It can be tough to leave the fairy-tale world of Old
Québec, a perfectly preserved colonial town neatly packaged inside 400yr-old
fortified walls. The World Heritage site pleases the eye at every turn, from
the fanciful turrets of Le Chateau
Frontenac to Lower Town’s ultra-luxe boutique hotels to the vast army of
historical, religious, and politically weighty edifices that have stood
sentinel for centuries.
However, Old Québec, a neighbourhood located along the eastern edge of Québec City, has
been plagued for decades by overzealous tourism, resulting in a brazen
contingent of overpriced and underwhelming restaurants on the main streets. For
a more authentic Québec City eating experience, scale those ubiquitous walls,
hit reset and follow the locals to less-touristy neighbourhoods, home to some
of the city’s hottest restaurants.
You can spend whole days absorbing the laid-back,
pleasure-heavy lifestyle for which French culture is renowned. The
neighbourhood of Faubourg Saint-Jean, just minutes on foot from Old Québec, is the
most accessible. Further afield is Avenue Cartier, where a cosmopolitan mixture
of restaurants and cafés attracts a younger crowd. Discerning Québécois stick
to artsy Nuovo St-Roch, where bistros are taking a modern approach to traditional
If you have only got time for one meal in Québec City,
make sure it is at Le Billig (526 Rue St-Jean; 418-524-8341), a crêperie like none other. Taking
buckwheat as a canvas, the popular Roscoff dish unites ham, asparagus, Swiss
cheese, apple and béchamel sauce in a culinary masterpiece. Locals and savvy
tourists alike appreciate the ever-fresh, high-quality ingredients, such as
duck confit and onion marmalade, or perfect sweet marriages like Chantilly
cream and salty butter-caramel sauce.
Sophisticated brunch is done right at the cavern-like
neighbourhood institution, Le Hobbit,
which in its nearly 170 years of existence has housed a pharmacy, a boutique, a
hardware store, and a theatre. From the simple multigrain toast slathered in
pâté, to the more substantial omelet stuffed with shredded duck and apple, to
the decadent Eggs Benedict L’Authentique
loaded with Québec cheese and ham and slathered in their much-acclaimed house
béarnaise sauce, every meal comes with a requisite dose of caffeine: either an
espresso allongé or café au lait.
Follow Rue St-Jean south from Faubourg Saint-Jean to
hit colourful Avenue Cartier, where specialty grocery stores and boutiques
shoulder ethnic restaurants, modern eateries and European cafés -- all with
attractive facades and patios that spill over into the street.
The mantra at Sushi
Taxi, the rapidly expanding, Québécois chain of hip sushi spots, is mange-moi cru (eat me raw), which is
good advice: the most popular dish, Guac-Amore, takes raw salmon and bathes it
in a tasty concoction of salsa, yoghurt and guacamole. Their “cleverly twisted
nigiris” are unique interpretations that take raw fish and rest it atop something
crispy, like a frittata or an almond crust, as opposed to the traditional
Japanese fish-and-rice combination. It is weird, fun and beloved by locals in
The city is abuzz with brand-new Bistro B, a showpiece of local and innovative culinary
trends. Wine lists come via iPads, and the menu, which changes daily to
incorporate seasonal and regional ingredients, is scrawled on chalkboards in
French. Come here for locally sourced specialties like red-deer tartare and
foie gras prepared au torchon (wrapped
in a cloth, then boiled, drained and sliced, delicately seasoned and served
No longer plain-old “St-Roch”, with its working-class
roots and formerly decrepit appearance, this neighbourhood -- greatly
gentrified thanks to a 380-million-Canadian dollar renovation of the main drag,
St-Joseph Street – has now earned the moniker Nuovo St-Roch and has evolved into a
gathering place for artists, designers and other creative types.
It is only a 15-minute walk here from Old Québec or
Faubourg Saint-Jean. The jumble of one-way streets can confuse even the most
seasoned navigator, and a wander through the side streets -- particularly Rues
d’Aiguillon, Richelieu and St-Olivier -- affords a rare opportunity to view the
neighbourhood’s cluttered, characteristically French row houses crowned with
colourful mansard roofs.
For a crash-course in Québécois nouveau cuisine, the
menu at bright and breezy Café du
Clocher Penché is a must, and it is a far less expensive than dining in Old
Québec. This classy restaurant is polished but unpretentious, as is the simple,
refined fare. The boudin noir (blood sausage) is nicely balanced with tart apple
chutney; a salmon tartare is marinated in grapefruit juice and served alongside
beet and fennel salad and pesto crostini; and beef from a local farm is served with
horseradish sauce and pearl barley.
The amount of choice in this neighbourhood can be
overwhelming. The candlelit art-bar hybrid Le Cercle offers a little of
everything in their tapas-style menu, but if you really cannot decide, then order
La Mania (essentially the chef’s choice) and leave it to the chefs to decide
for you. Jazzed-up French favourites include Le Bourguignon -- beef braised in
Burgundy wine, accompanied by herb tagiatelle and rapini -- and the ballotine
-- in which the poultry (whatever’s local and seasonal) is boned, stuffed with
spelt risotto, radish and dried tomatoes, and then tied in the shape of a
bundle. Their squash ravioli revamp makes great use of local Vlimeux cheese, a
semi-soft, maple-wood-smoked variety made from raw sheep’s milk.
The article 'Québec City’s hottest restaurants' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.