Best Italian restaurants in Toronto
Long before celebrity chef Massimo Capra’s small-screen debut (his TV credits include the Food Network’s Chopped Canada), he was wowing local foodies with his elegant take on traditional Italian food. Dishes like tagliatelle with a classic veal, beef and sausage bolognese will have you swooning at the table. As will a veal scallopine in marsala wine with mixed mushroom and roasted new potato, and a side of berlotti bean and tomato ragu that you won’t want to share with anyone. Rustic fare like this is rarely plated so perfectly. A plush interior that evokes a private club, not to mention white-glove service and valet parking, has made the exclusive Mistura a favourite for the well-heeled and local glitterati since 1997.
From the escort to your table to the polished wait staff sporting imported Italian leather aprons, seafood-focused Buca delivers on all the buzz. Though the minimalist room in the ritzy Four Seasons in Yorkville can legally seat 140, the owners keep it to 85, which should tell you how serious they are about their customers’ comfort. Chef Robert Gentile—who, incidentally, is working with British celeb chef Jamie Oliver on opening Jamie’s Italian at Yorkdale Shopping Mall—not only achieves regional authenticity, he also manages to elevate rustic food to splendiferous heights. Whole raw sea bass is theatrically carved tableside and gently finished with prosecco and fresh lemon. Other highlights include Gaspe scallops with yogurt lumpfish caviar, and Pacific cod tongues in a bergamot zabaglione.
Winner of the OpenTable Diners’ Choice award in 2015, Tutti Matti has been downtown’s definitive destination for high-end rustic Italian for more than a decade. The tenets of true Tuscan gastronomy are evident in dishes like house-made pinci pasta with artisanal pork sausage, fresh peas and Pecorino Toscano or a sous vide rabbit with fennel, lemon and polenta. Tutti Matti may not be the most decked out of dining rooms; in fact it’s pretty old-school ordinary. But foodies flock there because chef and owner Alida Solomon⎯one of a handful of local female chefs⎯delivers some of the most robust flavours in the city. Everything is made in house, including fresh breads. Solomon is the recipient of the prestigious L’Eccio D’Oro for Osteria of the Year in 2009, an award also won by Mario Batali and Alain Ducasse.
L’Unita may look like a cosy neighbourhood trattoria, but it’s actually a bona fide foodie destination. Since 2007, it has been luring diners with its seamless blend of tradition and contemporary trends. The warmly lit dining room exudes romantic charm while owner David Minicucci makes the rounds to ensure customers are satisfied. Chef Miriam Echeverria and her all-female kitchen turn out classic Italian dishes that include meatballs and polenta, local burrata and grilled branzino, every dish given a flavour boost with herbs and vegetables from the rooftop garden. The cannoli is arguably the best in town, and every Tuesday is half-price wine night with more than 300 selections to choose from. L’Unita may not be the most inventive kitchen in town, but its reliable, fresh Southern Italian cooking makes it an area mainstay.
Carisma’s clean, simple exterior belies a plush, dimly lit interior with smoky walls and luxurious velvet banquettes that evoke a quiet, old-money sophistication. Rustic regional classics arrive at your table by career waiters who’ll cater to your every whim. Seductive signature favourites of this family-run establishment include a hand-stuffed veal raviolini with Sicilian pistachio, sage, brown butter and white truffle oil, or a veal osso bucco with saffron risotto and herbed gremolata. Carisma’s wine list is among the finest in town—you won’t find 90 per cent of these bottles at the LCBO. Though Carisma only opened in 2010, the Pagliaro family has been in the business for decades, and from their hands-on hospitality, it’s easy to see why.
Opening its first location in 1992 on hip Queen West, Terroni was the first eatery in Toronto to make Italian dining cool. The chain now has more than half a dozen spots in the city, all of them terrific, but it’s the two-storey emporium in tony Rosedale that takes the torta. Chandeliers, brick and midcentury modern flourishes create an unstuffy, contemporary vibe. The chef is so confident, no changes to the dishes are allowed. But you wouldn’t want to substitute a single ingredient of the impeccable pastas, such as house-made ravioli stuffed with duck confit, fig and roasted butternut squash, sautéed with oyster and button mushrooms, or the Garganelli Geppetto (named in honour of the owner’s father) with house-made spicy sausage, dandelion greens, fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
If you’re hankering for Italian classics, Nodo is the definitive choice in the über-hip Junction neighbourhood. The bright and airy former antiques shop is tastefully appointed with salvaged finds, giving the room an Old World charm that is also utterly of the moment. Chef Gabriele Perrotta makes everything from scratch and the rustic dishes, such as house-made gnocchi with a wild boar ragu, truffle oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, are refined comfort food at its best.
Baked in an imported brick oven at 900 degrees for a mere 90 seconds, Pizzeria Libretto’s heritage-grade Neapolitan pies have been awarded the VPN seal of authenticity by the Italian government and the European Union. Pizzas are made to exacting standards: The charred and stretchy crust must not exceed 35cm; the dough must be 00 Italian flour and tomatoes must be sweet San Marzano that caramelise beautifully in the blistering heat of the wood-fired oven. Whether you choose to eat it sliced or folded over like a book, Libretto-style, once you’ve tasted it, you’ll understand what the fuss is all about. There are now four locations, including the Danforth and Financial District.
Cuisine from the Italian Alps is vastly different from anything you’ve tasted at your local trattoria. At this sleekly designed, minimalist spot, the menu has as many pages as a celebrity prenup, but its foundation is built on three simple ingredients: polenta, gluten-free pasta made with organic buckwheat and a mountain cheese that’s made the same way today as it was in the 16th century. There are no pizzas (get over it), but the Zigeuner should be on every foodie’s bucket list. A cross between shawarma and shish kabob, this beautifully grilled flank steak, wrapped over pancetta on a small rolling pin and sprinkled with rosemary, redefines plate presentation.