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Where to find the best food in Montreal for brunch & dinner, plus some epic street art

An epic art scene, rebel vibes and some seriously stylish restaurants make Montréal one of my favourite destinations. 

the view of Montréal from Mount Royal
Montréal from Mount Royal

Much like trips exploring Menorca and backpacking Peru, many of my most memorable adventures are often the ones that start with zero expectations, and that’s exactly what happened with Montréal. Before I touched down in Quebec’s largest city, one bright but cold May morning, I’d done little research for my trip, aside from booking a modern artsy loft—decorated in tones of grey—on Airbnb. The loft promised a great location, close to Montréal's most famous bagel shop, Fairmount Bagel, and even came with a guidebook listing brunch and dinner recommendations in the immediate area. I knew I had picked the right place to stay as my only plans were to seek out incredible food, cool coffee shops and the most intriguing art the city had to offer.

Where to go for brunch in Montréal?

Taking brunch in Montréal is a real institution so I made it my mission each day to linger over a mélange of small plates and coffee. Just me, my cumbersome copy of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and some of the coolest interiors the city has to offer. There’s something magical about sitting alone in an unknown place, savouring brand-new dishes while observing the world. One beautifully cosy spot, Larry’s turned out to be a 15-minute walk from my Mile End loft. Taking a spot at the copper-topped bar, my go-to dish became a stack of moreish homemade pikelets paired with a side of smoked salmon and some seriously decadent scrambled eggs. I’d take turns, cheating on Larry’s with nearby Art’s Cafe, where rich shakshouka and insanely good cheddar scones featured on the menu, or occasionally I’d head to Fairmont for one of their world-famous bagels.

stacks of fairmont bagels in montreal
Fairmont's dreamy bagels

Where to find the best murals in Montréal?

I soon discovered Montréal is a rebel city with a friendly edge, small enough to get around on foot but large enough to have a burgeoning restaurant and art scene, every large piece of wall I passed was covered by huge, incredibly detailed murals and creative graffiti. My favourite murals ended up being the biggest and brightest, the ones hidden off main roads in abandoned car parks, or creations painted strategically in-between windows and doors, so huge I’d have to cross the street to appreciate the full scale. Australian artist David ‘Meggs’ Hook captured my attention one afternoon with a 90-foot-tall piece highlighting climate issues, depicting a woman holding a conch shell against a backdrop of coral pink hibiscus and tangerine-coloured daylilies. Hook’s ‘Expand Your World’ was completed in 2016 as part of Montreal’s Mural Festival, yet still remains as, if not more relevant today. 

David 'Meggs Hook's Expand Your World mural in Montreal
David 'Meggs Hook's Expand Your World

I also fell in love with Mister Xray’s ‘Lost Paradise’ situated in a parking lot between Saint Laurent Boulevard and Rue Saint-Dominique, it features cartoon hand grenades, original typography and a colour palette inspired by the artist’s childhood growing up in Florida.

Mister Xray's Lost Paradise in Montreal
Mister Xray's Lost Paradise

But the mural I kept coming back to admire was a collaborative project between two local artists, Bryan Beyung and Gene Pendon

May an Old Song Open a New World in Montreal
My favourite mural—May an Old Song Open a New World

Their brilliant piece, ‘May an Old Song Open a New World’ right next to Chinatown, depicts a female Chinese opera singer against a bright red background (synonymous with prosperity and heroism in Chinese culture) and was created to celebrate the city’s cultural diversity.

Restaurants in Montréal—which to visit for amazing food?

Montréal’s diverse population is unique in North America with minority residential segregation much lower than most US. and European cities. This fusion has made for an incredible food scene with European, Asian, Latin American and African influences featuring heavily throughout Montréal s top eateries and bars. Aside from French-influenced poutine, a provincial dish that’s seriously comforting, consisting of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds, I made my way through brilliantly bright Hawaiian-inspired poke bowls and zingy coloured cold-pressed juices at Venice MTL

poke bowl at Venice MTL
My poke bowl at Venice MTL

While low lighting, neon signs and La Habanera’s icy Hemingway Daiquiris transported me back to Cuba if only for a few hours, and Satay Brothers light-as-a-cloud bao buns provided the lunchtime snack of dreams.

Where to find Montéal's best coffee shops?

coffee in Montreal
One of Montréals many coffee shops

During lazy mornings I’d walk all the way down Saint Laurent Boulevard from Mile End photographing abstract street art by world-renowned artists and political commentators along the way. Industrial style coffee shops Café Nocturne and Dispatch Coffee punctuated my walks with velvety flat whites and expertly baked pastries and it didn’t take long for me to realise Montréal truly is a creative hub, and as addictive as the city’s ethically sourced, well-roasted coffee beans.

Where to go for take home treats in Montréal?

Saint Laurent is the neighbourhood to go to for Trou de Beigne’s artisanal, hand-rolled maple bacon doughnuts and Chèvrerie du Buckland’s incredible raw goat cheese from Jean Talon Farmer’s Market.

What to do in Montréal when you've finished eating?

When I wasn’t hunting out restaurants or photographing Montréal s vast murals I’d walk to the top of Mount Royal, a small mountain with sweeping views right across the city, or hop on the metro to visit the biosphere—a wickedly photogenic yet eerie steel dome that sits adjacent to a whole museum dedicated to the environment

Montreal's biosphere
Montreal's biosphere

On my penultimate day, when admission became half price I spent a few hours in downtown Montréal at MAC (Musée d'art Contemporain), the cities contemporary art gallery. Known for putting on seriously engaging exhibitions from prominent artists such as Teresa Margolles and Olafur Eliasson I was lucky enough to catch a whole show dedicated to Montréal born legend, Leonard Cohan, featuring his writing and music. One of his quotes replayed through my mind as I wandered the 13 or so blocks back along Saint Laurent Boulevard toward my airy apartment; “I feel at home when I'm in Montréal in a way that I don't feel anywhere else” and although I wasn’t born in Canada, I kind of felt the same way. As with most trips I take, I rarely want to return home, but there’s something about Montréal that’s reassuring and exciting in equal measure. The relaxed vibe of the place, stunning restaurants and cute barbers make for a heady combination—one that will stay with you for a long time after you've left.

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