Eating in Quebec City can easily be a vacation highlight with a little research and an adventurous attitude.
Though oodles of restaurants and bistros will look adorably French on the outside, they may very well offer a lackluster culinary experience tailored to one-time tourist diners. If you put a little work into your eating choices, researching where to go instead of just jumping into the first restaurant with checkered tablecloths, the rewards are great.
Typical French Food in Quebec
The typical French Quebec food is sophisticated yet hearty. Traditionally intended to fuel hungry fur traders back in the 17th century, many dishes even today are rich and include staples like lard, flour, and pork.
The French Quebec diet developed with influences primarily from France and Ireland—two of the larger immigrant populations to the province—but also draws from indigenous and other local cuisines.
Quebec City sits close to major agricultural areas and thus can easily integrate fresh, local fare into its menus. Charlevoix, an hour east of Quebec City, is especially acclaimed for its agro-tourism, supplying fresh produce, cheese, and meats to the region.
Some of the more famous foods you will find at restaurants in Quebec City include tourtiere (meat pie), poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds), baked beans and maple syrup.
Other typical entrées include omelets, crepes, mussels, pasta, steak frites, and fish.
Many restaurants feature French dishes, such as Coq au vin and beef burgundy, but these are not part of the traditional Quebécois cuisine.
*A note about foie gras: This popular rich, buttery tasting dish, in which the liver of a goose or duck is artificially fattened, is controversial because of the pain and suffering caused to the bird when a gavage (feeding tube) is forced into its esophagus to deliver an excessive amount of feed.
At least educate yourself about this French delicacy before ordering it. Some restaurants may offer an "ethical" version in which the birds instinctively stuff themselves before migration season.*
Just like in France, the local bakery—or boulangerie—is an integral part of every Quebec neighborhood. A fresh baguette or viennoiserie (a family of pastries that includes croissants) is never more than a beret toss away.
The most popular bakery/café in Quebec City is in the Old Town on Saint-Jean Street. Bright and spacious, Paillard serves up its homemade goodies, like sandwiches, soups, and pastries, with friendliness and efficiency in French or English. Long cafeteria-style tables provide the perfect spot to swap travel tips with fellow patrons.
Getting breakfast, lunch or a light dinner at a boulangerie in Quebec not only costs much less than dining in a restaurant or eating at your hotel but allows you the chance to sample authentic, freshly made French food.
Quebec City is a French Canadian city, but retailers and restaurant owners tend to play up their "Frenchness" to engage customers. The overall effect is charming but visitors must be careful to avoid overpriced tourist trap restaurants that are delightful looking but provide a merely average experience. The best advice is to do a little research and decide on a restaurant before you leave your hotel rather than randomly selecting one.
The biggest challenge of eating in Quebec City, as with most any tourist-driven destinations, is getting good value or finding excellent restaurants that fall in between fast-food and fine dining.
Try Chowhound, a peer review site devoted to helping people find or prepare good food. You can narrow your search using searches like family-friendly, vegetarian, Quebecois, etc.
Recommended Quebec City Restaurants
Chez Temporel at 25 Rue Couillard is slightly off the beaten path. It is simple and has reasonably priced French fare. Perfect for lunch.
Other good mid-priced restaurants include La Buche and Bati Bassak (a Thai/Cambodian restaurant outside of Old Quebec). iX pour Bistro is run by two brothers, both of whom are lovely and personable in both French and English. They set the tone for the classy-casual atmosphere of the restaurant and the genius behind the creative menu. Reservations a must.
Chez Ashton is a chain of fast food restaurants specializing in poutine. The locals love this place. You can even enjoy a Quebec beer there.
Lots of Quebec City restaurants specialize in fine dining, with excellent wines, exquisite presentations, and hefty prices. For a splurge, consider Panache (the Auberge Saint-Antoine restaurant) or Le Saint Amour, two longstanding favorites.
Escape the crowds of Quebec City for a few hours and head to nearby Ile d'Orleans (pronounced "eel dor-lee-ahn" and meaning Orleans Island).
Nicknamed "Quebec's Garden" for its thriving agricultural community, Ile d'Orleans is a haven of fresh berries, apples, potatoes, sprawling fields, colorful farmhouses, and other country charms.
Pick up a fresh pie or some pastries and don't miss the Chocolaterie de l'Ile d'Orleans and its insanely delicious chocolate dipped soft ice cream cones. People come for miles for them.
Beer, Wine & Other Beverages
You'll have the chance to sample local drinks while you are in Quebec City.
Coffee is a big deal in Quebec City and though there are plenty of Tim Hortons, lots of coffee shops take brewing methods and presentation to more artistic heights. Do stop to enjoy a coffee with a chocolate croissant at some point—a Quebec City must. Hot chocolate is a popular kiddie equivalent no matter the time of year.
Craft beer is a thriving industry in Quebec and the brewing methods are comparable to those in France, England, and Belgium. Whether you like it hoppy, crisp or cloudy, beer comes in many forms and flows readily in Quebec City.
Unlike many other places in Canada, in Quebec, beer and wine are sold at supermarkets and convenience stores in addition to the government-run provincial retailer, the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec).
Quebec also has a number of wine producers, though the relatively short, harsh season limits the amount and varietals.
Coureur de bois is a ridiculously yummy liqueur named for the enterprising fur traders who laid the foundation of modern Quebec. Made from maple syrup, this creamy liqueur is most popularly served on the rocks or in coffee. It is available at SAQs.
Another Quebec original in the alcohol department is ice cider, also known as apple ice wine. This sweet beverage is produced through the alcoholic fermentation of the juice of pressed frozen apples. It is found mostly in Quebec but also in Ontario.
If you visit Quebec City during Winter Carnaval, you will undoubtedly come across Caribou, a hot alcoholic drink widely available at this time.