Ah, poutine. Some Québécois are proud of the creation, while others get mad when they hear it called Quebec’s “national dish.” If you’re chatting with locals, bring up the topic: ask where it was invented, or which restaurant makes the best one, and you’re sure to spark an endless debate. Today, poutine has evolved beyond the classic French fries, cheese, and gravy combination, with chefs all over the world creating their own, often luxurious version of the dish. Although a foie gras-topped poutine is indeed a unique indulgence, poutine is a dish that is better when it doesn’t stray too far from its humble beginnings. Personal preferences aside, a good poutine should include crispy French fries made of fresh potatoes, homemade sauce, and—most importantly—just-made cheese curds. The following restaurants conform to these criteria and make so many versions of the dish among them, anyone game enough to try it is sure to find a favorite.
Never tasted poutine before? This is the place to get acquainted with the concoction. A local chain, Ashton has 24 locations around the city, including one right on Grande-Allée. Hand-cut local potatoes, homemade sauce, and fresh, perfectly squeaky cheese make Ashton’s poutine a great introduction to the dish.
Snack Bar St-Jean
Open daily until 5 A.M., this place fully assumes its role as a fast-food joint and knows how to satisfy the biggest late-night cravings. The menu features decadent grilled cheese, hot dogs, burgers, and a dozen varieties of poutines, all of which can—and should—be served with bacon. The food tastes fresh and the atmosphere is as rustic and comforting as the food.
Locals used to shy away from eating at restaurants sitting right by the Château Frontenac, since they mostly catered to the tourist crowd. That was before Chic Shack opened in front of Quebec’s most famous landmark. Primarily a burger and milkshake joint, Chic Shack offers gourmet poutines that are often the reason people return. Local beers on tap and handpicked wines sold by the glass are the perfect accompaniment.
La Fabrique Montcalm
A newcomer in the arts district of Montcalm, La Fabrique makes “gastronomic poutines” its mission. The most popular variations feature confied duck, the braised beef, and pulled pork, but even the traditional poutine honors the classic dish, with crispy fries, a tasty sauce, and just the right fries/cheese/sauce ratio.
The team behind one of the city’s most elegant restaurants, Panache, also manages two seasonal quick eats restaurants, one at L’Île d’Orléans and the other close to the Old Port. Both offer fantastic views and a menu that includes the best lobster roll in town and a mean poutine, with toppings that vary from one year to the next. The food is not cheap, but portions are so generous you can easily share.