Toronto delivers an enticing array of good places to eat, whatever pleases your palette. There's authentic Thai and Ethiopian, French bistros, an emerging Canadiana cuisine with a flare for wild foods, excellent Indian, Portuguese grills, Halal and Kosher, frenetic and fantastic Japanese, oodles of good Italian, and more. It's hard to find a taste that Toronto can't satisfy, from greasy diners to organic vegan "bars," molecular gastronomy to good pub grub.
Many of the city's best restaurants offer second locales, such as mini empires from celebrity chefs Mark McEwan and Jamie Kennedy and the ever-expanding Oliver & Bonacini chain of a dozen destinations like Canoe, Auberge du Pommier, and the Bell Lightbox's Luma and Canteen. A love of the local, seasonal movement only gains in popularity each year, naturally inviting more wine lists that focus on Ontario VQA vintages from Niagara and Prince Edward County. And it's supplying some new discoveries, like the rustic Woodlot, the friendly neighborhood Ici, even Sicilian pizzerias like Libretto.
The new slate of luxury hotels has added some tantalizing tastes to a hotel-dining scene that in the recent past was exciting on the boutique front but pretty safe and institutional beyond. TOCA by Tom Brodi at the Ritz Carlton and Scarpetta at the Thompson Toronto are two favorites.
More good news: In comparison to other big cities, it all adds up to a fairly affordable feast. The bad news is that high taxes on food and alcohol -- add a good 30% -- put a dent in the budget, even if menu prices are generally fair. Oh, and Toronto has earned a reputation for a habit of snooty service: it's still true, but on the decline as the city's culinary scene matures.
Whenever you can, book ahead if you're planning to dine at one of Toronto's top restaurants. That said, many of the hottest spots do not accept reservations for dinner. It's common for diners to arrive early, leave their name and cell-phone number at the door and skip out for a stroll or a drink until the table is ready. Many Toronto restaurants now accept reservations through Open Table (www.opentable.com) -- check individual websites for details.
Online Reservations -- A number of the city's hottest restaurants don't take reservations, but if you want to be assured a table ahead of time, check out OpenTable.com. Relatively new to Toronto, the reservation system is nonetheless reliable, and the roster of restaurants is growing (at press time, there are 235 listed). The good news is that the list includes gems such as Canoe, Cava, and Vertical. The bad news is that this American-based service includes places that are nowhere near Toronto, some as far as Ottawa, which is a 5-hour drive.
Restaurant hours vary. Lunch is typically served from noon to 2pm; dinner begins around 6pm -- the busiest window is 7pm to after 9pm, especially on weekends when two seatings are standard at the best restaurants. Reservations are recommended when accepted.
The standard tip in Toronto calculates as 15%, although 20% is pretty common if it's been above average. Groups of six or more can anticipate an automatic added service charge of 15% to 20% -- this serves as the tip and diners are not expected to leave an additional amount unless service was outstanding. Keep in mind that your bill will also include a 13% tax (HST, which stands for a "harmonized sales tax"). It all adds up to a good 30% hike to the menu prices. Also, wine and other alcoholic beverages tend to be pricey in part because the provincial government levies high taxes and also because restaurateurs often charge as high as a 30% markup. Some establishments let you bring your own and add a corkage fee.