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Matthew McConaughey arrives at the pre-screening dinner for Dallas Buyers Club, presented by InStyle at Hudson Kitchen. (InStyle/George Pimentel Photography)
Matthew McConaughey arrives at the pre-screening dinner for Dallas Buyers Club, presented by InStyle at Hudson Kitchen. (InStyle/George Pimentel Photography)

2013 in review

Eat, drink and be buzzy: Toronto’s hottest spots in 2013 Add to ...

Delicious food and drink is fine and all, but to earn the elusive hot spot title, a venue needs more than a great menu. Here is a round up of the year’s most essential destinations, or the see-and-be-scenesters’ guide to going out.

Hudson Kitchen

Getting Brad Pitt to a previously unknown venue in Little Portugal to celebrate his TIFF movie 12 Years A Slave was impressive. Getting his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston to the same off-radar resto just a few days later was the free-PR coup of the fest by far. The team at Hudson Kitchen offered a master class in pre-opening hype by hosting both of the biggest celebs in Toronto (who just happen to be two points on modernity’s most notorious love triangle). The 12 Years a Slave party – where Mr. Pitt was joined by co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender – was a particularly celebratory affair given that (a) the movie scored fantastic post-screening/pre-Oscar buzz and (b) the biggest movie star on the planet got to hang out in a rare camera-free environment. Needless to say, reservations in the weeks that followed were solid-celebrity-marriage-level scarce.

Bar Isabel

Foodies, hipsters, critics, other chefs, Kenny from Kenny vs. Spenny – was there anyone who didn’t go nuts for Grant van Gameren’s Little Italy tapas joint, named the city’s best new restaurant by The Globe, Canada’s best new restaurant by En Route magazine and topping dozens of other “year’s best” lists? The food is amazing, the reservation book eternally jammed and the kitchen keeps cooking until 2 a.m. (Torontonians noshing on grilled octopus into the wee hours – if that’s not world-class, what is?)

Big Crow

A year ago, Anthony Rose left his long-time post at the Drake Hotel to open Rose and Sons. Last summer, he launched a downhome BBQ joint out back. Big Crow’s picnic tables have been flanked by the city’s facial-hair dignitaries ever since: In July, celebrity scruff-sporter Robert Pattinson was the guest of honour at a private wrap party for David Cronenberg’s lastest movie, A Map To the Stars, hosted by uber-producer Marty Katz.

Soho House

A year in and the England implant arts-industry-only club is making the transition from it spot to institution, playing host to dozens of VIP post-parties (post-screening, post-fashion show, post-concert). As far as unforgettable TIFF moments go, Taylor Swift going fan-girl on Julia Roberts at Soho’s second-floor bistro would be hard to top. Throughout the film fest, members mingled with celebs on the new rooftop patio, which was several months late in opening, but when you’re sharing air with Michael Fassbender, who’s counting?

The generally rigid Soho brand has done a good job adapting to local customs: Their excellent Sunday brunch is all-you-can-eat (and all you can watch), and when the Brit version of the Caesar was poo-pooed by Canadian cocktailers (no rim? no Clamato?), the bartending powers switched to the homegrown version.

Playa Cabana

A scathing review from this newspaper notwithstanding, the Toronto taco titan has been in ongoing expansion mode, exploding from one location to four in the last year. Wait times for walk-in tables are reliably long and the food built up an impressive list of celebrity fans such as Claire Danes, Laurence Fishburne and Drake, who rented out the top floor at the Hacienda location on Dupont for a private party.

The Chase

After hosting a series of high star-power parties over TIFF, this financial district addition quickly became the must-name-drop reservation for epicures of a certain means. The $71 roast chicken (stuffed with foie gras) is the most high-profile poultry event to hit Toronto since KFC’s Double Down sandwich – and in this case, ordering it leads to bragging rights, not a triple bypass.

Momofuku Daisho

It was a tough year for beef in Toronto (ahem, Cronut burger), but you wouldn’t know it from the steady flow of high-rollers coughing up $600 for chef David Chang’s signature steak (which society-watcher Shinan Govani dubbed “the f-you rib eye.”) Suggested for 6-8 people, it was the 65-day dry-aged status symbol of the year.

Café Nervosa

This Yorkville mainstay got a breath of fresh buzz when the current Queen of Pop enjoyed a pre-concert meal there along with her hubby Jay-Z and baby Blue Ivy Carter (making her Canadian paparazzi debut). The Twittersphere went batty with word that Beyoncé was lunching among the little people. By the time the Knowles-Carters made their camera-ready exit, a mob of hundreds had gathered outside. Breaking international headline: Blue Ivy likes spaghetti!!

Cabana Pool Bar

Leave it to local club king Charles Khabouth to bring South Beach to YYZ. Whether club beats, bikini clad wait staff and/or a topless Justin Bieber (who hung poolside with his posse in July) are your thing, there’s no denying that Polson Pier has gotten a serious upgrade.

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