Montreal must-eats: where to drink and dine in Canada’s culinary capital

Often lauded as North America’s premier foodie city after New York, Montreal brims with unique culture and enough world-class grub to titillate your taste buds, both on the haute-gastronomie and the cheap and traditional ends of the spectrum. Whether you’re lining your stomach with poutine after a vibrant night out on St Laurent Boulevard, brunching before an afternoon of sifting through vintage shops in the Mile End, or following the crowds flocking to once-industrial Griffintown for its legions of trendy eateries, this is your ultimate guide to taking a well-portioned bite (and slurp) out of this très charmant Canadian city.

Montreal, Canada. Image: iStock/buzbuzzer

Decadent brunching at L’Avenue

Duck confit eggs Benedict served with homestyle potatoes and giant stacks of carrot cake pancakes with cream cheese filling are just two examples of the kind of decadent brunch fare that this graffiti-clad Plateau neighbourhood favourite serves. Every dish comes with a fruit skewer to start, and there’s self-serve watermelon-infused water to quench your thirst (for in-between blueberry-basil Bellinis, that is). The portions are huge and extremely rich, so come hungry.

Address: 922 Mont-Royal Ave E, QC H2J 1X1

Messy plates and minimalist-style decor at Le Butterblume

With a dedicated brunch menu Friday through Sunday, this minimalist, plant-filled Mile End spot also does daily breakfast and inventive lunch fare. For brunch, try the cherry, raspberry and apricot bread pudding with ricotta mousse and caramel brandy to satiate your sweet tooth, or opt for the Atlantic salmon with crispy bread, marinated apple, crème fraîche and caviar for something more umami. Grab a fresh-baked cake from the counter and stop at the adjacent grocers’, which sells their compotes, breads, and sauces ready-made to take home.

Address: 5836 St Laurent Blvd, QC H2T 1T3

Le Butterblume, Montreal. Image courtesy of Le Butterblume/Marie-Reine Mattera

Succulent smoked meat at Schwartz’s

If you’re willing to brave the queues that snake down the street for the city’s best smoked meat, what you’ll find inside is a classic neighbourhood hole-in-the wall that has barely changed since it opened in 1928, save for an ever-evolving collection of press reviews and celebrity endorsements lining the walls. Plop yourself at the counter and order your meat lean, medium or full-fat, piled high and served on light rye bread with mustard. You’ll want a classic pickle and some fries on the side – trust us. If on the other hand, you’re not willing to brave the queues, head across the street to The Main, which is just as authentic and serves the second-best smoked meat in town (some would argue it’s just as good as Schwartz’s, but not as hyped).

Address: 3895 St Laurent Blvd, QC H2W 1X9

The city’s most indulgent poutine at Orange Julep

This orange-shaped drive-through diner has been looming in the city’s skyline since the 1930s, when rollerskate-clad waitresses would come up to your car and take your order for burgers, hot dogs, and poutine, washed down with their signature Orange Julep drink (a sweet frothy concoction similar in taste to a creamsicle). While the drink is divisive, their poutine is undoubtedly one of the best in the city, and certainly worth the detour outside the normal tourist circuit (if heading in from the airport towards downtown or Le Plateau, it’s en-route and just off the highway).

Address: 7700 Decarie Blvd, QC H4P 2H4

Orange Julep, Montreal. Image: Flickr/abdallahh

A creative take on classic poutine at La Banquise and Au Pied de Cochon

Once you’ve sampled the authentic stuff, you’ll find yourself ready to tuck into more creative versions of Quebec’s favourite dish. La Banquise is a trendy dive and Plateau neighbourhood staple serves over 30 kinds of poutine – from La Taquise topped with guacamole and sour cream to vegan versions – and is conveniently open 24/7. Elsewhere, visit Au Pied de Cochon to discover foie gras poutine, which perfectly symbolises the rebirth of this traditionally working-class dish into the gourmet delicacy that it is today. During maple syrup harvesting season, you can also book in a gastronomic tour of a sugar shack, complete with a mouth-watering menu of maple and pork-centric dishes, creatively spun and presented with finesse (just be sure to book several months in advance).

Addresses: 994 Rue Rachel E, QC H2J 2J3 & 536 Avenue Duluth E, QC H2L 1A9

Beautifully-baked bagels at St Viateur Bagel

There is a long-standing rivalry between the two bagel monoliths of the city – St Viateur and Fairmont, and you can’t go wrong with either. Compared to the New York variety, Montreal bagels are thinner, dense on the inside, and crispy on the outside, usually adorned with sesame seeds. They’re boiled in honey water before being baked in a brick oven, making them doughy and perfectly sweet. These babies are best eaten piping hot, straight from the bag, but smothering them in cream cheese and smoked salmon is a close second.

Address: 263 Rue Saint Viateur O, QC H2V 1Y1

Foie gras poutine at Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal. Image courtesy of Au Pied de Cochon

Flavour-packed Jewish breads at Hof Kelsten

This nouvelle-vague Jewish bakery churns out their own breads and brioches daily (outsourcing their loaves to many fine restaurants) and serves some of the best coffee in the city. The aroma of sweet dough and bitter espresso hits you as you walk in, and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist leaving with a challah tucked under one arm and a Danish under the other. This modern, industrial bakery has only a handful of tables wedged towards the side, but nabbing one to sit in for creative Jewish Eastern European-inspired brunch and sandwiches is worth it.

Address: 4524 St Laurent Blvd, QC H2T 1R4

Fire-roasted plates at Foxy

From the team behind Old Montreal’s beloved café Olive and Gourmando (which you should also visit when hitting the Old Montreal tourist circuit), Foxy serve sizzling fire-roasted plates from the embers of their house-branded hardwood charcoal. With an open-kitchen concept and dimly-lit, expertly designed interiors, the upscale cosy setting is almost as enjoyable as their beloved winter salad (made with burnt cauliflower, brussel sprouts, apple and duck confit) or their wood oven-baked clams with farro piccolo, almond crumbs and coriander.

Address: 1638 Notre-Dame St W, QC H3J 1M1

Foxy, Montreal. Images courtesy of Dominique Lafond/Foxy

Rustic-chic interiors and explosive flavours at Joe Beef and Le Vin Papillon

Voted into the World’s Best 100 Restaurants list in 2015 and consistently making the Canadian top five (this year, Joe Beef and Le Vin Papillion are at numbers three and four, respectively), if you’re looking for a classically Montreal-esque fine-dining experience, look no further. Joe Beef serves simple, premium, old-world style local game and seafood elevated to new world standards, while Le Vin Papillion (its newer little sister right next door) deals primarily in wines and farm-fresh small plates, both from a rustic-chic Griffintown setting.

Addresses: 2491 Notre-Dame St W, QC H3J 1N6 & 2519 Notre-Dame St W, QC H3J 1N4

Exciting Italian cuisine at Nora Gray

Classic Italian dishes and home-made pasta amongst warmly-lit, lacquered wood-and-exposed-brick interiors – you can’t go wrong. Each dish is finely prepared, and makes this cuisine exciting again. If you’re lucky enough to be here when the truffle linguine is on the specials’ board, order that. Otherwise, we love the squid ink fettucine with scallops, grilled radicchio and walnuts or the golden beet and gorgonzola gnocchi.

Address: 1391 St Jacques St, QC H3C 1H2

Joe Beef, Montreal. Image courtesy of Joe Beef/Jennifer May

Argentinian-meets-Asian fare at Lavanderia

Celebrity chef Antonio Park is known primarily for his sensual sushi creations at Victoria Park, but we think his latest venture is even more exciting, and much less damaging to the ole purse strings (though by all means, book a table at both and let us know what you think). His second restaurant draws on his childhood in Argentina as inspiration, though with a few playful nods to his Asian specialities still discernible (namely in the premium Japanese fish he imports on a private license). Try marvels like Kabosu-fed Japanese yellowtail tuna with plantain crisps, avocado and vegetable escabeche, or come on a Thursday for tapas from 5 to 7.

Address: 374 Victoria Ave, Westmount, QC H3Z 2N4

Expert mixologist creations at Atwater Cocktail Club

Peer down the dimly-lit back alley behind Foiegwa (the bar’s sister restaurant), and you’ll find the speakeasy-style Atwater Cocktail Club beckoning with its emerald-marble interiors and drinks that take the craft of mixology to the next level. The aptly-named ‘Smoke Show’ is a delectable concoction of blueberry, lemon, thyme, blackberry liqueur and white Plantation rum, presented in a glass dome filled with smoke – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They also serve Foiegwa’s full menu until 2am daily (we recommend the truffle spaghetti or the cheeseburger with foie gras) to soak up all the booze – these drinks go down easy and pack a punch.

Address: 512 Atwater Ave, QC H4C 2G5

Atwater Cocktail Club, Montreal. Image courtesy of Atwater Cocktail Club

Wes Anderson-style interiors at Waverly

Imagine if Wes Anderson designed a bar and parked it on the corner of one of the city’s most hipster-friendly neighbourhoods, and you’ve got Waverly. With a mint-green façade, twinkle lights aplenty, and interiors favouring wood, stained glass panels and pastels, you can’t miss this quirky haunt in the Mile End. A laid-back watering hole with decently-priced cocktails, a good selection of beer, and small dance floor which heats up in the latter hours of a weekend night, this little nook is more than just a pretty face.

Address: 5550 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, H2T 1S8

Style and sophistication at Coldroom

A refreshingly un-touristy haunt in Old Montreal, Coldroom is a relative newcomer to the scene. Albeit slightly pretentious (one of their ‘house rules’ is that the bartender is the boss) we’ll forgive it because the drinks really are that good and we can’t say no to glossy dark wood and exposed brick walls. In keeping with the integrity of the establishment, the bar is strictly 25 or older, though patrons aged 18-24 can come in if accompanied by an adult. For sophisticated swillers looking to imbibe on quality spirits, this is a welcome change of scene from the oft student-filled bars elsewhere in the city.

Address: Rue Saint Vincent, QC H2Y 1G8

Coldroom, Montreal. Image courtesy of Coldroom

Like-a-local lager-sipping at Vices & Versa

A cosy Little Italy microbrewery with an enticing range of Quebec-made beers alongside locally-sourced nibbles and spirits, this is a truly local watering hole. Beer-lovers should try one of their flights of six beers so you can get a good sample of the range, while we recommend the Quebec-produced Piger Henricus gin or a glass of maple syrup-infused Sortilege whiskey for something with more kick.

Address: 6631 St Laurent Blvd, QC H2S 3C5

Coffee and clubbing at Kabinet and Datcha

Come during the day for a strong cup of espresso, on a weekday evening for their speciality twists on the Moscow Mule, or stay a little later from Thursday through Saturday for a headier, hazier experience. A long narrow room decked out with an Imperial Russian theme, the adjacent club, Datcha, wafts into this otherwise classy corner on weekend nights, bringing in all manner of debauchery to fill the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, those cocktails stay on tap all night long, so you’ll not need much convincing before getting up off your velvet stool and onto the smoke-filled dance floor.

Addresses: 92 Avenue Laurier O, QC H2T 2N4 & 98 Avenue Laurier O, QC H2T 2N4

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