In TRAVELER magazines September issue, writer Taras Grescoe invites you to travel with him through his hometown, Montreal, a bustling city filled with activity and exceptional restaurants. Here, we consult three local food expertsByron Ayanoglu, author of Montreals Best Restaurants, Sarah Musgrave, a food critic for Montreals The Mirror, and Simon Dardick, co-author of Cheap Thrills: Great Montreal Meals for Under $10to tell you where to go for an exceptional meal on any budget.
Montreals famous smoked meat isnt the only mouth-watering delicacy awaiting the hungry traveler. The citys French roots give the areas cuisine a unique twist, and have inspired a breed of masterful cooks and cookingnot to mention unforgettable restaurants. Dining-out in Montreal is a multi-flavored stroll through global gastronomy, says Byron Ayanoglu, author of Montreals Best Restaurants. The city is a mosaic of ethnicities. At the high end, this translates into surprisingly affordable luxury-dining, which is based on fresh ingredients and a joyous reinterpretation of heirloom cuisines. To browse top restaurants, by neighborhood, start here.
Sip a cosmopolitan on the terrace of Altitude 737 (1, Place Ville Marie - Niveau PH2; +1 514 397 0737; $32 U.S.) during your before-dinner cocktail hour. Set on three floors of the tallest building (737 feet) in Montreal, the restaurant/bar/disco affords some of the citys best views. For dinner, select the veal cutlets stuffed with portobella mushrooms.
Fresh seafood, such as pan seared Chilean sea bass and grilled cod with caramelized onions, is the specialty at Ferreira Café (1446 Rue Peel; +1 514 848 0988; $40 U.S.). Whet your appetite with the creamy shrimp bisque or the grilled sardines on cornbread.
At Les Caprices de Nicolas (2072 Rue Drummond; +1 514 282 9790; $45 U.S.), youll have an equally sumptuous meal. Look for decadent appetizers, such as cauliflower vichyssoise with crab meat and shellfish oil and salmon and caviar potato crÍpe with lemon butter sauce.
About a mile from downtown, youll find a lively atmosphere coupled with innovative dishes at La Chronique (99 Laurier West; +1 514 271 3095; $50 U.S.). Evening diners feast on items such as foie gras served with tomato chutney and a peach flavored with vanilla. Another specialty is southwest salmon with homemade spices and a mango and avocado salsa.
The more casual Angus Noir (394 Laurier West; +1 514 273 5111; $23) serves up a notable, juicy rib steak. Onion lovers, be sure not to pass up the crispy, homemade onion rings that Ayanoglu calls addictive. For cigar fans, theres a separate lounge, which boasts the Cuban Imperiales from Quay DOrsay ($36 U.S.) and Punch Corona ($21 U.S.).
Soto (500 Rue McGill; +1 514 864 5115; $31 U.S.), a consistently classy sushi restaurant, is the place to go for the freshest raw fish. Its signature items are inventive appetizers, such as the ayumi unagi, a warm eel roll and the Alaska gratin, Alaskan king crab mixed with enoki mushrooms and served on the half shell, notes Sarah Musgrave, a food critic for The Mirror, a Montreal weekly newspaper. Be sure to try out one of the restaurants ten different kinds of saki.
To listen to live piano music while you dine (Wed.-Sat.), go to the Polish Stashs Café (200 St-Paul West; +1 514 845 6611; $13 U.S.). Start your meal of roasted wild boar and sznycel mielony chased with a stiff shot of vodka. Stashs motto is, Anything tastes better with vodka.
For classic French fare, with an Italian and Asian twist, try Chez LEpicier Restaurant and Bar (311 St-Paul East; +1 514 878 2232; $26 U.S.), one of the newest hotspots in Old Montreal. Its most unforgettable course is dessert, most notably the creme brulée infused with lavender. If you like the food, you can take some of it home, says Musgrave. Epicier means grocer and this place doubles as a fine food emporium.
St. Denis/Plateau Mont-Royal
Montreal bagels are known as being among the very best in North America, for their hand-rolled, wood-fired crispy outer layer and chewy middle. At St-Viateur Bagel Café (1127 Mont-Royal East; +1 514 528 6361; $3 U.S. for a bagel with cream cheese and a soda), the bagels are tender, slightly smoky, chewy, and tasty, says Simon Dardick, co-author of Cheap Thrills: Great Montreal Meals for Under $10. Available flavors are sesame seed, plain, poppy seed, whole wheat, cinnamon and raisin, and blueberry.
For another of Montreals famous specialties, sink your teeth into a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartzs Hebrew Delicatessen (3895 St-Laurent; +1 514 842 4813; $5 U.S.). Flavors of spicy pastrami, zingy yellow mustard, and fresh rye bread will melt across your palate. Its Montreal smoked meat at its very bestperhaps even Montreal at its best, says Dardick.
Also for the budget-minded traveler is Soy (3945 St-Denis; +1 514 499 9399; $12 U.S.), where Chinese, Thai, and Japanese-style fare are combined by chef Suzanne Liu for a creative blend. Its Asian cooking, but theyve brought it up a notch by serving things you wouldnt normally see in a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, says Dardick. Sample the vegetable spring rolls drizzled with a tangy lime dip or the soy-glazed portobello mushrooms with crispy mee krob rice noodles, he suggests.
More upscale is LExpress (3927 St-Denis; +1 514 845 5333; $38 U.S.) In 25 years, the quality has never changed, says Michel Tremblay, a prolific Montreal-based playwright who devotes a great deal of time to dining in the city. Youll find traditional French fare, such as monk fish soup prepared in a white wine and tomato broth, served in an unpretentious black-and-white tiled setting.
Just across the street is the pricey Toqué! (3842 St-Denis; +1 514 499 2084; $75 U.S.), where 220 different wines from locales such as Chile and France are on hand to complement the widely celebrated chef/co-owner Normand Laprises concoctions. A trend, Market Cuisine, is honored here, meaning the menu is planned daily according to the freshest produce available. For a memorable delicacy, co-owner Christine Lamarche recommends the razor clams garnished with wild garlic pickles, marinated romanesco cabbage with mint oil, and dried apricots.
When youre finished dining, go for live entertainment at one of the areas hottest boites à chansons. Live music, ranging from progressive flamenco and hip hop to québécois and blues, plays at La Place à Côté (4571 Rue Papineau; +1 514 522 4571; cover for some shows) and Le Ptit Bar (3451 Rue St-Denis, +1 514 281 9124; free). Dont miss La Place à Côtés Wednesday evening jam sessions with John McGale.
Notre Dame de Grace
The quaint Le Passe-Partout (3857 Rue Decarie; +1 514 487 7750; $58 U.S.) is most recognized for the in-house smoked salmon, array of fresh French cheeses, and rich house patés. Ayanoglu likens his dining experiences at the eatery to being in a favorite aunts parlor during a traditional family event. Make reservations early: The restaurant opens just three nights a week for dinner (four for lunch) and seats only 35 patrons.
If its authentic-tasting international cuisine you crave, two affordable eateries in this area are sure to satisfy. Il Mulino (236 St-Zotique East; +1 514 273 5776; $32 U.S.) serves up a taste of Italy in a nondescript setting suitable for families. Locals often choose the chefs choice antipastofor which the restaurant is knownwith ingredients such as fresh grilled vegetables and shrimp, accompanied by a chilled glass of Pieropan Soave La Rocca, the house white wine.
Cap off the evening with a sweet treat from Pushap (5195 Rue Paré, +1 514 737 4527; $.50 per piece of dessert), which offers an assortment of inexpensive homemade Indian desserts, including gajrela, ladoo, and barfi, prepared by owner Vipan Mohan.
Compiled by Heather Morgan
Heather Morgan is a TRAVELER magazine associate researcher and is the online editor.