What to eat and drink in Montreal, Canada
Montreal is a culinary mecca and has a huge variety of food options, from diners and fast food to low-cost ethnic restaurants to haute cuisine. The city was recently ranked 2nd best dining city in North America after San Francisco and ahead of New York. The large local Jewish population has contributed local specialties including huge smoked meat sandwiches (beef brisket) and small, crusty bagels. Other specialties are “all-dressed” pizza (pepperoni, mushrooms and green peppers), pizza and spaghetti with smoked meat, and Quebecois favorites like split pea soup and poutine. Old Montreal beckons with many an authentic French themed cafe and old world French themed restaurants that specialize in both imported wines and provincial cuisines.
No visit to Montreal, Canada is complete without at least one plate of poutine. This unique dish is a plate of French fries drowned in gravy and topped with chewy curds of white cheddar. There are variations on the theme — adding chicken, beef, vegetables, or sausage, or replacing the gravy with tomato sauce (poutine italienne). Every Montrealer has their favorite poutine restaurant where it says that you can get “the real stuff”.
Many Montreal restaurants are “apportez votre vin” (bring your own wine). This may sound like a hassle, but you end up paying much less for wine with dinner if you bring it yourself. There’s usually a SAQ (government liquor store) or a dépanneur (convenience store, with a limited selection of typically inexpensive wine) nearby; ask your waiter where it is. Your waiter will open your wine for you; corkage fees are rare, but don’t forget to factor this service into your tip so make sure to ask.
Separate bills (l’addition or “facture” in French) are common and you may be asked ensemble ou séparément? (together or separately?) The standard tip for acceptable restaurant service is 15% and is not included.
Never call a waiter “garçon”! Use “monsieur” or “madame”.
To buy your own food or regional products, the public market at Jean-Talon, 7075 avenue Casgrain (metro Jean-Talon or De Castelnau), is the place to go. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, the market is especially noteworthy for its selection of produce. Even though they’re not strictly part of the market, the many stores lining it on the north and south sides complete it wonderfully with superb selections of cheese, meat, and just about anything edible. The surrounding streets are heavily Italian-flavored and feature a number of excellent grocery stores, butchers, bakeries, and restaurants.
Across town, the Atwater Market is also superb, though quite different from (and much smaller than) Jean-Talon. Here, you’ll find the city’s best butchers, as well as good selections of cheese, fish, and produce. Located on avenue Atwater, just south of rue Notre-Dame Lionel-Groulx station
Montreal claims to have the most restaurants per capita in North America.
With delis and bakeries and diners galore, Montreal offers great budget dining. Venues are scattered all over the city, but the largest concentration of restaurants is along boul Saint-Laurent, rue Saint-Denis, ave du Mont-Royal in the Plateau. Tasty and cheap ethnic food, lots of Indian buffets, can be found around the Jean-Talon market. Notre-Dame street in the South-West (Sud-Ouest) borough also features a wide selection of restaurants.
Several kosher restaurants can be found within a few blocks of each other on Queen Mary road not far from the Snowdon Métro station in and boul Décarie near Villa-Maria-des-Neiges in Côte-des-Neiges. The other greatest concentration of kosher food in along Bernard in Outremont.
Smoked-meat and sausage poutine aside, Montreal is vegetarian-friendly with several veggie and vegan restaurants and veggie options on most menus.
Montreal has a number of excellent ice cream parlors, many of which make their own ice cream. There are also a number of restaurants dedicated to desserts.
The legal age to purchase alcohol in Québec is 18 and the Quebecois are now much more rigid in enforcing this age limit. All retail alcohol sales stop at 11 p.m. and bars and clubs stop serving at 3 a.m.
Quality wine and liquor (but only a small selection of imported beers) can only be purchased at SAQ shops, most of which are open until 6p.m. Sunday to Wednesdays and 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on other days; the smaller SAQ Express outlets are open daily from 11AM to 10PM. Beer and a small selection of lower-quality wine are also sold at convenience stores (dépanneurs) and grocery stores. Some supermarkets have partnered with the SAQ to offer a few selection bottles, so if you are caught outside business hours or are in a hurry, places like IGA Extra and MÉTRO generally offer a better variety of wine than the local dépanneur.
The selection of beer to be found in grocery stores and even the humble corner store have exploded in the last decade in and around greater Montreal. Two micro-breweries in particular are world-class: McAuslan (brands include St-Ambroise and Griffon) and Unibroue (Belgian-style ales such as Blanche de Chambly, Maudite, La Fin du Monde, as well as simpler, more affordable U lagers). Boréale makes a good, if unspectacular range of brews, while Rickard’s and Alexander Keith’s domestics are gaining popularity among locals. Most stores also sell a few major imports such as Stella Artois, Sapporo, Guinness, Leffe and of course, Heineken.
Montreal has three main strips for bar-hopping. Rue Crescent, in the western part of downtown, caters mostly to Anglophones and tourists. It tends to be trendy and expensive. On the edge of the bar-heavy Plateau, Boulevard Saint-Laurent gets extremely busy when McGill and Concordia students are back in town for a new session. Between rue Sherbrooke and avenue des Pins you’ll find trendy clubs and bars with more of a Francophone clientele. Farther up St-Laurent, it’s relatively downscale and linguistically mixed. Rue Saint-Denis, between rue Sherbrooke and de Maisonneuve, is the strip with the strongest Francophone feel. There are also many good bars away from the main strips. You should never have to line up to go have a drink, because there’s virtually an unlimited choice. Depending on the day of the week, the best events vary.
Dance clubs can be found all over the downtown area, with hotspots on boulevard Saint-Laurent and rue Crescent.