The One Montreal Street Every Food Lover Should Visit
It would be hard to visit Montreal and not be dazzled by the culinary scene. Montreal’s best-known attraction is its dining. And whether your tastes lean toward classic comfort food or creative, painstakingly plated tasting menus, one historic road in the city's Sud-Ouest borough is sure to have what you're looking for.
Home to a group of neighborhoods that surround the grass-lined Lachine Canal, Sud-Ouest is now one of the most thriving areas of the city. Spanning a few neighborhoods—St-Henry, Griffintown and Little Burgundy—Sud-Ouest’s restaurant row is situated on one one thoroughfare: “Notre Dame Street is Montreal's most interesting food and drink strip,” says chef David McMillan, owner of the celebrated Joe Beef, Liverpool House, and Vin Papillon. Over a decade after it first opened, Joe Beef’s indulgent but deftly prepared fare—like creamy spaghetti piled high with hunks of lobster or a marrow-infused mash—is still on every best-of list in Montreal. Sister spot Liverpool House books up months in advance, and the no-reservations Vin Papillon seems to have a permanent line out the door. McMillan's ventures seeded the once-sleepy neighborhood with dining destinations, paving the way for the boom that's happened since. “In the last five years, many chefs have taken a chance and opened their own places. Their success given confidence to other young chefs to do the same, and now there’s momentum,” says Dyan Soloman, co-owner of Foxy, a swanky fire-focused restaurant in Montreal’s Little Burgundy in Sud-Ouest.
Even for the small world of restaurants, the kitchens on Notre-Dame seem remarkably intertwined. Before joining Foxy, chef Leigh Roper honed her skills at Joe Beef and Vin Papillon. Down the road in St. Henri, two of Roper’s former Joe Beef colleagues now serve modern riffs on Jewish comfort food at Arthur’s Nosh Bar. “In the last two years there have been more openings than I can count. You can walk seven blocks and find 14 amazing restaurants,” says John Winter-Russell of Candide, which opened inside the former rectory of a church in 2015 and has quickly become one of Montreal’s most talked-about food destinations. The seasonally driven, Basque-inspired hotspot features an ever-changing menu of dishes like venison with shallots and cranberries, or carrots with crab and yogurt. Just three blocks north, the year-old Hvor is so committed to local sourcing they installed garden beds and beehives on their outdoor terrace. One of the newest additions to the area is Magdalena, a homey yet elegant bar focused on biodynamic and natural wines, which debuted early this year in the space adjoining cocktail bar Ludger.
One might think neighboring restaurants and bars would meet competition with a big slice of animosity, but in Montreal, it’s quite the opposite. “We have a strong sense of community and friendship,” says McMillan. “It sounds corny, but we love our neighbors,” says McMillan. It’s not uncommon for a restaurant owner to point guests in the direction of their direct competition when a table isn’t available. That sense of community may be what really sets Montreal’s food scene apart: It can be felt from the moment you walk into a place, when the host gladly greets you with a smile or a joke and ushers you to a table even if your whole party isn’t there. In true Francophone fashion, guests are never hastened out the door after a meal—lingering over a few drops of wine is accepted and even encouraged. “Our community and our market is our strength,” says McMillan. That might be the case, but coupled with mind-blowingly good food and service, it seems Sud-Oeust’s entire restaurant scene is its strength—or at least reason enough to pull out a passport and purchase a plane ticket.