When we were planning this trip, we read all about how good the food in Montreal was. Blogs all over the internet espouse how many years one could go without eating in the same place twice in Montreal, and that the quality is on par with the great dining destinations in the world.
This is not one of those kinds of posts.
We were here last year, and had some decent meals, but ate a lot out of food trucks (festival time) and had a lot of Eggspectations (big chain, breakfast food, love it). The most memorable meal of our 2017 trip was probably some arepas we had in the Plateau, that we haven’t been able to find yet – it was near one of the cat cafes, but one or the other of those must have closed. We had arepas at another place nearby, and they were good, but not as good as the other place.
On total, in the almost-month that we’ve been here, we’ve had more meals that were bad than meals that were good. We define “bad” as “I would’ve rather stopped at McDonald’s than eaten this meal.” It’s not about ‘I could’ve made it better at home,’ it’s about ‘how can they not make something better than this in a restaurant?”
We’ve had Tex-Mex that was about 2 grades below the Old El Paso seasoning packets you get at the grocery store. We’ve had barbecue that tasted like someone misread the recipe and marinated it in pure vinegar. We’ve had pizza so bland that would make your basic Instagram girlfriend breakup with you. Basic staple foods that have been inferior to what we’d get in fast food back home. We’ve had Chinese food so bad that we’ll never-again take the availability of Pei Wei and Panda Express for granted.
There’s a chance we’ve been spoiled. We hear frequently about Houston being one of the great dining destinations in the U.S., and sort of shrugged at it. But, to our friends and readers in Houston, think about it: when was the last time you had a meal at a restaurant in Houston that was bad? Like, not just bad enough that you wouldn’t go back, but bad enough that you just straight-up wouldn’t eat it? I’m struggling to remember a time. I’ve done it thrice since we’ve been here.
And what’s worse – the food, which is not too expensive when Canadian dollars are converted back to U.S. – is all served table-service. There’s not the level of “counter service, but not fast food” that has become the driving force of the American culinary scene. There’s no such thing as a “quick lunch” here, save for A&W (which, by the way, is fantastic – they serve the fries in one of those little metal baskets like at your favorite hipster burger joint, and serve the root beer in a frosted mug). The service is not fast (probably intentional), and, given how much time we’ve already spent together on this trip, the last thing we need is to sit and stare at each other in a restaurant for 90 minutes.
We think we have a solve, though. The first half of our trip has been dominated by Montreal’s festivals – the circus festival, the jazz festival, the Just For Laughs festival – which naturally has drawn us toward downtown. There are some good restaurants downtown, but they’re not our scene – they’re get dressed up, have small portions of trendy French food kinds of places. So, we wind up at a lot of places that are probably designed for “tourists.”
Google and Yelp are now help. We’ve had meals that receive 4.3 and 4.4 stars on Google that are among the worst food we’ve ever eaten.
We’ve begun to get some local recommendations, and the trend seems to be that the best places are in the neighborhoods – some more far-flung than others. As the festivals start to quiet down in August (at least the ones we like), we’ll be freed to spend more time going the other direction – out of downtown, into the neighborhoods.
That includes recommendations from the waiter at the Meatball House, one of our favorite places so far, who suggested a Vietnamese place (go figure, Houston is the Vietnamese capital of the US) called Le Red Tiger
Here’s what we have liked so far, though, with Eggspectations being disqualified, because duh.
Janna’s Top 5 Montreal Foods So Far:
- The Meatball House (Griffintown) – a Finland import, this place serves basically meatballs, with roasted potatoes on the side. That’s most of the menu. We had standard beef balls in marinara and Parmesan, pork in a sweet & sour sauce, and arancini in Rosee sauce. All were great, the arancini was the best, followed by the beef. We’ll probably make it back here before we leave.
- Kem CoBa (Fairmount) Ice Cream – Apparently everyone in Montreal knew about this place but us. We found it on accident while visiting Fairmount Bagels, and there was a huge line. Worth it, though the ordering was complicated. “This is what ice cream should taste like.” Probably not diet food.
- Arepera (Plateau) – It says a lot about how things have gone that a top 5 food is not even the best we’ve had of this specialty food in the city. We’ll keep looking for that other place
- Satay Brothers (stall at the Atwater Market) – Recently expanded, these guys serve meat on a stick, and on bread, but it’s basically just chicken satay, like what you get as an appetizer at Asian restaurants, in several different forms, with peanut sauce. I already have a natural affinity to satay, and this is super good.
- The Sloppy Joes at the Bouffons MTL festival – We don’t know the name of the sloppy joe place, but it’s up-the-hill from JFL, and they cook their sloppy joes in a huge wok. You can’t buy sloppy joe sauce in the store here (no, but actually); they do sell it at the festivals though!
Braden’s Top 5 Montreal Foods So Far:
- The Meatball House (Griffintown) – I love meatballs. Meatballs is probably one of my top 3 favorite styles of cuisine. I wouldn’t say it lives up to Brooklyn Meatball, which is located in the tunnels in downtown Houston, but it’s pretty close. Arancini was to-die-for.
- C’Chocolate (also Griffintown) – If there’s one thing that Montreal does right, it’s decadent dessert, and this place is king. See the pictures below. I don’t know what else needs to be said. S’mores pizza.
- Marmite Su’l Feu (Atwater Market) – Do you know what kind of food they serve in Reunion Island? Because, now I do. It’s sort of creole – you walk up and there’s 6 pots filled with stews of the meats of the day. Served over rice and lentils, or on bread as a sandwich, with delicious dumplings. Simple, but on-point. I’ve had the chicken, the pork, and the homemade sausage so far. All three were on-point.
- Rotisserie Romados Portuguese Chicken (Plateau) – This place is near my coworking space, and was having some problems with the health department when we arrive,d but they’ve shored it all away. Portuguese chicken restaurants are HUGE hear. We hear-tell that there’s a newer place that has bumped Ramados from the best place in Montreal (Ma Poule Mouillee), but haven’t tried it yet. It’s a simple place. Chicken on a plate, chicken on a bun; spicy sauce or sweet sauce; french fries, and tons of baked goods. This place was a bakery before they ever served Portuguese chicken, so you know the bread is good. Pro tip: if you’re OCD about not smushing your sandwiches, you’re missing out. Smush the bread – that’s the right way to eat it.
- Pear sorbet @ Havre aux Glaces (Place de Artes) – The best thing we’ve had downtown yet, the pear sorbet tastes like…pears and sugar. It’s pure, it’s not too sweet, not too tart…it’s everything. I love pears, and I love sorbet, and I love this pear sorbet.