Explore one of the most vibrant food scenes in Canada
Montreal has a reputation for being a city of excess, whether food-related or otherwise.
There are plenty of stereotypes; the hunt for late night poutine, the abundance of foie, and Mile End bagel rivalries abound. Waiting in line for smoked meat at Schwartz’s, or fried bologna sandwiches at Wilensky’s are definitely things to add to your Montreal bucket list, but they are surely not the be all end all when it comes to eating out in Quebec’s largest city.
First things first, if you want a stellar Montreal dining experience, you have to look further than the tourist centres. The architecture in Old Port is amazing, and Notre Dame Basilica is a marvel to look at, but choosing to eat in this part of town more or less means settling for a non-descript, probably over-priced meal. Yes, Chuck Hughes’, Garde Manger is in Old Port, and there are other restaurants worth visiting, but I would recommend walking away from the cobblestone streets to find a more out of the way dining destination.
When people ask the No. 1 must-visit restaurant in Montreal, I say without hesitation, Le Mousso. Having lived in the city for less than a year, it is the place I have frequented most. Their tasting menu is a bit of a splurge, but for $60 a pop, it is above and beyond what you would get at any American or European Michelin star restaurant for the same or greater value. Chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard’s food is nothing short of genius, with dishes like deconstructed borscht, and blood sponge cake with shallot ice cream. If it sounds unnerving, I can promise you, it’s not.
If you are looking for something a bit more budget-friendly, take advantage of the city’s abundance of BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine – or beer) restaurants – corkage fees not required. Le P’tit Plateau has been around for decades, and is serving up French favourites like duck confit and foie gras terrine. Their braised lamb shank is a sight to behold as well – a massive hunk of meat that could easily feed two.
Khyber Pass is also an unassuming option, serving Afghani food along one of Montreal’s most restaurant-dense streets, Duluth. This street is also home to Le Prunelle (also BYOW), the popular Le Réservoir microbrewery, and the iconic Au Pied de Cochon.
Speaking of Au Pied, if you plan your trip to Montreal well in advance, try to get a reservation at their Cabane à Sucre, or Sugar Shack. Located about 45 minutes westof downtown Montreal, they offer seasonal feasts during both the sugaring off (spring) and harvest (fall) seasons.
In between meals, it is always important to find snacks to fuel your travels, and Montreal has plenty of those to go around. If salt is your thing, the frites at Patati Patata are an addictive, crispy treat, and the poutine – yes the beloved Montreal poutine – at Greenspot Diner is guaranteed to hit the proverbial spot.
On the sweeter side of life, the chocolate babka (a decadent chocolate swirl bread) at Hof Kelsten cannot be missed, nor the buttery kouignamann at the appropriately named Patisserie Kouign-Amann. For the best bread in the city, I would recommend Boulangerie Guillame on St. Laurent. You cannot go wrong with any of their loaves, especially the quinoa and sesame, or the traditional levain.
You can take advantage of the city’s laisse-faire public drinking laws, pop into the SAQ (Quebec’s provincial liquor store) for a chilled bottle of rose, pick up some charcuterie from Les Cochons Tout Ronds and some cheese from Fromagerie Hamel (I would recommend Bleu d’Elizabeth from Quebec), and head to the nearest park for a picnic. Parc Jarry is closest to Jean-Talon Market, but Parc La Fontaine and Parc Jeanne-Mance are both popular destinations during the summertime.
If you’re in the Little Italy area and would rather have a sit-down meal, Salmigondis is a sure bet for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Their sister restaurant, Arts Café, over in the Plateau, is also a local favourite for a well-made latte or a glass of wine with dinner, not to mention it is right down the street from the Montreal institution, Fairmount bagel.
Montreal is an amazing destination for food on a superficial level, but delve deeper into some of the more obscure local offerings, and you will never want to leave.