Check out the iconic Montreal restaurants that are too good to miss during your next visit to Canada’s most epicurean city.
We admit it. We adore Montreal. We’ve visited the French Canadian city five times in the past ten years including a recent month-long stay. And guess what? We can’t wait to plan our next visit so that we can enjoy more of the city’s culture, outdoor life and food. Especially the food.
Easily accessible from New York City via the Amtrak Adirondack train, Montreal is a city that has it all when it comes to food – from bustling local markets filled with locals shopping for the freshest meats, cheese, bread and produce to dives slinging out globally inspired grub as well as fine restaurants serving the ultimate level of gastronomic cuisine. It’s all in Montreal… and it’s all good.
Seriously, we recently spent a month looking for bad food in Montreal but we never found it.
We’re going to share all of our favorite spots to eat in and drink in a comprehensive Montreal food guide, but, for now, we want to focus on the truly iconic Montreal restaurants that set the tone for the city’s exciting food scene. These are restaurants you cannot miss when you visit Montreal.
Iconic Montreal Restaurants
Montreal is a city with 1.7 million residents and almost as many restaurants. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but Montreal has more restaurants per person than any other city in Canada. (We read this statistic online, so it must be true. Right???)
Having so many restaurants in one city poses a challenge to visitors trying to narrow down where to eat in Montreal during a visit, whether the visit is for a long weekend, a week or even a month. The city has something for everyone including multiple Vegan Montreal restaurants and even more third wave coffee shops.
Feeling overwhelmed? Start with these ten iconic Montreal restaurants if you want to experience the true essence of Montreal cuisine.
Au Pied de Cochon
Chef Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon is a Québécois classic and arguably the best restaurant in Montreal. A mecca for carnivores, Au Pied de Cochon celebrates Montreal’s bounty and serves it on a plate five nights a week. If you only eat at one upscale restaurant in Montreal, this is the one that you cannot miss. Though prices skew higher here, the generous portion sizes and quality of the ingredients make Au Pied de Cochon a great value.
Eating at Au Pied de Cochon creates two challenges. The first challenge is that the nose-to-tail choices are not particularly vegetarian-friendly. However, the bigger challenge is that meat eaters will want to order every single item on the menu. From appetizers like the best onion soup we’ve ever eaten (including in Paris) to poutine loaded with foie gras to the groundbreaking duck in a can, everything on the menu is worth ordering and sharing with friends.
What also makes PDC such a special place is the convivial space, converted from a neighborhood pizza joint. This buzzing dining room rages with the kind of energy that makes a dining experience special with jovial servers working the throngs of international guests and busy chefs cranking out the show-stopping food. The fact that Au Pied de Cochon still packs customers in, even on the coldest and snowiest of days, is testament to its status as a true Montreal classic.
Ironically, our very favorite item on the Au Pied de Cochon menu doesn’t have any meat, at least not as far as we know. The restaurant’s pudding chômeur featuring maple syrup from Picard’s sugar shack is nothing short of spectacular. Trust us, order one and you will be scraping the bowl until it’s clean and wishing you ordered another one despite being stuffed.
Au Pied de Cochon is located at 536 Avenue Duluth E, Montréal, QC H2L 1A9, Canada.
Schwartz’s specializes in one food and one food only – smoked meat sandwiches. Though Reuben Schwartz opened the iconic “Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen” in 1928, you’ll still have to go to New York for a Reuben sandwich. When you go to Schwartz’s in the Plateau neighborhood, it’s all about smoked meat on rye bread. Nothing more, nothing less. Okay, you can add some yellow mustard and sides (they sell some excellent french fries) if you want.
Other Montreal restaurants serve similar spice-rubbed brisket sandwiches, but the Schwartz’s version is the benchmark and a classic. When you dine at Schwartz’s, opt for medium-fat meat and add yellow mustard to create a perfect smoked meat sandwich. Order a half-sour pickle and fries for a perfect meal. Better yet, get some extra rye bread and you’ll have enough to share with a friend.
One more tip: If you wish to avoid occasionally long lines, order your sandwich from the take-out counter next door and eat next to the window in the back.
Schwartz’s is located at 3895 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC H2W 1X9, Canada.
When Pierre Barsalou opened La Banquise in the Plateau neighborhood in 1968, he didn’t have poutine on the menu. Fast forward to today and poutine dominates at this kitschy Montreal icon helmed by Barsalou’s daughter Annie and her partner Marc Latendresse. With over thirty poutine combinations, diners can opt for classic poutine or go for versions featuring a variety of meats and vegetables. We’re partial to their Hot Dog poutine adorned with hot dog slices and The Elvis poutine with ground beef, peppers and mushrooms, but these two are just the tip of the poutine iceberg at La Banquise.
For the uninitiated, poutine is a Québécois invention in which french fries are topped with gravy and cheese curds. Many Montreal restaurants serve the popular dish, but La Banquise sets the standard with its vast selection and 24/7 schedule. Yes, you read that right. You can scratch your poutine itch at any time of the day or night at La Banquise. In our opinion, there’s nothing better than a plate of fries and gravy after a night of ‘socializing.’
Watch our video to see us eat poutine at La Banquise.
La Banquise is located at 994 Rue Rachel E, Montréal, QC H2J 2J3, Canada.
It’s difficult to ignore the importance of L’Express, the city’s classic French bistro located in the Plateau neighborhood. Crowds flock here every day from early morning when the first diners arrive for a traditional French-style breakfast until the last dinner parties call it a night at 2:00 am. We visited L’Express on a weeknight where temperatures reached -10°f (-23°c) and were shocked to find a dining room filled, elbow to elbow, similar to the crowds on a warm summer evening.
Servers at L’Express are efficient with a touch of surliness, just like in France. The atmosphere is also pure French with a decor featuring checkered floors, closely situated tables and a well-appointed bar. Meals start with crispy baguettes and cornichons and continue with a parade of value-priced brilliantly executed French classics like the juicy house-made Toulouse sausage served over the silkiest mash potatoes in Montreal. If you’re thirsty, L’Express’ wine list has plenty of French selections to go with the bistro’s classic Parisian menu.
L’Express is located at 3927 St Denis St, Montreal, QC H2W 2M4, Canada.
Brunch is a weekly ritual in Montreal with friends gathering on weekends to share food and laughs at their favorite local joints. Sure, you can eat brunch at a dozen or more Montreal restaurants, but, if you want to eat at one that oozes with local history and also serves great food, we recommend Beauty’s Luncheonette.
Opened by Hymie Scolnick in 1942, Beauty’s Luncheonette is a fixture in the Plateau neighborhood. Though Scolnick passed away at age 96 in late 2017, the restaurant is still a family affair led by son Larry. Set in a super-casual space that resembles a New York diner, this iconic Montreal restaurant serves a full range of classics like omelets and pancakes as well as trendy smoothies, but the most popular dishes are the Mish-Mash Omelet (think of a kitchen sink omelet with a mish-mash of salami, hot dog chunks, pepper and onion) and the Beauty’s Special (a Montreal bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese). Don’t leave if you see a line – this brunch is worth the wait.
Beauty’s Luncheonette is located at 93 Mont-Royal Ave W, Montreal, QC H2T 2S5, Canada.
Reservations are tough to get at Joe Beef, a testament to the popularity of Frédéric Morin and David McMillan’s Little Burgundy restaurant. A relative baby, open since 2005 and named after a colorful 19th-century tavern owner, Joe Beef is an iconic Montreal restaurant with attitude to spare. You’ll feel the attitude as soon as you walk through the doors and see the menu posted on a blackboard and hear the music streaming through the speakers. Most importantly, you’ll taste the attitude when you eat the food at this popular yet intimate institution.
Invite your friends to join you at Joe Beef so that you can share different plates and linger over glasses of red French wine – and by glasses, we mean bottles. Start with meaty P.E.I. oysters from the raw bar and then pick your passion from the daily menu on the wall. Surf and turf dominate the menu with choices like lobster spaghetti and calf’s liver. Prices skew high here, but the pricing is easy to justify considering the quality of the large servings and the overall dining experience.
Joe Beef is located at 2491 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, QC H3J 1N6, Canada.
Ma Poule Mouillée
A lot of places in Montreal serve Portuguese food, especially chicken and the addictive custard tart known as a pastel de nata. We’re okay with this situation since we developed an appreciation for Portuguese food during our honeymoon in Portugal. Lets’ face it, it’s much easier to feed our Portuguese food habit in Montreal than it is to fly over the ocean.
Open since 2013, Ma Poule Mouillée is the spot to eat Portuguese food in Montreal. The cooks here grill chicken over charcoal on a spit behind the restaurant’s counter. Add piri piri sauce for a chicken flavor party in your mouth with a burst of flavor. Better yet, order the Portuguese poutine, the restaurant’s unique version with chorizo, São Jorge cheese and chopped rotisserie chicken. This big, tasty poutine gives La Banquise (across the street and featured above) a run for its money. Luckily, Montreal is big enough for more than one great poutine spot.
Ma Poule Mouillée is located at 969 Rachel St E, Montreal, QC H2J 2J2, Canada.
Wilensky’s Light Lunch
A visit to Montreal would be incomplete without at least one Wilensky’s Special, the iconic Mile End lunch counter’s grilled sandwich with beef bologna and beef salami. Located on the same block as Fairmount Bagel (see below), the family-run eatery has been slinging sandwiches to hungry locals since 1932. And the greatest irony? Moe Wilensky didn’t originally sell bologna sandwiches at Wilensky’s Light Lunch. He added these world-famous sandwiches at his customers’ request. They’re so popular today that the staff prepares these sandwiches ahead of time in order to keep up with the hurried lunch crowd.
Though the Wilensky’s Special is a solid sandwich with fresh ingredients and an attractive price point, the best part of eating at Wilensky’s Light Lunch is the dining experience. Diners sit on bar stools facing the grill and chat with the next Wilensky generation (Sharon and Asher) during their quick meal. Ordering a Wilensky’s Special is easy. You can choose to add Swiss or American cheese. You can also order a side of pickles and a handcrafted fountain drink. Just don’t ask them to cut your sandwich or leave off the mustard – these requests are against the rules.
Wilensky’s Light Lunch is located at 34 Avenue Fairmount O, Montréal, QC H2T 2M1, Canada.
Fairmount Bagel & St-Viateur Bagel
Crowds flock to Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood to eat bagels at all hours of the day and night. But which is the best bagel shop in Montreal? Many argue that Fairmount Bagel has been serving the best Montreal bagels since 1919, whereas others prefer St-Viateur, open since 1957, just around the corner. Either way, these two Montreal icons are responsible for turning the donut-shaped Eastern European bread staple into one of Montreal’s signature foods.
Montreal bagels are different from their New York cousins. They’re smaller and have a sweet flavor due to a cooking process that includes a water and honey bath. But what city makes the better bagel? Montrealers swear by their bagels with a passion often reserved for hockey. Though we personally prefer New York bagels, we appreciate the Montreal version when it’s straight from the oven and slathered with cream cheese. One thing is for sure, eating bagels is a must when you visit Montreal whether you go to Fairmount, St-Viateur Bagel or both.
Juliette et Chocolat
Making Montreal sweeter since 2003, Juliette et Chocolat serves a menu filled with luscious treats and decadent chocolate desserts. The dessert cafe also has savory dishes on the menu, but where’s the fun in that?
Juliette Brun opened the first Juliette et Chocolat in Montreal and now has nine locations including five in Montreal. Each location serves a range of desserts like waffles, cakes and pastries. However, it’s the chocolate that makes this iconic Montreal restaurant so special.
Visitors can drink the chocolate, drizzle it over ice cream or eat it fondue style. Once you dip skewers of fruits and other treats into Juliette et Chocolat’s molten chocolate, you’ll start planning your next visit right then and there. It’s that addictive.
Juliette et Chocolat has multiple locations in Montreal.
Hungry for more? Check back soon for our Montreal Food Guide with even more great spots to eat and drink in Montreal.
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