Where to Find the Best Italian Food in Montreal
By Sherel Purcell
Montréal Local Expert
At 10Best, we're always on the lookout for Montréal's best restaurants, and while we appreciate places that have a broad culinary range, we can't help but adore restaurants that specialize in a given cuisine. When we're in the mood for Italian food in Montréal, we head to Cafe Via Dante - a reader favorite - or we count on Wienstein & Gavino's's solid track record and consistently great dishes. You'll find these places - and any of the restaurants on our list - to be fantastic options for Italian cuisine. Face it. There's more to Italian food than pizza and pasta - not that we don't offer good suggestions for these popular standards as well. Here you'll find our tips for choosing the best contemporary Italian food as well as restaurants focusing on seafood and other staples as part of their Italian dishes. A testament to the diverse population of Montreal, Little Italy is a thriving community in the north end of the city - though many of our suggested restaurants can be found throughout Montreal including downtown, Old Montreal and the trendy Mile End neighborhoods. The Montreal restaurant scene is constantly changing so we strive to keep our entries up to date but let us know if you discover a new favorite.
Venti offers home cooking from the 20 regions of Italy, with a contemporary twist on popular Italian standards all served in a chic, industrial space in Old Montreal. Some of the more interesting dishes include halibut puntanesca, artichoke bruschetta, arancini and buckwheat pasta with gorgonzola, pistachio and fig all washed down with a light, white wine. Everything is made from scratch so wait times can be a bit long. The large space makes a great choice for group meals but beware when booking that a fifty dollar charge per person will apply for no-shows. Don't forget to cancel if need be. (514.284.0445)
Maestro SVP is a casual and popular Italian bistro that focuses on oysters and seafood. For 25 years, the loyal clientele have been coming to this small and friendly place. Maestro SVP often features oyster tasting sessions and contests at both locations. While oysters are the main draw, the risottos, bruschetta, and fried calamari are designed to pair with the oysters either served freshly shucked or oven-baked and topped with a blue cheese sauce. These are all served on large platters that are perfectly designed for sharing. A selection of dessert wines from Italy and Canada or the chocolate martini make an excellent end of the meal treat. (514 842 6447)
L'Academie focuses on great mussels (moules) with creative sauces. "Moules et frites" offers diners a large serving of steamed mussels in a variety of cream or tomato-based sauces.The best tomato - based sauce, a savory marinara, tops the "Moules Italien". "Moules Roquefort" caters to those looking for a rich, roquefort cheese sauce. With any dish, order an extra plate of the fresh french bread to soak up the extra sauce. Three floors filled with chatty patrons and waiters rushing by with generous platters make for a lively setting. Thursday night seems to be the most popular when service can get a bit slow. Reservations are recommended but the lines seem to move well should you show up without booking. (4509881015)
Careful preparation of the freshest ingredients gives Il Mulino an edge in Little Italy, where Italian restaurants are abundant. The menu changes frequently, as you might expect, which not only allows the kitchen to use only the best produce but encourages repeat visits. Italian food fans will not be bored here! There are plenty of distinctive pastas, but if you want a bit more protein, try the osso bucco, grilled octopus, Baccala alla Livornese (salt cod with tomatoes, garlic and basil) or stuffed veal chops. This latest reincarnation includes a decent wine list at fair prices served at a white marble bar. (514-273-5776)
BU Bar à Vin
Many folks come here just for the wine, and honestly that is a fine reason. They have a wide variety of wine, with weekly by-the-glass specials that encourage repeat visits. But the food, designed to complement the wine, could stand on its own quite easily. The menu is comprised of several sections of hot and cold antipasti (think Italian-style tapas) such as caponata, brandade, crostini, grilled vegetables, walnuts and olives, carpaccio, salad Caprese, and charcuterie platters. Substantial enough to be a meal, but small enough to serve as appetizers if you're on your way to dinner somewhere else, and all decidedly delicious. (514-276-0249)
It's a restaurant, an Italian grocery store and an ice cream shop all rolled into one. You can have a great meal here featuring generous portions of tasty osso bucco and pastas that are made in-house daily, topped with amazing sauces. There are giant salads, a good selection of veal and chicken dishes, pizzas and calzones, and specialties such as braised rabbit and roasted veal shank. And the homemade desserts are the real deal, from presentation to taste. Cannoli, gelato, granita, tiramisu, biscotti -- each and every one is fantastic. A good reason not to overstuff yourself on pizza and pasta! (514-374-9844)
Café Via Dante
No menus, no computers and recipes inspired by the home cooking of Modena, Italy - just the way the regulars like it. Café Via Dante never fails. The Little Italy haven has been a neighborhood favorite since it opened a few years back, but it deserves wider acclaim. Home-style pastas are sublime, but the daily specials are almost always fantastic too -- standouts on the regular menu include rabbit and polenta, gnocchi, and pappardelle with lamb ragu. The wine list is short but sweet, and the staff is affable and helpful.Try the mushroom risotto, seasoned mushrooms or shitakes in wine sauce (514-270-8446)
It's hard not to over-order from their fantastic pizza menu but for one person-even a very hungry one, the small pizza is more than enough. Affordable, flavorful and completely satisfying, Amelio's is a tried-and-true standby in the McGill University area on Milton Street. Popular with students, loud and heavy on the super-casual atmosphere, it's not a great date night option. They do however, serve up great thick-crusted pizzas, New York style and hearty pastas. Check out the white, five cheese pizza or the lasagna and manicotti. Just remember, you may have to wait in line,it's cash only and delivery can take awhile. (514-845-8396)
If you're out to impress Le Muscadin fits the bill. Winner of multiple awards, from the esteemed DiRoNa to Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence, Le Muscadin has set the bar on fine Italian dining very high. The atmosphere is elegant and refined without being stuffy or pretentious; the menu is simultaneously sophisticated and accessible. You might start with salmon-wrapped hearts of palm or snails in white wine-cream-garlic sauce. For the pasta course, try spaghetti carbonara or gnocchi with tomato sauce and lamb. Main courses are lovely and varied -- choose from veal, beef, chicken or seafood. Among Montréal's finest. (514-842-0588)
Wienstein & Gavino's
Young professionals are drawn to this stylish venue bathed in warm colors and soft lighting. The place, which occupies three floors, is lively and animated, ideal for group functions or dinner with someone special. Italian fare is the name of the game, whether it's a delicious pasta dish where you choose the shape and the sauce, or you opt for lamb, chicken, tuna or a hearty lasagna. You'll also find colorful pizzas topped with a host of fresh ingredients, along with soups, salads, appetizers and desserts. Crusty bread and a good selection of wines add to the appeal of the place, which is constantly busy with young professionals and patrons of all sorts. (514-288-2231)
About Sherel Purcell
Sherel Purcell is a travel writer who specializes in golf, Montreal and Quebec, golf, contemporary art, cycling and food and wine. Her articles appear on USA Today's 10Best, About.com, Aol, Matador, Vacay, Travel+Escape and other large sites as well as print magazines including Dreamscapes (Globe and Mail) and Frommer's Budget Travel. Her travel photos have appeared in the video, "A New York Minute" on the Smithsonian website and she has recently sold 20 of her travel photographs to Brand USA. She has received an editorial award from Parenting Publications of America and a nomination from "See America".
Read more about Sherel Purcell here.