Quebec is no longer the only place that can be proud of its poutine. Toronto is catching up, both in terms of quantity and quality. These days it seems as if every other bar has at least half-decent gravy-slathered fries, and food trucks offer something for those on the go. Here's a solid starter list for those who want to get into the poutine scene.
Poutini's House of Poutine
Address: 1112 Queen Street West
Hailed as the best Toronto poutine by NOW Magazine and BlogTO, Poutini's is worth checking out. The atmosphere is rustic-chic, with tree trunk stools and smooth wooden counters. The gravy and fries are made fresh every day, and when you get additional toppings beyond the gravy-and-cheese staple, they're delivered fresh from the frying pan. The gravy, whether traditional or vegan, is light yet flavourful. Vegans can also enjoy Daiya "cheese" curds, so no one is left out of the gluttony.
In additional to classic poutine, Poutini's offers both meat and veggie toppings. The bacon poutine is a bit meat-heavy and salty if you aren't a total carnivore, but if you are, you'll love it. I'd recommend getting the garlic mayo dipping sauce ("made in-house with real mayonnaise" according to Poutini's website) both because of the delicious flavour combination and as a way to cut the salt. If you'd rather fool yourself into thinking that you're eating healthy, get your poutine with roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions. The herbs the vegetables are cooked in add a much appreciated depth to the flavour. You can also get maple syrup or sour cream and chives with your bacon, or top your poutine with smoked meat or pulled pork.
If you can never get enough cheese, Poutini's offers an extra layer of curds for $2, though I find the regular amount sufficient. If you could do without the cheese altogether, they offer fries with just gravy or dipping sauce. The regular size is more than enough, so unless you are in a gorging mood (which, to be fair, I often am), their "Teeny Weeny Tiny" portions are just right. Drink options include Boylan's sodas, regular pops, and water. If you really love Poutini's, you can also get them to cater anything from your office party to your wedding.
On top of everything else, Poutini's is environmentally conscious. Their utensils, napkins, containers, straws, and cups are all biodegradable. One thing to keep in mind: they're cash-only. On the plus side, they're also open from noon to 3:30 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.
Address: 490 Bloor Street West + 11 more locations
While Poutini's is for the gourmets, Smoke's is for the gourmands. With 12 locations in Toronto and more coming soon, it's easier and faster to get your poutine fix at Smoke's than to trek to Poutini's (though during peak hours, there's a line). While there is seating, Smoke's isn't a sit-down restaurant. Like Poutini's, Smoke's is open late, often until 4 AM. These factors make Smoke's a hit with partiers and those struck with sudden cravings.
Smoke's boasts that they've been "clogging arteries since 2008". The gravy is heavier and thicker than Poutini's, resulting in a filling meal that's often more than one person can handle. Their fries come from potatoes sourced from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes only, and their cheese curds come from dairy farmers in eastern Quebec. The press has waxed poetic about Smoke's, with The Toronto Star calling it "true patriot poutine".
The topping options can seem endless. In addition to traditional poutine (with both regular and vegetable gravy), the chain offers over 20 varieties for meat lovers and four different specialty veggie selections. You can get extras of your favourite topping for a few bucks. Drinks include regular pop, Jones sodas, Monster energy drinks, and water. The snack size is enough unless you're famished, but you won't be able to get some of the fancier toppings. I recommend splitting the regular with a friend.
Bampot Bohemian House of Tea and Board Games
Address: 201 Harbord Street
If you are interested in trying something truly surprising (and delicious), check out the poutine soup at Bampot ($7.50 for the soup with fresh bread and butter; you can add salad for an extra $3.25). Everything Bampot serves is vegetarian, but it's worth a try even if you are a diehard carnivore. If nothing else, it's a unique experience. Have a bowl of poutine soup with one of Bampot's specialty teas (hot or cold depending on the season and your preference), and perhaps play a board game or two with a friend while you're at it ($5 gaming charge). Shisha is available after 6 PM on weekdays and all day on weekends. During these times, Bampot is 19 plus. The walls are adorned with art by local artists, and you can choose from regular chairs, a couch, or a cozy, pillow-filled nook. The tea house is open until 11 PM most nights, with extended hours until 1:30 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.
Diners and Pubs
While this list has so far focused on poutineries because of the variety of options and specialization, that doesn't mean that there aren't a plethora of other restaurants in the city that offer amazing alternatives. Big Smoke Burger on King Street (locations on King East and King West) only has basic poutine, but it's known for being good. Despite Big Smoke being a restaurant specializing in burgers, The Village Voice expects the "crisp fries" and "salty gravy" to be "the highlight of your trip". They also have pretty good burgers for meatatarians (beef, chicken, or lamb) and vegetarians alike, with a wealth of toppings.
The Lakeview (1134 Dundas West) offers up a variety of toppings for your poutine with the option of sweet potato fries. For those who love their cheese more than their gravy, The Lakeview has Disco Fries with melted cheddar and havarti over fresh-cut potato fries. And if you're looking to have liquor alongside your gravy-slathered fries, this diner has you covered with $3 mimosas and $4 wine specials, Caesars, and mixed drinks. Open 24 hours, The Lakeview is a good spot for brunch or for late-night bites.
Utopia Cafe and Grill (586 College Street) has goat cheese instead of cheese curds for the adventurous (while also offering curds for traditionalists). While more recent reviews are mixed, you can't argue with the prices (regular poutine is $6, while gourmet—that's with the goat cheese option—is $8). The menu is overall well priced, with generous portions of a variety of burgers, burritos, sandwiches, and sides. All menu items can be made vegetarian. Open until midnight or 1 AM depending on the night, Utopia is another good spot to go when it's getting late.
Which of these restaurants is the best remains a controversial topic among poutine-lovers (as does the inclusion of the poutineries on this list). Canadians take their poutine very seriously.