritima with mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, king crab and scallops in a white wine sauce, and lasagne della mamma Laura, his mother’s special recipe. Buon appetito! 25 Bellair St., 416-924-4967.

—Viviane Kertész

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