Montreal is only an hour-and-a-half plane ride from New York and Boston, but a visit here can feel as if you’ve landed across the Atlantic. And nowhere is a feeling of old world Europe more pronounced than among the cobblestoned streets of Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal), a neighborhood where 18th- and 19th-century residences sit alongside some of the city’s most fascinating sites, like the grand Bonsecours Market, the gothic Notre-Dame Basilica and the bustling Vieux-Port along the St-Lawrence River (the former post of French fur traders in the 1600’s). In the past decade, though, it’s the food that’s become the biggest draw to Old Montreal, and its vast array of restaurants have become reason enough for a long weekend visit. The list of places to eat can be overwhelming, so it’s worth arriving armed with a tightly edited list, like the one we’ve provided here. Get ready for the ultimate French Canadian food tour—all within a few square blocks.
Food Network star Chuck Hughes (host of the show Chuck’s Day Off) opened a follow-up to his hugely popular restaurant, Garde Manger, in 2011, with Le Bremner. Billed as a “seafood diner,” it’s located in a small subterranean space near the Bonsecours Market, with a menu that leans towards hearty, comforting dishes like a decadent lobster au gratin sandwich on a toasted brioche bun.
Opened in 2010, this contemporary, light-filled space is the setting for one of the largest selection of wines in the city, specializing in organic and natural varietals. In warm weather, guests can pair their glass of Sauvignon Blanc with oysters and charcuterie on the outdoor terrace.
Chef Normand Laprise has created a must-visit stop on any Montreal culinary tour for his constantly-evolving menu, where he plays with novel flavor combinations and textures. This might include a foie gras terrine that comes with a black currant waffle, or a cauliflower soup accented by a milk mousse. The restaurant’s interior space maintains a retro-mod feel, with mirrored glass walls reminiscent of a James Bond movie set.
“Chasse et pêche” means “hunting and fishing” in French, so it’s only appropriate that the doorway of this restaurant is marked by an antler-and-fish crest. Inside, the theme continues with a menu giving equal weight to land and sea. Entrees include seared scallops with fennel puree and lemon confit; duck magret with sunchokes and wildflower honey; and grilled octopus with celery root, chorizo and endive. In summer, the restaurant also has tables on an outdoor terrace just across the street in the garden of the historic Château Ramezay, a grand 18th-century residence-turned museum.
Marc-André Jetté and Patrice Demers are veterans of Montreal’s restaurant scene, and together opened Le 400 Coups in 2010. The modern French cuisine includes twists on classics, like a chopped beef tartare that’s topped with mustard ice cream. Desserts are a standout here, with dishes like a lime curd with crispy Matcha tea cake and Thai basil. The dining room, meanwhile, is transportative, featuring time-lapse photos of Paris’s St.-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood.
Although it’s a proper restaurant in its own right, a great way to end (or begin) an evening in Old Montreal is with a cocktail at Barroco. This cozy spot (all wooden beams and stone walls) is ideal for chilly winter nights, with an inventive drinks menu to warm up its patrons. Try the Blue Blazer, made with rum elixir and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, served hot. If you wind up staying for dinner, there’s an excellent beef short rib dish, cooked in a port reduction.