PSA: Montreal Is Just 6 Hours North of New York (And It's Pretty Great)
Get served in French at restaurants, walk the historic cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, and you might just feel like you’ve landed in Paris, without ever crossing the pond.
Montréal has long been known for its centuries-old buildings and Francophone roots, but these days it’s the local foodie culture that’s making waves on the culinary scene. Weekly restaurant openings are par for the course to Montréalers, and craft cocktail bars are popping up on every corner. If this doesn’t convince you, the favorable exchange rate and the short six-hour drive from New York City just might. If you helped crash the Canadian immigration website like many other Americans last night, plan your trip to Montreal today.
Written by Gabrielle Savoie
A newcomer on Montréal’s food scene, Jatoba quickly established itself as the preferred destination for after-work drinks, and is the winner of the Stone Cold Stunner (an honor awarded to the city’s most stunning restaurant design). It also got rave reviews from Montréal’s pickiest food critics. The Asian-fusion menu is nothing you’d expect from this overused term with a bad reputation. Jatoba marries Japanese and French culinary techniques to create unique, delicious food.
Jatoba | 1184 Place Phillips
Montréal’s most-beloved sushi chef Antonio Park opened a second restaurant this year, this time serving Argentinian fare, far away from the chef’s Japanese origins. Through his new venture Lavanderia, we learned that Park actually grew up in Argentina. This place is an homage to the culinary memories of his childhood.
Lavanderia | 374 Victoria Avenue, Westmount
Rustique Pie Kitchen
Ask any native Montréaler where the best desserts are, and Rustique Pie Kitchen will undoubtedly come up. This Saint-Henri institution serves more than simple pies. Their handcrafted desserts, made using quality local ingredients and seasonal produce, are veritable works of art. With pie flavors such as spiced hot chocolate and apple butter cheesecake, it's no wonder people from all over the city flock to this sweet bakery and café.
Rustique Pies | 4615 Notre-Dame Street West
Skip the crowded museums and head to Fonderie Darling, a one-of-a-kind visual art center in a 1918 refurbished foundry in Montréal’s Multimedia City. The gallery’s restaurant, Le Serpent, is also one of the most acclaimed in the city, so reserve a table ahead of time and finish off the day with a taste of their mouthwatering lobster mascarpone risotto.
Le Serpent | 257 Prince Street
When it opened in 2011 under the watchful eye of chef and ex–Joe Beef employee Emma Cardarelli, Nora Gray was quickly picked up as one of Canada’s 10 best new restaurants openings. Years later, this tiny Italian joint with an unassuming façade still serves some of the best Southern Italian fare in the city.
Nora Gray | 1391 Saint Jacques Street
Le Vin Papillon
Joe Beef recently added The World’s 100 Best Restaurants list to its impressive collection of awards. It was praised on the hottest culinary shows, from Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown to David Chang’s Mind of a Chef. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone visiting Montréal, but it can be near impossible to get into.
The good news is that instead of braving the months-long waiting list, you can head three doors down to Le Vin Papillon, Joe Beef’s newly expanded wine bar. The walk-in policy assures that with a hint of patience (30 minutes on a busy night), you’ll be ready to taste chefs David MacMillan and Frédéric Morin’s acclaimed modern French Canadian cuisine. Vanya Filipovic, the city’s hottest female sommelier, will readily recommend you the best privately imported natural wines. The house-smoked shaved ham with brown butter and Parmesan is worth the visit alone.
Le Vin Papillon | 2519 Notre-Dame West
The restaurant is owned by Montréal-based Simple Plan guitarist Jeff Stinco. Remember them? Stinco has more than poppy guitar riffs up his sleeves though. He is now the owner of more than eight well-loved establishments in Montréal. My favorite: Shinji which serves some of the best sushi in the city.
Shinji | 1726 Notre-Dame Street West
Le Boating Club
Le Boating Club is a locals-only destination located in a quiet residential suburb off the island (yes, Montréal is an island like Manhattan). Once a veritable nautical club for affluent Montréal families, Le Boating Club is now a bustling restaurant and bar.
Situated on the river’s edge, it has a vibe strangely reminiscent of The Surf Lodge in Montauk. The Sunday brunch, aptly named Le Breakfast Club, serves an updated French Canadian brunch complete with classic Bloody Caesars and plenty of maple syrup. The perfect destination if you want to experience real Québec culture.
Le Boating Club | 30 Curé-Labelle, Vieux Sainte-Rose
If there’s one food that’s typical of Montréal (alright, other than poutine and Montréal bagels), it’s smoked meat sandwiches. Locals and tourists alike line up in front of Schwartz’s Deli at all hours to get a taste of Montreal’s answer to pastrami sandwiches. Personally, I like skipping the crowds, and going to Lester’s for what I believe is an even better smoked meat sandwich than Schwartz’s (the smoked meat war is real here). Stepping into Lester’s is like stepping back in time; I don’t believe anything has changed there in the last 60 years. It doesn’t get more authentic Montréal than this.
Lester’s Deli | 1057 Bernard Avenue
This place is a true cocktail lab (bottle fire shows included) served in a relaxed, vaguely southern atmosphere. Their cocktail bible is thick, and could be studied for days, but the best cocktail (in my humble opinion) is off-the-menu. The Nirvana is what you’ll want to order upon arriving.
Le Lab | 1351 Rachel Street East
Big in Japan Bar
Go to Big in Japan Bar for the design, stay for the libations. You might have a bit of difficulty finding this cocktail lounge off Saint-Laurent’s Main strip. Just look for a tiny red Japanese symbol on a black door, right next to a burger and poutine joint. If you’re greeted upon entry by a majordomo in a tuxedo, you’ve come to the right place. Very dimly lit, and playing soft 1950s-inspired tunes, this sit-down only bar is a refined date-night spot. Their specialty: a selection of Japanese whisky that hangs from the main bar’s ceiling.
Big in Japan Bar | 4175 Saint Laurent Boulevard
Café Tommy is Montréal’s newest favorite café. Located in the heart of Old Montréal, it’s the ideal spot to kick-off your Montréal excursion. Prolific local designer Zébulon Perron transformed this 1874 national heritage building into an old-meets-new café with soaring ceilings, ornate moldings, midcentury furniture, and statement vine chandeliers. Get ready to Instagram!
Café Tommy | 200 Notre-Dame Street West
Rain or shine, freezing cold or steaming hot, there’s never a bad moment to visit Bota Bota, a spa located on an old 1950s ferryboat in the Old Port’s Saint Lawrence River. Need we say more? The outdoor baths and Finnish saunas offer unparalleled views of the Montréal skyline. So if you happen to visit Montréal on a particularly gloomy day, treat yourself to some pampering with a view.
Bota Bota | Old Port of Montreal
Not only is Montréal an island, it’s also home to a (very) extinct volcano. Today, Mount-Royal Park is a sanctuary in the middle of bustling downtown, sprinkled with hiking trails. The park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame), offers unparalleled views of the city skyline from its three peaks. Hike up to the Chalet du Mont Royal Belvedere, or the Westmount Belvedere for the best views.
Mount-Royal Park | Downtown Montréal
You don’t have to be more religious than the next to enjoy Notre-Dame Basilica’s breathtaking beauty. The 1888 construction, loosely inspired by the Paris cathedral of the same name, features an azure-like blue and gold-vaulted ceiling to impress even the most die-hard atheists. The $5 entry fee is well worth the detour.
Notre Dame Basilica | 110 Notre-Dame Street West
Want Les Essentiels de la Vie leather products are sold around the world now, but the brand stems from this small Westmount shop, which also sells Maison Kitsuné, Acne Studios, AESOP bath products, and Astier de Villatte candles. The shop is appropriately named, because you’ll want to buy everything.
Want Apothecary | 4960 Sherbrooke Street West
If you're looking to entertain a guy on your trip, treat him to a visit at Frank & Oak’s flagship store. The brand that made waves on the fashion startup scene years ago with their Hunt Club monthly membership model now has two physical stores in Montréal, both of which have a full-service barber shop and a Café Nevé coffee shop onsite. Feast your eyes on their modernist design while sipping one of Montréal’s best coffees, and let your man get treated to a full style consultation.
Frank & Oak | 1420 Stanley Street
Frank & Oak Italian Leather Weekender ($425)
Lambert & Fils
If you haven’t heard of Lambert & Fils lighting yet, it’s probably only a matter of time. The Montréal-based lighting studio’s collection blends minimalist midcentury lines with of-the-moment finishes: brass, marble, and powder-coated aluminum.
Gracing the ceilings and walls of our favorite restaurants and hotels, these lamps have the stature to become instant modern classics. Don’t be intimidated by their elegant stature, these striking lighting fixtures are surprisingly affordable, especially with the current exchange rate.
The brand recently traded their flagship store for a bigger showroom away from the popular shopping strips, but it’s worth the detour if you’re a design aficionado.
Lambert & Fils | 7755 Saint-Laurent Boulevard #101
Club Monaco Dominion Square
You’re probably thinking Club Monaco stores are everywhere in North America, and you’re right. If nothing else, the architecture of the brand-new flagship is breathtaking (not to mention Instagrammable), but the real attraction of the store is Café Myriade, the coffee shop located in the building’s basement. Go for the coffee, stay for the interior design.
Club Monaco | 1000 Sainte Catherine Street West
An institution as old as time: For the true royal treatment, stay at the iconic Ritz-Carlton Hotel located in the Golden Square Mile. The architecture (both inside and out) is stunning, the service is unparalleled, and the restaurant Maison Boulud (of the Daniel Boulud fame) is worth the detour alone. Sit at the bar and order a Smoky Gentleman, or head out and explore Sherbrooke Street, lined with historic buildings, luxury shopping, and museums.
Ritz-Carlton | 1228 Sherbrooke Street West
Le Petit Hôtel
For a (literally) smaller and more unique experience, stay at Le Petit Hôtel in the heart of Old Montréal. The tiny hotel is located on Montréal’s oldest street, where horse-drawn carriages, and European-style buildings meet cutting-edge shops and restaurants. Bonus: The lobby’s coffee shop serves some of the best lattes and croissants in the city.
Le Petit Hôtel | 168 Saint Paul West Street
Tell us your favorite Montreal spots in the comments below!