Welcome to Little Italy
Named after a great wave of Italian immigration in the early 20th century, Piccola Italia is a neighbourhood north of Mile End that remains filled with Italian ristorantes, caffès and pasticerrias (mmm cannoli) – but is now mixed with a rich multicultural mélange. Whatever your tastes, though, it’s a foodie’s paradise.
Little Italy at a glance
Delineated to the south by Bellechasse, to the north by Jean-Talon, to the west by Saint-Laurent and to the east by Saint-Denis, this neighbourhood stars one of the city’s most famous food attractions, Jean-Talon Market, among the biggest and best four-season public markets in Montréal. The residential streets around the market feature mostly cute, small duplexes with exterior staircases, originally designed for the Italian railway and quarry workers of the area. The neighbourhood is nestled within a trifecta of metro stations: Jean-Talon, Beaubien and De Castelnau stations will all get you there, as will the 55 bus on the Main.
Architecture and demographics
Little Italy was still dominated by fields and farmland as recently as 1900. That history lives on in the Jean-Talon Market, originally where neighbouring farmers gathered to sell their fresh produce. Today, it’s a hopping, bustling place to wander about, shop, munch on street foods and more: meat, fish, cheese, bread, Mexican dishes at El Rey Del Taco, fresh oysters at La Boîte aux Huîtres, vegan sausages at Gusta – a world of flavours. Architecture fans will enjoy the many Art Deco buildings around the market, as well as the rows of tree-lined houses with painted spiral staircases – a Montréal classic. There’s a growing LGBT+ community establishing their homes in the area, as well as a ton of young families mixed in with the remaining Italian residents.
Why residents love it
There’s a lively, always buzzing energy on the main commercial strips in Little Italy, whether it’s the brunch, café and neighbourhood bar scene on Beaubien East, the Vietnamese food fest on Saint-Denis or the Italian emporia and many pretty boutiques on Saint-Laurent. That strip of the Main turns into party central during FIFA and Grand Prix F1 season – the street closes off traffic altogether to turn into a bumper-car racetrack! It all makes for the perfect mix of action-packed fun and quiet, residential lifestyle. Despite the community festivities, the side streets remain sleepy and quaint, green and lush. It’s the best of both worlds.
A visitor’s handbook
Little Italy has the jewel of the city at its core, Jean-Talon Market, but it’s a foodie destination for many other reasons – and I’m not even talking about the restaurant scene (that’s coming up next). Start with Milano – this sprawling Italian grocery store on the Main is packed with Italian specialties from pastas to cheeses to cured meats, as well as produce and pickled veggies and sweets. Nearby, Anatol has been an icon for decades as the most complete source of spices in the city. Quincaillerie Dante on Saint-Dominique is a chic hardware store that sells everything from the most stylish espresso machines to the best cookware. Cute boutique BELANGERMARTIN, on Saint-Laurent, is where you’ll find beautiful dishes to serve all that food on, as well as other home objects and even clothes. After all that shopping, stop into Caffè Italia for an espresso, or Notre Dame Des Quilles (a friendly pub with a small-scale bowling lane) or Cul Sec, Cave & Cantine (an organic wine bar with yummy nosh) for a quick refuel.
And when hunger strikes
Starting with the Italian food: Primo & Secondo serves melt-in-your-mouth meat dishes and pastas that will make you cry “Mamma mia!” at the top of your lungs no matter how classy the joint. Impasto is also up there is the gastronomic experiences – the porchetta del nonno is nuts. There are various more down-home options for a quick pizza, starting with the delicious GEMA pizzeria (the margherita is stupendous), Pizza Motta, where there’s an amazing array of dishes to choose from in addition to pizza, and Elio Pizzeria, where on special days you can also get their home-rolled pasta. Keep room for dessert, though, because the tucked away bakery Alati Caserta makes the best cannoli in town. For non-Italian flavours, there’s the famous homemade hotdogs at Chez Tousignant (no relation), the heartwarming brunch at Le Vieux Vélo, the market-fresh fine cuisine and organic wines at Pastaga, the Syrian and Armenian specialties at Le Petit Alep, the pub fare at Le Pourvoyeur at Jean-Talon Market… and of course the whole “marketful” of multicultural fare to explore. Enjoy!
Isa Tousignant, blogger
Isa Tousignant is an art and lifestyle writer based out of Montréal’s eclectic Park Ex neighbourhood. She is Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine and freelances full-time for a wide variety of magazines and brands. She’s also a jewellery designer and passionate about animal costumes and their role in contemporary art.
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