Montrealers tend to be fiercely proud of their home neighbourhoods, to the point that they have a reputation for being reluctant to venture beyond their home base. And this love for their quartiers (“neighbourhoods” in French) extends to their local restaurants.
These local haunts are arguably the city’s most prominent dining option since Montreal is relatively light on large, corporate restaurant groups. There also aren’t too many plus-sized restaurants with room for hundreds. Instead, smaller and more intimate owner-operated restaurants with 40 or so seats are dotted all over the city, particularly in the inner areas, from Verdun in the southwest up to Villeray in the northeast.
Within this cozy, casual category, there’s no shortage of choice, from French bistros to BYOBs, taquerias to tapas bars. Here are 12 of the best options around town.
T&T Tacos and Tortas (Plateau)
It might not look like it from the outside, but T&T is a breezy spot for tacos done right in a part of town that’s otherwise pretty light on Mexican food. As the name states, tacos and tortas (Mexican sandwiches on fluffy telera rolls) are the main offerings here. T&T sticks to a smaller number of staples: for tacos, that means carnitas, al pastor, chorizo, and crispy Baja-style fish; for tortas, it’s cochinita (pulled pork) and Milanesa, among others. It’s affordable as well, with sandwiches clocking in at as little as $10.50. Use the money you’re saving to get a few margaritas, micheladas, or straight-up tequila—or give the guac and chips a try.
Kazamaza (Mile End)
This cozy Lebanese and Syrian spot occupies a simple yet chic space on Avenue du Parc with exposed brick and vintage touches. Mezzes are Kazamaza’s strong suit—the best move is to come with a group and order a bunch to share. All the classics are available, including garlicky, perfectly smooth hummus, mouhammara, and baba ghanouj, as well as well-spiced, juicy lamb kefta with pistachios and walnuts for texture. Some larger plates are offered, including hearty stews, and the restaurant is also one of few in Montreal to serve distinctive Lebanese wines.
Garage Beirut (Downtown-Concordia)
Tucked on a downtown street better known for student-friendly bars and fast food joints, Garage Beirut is a hidden gem of sorts. A well-rounded menu of homestyle Lebanese dishes is on offer, including fatteh with layered yogurt, hummus, and crispy pita, and succulent grill plates including shish taouk. A solid selection of mezzes such as grilled halloumi, tangy sujuk sausage, and various dips round out the menu. Consider pairing your meal with arak, Lebanese anise and grape brandy—otherwise, there’s a small but tidy selection of wine and beer, including Lebanese options.
Named for one of the owners’ grandmothers, Rita takes nonna-style Italian dishes and executes them with flair—think polpettes, ricotta gnocchi, and spaghetti al limone. Alongside those classics are Neapolitan-inspired pizzas, some classic and others with a few twists, including a pie with black garlic bechamel and another with vodka sauce and provolone. Rita’s wine program is also robust: It’s focused on private import options (meaning wines not available at Quebec’s government-run liquor shop, the SAQ), with plenty of natural wines from Italy, as well as a solid selection of Quebec wines if you fancy something local.
With a space that evokes a modernized Mediterranean villa, Ayla is all about sharing, which fits with its focus on the convivial food cultures of the eastern Mediterranean (with a few nods to Italy and Spain). The restaurant’s menu centres around its taboon, a clay oven common in the Middle East; this means roasted dishes are a strength, from veggies and flatbreads to a juicy Cornish hen. Don’t skip the house cocktails with zingy flavours including mint, citrus, and pomegranate. There’s also a classic, Old-World leaning wine list peppered with a few funky macerations and natural options.
Fine Spanish products are the name of the game at tapas bar Ibéricos, located at the heart of the Plateau. The restaurant’s cellar-like setting with stone walls sets the scene for a delectable mix of wine, cheese, and cured meats. Chef Haissam Souki Tamayo brings MICHELIN-level knowledge from his work in Catalonia and the Basque country, and the result is a refined pan-Spanish menu. Beyond the jamon and manchego, there’s classic potato tortilla, cod fritters, and fried eggplant with yogurt and honey. Those looking for something more than tapas can go for paella, with a choice between chicken with rabbit or seafood, best served with a Spanish wine from Ibéricos’s tidy list.
L’Orignal (Old Montreal)
Old Montreal might be known as a relatively touristy part of town, but L’Orignal is the kind of place where you’ll find a few locals. But that’s not the only local angle here: The restaurant is a very Québécois affair with a menu that highlights regional and seasonal produce where possible. The menu leans comforting yet upscale with options including a bison burger, mushroom toast, and fish cakes. The woodsy dining room matches the menu, with chalet-esque decor from canoes to (faux) mounted moose heads — all the better to go with L’Orignal’s steak spice bloody caesar.
La Fabrique (Plateau)
Be it for dinner or brunch, La Fabrique is a reliable staple in an ever-changing part of the Plateau, in large part due to chef Jean Baptiste Marchand’s consistent cooking and approachable menu. Expect updated French fare, from terrine and tartare through to confit rabbit and a vegan cassoulet; a few North American touches such as a pulled pork sandwich also dot the menu. Private import wines and a cute space with checkered tiles and plenty of plants seal the deal.
Beau Mont (Parc-Extension)
Beau Mont comes from the owners of renowned Montreal fine dining institution Toqué, offering a more casual—but still very Québécois—spin on chef Normand Laprise’s odes to local produce. The menu shifts frequently, mixing French techniques with ingredients from Quebec’s oceans, farms, and forests. That could mean seared whelk, braised lamb, or duck breast with cauliflower and brandy sauce. Regardless of what’s on the ever-changing menu, Beau Mont delivers impeccable flavours and presentation, and its industrial-chic space brightened up with plenty of greenery only enhances the experience.
Barcola Bistro (Mile End)
This cozy but stylish nook on Avenue du Parc puts a spotlight on northern Italian cuisine, with co-owner and chef Fabrizio Caprioli bringing firsthand expertise from home. The dinner menus are short and sweet, often with a light pasta or two, plus a more hearty meat dish and classic desserts such as panna cotta. A mostly Italian wine list and classic cocktails including spritzes and negronis round out the package. The owners have a serious record collection, so the music is always on point—you can also stop by for vinyl brunch on the weekends.
Pamika Thai (Mile End)
Eponymous chef Pamika Sukla hails from the Isan area of northeastern Thailand, and she brings that region’s cuisine to Montreal at her St-Laurent Boulevard restaurant. Expect dishes such as sugarcane fried shrimp, pork- and tomato-laden khao soi noodles, and her specialty, barbecued pork with sticky rice, alongside some classic noodle and curry dishes. The spicy offerings pair neatly with an array of Thai-inspired house cocktails with plenty of tropical flavours. You’ll enjoy it all in a sleek space designed with lanterns, black tiles, and granite.
Menthe et Couscous (Quartier Latin)
North African fare from Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria is the name of the game at this charming side-street spot just east of downtown. As the name implies, couscous is a key part of the menu, served with lamb shanks, spicy merguez sausage, chicken, or a hearty mound of vegetables. But it’s not the whole menu: saucy and sweet-spicy tagines with meat, olives, and apricots are another key draw, as well as some grilled dishes. Pair it all with a sweet mint tea, or you can bring your own wine or beer to the BYO-only restaurant.