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Montreal’s Food Scene is Better Than Your City’s

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Lobster spaghetti from Joe Beef. Photo by Jennifer May

We’re getting super excited for AFAR Experiences Montréal. (You should get your tickets now). Yes, it’s fun to think about all the hotels we’ll stay at, the art we’ll appreciate, the architecture we’ll admire. But the thing that’s getting us the most jazzed? The food. Montréal’s dining scene is one of the best in North America, and perhaps one of the most underrated. We wanted to know more, so naturally, we turned to David McMillan, chef of celebrated restaurant Joe Beef (among others!), to give us the scoop on what to expect when eating in Montréal.

Are you originally from Montréal?
I’m from Quebec City originally, but I love Montréal. It’s a great food city—it’s got some of the most advanced diners in North America. So, as a chef, it was important for me to practice cooking here as opposed to somewhere else.

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Tell us what you mean by “advanced diners.”
We’ve had raw milk here for centuries. And the upbringing of the Quebecois people is French, and people have been eating French cooking for 400 years. Here we sell rabbit, duck, tongue, kidneys, liver, deer, goose. The Quebecois diner is open-minded and sophisticated in wine and food. Not in a North American way—in a European way. This kind of eating is relatively new in cities like Chicago and New York. Menus are still heavily fish, steak, and chicken. I don’t say that to be insulting. A restaurant like Keith McNally’s Balthazar, a French bistro that does a thousand meals a day, can’t sell six portions of liver or a dozen mustard-braised rabbits. But a small bistro in Montréal will sell mostly liver. We go through so much rabbit, kidneys, and liver in a day, and very few diners order chicken or steak.

Where are your favorite restaurants in Montréal?
I love L’express, Leméac, Maison Publique, Au Pied de Cochon, of course, Brasserie T, generally French restaurants. In terms of bars, I drink across the street at the Burgundy Lion. Or my own wine bar, Le Vin Papillon.

Where’s your favorite place to take an out-of-towner?
L’express is my favorite place to take an out-of-towner. I like to take them to shock them. It’s in a very Latin neighborhood, it’s been there for like 30 years, and it’s very French and exactly like it was when it opened. The clientele is 98% Francophone. So especially when I take an American guest out, L’express is always a shock.

What do you wish people knew about Montréal?
I wish that people knew that 90% of the province of Quebec is a Francophone place. I believe strongly that most of the best restaurants in North America are here in Quebec. You don’t hear about them often because of the language barrier. People do their social media in French, have their website in French, raise their children in French. It’s an isolationist kind of thing sometimes.

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What’s your favorite neighborhood in Montréal?
The southwest: Little Burgundy, Pointe-Saint-Charles, and Saint-Henri. I don’t leave those neighborhoods. I’ve been here for 10 years and was one of the first restaurants in this neighborhood. Some of the best food in Montréal is on Notre-Dame street. Myself and a lot of my friends have restaurants in this neighborhood; and together, we’ve built a very food-strong neighborhood. Between Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy, some of the best food in Montréal is in our little neighborhood, down on Notre-Dame Street.

Want to explore Montréal with us? 
Sign up for our Montreal AFAR Experiences trip, June 25-29!

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