Montreal, Canada – October 1999

Montréal is bursting with colour in October. The trees in the parks and on the mountain (in the middle of the city) are ablaze with yellow, crimson, and yes, green, and the weather is turning cooler so people are starting to wear clothes again!

The city’s extraordinary summer party and festival life is waning and the crowds at the sidewalk and outdoor cafes are thinning (but not depleted). Regardless, we’re still bustling.

Outside of the city the apple harvest is on, and the many mountain trails in the Laurentians (north) and Eastern Townships (south-east) are perfect for autumn hiking. Crisp air, bright blue sky, perfect “sweater weather” hiking conditions.

Back here in town, we’re switching our focus slightly from drinking and eating outdoors to drinking and eating closer to the door. That said, I am proud to present, for this month’s dispatch…

Vegetarian Montréal!

This time of year just begs for a good day out in the crisp air followed by an evening of hoeing into good food. Montréal is a diner’s delight, with loads of interesting and delicious ways to eat in all price ranges.

This month, I will concentrate on the non-carnivorous aspect of budget dining in Montréal.

Note that nobody has paid for any of the following descriptions, and in fact, the restaurants are not even aware that I am listing them here. Unless otherwise noted, I have eaten at every place mentioned. The Metro stops indicated are the closest ones, which does not necessarily mean they are close. (In no case, however, is it more than about a ten-minute walk.)

The “ouch” scale assumes a decent bellyful, not including drinks or tip:

Zero ouch = under $7.

One ouch = $7-$15.

Two ouch = $15-$25.

OUCH!!! = $25+.

Full Vegetarian Restaurants

This is a partial list of good vegetarian restos around town. There are a few others, but these are the noteworthy ones with which I am familiar.

  • Pushap

    5195 Paré (Metro Namur). 737-4527 Zero ouch.

    A great little place in an unfortunately obscure location, near the Blue Bonnets race track just off the Decarie Expressway. Fortunately, there is good Metro (subway) access. This totally vegetarian Indian restaurant is very casual and informal.

    It’s part Indian bakery, part restaurant (seating for only about 18), part hangout for the family who run it. Last time I was there, the waitress/manager/owner/chef wouldn’t let me order soup, because, in her words, “You don’t need that. You have enough food.”

    Delicious food and very low prices make this a popular spot with the neighbours and with the boots’n’dreadlock set from all over town.

  • Faim du Monde

    3655 Boul. St. Laurent (55 bus from Metro St. Laurent). 281-9825 Zero ouch.

    This little hole-in-the-wall lunch counter has been around for about a year and is becoming very popular among the hip underclass on the Main. It’s a bit hard to spot, as it has no storefront presence other than a sandwich board on the sidewalk. You find it by venturing down the hall on the ground floor of a building near “Le Swimming” (a bar and pool hall).

    The owners have an ever-evolving and very inventive menu of vegetarian and Vegan meals, all very affordable, in a very casual atmosphere. I confess I haven not yet been to this place, primarily because it’s so low-key I keep forgetting about it, but everything I’ve heard has been very positive.

  • Govinda Jaya Jaya

    263 Duluth east (Metro Sherbrooke or Mont-Royal). One ouch.

    A very colourful atmosphere, all curly things and yellows with an Asian flavor, Jaya Jaya features a buffet ($5.95+tax for lunch, $7.95+tax after lunch). I have not yet been to this one as they opened very recently, but I’m looking forward to trying it. It’s on the very villagey rue Duluth, and the decor alone makes you want to pass some time in there. I have no idea what the food is like, as I have not yet heard from my culture spies on this one. Not open on Sundays.

  • ChuChai

    4088 St. Denis (Metro Sherbrooke or Mont-Royal). 843-4194 OUCH!!

    Although it is pricey, this one is worth mentioning for those who are looking for a refined and civilized way to not eat things that once had faces. ChuChai is a vegetarian Thai restaurant, run by the same people who run several of Montréal’s more established Thai restaurants (Chao Phraya).

    Linen tablecloths, good china, attentive service from people who seem to float a half inch off the ground, this is not the place to go when you want a grunt meal. They cheat a bit too, buy naming their dishes vegetarian pork this and vegetarian beef that. Basically they just make their normal hoofed dishes but use tofu and gluten as the protein instead legged things.

    As a big fan of Thai food, I’m glad this one is here, although I wish there were a more informal version.

  • Le Commensal

    Various locations. One ouch to two ouch.

    Le Commensal is the king of the vegetarian buffet. Loads and loads of delicious food, ranging from soups and salads to full-on hot dishes. Everything looks very tasty, and most live up to their appearances.

    Be warned, however, that you pay by weight, so your plate of spinach salad and alfalfa sprouts might only cost $3, but your date’s plate of pizza, roasted peppers, chili, and seitan might come in at $15. In general, by mixing it up a bit (leafy things and heavy things) I usually end up with a plate that runs $7-$10.

  • Elixir

    916 Duluth east (Metro Sherbrooke or Mont-Royal). Zero ouch.

    A tiny speck of a place that looks like it’s a one-room shop selling a sofa and a couple of rickety tables. The kind of place you imagine is run by a collective of 20-year-old hippie chicks. I love this kind of place, but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to sample their food yet. I have heard good things, however. It’s primarily a juice bar, but they have a small food menu.

  • Les Vivres

    4434 St. Dominique (Metro Mont-Royal). 849-3479 One ouch.

    This is a crazy little Vegan diner run as a co-op by an earnest bunch of young people who look like they all just got back from Nepal. The terrace out back is fun in warm weather, as you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s back yard, surrounded by people who are on their way to India or Malaysia.

    The food seems decent enough although the service can be a bit confused. My one time there I had a burrito which would have been excellent except for the tortilla, which was some kind of health-food thing that was probably really good for me but was completely the wrong texture for a tortilla. Regardless, a good cheap feed in an atmosphere that makes you wanna just go somewhere!

    Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants

    “Vegetarian Friendly” means the place has a keen awareness of it’s vegetarian clientele, as opposed to some place where they just pick the chicken out of your noodles. Most of these places either have separate sections on the menu for vegetarian dishes, or at least indicate on the menu which dishes are vegetarian.

    Note that Montréal in general (particularly the Plateau) is very vegetarian-friendly. This list includes a few particularly noteworthy places and personal favorites.

  • Nantha’s Cuisine

    9 Duluth east (Metro Sherbrooke or Mont-Royal). 845-4717 One ouch.

    Nantha presents his customers with perhaps the best and most authentic Indonesian and Malaysian food in town (with a bit of Thai tossed in). Travellers I have spoken to attest to it’s authenticity.

    Nantha’s is as much a bar as a restaurant, especially in summer when the second-floor terrace is very popular. Regardless, the food is delicious, the atmosphere friendly and informal, and there are several good local microbrews on tap. A very popular spot with the hip crew around the Main, this is on the high end of one ouch, and can slip into two ouch, but the servings are generous and filling.

    An exception is the hot & sour soup, which is a very small serving for the price of about $4, but be warned that it’s a five-alarm version, so you probably couldn’t tolerate much more anyway.

    This is an excellent place to go nuts with a big spicy meal and good beers surrounded by people who won’t notice that you haven’t shaved for three days, although you could also be sitting next to a lawyer or the lead singer of the band who’s video you’d be watching if the place had a television.

  • Amelio’s

    201 Milton (Metro Place des Arts). 845-8396 One ouch.

    Amelio’s deserves mention here simply because of the vegetarian pizza they serve. Even though I am not, strictly speaking, vegetarian, I always choose that pizza because of it’s stunning harmony of flavors, ingredients, and heavenly cheese. This isn’t just some pizza with the pepperoni left off. The vegetarian pizza is, in my opinion, the best pie in the house.

    The atmosphere is friendly and informal, although the wood floors and brick walls make it OK for a date. A big feed for two is about $12 plus tax. You can bring your own beer or wine. Let me say that again… You can bring your own beer or wine.

  • Cafe Santropol

    3990 St. Urbain (55 bus from Metro St. Laurent. Get off at Duluth and walk three blocks west). 842-3110 . One ouch.

    Santropol has been around since about 1971, and is as popular as ever, particularly with university students, who can be found sitting there all day doing their papers and assigned readings. In warm weather, the terrace out back is nice.

    Santropol is famous for it’s enormous sandwiches, which are so big most people share them. Exotic ingredients and breads make for some interesting eating. The eclectic and friendly setting make this place worth a look and a bite.

    October Cultural Roundup

    International Festival of New Cinema and New Media

    October 14-24

    Various locations.

    Goethe Institut: A Pact With the Image

    September 17 – December 10

    A special series featuring films inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, such as Mephisto (1981) and Angel Heart (1987).

    Cartographies: General Assembly on New Media Art

    October 12-14

    What can I say? If you know what that means, I don’t need to say any more.

    Black and Blue

    October 6-12

    Various locations. The world’s largest non-stop gay benefit party festival ($$ go to AIDS research).

    …and so much more!

    General Info On Montréal

    So much to say, so little space! Check this section every month for new info.

    Quirky Facts

    Montréal is the second largest French-speaking city on Earth (after Paris). People from Montréal are called “Montréalais”.

    Geography

    Montréal is actually an island. The main water frontage is the St. Lawrence River, which wraps around the west/south/east sides of the island, with a smaller river along the north shore. Montréal is about 65 km (40 miles) from the U.S. border, where the northern-most part of New York state and Vermont meet. Here’s a MapBlast! map of Montréal. Note that when Montréalais indicate “north” they are really pointing north-west.

    Accommodation

    Montréal has a wide variety of hotels, from the boxy downtown “business” hotels to smaller European-style hotels. There is also a nice selection of B&B’s all over the city, most of which are charming and cozy. B&B’s tend to be in the $40-$80 price range.

    Montréal also has a few interesting youth hostels, including:

    The Montréal Youth Hostel (Downtown) and the really cool and eco-friendly

    Alternative Backpacker’s Hostel of Montréal (Old Montréal)

    Transport

    You can get in from the airport using the local transit system (STCUM), but there are just enough quirks that I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, grab an airport/downtown shuttle bus for about $10 (one way) or take a taxi, which will cost about $25.

    Most international and domestic flights land at Dorval airport. Some charters land at Mirabel airport, which is a really bad idea. Avoid Mirabel, as it is more than twice as far as Dorval.

    Montréal has a pretty good subway (Metro) and bus system. A single ride is $1.85 (bus drivers carry no change), but you can save a bit by buying a pack of six tickets for $8.25 (at Metro stations and some stores). You can also buy 1 and 3 day passes, or a weekly pass (around $12). Note that daily and weekly passes can only be bought at the Berri/UQAM or McGill Metro stations, or at the downtown Info_Tourism office. Transfers on tickets are good for 90 minutes. Get your transfer as you get on the bus (or at the automatic dispenser at Metro stations). Check the STCUM website for details.

    Alternatively, rent a bicycle at JR’s on the Plateau (151 Rachel, corner du Bullion). (514)843-6989. Full-day rental is about $18 (second day for $12).

    Money

    Canadian money comes in basically the same format as American money (dollars, divided into cents), but the Canadian dollar is worth less–roughly two-thirds of an American dollar.

    Canadian money is colourful, which makes it easy to spot what a bill is worth from far away, or when it’s dark (unlike American bills, which are strangely all the same colour). We also have $1 and $2 coins, instead of bills. The $1 coin is unofficially (but ubiquitously) called a “loonie” because of the picture of a loon on it. The $2 coin is called a “two-nie”.

    All dollar values mentioned in this Montréal guide are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise indicated.

    If you stay in a hostel, and eat over-the-counter food and self-cater, you can scrape by on about $25/day. Montréal, is, however, a joyous and happy place to be (particularly in summer), with loads of great pubs and bars and inexpensive restaurants, so a more realistic budget would be about $40-$50. That assumes a dorm bed in a hostel, a couple of transit rides, a cheap slice-of-pizza type lunch, a modest dinner ($20) in a restaurant, and two pints of local microbrew in a pub. “Civilized” travellers should budget at least $100/day (B&B, moderate restaurants, etc.)

    Watch out for the nasty taxes we have here. Most items do not have taxes included on the sticker price, so be prepared to pay an additional 15% at the cash register. That applies to hotels, restaurant meals, and any goods you buy in a store. It does not apply to most grocery items. Beer and wine you buy in a corner or grocery store is taxable. Oddly, beer and wine you buy in the government-run “SAQ” liquor stores does include the taxes in the sticker price.

    Automatic tellers (cash machines) are everywhere and are very well networked (Canada was miles ahead of the rest of the world in automatic teller banking). Most “Bureau du change” places are downtown, on rue Ste. Catherine.

    Night life can be cheap or expensive, depending on where you go. Imported draught beer runs in the $6/pint range. Local microbrews go for about $4.75/pint but are hard to find downtown. On the Plateau and Quartier Latin, go for microbrew by the (60oz) pitcher if you’re with a group. Chic places will charge you about $14 a pitcher, but the truly hip places have non-stop specials in the $8-$10 range.

    The markup on wine in restaurants is high, so keep an eye out for bring your own wine restaurants, particularly on the Plateau. Note that such places do not carry their own wine, so if you show up empty-handed you’re out of luck (although you can usually dash across the street for a bottle of not-bad Chilean wine from a corner store for about $10).

    Tipping in Montréal is basically as follows: 15-20% on restaurant tabs. 50 cents to $1 on drinks in bars. About $1 on short taxi rides ($5 range) and about $2 on longer ones ($10 range).

    Note that the legal drinking age in Quebec is 18.

    Internet Cafes:

    Galerie Fokus, 68 Duluth east, has a small internet service.

    Cyberground, 3672 St. Laurent Blvd. is an internet cafe on “the Main”, right in the middle of the action.

    Centre d’affaires Montréal is farther up the Main at 4117A St. Laurent Blvd. It’s basically a business centre that has web access.

    Wussup

    For the latest listings, check the three primary local cultural rags online:

    Montréal Mirror, the traditional Anglo alterna-paper.

    HOUR, the Mirror’s biggest challenge.

    Voir, the French-language cultural tabloid.

    A few words about ed

    Originally from the east coast of Canada, I’ve been living in Montréal for 12 years. I’m still shopping for the perfect boot.

    Like most people who like to travel, I don’t get to do it enough. My most recent trip is a three-week romp through Portugal during September/October 99.

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