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 — a small collection of food, housewares, and trinket shops. Try hand-stretched noodles, explore subterranean supermarkets or check out the tried-and-true Chinese buffet, Jade. While much less bustling than most big-city Chinatowns, it's also much cleaner, and boasts a relatively large Vietnamese community because of the country's historical connection with France. In winter, stop for a steaming bowl of beef pho noodle soup at Pho Bac.
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 neighbourhood 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 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.
The park at Mount Royal is hard to miss on Sundays in summer when the weekly Tam-Tam is underway. It starts small, with just one or two people banging congas at the foot of the statue of Georges-Étienne Cartier just west of Park Avenue. But before long they're joined by dozens and dozens of drummers — djembes, bongos, snare drums, tambourines and more — performing for the smoky crowd that lounges on the hillside. More than that, they're performing for themselves, a wordless spectacle that's eclectic and electric, tie-dyed, worldly and a worthy emblem for this city that straddles two cultures and welcomes many more.
By Amie Watson
* Top image: Square Dorchester © Tourisme Montréal