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.
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. Montrealers do speak French, and the city is French-influenced, but it 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, North African — defines Montreal, allowing for a certain creativity in our culinary scene. 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 regularly puts out 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.
Essential Restaurants: There are 38 essential places on this guide, which tries to capture the amalgam that is Montreal’s culinary scene, 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 (currently on hiatus), classic Plateau bistro L’Express, and the almost ridiculously creative Le Mousso. For something a little cheaper, pick up deeply-flavoured roti filled with curry chicken or goat at Caribbean Curry House, some caramelized barbecue meats at Hong Kong-style diner Dobe & Andy, or dive into a poutine and burger at modern-day casse-croûte (snack bar) Chez Tousignant.
New Restaurants: This map covers restaurants that have been open for six months or less, particularly those that have become fast favourites or show a lot promise: At the moment, consider the fiery Thai cuisine at La Petite-Patrie newcomer Pichai, the Lebanese pub food at Griffintown spot Shay, 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 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 arguably draws the longest waits — for good reason. For homey fare, Chez Régine and Le Vieux Vélo are staples among Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie locals. (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 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 — especially with ongoing capacity restrictions — can be tricky; it’s usually reserved three months in advance. For something fine dining, but also zany and fun, try Montreal Plaza.
Jewish Eats: Jewish culinary traditions have shaped Montreal. For staple smoked meat, tourists always visit Schwartz’s, but there are alternatives — Snowdon Deli is delicious, and doesn’t have the same line-ups. Fairmount Bagel and Saint-Viateur Bagel are the two places for Montreal-style bagels, and most locals have a semi-arbitrary preference for one or the other. For something more modern, try Hof Kelsten.
Poutine: Quebec’s national dish is available, in large number, all over the city — guidebooks channel tourists towards La Banquise, which is fine, but neighbourhood spots like Chez Claudette and Paul Patates are significantly better in the eyes of many.
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 Paquebot are also worthy of some love. The city is also home to a flurry of old-school Italian cafes, with Olimpico in Mile End, Café Vito in Villeray, and Caffé Italia in Little Italy all worthy bets.
French: Montreal might not be France, but there’s some pretty good French fare on offer here. Aside from L’Express, which is the big-name go-to, La Chronique, Leméac, and Monarque 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 that’s propelled griot to the status of iconic local eat. Méli Mélo is a longtime Haitian staple, while Kwizinn offers something a little newer not far away on the St-Hubert Plaza, as well as at a new second location in Verdun. For something a little fancier, head to Kamúy in the typically tourist-heavy (in non-pandemic times) Quartier des Spectacles for some doumbrey (sweet potato dumplings) and a “basket” of fritay.
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, Cheskie’s is known for its time-honoured babka among other Jewish treats, and Alati-Caserta may just offer the city’s best ricotta-filled cannoli.
Others: We already mentioned poutine and smoked meat, but there’s a guide featuring some other must-have 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 before or after your visit to Montreal, 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.
Officially known as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, the Plateau is a large swath of colourful, 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 so much more to see — and eat. The area is notably the hub for Montreal’s Portuguese community, and you can quite literally smell the grilling in the air, with the rotisserie chicken from Ma Poule Mouillé at times generating 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 newly reopened Beautys, Leonard Cohen fave back in the day Bagel Etc., and Patati Patata for tiny burgers and tasty poutines. Lastly, there are some gems tucked in the commercial thoroughfares — Le Chien Fumant is a stylish neighbourhood bistro and Yokato Yokabai serves up some of the city’s best ramen.
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 is responsible for attracting so many more restaurants, but the area’s proximity to downtown probably also helped. Joe Beef is typically booked solid, months out, but neighbouring sibling establishments Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon are easier tables to snag. 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.
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, with rising rents having pushed out some iconic hubs, but it’s still a lovely place to visit.
Tourists will flock to the 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, Larrys is an excellent go-to for anything from wine to breakfast to dinner, and La Khaïma offers up Mauritanian cuisine in a cozy atmosphere. In the summer months, don’t leave the area without grabbing a fresh and fruity ice cream from Kem Coba.
Visitors will often come to this area (and bordering Villeray) 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), home to several great bets. 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 and a coffee from Dispatch if you want something lighter.
Sharing borders with bustling Little Italy (to the west) and Plateau (to the south), it’s hardly a surprise that an influx of trendy new eateries was coming for slightly more residential La Petite-Patrie. In the last few years alone, it has seen the arrival of impeccable Indian snack bar Le Super Qualité, super cozy Moroccan eatery Darna, and chic Nordic wine bar Vinvinvin on its main East-West thoroughfares. The effervescence lives on with the even more recent additions of Thai wine bar Pichai and craft brew taproom Mellön, but longer-standing haunts, like capacious brewpub Isle de Garde and over-two-decade-old, family-run Pho Tay Ho, serving up what is widely considered one of the best bowls of the Vietnamese noodle soup in the city, are also worth a visit.
Courtesy of its cobblestone streets and general oldness, Old Montreal (often referred to as the Old Port) is typically the most touristy part of the city, and has a correspondingly high number of shitty restaurants. But, it’s also a magnet for fine dining establishments run by some of the city’s most venerable chefs, and some young guns, too.
High-end spots like Pastel and Le Club Chasse et Pêche offer something local and special, while 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.
Not exactly a neighbourhood, but it’s the hub for large events like Just For Laughs and the Jazz Festival — when they are held. On the higher end, Bouillon Bilk’s French-but-modern fare is the most reputable option, but Japanese-Peruvian spot Tiradito and ex-Agrikol chef Paul Toussaint’s new hit Kamúy also deserves some attention. If you’re budgeting, hit up the Montreal 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 has also added a nice injection of new dining options to the area.
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 said in French (even when speaking English) as “cinq à sept,” it means “happy hour.” Yes, happy hour is two hours here.
“Snack bar” is the official translation, though a casse-croûte usually resembles more of 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 — of which there are lots of stellar options. Smoking tobacco or cannabis is banned on terrasses and rooftops in Quebec.
Some (inaccurately) 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 (by no means necessary) 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 in 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.
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.
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 is 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 restaurants can now sell wine and beer for takeout and delivery though pre-mixed cocktails are still a no-go. Once coronavirus restrictions completely ease, they will also be able to serve alcohol for consumption on premise, without customers also ordering a meal.
A convenience store that sells beer and bad wine. If you want hard liquor, you’ll have to go to the government-owned liquor store, the SAQ.
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