An Eater’s Guide to Montreal
Old Montreal | Shutterstock
Unofficial, highly opinionated information about the Belle Province’s largest city Easily the largest French-speaking metropolis in North America, Montreal is a cultural junction — and its wide array of food, from poutine to fine French cuisine, reflects that. From internationally famous restaurants to low-key neighbourhood haunts, this guide will direct you to the best Montreal has to offer. But note: the city remains under a lockdown order restricting restaurants to takeout and delivery for the time being.
Welcome to the Land of Maple
With the obligatory maple reference out of the way, let’s clear something up: Montreal is not France. Some visitors see a few cobblestone streets and subsequently describe the city as “so European,” but that’s not so, although Montrealers do speak French. The city is French-influenced, but also takes cues from the hefty expanses of English North America around it — that’s why you can find a decent burger, for example. A distinctive immigrant diaspora also makes the city unique. Newcomers to Montreal are often from French-speaking countries, like Haiti or Algeria, giving the city different demographics — and cuisines — to English-speaking Toronto.
This means that no one influence — French, American, Caribbean — defines Montreal. This allows for a certain creativity: French techniques are re-applied to eminently local products, like bison. Meat is big (read: Au Pied de Cochon), but a love for all sorts of local produce has crept in, at places like Manitoba, Candide, and many more. Don’t avoid the less-expensive options, though — from a poutine at any number of old school casse-croûtes to a meaty platter at a Haitian hub like Méli Mélo.
Where to Start on Eater Montreal’s Top Maps
Eater puts out a numerous maps detailing the top places and things to eat and drink within a wide range of categories in Montreal. Below, we selected some notable points on our most popular maps to help time-starved eaters prioritize which spots to visit. Also worth checking is our Visitor’s Guide to the city, which gathers a range of other useful maps in one place.
Old Montreal by night
Essential Restaurants: There are 38 great places on this guide, but commonly cited “can’t miss” spots are the oh-so-Québécois Au Pied de Cochon (not recommended for anybody looking to eat light), Normand Laprise’s famed part-French, part-local-produce Old Montreal spot Toqué, and the ridiculously creative Le Mousso. For something a little cheaper, pick up deeply-flavoured roti filled with curry chicken or goat at Caribbean Curry House or dive into a poutine and burger at modern casse-croûte (snack bar) Chez Tousignant.
New Restaurants: This guide covers restaurants open six months or less, particularly those that are popular or show great promise: at the moment, consider Shanghainese-Taiwanese fare at La Canting, the hyper local bites at Le Mastard in Rosemont, or the carefully spun pastas (and cacio e pepe croissant!) at BarBara.
Brunch: Warning: Montrealers will line up in temperatures well below freezing for brunch, and when indoor dining resumes you can be sure that the places on this map are prone to such queues. Lawrence, with slightly British vibes, is a long-time neighbourhood favourite, while Jewish-deli-meets-brunch-spot Arthurs draws endless lines. For homey fare, Chez Régine is a staple among Rosemont locals, and serves brunch on weekdays (for weekday breakfasts, try this guide).
Québécois Eats: For something a bit more specific to the city or the province of Quebec, Le Club Chasse et Pêche (currently operating under the takeout banner Trifecta) has a solid focus on Quebec’s terroir, while Manitoba just feels so darn Canadian. Joe Beef is oft-cited as a pinnacle of local food, but nabbing a table, when indoor dining is allowed, can be tricky — it’s usually reserved three months in advance.
Jewish Eats: Jewish culinary traditions have shaped Montreal. For staple smoked meat, tourists always visit Schwartz’s, but there are alternatives — Snowdon Deli is very good, and doesn’t have the same line-ups. Fairmount Bagel and Saint-Viateur Bagel are the two places for Montreal-style bagels (most people have a semi-arbitrary preference for one or the other, although St-Viateur has multiple locations). For something more modern, try Hof Kelsten.
Poutine: Quebec’s national dish is available all over the city — guidebooks channel tourists towards La Banquise, which is fine, but neighbourhood spots like Chez Claudette and Paul Patates are better in the eyes of many locals.
Dispatch, one of the city’s top cafés, started out as a truck and now counts three locations
Coffee: Third-wave cafes have popped up everywhere in recent years; Café Myriade is oft-credited as the one that kicked it all off, while Dispatch is the most interesting at present. Café Saint-Henri and Pikolo are also worthy of some love.
Cocktails: Bars have been closed since October 1, with to-go cocktails still off-limits, but when operations rebound, experience the city’s cocktail renaissance at Le Cloakroom, Cold Room, and Nacarat.
French: It might not be France, but there’s some pretty good French fare on offer here. L’Express is the big-name go-to, but La Chronique is an impeccable alternative. Leméac and newer arrival Monarque (temporarily closed) also merit some attention.
Caribbean: Montreal has been a hub for various Caribbean diasporas for a few decades now — including a particularly large Haitian community. Méli Mélo is a longtime Haitian staple, while Kwizinn offers something a little newer, not far away on the St-Hubert Plaza, in a new second location in Verdun.
Pastries: Montreal has a lot of great patisseries — Maison Christian Faure is a big-name French spot, and Patrice Pâtissier leans French with a more modern take. Rhubarbe is a treasured spot for locals, and Cheskie’s is known for its time-honoured babka among other Jewish treats.
Others: We already mentioned poutine and smoked meat, but there’s a guide featuring some other iconic local eats right here. Montreal isn’t a bad burger city, either; the same goes for sandwiches. Lastly, if you’re headed to Quebec City, we have the best restaurants covered for that city too.
Montreal Food ’Hoods to Know
Montreal is broken up into a number of boroughs, but many of those boroughs are made up of smaller neighbourhoods. Here are a few key areas for visitors — especially the food-oriented. For other areas, consult our various neighbourhood guides.
Randall Brodeur/Eater Montreal
Famed Plateau restaurant L’Express
Officially known as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, the Plateau is a large swath of picturesque residential streets, punctuated with major commercial streets like St-Laurent Boulevard and Mont-Royal Avenue. Those arteries are lined with restaurants, shops, and (in some cases) empty storefronts, where incessant roadwork and rent hikes has driven business away. Au Pied de Cochon, along with Schwartz’s (for smoked meat), and La Banquise (for poutine) are three big tourist spots, but there’s much more to see. The area is the hub for Montreal’s Portuguese community, and you can quite literally smell the grilling in the air at times — rotisserie chicken from Ma Poule Mouillé at times generates lines longer than La Banquise across the road. The Plateau is also home to numerous institutions — from the extremely French L’Express to cheaper diner-y spots like Beautys (closed for renovations), Leonard Cohen fave Bagel Etc., and Patati Patata for tiny burgers and tasty poutines. Lastly, there are some gems tucked off the commercial thoroughfares — Le Chien Fumant and Le Quartier Général are stylish neighbourhood bistros.
Atwater Market, on the edge of Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri
Notre-Dame West and Surrounds (Griffintown, Little Burgundy, St-Henri)
This roughly three-kilometre stretch of the Sud-Ouest borough has seen an enormous number of restaurant openings in recent years — so much so that the city changed zoning laws in the area to encourage a more mixed set of businesses. Some say Joe Beef’s success attracted so many more restaurants, but the proximity to downtown probably also helped. When dining rooms are open Joe Beef is typically booked solid, but for now, it (and its siblings, Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon) are offering takeout without the wait. Fiery Foxy, Italian-tinged Tuck Shop, and the Singaporean cuisine at Satay Brothers are other fine options. Finally, don’t go past affordable local mainstays like Green Spot if you’re just in the mood for a burger or poutine, and the Atwater Market has a host of good bets, particularly in warmer months.
Randall Brodeur/Eater Montreal
Wilensky’s Light Lunch in Montreal’s Mile End
Officially part of the Plateau but also its own distinct neighbourhood, Mile End has been shaped by Greek communities (not so present anymore) and Jewish ones, and is known as an arts hub. That has shifted recently, but it’s still a lovely place even if rising rents have pushed out some iconic hubs. Tourists will go for bagels (either at Fairmount or St-Viateur), but a special at Wilensky’s is arguably more of an experience. Neighbourhood spots abound here — Le Butterblume does creative German-inspired breakfasts and lunches, while Larrys is an excellent go-to for anything from wine to breakfast to dinner. Don’t leave the area without grabbing a fresh and fruity ice cream from Kem Coba (closed in winter).
The Jean-Talon Market, near Little Italy
Little Italy and “Mile Ex”
Visitors will often come to this area to visit the Jean-Talon Market (which has solid food on-site), but it’s worth sticking around for a few meals. For Italian, Impasto and Pizzeria Gema are among the best, or consider grabbing great Thai at casual counter Épicerie Pumpui. Just west of Little Italy and St-Laurent Boulevard is so-called “Mile Ex” (official name Marconi-Alexandra), irritatingly billed as the up-and-coming neighbourhood in Montreal. This is a little confusing, as there’s not actually much in the neighbourhood — but what’s there is good. Dinette Triple Crown is the place for fried chicken and smoked brisket as good as you can get in the South, while Manitoba and Le Diplomate are notable for their creative takes on local flavours. Grab a pulled-pork sandwich from Dépanneur Le Pick-Up (temporarily closed) and a coffee from Dispatch if you want something lighter.
Stephane Lavoie/Eater Montreal
Inside Un Po’ di Più
Courtesy of its cobblestones and general oldness, Old Montreal (sometimes referred to as the Old Port) is typically the most touristy part of the city, and has a correspondingly high numbers of shitty restaurants. With ongoing travel restrictions and remote working still in place, many of the restaurants in the area are on hiatus until things pick up again. When indoor dining does resume, high-end spots like Toqué and Le Club Chasse et Pêche offer something local and special. It can be tougher to find something more casual, but places like Dandy and Un Po’ di Più have shaken up the neighbourhood’s reputation of consisting of only high-end fare and tourist traps. Olive & Gourmando (for sandwiches and general lunching) and Polish restaurant Stash Café (temporarily closed) are two older exceptions to this rule; check out the magnificent Crew Collective & Café, too, in a glamorous former bank building.
Place des Arts in summer
Place des Arts/Quartier des Spectacles
Not exactly a neighbourhood, but it’s the hub for large events like Just For Laughs and the Jazz Festival — when they are held. (In 2020, both summer events were cancelled, with their viability for 2021 still up in the air.) On the higher end, Bouillon Bilk’s French-but-modern fare is the most reputable option (currently offering takeout), but Japanese-Peruvian spot Tiradito and former Agrikol chef Paul Toussaint’s new hit Kamúy (temporarily closed) also merit attention. Darbar is a solid bet for northern Indian eats, and a little cheaper. If you’re really budgeting, just hit up the Pool Room for a poutine or steamé (hot dog), since the cheap options around here are a very mixed bag. New food hall Le Central also added a big injection of new dining options to the area.
Montreal’s seemingly endless summertime construction work
Montreal (and Quebec) Glossary of Terms
Déjeuner, dîner, and souper
This is breakfast, lunch, and dinner (respectively) in Quebec French. These terms are different to France, where it’s petit déjeuner, déjeuner, and dîner, in that order.
This one is mostly for Americans: on a French-language menu, “entrée” refers to an appetizer, while “plat” or “plat principal” refers to a main. On an English menu, an appetizer will often be called just that (or sometimes in Quebec, it’ll be called an entrée, even in English), with “main plate” or something to that effect for your main course.
5 à 7
Literally “five to seven,” but pronounced in French as “cinq à sept”, it means “happy hour.” Yes, happy hour is two hours (you’ll sometimes encounter “4 à 7s” or “5 à 8s” as well).
“Snack bar” is the official translation, although a casse-croûte usually resembles a diner, serving poutine, burgers, hot dogs, and greasy breakfasts.
Roughly the same as prix fixe: a set-price menu with just a few options for each course.
A restaurant or bar patio. Smoking tobacco or cannabis is banned on terrasses and rooftops in Quebec.
Some dub it Canada’s national dish, but it’s a Quebec specialty, and this is the only province where you can reliably find good takes on it. A classic poutine has fries and cheese curds (grated cheese is an aberration), topped with a gravy. Diners are a good place for it; they’ll usually sell options with toppings like bacon, sausage, or vegetables.
Sugar shack (cabane à sucre)
A restaurant typically found on a maple farm, serving ham, pancakes, eggs and other foods meant to be doused with maple syrup. They’re usually open around March and April, when maple trees are being tapped for sap, and are located outside the city (although a few restaurants in the city offer sugar shack menus). In 2020, the coronavirus hit right at the start of sugaring season, leading one-quarter of the province’s 200 sugar shacks to shutter. In anticipation of another year without full-fledged festivities, many are offering takeout versions of their delicacies in 2021.
A Montreal specialty: beef brisket cured in spices, then smoked, served on rye with mustard at Jewish delis like tourist hubs Schwartz’s and Snowdon Deli. Many Montrealers don’t eat it as much as tourist books would have you think.
Inside St-Viateur Bagel
Wood-fired bagels of Jewish origin, unique to Montreal. They are smaller than New York bagels, much less doughy, and have a hint of sweetness. St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel are the two big bakeries. Eat them fresh or freeze them — they turn into rocks if left out for long.
A large meat pie often cooked around Christmas season. It’s more of a rural Quebec specialty, and isn’t terribly common in Montreal.
Literally “unemployment pudding” — a cakey, maple syrup dessert born in Depression-era Quebec.
Not to be confused with Nashville hot chicken, this Quebec specialty consists of plain ol’ white bread with rotisserie chicken inside, topped with gravy and peas. Nominally a sandwich, it’s a knife-and-fork job, obviously, and usually served at diner or casse-croûte type spots.
Exactly what it sounds like — pizza and spaghetti fused in one (sometimes the pasta placed alongside the pizza instead). This strange and tacky dish is endemic to Quebec, and is most often found at family restaurants or casse-croûtes.
Bar and restaurant permits
Newly passed liquor legislation means that once restaurant dining rooms reopen they’ll finally be able to serve alcohol for consumption on premise, without customers also ordering food. Until then, they can sell wine and beer for takeout with a food item, but still pre-mixed cocktails to-go are still a no-go.
A convenience store that sells beer and bad wine. If you want hard liquor, you’ll have to go to the government-owner liquor store, the SAQ.
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Houses on the Plateau
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