Poutine—piping-hot, crispy French fries covered with fresh cheese curds and smothered in gravy—is the unofficial food of Québec. You’ll find it on menus throughout the province, from upscale restaurants (where it’s likely served with foie gras) to fast-food places. Despite the dish’s popularity, its origins remain hotly debated, with a number of greasy spoon owners declaring themselves the true inventor. Whether the first poutine was created in the town of Drummondville or Warwick, no one will ever know for sure. But one part of the origin story remains the same: The invention of poutine hinges on diners adding fresh cheese curds to their fries.
Cheese is one of the province’s biggest industries, and because of this fresh cheese curds are found in greasy spoons and corner grocery stores all over the province. The curds have a slightly rubbery texture and a mild but salty taste. You can tell whether the cheese is fresh or not by the sound of the squeak it makes when chewed—the squeakier, the fresher. Since the fries and cheese together taste a little dry, gravy is added to the mix—enough to taste, but not so much that it looks like a stew. The gravy also helps melt the cheese and turn the whole thing into a glorious mess. You really can’t go wrong ordering poutine in Montréal—even McDonald’s carries it here, and city chain Frite Alors offers it on the cheap in most neighborhoods.
If you’re looking for the real deal poutine beyond the chain restaurants, here’s where to go.
Poutine capital of Montréal La Banquise serves 28 different kinds of poutine—24 hours a day, seven days a week. Initially opened in 1968 as an ice cream shop, La Banquise soon started to serve typical casse-croûte (Québécois snack bar) fare. Today, it offers an impressive variety of fried delicacies, including poutines for vegan and gluten-free diners. You’ll find brightly painted walls, wooden banquettes, and boisterous company at all hours. Since it’s open all night, this blue-and-yellow building acts as a siren call for midnight revelers looking to temper their beer consumption with a snack.
For fancy, pricier versions of poutine, head to Au Pied de Cochon. This bustling Plateau bistro specializes in hearty, nose-to-tail Québécois fare catering to a carnivorous crowd. Anthony Bourdain, visiting for No Reservations, called chef Martin Picard “one of the best chefs in Canada” and Au Pied de Cochon a “temple to everything fatty, porky, and duck-related.” Need we say more? Picard is now a household name in the province, thanks to outrageous dishes like Foie Gras Poutine, Duck in a Can, and maple crème brûlée. Always lively, this warmly lit casual spot is popular for group get-togethers—plan ahead to snag a table.
You’ll find more down-to-earth iterations of the classic dish at Patati Patata. This “fritterie de luxe”—a luxurious Québécois-style chip shop—is a tiny, colorful spot on the corner of St-Laurent and rue Rachel, right next door to the Big in Japan Bar (don’t get the lines confused!). The ambience is warm, the service is brisk, and you’ll be elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors. Grab a seat at the counter, if you can, and watch the skilled cooks pull together slider-size burgers, huge poutines (including veg-friendly options), and cheap breakfasts using a tiny bank of fryers and a flat-top grill. Keep in mind, it’s cash only.
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