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Photograph: Delibee's / delibee.ca

15 restaurants and delis with the best Montreal smoked meat

These delis and restaurants are the vanguard and standard-bearers carving top cuts of the best Montreal smoked meat

Written by
JP Karwacki
&
Gregory Vodden
Contributor
Tommy Dion
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UPDATE, November 2021: With the worst of the pandemic hopefully receding behind us, we've decided to revisit our list of the delis and restaurants where you can dine on the best Montreal smoked meat. Some spots have closed, and some names have been neglected, so we've taken the time to rectify that. Read on, but beware; this list is best not taken in hungry.

An iconic Montreal food, eating smoked meat at the best delis, diners and restaurants in the city is among the best things to do, hands down—right alongside the best poutine and the best bagels. It’s a beautiful thing: Brisket that's dry-rubbed with a mix of curing salt, black pepper and aromatics before being smoked and steamed until a lovely rose pink, slathered with baseball mustard and finally sandwiched in rye bread. This list is all you’ll need to find of best, from the famous to the fledgling and everything in between.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Montreal

Smoked meat so good we welcomed it into Time Out Market Montréal

  • Restaurants

Paul Toussaint strikes again, and this time, while the grill is hot: The menu here is a continental journey through the barbecue techniques of two hemispheres, combining North, Central, and South America. While the regional traditions and fixings of the United States, as well as South American delicacies like Caribbean jerk, Argentinian asado, and Brazilian churrasco get covered, you need to try the Montreal smoked meat grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu.

The best Montreal smoked meat

Schwartz’s name is synonymous with smoked meat. For many, this is the golden standard. To appreciate it though, you’ve got to put in work. You’ll need to stand in line, shuffling under their awning in the cold catching wafts of as the front door swings open, ceaselessly swapping out the well-fed for the famished. Once inside, you’re slotted in elbow-to-elbow with strangers, pressed to order by waiters with thousand-yard stares and it’s cash only. But when that sandwich arrives? All’s forgiven. The quality and consistency of this legendary Montréal eatery is astounding.

For those of you who consider yourselves adventurers, the people who'd trek for food no matter the distance to find the best of the best, we're going to let you in a little secret: Delibee's is an unsung hero of the Island of Montreal. Located out in Pointe-Claire, it is by no means an easy feat getting out there, but it's more than worth a bite of their wares (plus fried potatoes and slaw on the side). Pro tip: It's a bit cramped inside however, so if you want to sit, grab a seat at the Mayfair Tavern next door and order with the waiter.

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An outlier and something of a young Turk as far as most smoked meat places are concerned, this place is way off the beaten path for most, but well worth the pilgrimage. The owner Pete cut his teeth alongside his father for twenty years in the halls of the hallowed Main Deli.  On his own, Pete erected this honest honky-tonk shrine to blues music. It’s in many ways more reminiscent of a Southern BBQ roadhouse than a Jewish deli, but the food is magnificent.

For over 70 years, this venerable diner has been churning out quality smoked meat and has been making damn sure that those who darken their doorway leave for the better. The deli is staffed by a grizzled old guard; it’s not unusual to learn a staff member has gleefully worked most of their adult lives there, which is almost universally the hallmark of a quality enterprise and always the guarantee of an equally devoted legion of patrons.

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You might feel the electricity as you pass in front of this legendary institution, glaring down its rival Schwartz’s from across the street. This institutional always seemed to swing above its weight class, attracting Montreal royalty like Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler and Celine Dion. There’s been controversy here in recent years since its new owners have made radical changes like using only organic meat and gluten-free rye bread for their sandwiches, but it still retains its mythic status.

This deli often gets left out of the running when talk of smoked meat comes up, and it’s a crime. It’s a cornerstone of the solid francophone neighborhood of La Petite-Patrie and plays a good counterbalance to its area’s swish brunch joints and trendy cocktail bars. The décor is a little tired and your waitress Ginette probably is too, but no one’s trying to pull a fast one on you here. The quality here’s undeniable.

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Another old school bruiser still spry enough to contend with the young guns in the city, this deli sports a classic 50’s diner interior splattered with bric-a-brac, and its staff of lifers serves up stellar Jewish fare. Compared to some of the larger players, Lester’s has found success in the trade of sous-vide packages of their product, ready to be heated and eaten at work, at home or just in a dark corner. Anything goes. Keep in mind that their terrace is a standout gem in the summer.

Gerry's Delicatessen, located on Ontario Street in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, is one of the most comforting restaurants in its parts. It serves generous plates of smoked meat - all accompanied by a mountain of fries and a big pickle, with consistency, reliability and downright deliciousness. Opened in 1963, the deli also serves low-cost breakfasts in Montreal worth going for as well, especially when having that smoked meat with two eggs.

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George's Deli is especially appealing to those from the north of the city or Laval, as this smoked meat house is located just across the Rivière des Prairies in Laval's Saint-Martin district. At this family restaurant, when it comes to smoked meat, nothing is taken lightly: From the aging of the meat to the mixing of spices, everything is meticulously homemade. Whether it's a regular sandwich, a Reuben" or a club, all choices are good.

Chenoy’s is a neighborhood staple, serving as a shining cultural hub for the West Island. As one of only a few smoked meat restaurants open all night long, it dutifully caters to partygoers licking their wounds and filling their bellies in the small hours of the morning after making terrible mistakes elsewhere on the Island. By day, you’ll find Montrealers of every walk of life eating here.

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Located in the heart of Mile End, Déli 365 is a beautiful tribute not only to Jewish traditions, but to Montreal delicatessens. While the tradition of perfectly smoked meat can be translated in a thousand ways, we always prefer it between two slices of rye bread, but we'll take it inside a baguette if it's from Deli 365. The more adventurous will choose the smoked meat poutine, or the decadent Deli Roll: smoked meat wrapped in puff pastry.

You’ve seen a Dunn’s before, but it all started in this city in 1927. Unlike many other smoked meat operations in Montreal, Dunn’s has spread far and wide, opening franchises deep into Ontario and across Quebec. It started out peddling primarily pastrami but came around to the One True Deli Meat in the 1970s. Things have since gone well since and it has shouldered the role of a smoked meat chain restaurant well. Note that this downtown location doubles as a popular late-night restaurant for cab drivers and dancers.

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Fun fact: Nickel's was first founded by Celine Dion in the 1990s. While the diva is no longer in the picture, the concessions continue to pay homage to her by serving one of her favorite dishes as it should be, the smoked meat, in addition to the famous and decadent chocolate cake named "Le Céline". Take note, parent: As tradition dictates, kids still eat for free on Sundays!

Like Dunn’s, Reuben’s is gunning for that family casual crowd, but don’t be fooled into thinking they don’t take their smoked meat any less seriously. Nestled deep below the downtown core, many-a weary tourist has found their hunger satisfied under Reuben’s iconic marquee lights. The smoked meat here manages to hold its own, especially when considering this is one of the few smoked meat places on the island packing cocktail and wine lists.

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Fameux Viande Fumée et Charcuterie
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Offer R.

15. Fameux Viande FumĂ©e et Charcuterie

Le Fameux is another classic diner seemingly frozen in time. Known to some as an exclusively late-night haunt and to others as a bonafide breakfast joint, somehow those two solitudes combine miraculously without incident; the food’s likely to blame. Not only do they have a smoked meat sandwich that can trade body blows with the big names in town, but they have an obscenely patient and friendly front staff that juggles helping the drunken half of the city off to bed with more bright-eyed folks in the morning.

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