Montreal was by far the best trip I took this year. Travelling solo can be daunting. Having to spend all that time by yourself, with yourself. In those times, my go to activities to keep my mind and body occupied are eating and walking. Montreal is a great place to do both. This post will be about the eating–where to find great food and what to avoid. I’ll tell you all about the wondrous and odd things I saw while walking the streets of Montreal some other time.
Changing from a meat-centered diet to a plant-based one was something I always knew I would eventually do. I never quite liked the way meat made me feel, most dairy makes me sick, and the older I’ve gotten, the more vegetarians and vegans I’ve come to know. Switching was just a no-brainer. Travelling, however, brings about a real challenge to maintaining a strict vegan diet. Exploring an unknown city is difficult. When you add dietary restrictions to the mix, it can be a nightmare. Often, Google will orient you to overpriced hipster hang outs, where everything is kale and in the form of a burger. Or you’ll end up in a seedy pub where the only vegetarian thing to eat is the fries. So, I did the only thing one can do in such a situation, I started with Tinder. My goal was not to date (I only had ten days). My goal was to find cool spots from the locals. Together with Google and Tinder, I found some great eateries and even stumbled upon a few. Here are all the meals I loved, liked, disliked, and hated in Montreal:
My first dinner in Montreal was at Lola Rosa Cafe, near McGill University. Having matched with a couple of vegans on Tinder and scoured the internet for recommendations, this restaurant seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list–and for good reason! While I ordered the burger (something I thought I wouldn’t do, because I normally dislike most veggie burgers), I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. It even led to me to order desert (an apple tart), which was also very good and vegan!
Speaking of veggie burgers, I am hereby petitioning A&W to open a location in Philadelphia. It would be nice to have a fast food restaurant with veggie options. One where they don’t just put grilled vegetables inside a bun (I’m looking at you Five Guys). A&W had a really convenient location in Gay Village, where I was staying, right by Berri-UQAM metro station. It was the perfect midnight snack, when everything else was closed and I felt the twinge of hunger at an unholy hour. It was also a good pick me up after a full day of walking around the city. The sweet potato fries were crazy good!
Walking back from a park near Sherbrooke metro station, I stumbled upon Mañana, a Mexican restaurant with a life-sized cut out of Frida Kahlo in front. It seemed like a good sign. When I walked in, having already eaten dinner, I was greeted by a cute waitress with a sunny disposition. The decor inside was breathtaking. Everything felt handmade; it was like being in someone’s home. The plates were hand painted, all the paintings were different renditions of popular Mexican pieces (mostly Frida Kahlo’s). I was in love. I sat down, charged my phone, and ordered not one, but two strawberry margaritas. Mañana advertises itself as having the best margaritas in the city. I can’t say that they’re wrong. The drinks were so refreshing. After a sweltering day in July, they make you feel like you truly deserve them.
There is a reason why you have to wait 30 minutes in line just to get into L’Avenue for brunch. It is damn good. When a friend took a day to come to see me in Montreal from Toronto, we decided the only real way to start the day correctly was by having brunch. We looked for a place and every review seemed to agree that L’Avenue is where you go. When it was finally our turn to get inside, we were sat down at a tiny table underneath a hanging motorcycle. Of course, a round of mimosas was in order. As I’ve warned you, I chose to go the vegetarian route for this trip, so I ordered eggs benedict (and I have no regrets). It was gooooood. L’Avenue has the best hollandaise sauce I’ve ever tasted. A little tipsy from the potent mimosa, and an even more potent bellini that followed, we walked out of there full and ready for the day.
The last best meal I had in Montreal was completely vegan. Arepera du Plateau is, like many restaurants in the city, small in size and big in flavour. A friend who empathised with my vegan plight, recommended it to me. Excited to try Venezuelan food for the first time, I shuffled down to Sherbrooke station (again) to get there. I ordered a plate of sweet plantains, rice, beans, and an arepa. I sat in that restaurant, my above mentioned friend on WhatsApp video keeping me company, in awe. I have had my fair share of rice and beans(I’m African). I have had sweet plantains before (I’m African). But this, this was another experience entirely. Maybe it was the presence of the arepa, I’m not sure. All I know, is that I took a togo order of an arepa filled with plantains and beans. Not to eat right away, since I was already so full, but to have for later. So, so good.
For the meals I liked, they were all from restaurants I stumbled upon, usually desperate and hungry.
The first was a pizza from, I’m not kidding, The Pizzeria. It was a block from my hostel. The waiters were all very attractive. It felt like a good choice. It was okay. I didn’t eat there again.
The second was breakfast. My first full day in the city, I decided to walk from Gay Village to Old Montreal to look at the river and have some something to eat. At first, Google failed me by making me go into a dingy cafe right by the Notre Dame Basilica; so instead, I was forced to rely on my wits. That’s how I found Restaurant Jacques Cartier, in Jacques Cartier square. The potatoes were really good and there was a bird (Fred, I called him) who hopped around outside as I inhaled my food, and eventually went onto better things.
The third and final meal was *drumroll* escargots! I know, I know. This is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but much like the ants, I had to try them. I can’t remember the restaurant’s name. It was an Italian restaurant in Old Montreal. I do remember, however, this dish. It was chewy like rubber, but full of flavour. I can understand why people enjoy it. I liked it.
Three words: Ant-covered Ice Cream
I’m no stranger to eating insects. I grew up in a country where larvae and caterpillars are delicacies. So, when I saw the sign for insect tastings, as I walked through Montreal’s shared Botanical Garden and Insectarium, I had to give it a try. Mind you, I don’t love eating bugs. In the past, they’ve either been really good or simply edible, with no flavour or texture worth remembering. (Except for the one time I ate fried termites, never again). Given all my experience, I thought eating some ants on chocolate covered ice cream would be fine, good even. I was wrong. It wasn’t horrible, but suffice to say, I would not eat it again.
I’m glad I gave it a try, though.
Originally, my plan had been to stick with vegan options, considering as I mentioned, how many there are in Montreal. But given where I was and how accessible this iconic food is, it seemed a bit gauche not to give poutine a taste. In a coffee shop, on a break from a long uphill walk, my friend and I got advice from its owner on where to find the best poutine in the city: La Banquise. We stumbled there around midnight, sober, with hopes of finding the most vegetarian version of it we could. La Banquise is a rather small shop, and given its popularity, it was filled with people. To be honest, just the humidity and the smell of grease made me nauseous. I couldn’t bear standing in line. In the end, my friend braved her way through, got the classic, and went back to our hostel.
Perhaps this photo doesn’t do it justice. Perhaps I was too full on the dinner I’d already had. Perhaps I wasn’t drunk enough to need “fatty, drunk” food (which is what I’m convinced poutine is). I honestly don’t know. All I can say is that I found poutine to be revolting and inedible. I won’t insult it further. I have already received outrage from a few people for hating this dish so much. But I suppose the moral of this story is that not everything is for everyone. Poutine certainly was not for me (or my friend, who I think chucked it when I wasn’t looking).
Montreal is a huge city. I can’t honestly say that I have peeled off even one layer of all the delicious cuisine available. But, in only ten days, I ate some of the best food I’ve had all year. As a part-time vegan, part-time vegetarian, it was nice to have options (all we ever want are options!). It’s such a diverse city, culturally, so, it was very cool to get a taste of different cuisines that fit my dietary restrictions.
Basically what I’m saying is, if you’re looking for a city that is going to feed you well, look no further. Book a ticket and bon appetit!