Best Things to Do
From outdoor cafés along Rue St-Denis to Vietnamese Restaurants in Chinatown, from smoked meat and poutine to wine and charcuterie, Montréal's food scene has something for everyone. It has more restaurants per capita than New York City. Even in winter, the gourmet experience drives Montréal, with cozy neighborhood bistros, BYOB's and brewpubs leading the charge. It would be easy to spend months walking the city's cobbled streets and never eat at the same restaurant twice.
Start the day just north of Place des Arts on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. In this city of immigrants, waves of French and British gave way to Jewish, Italian and Portuguese arrivals who established themselves on what they called The Main. Wonderful vestiges remain, especially at Schwartz's, a renowned Jewish-style deli famous for its smoked meat, cured by the 400-pound barrel in a spice mix for 10 to 12 days, then smoked for eight hours.
To the south is the quaint neighborhood of Chinatown where you can try hand-stretched noodles, explore subterranean supermarkets or check out the tried-and-true Chinese buffet, Jade. If you're visiting in the winter, stop for a steaming bowl of beef pho noodle soup at Pho Bac 97.
Further north, the Plateau neighborhood has become one of the city's most trendy areas, its walk-ups boasting intimidating spiral staircases with real estate prices to match. Québécois artists and intellectuals call the Plateau home, with its ubiquitous bars, fine grocers and cafés. Lately, more small restaurants with natural wine lists and carefully sourced locavore fare are taking over, with Montréalers opting more frequently for neighborhood bistros over a splurge at Moishes. They save the latter's exquisite steaks on special occasions only. BYOB restaurants are also popular, so pick up a bottle of chardonnay at the government liquor store (SAQ) and head to Bistro L'Entrepont on Hotel de Ville Avenue. For classic French fare — think duck breast or chicken paté — make for L'Express on St. Denis Street. This is as close to a Parisian brasserie as you'll find in Montréal, with a checkered floor, mirrors galore and waiters decked out in black and white. Split a half carafe of something French and refreshing to wash down the bavette steak-frites with complimentary Dijon, gherkin pickles and warm baguette.
In the nearby Mile End district, you'll find two Jewish classics: Wilensky's deli, open everyday except Sunday and holidays, and Fairmount Bagel, open 24/7. The latter serves Montréal's notorious crunchy-crusted, slightly sweet bagels, boiled in honey and freshly baked. Pick up a dozen fresh out of the wood-fired oven. Then head back to Mount Royal, past Italian delis and Portuguese bakeries. A 25-minute walk up a well-trodden path (or a short taxi ride) results in breathtaking city views: skyscrapers up close, the Olympic Park in the distance and the St. Lawrence River as far as you can see. There's nothing more Montréal than a sunset (or sunrise) picnic of bagels on top of the mountain.
For a taste of France, hoof it down to Old Montréal for a horse-drawn carriage ride and stop at Olive et Gourmando, a do-it-all breakfast and lunch place. Landing a table on a weekend is no small feat, but it's worth the wait for the Valhrona chocolate brioche, one of the best snacks in town. You can also stop for crépes at Le Jardin Nelson, an open-air café with one of the most loved patios in the city.
Dinner tonight is Indian food at Restaurant Tabla in the Village. Enjoy a warm evening with butter chicken, rogan josh and naan as well as some of the best people watching in the city.
For cocktails and refined French fare with international influences, dine at Le Bremner. Need a nightcap? Head to the terrace above Verses Restaurant (remember to come back another time for the signature leg of lamb, braised for seven hours). On a warm night, the patio will be packed with Montréalers who come after work to soak up the ambience and the mojitos.