Calling all food fanatics! If you love good food and travel for exceptional culinary experiences, look just across the border to these epicurean Ontario destinations you’ll want to write home about.
Image credit: Nikki McKean, Alo
TORONTO’S TOP RESTAURANTS
From Chinatown to Greektown, Little India to Little Italy, Vegandale to St. Lawrence Market, Toronto is a multicultural city with a melting pot of flavors. In fact, four Toronto eateries made it to the top ten 2019 list of Canada’s 100 Best, the definitive guide to everything food related from across the country.
Lauded number one for the third year in a row, Alo is a sleek downtown French fine dining restaurant and cocktail bar with a refined tasting menu. From on-point décor to each carefully crafted dish and drink, this is a foodie’s must.
Well into year two in Toronto’s much-loved Little Italy neighborhood on College Street, Giulietta has a lot to celebrate. Top Chef Canada runner-up Rob Rossi’s simple and authentic Italian menu also ranked number five in En Route Magazine’s best new restaurants list.
A member of the Buca family of upscale eateries, Buca Osteria & Bar made the cut for their signature coastal Italian cuisine. Tucked away in the Four Seasons Courtyard in the swanky Yorkville neighborhood, this is a bucket-list spot for seafood lovers.
This intimate bistro in the city’s Fashion District takes an unpretentious approach to upscale Canadian fare, using seasonal, wild and foraged ingredients to prepare 5 or 7-course chef’s tasting menus. It only takes one bite to see why the accolades keep pouring in. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding.
How to get here: It’s easy. With two international airports, VIA/AMTRAK access to Union Station, a major bus depot and numerous connecting highways, Toronto is a transportation hub.
Image credit: Born and Raised
HAMILTON EATERIES CREATING A BUZZ
As part of Steeltown’s recent cultural renaissance, Hamilton has become a culinary mecca. This place should be on every foodie’s radar. As Canada’s national newspaper The Globe & Mail recently put it, food is fueling Hamilton’s gentrification.
One of the city’s finest dining experiences, Quatrefoil is in fact, located in Hamilton’s hamlet of Dundas. Cooking power couple Fraser Macfarlane and Georgia Mitropoulos create contemporary French inspired fare in a handsomely restored heritage house that redefines date night.
Prepare to be wowed. For starters, the intimacy of the place will strike you. There are only twelve seats. Repeat, just twelve guests at a time. You’ll be served a set seven course tasting meal of seasonally inspired dishes with a focus on Canadian ingredients. No distractions, no airs, just a pure and honestly amazing dining experience.
Hamilton local Vittorio Colacitti is the driving force behind this aptly named eatery along James Street North’s restaurant row. Harking to his Italian roots, pasta and bread are crafted in-house, the olive oil comes direct from a family friend’s farm in Abruzzo, Italy, and the woodfired oven was transported from Bologna. Buon Appetito!
The French in downtown Hamilton is an elegant, cosmopolitan little eatery that delivers big on taste, both in flare and food. Located in a heritage building, the marble bar, open style kitchen, Parisian bistro-style patio and impeccable service add to the old-world ambiance.
Where to stay: There are a handful of upscale chain hotels in the downtown core, or you can venture just west of the city centre to Best Western Premier C Hotel by Carmen’s, Hamilton’s first boutique hotel.
Image credit: Peller Estates Winery
NIAGARA’S WINE-INSPIRED DINING
One of Canada’s finest wine making regions is also a culinary hotspot where the complimentary relationship between winemakers, sommeliers and chefs results in a spectacular taste of place.
A sculptured red cardinal welcomes you to this arresting winery and restaurant off a back road outside the village of Jordan. While there’s no traditional tasting room, their acclaimed wines are paired in the restaurant, which also bucks tradition. In the absence of a menu, guests are treated to an ever-changing blind-tasting, multi-course meal. Reservations are required, and wine purchases need to be ordered online (you can arrange to pick up on site).
The Winery Restaurant at Peller Estates
Autumn begs you to experience vineyard dining. From the twinkling chandeliers above to the sweeping vineyard views, the setting at Peller Estates is magical, while the menu celebrity Chef Jason Parsons presents each season is out of this world. For something extra special, check out the unique private dining options at sister property Trius Winery that include the winemaker’s lookout, the vineyard pavilion or, for groups of twelve and up, dine among the aging wine barrels in the Trius Red Barrel Cellar.
Options for winery-inspired fare in Niagara-on-the-Lake are plentiful. Locals love the clean, simple lines, the rustic open grill and brick oven, and the ever-changing, cool climate wine-inspired cuisine. So does the foodie press like Toronto Life Magazine which named backhouse among the top five restaurants outside the city.
Renowned for its farm-to-table philosophy, Treadwell Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake has been setting the bar for fresh, creative, local and seasonally inspired culinary excellence since 2006.
How to get here: The Niagara region is about a 90-minute drive along the QEW highway out of downtown Toronto, three convenient border crossings at Lewiston, Niagara Falls and Buffalo. It’s also easily accessible via domestic flights to the airport in Buffalo.
Image credit: @ontarioculinarytourism via SixThirtyNine
FARM-TO-FORK IN SOUTHWEST ONTARIO
As Ontario’s southernmost region, the southwest enjoys the longest harvest season, fertile soil, and naturally a strong farming culture. Tap into the region’s rich rural roots at one of its many celebrated farm-to-table restaurants.
The Combine, in the town of Simcoe, takes hospitality to a whole new level. The restaurant is the main floor of the chef/owner’s century old home. The menu is inspired by and comprised of Norfolk County’s bounty, including Lake Erie perch.
A member of the Old East Village community in the heart of London, The Root Cellar Organic Restaurant passionately practices a locavore philosophy with a menu featuring local, organic, free-range, farm-to-fork fare.
Tucked away on a side street in Woodstock, the ever-changing menu here is a celebration of local flavor. This gem is a credit to chef/owner Eric Boyar (in partnership with his mother, Pauline Bucek) who source ingredients from their own family farm.
Head to the village of Cayuga for a lively and eclectic dining experience. Seasonal cuisine, cooking classes and special events have been attracting ‘flavor junkies’ since 2009.
How to get here: Southwest Ontario is easy to get to from the three convenient border crossings into the Niagara region at Lewiston, Niagara Falls and Buffalo, approximately a two-hour drive. Even closer, the region begins just across either of the two border crossings from Detroit into Windsor (the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Ambassador Bridge) and fans out some 200 miles across the north shore of Lake Erie and south shore of Lake Huron.
Image credit: Christianne Stever, The Common
STRATFORD TAKES CENTRE STAGE
Ontario’s revered thespian town (thanks to the Stratford Festival, North America’s largest Shakespearean theatre event) also pours endless creativity into (and out of) its kitchens.
Perfect for pre- or post-theatre, this luxury hotel invites you to enjoy formal dining in the Restaurant or a more relaxed meal in the Lounge, with impeccable service.
‘Eat without borders’ at this eclectic spot that will take you around the world with its cross-cultural fusion menu, and back home with locally sourced ingredients.
Just a short walk from the Avon Theatre, Bijou is famous for its farm-to-table Blackboard Prix Fixe menu, shareable food flight platters and tasting menus.
A recent addition to Stratford’s culinary scene, this ‘worker-owned’ restaurant has a relaxed, down-to-earth vibe and serves up a mouth-watering menu of comfort food favorites.
How to get here: Centrally located and easily accessible. From downtown Toronto, Stratford is a scenic 100-mile drive southwest. The closest border crossing is at Port Huron, Michigan, about 90 miles southeast of Stratford. The New York border crossings into Niagara are about a 130-mile drive away.
Image credit: @robbiegardenphoto (robbiegarden.com), La Condesa
PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY: HIP & FULL OF CHARACTER
It’s been called the Hudson Valley of the North. Locals just call it The County. Picturesque, rural-chic and just a two-hour drive from Toronto, this quaint little piece of heaven has been attracting Ontario’s trendiest urbanites for years for its thriving cuisine culture, craft wineries, cideries, distilleries and breweries. You must check out what all the buzz is about!
We love la cocina Mexicana! Recently opened in the spring, La Condesa’s authentic Mexican food brings color, flavor and zest to The County.
The open kitchen and woodfire cooking creates a warm, inviting ambiance to this casual little spot in Bloomfield. Order off the menu or put it away and let the staff take care of you prix fixe ‘family style’ from starters to dessert.
Perched on the water’s edge in Wellington, the intimate patio and dining room at the hip Drake Devonshire hotel offers amazing charcuterie and sea-cuterie board selections as well as the wine region’s finest reds and whites.
This gastropub is another Bloomfield favorite go-to for a carefully curated, locally soured menu paired with craft coffee, local brews and wine, and speciality cocktails.
How to get here: Prince Edward County lies on the north shore of Lake Ontario, about 125 miles east of Toronto and 170 miles southwest of Ottawa. The closest border crossings are aboard the Horne’s Ferry from Cape Vincent, NY to Wolfe Island, or across the Thousand Islands Bridge from Alexandria Bay, NY.
Where to stay: The Drake Devonshire pulls off quirky-chic in an unparalleled fashion. Or for something a little different, get a flavor of comfortable farm life with a stay at The Wilfrid Boutique Farmhouse.
Image credit: Le Chien Noir
KINGSTON: FLAVOUR AND CHARM APLENTY
With a rich live music history, there’s a veritable cool factor to this historic university town (and Canada’s original capital), that has also cultivated a hip epicurean culture.
Just a stone’s throw from the downtown historic Market Square, Le Chien Noir is a super stylish little French bistro serving classic soups, charcuterie and cheese, and oysters. Don’t miss their three-hour ‘cocktail hour’.
With their classic and creative woodfired pies, Woodenheads proves that pizza can indeed be gourmet.
Local celeb chef, Clark Day, grows many of the vegetables served on site. Fitting with the historic charm of the city, the restaurant sits in the Day family’s ancestral homestead dating back to 1831.
For ritzy contemporary Canadian Cuisine, head to Days on Front in the city’s west end. It’s a popular go-to for local chefs which is always a good quality gauge.
Take a dive into the tasty Mediterranean-inspired menu exploring bold flavors from Spain and the Middle East.
How to get here: Kingston is 160 miles east of Toronto and 120 miles south of Ottawa. From Union Station in downtown Toronto, VIA Rail operates no less than 12 trains daily to Kingston. For adventurous road trippers from Upstate New York, you can take the Horne’s Ferry from Cape Vincent, NY to Wolfe Island, explore the quaint island, and then hop aboard the Wolfe Island Ferry right to downtown Kingston.
Where to stay: In Kingston, you’ll find no shortage of cool places to stay, from waterfront hotels to boutique inns and cozy bed and breakfasts, including the Rosemount Inn & Spa, only a five minute walk from downtown.
Image credit: Miv Photography, Atelier
OTTAWA CAPITALIZES ON TASTE
Iconic charm, top national museums and abundant urban nature characterize Canada’s capital, as does its vibrant culinary scene.
Located in the heart of historic Byward Market downtown, this restaurant-meets-cocktail lounge is a great spot to discover innovative craft cocktails paired with a main, shared oysters or cheese board ‘sociables’.
Squeeze into the narrow Whalesbone Restaurant on Bank Street for some of the best oysters in town. And if you can’t get enough of shucking and exploring the city, enjoy the three other Whalesbone locations in town.
Another high-end New Canadian eatery, Atelier invites you to sample the 12-course French fusion tasting menu, plated in impossibly beautiful presentations.
Where to stay: Ottawa has no shortage of great places to stay, but the hands-down best view is the sweeping cityscape from the rooftop Copper Spirits and Sights cocktail bar at the upscale Andaz Ottawa Byward Market.
As you plan your foodie getaway, our handy Tools & Tips are here to help, including a currency converter, info on getting here and around, and everything you need to know about border crossings and customs. See you soon!
Main image credit: Born and Raised