Discover Toronto’s most seductive holes-in-the-wall, cocktail bars and upscale restaurants for craft cocktails and designed-for-sharing snack and small plates. Not only do these spots tout delicious fusion fare and complex drinks, they are also easy on the eyes, transporting you from bustling Toronto street corners to a tiki bar, a Spanish taverna, or an art deco lounge.
Step into the world of Barcelona’s multi-faceted Raval neighbourhood at this Toronto tapas bar. A gourmet café by day and cocktail bar by night, Bar Raval finds inspiration in the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of traditional Spanish tapas. Enjoy the rustic wood décor of romantic tavernas and select snacks from a menu of crusty baguettes, rarely-seen cheeses, hand-cut meats, and marinated preserves like smoked mackerel and boquerones. Sample shishito peppers or croquetas alongside a cocktail that may host unfamiliar-to-you ingredients (the Sazerac blends Perchaud and Pontarlier, while the Spanish Fizz pairs a vermouth of your choice with cava or soda).
If gourmet Chinese dumplings are your thing, Food and Liquor is your spot. This Parkdale gem neighbouring Parts and Labour has the hybrid atmosphere of a chic-yet-divey bar, with craft cocktails and a warmly lit back patio featuring picnic tables and a covered overhang in case of inclement weather. Lamb and cumin or the more traditional pork and chive dumplings are popular orders, followed by the Chinese pancakes with hoisin, Miami short ribs, and such epicurean options as charred octopus and duck tongue. Bonus: these guys also host sweet Sunday roasts with revolving chefs and butchers from across the city.
A few delicately prepared oysters alongside a haddock tempura fish wrap or garlic and scallion fancy wings? Parkdale’s oh-so-romantic Chantecler can hook you up with everything from a lavish cocktails-and-tapas date to a quick happy hour with pals. If we’re talking vibe, the place is bustling seven days a week, lending a sense of anonymity and adventure to the exposed brick walls, modern tiling, and vaguely industrial pendant lighting. Invented-in-house cocktails range from the seductive Lost Boy featuring Havana Club, Aperol and burnt orange to the sherry-, Wiser’s- and grenadine-based Artist’s Special.
The fancier option to the Japanese-pub-inspired Guu Izakaya, Saka Bar is the place to try unique and gourmet fare from seared B.C. tuna sashimi to foot-long grilled pork-cheek skewers. Fusions like the carbonara udon and traditionals like the marinated jellyfish can be drunk down with Samurai sake shooters or vodka sodas infused with lychee and grapefruit. It’s energetic and bustling at this Annex resto-bar and the 4$ to $12 plates come out quick. It’s an ideal spot to grab a bite and drink and get you in a party frame of mind for the rest of the evening.
Middle-Eastern-Mediterranean is the romantic, rustic cuisine of this downtown tapas restaurant and bar. Not only will the vast selection of small plates dazzle with options like crispy tahini-aioli eggplant, duck kibbeh, and caraway-spiced roasted beets, but if you’re hungry for something a little more substantial, Byblos has large plates and basmati rice options as well. The interior boasts a gorgeously designed modern-meets-traditional venue of hanging ceramic lights, painted platters, and multi-colour tiles (many items are sourced from Israel, Morocco and Turkey).
An art deco mood pervades this east end spot. The design is upscale but worn-in in the best way, with parlour-esque wall lighting, armchairs and sofas, and cozy tabled seating. An eclectic assemblage of snacks (the spot has hosted everything from bahn mi to tacos to KFC-style chicken) makes a charming companion to quintessential modern and antique cocktails like a dark and stormy, a bourbon sours and a Chambord royal.
Food Dudes, Toronto's gastronomers extraordinaire, took on yet another project in 2014, renovating a corner space to create the perfect balance of rustic and industrial-modern, with heavy wood panelling, parlour-esque tufted leather bar stools, bare Emerson light bulbs, exposed pipe and a whole lot of wrought iron. Warm and hunky – a little urban cabin at the corner of Harbord and Robert Street (just west of Spadina) – that’s the vibe you’ll get at Rasa. Eclectic food options that blend North American and Mediterranean cuisines include tzatziki-accompanied lamb neck, pork belly and green tomatoes, and Thai basil and coconut shrimp.
Ah, the 416. This South Bathurst drinks and tapas bar has long delighted Torontonians cross-city with its cool-casual vibe and gourmet menu of compact plates designed for sharing and multiplicitous samplings. Whether it’s grilled pineapple salad or the Canadian-themed charcuterie board, you’re likely to encounter fusion dishes not seen elsewhere. All can be paired with traditional cocktails or inspired experimentations from the multi-talented bartenders.
There is something rather seductive about this hole-in-the-wall izakaya serving up city-wide-praised Japanese snacks and pub fare. The space is tiny but chicly designed to achieve an air of upscale meets dingy, with exposed brick walls and red-glowing neon signs. Good luck getting a seat without waiting a hot minute, but once inside, it’s one of those Toronto resto-bars that seem to transport you to somewhere else entirely. Food and drink offerings range from snack-y dino wings (served in quintessential Chinese takeout box) to traditional Japanese eggplant to infused-in-house cocktails (gin, cucumber and green tea Arisaka Sour anyone?).