There are tons of cuisines to sample in this world, and Top Chef Canada’s Elia Herrera has certainly mastered many of them. The third-generation chef has trained extensively in Spain, France, Belgium and Italy, which makes her an experienced connoisseur of fine fare in our books.
For the past 15 years the Mexican native and executive chef at Los Colibris has called Toronto home, which means she’s had plenty of time to sample some of the best restaurants the city has to offer. When she’s in the mood to wine and dine, here’s the Toronto restaurants Elia must visit.
There are plenty of Thai joints out there, but few can rival the authenticity of this small eatery with big flavours. The menu hails from chef Nuit Regular, a former nurse in Thailand who, along with her husband Jeff, opened their first restaurant in Pai, Thailand years ago. Today the pair are the owners of three Thai restaurants across the city, but locals and tourists alike still flock to this original hotspot.
“I love Pai; I love the flavours, the quality and I love Chef Nuit,” says Elia. “She is very honest with her cuisine. My favourite is the green curry and the fresh coconut.”
Rotating flights of bold reds and crisp whites grace the menu of this Italian resto with strong Mediterranean influences. With up to 20 wines by the glass available at any seating, the overall goal of Bricco and owner/sommelier Eric Gennaro is to connect home-style food with wine in a “meaningful” way.
“I love the gnocchi with taleggio porcini cream,” reveals Elia. “I am glad it is a signature dish because I love it a million and it is always there waiting for me.”
Bar Buca is Chef Rob Gentile’s follow-up eatery to his other Italian hotspot, Buca. Located a stone’s throw from the original Buca, this more casual spinoff opens at 7:30am each day so guests can start the day with an Italian-style breakfast of fresh pastries and specialty coffee. Starting at lunch and going late into the night, the full menu features seasonal small plates, skewers, bites and handcrafted cocktails .
“I like [to go there] with friends to have a drink and [share] small plates,” Elia says. “[It’s] super delicious and the menu changes often. [It has a] nice vibe.”
Traditional recipes and simple ingredients combine for big, bold flavours at this Spanish spot, where robust tapas and paellas are just the beginning of the dining experience. Each signature dish on the menu represents a Spanish value to restaurateur Veronica Laudes and chef Luis Valenzuela Robles Linares, who hope that diners walk away feeling as though their dining experience also doubled as a visit to Spain.
“Their paellas are so good,” raves Elia.
Some people call them tapas, but owners Dave Stewart and Adrian Ravinsky (alongside Top Chef Canada: All-Stars’ competitor and executive chef Dustin Gallagher) call them snacks. Indeed, this is the place for the young crowd to come and dine the night away. The hotspot takes no reservations, doesn’t do takeout and while they encourage sharing there is no cutlery as everything is meant to be eaten with your hands.
“[It’s an] awesome place with amazing food,” says Elia. “Small plates are the way I like it, so that I can try different dishes. The cocktails are delicious and I love the tuna hand roll and the steamed buns with crispy pork belly.”