You've just arrived in Montreal with all your hopes and dreams, a suitcase full of sweaters, tuques and boots, a car or bicycle with perfectly functioning suspension and a healthy appetite. Where should you eat to become a Montrealer, or at least to feel like one?
Montreal has forever been spoiled with restaurants of every possible iteration, from world-class award-winning Montreal restaurants to ultra-affordable spots (and some that do both), from restaurants offering the cuisines of practically every corner of the world to joints specializing in Québécois fare (far beyond poutine). This list is an agonizing attempt to define the most essential Montreal restaurants for a newcomer to get a true feel for local food culture and overall culture.
This list is, of course, wrong, and impossible to get right. We loved making it. Creating it caused bitter arguments among friends and led to debates that have not yet ended, and also made us very, very hungry. It does not include some quintessentially Montreal restaurants known to everyone, such as Schwartz's, La Banquise and Gibeau Orange Julep — we argue that you can't go to these spots and not be a tourist, but that argument is pretty weak, we admit. Honestly, you could go to them, too. Nobody will be upset.
What do you think? Is the best restaurant (for a newcomer) missing from this list? Is there an essential dish that should have made the cut? Let us know in the comments.
Where: 3041, rue Notre-Dame O.
Why You Need To Go: The Montreal diner is a dying breed, and this one is among a handful of hangers-on scattered around the city that still capture that old-school feel because they've managed to avoid changing. Those new to the city can dive into hot dogs, pizza, and poutine made with Green Spot's iconic thick-cut fries, right in the heart of Montreal's Saint-Henri neighbourhood. You could also opt for Montreal's other home-grown carb-bomb, pizzaghetti, to which Green Spot makes historical claim.
Where: 1057, ave. Bernard
Why You Need To Go: Located in Outremont (though you'd be forgiven for thinking it should be in the Mile-End neighbourhood), Lester's has been serving classic deli sandwiches, smoked meats, and other Jewish specialties for decades, attracting both locals and tourists looking for an authentic deli experience in the city. It's one of the smoked meat spots locals stick with to avoid the crowds at Schwartz's.
Where: Various locations across Montreal
Why You Need To Go: For those looking for a quick and easy Lebanese bite in Montreal, Boustan is always a solid choice. The original Boustan was a humble basement counter on Rue Crescent — frequented by late-night revellers but also former prime minister Pierre Trudeau — and has since grown into a chain. Today, not every Boustan is created equal, and many argue that expansion has compromised the original quality — but even if it's not what it once was, you should go to one to get a taste of Lebanese-Montrealer fast food innovation. Or go to several, including Amir, Basha and Zoukis, and join in the arguments about which one is best, just like locals do.
Ma Poule Mouillée
Where: 969, rue Rachel E.
Why You Need To Go: The Plateau has long been known for its delicious Portuguese-style grilled chicken, and relative upstart Ma Poule Mouillée has gained a reputation for its flavourful and succulent recipe, served with sides like rice, salads, and other Portuguese-inspired fare. Many of the originals — Portugalia, Romados, Chez Doval, to name a few — are great too, and may have shorter queues. During the spring and summer months, take your order to go and enjoy it at Parc La Fontaine, which is only a skip and hop away from the bustling Plateau restaurant.
Where: Various locations across Montreal
Why You Need To Go: Starting with a neighbourhood spot on Rue Wellington in Verdun, Bossa has grown to be one of the best sandwich shops across Montreal. With two new locations, one in Rosemont and another at Time Out Market, newcomers now have three spots to give one of Bossa's massive sandwiches a try. A few fan faves include the chicken parm, porchetta and sausage and pepper sandwiches. The restaurant is run by chef Daniel Lomano and his family. In fact, the name Bossa originates from calling himself the "Boss" and his mom the "Bossa."
Where: 5456, rue Sherbrooke O
Why You Need To Go: Some argue that rotisserie chicken, not poutine, is the essential Montreal dish, and Chalet BBQ in NDG can lay claim to being one of the originals. The restaurant is known for its chicken slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven, and also for a backstory that suggests their sauce (and everything else) may be the inspiration for the sauce at a popular national chicken chain.
Pho Tay Ho
Where: 6414, rue Saint-Denis
Why You Need To Go: Known as one of the best restaurants in Montreal for Vietnamese food, Pho Tay Ho doesn't play around. The iconic spot serves up a bangin' pho with an aromatic broth that will practically hug your soul along with other traditional dishes such as vermicelli and rice bowls, beef salads, and of course, Viet iced coffee. With Montreal's winter months taking many newcomers by surprise, you'll want to frequent a pho spot as often as possible, and Pho Tay Ho should undoubtedly be on the top of your list.
Chez Ma Tante
Where: 3180, rue Fleury E.
Why You Need To Go: Montreal's Chez Ma Tante offers up vintage vibes, greasy food and the promise of a satisfied belly. The old-fashioned-style diner is totally worth it for a typical Québécois night full of poutines, hot chicken sandwiches, and smoked meat. The name itself also holds value. Translated in English to "at my aunt's [home]" a meal here will have you feeling like you're dining with family, a feeling many Montreal restaurants serve up (it's just never really on the menu).
Cuisine: Jewish Deli
Where: 34, ave. Fairmount O.
Why You Need To Go: Established in 1932 and seemingly unchanged since, Wilensky's is a historic deli located in Montreal's Mile-End known for its signature "Wilensky Special," which is essentially a pressed (more like smooshed) sandwich with salami, bologna and mustard inside. If you want to know what the Jewish scene in the then-immigrant-heavy Plateau was like 100 years ago, you can look at archival photos, or just go here.
La Capital Tacos
Where: 1096 boul. Saint-Laurent
Why You Need To Go: With a rich and diverse Latinx community in Montreal, we take pride in our Mexican eateries. Now, while Montreal's Chinatown is not where you'd expect to get some of the best Mexican food in Montreal, La Capital is breaking all the foodie rules and proving itself to be the place to get an authentic taste of Mexico. Known for its superb tacos and quesadillas, this spot won't leave you disappointed when that craving for a real good taco kicks in.
Where: 2026, rue Wellington
Why You Need To Go: From roti bursting with fillings like beef, chicken, and curry goat to patties and platters featuring jerk chicken, oxtail, and saltfish, it's no surprise that Boom Js is one of Montreal's most sought-after Caribbean restaurants. With two locations in Montreal, Boom Js is an essential spot to visit when you're in the mood for some home-style food emblematic of the city's proud, thriving Caribbean community.
Le Super Qualité
Where: 1211, rue Belanger; Le Central, 30, rue Sainte-Catherine O.
Why You Need To Go: There are many excellent old-school Indian restaurants around, including another on this list. But with a solid dosa recipe and thali plates inspired by the rich traditions of southern and western India, relative newcomer Le Super Qualité has become many Montrealers' go-to spot for Indian food. You may prefer the cozy charm of their snack bar in La Petite-Patrie, but the dedicated experience at their Le Central food hall location lets you experience Montreal's take on the hip, modern food court. You're bound to leave either location with a full and happy belly.
Arthur's Nosh Bar
Where: 4621, rue Notre-Dame O.
Why You Need To Go: There are practically infinity brunch spots in Montreal, but Arthur's stands out as a culinary tribute to Jewish culture and tradition. It's also pretty new and very popular. With its inviting vintage aesthetic and warm ambiance, the restaurant encapsulates the essence of a traditional Jewish deli with its menu full of must-try items including the challah chicken sandwich, latkes, smoked salmon, and roast beef. While their reimagined Jewish fare is worth all the hype, you may also feel tempted to give their pancakes a try, considering how iconic they are. The tower of flapjacks totally warrants the long queues that form on weekends. Beyond their marvellous thickness, when matched with local maple syrup and a medley of freshly harvested fruits, the pancakes really do sweeten up your day.
Where: 3927, rue Saint-Denis
Why You Need To Go: Few fancy restaurants can maintain their vitality and centrality in the long term — celebrity chefs move on, diners lose interest and chase bookings at the next trendy spot — but Saint-Denis stalwart L'Express has been a very good, very busy, classic French bistro since the beginning of time. It's not cheap, but it earned a place on JP Karwacki's list of affordable excellent Montreal restaurants because it's not astronomical, everything is made well and the service is impeccable. And in proper Parisian style, the waiters will treat you with the very same respectful disdain they'd treat a Westmount zillionaire.
Where: 880, rue Jarry O.
Why You Need To Go: Montreal's Park-Ex neighbourhood has been undergoing recent waves of gentrification, but many of the Indian and Pakistani restaurants that once served a mainly local, immigrant community have held on, and Malhi's restaurant has been a favourite since 1996. Newcomers can indulge in classics and signature dishes like special vermicelli rolls, savoury goat curry, and garlicky black lentil dahl, all of which will keep both your stomach and wallet satisfied.
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Where: 2125, rue Guy
Why You Need To Go: This Concordia-area downtown institution has been a go-to for students and anyone else in the know for decades. Their Middle Eastern options and huge slices of pizza are uniformly excellent, with the quintessential order arguably being the Za'atar all-dressed, a flatbread spread with an aromatic spice mix and piled with lettuce, tomatoes, turnips and whatever else you fancy. It's famously cheap, too.
St Viateur Bagel
Cuisine: Montreal Bagels
Where: 263, rue St-Viateur O.
Why You Need To Go: There are two places most talked about for this Montreal staple, St. Viateur and Fairmount, and the argument over which is better is endless and pointless. (With that said, Montreal bagels are simply objectively better than those from anywhere else.) We chose St. Viateur here, but you could go to Fairmount. Hand-rolled, boiled in honey-sweetened water, and then baked in a wood-burning oven, these bagels achieve a crispy exterior and a tender interior with a distinct sweetness and subtle wood-fired aroma.
Where: 68, ave. Fairmount O.
Why You Need To Go: Everyone in Montreal knows this place, and everyone knows it's good. If you're looking to dine on a budget then Drogheria Fine's five-dollar box of gnocchi is a solid choice. Smothered in tomato sauce, romano cheese and pepper flakes (cheese and flakes are optional), the gnocchi will both hit the spot and save you from dishing out an arm and a leg for such a filling meal.
Euro Deli Batory
Where: 115, rue Saint-Viateur O.
Why You Need To Go: One of a handful of old-school holdouts that has resisted the hipster and yuppie waves washing over Montreal's Mile End, Euro-Deli Batory is a cozy neighbourhood joint that serves up a mean Polish meal in a quaint Polish butcher and bread shop. It's all homemade and authentic, and Polish Montrealers (who were once more common in the area) still make the trip to stock up. Although you can dine in, the eatery is rather small, so popping in during a quieter time will guarantee a less chaotic visit.
Dobe & Andy
Where: 1071, rue Saint-Urbain R-12
Why You Need To Go: While this Cantonese spot doesn't look like much from the outside, rest assured that this restaurant serves up some of the most delicious Chinese dishes the city has to offer at some pretty great prices, too. I mean, isn't it always those hole-in-the-wall places that serve up some of the best food anyway? Whether you're in the mood for dumplings, BBQ duck or wonton soup, this Chinatown spot will appeal to even the fussiest of eaters.
Where: 4631, boul. Saint-Laurent (Plateau) & 4896, rue Sherbrooke O. (Westmount)
Why You Need To Go: Today, Montreal has no shortage of vegan options, but Aux Vivres was an early trailblazer, starting as a slightly dodgy, shambolic restaurant on Rue Saint-Dominique in the Plateau with inventive sandwiches and unpredictable service. Today it's a polished, vibrant, plant-based haven, serving up scrumptious vegan delights that ignite both your eco-conscious vibes and taste buds. With satisfying dishes and a lively ambiance, it's the go-to spot for vegan food in Montreal.
Decarie Hot Dog
Where: 953, boul. Decarie
Why You Need To Go: No newcomer to the 514 can truly call themselves a Montrealer until they've enjoyed a classic steamie (OK, not actually — but it's arguably a rite of passage). While there are loads of great spots to grab a steamed hot dog in Montreal, Decarie Hot Dog is one of the originals.
Vin Mon Lapin
Cuisine: Farm-focused Fare
Where: 150, rue Saint-Zotique E.
Why You Need To Go: If you can get a spot, you can find out why Vin Mon Lapin has been cleaning up on awards, including taking top restaurant in the country honours in Canada's Best 100. Once a part of the Joe Beef empire, Mon Lapin has established its own identity, but held on to at least some of the vibe — that casual perfection and farm-to-table focus — that to many defines contemporary Montreal cuisine. It's perfectly located for a stroll around Little Italy or the Marché Jean-Talon, and a great place for a date.
Chez Mein ($2 Chow)
Where: 3754, boul. Saint-Laurent
Why You Need To Go: There are loads of Montreal restaurants that offer up some stellar post-night out eats including La Belle Province and La Banquise. However, nothing will come close to Saint-Laurent's iconic Chez Mein, which offers up $2 noodles smothered in delicious peanut sauce. Mhm! $2 noodles smothered in peanut sauce. While we can't confirm whether it tastes as great sober as it does when those shots are hitting you, it's definitely worth trying out at least once — just to say you did and bring you one experience closer to being a true Montrealer.
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