Despite what our reputation suggests, Montreal isn’t all maple syrup and meat (although, who are we kidding? There is a lot of that). The city’s unique heritage has led to a food culture unlike any other in the world, one that fuses various traditions and, okay, features a fair bit of fat (we have to stay warm in the winter somehow).
To help you get acquainted with the local food scene, we’ve put together a list of the most quintessential Montreal dishes and where to find them. These aren’t tourist traps; this is the stuff of many local Montrealers’ dreams. If you’re new to the city and keen to tick off Montreal’s signature food items from your list, this is a good place to start (just don’t expect any kudos from your vegan friends...).
Is there any dish that says 'Canada' to foreigners more than poutine? The classic Quebecois creation consisting of fries, cheese curds and brown gravy is ubiquitous throughout Montreal, and while there are certainly superior options available, it's one of those things that's still pretty good even when it's bad. The tourist guidebooks will tell you to go to La Banquise, a 24-hour poutine-focused restaurant in the Plateau. While their poutine is certainly nothing to complain about, many other local favourites garner at least as much praise, including Patati Patata, Chez Claudette, Ma Poule Mouillée, Chez Tousignant and dozens more. For a luxe take on the dish, the foie gras poutine at upscale rustic fave Au Pied du Cochon is a Montreal icon in its own right.
The famous Montreal bagel is a point of pride for many locals, who are generally more than happy to pick a fight anyone who suggests that New York’s rival bagels are in any way superior. In comparison to New York’s, Montreal’s bagels are denser and sweeter (thanks to the honey added to the water they’re boiled in) and exclusively baked in a wood-burning oven. Two names vie for the label of Montreal’s best: St-Viateur and Fairmount, both of which originated in Mile End. Visit one of their bakeries (St-Viateur has several locations in the city) and grab some bagels to bring home, or check out one of the many spots that feature their bagels on the menu.
Meat dishes do account for a lot of Montreal’s signature cuisine, and smoked meat is the most iconic of them all. Made from brisket that’s been salted, cured and smoked, it’s typically served on rye bread with mustard, and like the bagel, it was introduced to Montreal by Jewish immigrants. Schwartz’s Deli is the spot most known for the dish, and it regularly sees crowds lined up outside its door (in all seasons), but it’s not the only place worth trekking to for smoked meat; other local faves include Lester’s Deli in Outremont and The Main Deli Steakhouse, which is located directly across the street from Schwartz’s on St. Laurent.
Rotisserie chicken has long been a local favourite in Montreal, and you’ll find the heaviest concentration of it around the Plateau’s Little Portugal neighbourhood. Piri piri-drenched Portuguese rotisserie is the star of the show at Ma Poule Mouillée, Romados and Coco Rico, all located within a 15-minute walk of each other (give or take) in the Plateau, but you can also satisfy your cravings downtown at relative newcomer Campo.
The people of Montreal are big fans of food that’s cheap, easy and a little bit messy, three qualities that are abundant in steames--steamed hot dogs served “all dressed” with mustard, chopped onions and coleslaw. The all-dressed steame was introduced in 1921 by Montreal Pool Room, which is still perhaps the best place to get your fix. Orange Julep and Décarie Hot Dogs are also landmarks on the steamé scene, or hit up one of the fast food chains, La Belle Province or Lafleur, that are known for their dogs.
Many of Montreal’s most beloved dishes scream winter comfort food, but this classic beverage served up from inside a giant orange-shaped (and coloured) building off the Decarie Expressway is like summertime in a cup. Gibeau Orange Julep’s creamy, orange-flavoured namesake drink tastes like a liquid creamsicle, and pairs nicely with any of the deep-fried fare, including poutine, hot dogs and pogo sticks on the menu.
As the name suggests, there’s only one place to get this iconic sandwich. The Special at Wilensky’s Light Lunch (or “casse-croûte” in French—a typical Quebecois snack bar) is a salami and bologna sandwich served on a kaiser roll with mustard. A simple, no frills snack, and one that’s been bringing in regulars since 1932. While you’re there, try one of their sodas—they make their own syrups and mix the drinks by hand.