From New York to Montreal, looking for good food!
I and my girlfriend are heading up to Montreal for the first time next week. We know nothing about the city (well hell, as Americans, our knowledge of your whole country is embarrassingly sketchy). If you were us, where would go, what would you eat? We're only going to be there for 3 nights and two days. And we love to walk, take public transportation, and expore cities.
We're not so much looking for "nice" places because, hell, we got a lot of "nice" places here in New York City. And "nice" isn't really our style. But places that are unique or special or ethic... now you're talking!
Basically we'd love to hear about something good and memorable and, in particular, something interesting that we can't get here in New York (extra thanks if it's something we can't learn from guide books).
For echt-Montrealishness, the Plateau is your best bet for walking tours. And I heartily endorse Johnnyboy's recco of Jean-Talon Market and Little Italy, with the proviso that the market is now a mere shadow of its summer self. That said, there are other areas that merit consideration.
One is Disneyland, er, I mean Old Montreal, which is accessible via the Place d'Armes, Champ de Mars and Square Victoria metro stations. Attractions, even for Montrealers, include the architecture, the interior of the Notre Dame Basillica and the Pointe-à-Callières Museum, which focuses on the history/anthropology/sociology of the old city. Restaurants are covered exhaustively in posts below. That said, I'd suggest building a tour around late breakfast or lunch at Olive et Gourmando or, if it's a weekday and you're in the mood for something fancier, a seafood lunch at Chez Delmo. By the way, the Old Port is also the eastern end of the Lachine Canal park, which stretches some 15 km and features bike and pedestrian paths, boat trips, views of the Atwater Market and industrial sectors, the occasional art installation and the like. I doubt you'd be able to rent bikes or blades at this time of year, however.
Another interesting neighbourhood to walk through is bourgeois Outremont. You could take the metro to Outremont station and then head south southeast back toward downtown and the Plateau.
Van Horne, the street the station is on, has a couple of interesting bakeries and several interesting restaurants (especially BYOB Christophe and vegetarian-friendly Les Chèvres/Le Chou) to the west and east.
But you'll really hit pay dirt a few blocks to the south on Bernard, St-Viateur and Laurier. Bernard west of Park has a slew of cafés and bistros; several bread bakeries; Yannick, one of the city's top cheesemongers; ice cream parlour Le Bilboquet (which will be closing for the winter before long); and any number of interesting shops (tea, stemware, books, etc.).
One long block south, St-Viateur is home to the eponymous bagel factory, a must for any first-time foodie visitor, and Café Olympico (aka Open Da Night), the 'hoods best espresso for those not allergic to cigarette smoke. Also on the corner of St-Viateur and Park Ave. is Le Petit Milos, the catering arm of the (in)famous Milos psarotaverna; they have takeout and tables as well as excellent if pricey condiments.
The next main commercial street to the south, Laurier to the east and west of Park, is always fun to poke around. Lots of fancy boutiques (BOOtiques, when you see some of the prices) selling clothes and household items, one of they city's better wine/spirits stores, upscale kitchen supply stores, a good French bookstore (Renaud-Bray on Park north of Laurier), etc. Foodies should check out Gourmet Laurier, Anjou Québec, La Gascogne pastry shop, Les petits plaisirs d'Andrea (gourmet condiments and other foodstuffs). Fancy restos include Leméac, Le Club des Pins, La Chronique and Anise. Cafés include Daskalidas and La Petite Ardoise.
From there, you can head due south to Mount Royal and downtown or east-southeast to the Plateau (via the St-Laurent strip if so desired). If you're tired of walking, take the southbound bus on Park Ave. or St-Urbain or the eastbound bus on Laurier/St-Joseph or Mont-Royal (see www.stm.info).
Of course, you could do the intinerary in reverse, starting at Laurier/Park and walking up to Van Horne. And BTW, you'll see much different cityscapes depending on which north-south route you take. Outremont, which lies to the west of Park, is full of comfortable brick homes and its residential streets are lined with an impressive urban forest of stately old maples. Mile End, to the east of Park Ave. is a longtime immigrant neighbourhood now undergoing gentrification by people who can't afford the Plateau; houses there tend to be smaller and seedier and trees are much fewer. Park Ave. combines a bit of both, while maintaining a bit of its former Greek character. There are some interesting restos/cafés on the north-south streets, too. On the corner of Hutcheson and Fairmount are the excellent pan-Middle Eastern Rumi and the popular Figaro, a former croissanterie that now serves meals. Just east on Fairmount is Faros, another good psarotaverna and, on the corner of Park, is Au Cyclo, the city's best Vietnamese resto. On Park between Laurier and Fairmount are a couple of chocolateries cum cafés cum salons de thé. Frite Alors! and Milos are on Park between Fairmount and St-Viateur. Aux Lilas, with good home-style Lebanese cooking, is a few doors north of Laurier.
There are, of course, lots of other interesting neighbourhoods. Concentrations of various ethnic groups will be found in Park Extension (the area around the du Parc metro station and home to a lot of Greek and Asian immigrants); Côte-des-Neiges (CDN, Côte Ste-Catherine and Plamondon metro stations, a real ethnic stew); Villeray (north of Jean-Talon Market, many hispanics), Montréal Nord (Henri-Bourassa metro, Haitian), Western Notre Dame de Grace (Black), Hampstead/Côte-St-Luc (Jewish), etc., etc. But, hey, you've only got three days, right?
Since this post is already too long and since most if not all of the places mentioned above are discussed elsewhere on the board, I've not provided detailed descriptions or included addresses or phone numbers for them. That said, if you can't find the info you want, give a shout. Bon voyage!
Thanks but note the date -- almost four years ago. Many things have changed since I posted that. Au Cyclo, Petit Milos, Les Chèvres/Le Chou, Les Petits Plaisirs, Club des Pins, etc. are no more. Le Bilboquet is open year round but is no longer the city's premier ice cream shop. Many new restos have opened and I gave short shrift to others, especially on Van Horne (Bistango, Paris Beurre and the Paltoquet and Lescurier pastry shops). St-Laurent between Van Horne and Laurier has taken off. Both Bernard and St-Viateur east of Parc are more interesting than they were four years ago. And so on and so on. For a more up-to-date tour covering much the same ground, check out moh's opus in the Ultimate Montreal Experience thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5286... and then scroll down for emerilcancook's Jean-Talon Market tour.
OK, so here's a completely arbitrary itinerary for you:
- night 1: to experience the french side of Montreal, try a parisian-style bistro with a lively atmosphere. Possible choices include L'Express (on the chic side), Au Petit Extra (slightly more bohemian), Laloux (definitely chic), Holder (younger, trendier, food likely not as good but a pleasant place nonetheless).
- Lunch: go to Marche Jean-Talon, gawk at all the produce, take in the sights/sounds/smells. Check out the Italian shops all around the market, the Hamel cheese shop, the Marche des Saveurs (Quebec specialties), Premiere Moisson (bakery). I dare you not to get hungry fast. Get something to eat on the fly, or if you want to sit go to Petit Alep, for mediterranean. Then walk up St-Laurent a couple of blocks and have a capuccino at Cafe Italia or some other italian cafe (you're in Little Italy). Practice your italian, and shout at the football match on tv.
- Night 2: Spend some time in semi-glitzy downtown, the area roughly delimited by Ste-Catherine-McGill College-Sherbrooke-Bishop(as first time visitors, you need to get this out of the way). Many dinner choices in this area, but one I would recommend for ambiance and quality is Ferreira, a high-end portuguese place (have to like fish/seafood). Then go digest your meal with a nice scotch or port (and cigar, if you're into that) at Alexandre, next door.
- Lunch 2: after all this food, you'll need some exercise. Walk north on St-Laurent from Sherbrooke, check out the eclectic mix of trendy boutiques and ethnic shops. If you're hungry already (already ?) stop at Schwartz's for a smoked meat sandwich. Continue walking north to about Rachel, turn eastward, walk to St-Denis (take a peak at, or better yet meander in, the small streets between St-Laurent and St-Denis, to check out the typical residential architecture of the Plateau). On St-Denis, turn north and walk up to Mont-Royal (if you want good coffee or dessert, try Les Deux Marie on St-Denis). On Mont-Royal, if you haven't eaten yet, and want to experience typical Quebecois working class food, walk one block west of St-Denis to Binerie Mont-Royal, and practice your french. There's a grocery store across the street, you'll need some Rolaids afterwards. If not interested in that, then turn eastward and walk down Mont-Royal, check the out the specialty shops, cafes, restaurants and fauna. When you're done, walk south on any small street east of Christophe-Colomb, you'll soon get to the Lafontaine Park, a nice place to sit and digest, if the weather agrees.
- Dinner 3: Hopefully you're still in the Plateau area, and all this walking has justified some serious pigging out. For an interesting Quebecois take on french cuisine, go to Au Pied du Cochon, a small lively place that specializes in doing all sorts of sacrilegious things to foie gras - garanteed to leave you fully sated.
(although this makes for a nice spontaneous itinerary, life is always more complicated: for all the dinner places that I mentioned, reservations are pretty much mandatory on the weekend.)
Have fun !
Thanks. That's a great help! Including the simple advance to reserve a table for dinner (something I usually don't do).
There are also many other useful posts in answer to similar questions, and I will read them all on the long train ride up to Montreal.
But perhaps you can help me with one other question as well, are there other interesting neighborhoods that are worth exploring via metro?
I'm always looking for an excuse to hop on the subway and explore. Outside of the downtown area and Mont-Royal and the Plateau, what would be a good metro stop just to venture to and walk around for an hour or two? Interesting business districts, perhaps? (not for shopping, but because neighborhoods with stores tend to be more interesting than strictly residential areas). Stumbling across a market or good food is of course a plus.
Some other interesting neighborhoods to explore along your lines: Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Verdun, NDG, Outremont, Westmount (arranged roughly in order of least-->most gentrified, i think). Also check out Mile-End and the Gay Village more towards the center of town.
In the summer a bike ride along the Lachine Canal is my favorite thing to do. If the weather cooperates next week (highly unlikely) you might look into that.
If you do walk around Outremont/Mile-End, and if you want to splurge a little bit, go to Les Chevres (link below to a report I wrote in June) for dinner, and perhaps a bar/club in Mile-End afterwards if you're into that. Maybe catch some live music.
The one thing you have to do is pick up a free weekly (Hour, Mirror are the anglo ones) and see what events are happening, and plan your schedule accordingly. There's always something going on that's sure to interest you and is more often than not free.
My other restaurant suggestions:
Au Petit Extra (my preferred bistro, Ontario Est)
Chu Chai (amazing vegetarian thai, Plateau)
Miyako (best sushi I've had in the city, Gay Village)
L'Olivier at Marché Jean-Talon (for a $2 merguez sandwich)
Metro stations of note:
- Beaudry: right in the middle of the gay village/ Ville-Marie neighborhood. The Ste-Catherine strip around there is very active, especially at night. Lots of cafes, restaurants, trendy shoes/clothes shops (male, of course), bars, clubs, etc... If you like karaoke, Club Date is a must (watching guys do pitch-perfect karaoke of Celine Dion is something you're not likely to forget). Despite the large number of restaurants, only a few are worth it: O Thym (french BYOB), Miyako (sushi), Area (nouveau french), Bisous (french). The residential parts of this neighborhood, especially north of de Maisonneuse, are surprisingly low-key (apart from the occasional prostitute/drug dealer), and contain the city's few remaining examples of buildings with carriage entrances and enclosed courtyards, an architectural type quite common last century.
- Outremont: this will take you to Van Horne street, not a terribly interesting street but with a few goods restaurants/cafes. But if you're willing to walk a few blocks south on the quiet tree-lined streets, as bftp detailed, you'll get to Bernard and Laurier streets, which have fancy shops and some good restaurants. Saturdays on Hutchinson street close by, you're likely to see a greater concentration of Hassidic jews than in Williamsburg.
- De Castelnau: this station is steps away from the Jean-Talon market and Little Italy (discussed in other posts).
- Pie-IX/Viau: these stations are in the Olympic Village area (if you want to check out the Botanical gardens, the Insectarium, the Bio-dome, or the Olympic tower). Not much else of note in the neighbohood, though.
- Lionel Groulx: this station is in a very blue-collar/working class/welfare neighborhood, which is slowly getting gentrified but has a ways to go still. The main attraction is the Atwater market a few blocks south.
- Champ-de-Mars: the gateway to Old Montreal, just south of the station.