Montréal is one of those rare cities that is as vibrant in the winter as it is in the summer, but being strategic is important when temperatures start to dip and you only have a limited amount of time (and stomach space) to spend in the city. With this in mind, we canvassed our industry pals for their recommendations, and then covered some serious ground to cross-reference their suggestions with our tastebuds. Plenty of detours and exploring later, we came up with a list that should help any food enthusiast justify a plane ticket to Montréal, even when it’s covered in snow.
Fleurs et Cadeaux
Across the well worn astroturf-covered stairs and beyond the ‘Pepto Bismol’ pink threshold of Fleurs Et Cadeaux lies a sleek Japanese-style snack bar. Tables at this Chinatown restaurant are spoken for quickly, so we suggest aiming for an early seating. Fill up on sashimi, miso-braised duck, and vegetable ohitashi before heading downstairs to Fleurs’ subterranean alter-ego, Sans Soleil (pictured above), for an evening of good music, sake, natural wine and proper cocktails in a dark, comfortable speakeasy-style bar (an abbreviated menu is also available downstairs, should your appetite return).
The intimate design of Nora Gray personifies the restaurant’s name with handsome curves, dark leather booths, and dulcet walnut tones. Now with over a decade in service behind them, the by-the-books Italian restaurant runs like clockwork. Make your reservation well in advance – you’ll be happy you did.
There isn’t a lot of exterior signage going on at Satay Brothers on Notre Dame St West. The tip-off is the crowd of people waiting on the sidewalk out front. Don’t let the line turn you off – this Singaporean street food restaurant is worth hanging around for. Plus, there is a unique interior velocity going on here that, while immersive and captivating, is also fast-paced and conducive to seeing that line move faster than you think. The payoff: share plates, cocktails, red lanterns, beer cans strung like fairy lights, and a great playlist.
Just around the corner from Helicopter restaurant on De La Salle is their little sister café and pâtisserie, Helico. This daytime spot is a fun and bright (orange) space with a small yet equally vibrant menu – think housemade granola with fresh fruit and maple syrup, nourishing salads, a soup du moment, breakfast and lunch sandwiches on fresh brioche buns, and other casual yet creative fare starring Quebec-grown seasonal ingredients. Bonus: Helico is also currently home to Aube Boulangerie. You seriously can’t go wrong with any of their monthly pastry specials (a danoise with Hachiya persimmon, coconut milk pastry cream and gingerbread crumble was a recent standout). Start a day in Hochelaga here with a pastry and coffee before roaming the nearby Botanical Gardens.
Although Mano Cornuto offers a casual Italian dinner service, we suggest that you slip an 11am lunch into your schedule as a jet-lagged breakfast. Order a coffee Negroni alongside your breakfast bolognese, and be ready to meet the day. Not sure you can handle morning Negronis and pasta before noon? This Griffintown café is also a solid choice for a really good cup of takeout coffee to warm your hands as you wander toward the cobblestone streets of Old Port.
You can’t leave Montréal without at least one visit to Automne Boulangerie, in the Petite-Patrie neighbourhood. The take-out-only sourdough bakery and viennoiserie sell out of pretty much everything on the regular, and for good reason – so show up before noon if you can (but not too early if you want to grab a square of pizza with rotating toppings, which you definitely should). If “one of everything” isn’t an option, we suggest the ham & cheese croissant, cardamom knot, whatever roulé is currently on the menu, the cheese baguette and/or a seasonally inspired fougasse (a meal on its own). Additional benches and picnic tables are only a half-block away at Espace Boyer, if you can’t wait to tear into your goodies (trust us, you won’t be able to).
Possibly the hippest – and certainly one of the tastiest – new brasserie (aka brewery) in Montréal is tucked away just a short jaunt from the Jean-Talon market on St. Andre Street. Open since May of 2021, Mellön is the passion project of long time friends Alex Pontbriand (Head Brewer) and Dave Goudreau (Director of Operations). An airy space with communal table seating and art on the walls – it’s the sort of watering hole to perfect for posting up with friends at or chatting up some new ones. Their branding – graphic, playful and a bit cheeky – is as spot-on as their beer, so don’t settle your bill without at least drooling over their merch or the cans filling up their to-go cooler (even if you can’t take them back on the plane with you).
La Belle Tonki
Vietnamese-meets-Quebecois on the menu at La Belle Tonki, a bustling and bright restaurant bar bringing tropical party vibes to the Petit-Patrie neighbourhood. Common ground can be found in comfort food territory: the Poutine Pho and Poutine Kimcheesy are novel yet surprisingly cohesive and deliciously sating, without the usual gross-feeling poutine after effects. Also: good cocktails (ginger-lovers don’t skip the Tofu Fa), soju, wine and beer, along with less adventurous, yet equally delicious, food options like pho, pork dumplings, banh mi and more.
Book an early seat at the bar at Knuckles to warm up with Italian-inspired, veg-forward food (the kitchen works closely with local farms), and a solid selection of natural wines available BTG. The small yet character-full room – imagine low hammered tin ceilings, vintage hanging lamps, plenty of wood and rustic touches, and an open galley-style kitchen – fills up and gets steamy quickly, making it a great spot to be cozy in when the daylight hours end by 4:30pm (just before their doors to open). With enough of an appetite and budget, ordering everything on the menu is easy. But regardless of either, don’t skip over the eponymous Knuckles – basically an elevated handmade and deep-fried pizza pocket. Ordered with a veg dish and pasta, you’ll leave a happy camper.
Staying somewhere with a kitchen? Then make your way to ETNA Pastificio to get all your provisions for a meal “at home” that won’t blow your budget but will get you well-fed. The little Italian grocer is located on the border of the Villeray neighbourhood. Their deal: a tight selection of imported pantry items; Quebec-only wines, ciders and beer; a cooler and freezer stocked with cheese, ready-to-cook pasta, sauces and more; plus a prominent display case full of fresh pasta made daily (on an heirloom brass pasta machine that owner Claudia inherited and put to use during Covid).
Elena + Club Social P.S.
Everyone talks about the pizza at Elena. The predictable consequence of this persistent positive chatter is that scoring a seat at the polished St-Henri pizzeria can be challenging. If you don’t have your act together to book ahead, an equally delightful backup plan is available…Slip around to the alley and down a flight of stairs to Club Social P.S., an intimate, no-reservation room with only 13 seats situated around a horseshoe-shaped bar, where you can order off of Elena’s menu (including pizza from the same custom-built pizza oven used upstairs). Extra good news: Club Social P.S. also offers a hoagie situation during the day and doubles as a bottle shop straight through to 11pm. Good times!
For serious Thai food stop by Épicerie Pumpui, service au comptoir. We recommend the Pad Krapao (spicy pork sauteed with holy basil, with a fried egg on rice), green curry with fish balls, and >yam samun phrai (cabbage and root veg salad with coconut dressing and sesame seeds). Stake out a stool at the window to people-watch on St. Zotique while digging in, or grab a couple cans of Zamalek hibiscus juice and take-out, then head to a nearby park (Parc du la Petite-Italie is within easy walking distance) to enjoy the last of the autumn colours with your meal.
Pichai, meaning “big brother” in Thai, is the spiritual older sibling of Épicerie Pumpui, offering a more soignée, sit-down option for your Thai fix. Cheffed by Vancouver export and kitchen wizard Jesse Grasso, let the fresh sheet speak to your stomach or go classic with the spicy grilled mushroom hed nam tok salad, laab ped salad with duck hearts, and kor moo yang grilled pork neck with iced yu choy. Wash these down with low intervention wines or local Quebec cider. Hot tip: save room for Thai tea tiramisu.
Reserve a bar seat at the compact Salle Climatisée and leave decision-making at the door. The fresh, well-considered menu – charmingly scribed onto a chalkboard – changes daily and will be carted around to you, if you need to see it…but honestly, from snacks to desserts, there are zero missed marks. Expect a tartare riff; local fish served with seasonal vegetables and sapid desserts. Pair from a small but thoughtful wine list.
With lofty ceilings, bar and banquette seating, hot-pink-to-red-to-orange-green lighting, and a modest dance floor, Le Système is a dignified option to scratch the clubbing itch. Swing by early in the evening for diner-style fare and oysters, or late (most days until 3am) for highballs, cocktails, natural wine, and a little dancing, of course.
It’s good, it’s pretty, and open until 2am. If you haven’t been, you should go. If you have, you already have it on your list to return to. Reservations here.
Montréal Take Out
Not every meal can (or should) be a sit-down affair. Here are our picks for affordable, delicious, and iconic grab-and-go options…
Chicken Sandwich: Family-run Portuguese churrascaria, Rôtisserie Portugalia makes a fantastic grilled chicken sandwich. Order one to go and make your way to Mount Royal Park (just two blocks away) for a walk.
Smoked meat on Rye: It’s a little on the touristy side, but counter service at Schwartz’s is also pretty fun. Plus, you come out of the experience with a nice sandwich, a side of fries and a can of Canada Dry – what’s not to like?
Poutine: Where to get good poutine in Montréal is almost as contentious a topic as which bagels to buy. If you can only fit one dish of gravy slathered, cheese curd studded French fries into your itinerary, go old school classic at Chez Claudette.
Burger: There are probably a lot of good burgers in Montréal, but we can enthusiastically vouch for the one at Chez Tousignant. Plus, it’s a stone’s throw from Marché Jean-Talon – the last stop on our ride…
Farmer’s Market: We are firm believers in getting to know a place by meeting its farmers. Small scale open-air farmers markets are done for the winter, but Marché Jean-Talon is open every day from 8am-6pm.
This list was compiled by the following three food and drink enthusiasts:
THALIA STOPA | Thalia moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver as a vegan, wannabe art student, and a beer and wine naif. Over a decade later, she is now an omnivorous, beer- and vini-vorous food and culture writer. She is in her most natural state perched at a local bar or brewery, with a pen or book in one hand and a pint in the other.
JAMES MORRISON | James is a shirt-tucking, sleeve-rolling, pen-over-pencil kinda guy who maintains a tenuous relationship with the ampersand. His heroes include: Teddy Roosevelt, Han Solo, and Joan Didion. His enemies: Spiders, Coravins, and Comic Sans. James is right handed, skates goofy, and prefers his last word with mezcal over gin. Answers to “Jamie”, but not to “Jim”.
MICHELLE SPROULE | Michelle is Scout’s owner, operator, and from-the-hip picture-taker. Although an introvert by nature, she has plenty of time for the people who work hard to make Vancouver as cool as it is. Michelle is very particular in her appreciation for margaritas, honey glazed donuts, and the thickness and grain of paper she writes on. An experienced road-tripper, she’s got equal amounts of love for both roadside dives and hotel lounges.
Did we miss someone? It would be an overwhelmingly long list if we had included every restaurant worth eating at in Montréal, but if you have a favourite establishment that should have been included in this list, but wasn’t, please comment below or send your suggestion to michelle [at] scoutmagazine.ca