If you’re looking for some of the best food in Montreal, you need look no further than the Jean-Talon market. Montreal’s most famous restaurants are scattered throughout the city, but Jean-Talon is a culinary center like no other in North America. Meats, cheeses, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and of course classic Quebec food burst from every food stand in summer. The market is certainly bursting with lunch, dinner, and snack options, but its good to keep in mind that it is surrounded by plenty of other good choices where you can avoid the crowds (have you seen the crowded aisles during a Saturday in July?), and find a place to feast, market style.
Petit Alep is without a doubt the restaurant that we’ve recommended the most to tourists over the last 10 years. It’s such a favorite of our team that we often have our staff Christmas party here. Situated just across from the market, on Jean-Talon street, this little bistro serves flavourful Syrian and Armenian food in a friendly and energetic environment. We keep going back for the kebabs, the grilled pitas, and selection of mezze (little sharing plates, not unlike tapas)- and the well-known wine list- as well as the staff tisane, which is infused with cardamom, mint, and orange blossom. And, above all, for the delicious mouhamara, which is without question our favorite mezze.
Pizzeria Gema, by Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione, ranks among the greatest destinations in Little Italy. Here you can find a selection of classic antipasti as well as any one of a dozen pizzas with thin, crispy crusts. The most traditional is of course the Margherita, but it’s also worth it to check out the pizza of the month, which (as its name indicates) changes all the time. The Vetri pizza alone, with homemade mortadella and pistachio pesto, makes the trip worthwhile. The Jean-Talon Market salad, made with seasonal ingredients, is equally good. To finish the meal nicely, try the homemade frozen custard, with chocolate and vanilla, with your choice of topping (nuts, caramel, Baci crumble, etc.). It’s also possible to order directly from the little window right on St. Dominique street in summer.
Montreal’s Bahn-Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) have long been a reliable and refreshing option for eating well on a tight budget. Marché Huang Phat serves great sandwiches of all kinds: grilled chicken, grilled pork, or a traditional cold meat combo, as well as vegetarian options. There’s nothing to say about the décor, but the service is fast and courteous. For us, when you need something nice, fast, there’s nothing better! We should note that you can also try their soups (Bun Bo Hue, a spiced beef soup, among others) and various traditional Vietnamese desserts.
One block north of the market, you will find one of the best cafés in Villeray, Café Larue. The sun-drenched terrace is a favorite of regulars, and it’s a great place to get to know the neighbourhood and just watch the passers-by on Castelneau street. They have plenty of pastries, but it’s really the coffee that makes this place so famous. If the terrace is full (which is quite possible!), just take your espresso or latte to go and sit around the square in front of the church, just across the street. The view is just as nice there.
This little restaurant set out to serve a unique and sophisticated cuisine that features ingredients sourced around Québec. We haven’t yet tried their dinner menu, but the brunch, served on the weekend starting at 10, is a great success. It’s a great way to have a copious breakfast and lunch before attacking the market and its environs. The menu is not always exactly the same, but you can find dishes like cod with romesco sauce, a waffle and rabbit with poached eggs plate, even an arctic char or a nice steak. You might find the menu surprising, but the dishes are always interesting. And a big shoutout to their desserts, which are truly original (donuts with pine sugar and juniper, among others).
It’s impossible to talk about Little Italy without mentioning the cannoli at the Italian pastry shop Alati-Caserta, as well as their torta Regina, a cake made with almond paste. In summer, they also make a delicious lemon granita (halfway between a slushee and a sorbet), which you can enjoy in the park just across the way!
Les Givrés, on Castelneau street, has a grand assortment of artisanal ice creams and sorbets. One of our favorites is “feu de camp” (campfire), which has grilled homemade marshmallows, along the Quebec rhubarb sorbet, as well as their delicious ice cream sandwiches!