Though Toronto’s food scene is thriving, it remains an up-and-comer when compared to the great dining hubs of the world, with no Michelin guide or world top 50 restaurants to speak of yet. But for food lovers in the know, the city already has all of the ingredients to make it a formidable culinary destination: amazingly diverse cuisine, an opulent high-end, a delicious low-end, and a growing farm-to-table and slow food movement. It’s all there, so if you’re hungry, you’ve come to the right town.
But when it comes to finding Torontonians’ favourite place to chow down, there is no easy answer. Top critic lists tend to favor trendy spots like Drake One Fifty and Bar Isabel, and typically focus on a few downtown neighbourhoods well south of Bloor Street. But it’s a big city out there, with a whole lot of food to the east, west, and even in the suburb strip malls way up north.
So how to sort through the dizzying multitude of neighborhoods, cuisines and price levels that Toronto’s restaurant scene serves? To answer this question, we look at the great equalizer in restaurant reviews: Yelp. Anyone can go online and contribute a review, and refreshingly, the voice of any old hungry John Q. Public from North York or Mississauga or Cabbagetown counts just as much as that of The Globe and Mail’s esteemed restaurant critics. (Certainly, Yelp has its detractors, with worries of fake or spammy ratings, but Yelp now aggressively combats this practice to keep its ratings as reliable as possible). We considered every restaurant in the Greater Toronto Area with a Yelp listing as of December 2016 and statistically adjusted their rating for popularity, so that the more people that submitted reviews, the more confident we can be about the rating.
Toronto’s Top 50 Restaurants
|2||Under The Table Restaurant||4.42||Caribbean|
|4||Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse||4.32||Steakhouse|
|5||Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos||4.31||Mexican|
|12||Fresco’s Fish & Chips||4.22||Fish & Chips|
|14||Scaramouche Restaurant Pasta Bar & Grill||4.21||French|
|16||Pai Northern Thai Kitchen||4.19||Thai|
|17||Banh Mi Boys||4.19||Vietnamese|
|23||Nuit Social||4.16||Modern European|
|27||Emma’s Country Kitchen||4.13||Breakfast & Brunch|
|28||Dac Biet Burger||4.13||Burgers|
|29||Chris Jerk Caribbean Bistro||4.13||Caribbean|
|30||The Pie Commission||4.13||Canadian|
|35||The Elm Tree Restaurant||4.09||Mediterranean|
|37||KINKA IZAKAYA ORIGINAL||4.09||Japanese|
|39||The Hole In the Wall||4.08||Canadian|
|42||Ay Caramba, Eh||4.06||Mexican|
|43||The Fuzz Box||4.05||Sandwiches|
|46||Sunny Morning||4.05||Breakfast & Brunch|
|47||Antler Kitchen & Bar||4.05||Canadian|
|48||Kintako Japanese Restaurant||4.05||Japanese|
|49||La Bella Managua||4.04||Latin American|
|50||Tofu Village – House of Soon Tofu||4.04||Korean|
What is most striking about a list that focuses only on diners’ ratings is the remarkable diversity of favourite restaurants. At the top of the rankings, we have Markham’s hidden gem, the creperie Muncheez. Tucked away inside an unassuming strip mall just north of Steeles, between a nail salon and optical shop, is by far the most highly rated restaurant in all of the GTA. Serving crepes both savoury and sweet, Muncheez has managed to establish a rabid following with little of the critical attention often required for success.
In second is perhaps another surprising selection, at least to those not familiar with Cabbagetown’s rich tapestry of down-home, unpretentious restaurants. Under the Table, a modest Caribbean spot described by some as Cabbagetown’s “community restaurant,” features a growing menu of affordable dishes like jerk chicken and oxtail; essentially, everyone who is lucky enough to stumble upon this gem simply loves it.
Further down the list are some of Toronto’s most well-known, delectable and upscale, dining hotspots, like the celebrated steakhouse Jacobs and Co., the sophisticated French haute destination Scaramouche, and continental Richmond Station, led by former Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich. Trendy and sumptuous spots further fill out the list, including the Trinity Bellwoods darling Black Hoof, fledgling Italian chain Levetto, and the theatre district’s popular and affordable Pai Northern Thai Kitchen.
But what’s a good list without more surprises far from the beaten path? Yelp ratings have honed in on a few more hidden gems in Toronto’s sprawling reaches. Vaughan features Ay Caramba, Eh, a popular restaurant focusing on modern Mexican street food, while Woodbridge offers a surprisingly delicious outpost of southern cuisine at Memphis BBQ in a no-frills roadside shack. Just missing our top 50 cut is Scarborough’s Shawarma Empire, a humble, friendly and always crowded spot that many patrons argue has the best shawarma in the city.
Top Restaurants by Cuisine
|Breakfast & Brunch||Emma’s Country Kitchen|
|British||The Queen and Beaver Public House|
|Caribbean||Under The Table Restaurant|
|Chicken Wings||Fanzone Wings & Ribs|
|Chinese||Ho Ho Bbq|
|Diners||Avenue Open Kitchen|
|French||Scaramouche Restaurant Pasta Bar & Grill|
|Korean||Tofu Village – House of Soon Tofu|
|Mexican||Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos|
|Steakhouses||Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse|
|Thai||Pai Northern Thai Kitchen|
|Vietnamese||Banh Mi Boys|
Yelp data was collected in early December 2016, for all restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area with at least one rating on Yelp. Basic filtering was done to remove establishments whose primary purpose is not the sale of food (ex. bars), and cuisine categories were drawn from Yelp’s categorization, with some light manual editing.
Yelp data is by no means a perfect measure of how well real restaurant-goers like an establishment. Besides the fake review issue mentioned above (by a jealous competitor, for instance, or a restaurant’s owner herself), there is the concern that Yelp reviewers are not representative of the public at large (they skew young, tech savvy and live in big cities). There is also the herding effect, where raters are influenced by existing ratings for an establishment, and the occasional instance of ratings driven by revenge or other agendas.
While this is all true to some extent, the service has become such a popular and democratizing vehicle that the data simply cannot be ignored; it drives thousands of dining decisions in Toronto daily, and provides one of the clearest pictures of the public’s sentiment toward a restaurant that exists.
The adjusted ratings were computed according to the following standard Bayes’ rating formula, which is a common technique used to adjust ratings for confidence:
adjusted rating = (v/(v+m))R+(m/(v+m))C, where
- R = average Yelp rating for the restaurant
- v= the number of Yelp ratings that the restaurant received
- m = parameter that effectively downweights restaurants with very few ratings (in our case m = 50)
- C = average rating across all restaurants in our ranking.
The purpose of the adjusted ratings is to make sure that a highly rated restaurant with only a few five star ratings on Yelp does not receive an inflated ranking. It ensure that the more Yelp ratings that a restaurant has, the more confident we are in its score. With relatively few ratings, we revert a restaurant’s score back toward the overall mean. This technique is used, for example, in IMDB’s top 250 lists, as well as our previous Canadian movie and Canadian book rankings.