A Foodie Guide to Eating Old School in Montreal

Some dining experiences are so quintessentially Montreal that they deserve landmark status. Like bagels, for instance. Or smoked meat. Here are five places to get a taste of history, from nostalgically classic to the inimitably French. 

St-Viateur Bagel
Even the most cocksure New York food writer will acquiesce that the best bagels in the world come from Montreal. And since founder Myer Lewkowitz hung his shingle in 1957, local aficionados agree that the best bagels in Montreal come from St. Viateur. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the original Mile-End shop is often lined up into the wee hours with the drunk ’n’ hungry crowd. Coiled, boiled, dipped in seeds and baked in a wood-burning oven, a flick of the baker’s wrists sends a cascade of hot bagels thudding into the bin. Dense, slightly sweet with a smoky crust, these regal rings are essential eating.


263 St-Viateur O., 514-276-8044;
plus 6 other locations             

While the North American luncheonette may be on the endangered restaurants list, it’s impossible to think of Montreal without Beautys. For over 70 years, this slightly cramped – people were smaller back then – corner diner has been slinging eggs and flipping burgers for the midday crowd. From the lengthy menu, two dishes demand your attention. First is the Beauty’s Special, a Jewish-style club sandwich of lox, cream cheese, tomato and red onion layered on a chewy sesame seed bagel. The other is the trademarked Mish-Mash, a stoner’s delight omelette with hot dog, beef salami, green pepper and fried onions. Nibble on a moist slab of banana bread with your last refill of coffee.


93 Avenue Mont-Royal O., 514-849-8883

Deli Snowdon 
While Schwartz’s is synonymous with Montreal smoked meat, the experience is wanting: like Venice, any sense of history is obliterated by the overtly touristy vibe. To eat as the locals do, take a short subway ride up to Snowdon station and stroll over to this Hampstead institution. During lunch, older gents hold court in the booths and kibbitz about the schmata business. Hand sliced and stacked on rye three inches high, the smoked meat sandwich is tender, succulent, peppery, and one of city’s best. Start with a matzo ball soup, wash everything down with a Cott’s Black Cherry soda, and you’ll never wait in line at Schwartz’s again.


5265 Boulevard Décarie, 514-488-9129

What is it about this iconic bistro that makes you want to return again and again? It could be the long and lively room, mirrored and tiled, wearing a proud patina of 35 years. Maybe it’s the cracking staff that treats the whole restaurant like it’s their section. Or perhaps the wine list studded with affordable French gems. Then there’s the never-changing menu of Gallic staples including chicken liver pâté, octopus and lentil salad, and pot au feu. (There are also seasonal specials like stuffed zucchini blossoms in summer.) And that dark, truffle-like chocolate tart! Ahhhh. Never change, L’Express.


3927 Rue St-Denis, 514-845-5333 

Au Pied de Cochon 
While this 12-year-old meat mecca doesn’t have as many rings around the trunk as other dining landmarks, it promotes a primal brand of excess and conviviality that predates the city’s founding. Foie gras is so beloved by owner Martin Picard that it has its own section on the menu. Try it as a thick tranche inside a juicy venison burger – with maple-glazed pork belly and red onion mayo! – or enriching a divine poutine. (If you have a note from your cardiologist, dig into both in the deadly $51 duo.) The pudding chômeur is excellent, though it is inconceivable that you’ll have room for dessert. The rich cooking may not be for everyone, but it is truly one of the great Canadian dining experiences. 


5265 Avenue Duluth E., 514-281-1114 

Published Monday, August 10th 2015

Header image credit: Beautys Luncheonette, circa 1954. Courtesy of Beautys.



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