Where to eat, drink and party like a celebrity during TIFF

The return of the Toronto International Film Festival brings a boost to one of the city’s favourite pastimes: star-gazing. Here, 10 celeb-approved spots where you just might score a selfie

Photo by Joshua Best

King West is where every weekend pulses with spring-break energy—despite some of the strip’s more, shall we say, mature revellers. Kissa, a maximalist Japanese listening bar, aims to woo those who have aged out of clubbing but are still seduced by nightlife. It’s Studio 54 meets Tokyo after-hours—think wood-panelled walls and mirrored ceilings that dangle disco ball chandeliers. The custom-­built vintage sound system spins everything from motown and soul to Sade and Post Malone (who’s already hosted a party here). Nikkei- and izakaya-inspired plates are served alongside album-inspired cocktails, like the Catch a Fire (1973), a smoky mix of mezcal, Aperol and apricot liqueur served with a cheeky garnish: a cinnamon stick stuffed with sage that’s smudged tableside. 619 King St. W., kissatoronto.com

Related: The Little Jerry, Toronto’s first listening bar for serious audiophiles

Evangeline, the rooftop bar of the Ace Hotel, one of our top ten spots for celebrity encounters during the Toronto International Film Festival
Photo by Daniel Neuhaus

The Ace Hotel’s buzzy and boisterous rooftop bar is nothing like the movie it’s named after (Canada’s earliest recorded feature film). Evangeline is a larger-than-life living room straight out of the ’70s, bookended by behemoth fireplaces and anchored with a patchwork of vibrant rugs. As the sun sets, golden light spills into the west-­facing room—a cue for guests to snap the perfect selfie while sipping on elegant cocktails, like a martini augmented with yellow chartreuse and sage. Although drinks are the focus here, the food (overseen by Alo’s Michelin-starred chef Patrick Kriss) is excellent. The portions are petite—like a sweet little scallop crudo served on the halfshell—but deceptive, with big-for-their-size flavours. 51 Camden St., evangelinetoronto.com

Related: Inside Canada’s first Ace Hotel

A Caribbean spread from Miss Likklemore's, one of our top ten spots for celebrity encounters during the Toronto International Film Festival
Photo by Ebti Nabag
Miss Likklemore’s

This Parkdale pop-up had a Hollywood-calibre makeover last summer, when Hanif Harji financed the Caribbean restaurant’s evolution, moving it into a heritage building on King West. It feels like an elegant beach house that just happens to have an extra­ordinary bar stocked with 100-plus rums from around the world to host guests like Jully Black and Winnie Harlow. The menu skews Guyanese and Jamaican, with inspiration from neighbouring islands. The flavours are bold and the presentations impressive. Consider the whole smoked jerk chicken, made using a recipe passed down from chef Lonie Murdock’s grandmother and served with a smouldering bundle of thyme. On Fridays and Saturdays after 9 p.m., DJs spin reggae and R&B, and anyone wanting to dance off their dinner (or red carpet blunders) is welcome to do so. 433 King St. W., misslikklemores.com

Related: These are Toronto’s best new restaurants in 2023

A sweeping view of the main dining room at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee's new spot in the old Waterworks building
Photo by Joshua Best
Lee Restaurant

Susur Lee, the Iron Chef turned TikTok phenom (six million followers tune in to watch him and his son Jet turn junk food into gourmet meals), is back behind the pass after a year-long hiatus. Lee reopened his eponymous restaurant two blocks north, in the brand new Waterworks Food Hall. The formula remains much the same: the food is still elevated Asian and French fusion, with many of Lee’s classics (char sui duck breast, cheeseburger spring rolls, Singapore slaw) on offer alongside exciting new dishes like lobster-and-shrimp orzo pad thai. There’s now just a bit more pomp to everything. Even the famed slaw got an extra two ingredients (shrimp crisp, lotus chips), bringing the total to 24. 497 Richmond St. W., leerestaurant.com

Photo by Ebti Nabag
Adrak Yorkville

There’s no lead star in this kitchen. Instead, it’s helmed by a team of supporting actors, each of whom specializes in a regional cooking style. Most have Michelin-star training—and it shows. Standouts include tandoor-cooked lamb chops served in a smoke-filled cloche as well as the Rani Kachori, an oversized puri filled with mixed sprouts and covered in an eye-poppingly pink yogurt chutney, dotted with microgreens, pomegranate seeds and edible petals. For a side dish, it’s a real scene stealer. 138 Avenue Rd., adrakyorkville.ca

Black and Blue, one of our top ten spots for star-gazing during the Toronto International Film Festival
Photo by Joshua Best
Black and Blue

Fans of The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short will likely give dinner at this swish new steakhouse—located in the former Toronto Stock Exchange—two thumbs up. Taking up two storeys and 9,000 square feet, the opulent space, complete with a ceiling gilded in 24-karat gold, was a roughly $10-million buildout. The pièce de résistance: a backlit, Himalayan salt–lined aging room displaying top cuts of Kobe, Japanese A5 Wagyu and Canadian Prime beef. (The salt is said to accelerate the aging process, yielding ultra-flavourful steaks.) For a Jordan Belfort–calibre splurge, opt for the $450 deluxe seafood tower: a three-tier display of molluscs (raw oysters, marinated mussels and clams), colossal shrimp, Dungeness and king crab, Atlantic lobster, and top-of-the-line sushi. 130 King St. W., blackandbluesteakhouse.ca

Lao Lao Bar, one of our top ten spots for star-gazing during the Toronto International Film Festival
Photo by Joshua Best
Lao Lao Bar

Michelle Yeoh and Simu Liu are big fans of Seng Luong and Jason Jiang, whose Sabai Sabai sister bar dives deep into their own Lao roots. The kitchen here uses chilies and herbs in abundance, creating made-for-sharing plates like nam khao, a salad made with fried and crumbled rice croquettes tossed with preserved pork and lime. Marigolds, the flower used in devotional offerings at Lao temples, festoon the bar. Every night at Lao Lao feels like a celebration, and it’s all thanks to Jiang, who loves throwing epic shindigs and can read the pulse of the room like a professional party host. 5 St. Joseph St., laolaobar.com

Photo by Daniel Neuhaus

Both Eli Roth and Priyanka have given this Toronto outpost of the Israeli chain their Instagram stamp of approval. And falafel is just what film buffs trying to make back-to-back screenings need to survive this frenetic festival. It’s unlike any other in town: instead of fritters, they’re burger-sized patties turned green with cilantro and served in freshly baked, oh-so-pillowy pitas. This satisfying sandwich, topped with tahini, pickles and tomatoes, is pure perfection that can be scarfed on the run—and it’s ready in the time it takes to suck back one of their excellent arak mojitos. 1235 Bay St., miznon.ca

Photo by Ebti Nabag
Ultra Supper Club

Charles Khabouth is to Toronto what Midas was to ancient Greece. He can take any space and turn it into something spectacular, be it a bar, a restaurant or this gilded supper club. Everything at Ultra is gold, from the flatware to the drapery. At his new Deer Park destination, Toronto’s patriarch of bottle service channels the dramatic designs of Alexander McQueen. Even the food (a bluefin tuna tarte, a Wagyu roll) is finished with flakes of the 24-karat stuff. It may be a hike from the Lightbox, but since it’s a revival of the original Queen West location that shuttered a decade ago, we think some nostalgic partygoers will make the trek. 12 St. Clair Ave. E., ultra-toronto.com

A steak from Ristorante Sociale, one of our ten best spots for star-spotting during the Toronto International Film Festival
Photo by Joshua Best
Ristorante Sociale

Set Boogie Nights in Miami and you’re getting close to the Ristorante Sociale aesthetic: think disco meets a very stylish, slightly outlandish Italian aunt who loves hosting epic dinner parties. Although this is the sister restaurant to Little Portugal’s Enoteca Sociale, the siblings feel worlds—not just neighbourhoods—apart: where Enoteca is comforting and quaint, Ristorante leans hard into the King West bacchanalia. It’s an Italian steakhouse that gets wild on weekends with dining-room dancers, a DJ and bottle service. Enoteca fans will be happy to see that the cacio e pepe made the menu, but the food here veers more extravagant and theatrical. The 42-ounce porterhouse, for instance, arrives in an applewood smoke–filled cloche, which is removed to oohs and ahhs. 545 King St. W., sociale.ca/ristorante-sociale