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help! Toronto vs. Montreal

  • j

I've got a coworker coming in from Montreal today who claims everything in Montreal is better than Toronto. I love my city, and I want to show him the best Toronto has to offer (on a work budget). I'm not too familiar with Montreal, but if there's anything here that we do a lot better, please let me know! The only thing I can think of is Asian food (but only because of their limited Chinatown), but I'm not sure if he'll venture into Chinatown. How does our sushi compare?

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  1. My first reco is Japango for sushi (for the great price as it aint no Kaji). Japango is superior to just about anywhere. I am sure that it will be enjoyed emmensely if he likes sushi.

    more to come....

    1. Don't do Asian cuisine...what a way to leave Toronto! Take him out to the St. Lawrence Market area...JK Wine Bar perhaps? If Asian is a must...head to Izakaya. The small town market culture in St. Lawrence is similar to old town Montreal. If you have the bucks to spare...head to Jump, Ki, Bymark or Vertical in the financial district. By the way, most things in Montreal are better than in Toronto!

      11 Replies
      1. re: The Macallan 18

        Sorry but have to heavily disagree with Izakaya. Also, can't imagine the harm in having Asian cuisine in Toronto of all places, and I agree that Izakaya is so "off" it doesnt seem like asian cuisine even though it is supposed to be.

        I also can't imagine our St Lawrence area holding a candle to old town. First of all they are completely different and second, ours has minimal charm compared IMO.

        Another place I recommend along with Japango is Torito in Kensington Market!

        1. re: deelicious

          with all due respect, i would not bring a guest to kensington market if you wanted to impress them about toronto. It is so dirty, run down, and generally not my favourite place. imho, the most beautiful part of toronto is the distillery district, and instead of lunch, just go to soma chocolate and gorge on chocolate! lol!!!

          1. re: icey

            The Distillery District, so far, has the feel of an underperforming theme park. There's lots of potential there, but no life - hell, on most nights, hardly any people at all. I'd give it a miss.

            1. re: estragon

              Agreed, but I was also thinking to reco Soma as a fabulous pitstop. I know there are hundreds of people if not thousands that appreciate the unique charm of kensington and dont see it as nasty dirty.

            2. re: icey

              It depends on what you like. To some, Kensington is dirty and run down; but others enjoy the fact that it's a bit rough around the edges and has some gritty charm, quirky characters, and authentic foods that are hard to find elsewhere in Toronto. To some, the Distillery is beautiful , clean and pleasant. To others, it's a boring upscale tourist trap, an shopping mall without a roof, marketing overpriced food and knicknacks towards yuppy tourists. Take your pick.

              Personally, I like and dislike aspects of both places, and think both are worth visiting for their own reasons. There are great and mediocre restaurants in both places, too. "Jamsy" will probably know which the Montreal visitor might like more.

              1. re: Gary

                The Jean-Talon Market area in Montreal beats Kensington Market any day.

                1. re: Food Tourist

                  I totally disagree, Market to Market Kensington has better food, more options, and more flavour, with the exception of that little place to buy desserts in Jean-Talon. The cheese places are cheaper in Toronto, although J-T has more options. Kensington is also the only place where I can find hard-to-get mexican products and hand made tortillas.

            1. re: The Macallan 18

              No Asian in Toronto? Do you even know this city? Our Asian food with the possible exception of Viet destroys anything Montreal has to offer. And that's without going further into the GTA, where you can make an argument that Toronto could be one of the top 3 cities in the Western world to obtain Asian food in all its permutations.

              1. re: FEDup

                There is no way that Toronto Thai food even approaches Montreal's offerings. I don't know about other styles of Asian cuisine.

                1. re: vorpal

                  I live in Montreal and I have to disagree. Thai food, as well as any Asian food, Vietnamese included is way better in Toronto then here. As about every ethnic food, with probable exception of Portuguese. But even with Portuguese I'm not sure.

                  Montreal shines in French cuisine, smoked meat and bagels. Et, bien sure, apportez votre vin - with no corking fees. That's it.

            2. Does Montreal have Korean? Or Jamaican? I think you might be better off going for interesting ethnic haunts rather than fancier places. No Vietnamese, Montreal has that. When I lived in Montreal a decade ago all the samosas in town were puportedly made by one shop, so maybe Indian is better here? Scary thought...

              1. Is your friend a foodie or a bourgeois poseur?

                Montreal has us beat on cafes, French, Greek, bagels, and - for the most part - sheer romance. Where Toronto wins is, as others have mentioned, the sheer variety and quality of ethnic cuisines.

                Don't like Chinatown? Go to Lai Wah Heen for a fancy Chinese meal. Indian? How about the Host on Prince Arthur, or some of the more popular joints in Little India (Lahore Tikka House is my favourite). Sri Lankan? Rashnaa at Wellesley and Parliament. West Indian? Bacchus Roti, or Albert's Real Jamaican.

                And how about Cava for serious tapas?

                And if money is no object, Canoe, for great food and spectacular views.

                5 Replies
                1. re: estragon

                  "Montreal has us beat on cafes, French, Greek, bagels, and - for the most part - sheer romance. Where Toronto wins is, as others have mentioned, the sheer variety and quality of ethnic cuisines."

                  Agreed! OK maybe not about the bagel ;)

                  I am not sure what a "work budget" is, so I warn that Lai Wah Heen is on the spendy side!

                  1. re: estragon

                    I have no idea if he is a foodie or a bourgeois poseur. All I'm trying to do is prove that some things in Toronto are better than Montreal. We have a friendly rivalry between our respective cities.

                    I'm trying to stay on the "safer" side of the palate. I'm flexible will all foods, just don't want to scare him away with something that he considers too "ethnic". Coming from Montreal, I'm sure he's been exposed to the unusual, but I don't know HOW unusual or how far I can go. My usual haunts are typically on the odder side of the food spectrum.

                    Cava disappointed last time I was there. I'll not be venturing there again. I find Jump, Bymark, etc a little overrated. Price is a wee bit high on the work budget. Generally, maybe $50-75/person including wine?

                    Thanks everyone for their replies! Keep them coming.

                    1. re: jamsy

                      What about Ethiopian? (Lalibela for food; Ethiopian House for a nicer place) Chiado? A Chinese place in Markham? (I can't recommend a specific, but many others can)

                      1. re: jamsy

                        You may also try to show him our neighborhoods; there is nothing in Montréal, excepting Ville Marié, that looks like Rosedale, Forest Hill or even Leaside, with big front yards. Montréal is almost all duplex and triplex (even Hampstead starts looking like that). You can also try to win in the comfort of our restaurants, since, while superior in food quality, a lot of Montréal's restaurants have those horrible tables with four chairs glued to the wall, so nobody can comfortably move...

                        1. re: m_cyclops

                          Westmount and Outremont for example are hardly bastions of duplexes and triplexes. And there are tables and chairs that can be moved in restaurants.

                          Architecturally Montreal has far more history and style so I wouldn't try to impress on that count. However, a trip to the Islands, the Beaches, and/or High Park would be nice.

                    2. I go to Montreal at least twice a year, and here is my take on each city's strengths and weaknesses (have long decided not to choose between them:):

                      St. Lawrence Market does not compare to the sheer variety and fun of Jean Talon market, so may not impress. Kensington Market on the other hand may be seen as a fun unusual place for a Montrealer (you could say it's our version of St. Viateur's immigrant/anarchic feel, but with more bustle and hustle, more grittiness and more fun - St. viateur is defnitely gentifying at a fast pace, so your visitor experience some nostalgic connection to the area).

                      Montreal has some excellent ethnic restaurant, but is not particularly strong in Portuguese and Chiado would be an excellent choice. Also, there are lots of good Iranian and other Middle Eastern restos in Montreal, but most on the casual side, so 93 Harbord would be a unique selection. I find Indian/Pakistani cuisine in Montreal inferior to Toronto's and I'd say a visit to Lahore Tikka House is in order, for the food and fun atmosphere. As far as I know, there is no such place as the Pacific Mall in Montreal, so I'd take him there. There is decent sushi in Montreal so not sure if you can impress, unless you go to Kaji.

                      Nightlife is pretty hard to beat in Montreal, but bar-hopping on Queen West West should give him a sense that Toronto HAS a nightlife - I'd start at Sparrow on Ossington for a drink and a bite to eat (the crab cakes are perfectly crabby and delicious), before heading south west on Queen.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Kasia

                        Second 93 Harbord and Pacific Mall. Southern Accent may be a good bet too as, oddly enough, there really is a dearth of good Cajun cuisine in Montreal.

                      2. Kasia, as far as impressing your friend with the restaurants in Toronto, good luck. Having lived the first 38 years of my life in Montreal before moving to Toronto 10 years ago, I can assure you that Montreal has Toronto beat hands-down. Not only is the food in Montreal more adventurous (Quebeckers, in general, are more colourful and risque in their tastes in everything from food to clothes to decor than Ontarians) and flavour-packed, the price of great restaurant food in Montreal is far lower than it is here. So expect some shock on the part of your friend when he sees the prices.

                        Montreal has great Chinese (better than here, surprisingly), from little holes-in-the-wall to upscale, better Greek, better Italian, better French, great Japanese, great Vietnamese, great Middle Eastern, and yes, good Portuguese.

                        So, don't try to impress food-wise. Try to impress with Toronto's diverse ethnic neighbourhoods, instead. Go to India-town on Gerrard East; Chinatown on Spadina and also Kensington Market; Little Italy, etc. St. Lawrence Market is a bad idea; Montreal has several REAL farmer's markets daily, including Jean-Talon and Atwater. Go to where the crowds are, but don't expect to wow your friend with the food. You won't win.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: FlavoursGal

                          That's just silly. Toronto and Montreal both have some great restaurants and lots of bad ones. I've had horrendously overpriced food in both cities, and sublime meals in both cities. Yes, Montreal is stronger on certain cuisines. But better on all counts? Where is this great Chinese in Montreal? I'd like to try it on my next visit.

                          Ultimately, it's not about whether the best Italian in Toronto is better than the best Italian in Montreal (or are we in a new movie called "Bon Chef, Bad Chef"?), but whether Jamsy's friend has a great meal and a good time.

                        2. I'm from Montreal, born, raised, and lived there my whole life until moving to Toronto three years ago. Yes, Montreal beats Toronto in a lot of areas, but Chinese cusine certainly isn't one of them, and I think dim sum at Lai Wah Heen is a unique experience. I took a New York foodie there once - talk about a tough city to compete with - and he was blown away.

                          Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar is also a unique place, I can't really think of a resto like it in Montreal. Wines by the glass and small plates, sure, but the "vibe" in there is very representative of the best aspects of Toronto.

                          1. Toronto has some of the best Chinese cuisine in NA (apart from the west coast). I'll hint at the ethnic option (Host), but give him the choice.

                            1. Hey, let us know the outcome on this one if you can!

                              1. In my opinion if you take him to the places you like the best then you are comfortable and knowledgable. If you start taking him to places you have never been just because someone said they are better then Montreal you will not be able to talk intelligently about them.

                                You can never win a montreal / toronto debate. Just like you cannot win a France / Italy debate when it comes to food. Toronto has some great restaurants and some great chefs and so does montreal. The atmospheres of the city are totally different but just like old montreal is different then the "city" you cannot say which is better they are just different.

                                When I have guest in town I bring them to places that I love and where people recognise me. We get great service and everyone feels at "home"

                                1. We ended up going to Donatello on Elm St. With a picky party of 6, it was the only thing we could agree on. Good Italian food at a decent price. The crab stuffed ravioli in a rose cream sauce was a hit.

                                  Not quite what I had in mind, but it's a start and it didn't disappoint. You're right, OnDaGo, I'll never win a Montreal/Toronto debate, but neither will my Montreal coworker! It'll just become a friendly rivalry.

                                  1. I'm not sure if your coworker is here for the week-end but if so, I suggest an outdoor grazing tour (forecast is beautiful for tomorrow). When my friends from Montreal were here, we did the walk through UofT campus, Baldwin, Chinatown and Kensington, nibbling munchies along the way. We also had brunch at Sugar and an afternoon ice cream at Greg's. Our friends live in The Plateau area of Montreal so this was right up their alley and they were blown away by the variety and energy of the food and the neighbourhoods. I also think the Distillery is a fun place to go during the day - grab a sandwich from Brick Street Bakery, check out the galleries and Lileo and then gorge on Soma chocolates (or their shot of hot chocolate). I'm not big on "best of" discussions but if you can plan a fun time in cool neighbourhoods with a great variety of food bites, I think your co-worker with leave with great impressions.

                                    1. As a former Montrealer in Toronto, the only areas where MTL beats TO are their French and Jewish cusine. Toronto has better Chinese, Indian, and Japanese. Italian is about equal, although Toronto has better service and wine selection. Take your friend to Corso Italia or Little Italy (beats MTL's), take him to Lee Wah Heen or Ding Tai Fung in Markham for the best dim sum in Canada, take him to Magic Wok or Grand Dynasty for real chinese, Hiro Sushi for Japanese, Susur for excellent fusion, and I can go on and on. If your coworker still feels the same way, tell him he his a loser and to go back to MTL and munch on his poutine...

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Canadian Gourmand

                                        What Indian restaurants in Toronto do you recommend? I will acknowledge that Toronto has some pretty good Indian food, but I've never found anything that compared to the restaurants I ate at during my last two trips to Montreal, so I'm quite curious.

                                        1. re: Canadian Gourmand

                                          Best dim sum in Canada? I don't think so. Ever been to Vancouver? The Chinese food is the best in North America and the Japanese is right up there with anythin in NA as well.

                                        2. Having lived in Montreal for four years, I can say, without a doubt, that you should definitely bring your friend to some of good Chinese food in Toronto -- not necessarily in Chinatown, but also elsewhere, e.g., suburbs. The Chinese food in the 'burbs blasts away anything and everything Montreal has to offer. Not just say dim sum, but also Shanghaiese, casual Cantonese, HK diner-style fare, etc.

                                          Montreal also lacks some excellent Korean restaurants -- Ktown is affordable and rife with plenty of places like the walnut cake bakery.

                                          Although some people have noted that in comparison to Jean-Talon market, St. Lawrence may pale, I have to cast doubts on that because I think St. Lawrence is a pretty comparable experience.

                                          Although you mayn't want to scare him away with anything that's too "ethnic", I think Toronto has Montreal beat precisely on that point with its sheer variety of cuisines from many cultures in various permutations.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: lsk

                                            I totally agree about Chinese and Korean food, but St. Lawrence definitely pales as compared to J-T. If you want to impress a Montrealer with a market, Kensington is a far better bet. It's hit and miss, of course, being not to everybody's taste, but at least it's a very different experience, while, St. Lawrence is just a smaller, more yuppie-oriented version of J-T.

                                            1. re: ostap

                                              "St. Lawrence definitely pales as compared to J-T."

                                              As a Montrealer who loves Jean-Talon market, I have to say I was pretty impressed with St. Lawrence market. Please note, I was impressed on a Saturday morning, when the farmer's market is also running. Each place has its many charms.

                                              Things that impressed me about St. Lawrence: The amazing seafood and fish selection (we just don't have that density of selection in Montreal). i was blown away. The lovely organic fruit mart in the Southern part of the market, on the West side - lovely selection, very high quality, prices not too crazy. The large bakery in the basement of the Southern part of the market - I avoid the french style pastries, as these don't compare to my favorite boulangeries in Montreal, but they have a lovely selection of multigrain loaves, the California walnut loaf is outstanding! I like looking at all the butcher shops - great displays, and products that you can't get in Montreal like peameal bacon - it is a change from the meat selection at Jean-Talon. And the farmer's market in the Northern section of the market has a very different feel than JTM. The ready-to-eat selection of food is quite different. Got some very yummy British-Isle style meat pies that were wonderful, and difficult to find here in Montreal. Also found some lovely local deep purple asparagus on our last visit.

                                              Both are gems, just slightly different. I revel in the variety.

                                              Things that did not impress me about St. Lawrence: The upsell at Alex's cheese shop - great cheese, but the prices are ridiculously high. As well, the last time I was there, they tried to sell me stupidly large pieces of cheese, and seemed annoyed when I asked for a more reasonable sized piece. We paid $36 for a chunk of Manchego!! Yes it was good, but we did not need a $36 sized piece! (Well, a $24 sized piece in most other institutions, except Pusateri's perhaps - youch! big bite from wallet). Also not impressive: The bagels - oh dear - my mouth is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after that bite of St Urbain bagel.... Don't take your Montrealer friends anywhere near that place, you'll never hear the end of it.

                                          2. Trying to show a Montreal that better things do exist outside of that city (and that they *shockingly* could exist in Toronto.

                                            Good luck with that ;)

                                            (spoken by a married to a Montreal'er, ex-pat mid-70s family with loads of people left behind, Toronto guy)

                                            1. Having just moved from Montreal to Toronto a few months ago, there are some areas where I think Toronto clearly outshines Montreal:

                                              1. South Indian -- either Saravan Bhavan in the suburbs or Udupi Palace on Gerrard? The closest Montreal comes to South Indian is a couple of boring lunch buffet places with a masala dosa on the menu. (North Indian is better here too for that matter)

                                              2. Creative vegetarian/vegan -- either Fressen or Fresh. What does Montreal have to compare to that? Yuan? Commensal? ...there's nothing.

                                              3. Japanese -- I love J-Grill in Richmond Hill. And I guarantee that no restaurant in Montreal does Japanese-style rice burgers (though I would be delighted to be proven wrong).

                                              And do go to Kensington. It's completely diff scene from Jean-Talon: with all the little farmers and spceialty stands, J-T is more like St Lawrence, but way better (incidentally, can someone explain why the St Lawrence Market is closed on Sunday?! Or did I somehow get transported back to 1925 that time I wanted to buy cheese on a Sunday?)

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: themself

                                                South Indian? What about Hopper Hut or Rashnaa? Farmers in Kensington? Fresh???