Address: 243 Lilac St
Avid eaters are always on the look out for the ever-elusive perfect neighbourhood restaurant, the kind of place with stellar food, an intimate, comfortable setting, and service that easily leads to customers developing a “usual”. This trifecta is difficult to achieve, but when a restaurant gets it right, it is a recipe for success.
Cafe Carlo offers the proof: this cozy bistro has been tucked in its Lilac Street location since 1989. With some signatures iron clad on the menu and other dishes pushing the boundaries with bold ingredients and global preparations, the kitchen continues to dish out the city’s favourite plates.
Long before tapas became the trendiest way to eat, Cafe Carlo offered a selection of small plates to share. This collection of shareables reads like a roadmap around the world, from PEI mussels to spring rolls, to falafel.
Standout plates incorporate ingredients making waves in the contemporary food scene, like spectacular fried chicken, golden coating fried to a crisp crack, which is accented by a kimchi sauce that cuts through the indulgent meal with tangy zip.
Beef nachos shake off bar food connotations with the incorporation of juicy roasted mushrooms and a fine shaving of preserved egg yolks, the chef-favoured condiment adding a salty punch. Proving that bacon isn’t going to be disappearing from menus anytime soon, here the meaty favourite makes a jam that lends scallops, set atop a smoky white bean succotash, salty-sweet bite.
A cozy bistro atmosphere is cultivated from the moment diners pass through the door of the warm space, with its wine coloured accent wall, cushy banquettes, bare wooden tables and chalkboard listing the evening’s specials.
The California-Italian fusion the spot is famous for still anchors the menu, with longtime favourites like Fett Chile and house-cut steaks maintaining popularity. But much like California itself, the menu has become a globe-hopping mishmash of flavours, crafting smart fusion out of unexpected pairings.
Szechuan linguine, for example, tosses tender ribbons of pasta with beef, bok choy, and jalapeños in a spicy black bean sauce with a touch of fermented zing. A slab of Atlantic salmon is served in a pool of tangy labneh spiked with lime and flecks of fresh herbs.
Amongst the backdrop of diners celebrating everything from life’s milestones to date night, it is clear why this gem has been bustling for almost thirty years.