I have so much love for Montreal, and its vibrant food scene played a large role in developing this bond. Although it is not a very large city, it boasts a higher number of restaurants per capita than more populous places like New York City. A majority of its establishments are casual, fine dining. This means that you can get really beautiful, high-quality food without spending all the money. With such an abundance of options, it can be hard choosing where to eat. Here is a list of some of my favorite places.
As a bartender once told my brother and I before the first time that we dined here, "You're eating at Le Filet? I won't say that I hope your dinner is good because I know that it will be great!" This is one of my family's absolute favorite restaurants in town. It's a little bit on the pricier end - the portions run from small-plate to slightly-larger-than-small plate - but it's absolutely worth it. And on a side note: their maitre d' is a national treasure.
The focus here is on local ingredients, even going so far as to keep a garden and beehives on their rooftop. Disclaimer: Since eating here, the chef has changed, but I enjoyed my meal so much, and, from the looks of things, neither the philosophy nor the caliber has changed, so I am still confident in making this recommendation. Also, the desserts are bonkers.
I seldom do tasting menus in Montreal, but at Le Mousso, the choice is but one tasting. After seeing their menu online, it was a no-brainer deciding to come here, and the food lived up to everything I imagined it would be. It was stunning, it was delicious, and it was creative - but creative in a way that heightened the taste and enjoyment of the meal.
The cuisine of Bouillon Bilk reminds me in many ways of the NoMad in NYC. They both have the same menu style that always drives me crazy, where only the main ingredients are listed, missing those key adjectives necessary to make you feel excited. However, the food that comes out is always consistently excellent and always exceeds my expectations. It's the type of place that is dependable: where you know that you don't have worry if the food will be anything less than wonderful.
Normand Laprise is the godfather of modern Montreal cuisine, and if looking for a splurge meal in Montreal or somewhere to celebrate a special occassion, this is the place.
My expectations of restaurants are different as a traveller than when I live somewhere, and something that is essential to me, in addition to taste, is at least a little bit of a wow factor. This long-standing bistro serves traditional fare, which is not always my cup of tea, but there are enough modern touches, especially in presentation, to make it feel fresh and exciting.
The most casual restaurant on this list, Comptoir 21 mainly does fried seafood, but what I like to get here is the poutine. Admittedly, I am limited in my poutine consumption by the whole no-meat thing, and I love that their gravy has a strong peppery kick. Before my first trip to Quebec, I, like many, was weirded out by the concept of poutine, but it's grown on me so much, to the point where if get a whiff of anything fried, starchy, and savory, my gut reaction is to whip around the manner of dramatic chipmunk and question in the voice of Scooby Doo, "POUTINE??"
Booze and Food:
This brewpub was revamped by the same team of the tragically-closed-before-its-time Hôtel Herman. Although the space is more casual, the food is just the same as before: beautiful, delicious, and simultaneously bold but delicate.
Pullman Bar à Vin
The wines here are, of course, excellent, but their extensive menu of "snacks" merits acknowledgment as a destination for food as well. The first time we came here, in a half-dead state, we chose two glasses of wine at random, scallops, and petit fours, and everything miraculously went well together. It was likely sheer luck, but I like to think that everything on the menus was so well-planned and selected that you couldn't go wrong with whatever combination you get.
Olive et Gourmando
My brother and I accidentally - and very, very luckily - stumbled upon this place the first time we visited Montreal, and it's now become a tradition to stop by on our last morning in town. Although he loves their breakfast sandwiches, my favorite order is their sesame, cheese croissants, a maple pecan brioche, and a coffee or fresh-squeezed orange juice to-go.
Although I'm sure that their dinner menu is wonderful, I have only ever been here for brunch, and it introduced me to the revelation that is Turkish breakfast. Here, each person chooses a main dish, and before those arrive, a platter of mezes is brought out for the table: piping-hot flatbread, house-made jams and a chocolate-hazelnut spread, honey with kaymak, dried fruit, nuts, olives, and a tomato, cucumber, and ricotta salad. In writing, it sounds commonplace, but in person, it tasted like anything but.
Fairmount/St. Viator Bagels
While I shall humbly decline to weigh in on which shop produces the best bagel, I will say that I love Montreal-style bagels. I like to picked up a dozen to bring home, where I use them to make breakfast sandwiches. The slight sweetness provides a nice flavor contrast and the larger hole in the middle, in a perfect situation, both applies less pressure on and traps in runny yolks. Additionally, for fellow sesame-aficionados out there, the honey/malt bath and cooking process give the seeds of the sesame bagels this beautiful, candy-like, chewy texture that is super addicting.
This is one of my favorite pastry shops in the city. They recently moved locations, and the last time I visited, they were selling out by the afternoon, so do try to go in the morning. Although all her pastries are lovely, my personal favorite are the étagé layer cakes and the cheesecake. She also makes wonderful savory scones, pound cake-like loaf cakes, and jams. I've never come here and not seemingly bought out half the store. In addition, they offer brunch and afternoon tea (reservations are a must), both of which I enjoyed thoroughly.
This is my other favorite patisserie. Some of the desserts here run a little bit more traditional, but everything is exquisitely-made and, of course, delicious. He also makes these amazing sablés sandwiched with pecan praline and chocolate, and his canelé bourdelais (my absolute favorite French specialty) are the best I've had outside of France. (In full honesty, when I've preordered the canelé, they sometimes run a little bit over, but they're so freaking delicious that my brain still sighs an OMGGG when I bite into one.) Also, you can sometimes find jars of their milk jam, which sounds weird but is amazing, and which I may or may not have eaten in its entirety in a single sitting. Lunch and brunch are also on offer here, although I have not yet been.
I did live in Brittany for three months, which might not have been a very long time in the grand scheme of things, but it was enough time to develop very strong opinions about the kouign amann, which is one of the specialties of this region. The popularized version, baked in a muffin tin, weirds me out incredibly, as its true form is supposed to be flat, dense but flaky, with a chewy, caramelized outer layer. The closest rendition I've seen outside of France is here, an unassuming and easily missed shop specializing in Breton pastries, right on the Mont Royal. If you're lucky, you'll catch them right as they come out of the oven - or better yet, 10 minutes after they come out of the oven, so that you don't end up like me, nursing slightly-scalded fingers while staring sadly at your kouign amann on the floor.
This is probably the most popular ice cream shop in town, and for good reason. In the summertime, the line often stretches lengths most-commonly seen at [unbearable food trend] shops, except that here, it is based on merit alone. It's damn good ice cream.
What started out as a food truck now has a brick and mortar in Little Italy. I confess: I've never had their ice cream, but I have had their slushies, which are the most refreshing and perfect beverage for the gross and humid Montreal summers.
Trou de Beigne
I don't want to be overly hyperbolic and give you unrealistic expectations, but this is possibly my favorite donut shop ever. Before they opened their brick and mortar, you could only find these doughnuts with luck and timing at cafés around the area, which is exactly how I learned of their existence and subsequent necessity to my life. Now, you can conveniently find them in Little Italy, where you can too conveniently eat all the donuts. Here, there are more flavors to choose from than before, and with their adorable mini versions, you can eat a dozen, which I'm pretty sure works out to be the caloric equivalent of one regular-sized donut.