Toronto's Ossington Avenue was a desolate strip before chef Tom Thai opened Foxley, his South Asian-inspired restaurant back in 2007. Since then, the stretch has become ground zero for a quintessential Toronto dining experience, and a must-hit destination for anyone who hopes to understand the city through its food.
Hot spots come and go, and fresh concepts are launched just as fast as fickle customers jump on the next dining trend. Here are five restaurants to check out on Ossington right now.
Street food and sharing plates are nothing new to Toronto. In fact, it seems like just about every new restaurant is raucous with small plates, music and groups of imbibers chilling out and taking a local approach to dining. A bit boisterous, a bit over-indulgent and surrounded by friends, these restaurants continue to pop up and thrive for all of the above reasons. If any restaurant has proved its success through its authentic street food rich in flavour, Soos is it.
Opening back in September 2013, Soos is a Malaysian restaurant with Mother/Chef Tricia Soo at the helm and the entire family playing integral parts in its operation. Using locally sourced, high-quality ingredients, Soos offers a variety of dishes and tailors its heat levels for the more adventurous eaters and those who consider Chipotle’s spicy.
Go with a larger group and indulge yourselves with the 'Feed Me' option. For $35, it places you at the mercy of the Soo family, serving up an assortment of their best dishes based on some general feedback from the table. If you don’t feel like gorging into a food coma (an emotion typically unknown to man) then you can’t go wrong with the pork belly pancakes ($11), Soos’ Slaw ($15), laksa ($17) and short rib beef sliders ($12).
94 Ossington Ave.
Joining the Ossington crowd late in 2015, the Food Dudes continue their Toronto takeover in collaboration with Chef Matt Blondin of Acadia and Momofuku Daisho. Omaw features a southern style menu with — you guessed it — share plates.
The lighting is low, the booze flows easily, the music is loud and conversation even louder. It’s the kind of place that can be described as low-key posh, making you feel a little bit cooler for having been welcomed into the fold. Ambiance aside, the service is great and the food is even greater.
The small menu changes regularly, which is both wonderful and aggravating. Those yearning for the return of the chicken liver pate will have to wait but the Kentucky fried squid ($13) and the pork ribs ($15) are sufficient replacements. The menu is rich, saucy and fatty, just like good southern food should be but with more modest portion sizes. Therefore, you can take that calorie surplus and dump it behind the bar where it belongs; the cocktail menu changes as frequently as the food menu and Omaw is as fun for drinks as it is to dine.
88 Ossington Ave.
Mamakas has arguably the best Greek food in Toronto. Though the Danforth crowd may disagree, there is something in Mamaka’s distance that makes it feel more authentic than the gyro pitas of Greek Town. The bright white space is clean, simple and much larger than many of the neighbouring restaurants but it can still hard to snag a table without reservation here on a Friday or Saturday night.
Inspired by street food (insert eye roll emoticon here), Mamakas has changed the conventional way the older generation thinks about Greek food. You won’t find the word souvlaki on the menu though spanakopita ($12) still makes an appearance. The tzatziki ($7) is a staple but you’d be best off venturing out and trying the taramosalata ($7) for a starter. It's salty, creamy and the best way to warm up before moving onto the stifado ($28) — braised rabbit served with onions, olives and tomatoes.
There’s more alcohol than edibles on the dessert menu, which one could argue is how it should be, but the baklava ($10) is equally as intoxicating.
80 Ossington Ave.
Bobbie Sue’s Mac + Cheese may not classify as a restaurant per se but it's place on Ossington is not to be discounted. Stop by this walk-thru take-out spot and make your way to Trinity Bellwoods with your shareable plate, some boisterous, beer-drinking friends and you’ve essentially recreated the same atmosphere as all of the aforementioned restaurants sans mood lighting but including crap music from someone’s amplifier nearby.
Bobbie Sue’s comes from the Laliberté brothers of Poutini’s fame and, if the duo has figured out one thing, it is exactly that — do one thing really, really well. Bobbie Sue’s menu is more extensive than you'd imagine for a one-item shop. From classic mac ($5.30/$8.40) to 'curry in a hurry' ($7/$12) there really is something for everyone, even the gluten-free and vegans.
162 Ossington Avenue #3
In a departure from the street food/share plates rhetoric, Boehmer rounds out our top five. The first restaurant from Chef Paul Boehmer of Ultra Supper Club and Spoke Club is chic and upscale with a locally sourced and seasonal menu.
The interior is a large industrial-styled space that is simple and stunning, with a private and intimate dining option for up to 20. The menu is rich and indulgent: venison tartare ($19) or pan-seared fois gras ($23) can whet your appetite before diving into your entrée. Try the sauteed sweet breads ($40) or rack of lamb ($40) with a side of French green beans ($7).
The prices at Boehmer are steeper than some of its Ossington counterparts but for special occasions the ambiance coupled with a flavourful, earthy menu make it worth it.
93 Ossington Ave.