Sarah Kohler/Sara Marcin Skalij on Unsplash
Anna Chen’s guide to Toronto
Chef Anna Chen opened Alma five years ago, and the awards have been pouring in since, with recognition as a Bib Gourmand winner in Michelin’s first Toronto rankings in 2022. Born in India, Chen’s influences are varied and deep, based on her Hakka Chinese family heritage, her Kolkata roots, her experience in French and Italian kitchens in Toronto and London – and her love of pastry of all kinds.
Chen puts a modern twist on simple Chinese dishes, trying not to overcomplicate, she says. Using only three or four ingredients at a time, she and her team invite diners to pop in for anything from a special celebration which might start with her signature parmesan tapioca fritters and end with a sublime chrysanthemum sorbet, to a bowl of homey noodles and wontons for a solo diner.
Chen lives three blocks away from her restaurant in Toronto’s Bloordale, the urban neighbourhood she’s called home for the past 10 years. Busy with the restaurant and an almost two-year old, she still loves heading out to her favourite spots for a fancy night out.
For a neighbourhood feel: Dotty’s
“I’ve got a special place in my heart for Jason Carter, who was my head chef when I worked for Susur Lee. He used to own Dandylion, which closed during the pandemic, but now he’s opened Dotty’s. It’s casual, kind of like a little bar, and the food is very simple but on point: shrimp cocktail, eggs mayonnaise, cheeseburgers, salt and pepper squid – there’s something for everyone. It’s not far from my place, so when I have time, I like to go there on my days off for a little bite and a drink.”
For quick takeout: Gaucho Pie Co.
“I think their Argentinian empanadas are amazing. They always have different flavours, and they’re just so good. Anytime I go there, we always get at least a dozen. It’s a takeout spot, and they also do some desserts.”
For the best homemade pasta: Famiglia Baldassare
“I believe Leo makes the best pasta in the city. He’s very particular about his cooking in all of the best ways. I worked here very briefly before I opened Alma so it’s really special to me.“
For something fancy: 20 Victoria
“For fine dining, I really like 20 Victoria. It’s the kind of place where you get to dress up a little bit. Julie Hyde has an amazing palate and she always changes up the menu. She comes to Alma often, which is nice. We like to check out each other’s places.”
For the sweet tooth: Barbershop Patisserie
“Sometimes you’re short on time and want to pick something up quickly. Barbershop is right near my home and it’s the cutest pastry shop. Jill Barber is the pastry chef/owner and I just love her pastries, which always have a little savoury note – they’re never too sweet. She has these lemon bichon which are kind of like a kouign amann with lemon curd. So good! And she does this very, very decadent chocolate cake layered with chocolate fudge icing – I have a sweet tooth, so whenever I can I go and pick up a cake.”
For a big hunk of meat: Barberian’s Steakhouse
Scott Cooper/Pie Media Group
“Barberian’s is a Toronto institution. My husband loves it, and though I’m not as huge on it, I do enjoy going there every once in a while. Of course, they do a really good steak.”
For dim sum: The One
The ONE Fusion Cuisine/Omnipotent Studio
“We take our son to dim sum a lot. Every Sunday we visit my husband’s father in Richmond Hill, and we go to The One. It’s very busy all the time, and everything comes out fast and is done really well. We just love it.”