My past two visits to Montreal have been like that – a couple of years ago for Nuit Blanche, and just recently for the Formula One race. Even with advance planning, there was simply no way to get a reservation at the amazing Joe Beef or Au Pied du Cochon, for instance. But, since Montreal makes the rather credible claim that it has the most restaurants per capita in North America, I knew that I’d be able to find fantastic meals at some lesser known establishments. And I was correct.
My full report is below, but the general principles aren’t that complicated:
1) Do your homework. A list of good resources for finding restaurants in Montreal’s changing restaurant scene is here. One caution: while I’ve had good luck with Yelp in many other cities, I have found Yelp to be unreliable in Montreal. The one clunker of my most recent trip was at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown that got top ratings from Yelp.
2) Find places that don’t accept reservations. You may face a wait time, but you are then at least on even footing with everyone else;
3) Get out of Old Montreal. The Montreal metro is easy, inexpensive, and will quickly whisk you into the more residential neighborhoods, especially Le Plateau.
Now, with the exception of the super-touristy area around Place Jacques-Cartier, I love Old Montreal. There are many fine restaurants and lovely hotels. (My pick for budget-friendly accommodation: the Holiday Inn Select. My pick for luxury accommodation: the incomparable Hotel le-St. James.) But that’s also why it’s mobbed for dinner. Get your Vieux Montreal fix at breakfast and perhaps for happy hour, or, as it’s called in Québec, cinq a sept, which literally means 5pm – 7p.m.
By the way, this strategy means you may not have quite as much old Québec favorites, like, for instance, a classic poutine. But if you’re attending an event, you’ll definitely find vendors selling this caloric treat. It wasn’t gourmet, but I got my poutine in at the Formula One race. It did the trick.
Here are picks for places to eat in Montreal during a busy event weekend.
N.B.: Olive + Gourmando is closed on both Sundays and Mondays. Also, it has an unusual hybrid of counter and table service. You wait for a table, and are given a slip with your table number on it. Then, you proceed to the counter and order your meal. Then you sit down. Your meal is brought to you by a server. When it’s time to pay, you go up to the counter again. But you are still expected to tip. Whatever, it’s good enough to be worth it.
Light (and Not So Light) Snacks in Plateau and Mile EndAfter a big breakfast, I personally didn’t need to have much of a lunch. I was really happy to have an excellent coffee and baklava at Kahwa, a friendly coffee house in the Plateau, at 263 Avenue du Mont Royal East. (Kahwa, incidentally, is the Arabic word for coffee.) But I needed something more, I would have grabbed a bagel at nearby St. Viateur’s, or I would have hit the Jean Talon market (in the Mile End, the next neighborhood up from Le Plateau) and ravished one of its many food stalls.
The place has gotten a lot of foodie buzz – it’s a project of two noted Montreal chefs, the food is terrific, plus it has a huge and comfortable terrace, so it’s especially popular in the fine weather. But because it’s not obviously a restaurant from the street—the SAT looks like a school – and because reservations are not accepted, except for parties of eight or more, you stand a good chance of getting in. Especially if you’re willing to dine on the early side – it opens at 5p.m.