Montreal: Meal by Meal

When Sam and I booked our long weekend in Montreal, I felt the satisfaction of finally crossing a line item off my travel bucket list. I’ve been meaning to visit for years, having heard so many friends praise the charm and the unusual blend of European & North American cultures, and rave about the city’s exceptional food and drink. A short hour-and-a-half flight from NYC, with very affordable airfare and accommodation, Montreal was the perfect choice with only a long weekend available.

Everything about Montreal was nice – but to be perfectly honest, none of it took my breath away. It was pleasant. We saw some lovely sites and enjoyed our walks around various neighborhoods. It was an entertaining novelty – and a reminder of the unique history and culture of Montreal – hearing and seeing French as the primary language. Without that reminder of where you were, however, it was like many other North American cities.

While I did not witness an abundance of Continental charm during our short stay, the part that did live up to the hype was the food. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – Montreal has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America, after NYC. Here is a small sampling of them:

Cafe Myriade – Pre-breakfast breakfast

After our 6am airport breakfast at LGA, we landed in Montreal and took the 45 minute bus ride into the city, with the search for coffee as our main priority and only real plan. A short subway ride later, we paused at a Cafe Myriade for lattes and shared a bagel – food we desperately needed to jump-start our sleepy brains enough to get us to our Airbnb.

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St-Viateur Bagel & Cafe – breakfast, day 1

Once we had dropped our bags at our Airbnb (the most charming house that actually made staying in and skipping exploration tempting), we were ready to start our day properly -with real breakfast. St-Viateur is on all of the Montreal “must do” lists, and was quite close to where we were staying. Either we were hazy from sleep deprivation, or the system was legitimately confusing. After standing in the wrong line (twice) we sat down at one of their tables and thoroughly enjoyed our first real meal in Montreal. The rosemary and sea salt bagel with chive cream cheese has spoiled me for every other flavour combination. Well worth a visit in order to watch them prepping, baking, and seeding (is that the word?) the bagels fresh behind the counter.

The assembly line at traditional Montreal bagel shop St Viateur Bagel & Cafe

Bevo Bar + Pizzeria – lunch, day 1

I know, coffee, bagels, pizza…so far from home and yet so familiar. It was close by to the Science Center,  though, and we were very tired. Friendly, casual pizzeria with decent food.

Pizza lunch at Bevo Bar and Pizzeria

Cafe Olimpico – afternoon coffee, day 1

Wonderful coffee, and a remarkably Italian atmosphere, but we were driven out before long due to the loud soccer playing on the tv. It turns out the owner, Rocco Furfaro, helped to start a semi-professional soccer team in Montreal in the 1970’s, so that connection to their legacy excuses it in my mind.

Image of coffee and cookies at the Italian Cafe Olimpico in Montreal

Cafe de Mercanti Old Montreal –  afternoon coffee, day 1, take 2

Take 2 in our search for a quiet cafe to relax in before dinner. Immensely friendly man behind the counter, we talked politics for quite a while as he made my hot chocolate and he came over later with a cookie for us.

Khyber Pass – dinner, day 1

Fucking fantastic. Should have taken a picture of the red lentil soup we started with. Was too busy eating it. Very good value prix-fixe menu, we ordered the 3 course, but the waiter brought us this eggplant starter on the house, insisting we try it. It was my favourite part of the meal. The entire space embraces Afghan culture, and the food is classic and comforting. BYOB.

eggplant appetizer at the Afghan restaurant Khyber Pass in MontrealFull plate of food at the Afghan restaurant Khyber Pass in Montreal

Bishop & Bagg Pub – breakfast, day 2

We stopped here after a failed attempt at Fairmont Bagel (didn’t realize it was all to-go, and that unlike in NYC, if you order a bagel with cream cheese, you get it uncut in a bag with a packet – very much “DIY”)

Loved the English style breakfast, with blood pudding and mushrooms – so ultimately a happy mistake.

Food image of a full English breakfast at Bishop & Bagg Pub in Montreal

Jean Talon Market – snacking and food-watching, day 2

Jean Talon Market food vendor selling maple candies

A large outdoor and indoor market with a variety of vendors, from fresh fruits and vegetables, to pastries and – of course – a variety of maple sugar treats.

St Henri Coffee/ Pâtisserie le Ryad mid-morning coffee, day 2

Of the many coffee shops in Montreal, St Henri is widely considered to be some of the best coffee is the city. While the espresso is more acidic than I prefer, and the decor is not my style (very white and oppressively clean), it was a pretty space, and the coffee tasted nice with the assortment of flaky Middle Eastern pastries we picked up in the market. They definitely take coffee seriously – even offering workshops – and align to most peoples tastes.

Coffee and pastries from St Henri Coffee viewed from above

Cloakroom Bar –pre-dinner drinks, day 2

After a hike up the slushy Mont-Royal hill, we were ready to warm up indoors with a cocktail. Stepping into the men’s custom suit shop, it was unclear how to enter the bar, but we followed another patron in through the hidden door in the wall. It was an intimate and formal space, without a menu – you simply tell the waiter your taste preferences, and they create a drink for you. A tiny bit pretentious, but I guess that’s a speakeasy for you…

Agrikol – pre-dinner snacks, day 2

The interior design alone can warm you up on the coldest days – vibrant and cheery, we stopped in for a drink and appetisers before dinner. Too tempting to pass up a drink made for 2, we sipped on a coconut, rum cocktail and tried the crispy, spice coated shrimp (debating about discarding the shells or eating them whole), Haitian beignets, and the simple, but always delicious, beans and rice.  Lively interior of Haitian restaurant Agrikol

Le Poisson Rouge – dinner, day 2

I was really in the mood for seafood after going to the Biodome and seeing lobsters crawling around in their Gult of St. Lawrence environment – I know that’s awful, but it’s what happened. We sat down to a prix-fixe 4 course meal, and everything we had was delicious. The scallops were fantastic. BYOB.

L’Express – breakfast, day 3

Also on many of the Montreal travel lists, but our breakfast there was not as nice as I expected. Cute and historic bistrot feel, but quite poor service (struggled to get the order in on time even thought they told us we were on a time limit, asked for a couple of items we never got), and the bacon was completely flavorless. The eggs were good, and I really wanted to like it, but couldn’t help feeling that they were relying too much on their long-standing history.

Breakfast at the Montreal bistro L'Express

La Banquise – lunch-ish, day 3

We couldn’t leave Quebec without sharing a plate of poutine, but we also had too much legitimately good food to eat during our short stay, so put this off to the last hour. Of the many, many variations at La Banquise, we went for the classic.

Eating Poutine at the Montreal classic La Banquise

Airport pubdinner, day 3

We still hadn’t finished by the time we got to the airport! Cutting it close for time, we had to speed-eat some bangers and mash at a pub near our gate. Worth it.

bangers and mash dinner at the airport

Ok, I’ll include one shot of the city:

Cityscape view of Montreal from Mount Royal