EAT LIKE A LOCAL

Toronto

Licorice-marinated olives, great paninis and the tenderest lamb shank are among the city's favorite dishes.

By David Sax, Tuesday, Apr 17, 2007, 12:00 AM

The bar at Coca (Stacey Brandford)

Coca: Since chef Nathan Isberg's tapas spot opened in December, people have been raving about his licorice-marinated olives, house-cured serrano ham, and Catalan-style coca (flatbread) topped with chorizo and applesauce. On most weekends, the wait for a seat at the bar is upward of an hour, but there's a cozy dining room with a fireplace upstairs. 783 Queen St. W., 416/703-0783, tapas from $4.

7 Numbers: Customers at Rosa Marinuzzi's casual Italian restaurant happily wedge themselves into a hodgepodge of 1950s-diner-style chairs set around worn wooden tables just to taste her crispy panfried calamari--the best in Toronto. The lamb shank, which is braised in red wine with peas, onion, and rosemary, is so tender that a knife is unnecessary. 307 Danforth Ave., 416/469-5183, entrées from $7. Closed Mon.

Okay Okay: Behind its nondescript façade, tiny Okay Okay is a retro diner that does brunch right, from plate-size blueberry buttermilk flapjacks to eggs Bearnadette (which comes topped with béarnaise sauce instead of hollandaise). Arrive early to snag either a swivel stool at the counter or one of the five worn-leather booths, or be prepared to wait. 1128 Queen St. E., 416/461-2988, entrées from $5. Closed Mon. and Tues.

Niagara Street Café: In a small converted house on a quiet side street, chef Michael Caballo uses local, seasonal, and organic ingredients to create Mediterranean-inspired dishes like roasted rabbit and grilled hanger steak. An upstairs wine bar, which opened in March, sells plates of charcuterie and dozens of wines by the glass. 169 Niagara St., 416/703-4222, entrées from $15. Closed Mon. and Tues.

California Sandwiches: The best sandwiches aren't made in a Toronto restaurant but in the back of a former grocery store in Little Italy by three generations of women from the Papa and Bertucci families. The line of cops, firemen, and construction workers is a testament to the quality of the veal, sausage, and eggplant paninis. 244 Claremont St., 416/603-3317, sandwiches from $5. Closed Sun.

Clafouti: When the doors of this teensy patisserie open at 8 a.m., there are always a bunch of cars idling illegally outside. Commuters dart in for hot croissants or a pain au chocolat, knowing they sell out before lunchtime. If you're not in a rush, you can enjoy yours with a steaming bowl of café au lait at one of the three small tables. 915 Queen St. W., 416/603-1935. Closed Mon.