One of my favourite things to do when friends (or friends of friends of friends) come to Montreal, is to design a food itinerary for them of the best restaurants, the best markets, and the best wine, beer, and cocktails in the city. Depending on the type of traveler they are, their perfect day could be breakfast of a demi-ficelle with salted butter and wild blueberry jam and an accompanying chocolat chaud à l’ancienne (for dipping) at a neighbourhood café, followed by a walk to Jean-Talon Market, a walk down through Little Italy to the St-Viateur bagel, and then dinner at L’Express. It’s pure French. Classic. Refined.
But hipsters are going to want to spend the day, hungover, drinking espresso or homemade sodas and donuts in Café Sardine in the Mile End before hitting happy hour at the terrasse of the Hotel Nelligan. Then it’s on to dinner and Asian-inspired cocktails at Flygin and a nightcap at the Champagnoiserie.
If you’re staying in the plateau, it’s definitely Les Trois Petits Bouchons, though: natural wines in the most amazing subterranean, brick-lined wine cellar of a bistro.
Or maybe you’re into cookbooks, in which case you’ll be having the best sushi lunch in the city at Park Restaurant in Westmount before spending the afternoon browsing the gorgeous tomes at Appetite for Books. And then you’ll want to get to the Vin Papillon (the hot wine bar owned by Joe Beef) for vegetarian-friendly small plates and biodynamic wines.
Or maybe you’re the Moishes type.
Or the BYOB type.
Or the cheap eats type.
Or, like me, the “gluten-free, dairy-free, every restaurant hates you except Crudessence, La Panthère Verte, and Café Verdure” type?
Whatever your taste buds and digestive abilities, I’m pretty sure I’d have fun coming up with an itinerary for you, which I’m happy to do. I’ll even be your tour guide for the day if you want. Email me (watson.amie at gmail dot com) and we can work something out. I’m a walking encyclopedia of the city’s restaurants, and know far more places than I’ve written up for Multiculturiosity or any other local or international publication for which I’ve written. But if you’re a foodie, planning your own food journey is half the fun of traveling, so here are some of my top Montreal destinations and reviews for all lovers of delicious things.
Hands down my favourite fine dining restaurant in the city. If you have the money, get the tasting menu and the wine pairing and thank me later. There’s nowhere else in Montreal that so expertly mixes bitter and sour and sweet and local and sustainable in a single meal, creating art and whimsy and elegance. Esoteric much? Sure, but it’s also true. The duck breast, whose skin absorbs the sweetness of maple syrup, makes sense of the expression, “chew the fat.” You’ll want to. If it’s strawberry season, expert it with princess scallops, sorbets, jelées, and coulis. Tart green apples. Bitter greens. Seared local shrimp, sweeter than summer and corn.
If you want to hear me go on about Toqué (and some more specific dish descriptions), here’s where you can do it.
900 place Jean-Paul-Riopelle; metro Square Victoria; (514) 499-2084
Crudessence: Mostly raw. While prices are creeping up, it’s a satisfying place for a refined sugar-free smoothie, juice, and the best meat-free burger in town (dehydrated vegetable patty with a bun, homemade sauce. And that’s all raw. The only non-raw on the menu are some quinoa dishes and occasionally a hot soup. Read more here.
Aux Vivres: Rice bowls with a smorgasbord of colourful veggies and tofu or tempeh. Peanut sauce, tahini sauce and salty-sweet sauces with names like Bouddha and Dragon. Also, nutty chickpea wraps in naan (or on rice), and some killer non-gluten-free cakes for dessert. Read more here.
Café Verdure: A new, tiny cafénear Guy/Concordia. It’s a one-woman operation with a menu of sandwiches and the occasional Indian spice thrown in for good measure. Coconut yogurt and granola parfaits are great for grabbing on the go. Or gluten-free, dairy-free scones made in-house. Sorghum-based breads. Read more here.
La Panthère Verte: Get the mixed salad plate: a bed of quinoa with tahini dressing, greens with a sauerkraut-spiked puckering green vinaigrette, and rotating options including tamar-braised cabbage, marinated mixed mushrooms, broccoli and sesame, and peppers with eggplant. You may only need a small since the salad plates are heaping, but very large appetites can take the daily soup with it. Good luck stuffing in a daily special of coconut-thick eggplant stew on brown rice, though. Lentil or black bean or cauliflower. Always vegan. The falafels aren’t gluten-free, but that salad plate mostly is, and there’s a recipe book on hand if you need to check on specific ingredients. Bonus: gluten-free cookies and energy balls!
Café Falco: This is problem the most eco-friendly, low-carbon footprint café in the city. They bike to pick up groceries. Their bread is from nearby artisanal bakeshop, Boulangerie Guillaume. No major distributors dropping off loads of vegetables and bread for their Asian-influenced sandwiches. Best are the onigiri stuffed rice triangles with smoked salmon, umeboshi pickled plum, or tuna. Their coffee is drip (the coffee is about the only thing that isn’t local…), the atmosphere is total zen, and even the Crudessence guys come here for a break from the office.Read more here.
Sophie Sucrée: gluten-free bakery! Yay! Petite sweets like mini tarts and cookies. Read more here.
The Satay Brothers
In summer, at the Atwater Market. In winter in their restaurant on St-Jacques across from the St-Henri metro. These Singaporean/Polish brothers sell what most people who stand in the constant line at the Atwater Market (and the shoebox of a restaurant) accept as the better of their family’s food traditions. Every day of the week but Tuesday and Wednesday (when they’re closed), whether summer or winter, they sell out of coconut milk and chili laksa soup with rice noodles, quail egg, fish cakes, coriander, and all sorts of deliciousness accompanied by a spoonful of pure shrimp paste and chili umami. Your nose will run and your lips will smile. There are also pork belly buns, satay with peanut sauce, and a beautiful papaya salad with nam pla-style sauce. Read more here.
Not gluten intolerant-friendly, but a very cool restaurant doing French-inspired local fine dining and natural wines. Killer cocktail list to boot, and the middle of a dodgy section of St-Laurent locale makes it a great after-work location, basically monopolizing the area in terms of hip places to go.
Now located in Point St-Charles, this is the best from-scratch Northern Indian food in Montreal, including the entire Jean-Talon/Parc Ex strip. Yup, I said it. And it’s dirt cheap. And filling. And BYOB. Yes, there’s tons of oil, but not so much that you can’t taste the freshly toasted cumin seeds, the perfect balance of tomato and lemon with chicken and coriander and cilantro. The buttery murgh, the rich beef, the small, delicately made samosas. Read more here.
Best Mission-style California tex-mex in the city. You want authentic street food, you go to El Rey del Taco in Jean-Talon, but you want giant burritos filled with braised carnitas or bakes chicken and roasted sweet potato chunks with homemade pico de gallo, guacamole, black beans, rice, corn, cilantro and lettuce, you come here. I might be mixing up some of those fillings with the ones they put on the Naked Burrito (instead of a flour tortilla the burrito comes on a bed of brown rice), and the quinoa salad (citrus dressing and some red cabbage thrown into the mix), but that’s the gist of it. There are also quesadilla plates, tacos, enchiladas, and chili. There are always veggie options, sometimes even tofu-based dishes (so California), and addictive house-made sweets for dessert. In summer, aguas frescas to wash down the tortilla chips to start. Read more here.
The ultimate Montreal bistro. Service is pro. Wine is affordable and comes by the carafe, glass, or bottle. You get a jar of house gherkins with your meal, and a jar of Dijon. Perfect for fries, perfect for life. Duck confit. Warm goat cheese salad. Perfect soups. Bavette. This is it. Read more here.
Sweet Lee’s Bakery
Soon moving to Verdun, but for now still located in St-Henri, this rustic bakeshop run by a charismatic brother and sister team turns out the best sweet and savoury scones, cookies, bars, and tarts in the city. Read more here.
Not gluten-free. Not dairy-free. But would that I could live on these extraordinary cupcakes and multi-tiered cakes…Read more here.
Handmade Dalian (a small area of Eastern China) soup dumplings. Lamb and mint, pork and chives, and shrimp-filled bundles of joy that explode in your mouth. Best dipped in hot sauce and vinegar…Not gluten-free, sadly. Read more here.
East African Restaurant
Best Ethiopian in the city. Since Le Nil Bleu started doing pan-African, this is the only place to go for a good selection of Ethiopian dishes, and not just the ubiquitous platter of lentils, cabbage, beans, and collards on a bed of spongy teff and wheat injera (traditionally the bread is gluten-free, but restaurants often add barley flour and wheat to make it lighter and less bitter. Call ahead to request 100% teff, gluten-free bread). Read more here.
And some general “best of” categories:
Montreal Pho’-down (Vietnamese noodle soup throwdown : )