The Montreal Guide
Landing in Montreal feels a lot like finding yourself at the edge of the earth—in the best way possible. Surrounded by wilderness, the island city’s remoteness gives anyone who spends time here a real sense of adventure and joie de vivre, which spills over into the food and bar scene. The sheer volume of restaurants (poutine!), cafés, bars, and, interestingly, bagel shops is staggering given the petite size of the city. (Montreal has its own signature style of bagel—smaller, denser, and sweeter than its NYC counterpart, thanks to honey-spiked boiling water prebake.) Quebec’s European influence feels most profound in Montreal: The quaint cobblestone streets, Gothic Revival basilica, Gallic-style food, and official language speak to the mark left by the French.
Fairmount Bagel74 Av. Fairmount W., Plateau-Mont-Royal | 514.272.0667
Bagels in Montreal are something of a point of pride—locals take them very seriously, and there's some debate about what spot is truly the best. A top contender? Fairmount (its "rival" is nearby St-Viateur), which was opened in 1919 by a Russian immigrant named Isadore Shlafman. Both spots sell fresh ones twenty-four hours a day. What makes these bagels different than the bagels you'll find elsewhere is both their size (they're smaller than the ones you'd find in, say, New York) and their sweetness—likely thanks to the addition of honey or malt syrup. There are several flavors on offer, from blueberry and chocolate to whole wheat and onion, but no matter whom you ask, sesame is the most popular. A tip: Bagels are sold in a pack of six and can last in the freezer for up to a few months should you want to take them home.
Kem CoBa60 Av. Fairmount W., Plateau-Mont-Royal | 514.419.1699
Tucked into Mile End, this is the kind of hole-in-the-wall that might stop you in your tracks once you spot it (see: the limeade exterior, hot-pink steps, and a line that wraps around the block). Homemade soft-serve and sorbet are the things to order here, and what they're really known for are their inventive flavors, like coconut-mango and rose-raspberry, which change regularly. Note: The line moves swiftly, so don't be deterred—and it's cash only.
Lester’s Deli1057 Av. Bernard, Outremont | 514.213.1313
Montreal residents are about as fanatical about their smoked meats as they are about their bagels. Lester's owner Billy Berenholc has reigned supreme over this corner of Barnard for sixty years and is a total neighborhood fixture who knows everyone’s name. Lester’s version of the ubiquitous medium-fat, smoked-rye sammy is called the Cadillac, and that—washed down with a beer and several spoons of mustard—is the perfect introduction to the expansive menu of smoky briskets, pickles, and breads for a first-timer.
Patrice Patissier2360 Rue Notre-Dame W., Southwest | 514.439.5434
Lauded pastry chef Patrice Demers has created a minimalist dessert haven at his Southwest patisserie, which showcases his incredible skill for creating classic desserts with a twist. The offerings here are a form of art, with finishing touches on, say, a chocolate alpaco with glazed apricots or a buttery Kouigan Amann that are so perfect, you almost don't want to disrupt them with a spoon. Demers and his team also offer baking workshops as well as a limited lunch menu during the week.
Schwartz’s Deli3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Plateau-Mont-Royal | 514.842.4813
Come for the signature sandwich—smoked meat piled atop chewy, house-made rye bread and finished with golden mustard—and stay for the old-school setting (Schwartz's has occupied the same spot since its founder Reuben—a Jewish immigrant from Romania—opened the doors in 1928). The brisket is marinated in spices and herbs for a full ten days prior to entering the smoker, no chemicals added. If in doubt when ordering, the fail-safe method is to point at another diner’s plate, but for the brisket aficionados out there, the sandwiches come lean, medium, or fatty—we recommend medium for that sweet spot of crispy edges and tender meat.
St-Viateur Bagel263 Rue St-Viateur W., Plateau Mont-Royal | 514.276.8044
The bagel scene in Montreal comes down to allegiance, so those who swear by St-Viateur wouldn't go to, say, Fairmount, down the block. A bit of background: The folks at St-Viatuer set up shop in 1957 and have been churning out handmade bagels the same way ever since. Here, bagels are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and then cooked in a wood-fired oven that both cooks and flavors the bagel. Their assortment checks all the boxes, no matter what flavor profile you're after: rosemary and sea salt, flax, poppy seed, and, of course, sesame. St-Viateur has locations dotted throughout the city, but the one on Rue St-Viateur Ouest is the OG.