My food guide to Montreal
For those interested in exploring the Montreal food scene a bit, you’re likely to be happily surprised. Montreal is a great eating city, surely among the best in North America. Though generally associated with its French heritage—and you’ll see that many of the restaurants on this list tilt toward the Franco—Montreal’s food, in line with Canada’s immigration patterns, goes well beyond the bilingual.
One feature to highlight about Montreal restaurants is the existence of many outstanding BYOBs. Bringing your own wine of course keeps the total bill way down, making for some of the best value eating—especially if you’re used to overpriced restaurants in many U.S. cities.
I’ve organized this fairly eclectically: just a bunch of my favorite restaurants, with a sampling of various cultures, mostly reflecting Montreal’s heritage of immigrant flows. In fact, I’ve gone beyond restaurants to include take-out joints, bakeries, and, for those who are really dedicated, a few supermarkets. I’ve also added a little food tour of the Jean Talon Market and its environs. If you like markets this is not to be missed.
Note that I haven’t included any addresses or phone numbers here, but I’ve created a with most of these spots highlighted. It should be possible to print this map out, and I think clicking on any of the places will give you exact addresses and phone numbers.
Jean-Talon Market Food Tour
Start at the Jean-Talon Market, located not too far from the De Castelneau or the Jean-Talon Metro stops. The market is located in the Italian neighborhood—open every day, but best on a summer weekend day when you can try lots of different foods.
Talon is one of
And then of course just to the east of the market is Little Italy. I have yet to find a decent and reasonably-priced restaurant in the neighborhood, which is too bad, but there are lots of excellent food stores and cafés to be found, some of which I’ve mentioned below.
For a nice Jean Talon food tour, start at the market, browse away and discover—there is lots to see. A few spots I most love include:
· Havre aux glaces. Terrific ice creams—possibly the best in Montreal.
· Olives et Épices. One of the most amazing spice stores I’ve ever seen. The guys who run it have literally scoured the world in a mad quest for the most exotic spices they can find. This place is amazing.
· Boucherie An-Nasr. Don’t leave the market without trying the kafta sandwich here. My favorite, located on the south side of the market, the little alley that runs between Henri Julien and Casgrain. Next to the other butcher that grills lamb and smells delicious. But the sandwich here is better. The meat is delicious, and the sandwich is nicely spiced. This competes for the title of best sandwich shop with Farhat (see below).
· Hamel. Fantastic cheesemonger. Yannick might have slightly more esoteric cheese, but Hamel is livelier and funner. Sample not just the usual raw-milk cheeses from France but also the excellent Québécois cheeses.
Once you leave the market, walk over to Blvd. Saint-Laurent, where the Italian shops dominate. Check out, among others:
Caffé Italia. On
most days you’ll find a group of (I assume) retired men standing outside and
arguing with each other in Italian. The inside is a throwback to an earlier
· Anatol spices. Without question one of my favorite stores in Montreal, selling almost every possible spice, tea, herb, nut, dried fruit, and various mixes of them all, sold sold en vrac (in bulk) at shockingly good value. It is not as high end as Olives et Épices, in the market (see above)—which surely wouldn’t deign to sell MSG or hollandaise sauce powder, for instance—but it is utterly lacking in pretension, and precisely for that reason a wonderful place. It’s possible to browse the aisles for quite a while. The owner, Greek, is the second or third generation to run the shop, and he seems committed to avoiding the yuppification so rife elsewhere.
· Milano. One of the better markets in Montreal. Tilts to the Italian, of course, with some great cheeses and deli meats, home-made sausages, and of course an immense variety of pasta and coffee.
Jews compose one of Montreal’s main immigrant
communities. They came in the same waves that brought Jews to
Mainly they settled in the Mile End and
The food traces of the early waves of Jewish immigration are everywhere. The Montreal Bagel and smoked meat (on which, see below) are the most famous markers. Much skinnier and chewier and slightly sweeter than the New York variety, I wasn’t impressed with the Montreal bagel when I first moved here. I’ve grown to love them, however, and now I find the New York version too fluffy. Sesame or poppy seed are the two classics. The two most famous bagel shops are to be found in the Mile End neighborhood, both named after the streets on which they’re located: Fairmount and St. Viateur. My loyalties now lie firmly with the latter. If you pressed me for why, I’d answer that there are too many bagel flavors at Fairmount for the place to be trustworthy. But then again perhaps I’m a St. Viateur man because it’s closer to my apartment. In any even it’s a matter of great debate in Montreal. Try them both and decide for yourself.
Olive et Gourmando. This is the only really great place to eat that I’ve found in Old Montreal—and it really is great. Fantastic pastries, sandwiches, brownies, coffee. I haven’t eaten anything bad here.
Mamie Clafoutis. Started by a former baker at Première Moisson, this is, in my view, now the best bakery in the
neighborhood. Perhaps in
Première Moisson. A chain, and the one on Bernard happens to be my very close neighbor. It is always good, and occasionally outstanding. The pastries are very good, and I particularly like their sourdough croissant. The bread, however, is not crusty enough for my taste. Still, a fresh baguette is pretty much always good.
Le Fromentier. Shares the space with a cheese counter and a nice meats counter. Many consider this the best bakery in Montreal. Who am I to disagree?
Cheskie’s. A Hasidic bakery and one of the
very few Hasidic commercial establishments that seem to cater to both Hasids and non alike. Be warned: the food here is very
sweet, various killer Rugelach, delicacies filled with cream, and a
remarkable chocolate-peanut bar that must have served as the inspiration for a
certain Mr. Reese when he visited
Chinese are now Montreal’s largest immigrant population. Although they are dispersed around the city, there is a Chinatown, which is located around St. Laurent below René Lévesque, as you head toward Old Montreal. Fun to wander around and check out the shops. If you’re into exotic fruit like durian this is the place you’ll find it. There are lots of restaurants and they are probably worth exploring but the good ones seem to change chefs or owners so often it’s hard to keep up.
Little Sheep. This is a Mongolian hot pot joint. Meaning you get a broth, mild or spicy, and then you pick the food you want from a vast wall of ingredients—vegetables, seafood, meat—you create your own dipping sauce from spices and oils, and you cook the food yourself. It’s all you can eat here. The only rule is that if you leave more than 100 grams of food on the plate you’ll be charged for an extra meal. So eat as much as you want but finish whatever is on your plate! A really fun experience.
Kam Shing. More traditional Chinese fare, but very good. Not in Chinatown. See under “Côte des Neiges,” below.
Ruby Rouge. Decent dim sum. Those of you coming from San Francisco or New York will no doubt turn your noses up, but then what are you eating dim sum in Montreal for anyway? Make sure to get a table near the kitchen because the place is huge and the pickings tend to be limited on the far end of the room.
Montreal is a city that takes its coffee pretty seriously, most likely because of the significant Italian population. There are loads of coffee bars and they are worth exploring. Many of them have their own personalities. Of course there is the homegrown Starbucks-imitating chain, Second Cup, but why do something that generic when there are so many fun independent joints to be tried?
Café Olympico. My all-around
favorite coffee bar. Be warned: there is a bit of a scene here. Thirty-something alternative
chic dominates: black horn-rimmed glasses are strongly recommended, and it’s
best to have a very serious look about you. A well-thumbed book in hand will
certainly help, or at least make a stab and studying one of
Club Social. Just two blocks from Olympico, and their major competition. I’m not sure which place is for the cooler people—I wish I were able to distinguish between such exalted levels—but this joint has its own following. They also serve alcohol, so a place to hang out in the evenings.
Caffé Italia. Very different scene from Olympico but I love it too. See the description above.
Café Crème. I discovered this one when I needed to get my espresso machine fixed. They did a great job and were extremely friendly. While there, I sampled their coffee. Although the place is more of a showroom for espresso machines and other assorted coffee paraphernalia, there are a few tables and most importantly of all: a well-tuned espresso machine. They take their coffee very seriously here. It’s not really a place to hang out—though the staff is exceedingly friendly—but probably the best coffee I’ve had in Montreal.
Chez Benny. I’m sure you can do better in Jerusalem, and Paris’s Rue des Rosiers probably has Chez Benny beat—but if so, it’s a really close call. The falafel sandwiches here are really outstanding. Instead of the usual dry, flavorless mass of chickpeas that sits like a lump of charcoal in your stomach, these are light and fluffy—and they actually have taste. A good taste! Worth the detour in my view, and if you’re in the neighborhood make sure to get a smoked-meat sandwich at the Snowden Deli.
Montreal’s earliest Greek immigrants arrived in
Old Montreal’s port area, shippers and sailors by trade. With the waves of
migration pouring out of
Mythos. Pretty much anything on the menu is good, but my favorites include the grilled octopus and the Québec lamb, which is slow-cooked until it almost melts in your mouth. Delicious. Get a bunch of appetizers to go along, try the salad with pomegranate seeds, get a bottle of ouzo, sit on the terrace on a warm summer evening, and banter with the friendly waiters. Hard to imagine a better night.
Boucherie Hongroise. I admit—I don’t know the first thing about
Hungarian food or about its
Indian/ South Asian
Though nothing like Toronto, Montreal does have a respectable Indian community. Most of the good South Asian shops and restaurant are located on Jean Talon, along the corridor between Acadie and Parc. Try browsing in some of the Sri Lankan, Pakistani, or Indian shops. Here is where you come for Indian mangoes when they’re in season.
Bombay Mahal. My favorite
Adonis. OK, so it’s not a restaurant. It’s
a supermarket. Though it does serve plenty of prepared food
that can be eaten sur place. And it’s a great
supermarket, catering to
Byblos. Lovely brunch place. Try to arrive before 11, when it starts to get very crowded. I love the scrambled egg dish with thyme—the texture of the eggs is unique, and excellent. Lots of terrific little breads and jams and juices. If you like rosewater—which always tastes like soap to my unrefined palate—well, you’re in for a treat. Great way to start a lazy weekend day.
Marché Akhavan. This is not a restaurant but rather a Persian supermarket. Wonderful stuff, lots of spices, and certainly the best selection of pistachios to be had this side of the Red Sea.
Someone once told me they didn’t like Portuguese food: too much fat, salt, and sugar. Funny, I replied, those are the three reasons I love it.
The Portuguese have left a real stamp on
Romados. Probably the best grilled chicken to be had on this side of the Atlantic. The lines are always huge. Pretty amazing place: they must go through 500 chickens on a slow day. Avoid lunch time on weekends and if you are getting take out, call ahead and you can get into the privileged line. Be warned: they close at 8 and the chicken often runs out a bit before. My advice is to get the chicken spicy sauce. And the fries, which are coated with a little spicy salt mix and are incredible. You come for the chicken, of course, but there are also delicious pastries to be had, along with Portuguese corn bread. After extensive testing, I’ve come to the conclusion that Romados serves the best pasteis de nata in Montreal. Of course this is a very personal matter and Rosario (below) certainly gives them a run for their money.
Le Vintage. Very different scene from Romados. Sit down restaurant, classy, though with home-style food. I love it. The clam and pork dish is great. On Thursdays at lunch they have a roast suckling pig: but you have to reserve the dish ahead. The wines are Portuguese and big and fairly reasonably priced—as is the restaurant. Considerably cheaper than the more famous Café Ferreira, and although the food is quite different I think this place has Ferreira beat.
Patisserie Notre-Dame Du Rosaire. There are lots of pickings on rue Rachel but this bakery stands out for the quality of the pastries and for the fact that although there are masses of pastries to be had, there never seems to be anyone in the store. Quite puzzling. Try the Pasteis de nata (custard tarts) here. Maybe not up to Lisbon standards, but they’re still pretty amazing. Lots of other options too, except low-cal.
This is the quintessential Québec dish: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. You’ve got the starch, the dairy, and the meat: a perfectly balanced meal, and in fact I have often seen a towering plate of poutine ordered as an entire meal. Personally, my view is that you cannot properly appreciate a poutine unless it’s eaten at 3 am on the tail end of a night of drinking: but then I don’t have Québec blood flowing in my veins. There are many theories as to how, where, and when poutine was invented, but whatever the truth I’m pretty sure it must have involved alcohol and late nights.
is to be had everywhere, but I recommend going to a place that specializes in
it. For a full review of the
La Banquise. My favorite for several reasons: they are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; the scene is hilarious, especially after midnight (when, for obvious reasons, you pay the bill before getting your food); the variety of tattoos visible on the wait staff’s bodies; and most of all the selection of poutine, which is quite remarkable. I usually go for something with a bit of spice to it, but they’re all pretty damn good.
Québécois/ French/ Bistro
tends to the heavy: presumably the calories were necessary for people living
and working in the cold climate. Gamy meats are a specialty: caribou, deer, and
other northern animals often featured on local menus.
Au Pied de Cochon. A must-stop on any
Yoyo. Perhaps my favorite BYOB in
Au Petit Extra. Serving mostly French food, this slightly out-of the way restaurant is everything a great Parisian bistro should be but usually isn’t. It’s worth the trek in my view. Stick with the table d’hôte, which is an excellent value. Lots of excellent wines at very reasonable prices. I’ve never had a bad meal there. Note that this restaurant is one of the few to be open on Mondays.
La Colombe. Québécois, BYOB. Right next door to Au Pied de Cochon. I think everything here is a table d’hôte, which is a plus in my view. The food is a bit eccentric, so be aware that you may encounter things like caribou steak. The desserts were, if I remember, a strong suit here. But the whole meal was excellent.
Léméac. Solid French restaurant, excellent food, lovely terrace, lively ambience, excellent service, great looking place. And yet restaurants with these qualities are a dime a dozen in Montreal. This one makes my list because after 10pm (22h00) there is a prix-fixe menu priced at $22 for three courses, making it without question of the best values in town.
Les Trois Bouchons. Nice wine bar on Saint-Denis that serves very good food. A bit pricey but it’s easy to share here and if you want to enjoy a few nice glasses of wine with some bites to eat, and you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth a stop.
L’Express. In all the tourist guides and on most peoples’ list of place to go. It’s true that the restaurant is absolutely lovely, with a zinc counter and tile ceiling. The food is solid. The wine list fairly reasonable. It has many fans and you won’t go wrong—though to be perfectly honest I think it’s overrated.
Le Continental. Another excellent French-style bistro. The city really is full of them. I’ll stop here.
Toqué. One of if not the most expensive restaurant in
(Peruvian). Delicious roast chicken
joint. Not sure you’re getting
the summum of Peruvian food, but this is really
terrific comfort food in my book. Note
that despite the Bar-BQ reference the chicken is roasted not grilled. But it is terrifically juicy, and they make
one of the better chicken sandwiches to be had in
Barros Luco (Chilean). A small family restaurant located on the corner of Fairmount and St. Urbain, in the ever-hip Mile End neighborhood. The Barros Luco sandwich is available in either steak or chicken, and is delicious: call it a Chile Cheese Steak (it’s better than the Philly variety). Make sure to get an order of nachos and guacamole, which is outstanding. They serve some in the sandwich but you’ll want more. Lovely and friendly neighborhood joint in every respect.
Boucherie et Grillade
Farhat (Lebanese). This is a Middle-Eastern butcher and
food mart, but they make grilled sandwiches that are, in my humble opinion, the
See also: Adonis (Shawarma), under Lebanese; Chez Benny, under Falafel; An-Nasr (Moroccan), under Jean Talon food tour; Olive et Gourmando, under Bakeries; and of course the Smoked Meat section, below.
The other quintessential
Schwartz’s “Charcuterie Hébraïque.”
far the most famous restaurant in
Snowdon Deli. Actually I like the food here better than Schwartz’s, though it is not nearly as famous and is more out of the way for tourists. Overlooking a sunken but exposed highway, it’s hard to think of a less pleasant pedestrian neighborhood. If you’re a true fan of deli food, however, you’ll want to make the pilgrimage (note that it’s just around the corner from the Snowden metro stop). The smoked meat here is spicier than the other places I’ve tried—be sure to get the old-fashioned—cut thicker, and it’s great. The ambience is nothing to write home about, unless you like to see old Jewish couples quarreling over a pile of chopped liver, but the sandwiches can’t be beat. Oh—try the chopped liver, which is made from calf and not chicken liver, and is quite a bit stronger. Delicious with the grilled onions. And give the sour tomatoes a go if you like vinegary food. If you do make the trek, save some room for a falafel sandwich from Chez Benny.
L’entrecôte Saint-Jean. The menu offers narrow selection of food. In fact, patrons are limited to exactly four choices: (1) steak-frites; (2) salad and steak-frites; (3) soup, salad, and steak-frites; or (4) soup, salad, steak-frites, and profiteroles. But hey, if you do only one thing, you do it well, right? The steak is topped with a pepper sauce that I once disapproved of—why drown a nice steak with sauce?—but have grown to really appreciate over the years. It’s the only good downtown eatery I know, but then I don’t spend much time in the neighborhood.
Moishe’s. You don’t come to Montreal to eat at a U.S.-style steakhouse, and if you’re having a hankering for steak I’d opt for l’Entrecôte Saint-Jean. But if for some reason you really need a high-end steak joint, this is the place to go, since it has a slight Montreal twist. Jewish-owned, Moishe’s brings rye bread and coleslaw to every table along with the drinking water: nice touch. The rest is more or less what you might expect from a really good steakhouse.
Mikado. Montreal ain’t San Francisco or Honolulu, and no doubt things are more exciting in Vancouver, but this is the best sushi I’ve had in the city. And frankly I think it stands up pretty well to any of the more famous sushi cities. Though I’m a bit sad they gave up the upstairs, slightly out of the way setting for a newer and trendier spot, I find the food hard to beat. A bit pricey (count on $40 to $50 per head when all is said and done), but worth the cost in my view. Don’t just stick with sushi—try a few of the appetizers, and definitely order a special, which are invariably good. Reservations are advisable for weekend nights.
My immediate neighborhood: Ave. Bernard in Outremont
It’s a cliché, I realize. I speak with a French accent and I live in Outremont. You’ve probably already got me pegged. But what can I say? I love the neighborhood. The beautiful parks, the tree-lined streets, the quiet mixed with the animation, the great restaurants, the fun of running into friends and acquaintances on the street. It all makes it worth living out the cliché.
Le Petit Italien. OK, so it’s a little flashy and the wait staff is a little too good looking: in most cases I wouldn’t even venture into a place with such obvious intimations that the food will be, inevitably, mediocre. But after lots of hunting and experimenting we’ve decided that this unlikely restaurant is our favorite Italian in Montreal—though we may be biased, since we live right upstairs. After several unfortunate and costly experiences, we gave up on the Italian neighborhood. We’re willing to stand corrected here, but our sense is that you won’t do better than this place for the money. The pastas are consistently excellent; the daily meals always good, and sometimes remarkable. The wine list perfectly fair. Over time, I’ve come to really love this place: for the consistent dishes, the lovely décor, the friendly staff. If only they would change the strange little corporate butter servings—the one false note here—I would call it perfect.
Les Enfants Terribles. I once thought Le Petit Italien was flashy. That is all in the past, however: the opening of Les Enfants Terribles made its poor Italian neighbor seem downright dowdy. Les Enfants Terribles is now where le tout Montréal gathers, the locally rich and famous showing off their convertible sports cars (how many of these can fit in a single neighborhood anyway? And where is all that money coming from?!), their fancy clothes, and their trendy sunglasses. The terrace is vast and loud and full of energy, more a place to see and be seen than anything else. This restaurant, perhaps more than any other, exemplifies what people hate about Outremont. Still, still—the food, surprisingly, ain’t so bad. Though it is a few dollars overpriced, it is possible to make one’s way through the menu without too much trouble by sticking with the excellent burgers (I like the lamb burger myself), the tartar (salmon is my favorite), or the pasta of the day, which is invariably top notch.
Première Moisson. See under bakeries, above. Note the lively terrace open during the summer.
Bilboquet. Certainly the most
famous ice cream store in
Chez Yannick. Probably the best cheese shop in Montreal. Very fancy, very expensive, and takes itself a bit too seriously for my taste, but they manage to import cheeses that are nearly impossible to find even in France. Not sure how they do it, but it’s really remarkable. If you want some special cheeses this is without a doubt the place to go.
Côte des Neiges: The Université de Montréal neighborhood
Unlike the other three
Dao Vien. Another Côte des Neiges hole in the wall, but the best Vietnamese I’ve found in Montreal so far. The ambience is unassuming—basement restaurant with a few tables—but the food is pretty great. You pretty much can’t go wrong: rice meals, grilled meats... whatever, though I recommend at least sampling a few things from the rice dishes section of the menu, which in my opinion is the highlight of this place. The drinks are strange but if you like sweet these are for you.
Restaurant Mavi. If you have time and stomach space for only one Portuguese grilled chicken, I recommend Romados. However, if you’re in the U de M neighborhood and looking for an outstanding fallback, Mavi is a close second. You don’t go here for the ambience, which is pretty down-and-out, but the food is really great: the chicken is amazing, and the fries are cut by hand and taste that way. The thing to get here is the grilled chicken meal—half-chicken per person—which comes with fries and salad. I like the spicy chicken, which usually is not particularly spicy (though once or twice it has left our lips tingling) but is a very flavourful rub. They also make a mean chicken sandwich (this can be somewhat spicy), which would be a perfect sandwich but for the crummy bread. The only warning is that this place could not be slower if they slaughtered the chicken in Portugal and flew it in, so do not go here if you are in a rush. You can, however, call ahead for your grilled chicken meal. If you arrive about 30 minutes after you call the wait will be reasonable.
Boucherie Atlantique. This is my favorite butcher in Montreal, though it is also a small food store. A family-owned place, the father is German and he continues to run it with his two children and son-in-law. It started out as a butcher but has since expanded into a range of foods. It’s on this list because the prepared foods are truly excellent: many wonderful things to take away and it is always possible to get a very nice sandwich, notwithstanding the crummy bread (a theme in this neighborhood, alas). The "mélange maison," for instance (German cold cuts) is a particularly good value. The roast beef sandwich is pretty great—save, again, for the crummy bread. However, if you want to experience what is most special about Atlantique, drop by on a Monday. Wow are you ever in for a treat. The pork-neck roast is one of the most amazing dishes I know. I confess that until I began frequenting Atlantique I was to be counted among that sad portion of the population that had never heard of pork neck. Thank heaven that is no longer the case. Even the side of sauerkraut, a dish I usually dislike, is amazing. It used to be necessary to arrive early and show no mercy, elbowing children and elderly women out of the way, to be sure to get a cut. Fortunately they have added an oven and now make more than enough to go around, so the days of near-rioting are over.
Boucherie et Grillade Farhat. Not to be missed. See above, under “Sandwiches.”
Librairie Olivieri. Sometimes referred to by more disillusioned professors as the U de M faculty club, this bookstore/ restaurant is a popular hangout. The food is eclectic: mix of various French, Italian, and Québécois dishes. Generally simple but good. It’s easy to have a light lunch here, or a heavy lunch if you are so inclined. They have a little outdoor patio in back when the weather is nice, which, although not the most pleasant environment, is nevertheless one of the few outdoor spots in the neighborhood. Also good place for browsing if you have to wait for a table.
Kam Shing. A very solid Chinese restaurant, particularly good value for the money. It’s a bit of a walk from the University but an easy bus ride or a perhaps $6 cab ride. The soups are outstanding—don’t miss that. I also love the beef and ginger dish in sandstone pot. If you love Chinese it may be worth the trip. It will also get you to a non-touristy neighborhood that is among the most ethnically mixed in Montreal. Wander around the mall where the restaurant is and you feel like you’re in some kind of UN-run experiment!
Last updated: August 2009
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