Toronto loves Italian food. With an endless list of Italian restaurants to choose from (and with more opening every year) finding the "best" Italian restaurants is a daunting task. Here are our favourites – some traditional, some modern, some teetering between the two. Best of all, many of these restaurants are very reasonably priced, allowing you to enjoy a fantastic meal for $30 or less.
Hours: Mon–Wed 11:30am-3pm & 5pm-10pm; Thu–Fri 11:30am-3pm & 5pm-11pm; Sat 10:30am-3pm & 5pm-11pm; Sun 10:30am-3pm & 5pm-10pm
Pizza at Buca by Eater
Buca Yorkville is the shining star of three Buca sister restaurants. The menu at this Italian seafood restaurant is constantly in flux, so don’t get too attached to your entree and prepare to be pleasantly surprised at every turn. Enjoy incredible appetizers like their selection of ‘Salumi Di Mare’ (basically ‘meats of the sea’.) Select a small or large platter of your choice (three salumi for $19, five for $25) with many creative options to choose from like their soppressata di polipo (octopus salami with preserved lemon.) For the main event, indulge in entrees like merluzzo nero (BC black cod with corn meal gratinatto, acqua pazza, summer vegetables and pancetta, $34), and finish with a traditional verdure like cicoria (braised dandelion with pickled garlic and wine vinegar, $9) . For the ultimate Buca experience, reserve the chef’s counter to ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ at the chefs slaving away in the kitchen while you dine. For true opulence, the seven to 16 course tasting menu is a fine idea.
Just like Nonna's
La Bettola di Terroni
Hours: Mon–Thu 11:30am-10pm; Fri 11:30am-11pm; Sat 5pm-11pm
If you are a fan of Toronto’s various Terroni restaurants, you’ll love the menu at La Bettola di Terroni. This casual but slick Terroni outpost serves up Pugliese and Sicilian fare, but more specifically they serve the ‘best of Terroni’. Patron favourites from the sister restaurants are paired with delicious cocktails infused with aperol, an impressive wine list and a comfortable neighbourhood atmosphere. Tantalize your palate with one of their delicious antipasti like arancine e panelle (Sicilian rice cones with peas and veal ragu, and chickpea flour fritters, $12.) Italian comfort food mains like orecchiette di farro alla norma (handmade spelt orecchiette, deep fried eggplant, cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata cheese, $20) will leave you satisfied. Be sure to save room for one of their incredibly rich desserts like their bomboloni con gelato (pastry cream filled fried pastry and homemade gelato, $9.)
Cafe Bar Pasta
Hours: Tue–Thu 5pm-10:30pm; Fri–Sat 5pm-11:30pm
Café Bar Pasta Steak
If you’re searching for exceptional Italian pasta, Cafe Bar Pasta is for you. This restaurant takes traditional Italian pasta dishes to new heights as well as puts an Italian spin on international pasta dishes. Drinks are just as creative so be sure to sip on a cocktail like their Dark and Yammy (dark rum, sweet potato, lemon, ginger beer, $13.) Start your meal with a classic Italian appetizer with a modern twist – like their green kale Caesar (creamy dressing, cured shaved duck egg yolk, white anchovy and grana padano, $12) or their playful interpretation of a panzanella salad (marinated scallop, squid ink bread, cilantro, thai basil, momojiroshi, chili, radish and egg yolk, $16.) Be sure to save room for the main event – the pasta entree. Try their delicious Italian interpretation of pierogi (potato and foie gras, seared foie gras, chive oil, baby carrot, pickled onion, smoked bufala ricotta and crispy lamb belly $23) or their modern vegetarian take on gnocchi (potato and bufala ricotta gnocchi, crispy quinoa cluster, grilled artichoke, mustard cream and shaved apple, $18.)
Hours: Sun–Thu 6pm-12am; Fri–Sat 6pm-1am
Campagnolo Pasta with Shrimps by Jeremy
This casual Dundas West spot is owned by husband and wife Craig Harding and Angela Hutchinson. The space is low key but romantic and the food is anything but ordinary. Start with a fun cocktail like The Jolly Gaucho (El Gobernador Pisco, Ford’s Gin, watermelon juice, Dillon’s Rhubarb Bitters, $14) or a glass of fine wine from their impressive wine cellar. Move on to an indulgent appetizer like beef carpaccio (compressed apples, butter-poached mushrooms and truffled moliterno, $16) or salt cod brandade (served on sourdough crostini, with padano and pickled onions, $13.) Save room for a creative pasta like the cocoa linguine (with golden chanterelles, parmigiano and aged balsamic, $21) or try a delicious vegetarian entree like the Cinderella squash risotto (with chestnuts and truffled molitermo, $25.) If by some miracle you have room for dessert, try the salted caramel budino (with chocolate meringue, $9) for an indulgent final spoonful of this impressive menu.
The Date Night Spot
Hours: Daily 11:30am-11pm
If you want authentic Neapolitan pizza in Toronto, go to Pizzeria Libretto. This pizzeria (with multiple locations) kicked off the trend (and resulting demand) for real, traditional Neopolitan pizza in Toronto several years ago. Libretto created a buzz when it opened and announced it was the first Toronto pizzeria to be certified by the VPN in Italy. The certification ensures that their pizza is the real deal – that it’s made using a particular flour and other authentic ingredients, baked in a particular oven (imported from Italy!) at a certain temperature in a certain time frame, yielding textbook Neopolitan pizza results. In fact, the restaurant name was inspired by those results – "libretto" means little book in Italian, which is exactly how authentic Neapolitan pizza should bend and fold in the middle if it's made correctly.
Duck confit pizza by Wyn ♥ lok
While diehard Neopolitan pizza aficionados will tell you there are only two acceptable versions of Neopolitan pizza – margherita (tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese) and marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano and basil) – Pizzeria Libretto offers several alternatives to keep their menu interesting and even offers spelt crust as an alternative to the traditional crust made with type ‘00 flour. Libretto of course offers the two traditional pizzas as well as their more eclectic options. The real deal Neopolitan pizzas are labelled DOP on the menu to indicate that they are made according to VPN’s standards. The traditional options are pretty spectacular but if you’re feeling adventurous, try a duck confit pizza (with bosc pear and mozzarella, $17), or a vegetarian eggplant pizza (with lightly fried eggplant, tomato, basil, garlic, oregano, thyme, mozzarella and whipped ricotta, $15.) Pizza is the main event at this popular restaurant but Libretto’s appetizer menu includes other Italian specialties not to be missed like arancini (risotto balls stuffed with smoked scamorza cheese, tomato, shallot and parsley, $9) and buttermilk fried calamari (served with romesco sauce, $12.) Desserts are also traditional. Finish your meal with an order of sfingi (traditional Italian doughnuts, $9) or a light and delicious affogato (chocolate or vanilla gelato drowned in espresso, $5) – guaranteed to leave you scraping the bowl with your spoon.
The Omnivore's Best Friend
If Northern Italian food is what you crave, F’Amelia in Cabbagetown is where to find it. This restaurant is one of the few on this list with several vegetarian options on the menu. Start with a bowl of corn soup (with grilled Ontario corn, green onions and cumin dust, $12) or a warm wild Mushroom salad (with Jerusalem artichoke purée, parmesan croutons and truffle emulsion, $16.) Meat lovers can begin with a salumi platter (chef’s choice of three or five salumi/terrine and two or three cheeses with flat bread, sesame grissini, pickles and condiments, $20 or $28) or the calamari appetizer (with house-made pork sausage, tomato and fennel ragu, frisée and fennel salad, $16.) Save room for hearty entrees like pumpkin agnolotti pasta (with chanterelle mushrooms, amaretti crumble, finished with aged balsamic vinegar, $23) or their famous oven baked lasagna (with hearty rosemary braised beef, San Marzano tomatoes and a rich béchamel sauce, $19.) Finish your meal on a light and palate cleansing note with a lemon brulée tart (paired with a seasonal fruit compote, $10).
F'Amelia Cold Cut
Whether you’re looking for the best Italian pizza, pasta, or entree, we love these outstanding Italian restaurants and are confident you will too. If you haven’t tried these restaurants yet, you’re missing out! Visit one or all of them soon because in a bustling city like Toronto, the phrase ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ certainly rings true. What’s your favourite Italian restaurant in the city? If we missed it, let us know in the comments!