Bar Isabel & Grand Electric

Given there are about a million restaurants in Toronto, with half a million new ones opening each week, it’s intimidating to choose where to eat.  The city's dining scene is so popular it now includes a Momofuku, for Pete's sake. 

So when one restaurant name came up again and again, we ran towards….

Bar Isabel!

Owner and executive chef Grant van Gameren (formerly of the Black Hoof) opened this place in Little Italy just six months ago, and it’s been packed ever since.

The atmosphere was good and raucous – it swallowed us up as soon as we walked in.  Josh Lindley mixes magic behind the long cherrywood bar, while customers revel below art deco lamps and sit atop an elaborate, Mexican-tiled floor.  Throw in some bawdy old music, and it reminded me of Paris in the 20’s.

(Because you know, I was there).

Once we’d settled into the buzz of it all, we feasted.  The food is tapas-based, and they’re true to its culinary origins.  Never in a restaurant outside of Spain have I been served mussels served in a tin, as the Mussel Escabeche & Pan Con Tomate were.  The devilled eggs were a wonderfully rich way to start off;

the Chorizo Verde and Octopus Skewers were charred and amazing; and the Smoked Sweetbreads with Raw Tuna, Green Tomato & Brown Butter changed my mind about sweetbreads entirely (I’ve always gladly eaten them, but their usual chewiness prevented me from ever craving them.  These ones sliced like BUTTER, and I would gladly eat them every day). 

The whole fish ceviche was an absolute beaut, and the fried chicken with buttermilk sauce – though we were nearly tipping out of our chairs at this point – was wickedly good.

Despite our fullness, dessert still arrived, and we’ve been talking about the ‘corn ice cream with charred corn husk/walnut crumble and spicy caramel’ ever since.  I mean, excuse me?  Genius.  One of the best (and most interesting) desserts we’ve had on the trip.  Thank you chef de cuisine Brandon Olsen for coming up with that

Chef Grant also recommended we check out Grand Electric, so we headed there the next day for lunch with my friend Rachel.

A longhorn skull with red eyes really brought that YU Ranch country feel to the city (with a slightly demonic twist), and the bourbon list stretched from floor to ceiling.  We felt like serious Cool Kids eating there.

Their taco menu includes the pork tinga, baja fish, beef shoulder, crispy cauliflower, and scrapple, which I’ve only heard about from my American friends and have never seen on a Canadian menu.  It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch thing - you can read about it here.

We ordered multiples of the pork tinge, baja fish, and crispy cauliflower, and they were as tasty as their bourbon list is long. 

Both Bar Isabel and Grand Electric came highly recommended, and we pass them along to you as such.  Dining in TO just got a lot less intimidating, didn’t it?


To go with dinner and lunch, one of our favourite songs by Toronto-based Austra: