Photo: Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock

Why Montreal Might Just Be Canada's Most Underrated City

Montréal Student Work Insider Guides Food + Drink
by Paige Smith Mar 21, 2016

Some dare say the food scene is even better than that in NYC.

Especially if you’re tasting one of the famous hand-rolled sesame bagels at St-Viateur Bagels. Classic French restaurants like L’express will serve rabbit, kidneys, liver, duck, tongue, and goose — and not even in a “this is a rare delicacy” type of way, but it an “oh, this is just what we eat on a regular basis” kind of way.

Traditional Breton crêperies like Breizh Café serve crispy buckwheat galettes and bowls of chilled dry cider. Places like Labo Culinaire change their menu every season and make some of the most innovative cocktails you’ll find in the city. Cafés like Olive et Gourmando have spicy poached egg paninis and flaky pains au chocolate.

Schwartz’s Deli has a devoted following in love with its classic smoked meat sandwiches and homemade french fries. Wine bars like Le Vin Papillon and Pullman offer tons of international and local wines, plus small dishes like oysters, quiche, sliders, and charcuterie plates.

Mile End is home to organic vegetarian hubs like La Panthère Verte, an eatery that serves things like vegan falafels and squash salads drizzled with lemony pesto sauce. And then there’s the poutine — greasy, homemade fries smothered in meat gravy and cheese curds. Though there are plenty of higher-end options for the dish, when in Montréal you’ve got to visit La Banquise, a casual diner-type restaurant that stays open 24/7 and serves everything from classic to Mexican-style poutine.

With 250,000 university students living there, Montréal has the highest number of university students per capita out of any city in North America.

Montréal is home to four of Canada’s most prestigious universities: McGill University, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, and Concordia University.

The excellent higher education options make it a great place to earn a degree, but even if you’re not a student, there’s something about a bustling university atmosphere that keeps the city feeling youthful and energized.

It’s impossible to run out of things to do at night.

The city caters to every possible type of person — whether you like to spend the night dancing or chatting with your friends in a dim corner booth with a gin fizz in hand — offering everything from craft breweries and trendy cocktail bars to jam-packed dance clubs, jazz lounges, and cool concert venues.

For a high-energy evening, head to St. Laurent Street to check out some of the city’s best upscale bars and clubs, including Tokyo Bar, a club famous for its wild Thursday night dance parties and consistently good lineup of DJs.

Foufounes Electriques on Saint-Catherine Street has live punk rock shows and pool tables, while Le Saint-Sulpice has karaoke nights and a spacious terrace perfect for drinking in the warmer months. If you’re in the mood for something mellower, you can break out a board game at Randolph Pub Ludique or drink micro-brews at Dieu du Ciel.

90% of its inhabitants are wonderfully Francophone.

This makes it the world’s second largest Francophone city behind Paris.

If you want to practice your French you can, but if you forget the word for ‘receipt’ or don’t have the patience to try to ask for directions, you can switch to English and no one will bat an eye or make you feel stupid. Some parts of the city are more conducive to speaking French — neighborhoods like Le Plateau and Mile End, for example — but nearly everyone you encounter will speak both languages well.

Montréal has the highest concentration of artists anywhere in Canada.

That’s according to this study, and it shows. Its famously creative neighborhoods — Le Plateau and Mile End — are known for their colorful graphic murals that cover the sides of buildings, as well as their artisan boutiques and galleries. Elsewhere in Montréal, the art scene is also alive and well — the old town is filled with small art galleries and boutique shops that sell handmade pottery and hand-crafted jewelry.

It offers some serious diversity.

French and English aren’t the only languages spoken in Montréal. If you walk through the Mile End neighborhood, you’ll pass Greektown, Little Portugal, and Little Italy all within a short distance of one another. You’ll be able to tell when you enter a particular zone from the different art on the buildings, the faint sounds of other Latin languages drifting from restaurant terraces, and the flavorful, distinct smells of food. In Montréal’s Chinatown, which has become mixed over the years with other Asian cultures like Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, you can find everything from sushi and dim sum to bubble tea, Korean BBQ, and Vietnamese pho.

The city’s non-stop festivals means you can never be bored there.

Montréal hosts more than a 100 unique festivals every year. Some are ongoing while others are seasonal, but all of them give Montrealers the chance to learn, listen, see, or taste something new and incredible. There are international art and film festivals, winter festivals like Igloo Fest and Montréal en Lumière, blues and jazz festivals, language festivals, comedy festivals, tango festivals, book festivals, fashion festivals, food festivals, and more. Plus, there are tons of street fairs, holiday parades, and sidewalk sales throughout the year to hold you over between bigger events.

One of the city’s biggest and best festivals is Osheaga, a three-day outdoor music festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau on Montréal’s Saint Helen’s Island. The festival features some of the best emerging and established local talent (like Arcade Fire), in addition to international artists like Coldplay, the Killers, Mumford and Sons, Beck, and Kendrick Lamar.

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