Montreal is a delectably diverse and innovative foodie city. In fact, Town and Country magazine recently named Montreal the food capital of North America, surpassing the likes of New York and San Francisco—something many Montrealers will tell you is long overdue.
Adventurous taste buds are welcomed here. Old-world cuisine (especially in French flavors) fuse together with new and innovative preparations with items that aren’t standard on menus south of the Canadian border. Think partridge, duck and pheasant.
Just as Montreal emerges onto these foodie “must” lists, however, it retains a healthy balance of catering to all taste buds. The city is more than just a specific dish or cuisine, and it’s a culinary adventure that can be as fancy or budget conscious as you wish. Here are a few highlights:
You cannot visit Montreal without trying Canada’s national dish, poutine: french fries (or “chips”) smothered in a combination of gravy and cheese curds. While many Montreal restaurants battle for the title of “best poutine,” and some even go so far as to offer a dozen varieties on a single menu, one of the coolest twists on this classic comfort food is the lobster poutine at Le Garde-Manger. As you can guess, it’s a mouthwatering mound of freshly made fries topped with large, succulent chunks of Canadian lobster. The dish won Chef Chuck Hughes the Iron Chef America title, beating out legendary chef Bobby Flay.
This is an adventure, both in taste buds and ambience. Here, you dine in complete darkness. Seriously, you won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face once you are led to your table by one of the servers, all of whom are legally blind. Since sight is completely removed, the focus on the food—smell, texture and taste—is heightened. Onoir’s menu offers interesting options such as the duck confit with a blueberry and shallot marmalade or the haddock filet and salmon mousse with wasabi cream, but we recommend the most exciting twist of all: choosing the “Surprise” menu and attempting to guess what you are eating during each course. Don’t worry, the staff will eventually tell you.
Au Pied de Cochon
Montreal certainly doesn’t lack in amazing French cuisine. After all, the city has been called the “Paris of North America.” Among the most popular places to experience the buttery richness of French cuisine is a boisterous French bistro called Au Pied de Cochon. It’s a legendary ”must” for locals and visitors alike. Show up with an empty stomach to feast on foie gras, French onion soup and its signature dish, “duck in a can.” (Which you can also get to-go.) Request a seat at the bar for a front-row seat to the culinary ballet of chefs whipping up dish after mouthwatering dish.
Dinette Triple Crown
Bet you didn’t expect to find Southern comfort food … in Canada. This cozy diner in the Mile X neighborhood, which is owned by expats from Kentucky, is hipness personified. While you can dine in, Triple Crown specializes in take-out picnic baskets packed with yummy faves such as flaky fried chicken, smoky pulled pork, black-eyed peas, sweet potato and buttermilk biscuits. (Plates, utensils and napkins are also included.) Take your meal to nearby Martel Park for a laid-back picnic feast, and don’t forget to request a slice of Derby pie (chocolate, walnut and bourbon).
Montreal is home to bagels that rival those found in New York City. (Yes, we said it.) Head to St-Viateur Bagel (open 24 hours) for melt-in-your-mouth sesame bagels that have been made the same way since 1957. They are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water and cooked in a wood-fired oven. The process produces a chewy, sweet bundle of goodness unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere. That is—unless you head down the street to Fairmount Bagel, another 24-hour bagel institution in the Mile End district. This friendly “bagel war” makes both destinations worthy stops so that you can decide for yourself which is truly “the best.”
Arrive early and wait in line—trust us, it’s worth it. This deli serves up hearty smoked meat sandwiches without any pretense, just on white bread with mustard. But boy-oh-boy, that meat. It’s the same recipe used since it opened in 1928: a secret blend of spices and herbs that are marinated into the meat for tens days. Delish.