Iran (previously Persia) is known for its art – from architecture to painting to calligraphy to metalworking. So it’s no surprise that there’s more to their cuisine than the food. It’s a practice of detail, from the pottery to the fresh ingredients. While nobody can beat my mom’s Persian cooking, these TO restaurants cut it close. Each offers an experience of Iran’s culture, past and present. [Feature image: Tavoos Restaurant]
My first time at Tavoos, I waited two hours to get a seat (Tip: Get here early during weekends), but man, was it ever worth the wait – so much so that it warranted another visit. Tavoos is a Persian-style brunch restaurant, complete with sweet cultural decor. Each dish is inspired by a traditional meal from different regions in Iran. If you enjoy spicy foods, try the Bandari, a halal sausage and egg dish, mimicking that of the Persian Gulf. Their haleem, a steaming porridge made with shredded lamb, is hands-down my favourite. Their Persian chai is also a must-try.
The Pomegranate Restaurant is the full package – home-style Persian dishes served inside a quaint space. Their decor is like an Arabian night, with Moraccan-esque lanterns hanging from the ceiling, Persian rugs, and Farsi calligraphy on the walls. Try the morasa polo, jewelled rice with a braised lamb shank. What is jewelled rice, you say? It’s a mixture of things blended with saffron basmati rice, like orange peels, barberries, and diced carrots, almonds and pistachios. Enjoy some wine or sparkling beverages with your meal, or ease down the food with a cup of fresh mint tea.
Sheherzade resembles its little sister and next-door neighbour, The Pomegranate. The decor is similar, but what sets this Persian restaurant apart is their focus on grilled kabobs. From beef tenderloin, to boneless chicken breast, to lamb loin chops, to saffron-infused buttery kabob – this place has loads of options. Enjoy your meal with doogh, a soothing yogurt drink that they prepare beautifully with mint and rose petals sprinkled on top. For dessert, try their bastani akbar mashti, a Persian ice cream made with rose water and saffron, topped with cinnamon spice, dusts of rose, slivered pistachios and almonds, and pomegranate.
Quite possibly the cutest Persian restaurant I’ve been to in Toronto. Darbar is the perfect place to lunch or dine solo, or with companions. The space is cozy and small, and doesn’t tend to get too crowded. It’s great for those who want an intimate, quiet evening out. The homey, cultural decor and soothing piano music (including Persian tunes) will make you feel at ease while you enjoy their authentic Persian dishes. The lamb skewer is cooked to a juicy perfection. For a vegetarian option, ask for the fesenjoon without chicken – a sweet and nutty pomegranate, walnut stew.
The name says it all. Persian Palace will make you feel like a king or a queen. It’s a banquet restaurant for a luxurious, fine-dining experience (you’ll want to dress up for this place). They have all the popular Persian dishes, with a lot of options for dinner, from meat dishes to vegetarian. Their lunch menu is smaller, but still has a good number of kebabs, stews and salads to choose from. If you’re into seafood, you’ll enjoy their fried salmon dish, served with a choice of rice or salad, for lunch. They also specialize in weddings and events.
Looking for a Persian restaurant perfect for a date night or outing with friends and family? Look no further than Darbar. The space is romantic and the dishes are fantastic, bar none. The portions are hefty, so if you’re not up to feast, share your plate. Their chicken and beef kabobs are positively mouthwatering. Kabob meals come with rice and grilled tomato. For an appetizer, try their maust khiar (yogurt mixed with cucumber). Want to relax and get a good night’s sleep? Try the doogh, a homemade yogurt drink.
Located inside Westin Prince Hotel at York Mills and Don Mills, Gilaneh is a cozy, upscale Persian restaurant. There are two separated spaces: a lounge-like room for those who want to party, and a quieter area for dining only. When you walk in, you’ll be welcomed by a series of statues reminiscent of Takht-e Jamshid (a historical site in Shiraz, Iran). The space has a cabin-like feel that is both cozy and classy. Start with the zeitoon parvardeh (olives in a sweet, nutty sauce), then share the vaziri kebab with one of their stew dishes.
The spacious, white interior of Kadbanu will make you feel a sense of warm welcome. This café-style restaurant and bar is a tribute to the owner’s grandmother. For shareable items, check their blackboard menu written in English and Farsi. The stencilled blue art on their walls really adds to the classy feel of the place. Enjoy traditional Persian and modern-day cocktails and light eats like nan-o paneer (bread with feta cheese), or dishes like the mirza ghasemi, a roasted eggplant dish topped with a sunny-side up egg. Find a seat at the bar or the few tables they have available.
A flashback in time – Banu is a tribute to 70s lifestyle in Iran’s capital city, Tehran. Enjoy a night in this retro deco restaurant. Sip on their signature cocktails, like the Iran ’75, a pomegranate alcoholic beverage. Feast on over 11 fire-grilled kabobs, served with roasted tomato, mixed fresh herbs and lavash flatbread. This is the perfect place for shareable food that’ll come served like it would at home. Finish off with dessert options that include an almond baklava cake (made with pistachios).