With numerous iconic dishes and local specialties, packed big-name restaurants, and a seemingly unending selection of great, lower-key neighbourhood spots, trying to get a feel for Montreal’s dining and drinking scenes in one day is certainly a challenge — but not totally impossible.
From the obvious tourist eats (bagels, poutine, smoked meat), to hotter, newer arrivals on the scene, here’s a one-day to-do list for a lightning visit to the city.
Hot tip: most recommendations here are readily accessible by Montreal’s métro system, so if you’re hopping from place to place, it’s probably worth picking up a one- or three-day pass for shorter stays.
Got more than one day to burn? Check out the much-longer Eater’s Guide to Montreal.
10 a.m. — Arthurs
Kick things off in the southwestern neighbourhood of St-Henri, a working class area that has rapidly gentrified, with a large number of restaurants cropping up along its main thoroughfare, Notre-Dame Street. It’s not a historically Jewish area, but Jewish food traditions are generally a big influence on Montreal’s culinary scene, and this two-year-old takes a whole pile of classics and gives them modern spins — grab a house smoked salmon platter with black Russian toast or a latke smorgasboard with eggs, salmon, challah, and more. If you arrive after 11 a.m., lunches, including a hefty schnitzel sandwich, are in play — be warned that weekend brunch line-ups can get rather long.
Alternative play: get a feel for old-school St-Henri and visit no-nonsense diner Green Spot for breakfast plates, burgers, or a poutine.
11:30 a.m. — Patrice Pâtissier
Take a stroll back through St-Henri and into neighbouring Little Burgundy to check out one of this pastry depository, helmed by the excellent Patrice Demers. Make a quick stop for an individual treat (éclairs, an étage laden with fruit and nuts), or consider a lunch-hour croque monsieur for something larger.
12:30 p.m. — Portuguese chicken
Hop the métro and zip over to Mont-Royal station, where just a few blocks over lies Montreal’s Portuguese hub, around Rachel Street and St-Laurent Boulevard, smack in the middle of the Plateau. There’s two options here: older-school rotisserie Romados, or the newer (and very busy) Ma Poule Mouillée, a little further east — both do combo dishes of a quarter or half piri-piri chicken with salad and a mountain of fries for only $12 or so — the poutine at the latter is also notable, if you’re looking to knock out two Montreal icons in one location. If weather permits, taking it to the park to eat is a smart idea — but you may want to consider splitting one plate, to save room for what’s coming next.
2 p.m. — Schwartz’s
A lot of tourists ID smoked meat as Montreal’s most iconic foodstuff, so fine: go brave the line at this icon on St-Laurent for a mound of sliced, cured, and smoked brisket on rye bread with mustard.
Alternative play: if you have time to spare, head out to Côte-des-Neiges Jewish spot, Snowdon Deli. Some argue that its smoked meat is better: in any case, it’s more of a spot for locals than Schwartz’s, which, as a de facto tourist attraction, doesn’t actually draw that many locals, despite the long lines.
3:30 p.m. — Dispatch Coffee
Montreal’s coffee scene has evolved nicely in recent years, and one of the forerunners is roaster and coffee shop Dispatch, started as nothing but an espresso truck under founder Chrissy Durcak. You’re probably stuffed, so just energize with a cold brew — head to the St-Laurent café just along from Schwartz’s, or take the bus or metro up to the roastery on St-Zotique Street, in a post-industrial nook of the city.
4:30 p.m. — Jean-Talon Market
You probably need time to digest, so here’s a food-themed option that won’t require you to eat: a short walk from Dispatch’s roastery through Little Italy brings you to Montreal’s largest public market. Peruse the aisles of vendors selling all manner of Quebec produce (with some offering free samples), or pick up syrups, spice mixes, soaps, and other gift-friendly fare since you’re on vacation and probably don’t need much produce. If you’re inexplicably still hungry, there are several solid eating options around.
6 p.m. — The Coldroom
It’s right in the middle of 5 à 7 (cinq à sept), Quebec’s version of happy hour — take the metro from the market to Old Montreal for this bar, tucked in a former cold-storage space underground. (You can peek at the cobblestone streets and historic buildings in Montreal’s most touristed neighbourhood while you’re in the area). With an owner dubbing it a “bartender’s playground”, getting playful with shrubs, syrups, and original concoctions, it’s one of the Montreal’s top cocktail bars, if not the best.
8 p.m. — Something Fancy
Are you planning four months in advance? If so, you might be able to snag a reservation for eternally-hot meat hub Joe Beef. If not, don’t worry: its sister restaurants Liverpool House and no-reservations Vin Papillon may have space. Otherwise, there are other destinations that might be less internationally famous, but still just as good. For a Québécois experience, consider Au Pied de Cochon, with chef Martin Picard’s upscaled takes on rustic Quebec fare (also the creator of the foie gras poutine) — or, at the very high end, is Toqué, a flawless ode to the province’s bounty. Or, if it’s something more French you want, L’Express is the can’t-miss option. These are all longer-running iconic tables — alternatively, consider trying something from of the city’s playful younger generation — the wildly creative Le Mousso or the lovable weirdos at Montréal Plaza are two great bets.
10:30 p.m. — Wine, Beer, or Cocktails
Head north to Mile End, where a mixed bag of bars to suit most tastes awaits. Top picks: the charming Buvette Chez Simone for wine, craft brewery Dieu du Ciel for beers, and Kabinet or the Havana-inspired Emerald Lounge for cocktails — for all-rounder bars, consider Henrietta on Laurier, or neighbourhood favourite Sparrow.
1 a.m. — Late Night Poutine
The tour books will tell you to go to 24-hour poutine haunt La Banquise. While it’s a serviceable option, it’s not the best out there, although it is a useful resource early in the week when the crowds are small and few other options are open. Consider Patati Patata, a diner-esque burger and poutine spot that plays with tradition by using skinny fries, open until 2 a.m. nightly. Then on weekends, there’s Chez Claudette, a classic Québécois diner, relatively close to the Mile End bars above.
8 a.m. — Larrys
One of the hottest new things in recent years is this day or night dining spot in Mile End — the breakfast sandwich is a great choice, but the entire menu keeps things simple and tasty and British-leaning with pikelets, bubble and squeak, beans, and mushrooms, as well as a solid coffee and pastry set-up.
9:30 a.m. — Fairmount or St-Viateur Bagel
Don’t leave without getting a bag full of Montreal-style bagels, which are thinner, slightly sweeter, and less-doughy than most other iterations. Both are close by to Larrys and wood-fire those dough circles with aplomb, although many Montrealers swear allegiance to one or the other of them. For peak freshness, grab the sesame bagels — try to eat them or freeze them within a day, before they get rock-hard.