Eating poutine is a quintessential part of the Canadian experience, perhaps even more so than seeing a moose or eating a Timbit donut morsel from Tim Hortons.
A sublime combination of fries, cheese and gravy, poutine is one of Canada's truly definitive foods. It pairs well with beer, you can usually get it after a night out (sometimes it's the only thing you can get) and it can easily be shared by a handful of hungry friends with a fistful of forks.
Poutine purists may argue that the highest-grade cheese curds, homemade gravy and fresh-cut fries are the only ingredients that make an authentic poutine.
But Canada is an incredibly diverse nation, home to people from more than 250 ethnic backgrounds, setting the stage for some truly unique poutine experiences. Here’s our list of the best places to eat poutine in Canada.
The uniquely Canadian history of poutine
Poutine can trace its origins to rural snack bars in Québec in the 1950s. Many cafes and restaurants claim to be the ones who first came up with the idea, likely due to their proximity to the Québécois fromageries that produced the cheese curds.
But poutine really found its groove on Canadian menus in the 1990s. Today, even fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King have poutine.
Poutine has even gone political, with many Quebecois claiming that defining poutine as a Canadian dish is an act of cultural appropriation since it originates from Quebec. As of 2022, this contentious issue has yet to be resolved.
So what exactly is poutine?
Here is a barebones definition of basic poutine: French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. It may not be beautiful to look at – in fact, the etymology of the word "poutine" may come from a term for a messy mixture – but it’s exactly what Canadians crave in the dead of winter to warm their hearts and bellies. Non-purists add a variety of extra ingredients, including various meaty toppings.
Where to go for poutine
Here is our pick of the top spots to chow down on poutine across Canada.
Le Banquise Montréal, Québec
Best for late-night poutine
Admittedly, this is a Montréal tourist hot spot, but it’s well worth checking out. Le Banquise is open 24 hours and it serves over 30 types of poutine (there are plenty of times you can go without waiting in line, like 10pm on a Wednesday).
The memory of the bright yellow and orange exterior will stay with you for days. Le Banquise has operated as a 24-hour snack bar since 1968, so you can be confident that their poutine offering is tested and true.
Au Pied de Cochon, Montréal, Québec
Best for a high-end poutine experience
If you want to try a high-end version of poutine, Au Pied de Cochon (Pig's foot) in Montréal is the place to go. Their poutine is incredibly rich, with fries cooked in duck-fat and duck-fat gravy thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream, all topped off with a generous helping of foie gras.
This is a great restaurant to try family recipes for regional Québécois cuisine in general, so make sure you go in hungry for the full gastronomical experience.
Fritz European Fry House, Vancouver, British Columbia
Best for melty cheese poutine
Poutine is usually made with either crispy fries and squeaky curds or soft fries with melty curds and gravy coating every bite; Fritz does poutine the latter way, and the cheese-pull quotient with every bite is glorious.
Le Chic Shack, Quebec City, Québec
Best for unique poutine variations
Le Chic has three variations of poutine: “La Classique” (classic, as the name suggests), “La Forestière” (wild mushroom ragout, aged cheddar, cheese curds, shallots, herbs) and “La Braisèe” (ale-braised beef, aged cheddar, cheese curds, pickled onions, horseradish aioli).
Willy’s Fresh Cut, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Best classic poutine
This is your best stop for classic poutine in eastern Canada – hand-cut fluffy french fries, squeaky cheese curds and a dependable gravy. Willy’s in Halifax is a no-frills poutinerie and burger joint, but you can absolutely add frills. "Donair" is one of their most popular combinations, with fried onions, mushrooms, and garlic sauce.
Whistle Stop Cafe, Peterborough, Ontario
Best for a local poutine experience
Serving no fewer than 100 variations on poutine, with fun names such as "Aku's Big Booty Chicken poutine," the Whistle Stop Cafe in Peterborough, Ontario, is open 24 hours from Thursday to Saturday (and until 10pm the rest of the week). As a local student hotspot, Whistle Stop is always buzzing with activity. Be sure to try their renowned butter tarts for dessert.
Nom Nom Nom, Toronto, Ontario
Best food stall poutine
This little food stall offers a surprisingly large selection (10 poutine varieties) and lots of other French street food such as crêpes and croissants.
Many of their ingredients are sourced from Québec to ensure an authentic experience, but with toppings such as jerk chicken, smoked meat “superdog,” and “lumberjack,” they still manage to give their poutines a very Toronto customization.
Big Red’s Poutine Maple Ridge, British Columbia
Best food truck poutine
The poutine at Big Red’s is addictive; if you’re a regular, you can join their poutine rewards program. The Big Red's food truck drives all over the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland, attending many pop-up events. Despite the mobile setting, everything is fresh and popular variations include "spring roll poutine" and "hamburger poutine."
Big T’s BBQ, Calgary, Alberta
Best American take on poutine
This is definitely one of the best places to try a different kind of poutine, such as their pulled pork or smoked brisket. Big T’s has even been featured on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, so you probably gotta eat there.
La Belle Patate, Vancouver, British Columbia
Best poutine paired with beer
La Belle Patate's ever-changing menu currently includes 32 different poutines, and there's a perfect drinks pairing of Spruce Beer, imported directly from Québec.
This spot is incredibly efficient when it comes to the food turnaround time, so if you're hungry and need a quick poutine fix, this is the place to go. La Belle's most popular poutines include "The Boss" (ground beef, hot dogs, raw onions, BBQ sauce and house gravy) and the "Newfie" (which comes with seasoned breadcrumb stuffing).
Poutineville Montréal, Québec
Best place to build your own poutine
Montréal's Poutineville is so good it's now a mini-chain, with locations all over Québec and even one in Ontario.
The build-your-own concept offers plenty of family-friendly fun, and this is the only poutinerie on the list with four different styles of potatoes that you can use as the base of your poutine.
Toppings include melted nacho cheese, blue cheese, marinated eggplant, corn dogs, a 5oz filet mignon steak and a meat-and-tomato sauce instead of gravy (or with gravy – they don't judge here).