Ajax, a Greater Toronto Area town nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario, Canada, is home to a vibrant dining community that proves you don’t have to go into the big city for great food. Here you can find everything from hearty pub grub to authentic Portuguese and Afghani eats. Check out our guide to Ajax’s top local eats for restaurants you just can’t miss.
Bringing hip, European-style café dining to the heart of downtown Ajax, Debbie’s Boutique Café first opened its doors in late 2010. Since then it has become a local dining go-to for lovers of simple, yet tasty café fare and organic coffee. Choose from paninis, healthy salads and European-inspired sandwiches stuffed with fillings like Black Forest ham, brie, homemade apple chutney and dried cranberries or roasted chicken breast with zucchini and Portobello mushrooms. Or simply grab a cup of organic cappuccino and one of Debbie’s desserts; the French vanilla lemon curd cake and cinnamon buns are particularly delicious.
Voted the town’s Best Pub in the 2014 Ajax-Pickering Readers’ Choice Awards, The Portly Piper is a local dining must-try for lovers of hearty pub grub and draught beers. Inside, The Portly Piper is decked out traditional pub-style: comfy, cozy and unpretentious with plenty of flat screen TVs showing sports. The Portly Piper’s extensive menu features something for everybody from typical pub eats like fish and chips, sandwiches, and burgers to Italian dishes like seafood linguine and Asian inspired fare like pad Thai. Don’t leave without trying its famous buffalo wings available with sauces including honey garlic and chipotle habanero.
Nestled in the heart of Ajax’s quaint, historic Pickering Village, Casa Verde is one of the town’s most popular Italian restaurants since it first opened over 20 years ago. Located in a beautiful, green-painted historic house, Casa Verde’s classically elegant interior makes it perfect for a romantic meal while head chef and owner Robert Scagliotti’s authentic Italian menu never fails to delight. Try pasta dishes including spaghetti con polpette with veal meatballs and tomato sauce or an entrée of involtini di pollo (ham and cheese-stuffed chicken breast in a creamy mushroom sauce). Be sure to treat yourself to one of Casa Verde’s Italian vintage wines.
Hailed as the best Japanese restaurant in town in the 2014 Ajax-PickeringReaders’ Choice Awards, Makimono is a stylish, contemporary restaurant perfect for fans of authentic sushi and Japanese cuisine. Combine appetizers like crab meat tempura and tuna tataki with entrees such as jumbo shrimp teriyaki with sir-fried vegetables or pork katsu udon. Or choose from a range of sushi rolls, nigiri and sashimi like the spicy scallop, flying fish roe and octopus. Better yet, hungry diners can take advantage of Makimono’s all you can eat lunch and dinner menus and stuff themselves with sushi to their heart’s content.
Maimana gets its name from a city in northern Afghanistan known for its deep-rooted culinary tradition that, as a historic cultural crossroads, combines Afghani cuisine with elements of central Asian, Greek, Indian and Persian fare. Start with mantoo (steamed dumpling shells filled with ground beef, onion and red pepper served with yoghurt-mint sauce) before trying one of Maimana’s legendary kebabs, which include chicken tandoori, beef tikka and lamb chop and are served with rice or fries, crispy salad and fresh naan bread. Complete your Afghani culinary experience with a traditional dessert of ferni, a light, cardamom-flavored milk pudding topped with walnuts.
Safari Bar & Grill, Ajax | Courtesy of The Red Kitchen
Safari Bar & Grill
Located in historic Pickering Village, Safari Bar & Grill is a popular local restaurant serving eclectic, international fare that recently celebrated its 10th year in business. Split over two floors, Safari Bar & Grill’s upstairs level is home to a huge patio and its main dining room, a stylish, inviting space decked in exposed brick and plush banquette seating. Guests can enjoy sharing plates, pizzas and burger alongside dishes like Thai rice noodles or New York strip steak. Head downstairs to Safari Bar & Grill’s billiard room and lounge to enjoy post-dinner drinks to the sound of live music.
Since first opening its doors in 2013, The Red Kitchen has been wowing local diners with its authentic Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine. A hidden gem tucked away in the Harwood Plaza mall, it’s a stylish, modern space decked out in southeast Asian-inspired art and manned by friendly, knowledgeable staff. Choose from appetizers like Thai shrimp rolls and satay chicken, and a variety of pho, including rare beef and tripe or beef brisket and meatball. Follow with entrees that include Thai green curry and mee soon goreng, a Malaysian dish of wok-fried vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts and vegetables in sambal sauce with a choice of shrimp, beef or chicken.
For authentic, traditional Portuguese fare look no further than Churrasco of Portugal, a restaurant opened in early 2013 by owners Sonia Branco and Isabel Correia, which is popular for its tasty, affordable eats. Isabel, who is also the restaurant’s head chef, cooks up delicious dishes available to take-out or eat in the restaurant’s vibrant dining room. The grilled sardines with boiled potatoes and grilled peppers, or arroz de marisco, a rice-based dish crammed with lobster, clams and shrimp are standouts. But if you try only one dish, make sure its Churrasco of Portugal’s famous rotisserie chicken with piri piri sauce.
Often hailed as one of Ajax’s best watering holes, Magwyers Pub is a lively downtown hotspot serving traditional pub grub with a modern twist alongside a 20-plus selection of domestic and imported beers on tap. Relax in its cozy, welcoming interior, think traditional British pub with plenty of dark woods and comfy seating, while sampling dishes like Montreal-style smoked beef brisket sandwich, chicken pot pie or beer-battered haddock and chips. But for a real taste of what the pub is all about, opt for one of its signature dishes like Magwyers poutine, house-made fries topped with cheese curds, beef gravy and popcorn chicken.
Boasting the largest selection of artisan and farmstead cheeses in all of Ajax, Country Cheese Company is a must-do for any budding cheese connoisseurs. While it’s not strictly a restaurant, Country Cheese Country is ideal for stopping by and picking up a few vital picnic ingredients. It sells a mean range of build-your-own artisan paninis available with cheeses like Applewood smoked cheddar or Ossau-Iraty and topping sincluding spicy apple-cranberry chutney or gif balsamic compote. Alongside its massive range of Canadian and international cheeses, Country Cheese Company also sells a range artisan cheese boards, gifts and accompaniments like crackers and chutneys.