As for that place to go when someone else (or their company) is paying, one insider suggested Canoe (66 Wellington Street) at the TD Centre in the financial district. The restaurant offers an astounding view at the top of one of Toronto's tallest buildings, and "inspired Canadian cuisine" to boot. It's also a 10-minute walk from the Lightbox.
Even closer is the Lightbox's own Luma, located upstairs in the festival's hub and offering "global and Canadian artisanal cuisine featuring the finest local and regional ingredients."
But the two restaurants that came up most often were Guu (398 Church Street) and Paramour (94 Ossington Avenue). Guu is a new Japanese restaurant opened by Yoshinori Kitahara that has seen instant popularity since it opened late last year ("it's wild and everyone yells at you when you walk through the door," one insider said). They don't take reservations and you can wait up to two hours for a table, but seemingly everyone that's experienced the restaurant is yelling out recommendations from rooftops. Paramour, meanwhile, was noted for its "incredible food and great service."
There's also famed chef Susur Lee's famed restaurants Madeleine's (formerly Susur) and Lee, located side by side (601 and 603 King St. West). Lee's the same chef that two years ago opened Shang located in the Thompson Hotel in the Lower East Side of New York City. Even closer to fest central is Origin (107 King Street East) which has "fusion that's actually well-executed, plus fresh meat they're so proud of, they leave it sitting on the counter," one insider notes.
Other suggestions came in the form of Terroni (a Toronto staple with locations at both 106 Victoria Street and 720 Queen Street West that has some of the best pizza in town), Pizza Libretto (221 Ossington Avenue.. more pizza, and in many opinions even better pizza), Buka (604 King Street West), Marben (488 Wellington Street West), Gilead (4 Gilead Place... "Jamie Kennedy's new restaurant features comfort food and produce grown on his farm outside the city plus a great wine list including some of his own"), La Palette (492 Queen Street West), a fantastic French restaurant on Queen Street, Japanese restaurant Blowfish (668 King Street West.. "awesome sushi"), Yours Truly (229 Ossington Avenue.. "Tasting menus and great vegetarian options. One of the best meals I've had all year"), Woodlot (293 Palmerston Avenue), Ursa (924 Queen Street West... "Inventive preparation, botanist-conceived salads, perfect ingredients," said one, while another noted: "Fantastic seafood, crazy stuff like pasta made from crickets and if you are dining with vegans the options are definitely not an after thought."), Rock Lobster (538 Queen Street West.. "Great seafood - and how can you go wrong with a restaurant named after a B-52s song that hit #1 in Canada in 1980?") and Cowbell (1564 Queen Street West), which was noted as having "great ambiance with naturally-raised, organic meat and produce, sourced from local farmers." Support the Toronto-area agricultural community on your company's dime!
COFFEE OR A CHEAP BITE:
On the other end of the scale, there's loads of options in and around and a bit of a hike from the Bell Lightbox (including aforementioned Canteen, located in the lobby):
The closest bet (other than Canteen) was recommended by many a TIFF staffer: The Y Cafe at Metro Hall (55 John Street). Run by the YMCA, they have a different menu of items daily, and everything is $5.99 (tax-included). "It's popular with TIFF staff because of the lack of affordable options that aren't Subway in the neighborhood," one person said.
The Beaconsfield (1154 Queen St. West) serves up a dinner special every weekday from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. $8 will get you a pint of Amsterdam and a "delicious - yet a little bit smaller than normal - meal". Fresh (147 Spadina Avenue) is a bit pricier but it's a block from festival central and has ultra healthy fare to even out with the hor d'oeuvres at festival parties. Fusaro (147 Spadina Avenue), Mother's Dumplings (421 Spadina Avenue... "I could stuff my face with these dumplings all night and it would still cost like $5"), Grand Electric (1330 Queen Street West, a taco joint open late that has "been drawing huge lines" since it opened a few years ago"), El Trompo (277 Augusta Avenue) with its "really f'n good authentic tacos." The Grindhouse (365 King Street West), a burger place close to TIFF Bell Lightbox that makes everything onsite even the ketchup (plus everything "can be made gluten free so Zooey Deschanel can eat there," an insider notes). Jumbo Empanadas (245 Augusta Ave) in Kensington are "the best Empanadas in Toronto," one noted. while Golden Turtle (125 Ossington Ave) was listed "for cheap delicious Pho on Ossington." And of course there's Ravi Soups (322 Adelaide Street West... seconds from the Lightbox): "As I said last year, Ravi Soup is the best f*%&ing thing in the world. I sometimes have dreams about the chicken wrap combo with corn chowder (with blue crab)."
Toronto's recently attempted to take a cue from Quebec with a bunch of poutine-fueled restaurants. There's many options, but Poutini's House of Poutine (1112 Queen Street West) seems like the unanimous best bet. One insider went so far as to suggest not listing Smokes Poutine, as "that shit is totally unacceptable."
There's also many a gourmet burger place as of late. The best of the lot? The Burger's Priest (1636 Queen Street East), Craft Burger (673 King Street East), and BQM (210 Ossington Avenue, 354 Queen Street West).
A relatively new entry to the Toronto quick-bite scene is Urban Eatery, which is, yes, a food court. Opened two years ago at the bottom of the Eaton Centre (the entire block between Dundas and Queen on Yonge), which took $48 million and 14 months of renovations to transform a food court into an “urban eatery” inspired by the Danish. The Styrofoam plates and next-to-useless plastic knives are out, and strong crockery and cutlery are in. They’ve also brought in a handful of Toronto restaurants and mini-chains like Urban Herbivore, Amaya Express and Liberty Noodle. It's quite something, and close to the Lightbox.
And, of course, one can't beat those ubiquitous hot dogs on the street. No soaking in gross water, lots of condiments and they'll even grill the bun -- just ask. And vegetarians, they have veggie dogs as well (as long as you don't mind if it's grilled near where the Polish sausage was minutes earlier). They're the best in North America, if not the world.
As for coffee, Toronto's a largely and predictably a Starbucks-fueled city, or Canadian chains Second Cup (or "second choice," as it's personally referred... though Scott Pilgrim would beg to differ) and Tim Hortons. But there's alternatives to chain-mania that many an insider has suggested. I-Deal Coffee, which has three locations across the city (162 Ossington Avenue, 84 Nassau Street, 1560 Queen Street East), Capital Espresso (1349 Queen St. W... "They take coffee seriously and bake the best muffins you will eat in your life"), Sam James Coffee Bar (150 King Street West.. one the closest options to TIFF central), The Mascot (1267 Queen West) with "good coffee, yummy pastries and a very nice magazine collection," Thor Espresso Bar (35 Bathurst Street), La Merceria (506 Adelaide Street West.. "Sometimes I hide from my day job there"), L'Espresso Bar Mercurio (321 Bloor Street West... "you can stand at the bar and shoot your espresso without feeling like a douche or a poser"), Tequila Bookworm (512 Queen Street West), and a personal favorite, Dark Horse Espresso Bar (215 Spadina Avenue, just up from Queen).
Closest to the Lightbox among those favored is Sense Appeal (96 Spadina Avenue), where "model boys serve coffee and high fives." Another insider quipped: "Handsome, very social baristas (local offices call it "sexy coffee") and gourmet coffee. Try the iced Horchata with shaved cinnamon and truffle."