Photograph by Susan Seubert
Tell someone who has been to Quebec City that you’re planning a trip there and, if they love you, they’ll begin to share all of the reasons you should eat from dawn until dusk. With foodie routes celebrating everything from cheese to wine criss-crossing the province, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the capital city has more than its fair share of delicious destinations. But while Montreal has reaped the popularity of the masses for years, the much smaller Quebec City has quietly stayed in the shadows cooking incredible meals for those who happened upon them. Now that fortunate adventurer is you, and your job is simply to visit, sample the cuisine, walk to the next restaurant, and repeat. Here are ten top dining options:
The ingredients are simple (hot, thick-cut French fries, gravy, and cheese curds) but together they are a legendary mess of goodness. The once lowbrow Quebec food item has become an international success story, with shops popping up across North America (even McDonald’s boasts a version) to the delight of new fans. But while you may be able to get poutine anywhere, it's in Quebec that you’ll come closest to the original. Listen for the squeak as you bite into the cheese curds (a sign that they’re fresh) and expect the gravy to make its way to the bottom of your bowl. You’ll find a simple version at Quebec fast food giant Chez Ashton. Consider it your control, then venture out to sample all of the variables. The coq au vin poutine at Le Chic Shack and the pulled pork offering at Talea Bistro Urbain are two great places to up the ante.
Ice Cider (Cidre de Glace)
Canada has long been known for its ice wine, and ice cider, its Québécois counterpart, is equally enjoyable. Craft cider producers dot the province's Eastern Townships. It was they who first thought to let the apples freeze on the trees before picking and turning the concentrated nectar into an alcoholic indulgence. And with this year’s bitterly cold and long winter, the harvest is bound to be plentiful. The end result is plenty of local offerings throughout the city. With a typical 12 percent alcohol yield in each bottle, a little bit will do you as an after dinner drink or served with dessert. Watch for it on food menus as well. It's often one of the secret ingredients in the region's cuisine.
Like their European counterparts, Quebec City locals have perfected the art of a good dessert. Expect tasty sweets that are as pretty to look at as they are enjoyable to eat. For a traditionalist, sugar pie is a good place to start. Fistfights can break out over where to find the best one, but you’ll find one worth your fork at Le Cochon Dingue. Though not original to Quebec, crème brûlée has also found a following here. At the new Tournebroche restaurant in Old Quebec, they’ve taken their passion for the dessert to new levels. Here, you’ll find a different flavor of crème brûlée each day of the week. Options include the very Canadian maple bacon, the surprisingly good milk chocolate with lime.
The traditional Québécois meat pie—typically made with minced beef, pork, or wild game, and cubed potatoes—remains a popular menu item in the city. You’ll find versions of the dish in supermarkets, but for the real deal you need to eat one made by a stickler for tradition. Try the pie at Aux Anciens Canadiens before sampling it elsewhere so you have a standard to measure all others by.
Quebec is world renowned for its award-winning cheeses. You’re here! It would be a mistake not to try as many as you can. Grab a basket and pop down to the farmers markets for a wide variety of local options. Both Marché du Vieux-Port and J.A. Moisan have great selections that won’t disappoint. Make sure to ask cheese mongers for Le Baluchon, which picked up the top spot at the Canadian Cheese Awards this year (the province netted a total of 14 awards). Want to sample in a more refined atmosphere? Pop in for a cinq-à-sept (after-work drink) at Le Moine Echanson. The menu is in French but the waiters are always happy to translate.
You’ll have to decide if you’re a dipper or a scraper before you settle in for your melted cheese meal in this city. Dippers will want to partake in one of the city’s many popular fondue spots, including La Grolla, where a long fork and a choice of meats, vegetables, and breads meet their melted cheese demise in a simmering pot of the good stuff. Scrapers will want to try Le Petit Coin Latin (8½ rue Sainte-Ursule, Québec). It’s where the locals head for raclette—melted cheese scraped onto plates with potatoes, vegetables, and meat. The food is great but the atmosphere and history will impress as well. The restaurant is well known for being featured in Bury Your Dead, a murder mystery set in Quebec.
The French-Canadian sugar shack may be a spring staple, but the products that result from maple sap that's been boiled for hours at a time are a year-round reward. To hoist a bottle of anything but real maple syrup in Quebec City would be sacrilegious (Aunt Jemima is a no-no). Expect to taste a bit of maple flavor on more than just your pancakes. From ice cream to baked goods—and even mixed with cream as a dip for homemade bread—you’ll find the sweetness is everywhere. Like it? Make a mental note to return in the winter for tire sur la neige, a cool, sticky treat where the syrup is carefully poured on snow and wrapped around a Popsicle stick. Maple Delights offers plenty of options for sweet souvenirs.
Local Craft Beer
The city's brewpub scene has been building since the opening of L’Inox—one of the first modern microbreweries in Quebec City—in 1987. Today you’ll find more than 80 breweries and brewpubs in the city and surrounding areas. L’Inox is still going strong. Their full-flavored, low-alcohol-content offerings are meant for long, lingering afternoons people-watching on La Grande Allée. On the other side of town, La Barberie offers the same in the up-and-coming St. Roch area. Build your own brewery tour with these at its base and be sure to include La Korrigane and, if you’re willing to hop in a cab, L’Archibald as well.
Forget what you think you know about crepes. Thin and tiny? Not here. Expect offerings the size of small pizzas before they're folded over into fork-and-knife-worthy triangles. The most popular choice is Casse-Crêpe Breton, where you’ll forget the long lines after you’ve sampled the apples-and-Swiss cheese option.
Hot Chocolate (Chocolat Chaud)
True, it’s most popular in the colder months, but the slightest evening chill or a much needed morning pick-me-up can be the perfect excuse for this hot and sweet treat. Add some education to your sampling with a visit to Erico’s Choco Musée (634 rue Saint-Jean). The hot chocolate menu offers choices that range from the milk chocolate-based Ti-Mousse to the pudding-like Italian. While you wait, learn all about chocolate production at the small museum inside.
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