15 Reasons Why Montreal Is a Foodie Paradise
An affordable foodie adventure awaits Americans just over the border in one of the continent's most culturally diverse cities.
Photo By: ALEXANDRE CHOQUETTE
Photo By: The Washington Post/Getty Images
A Sophisticated Food Culture
Montreal has long been known as the most European city in North America, but this revitalized metropolis is more than a living history lesson. Thanks to its position at the crossroads of First Nations, French, British and Canadian cultures, the hub of Quebec is now home to a fascinating array of flavors just begging Americans to make the short trip over the border to experience. These flavors coupled with favorable exchange rates have made Montreal a can't-miss destination for American foodies.
Montreal has fostered a simmering bagel rivalry with New York City for decades, and St-Viateur Bagel sits squarely on the frontlines for Québécois. Montreal bagels offer a lighter, honey-touched alternative to their cousins in the Big Apple — a flavor of which is arguably best savored at St-Viateur, where wood-fired bagels have been flying out of the oven 24/7 since 1957.
Americans may know Texas as the brisket capital of North America, but Montreal — yes, Montreal — gives the Longhorn State a run for its money. The city’s rugged history dates back to the 17th century when fur trappers built a booming industry out of the area’s wildlife. It’s natural, then, that Montreal knows a thing or two about meat. Schwartz’s Deli holds sway as the city’s iconic smokehouse, but don’t skip newcomers like Smoking Meat Vieux Montreal.
First Nations Fusion
Have you ever tried seal? What about wild caught striped bass? Modern Quebec cuisine is embracing the ingredients of its distinctive past. At Restaurant Manitoba, Chef Simon Matisse blends traditional First Nations ingredients with a French Canadian-inspired cooking style that brings a new twist to ancient grains and proteins. Matisses’s menu varies by the market, but persistently plays with ingredients that are found in the remaining wild lands of Quebec.
Reimagined Religious Spaces
Matisse is hardly the only local chef seizing onto a new era of Montreal cuisine. In Little Burgundy, Chef John Winter Russell has repurposed the historic St. Joseph's Church into a culinary passion project dubbed Candide. This hideaway serves up four-course meals inspired by the writings of Voltaire. The meals source global ingredients like Tokyo turnips and tomatillos to complement local hen of the woods mushrooms, plums and honeycombs.
Montreal’s sweet treats don’t end in its chocolate shops. And they certainly don’t stop after dinner, either. In fact, the city is home to an incredible array of eateries that specialize only in dessert. Many, like Ratafia, offer a three-course dessert tasting menu with dishes like crémeux citron, fruit sorbet and a signature dish like chocolate cake garnished with black garlic-infused chocolate ganache, hazelnuts and green apple sorbet — this, in addition to handcrafted cocktails.
Though Montreal is a more laid back city than its caffeine-buzzed American neighbors, coffee is still an integral part of its culture. And perhaps owing to the city's French heritage, the pastry game at Montreal's cafés is in a league of its own. Settings range from neighborhood hole-in-the-walls to the cathedral-like Crew Collective and Cafe, located in a former bank.
Bean to Bar Chocolate
Boutique chocolate has a cult following in Montreal, where a global bean-to-bar movement has taken firm root in the city. Chocolate makers like État de Choc are creating award-winning flavors using cacao beans from across the globe; and, they’ll let you try your hand at crafting your own bar using house beans and ingredients like cinnamon, sea salt, banana and even hops.
Montreal’s French heritage shines at lunchtime, when plates of bavette de boeuf start rolling out from kitchens around the city. Comprised of a beef flank steak in a shallot sauce that’s often layered on a bed of mashed or fried potatoes and accompanied by a generous layer of melting onions. This centuries-old workman’s staple of old is still serving up comfort on a plate in every corner of the city. The upscale Restaurant Henri Brasserie offers a faithful homage to the dish’s heritage at a reasonable lunch special rate.
Montreal is home to more than 100 independent microbreweries and brewpubs. The boom began in 1987 when Le Cheval Blanc became the first licensed brewpub in Montreal. Today, the establishment is still serving up some dozen house-made brews while enjoying its casual status as the grandfather of them all. Meanwhile, Brewpub tours are popping up all over the city as a way for visitors to explore beyond Montreal’s inaugural microbrewery.
Montreal’s vibrate night life is complemented perfectly by arguably one of the best late-night snacks on the planet, poutine. This guilty pleasure features gravy and cheese curds on a bed of crispy fries. Poutine is so prevalent in Montreal that you can have it delivered to your hotel via Uber Eats; however, this signature dish is best enjoyed at one of the city’s hot spots like Greenspot or Chez Claudette. You can even grab vegan poutine at Lola Rosa.
Breakfast is serious business in Canada and Montreal is no exception. Early risers will find an incredible array of familiar breakfast foods that take on new life thanks to the city's love affair with fresh ingredients. Fluffy pancakes are a signature at Maison Publique, one of countless breakfast spots piling on fresh fruits and crispy bacon to accompany Quebec's finest maple syrups.
Canapé traces its roots back to France, but the Québécois have adopted it as a favorite snack around the house and the bar. One local's word of advice? If someone offers you canapé in their home, you immediately take it. These savory snacks, like the ones seen here at Olive and Gourmando, most often consist of thin slices of crunchy bread topped with garnishes like pork or duck spreads.
Montreal is one of just a handful of cities to host RAW WINE, an international festival that showcases natural wines by the hundreds. Thanks in part to RAW WINE, Montreal is being recognized as a hub of natural wines, alongside cities like London, Los Angeles and Berlin. The city hosts a platoon of naturally focused wine bars like Vin Mon Lapin, Pullman and Larry's. These hot spots specialize in organic and biodynamic spirits sourced from around the globe.
Booming Bar Life
Duck into a bamboo-lined doorway on St. Hubert Street and you'll stumble upon Snowbird Tiki Bar. The narrow set of nondescript stairs leading up to Snowbird are typical of dozens of hidden bars in Montreal, which range from tropically-themed tiki bars to the space-themed speakeasy Milky Way. The city's bartenders are some of the craftiest you'll find, masters at mixing local ingredients with international blends to create unique spirits.
Pedal Tours for the Palate
Throughout warmer months, there may be no better way to experience Montreal than on a bicycle. There are no shortage of bike tours in town, but Spade and Palacio's "non-touristy tour" offers up a hyper-local view of the city, tracing a route through back alley green spaces and side streets that includes pitstops at local cafés and eateries — all atop a flock of recycled bicycles named after drag queens.