Best restaurants for menu design in Toronto

A lot of restaurants put their dishes into one to three columns on a page and call it a menu. But there is an art and science to reading and writing menus, and these five restaurants have put a lot of thought and care into it. For the next few weeks when you're dining out, take a look at how most menus are laid out and written. You'll see how achingly similar they are.

Smith Restaurant

553 Church St, Toronto, ON M4Y 2E2

A huge thin newsprint page gives you the feel of holding a genuine old-fashioned newspaper when you’re reading the menu at Smith. Owner Renda Abdo has a fantastic design eye (go check out her place House Maison across the street – it’s like taking a trip to Nantucket), so of course that continues onto the menu. Stunning black-and-white illustrations lend dishes of Berkshire Bacon & Frisee Salad ($19) and Seared Scallops ($24) an encyclopedic feel. If you’ve ever been tempted to stuff a menu into your bag as a keepsake, it’s this one.

Mildred's Temple Kitchen

104-85 Hanna Ave, Toronto, ON M6K 3S3

Pasting the drinks menu of MTK onto pages of actual paperback copies of Mildred Pierce (pictured above) is so brilliant, you’ll still be talking about it when the drinks arrive. Or in fact, reading.

Johnny Jackson

587 College St, Toronto, ON M6G 1B2

The menu at Johnny Jackson is all about how it’s written, not what it’s on. Check out these descriptions: JLK A secret blend of shredded cheeses, macaroni, and colourful language all combined and baked. Mop it up with Texas garlic bread triangles – because triangles taste better. Jake ‘N Elwood Straight from the Mississippi State Penitentiary comes this crowd pleaser. Mashed potatoes, pulled pork, gravy, onion rings, slaw and a sweet bun. Fork. And a suitcase of the Blues. Let’s hope they publish a book soon, because this is good stuff.

Kinka Izakaya Bloor

559 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1Y6

At first glance, Guu’s menu is a visual nightmare - white Japanese kanji characters that look like messy scribbles on a black background, with English translation underneath. It’s too busy for the eye to focus on one place. But thankfully, the dishes are laid out in grids and they are colour-coded for your convenience. Red is appetizer, green denote cold dishes, etc. At what first appears to be chaos turns out to be quite orderly. You just have to settle into it. Which actually describes the place itself very well.

Luckee Restaurant

328 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3T4

Brenda Bent is a fabulous designer (Bent, Luckee) who reinvents dining rooms with carefully curated artifacts and objets d’art. But it’s her design of the Luckee menu that is particularly captivating. The cover features old images of Chinese men, women and children, dressed in layers of silk and cotton at outdoor food markets. Subtly coloured with muted tones, it gives them both a haunted beauty and simultaneous age and modern edge. The interior of the menu continues the authentic feel, with a list of dishes in both English and Chinese.

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