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Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives - Montreal style

Folks familiar with the Food Network have no doubt seen the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives hosted by Guy Fieri in which he tours the States visiting folksy, unpretentious greasy spoons that deliver unique and sometimes eclectic menus. This got me thinking, how about a roundup of these sort of unique, offbeat, comfort food joints that can be found in the Montreal and surrounding area?

If you've got any places to suggest, list them here.

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  1. Hiya, I love that show too and we've had this conversation before quite recently - check out this thread:

    Diners, Drive-ins and Dives+Montreal
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/639452

    9 Replies
    1. re: kpzoo

      Unfortunately I was hoping for a wider range of selections offered in that thread. Judging by the suggestions offered up in that thread, the only fare to be found are hot dog joints and patateries. Surely Montreal must be home to diners and dives that serve more eclectic items. Mommy's fish and chips in Lachine and Verdun is but one example. Or might it be that unlike the States, we here just don't have that much imagination when it comes to eating on the cheap?

      1. re: Haggisboy

        Have you checked out the past threads about hole-in-the-wall joints, best $10, and hidden gems?

        Montreal Locals - What do you consider the best small hole in the wall resto?
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/411132

        Hidden gems around Guy/Concordia
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/454040

        Best $10
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/615050

        1. re: kpzoo

          Some nice thread links there. Thanks. Actually, one resource I've stumbled across (because I never read the printed version) is the Montreal Mirror. They have a weekly resto review and they can all be accessed via their online archive. Because their target demographic is students who generally aren't flush with money, they focus on writing about small, interesting, hole-in-the-wall places that provide an interesting menu and a lot of bang for the buck.

          1. re: Haggisboy

            Sure, that's a good resource. The Hour's reviews are also available online, and IMO have better-quality reviews, though I confess I haven't read the Mirror in years:

            http://www.hour.ca/food/food.aspx

        2. re: Haggisboy

          I suspect because Quebec's food culture and history are different, we can't expect the kinds of 'diners and dives' in that same vein as what the US offers.

          Our various immigrant populations certainly have played a great role in introducing food on the cheap that is tasty and varied in the last 30-40 years... but for the most part, historically, if you were poor, you ate at home with the family; restaurants were more for the well-off. Perhaps it's the Catholic background of this province...

          See, when I was growing up, I don't recall ever going to a restaurant with my grandparents -- we always ate at home -- while my parents would occasionally go to one. Now of course, my generation has got less compunction and more to choose from when it comes to restaurants. It's a generational thing.

          I suppose Beauty's and Wilensky's would represent surviving examples of the cheap diner, but I think lots of historical diners are now gone because of the way the population shifted (including the 401 flight in late 70's) and tastes got more sophisticated too. I could be wrong but I sense that Quebecers have looked to France a lot more than to the USA when it comes to their evolving food tastes in the last decades, and also how to serve this food.

          Throw in some powerful junk food chains in the mix, account for a fairly small population, and the quirky, inexpensive diner probably never really had a chance, esp. outside big metro areas.

          That's my hypothesis anyway.

          1. re: TheSnowpea

            I second that theory. Thanks, Snowpea. :-)

            1. re: TheSnowpea

              Good points.

              But while Quebec never developed a diner culture like the one found in the States, it did kind of have an equivalent: any number of inexpensive, small, unfancy restaurants with virtually identical menus (hot chicken sandwiches, fried liver and onions, etc.).

              Another factor: cars, or our relative lack thereof. To some degree, diners are symbiotic with car culture (there's even a film titled "Roadside Diner"). Not all that long ago, Quebec had way fewer cars per capita than nearly every other province or state. As a result, Quebecers were never mobile in the way many other North Americans took for granted. Fewer cars = fewer trips = fewer diners.

              1. re: carswell

                One thing I greatly miss here in Montreal and the suburbs are the old chip wagons. When I was a kid they were all over the place.

                1. re: carswell

                  Also all the "Cantine" that you can find in every town and village that serves the usual fare of Hot Dogs, Burgers and Fries

          2. What about La Binerie?

            1. Too funny that you should start this post; my friends and I were just having this discussion yesterday!
              Here's what we all agreed on:

              1- Cosmos snack bar
              2- Cote saint luc/Chalet bbq
              3- Smoke meat Pete's/Schwartz'
              4- Orange Julep
              5- The original lafleur in VSP/Lachine
              6- Wolinski's

              Bon Apetit ;)

              1. And pay a visit to the "other" Orange Julep on Sherbrooke Street East before the diner closes this fall.