When it comes to drive, ambition and a palate that knows no bounds, Chef Ivana Raca comes to mind. The former Yugoslavia native currently calls Toronto home, and it’s there, through three restaurant ventures and a win on Chopped Canada, that she’s earned the respect of her peers and critics alike.
Despite Ivana’s busy schedule and demanding gig, she still takes time to enjoy the delicious eats the city has to offer. So when she has some rare time off, here’s the Toronto restaurants she likes to indulge.
This stall at Assembly Chef’s Hall is the collaboration between Chopped Canada host Brad Smith and Ivana, who won a 2016 episode of the series. According to Ivana, the pair teamed to create some of the best gnocchi and “burgers in the city,” but Boemo also represents the idea of an improved, “free’er” chef—one who has no limits to the imagination.
There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Toronto, but Ivana’s other, full-service, spot boasts a specialized Italian-pescatarian menu with plenty of vegetarian options and seasonal Canadian ingredients. With a cozy brick interior and items like Ivana’s highly recommended Trout Crudo and “incredible” Seafood Lasagna at the ready, Ufficio makes for a great stop on a date or special celebration. “Home is where the heart is,” Ivana adds, speaking to Ufficio’s overall tone.
Chef Nick Liu’s refined menu at this thriving spot is where old meets new, as it honours the tastes of an older generation while connecting to future generations through food. The fare is inspired by Liu’s Hakka parents, but the Canadian chef follows French traditions in order to update some classics for more modern palates. The result is a winning combination that keeps diners coming back for more.
“[It’s] amazing fusion cuisine,” says Ivana. “Takes me back to Asia.”
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Frog legs, escargot and other classic French fare grace the menu of this fine-dining establishment, which is named after Canada’s only heritage breed of chicken. An open kitchen faces the bar with limited seating in between, meaning that if you want to get in on this Parkdale favourite, reservations are usually required.
“[It has a] great steak tartar,” Ivana raves. “[It] always hits the spot for me.”
Ivana is “huge on ramen,” which makes this eatery a staple on her list. Isshin has two locations: one in the downtown Toronto core and another at Assembly Chef’s Hall. The name translates into “one heart, one ramen” and so a large variety of bowls grace the menu—including the signature Wok Fried Red Miso Ramen. Ivana says the “black sesame miso is a must-have,” but no matter what you order, you’re guaranteed traditional Tonkotsu broth, a signature blend of red and white miso and only the freshest ingredients.
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