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Foodie Friday: High-Class Montréal Dining Without the Price Tag

August 23, 2013 by

The Best Restaurants in MontrealIn a city that claims to be the most European city in North America, I was expecting a restaurant scene with white table cloths and extravagant prices to match. But Montréal surprised me. From no-frills lunch spots, to after-work happy hour bars, and high-end dinner options, this island city in the province of Quebec has plenty to offer, all at a reasonable price. Here are some of my favorite restaurants in Montréal:

Brunch and Lunch

Pastaga: Located in the heart of the Mile End, Pastaga has plenty of charm, but without trying. Don’t be fooled by the casual atmosphere – wood furnishings, high-top tables, and mix-and-match light fixtures – the food that Chef Martin Juneau churns out is both delicious and unique. I took a chance and followed my waiter’s recommendations to try the blood pudding that was baked into a pie. While there are no English versions of the menu, everyone speaks the language and can offer up their favorites, or translate whatever looks tasty to you. One of the best features of this restaurant? You and your party, however big or small, can sit in the kitchen and watch as the chefs make your meal. (We didn’t because it can get pretty hot in the summer.) Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays; lunch on Fridays; dinner everyday; brunch entrees from about $13.50

Olive + Gourmando: Among the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, Olive + Gourmando seems out of place next to high-end shops and art galleries. This hip eatery has chalkboard walls decorated with cartoons and funky music playing over the speakers. You might wait in line to get a seat, but it moves fast and you won’t wait long for your food after you order. Keep in mind, though, you don’t order from a waiter, here; peruse the menu at your seat or go up to the ordering counter where you’ll find the most up-to-date options (popular choices like The Cubain and The Antipasto sandwiches sometimes sell out). Also known for their pastries, I recommend finishing your meal with a chocolate brioche or one of their triple chocolate cookies. Open Tuesday–Saturday, 8am–6pm, same menu; options from about $5.75

Dinner

Grinder: Steakhouses typically brag about their huge rib eye or perfect filet mignon, and of course Grinder does boast a New-York Strip and a prime skirt steak, but what really makes this place stand apart from other stuffy steakhouses are the cold plates. From carpaccios to tatakis and tartares, Grinder not only has beef but also bison, salmon, and cobia (a white fish) options. I tried the duck tartare and had a short rib sandwich that was  offered as a special. And then there’s the decor: The kitchen is open, so you can see where your food is prepared, and during the summer the restaurant opens their walls (literally — glass garage-like doors line one wall) up to their outside patio. You’ll still find characteristic wood paneling found in most steakhouses, but here it’s modern, rather than kitschy. Lunch Monday–Friday, dinner only on Saturday; entrees from about $18.30

Lawrence: Walk into Lawrence and you might think there aren’t any waiters. Street-clothes-wearing servers blend in seamlessly with the diners and all of a sudden someone will walk up and seat you out of nowhere. You’ll also notice right away that this place doesn’t care much for showy decor; white-washed and black walls are bordered with simple lighting, placing the emphasis on the food. Most dishes come served on mismatched china for a home-y vibe. When I went, I tried the charcuterie plate, which had a veal liver mouse to die for. Of course, the grilled rabbit shoulder with caponata sounded equally enticing. If you’re feeling daring, and it’s on the menu, try the ox heart (bare with me), which is, after all, just another muscle (it was served much like a steak with creamy mashed potatoes). Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays; lunch Wednesday–Friday; dinner Wednesday–Saturday; dinner entrees from about $25

Foodlab: A night at Foodlab or Labo Culinaire is like eating in a visual arts museum – probably because it’s in the Société des Arts Technologiques. Chefs Michelle Marek and Seth Gabrielse experiment and change their menu every two weeks. Each menu highlights different cuisines from around the world by using local Montréal ingredients. The result is an incredibly fresh menu that provides a quick glimpse into a region’s flavor (right now they have a Balkans-inspired menu). I was lucky enough to be there for the Tuscany menu and tried everything from a caponata, to a salad with countless ingredients, and a sausage sampler. Dine indoors where you can observe the chefs in the open kitchen or overhear sound testing downstairs, or choose to eat on their large terrace that overlooks the nearby Satosphère – a dome that changes colors. Menu changes along with pricing

Late-night Snacks and Drinks

Bevo: Count yourself lucky if you come across Bevo late at night. This bar and pizzeria serves hand-tossed wood-fire oven pizzas late into the night Thursday though Saturday until 2am. A glass wine room, cool red lighting, a spiral staircase, and tall pillars decorate this restaurant, which is like a mix of a fine dining establishment and a nightclub. But don’t be intimidated, Bevo is definitely not pretentious: our waiter stopped to talk to us about his Italian roots and opted to make our drinks himself to ensure they were prepared the way we wanted. While the drink list is impressive (both cocktails and wine), the pizza is definitely worth a try. We were torn between the Bosco in Bianco with truffles and mozzarella, but ultimately landed on the Emilia Romagna which was topped with a hearty meat sauce, pancetta, and mozzarella. Lunch and dinner everyday; pizzas from about $12.50

Bar Furco: Perhaps best known for it’s happy hour, Bar Furco is a must-visit if you’re hankering for a poutine (a Canadian specialty of french fries topped with various ingredients like cheese curds, gravy, and at some places, even foie gras) or any late-night snack. Open from 4pm to 3am daily, this spot often has a line out the door after work, but we got right in after dinner; it was crowded on a Friday night but we snagged a table right away. The “menu” hangs from a clothesline across one wall with reasonably priced items, a back wall is covered with a continuous mirror, and exposed industrial ceilings remind you that you’re in an old fur factory (reminiscent of a loft-style restaurant you’d find in New York). Drinks and snacks daily; prices vary

A big shout out to Tourisme Montréal for partially hosting my stay. Foodie finds and thoughts are all mine. 

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