Yes, Montreal may be the birthplace of Epic Meal Time and home to a rich and decadent culinary tradition starring Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef, but there’s a flip side to all that (thank goodness). The city’s vegetarian and vegan scene blossoms brighter every passing year, with some health havens achieving enough success to become chains. Whether you’re after hearty burritos or sophisticated sushi, there’s something here for you.
Now the blockbuster of all Montreal vegan restaurants, Aux Vivres started as tiny hole in the wall on a Plateau side street. It quickly moved onto the Main (Boulevard Saint-Laurent), where it now occupies – count ’em – four sequential storefronts. Its large, light dining room with cute red booths and pale wood detailing is the perfect place for a sunny brunch (try the fried polenta with refried beans, tofu scramble and guacamole), a veggie-filled sandwich on homemade chapatti, or a heartwarming dinner. The Dragon Bowl is practically a national treasure. Before you leave, stop by the takeout store for a few treats for later.
4631 Boulevard St-Laurent, 514-842-3479
This is another roaring success story, with a handful of franchises and a food distribution company that produces its own kombuchas, raw truffles and desserts, for sale in supermarkets. When dining at a Crudessence restaurant, note that the rice paper rolls stuffed full of veggies, quinoa and savoury sauces are always amazing, as are the creative salads and satisfying smoothies. The desserts are the claim to fame, however: The lime and coconut pie is a creamy delight, and the boxes of raw chocolates could not make a sweeter gift for that special vegan in your life.
2157 Rue Mackay, 514-664-5188
La Panthère Verte
Another simple spot turned successful chain, Panthère Verte started with a streamlined menu: an Israeli-style falafel sandwich that’s the best this side of Tel Aviv, and a beautiful selection of salads. The menu has now grown to include a wide variety of sandwiches on thick, puffy pitas, each more delicious than the previous, while the salads continue to wow with their focus on root vegetables, grains and tahini dressings. Don’t leave without tasting the sweets. The macadamia and cranberry cookie is like crack, but nothing compares to the sultry richness of the Viramisu, a glorious vegan take on the traditional Italian dessert.
2153 Rue Mackay, 514-903-4744, plus locations in Mile End and Plateau-Mont-Royal
Describing itself as the vegetarian restaurant that will satisfy even the staunchest meat eater, Lola Rosa excels at hefty burritos, cheesy quesadillas and a famous giant plate of nachos. And let’s not forget its take on poutine: a mix of Yukon Gold and sweet potato fries smothered in a rich mushroom and black bean gravy and topped with squeaky cheese curds – or Daiya faux cheese shreds, for vegans. The address on Parc is a large, classy sit-down kind of place, while the original café in the McGill ghetto is smaller, casual and filled with students. And for those who are loathe to leave the hotel room, Lola Rosa delivers.
4581 Avenue du Parc (514-843-5652) and 545 Rue Milton (514-287-9337)
This is the place for the fragrant aromas and specialties of Thailand, including crispy “duck,” “chicken” satay and green curry with lime leaf and “shrimp.” The distinction here is that all of the meaty flavours are magically created with vegetable protein, so successfully in some cases that longtime vegetarians might be taken aback upon first bite. It’s a great place to bring a mixed party of carnivores and veggies; the dining room on chic St-Denis is sleek and serene, and a lovely setting for a date. Be sure to select from the specialty cocktail menu, and the coconut-flavoured tapioca pudding is a sweet treat not to be missed.
4088 Rue St-Denis, 514-843-4194
Su Shian Yuang
Montreal’s only source of vegetarian dim sum on weekend mornings, this humble eatery on the Plateau hides a million and one flavourful discoveries, including crispy-light fried tofu skin rolls, an addictively sweet and sticky General Tao tofu, and a thoroughly satisfying chow mein. The dumplings are worth coming back for again and again, as is the swell service, and the philosophy of this Asian fusion nook is to sidestep MSG. Note that most dishes here seem to be fried and starchy, even when it doesn’t sound like it from the menu – so wear your stretchy pants.
420 Rue Rachel East, 438-380-2829
Swing by the takeout counter of this dark-wood decorated cosy nook in Little Burgundy to pick up a picnic to enjoy on the banks of the nearby Lachine Canal, or come for a sit-down meal after a day at the art galleries down the block. The international, ever-changing menu includes dishes including marinated Italian bean salad with fresh herbs, black bean chili with quinoa and chipotle, and spinach and sheep’s cheese empanadas. Finish the feast off with the ooey-gooey crispy rice squares, sweetened with brown rice syrup.
1748 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, 514-931-4136
This subterranean café is a wonderfully atmospheric spot to come for an hours-long work session on your laptop or an evening spent listening to live music, nearly every night of the week. The vegan grilled cheese is beloved. It’s a combination of housemade cashew cheese with some of the best bread in the city (from the bakery Guillaume a few blocks away) and it’s served with a side of smoky artisanal ketchup. There’s also a selection of healthy veggie-topped rice bowls on offer, or how about a vegan caesar salad with a pint of local beer? The sweets are worth a taste too, including a small chocolate macaroon that punches above its weight.
5175A Avenue du Parc, 514-360-9629
This jewel of a hole-in-the-wall on Duluth just off St-Laurent is a true oddity: it’s run by two Mexican chefs who offer an inventive selection of traditional sushi, while also dedicating at least half their menu to vegan options. It’s tiny and very popular, so takeout might be easier. Try a bucolic meal on Mount Royal a mere three blocks away. Either way it’s a great spot for a mixed crowd. Let your fish-eating friends choose theirs as you peruse the dozens and dozens of vegan maki offerings, which mix ingredients like sweet potato, Japanese gourd, marinated sea vegetables, asparagus and tofu into a party for the senses. For dessert: vegan ice cream with a fried banana.
8 Avenue Duluth Est, 514-825-6363
You’ll feel like you’ve entered a Victorian tea room when you step off busy Avenue des Pins into this sweet little enclave (pun intended): It’s a veritable vegan mecca, because everything, from the pastel cupcakes to the brownies to the chocolate chip cookies to the lemon squares, is 100% sans animal products. You’ll find it hard to believe when you bite into the moist cakes and sultry icings. Come for the weekend brunch and enjoy delights like mushroom frittata and smoky seitan, then follow it up with a house specialty dessert – an almond cupcake with dulce de leche icing, perhaps? Sophie Sucrée takes special orders if you have a party to organize.
167 Avenue des Pins Est, 514-823-5865
CLICK TO ENLARGE
1. Aux Vivres; 2. Crudessence; 3. La Panthere; 4. Lola Rosa; 5. ChuChai; 6. Su Shian; 7. Bonny’s; 8. Cafe Resonance; 9. Sushi Momo; 10. Sophie Sucree