Montréal is one of the great foodie destinations of the north. Here you’ll find an outstanding assortment of classic French cuisine, hearty Québécois fare and countless ethnic restaurants from 80-odd nationalities. Today’s haute cuisine is as likely to be conjured by talented young African, Japanese or Indian chefs as graduates from the Académie Culinaire du Québec.
Montréal has more eating choices per capita than anywhere in North America except for New York City. The dining scene is marked by dazzling variety and quality, and brash chefs who attack their creations with innovation. Life in Montréal revolves around food, and it’s as much about satisfying your sensual fantasies as it is about nourishment.
Nearly every neighborhood has culinary stars, which makes for rewarding dining no matter where you wander. Downtown and Plateau Mont-Royal are a diner’s nirvana, linked by arteries Blvd St-Laurent and Rue St-Denis. ‘The Main,’ as locals call Blvd St-Laurent, teems with trendy establishments but shades into the alternative as you move north. Still in the Plateau, Rue Prince-Arthur Est and Ave Duluth Est are popular for their good-time BYOB (bring-your-own-bottle) places. Mile End and Outremont have a wide selection of bistros and ethnic fare, with new places popping up all the time. The key streets here are Ave Laurier, Ave St-Viateur and Rue Bernard. Head to Little Italy for great Italian trattorias along Blvd St-Laurent and Rue Dante. Or find award-winning restaurants hidden down cobblestone streets in atmospheric Old Montréal.
Montréalers enjoy an enormous variety of locally produced ingredients and delicacies: raw cheeses, foie gras, game and maple syrup, to name a few. Outdoor markets carry exotic foodstuffs that weren’t available even a decade ago alongside tasty produce from local farms.
Residents argue heatedly over which places serve the best of anything – chewy bagels, espresso, comfort soup, fluffy omelets or creamy cakes. Montréal smoked meat and bagels, of course, have a formidable reputation that stretches across the country and are a constant source of friendly rivalry with New Yorkers. Montréal loyalists insist the secret to the hometown bagel’s success is all in the time-tested preparation.
A popular yet controversial component of Montréal cuisine is foie gras, a food product made from the fattened livers of ducks or geese. The production of foie gras involves force-feeding the animals via a feeding tube, often in amounts far exceeding what they would eat voluntarily. Animal welfare groups argue that the process is cruel and inhumane, and the production and import of foie gras is banned in several countries around the world.
More Than Poutine
Traditional Québecois cuisine is classic comfort food, heavy and centered on meat. The fact that the ingredients are basic is said to be a historical legacy, as French settlers only had access to limited produce. A classic Québecois meal might center on game meat (caribou, duck, wild boar) or the tourtière, a meat pie usually made with pork and another meat such as beef or veal along with celery and onions. Another favorite lowbrow staple is poutine (fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy), with inventive versions served across the city.
The city has a fine choice of French food, with bistros and brasseries of all types and price ranges. Many incorporate the best of Québec’s produce and market ingredients.
For local recipes and tips on mastering the great dishes of the province, pick up the cookbook The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (2011) by Frederic Morin et al.
Dining out in Montréal doesn’t have to be costly. On average, a multicourse dinner for two (including a glass of wine, taxes and a tip) at a midrange place will cost about $80 to $120. At the city’s more famous establishments, expect to pay about twice that for a multicourse meal. At the other end of the scale, you can eat delicious fare at casual spots – vegetarian cafes, Jewish delis and down-market ethnic eateries – for less than $40 for two people.
Keep an eye out for the table d’hôte, a fixed-price meal – usually three or four courses – that can be a good way to sample the chef’s top dishes of the day. Prices start at around $20. Some restaurants offer a discount menu for late dining (usually starting at 10pm), while others have a policy of apportez votre vin, or bring your own wine. There’s rarely a corkage fee, so take advantage of this.
Taxes amounting to 15% apply at all restaurants. Most don’t include the taxes in their menu prices, but check the fine print.
For a slice of old-world Europe, don't miss Montréal's sprawling food markets. You'll find a staggering selection of fruits, vegetables, fresh bakery items, cheeses and more. It's also a chance to interact with the proud farmers, butchers and cheese makers behind these tasty provisions. The big markets have plenty of stands selling prepared foods (crepes, smoothies, coffees, pastries, sandwiches, pizza slices and more).
The biggest market is Marché Jean-Talon in Little Italy. Runner-up Marché Atwater, just west of downtown near the Canal de Lachine, is a fine spot for a picnic. If you're wandering around the Village or the Quartier Latin, photogenic Marché St-Jacques is a slice of Montréal history; a market has stood here since the 1870s.
Blvd St-Laurent in Plateau Mont-Royal, between Ave des Pins and Ave Mont-Royal, is renowned for ethnic food shops. Little Italy has small groceries and deli shops on Blvd St-Laurent, a few blocks south of Rue Jean-Talon. For a journey to the Far East, wander through Chinatown; you'll find tea shops, Asian groceries and loads of eateries.
Need to know
In our listings we’ve used the following price codes to represent the average cost of a main meal:
$ under $16
$$ $16 to $30
$$$ over $30
Business Hours & Meal Times
- Restaurants open 11:30am to 2:30pm and 5:30pm to 10pm. Many places close on Monday.
- Breakfast cafes open around 8am.
- On weekends two dinner sittings are common at 5:30pm to 6pm and 8pm to 8:30pm. Places fill up from 8pm.
Reserve on weekends to avoid disappointment. During the week you needn’t book unless the place is popular (or formal). Most budget eateries don’t take reservations.
Credit and debit cards widely accepted. Some restaurants accept cash only.
A tip of 15% of the pretax bill is customary in restaurants. Your bill will show the total with tax in bold. Some waiters may add a service charge for large parties; in these cases, don't pay a tip unless service was extraordinary.
- The Main MTL (www.themainmtl.com)
- Montréal Eater (www.montreal.eater.com)
- Shut Up & Eat (www.shutupandeat.ca)
- Eating out in Montréal (www.eatingoutinmontreal.blogspot.com)
Montréal's Third Wave
Like most North American cities, Montréal has been swept away by the so-called 'Third Wave' of cafes that have pushed coffee-drinkers away from the mass-produced, accessible-to-all coffee brands such as Folgers (first wave) to chains like Starbucks that focus on regional production and Italian espresso drinks (second wave), and toward a generation of artisanal, highly specialized coffee producers that practice direct-sourcing from single farms and in-house roasting.
Essentially the journey from bean to cup is a narrative, one that is just as important to the connoisseur as the taste of the coffee itself. Like the variety of grape to a winemaker, baristas and roasters at Third Wave establishments care about the flavor (the aromatics, tones, depth), the bean varietal, and the farm from which the bean was sourced, with 'single-origin' being most desirable. To fuel a long day of wandering and sightseeing and experience haute cafe culture at its finest, consider one of the following: