It’s been almost a month since food hall Le Central opened its doors, injecting over 20 new restaurants into the Quartier des Spectacles area.
Le Central puts forward an interesting mix of options — there’s a range of brand-new restaurants like churro bar Mignon and fried chicken counter Ho Lee Chix, alongside other vendors that already exist elsewhere in Montreal, like the Standard café, and Portuguese spot Cantine Emilia. This is in contrast another very-soon-to-open food hall, Time Out Market, which consists almost entirely of known quantities, with a list of “greatest hits” restaurants on board, such as Olive & Gourmando and Romados.
While a couple of Le Central’s stands are still to open (pasta spot Ragú, Indian snack bar Le Super Qualité), we’ve had a chance to peruse most of the offerings. Since eating your way through two dozen restaurants at once is a tall order, here are a few picks for your first visit.
La République Démocratique du Jambon
This artisanal charcutier hails from Sherbrooke, but its Le Central outpost is its first foray outside the Eastern Townships. Stop by the butcher shop-inspired counter for a taste of perfectly cured ham, porchetta, and more. RDJ (as it’s abbreviated) is mostly keeping things simple, a smart plan to emphasize the quality of its house-made products.
On the menu is a charcuterie plate, but those who are choosy or just don’t want to invest in the whole hog can get small portions of individual meats. The menu is rounded out with classic sandwiches (jambon beurre, BLT), plus a couple of heartier options, such as Le Canard, with smoked duck breast, a cheese raclette, fig purée, and apple. Those looking to drink can choose between a selection of mostly rustic craft beers from microbrewery 11 Comtés, another high-quality artisanal business from just east of Sherbrooke.
Sure, it’s November, and ice cream might not seem like the most weather-appropriate suggestion. Try to put that thought aside, because Bagado’s weird and wonderful sweet creations are a treat. The flavour combinations may strike some as unusual, but take a lick and you’ll likely approve of options like apricot-carrot, chocolate-chai masala, and dark chocolate with espelette peppers.
There’s certainly a pan-Latin American element to the ice creamery — beyond the more out-there combinations are more straightforward choices like dulce de leche or banana (and it actually tastes like banana, not chemically-infused banana candy), among various other tropical-leaning options. For those who can’t do frozen treats when it’s snowing outside, there are also chocolates, cookies, and cakes.
Bonita’s Taco & Deli
This offshoot of excellent Chinatown taqueria La Capital has taken on a new name (and while the name might suggest some kind of connection with Mile End restaurant Maria Bonita, there isn’t), and keeps the quality high.
It may seem odd to take up residence in a food hall just a couple of blocks away from La Capital, but Bonita’s makes it work by offering an almost completely different menu — there’s a daily Baja-style fish taco, barbacoa, and vegan carnitas (made with king oyster and enoki mushrooms, and black garlic), plus a classic Mexican pambazo sandwich with vegan chorizo. It’s also not a bad place to quench your thirst — house horchata (the Mexican version, made with rice) and hibiscus drinks are on offer, as well as margaritas and sweet, tequila-laced mangonadas.
Headed up by Athiraj Phrasavath, this counter is one of just two places in Montreal to (regularly) offer Laotian cuisine (the other is Thaï Sep, up on Jean-Talon). Phrasavath’s menu dives right into the cuisine, with herby Lao-style sausages (available in a sandwich if you’re in a rush), tangy tamarind stir-fried noodles, and larb, a Laotian staple that can roughly be described as “meat salad”.
Thip Thip may still be figuring things out — on one visit, the chicken larb was bright and spicy but a little unbalanced, but the counter draws big points for offering something fresh on the Montreal food scene.
Trou de Beigne
This Little Italy doughnut shop expanded for the first time as it set up right inside the main entrance of Le Central. “Trendy doughnuts” might provoke some eyerolls, but Trou de Beigne does a bang-up job of making its puffy fried dough rings shine with tasty flavours from bourbon lemonade through to apple crumble. At Le Central, they’re only serving the smaller “scout”-sized doughnuts, and about six varieties are offered at any one time, some of which are loosely seasonal (so you’ll probably have to wait until summer for the watermelon-mint option). Oh, and don’t worry — the doughnuts are fried on-site, and aren’t trucked in from St-Zotique Street.
It’s also not a bad spot for a hot beverage — the counter is serving coffee from Kittel and Lindt hot chocolates.