Within a month, the neighborhood I call home was named the “Coolest Neighborhood in the World” by How I travel and hailed as a “the most interesting area in town” by Vogue. This was generally met with a smile and a shrug: “Quoi? It took them this long to figure it out?”, people probably thought.
Bienvenue to Montreal, Canada, where French nonchalance prohibits spending time boasting about rankings or reviews. After all, we’re the second largest French speaking city in the world next to, you guessed it, Paris. That accounts for the French laissez-faire attitude…
How do we occupy our time then? Probably picking a restaurant or shuffling through the offering of bars and venues. That’s because we have the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada, and second highest in North America (but we could probably beat New York to the #1 spot in a good year!).
If you had visited a couple of years ago, you probably would have spent all your time in Le Vieux (Old-Montreal), The Old Port, Downtown, and Le Plateau, the classic tourist spots.
But new neighborhoods have now emerged, and it’s absolutely worth stepping off the beaten path to discover culinary gems.
Mile End and Mile Ex
The Mile End is often compared to Brooklyn for its mix of artsy folks, Jewish orthodox community, and hipster vibe. It’s the home of Montreal bagels, where St-Viateur (263 Saint Viateur W) and Fairmount bagels (74 Avenue Fairmount W) have been fighting for the #1 spot for years. Go get a coffee in the sun or watch soccer at Café Olympico or Café Social (124 & 180 Rue Saint Viateur W) after strolling through the neighborhood. You can stop-by Cheskies (359 Rue Bernard O), the Jewish bakery for a tall chocolate babka. Then walk to Hof Kelsten (4524 Boulevard Saint-Laurent), and taste their version of the cake, after an amazing sandwich.
Restaurants abound, but amongst them Comptoir 21 (21 Rue Saint Viateur W), a cute little fish & chips place, Barbounya (234 Avenue Laurier W) with its Turkish vibe, Damas’ (1201 Avenue Van Horne) Syrian cuisine, Le nouveau palais (281 Rue Bernard W), the most hipster eatery in the whole wide world, and Pizzeria 900 (1248 Rue Bernard W), where you must try the truffle pizza.
Walk north and get to the Mile Ex (6631 Rue Jeanne-Mance), newly consecrated by Vogue. The restaurant Mile Ex is its original beacon, a tiny place full of warmth. Le Diplomate (129 rue Beaubien W) is the cool newcomer in the neighborhood. For lunch, get to Dinette Triple Crown (6704 Rue Clark).
Montreal has a small Chinatown but don’t discard it! Spot the Maneki Neko cat dressed as a Mexican wrestler at La Capital Tacos (1096 Saint-Laurent), grab a bowl of fresh noodles at Lan Zhou (1006 Boul St-Laurent), get a modern take on Asian food at Orange Rouge (106 Rue de la Gauchetière W) and slurp dumplings at Noodle Factory (1018 Rue Saint-Urbain).
The best restaurants in town have opened in the area within the last few years. Satay Brothers’ (3721 Notre Dame W) steamed buns are as good as its atmosphere, Sumac (3618 Rue Notre-Dame W) is a cool concept with delicious Middle Eastern cuisine, Vin Papillon (2519 Rue Notre-Dame W) is a lovely wine bar, Joe Beef (2491 Rue Notre-Dame W) always delivers and has a sweet terrace in the summer, Tuck Shop (4662 Rue Notre-Dame W) is there to impress, and Grumman 78 (630 Rue de Courcelle) is way more than a taco joint.
Petite Italie was traditionally all about Italian food, but its reinvention began a couple of years ago. In a tiny stretch near St-Laurent boulevard you’ll find Pastaga (6389 Boul St-Laurent), Fortune Tacos (6448 Boul St-Laurent), Cafeden (6576 Boul St-Laurent), Impasto (48 Rue Dante), Pizzeria Gema (6827 Rue Saint Dominique), Bethlehem XXX (6568 Boul St-Laurent) and Salmigondis (6896 Rue Saint Dominique). Go a bit east for Santa Barbara (6696 Rue de Saint Vallier) and its flexitarian options.