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Dark Horse Espresso Bar

Where in Toronto: The Coffee’s Hot!

You'll get a mean cup 'o' joe from Sam James Coffee Bar (photo by Craig Moy)

You’ve seen me and my ilk bent over our laptops, downing Americanos and inhaling various breeds of baked goods. We are the writers of Toronto, and its indie coffee shops are our dens. I think most regular café-goers would agree that a good one features the following: lots of light; lots of sturdy seating; enough room to spread oneself and one’s possessions without garnering disapproving glares from your neighbours. Oh yeah, we’ll also need fresh cream, and, of course, a wicked-good cup o’ joe. (more…)

Blue-Ribbon Bites: Our 2010 Where to Dine Readers’ Choice Awards

Once again we asked you, Where readers, to tell us about your most memorable meals for our annual Where to Dine Awards. This year, thousands dined, dashed to their computers and dished about these exemplary restaurants in 20 categories.

AMBIENCE — La Maquette
Go for: This French institution’s refined atmosphere: grand fireplaces, a lovely solarium and a patio adjacent to the Toronto Sculpture Garden.
Stay for: The chef’s specialty grilled jumbo quail with blackberry sauce, wild cherries and apricot chutney.
Runners up: The Sultan’s Tent, Southern Accent.

BUSINESS LUNCH — Canoe
Go for: Everything on executive chef Anthony Walsh’s acclaimed menu, which highlights the best of Canada’s culinary bounty.
Stay for: The 54th-floor view that colleagues and clients are unlikely to forget.
Runners up: Jump, Bymark.

BAR/LOUNGE — Dakota Tavern
Go for: The underground watering hole’s eclectic urban-cowboy ambience, fun-loving crowd and nightly rip-snortin’ performances by local and touring bands.
Stay for: An excellent all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch—complete with live bluegrass music.
Runners up: Panorama, The Abbot Pub & Fare.

The Drake Hotel

BREAKFAST/BRUNCH — The Drake Hotel
G0 for: An enormous helping of fluffy buttermilk pancakes with stewed fruit and crème fraiche.
Stay for: The diverse juice and drinks list, with everything from mango iced tea to a piquant tequila and cilantro Caesar.
Runners up: Le Sélect Bistro, Cora Breakfast & Lunch.

CAFÉ — Dark Horse Espresso Bar
G0 for: A steaming mug of French-pressed coffee or a shot of espresso expertly prepared by gregarious baristas at two locations.
Stay for: The relaxed and inclusive vibe—though the communal tables can get crowded with laptop-toting javaheads.
Runners up: B Espresso Bar, Art Square Café.

CHINESE — Lai Wah Heen
Go for: An unparalleled dim sum experience. The variety of nibbles and their artful presentation are worth the price.
Stay for: The array of Cantonese entrees ranging from the expected—Peking duck—to the exotic, like sea cucumber and sliced abalone.
Runners up: Asian Legend, Pearl Harbourfront.

FAMILY DINNER — The Pickle Barrel
Go for: All-day breakfast favourites like Belgian waffles and French toast that are sure to please even the pickiest of young palates.
Stay for: Adult-oriented entrees including stir-fries, sandwiches, seafood and steaks—approximately 300 menu items in all.
Runners up: The Old Spaghetti Factory, Jack Astor’s.

Scaramouche

FINE DINING — Scaramouche
Go for: Such contemporary French-influenced fare as lobster and lamb enhanced by the freshest of seasonal accompaniments.
Stay for: The expansive hilltop view of downtown, and a fabulous slice of coconut cream pie to end the evening.
Runners up: Splendido, Harbour Sixty.

FRENCH — Auberge du Pommier
Go for: The classic combination of milk-poached veal tenderloin and crispy fried sweetbreads. C’est magnifique!
Stay for: A charcuterie platter that adds Canadian touches like spruce tips and apple mustard, plus a to-die-for crème brûlée.
Runners up: Batifole, Loire.

GREEK — Pan on the Danforth
Go for: Large, affordable servings of Hellenic faves like stifatho, a dish of spiced veal cubes traditionally offered at weddings.
Stay for: Seafood staples including a fillet of red snapper in white wine sauce.
Runners up: Christina’s on the Danforth, Penelope.

HOTEL DINING — Epic at the Fairmont Royal York
Go for: Meaty, Canadian-sourced mains—Ontario pork, Alberta lamb and more—seasoned with herbs grown in the hotel’s own rooftop garden.
Stay for: Ocean Wise–certified sustainable fish from both the east and west coasts.
Runners up: Victor at the Hôtel le Germain, Victoria’s Restaurant at Le Méridien King Edward Hotel.

Epic at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel

INDIAN — Little India
Go for: A laid-back lunch with downtown friends. The daily buffet is fresh and very reasonably priced.
Stay for: The rich and savoury butter chicken, plus a wide variety of vegetarian entrees.
Runners up: 259 Host, Babur.

ITALIAN — Zucca Trattoria
Go for: The daily selection of market-fresh whole grilled fish, presented by knowledgeable servers and paired with Italian vino.
Stay for: House-made pastas—try the strozapretti or casunsei ampezzani—that are counted among the city’s best.
Runners up: Mistura, Bellini’s.

JAPANESE — Funé
Go for: Varied pickings at the moat-encircled sushi bar. Grab what you like from the bamboo boats for a quick meal before catching a show in the Theatre District.
Stay for: Charbroiled Atlantic salmon with teriyaki sauce.
Runners up: Ki Modern Japanese & Bar, Nami.

ROMANTIC — 360 the Restaurant at the CN Tower
Go for: The unforgettable revolving vistas afforded at more than 351 metres above Toronto. The city’s expanse twinkles wonderfully when it’s lit up at night.
Stay for: A rack of slow-roasted Canadian AAA prime beef ribs—big enough to share with your date—plus vintages from the world’s highest wine cellar.
Runners up: North 44, Trattoria Sotto Sotto.

Fisherman's Wharf

SEAFOOD — Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco
Go for: The mammoth seafood platter for two, which could include everything from lobster and Alaskan king crab legs to oysters, scallops and shrimp.
Stay for: Cherry wood–planked Tasmanian sea trout and grilled, miso-glazed
black cod are reliable options.
Runners up: Pier 4 Storehouse, Rodney’s Oyster House.

SERVICE — Bâton Rouge Restaurant
Go for: Grilled-to-order steaks and the restaurant’s signature pork back ribs, of course.
Stay for: The Toronto Eaton Centre location’s attentive staff, who ensure your business lunch or pre-theatre meal goes off without a hitch.
Runners up: George, Pangaea.

SOUTHEAST ASIAN — Golden Thai
Go for: Green curry chicken is an ever-popular choice, as is the Thai steak with mushrooms, peppers and lemon-coriander sauce.
Stay for: Pad Thai. This long-standing resto was one of the first to jump-start the city’s Thai food love affair and its staple dish still satisfies.
Runners up: Bangkok Garden, Mengrai Gourmet Thai.

STEAKHOUSE — The Keg
Go for: Dependable cuts of beef—like juicy New York striploin—available at seven Toronto locations, one of which is an impossibly elegant Victorian mansion.
Stay for: Surf-and-turf combo platters including prime rib and lobster tail, and teriyaki sirloin with tiger shrimp.
Runners up: Barberian’s, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

WINE LIST — Reds Bistro & Wine Bar
Go for: A Proustian list of bottled and by-the-glass vintages sourced by sommelier Carol Racicot and matched with bistro-style cuisine.
Stay for: Your choice of more than 30 international cheeses, plus a varied charcuterie.
Runners up: Opus, Via Allegro.

Toronto’s Best Books, Bookstores & Book-Friendly Cafes

In a country well known for its literature, Toronto is a particular hotbed of bibliophilia. Pick up these Toronto-centric tomes at one of many bookstores, then peruse the pages at a neighbourhood café.

Type Books

Type Books

READ Stunt, the 2008 debut novel from playwright Claudia Dey follows sharp-witted Eugenia Ledoux from eccentrically residential Parkdale to the Toronto Islands to what is now the Distillery Historic District, on a search for her capricious father. More local cred: Stunt is published by Coach House Books, a city staple for nearly 40 years.

SHOP Owned by two women with doctorates in Canadian literature—Type Books (883 Queen St. W., 416-366-8973) is an indie success story with three shops across the city. The original Queen Street West location also features a lower-level art gallery, and all locations proudly feature many small-press titles.

SIP Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves add a scholarly touch to the eclectic ambience at Tequila Bookworm (512 Queen St. W., 416-603-7335). The artsy hot spot serves up a variety of caffeinated drinks, sandwiches and huge waffles to fuel your reading session. Weather permitting, grab a seat on the second-storey patio.
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