Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
Montreal has not been the same since Chef Martin Picard opened his irreverent eatery Au Pied de Cochon, and took on every sacred taboo in the city. We love Au Pied de Cochon for its unapologetic gluttony, rule breaking, and steadfast adherence to the belief that plonking down a ton of goose fat on poutine is actually a good idea.
Joe Beef is famous well beyond the borders of French Canada, and has even been named Chef David Chang’s favorite restaurant. But the real reason Joe Beef is important to this city is for kick-starting a revolution on a sleepy, underappreciated stretch in Montreal’s Little Burgundy. Now, the entire area is a foodie mecca, and Joe Beef is its indisputable center.
When Sefi Amir, Marc Cohen, and Ethan and Annika Wills started serving brunch out of Sparrow’s kitchen on weekend mornings, they couldn’t believe how ga-ga Montrealers were going over their reinvented, stick-to-your-ribs British fare. The natural solution seemed to be to move across the street and open the doors of Lawrence. And thank God they did, otherwise Montreal wouldn’t have one of today’s most honest, playful, and energetic restaurants.
Wilensky’s has been serving the same. Damn. Thing. Since 1932, refusing to make any changes to it... and sparking an international following with its no-nonsense Jewish deli-style counter. Whether it was your grandfather or yourself ordering a Wilensky Special, you would have both gotten an excellent salami and bologna sandwich with mustard, served grilled. Just don’t forget the cherry soda and pickle on the side.
Vegan food used to be considered the domain of sprouted lentils and fake meat. And then Aux Vivres came along in 1997, dishing out mouth-watering vegan burritos and schooling everyone in the art of conscientious eating. Many vegan eateries have opened in the city since, but none have been as influential as this Montreal mainstay.
If you save all your pennies to go to one fancy restaurant in Montreal, Toqué! is it. Over 20 years ago, Chef Normand Laprise literally wrote the book on the new Quebec kitchen, and his eatery remains an incredible tour de force. To understand the food of many other modern Montreal restaurants, one must start at Toqué!
Leméac is regularly cited as a symbol for consistent, excellent food, and some of the city’s best chefs have had their start in its kitchen. But the most interesting aspect of this French bistro is the reverence with which it and its head chef, Richard Bastien, are held by regular diners and celebrities alike. Leméac is a household name among true Montreal foodies, and for good reason.
We wouldn’t say the Orange Julep, tucked away at the edge of Décarie Boulevard, is the best greasy spoon in the city, but this architectural wonder, built by industrious entrepreneur Hermas Gibeau in 1945, has become as iconic to Montreal’s landscape as the Olympic park or St. Joseph’s Oratory... and that’s saying something.
A true icon in the city, this restaurant has kick-started its own mass-produced pickle and coleslaw lines. But what’s truly amazing is that in this city of constant restaurant turnover, Moishes has maintained its class, level of execution, and loyal clientele for 75 years.
This little Venezuelan eatery first introduced Montreal to arepas, those delightful pockets of corn flour that can be filled with just about anything and everything, consumed on the go, and enjoyed by even the pickiest gluten-free eaters. And if the queues at its counter are any indication, the original Arepera is still well ahead of the curve.
What started out as an incredibly popular food truck has since become a favorite Montreal dining spot, nestled in one of the most beautiful settings to have dinner on a summer night. Grumman78 has showed food-savvy Montrealers that affordable tacos have a place in fine dining, sparking many new-wave imitations.
Though Montreal was a latecomer to the craze of izakayas, it doesn’t mean we didn’t fall completely head over heels for the Japanese bar and grill concept. Kazu was one of the first to serve yakitori alongside tall glasses of yuzu-spiked beer, and yet years later, it’s still damn impossible to snag a spot at the unassuming bar.
The dépanneur is as endemic to Montreal as poutine. So when Depanneur Le Pick Up opened its doors amidst the busy shelves of a typical Montreal corner store, people flooded the rickety, unassuming counter because it made them feel right at home. And then it went and created the best pulled pork sandwich in the city for under $10, and we all went understandably nuts. The dép was changed forever.
Every day of the week, amidst madly painted walls and under a hanging motorcycle, L’Avenue’s diners gush over perfectly executed eggs Benedict and generous sangria glasses. L’Avenue is famous for setting a new standard for breakfast and brunch in Montreal, and we fully admit it’s worth the insane wait.
With bright, hand-painted décor and an extensive menu of natural wines, Junior has truly brought , soulful home-cooked Filipino food into the spotlight of hip dining. In years to come, expect to find iterations of chicken in adobo sauce on menus all over town.
In sharp contrast to the genteel, homey charm of some of the restaurants on this list is Manitoba. This place is all sharp corners and lichen and reclaimed wood, with its ever-changing menu of foraged flora and fauna and unapologetically hipster cocktails. But when it hurts so good, no one’s complaining.
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