You wouldn’t have wanted to be my dining companion in Quebec City. I was completely inappropriate, struggling to stop chocolate from dribbling out of a crepe or digging out the soft parts of olive bread to pair with local cheeses, leaving the hapless crust.
I don’t regret any of it—not even an unfortunate oil-dripping, finger-licking incident involving a crazy delicious croustillant at the Marché du Vieux-Port. The food is that good.
One of North America’s oldest European settlements, Quebec City’s culinary scene is just as much defined by its French roots as it is by the fertile landscapes of which it is a part. No matter the time of year, the city’s street stalls and tabletops showcase the region’s natural bounty, from fresh-picked produce from area farms to handmade cheeses and wines.
And while Quebec City’s French-Canadian heritage continues to shape its gastronomic destiny, this is far from a one-note town. “We are a melting pot of international and historical influences,” Chef Émile Tremblay of Restaurant Légende told me. “It is tough for me to say, ‘Quebec food is this.’”
To experience a taste of Quebec City for yourself, stop into one of these ten foodie havens:
Café Saint-Malo: Named for a fishing village in Brittany, this local favorite has been oozing cozy Old-World ambiance since 1982. At the Vieux-Port cafe, two chefs—one from Quebec, one from Bordeaux—whip up traditional specialties like French onion soup and rich cassoulets loaded with seasonal ingredients, often based on family recipes. For a perfect summer lunch, order a warm goat cheese salad on the terrace, mere steps from the city’s celebrated Rue Saint-Paul antiques district.
Le Saint-Amour: I approach well-known restaurants warily; often there’s a musty, best-days-have-passed quality to them. Happily, Le Saint-Amour, open since 1978 in a beautiful building on Rue Sainte-Ursule, does not fall into this category. Under the guidance of acclaimed French chef/owner Jean-Luc Boulay, this fine-dining establishment blew every expectation I had out of the water. Ask to be seated in the beautiful garden room, which cultivates a delightful greenhouse vibe with hanging plants, a ficus tree, and colorful paintings.
Le Billig: Just beyond the fortified walls of Old Québec on Rue Saint-Jean, the street blossoms into a center of local life. Friendly corner spot Le Billig has brick walls, a small open kitchen, and a menu scribbled on a chalkboard. It also serves the most flavorful sweet and savory crepes in town. Pair yours with a home-grown cider, and you’ve got yourself one of the most affordable—and delicious—meals around.
Panache: Housed in boutique hotel Auberge Saint-Antoine astride the St. Lawrence River, Panache continues to help put modern Quebec cuisine on the map. Though decidedly upscale, the two-story eatery occupies a 19th-century warehouse where rustic elements like exposed beams and stone walls lend a laid-back air to the atmosphere. Weather permitting, visitors can sample Panache in a more casual way at gourmet pop-ups located at Sainte-Pétronille Vineyard on Île d’Orléans and on promenade Samuel-De Champlain.
Le Chic Shack: Whenever I asked locals where to get the best poutine—French fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds—in town, Le Chic Shack was invariably the answer. (Which isn’t so surprising when you find out that the burger joint is owned by the sister-and-brother team behind Panache.) Here, they kick the Quebec classic up a notch by smashing the potatoes before frying them and adding signature black-pepper gravy, local cheese, and fresh herbs. If you have the time (and the appetite), try poutine La Forestière, made with wild mushroom ragout, parmesan, and shallots.
Paillard: The long, communal tables at Paillard’s flagship location on Rue Saint-Jean give the bakery the feel of a small cafeteria—a warm and welcoming one. In fact, I felt so at home there that it became a touchstone during my extended stay, the place I returned to again and again to tune in to the rhythm of locals and visitors going about their days. From a coffee and croissant to a light dinner of fresh salads and sandwiches, Paillard’s homemade offerings rival the best boulangeries in France. Try the feta-and-olive bread or an abricotier, a croissant filled with apricot preserves.
L’Atelier: L’Atelier, on Quebec City’s humming Grande Allée, is a great choice for cocktails before a nice dinner out. Little did I know that Tuesday night was the night to visit when I arrived to a bright, glitzy multilevel bar packed to the brim with locals. This winning watering hole is known for inventive, cool cocktails, so pick your poison and ask the agreeable bartenders to work their magic.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Le Clocher Penché Bistrot: With sun streaming in through large front windows, this airy restaurant is a wonderful place to refuel after a morning spent shopping and strolling Quebec City’s trendy Saint-Roch district. The focus here is on fresh ingredients sourced from trusted growers and artisans, including Ferme des Monts, an organic vegetable farm located up the St. Lawrence in Quebec’s Charlevoix region. The brunch menu is particularly enticing, with homemade bostock (real French toast) served with crème fraîche and inventive egg dishes that call out to be tried.
Restaurant Légende: A breakout success in 2014, Légende is where I’d eat if I had only one night in Quebec City. And it’s not just because of the impressive menu. It’s Chef Émile Tremblay’s dedication to local ingredients and the people who produce them that really stands out. “It’s all about our community—the one who raises the pork, the one who fishes the sturgeon, the one who makes awesome cheeses and wine,” he says. Tremblay is fond of wild mushrooms, which are abundant in Quebec, so expect to see them in many dishes. Other highlights? The cornish hen breast and pan-seared scallops.
J.A. Moisan: Don’t miss North America’s oldest grocery store while you’re in town! Charming and still very local, J.A. Moisan was founded in 1871. And though the decor harkens back to olden times, the selection is thoroughly modern (and extensive). On a beautiful day, pack a picnic basket full of fresh jams, breads and pastries, and local cheeses, and head out for a feast. But don’t forget your camera. The exterior of this Quebec City mainstay was made for Instagram.