Your Toronto Winterlicious Guide to Combining High Cuisine & Low Budget

Toronto’s Winterlicious is an annual restaurant festival for steadfast foodies and culinary noobies alike. 

There comes a time every winter, typically the first two weeks of February, when you throw out the TV dinner trays and let your palate run free amongst all the delectable options available for the Toronto Winterlicious two-week food fest.  This event introduces a variety of cuisines that will have your taste buds on vacation even if you’re stuck here in the middle of winter.

Going strong since 2003, Toronto’s Winterlicious has evolved from a humble 35 eateries participating to its current lineup of over 200.  The festival aims at giving patrons an opportunity to test out a wide selection of restaurants at fixed and affordable prices.  With this many restaurants, lounges, cafes and steakhouses participating, you can rest assured there will be something new for you to try.  We're willing to bet there’ll even be dishes you don’t recognize, let alone have the knowledge to pronounce. 

Though the majority of the participating Toronto restaurants are located in the downtown area and Bloor and Bay, venues stretch as far West as Islington, North as Sheppard and there’s plenty east of the DVP.  There's a lot to take in and a lot to figure out, but Winterlicious lasts for two weeks so don't get overwhelmed just yet.

If this is your first time venturing into the Toronto Winterlicious food fray, or if you’re just looking for a refresher, here are a few tidbits to remember when getting ready for the two weeks of fancy flavours.

Prix Fixe Specials

Arriba's Prix Fixe menu from 2014

This two-week culinary festival is set to delight both your inquisitive appetite and your checkbook.  The Prix Fixe program allows restaurant goers the chance to sit in at any of the participating venues for a fraction of the regular cost, with set menu prices between $15 and $45.  Prix Fixe lunch menus skew lower while the dinner menus are higher, but for the most part either meal is giving you some bang for your buck.

Keep in mind that taxes and gratuity aren’t included in these Prix Fixe lower-priced offerings, so be sure to adjust your tips accordingly.  Some restaurants will add this to your bill if you’ve got a large enough group in attendance.  It’s probably going to be a hectic two weeks, so if your server is sporting a smile and making your dining experience all the better, tip them the typical 15-20%.  Bump it up if you had one hell of a night out.

Winterlicious Restaurant Options & Menus

With over 200 places participating, there’s quite literally something for everyone.  Whether you prefer Mexican or seafood, Italian or noodles, Asian or steakhouse, you will find places to tickle your fancy.  Every Toronto restaurant has been asked to submit their own Prix Fixe menus which you can view here, detailing their prices and the options for each course.  If you’re a vegetarian or vegan it’d be a smart move to check this out before reserving a table at a place that doesn’t cater to you. If you see any fancy green icons they mean one of three things: V means they offer vegetarian options, VG signifies vegan and the L means at least one dish is sourced from local Ontario ingredients.

Winterlicious has attracted some of Toronto's most visited restaurants and many keep coming back to the event year after year.  Check out this profile video on 7 Numbers, a restaurant that's been involved in Winterlicious for over four years.

Winterlicious Restaurant Reservations

In this age of emoticons, lols and snapchats, you might not be inclined to pick up the phone and dial a number like the days of old (circa 2010), but I’m here to tell you that you need to overcome your fear.  While reservations aren’t mandatory for obtaining a table, it’s highly recommended as the best option available.  Showing up ahead of regular dinner time might usually work throughout the year, but during Winterlicious it’s a foolhardy attempt.  Restaurants typically accept reservations two weeks ahead of the festival kick-off date, giving you enough time to scope out the list of participators and choose which ones are your top priorities.

If you’ve made a reservation and decide on something else or can’t make it altogether, make sure to call again (shudder, a second phone usage!) and cancel.  There are a lot of people in this city and the demand is high, so help out someone else’s hunger.

Culinary Events

The Toronto Winterlicious events have spanned subjects like guilty pleasure foods, How-To seminars where chefs offer instruction, wine and cheese pairings, the art of food presentation and events dedicated to foods that are specified as aphrodisiacs.  Yes you read that right, so bring a date and try not to blush.

Different events and producers pop up each year, so be sure to check the official website for what's happening and what tickets are available. 

Hours & Accessibility

Despite all being involved in the same festival, not every restaurant keeps the same hours of operation.  This means certain restaurants will offer lunch and dinner menus between separate times than others, a different menu on weekend hours or some places might be closed altogether.  Again, the best bet you have is to contact the restaurants individually to make sure your schedule matches theirs.  If you or someone in your party is in a wheelchair, you can sort through the Winterlicious site to find a list of restaurants that have full accessibility.

So make sure you brush up on your restaurant etiquette, remember which fork to use first and whether the napkin goes on your lap or tucked into your collar. If you know someone with a winter hunger or a foodie that's looking for a new fix, share this post so they can get on top of one of the tastiest events Toronto has to offer.

Brent Gladney
Author
Brent Gladney

Brent Gladney is a writer and content grunt for Beforelastcall.ca.
He spends his spare time writing unfinished novels, listening to the devil's music and creating Would-You-Rather questions.