I had no idea how much I would LOVE Quebec City. The architecture, the old city streets, the Nordic spas, the friendly people and the food, my goodness, the food. Ian and I wanted to book a romantic trip for just the two of us and decided on a domestic, quick flight vacation because of the additional stress surrounding everything pandemic-related with travelling, and the risk of getting stuck away from the kids. We received some fantastic recommendations ahead of and during our trip (thank you to everyone who reached out!) and I am compiling them here for you as I sit at the quiet and serene QC airport, waiting to board our flight home. Here. We. Go!
Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac– Now that I have stayed at the famous majestic castle in the sky, otherwise known as the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, I can’t imagine wanting to stay anywhere else in Quebec City. Not only did the Chateau have the perfect location and incredible views, upon checking it, it was hard not to feel a mixture of royal vibes and grandeur that met warmth and a sense of home. The staff was incredibly welcoming, helpful and kind, and our room on the 5th floor overlooked the St. Lawrence River and the famous tobogganing track, Au 1884. (More about that in the ‘Activities’ section of this post).
Bars were closed during our time in QC, but considering the fact that when we made our hotel and flight reservations restaurants and spas weren’t even open yet, we were just thankful to have places to go! We attended some of the best restaurants we have ever been to, and I am recounting our experiences here for you hopes you will enjoy them as much as we did!
Bo- Our first night in Quebec City set the bar HIGH. I will be remembering our experience at Bo for a longggg time. We arrived early for our reservation in hopes of sitting at the bar (since, as I mentioned, no bars are open!) and were accommodated. We chatted with our bartender, Sebastian, about what styles of drinks we like and he came up with something special for both of us. They were the best cocktails I have had in a long time and it was such a personalized experience. (It is also worth noting they do Champagne by-the-glass).
Once seated at our table, our server was also charismatic and attentive. We ordered the mandu (Korean steamed buns stuffed with pork, cabbage and mushrooms, accompanied with sticky sauce) and the Quebec Waygu beef appetizers to start (the waygu beef shareable was one of my favourite things I consumed on this trip! (It consisted of Niúròu Yujin; braised beef brisket, Chinese five-spice, grain crisp, Quebec honey, celeriac puree, shimeji, and a soy marinated soft-boiled egg).
For our main course, I really wanted the Teppanykai Noodle dish (sticky udon noodles with ginger, fried halibut cheeks, Gulf shrimp with Togarashi oil, soft-boiled egg, creamy almond, king oyster mushroom and baby ginger). This dish, however, traditionally comes with an almond-based sauce and I’m allergic. However, the chef decided to take something else in season- kefir limes- and adjust the dish completely for me. And it was probably my favourite dish I ate on the trip though I still can’t decide! I had never had halibut cheeks before, and they were all-consuming. The seasoning, freshness and combination of everything in this dish tasted Devine.
Ian got the Kaoya (lacquered Lac Brome duck supreme, Chinese crepe, spicy kimchi, and grilled camelina vegetables) and was very much looking forward to the duck and Chinese crepe in particular. We paired everything with Yasai Katsu (tempura vegetables, tentsoyu tōgarashi sauce, shichimi and pickled cucumber) and that side was probably the least exciting thing we ordered. (However, I am still dreaming about the pickles that accompanied the veggies!) We finished off our meal with Kurai (black sesame tone-on-tone consisting of ice cream, crumble, pound cake and silky tofu) and it was full of interesting, complimentary and surprising flavours and was beautifully presented. Our experience, overall, was amazing and I would definitely recommend Bo to anyone who enjoys Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine.
Chez Rioux and Pettigrew- Gosh, I was super long-winded when describing our experience at Bo, and I don’t think I am going to tighten anything up while I take you on our journey at the awesome Chez Rioux and Pettigrew! We had a lovely brunch at Rioux and Pettigrew, and walked through the snow and downhill from the Chateau to get there. We arrived window-blown and cold, and were welcomed with warmth, coziness and a welcoming staff. Ian and I loved the vibe of this spot; cool decor, lots of plants, wooden floors and tables, and a very appetizing menu. I checked out the menu online before booking- and knew exactly that I was going to get upon arriving, but I will get to that in just a moment. To start, Ian began with a macchiato and I started with the Mimosa Rioux which was made up of bubbly wine, pear juice, and cinnamon syrup- and holy smokes, this was the best mimosa I have ever had. I have never combined pear juice with bubbly before, and what a great invention it was. And the cinnamon syrup to cap it off? Breathtaking.
We ordered our mains and while we were waiting, we were served this incredible white chocolate rice pudding on the house. It was delectable, and my mouth just started watering as I typed, recalling it. For our mains, I ordered Saison Cougourde Matinale (breakfast risotto with barley & butternut squash, old cheddar from Île-aux-Grues, poached egg, roasted organic squash from La Ferme des Monts, marinated pearl onion & squash sauce vierge, a touch of maple syrup, and Québec cheese shavings) and it was EVERYTHING I wanted it to be and then some. The mixture of fresh herbs (including an uncloseted favourite, tarragon!) mixed in with the delicately poached egg and risotto was everything I could have dreamt up for a brunch dish. It was served with some fresh-baked, toasted bread and, essentially, I have to figure out how to replicate it.
Ian ordered Les Natures Divines which is a plate of homemade maple wood smoked salmon, crispy salmon accras with dill & lemon sour cream with sea bacon, roasted Amandine-style zucchini with brown butter, fresh farm egg, romesco, and a tomato & herbs condiment. He added on their famous black pudding (apparently it used to be only on their dinner menu, but they had so many requests that they added it to the brunch menu too!) and he says that is one of his favourite things that he ate on the trip! And, I will admit, the sound of black pudding always deters me, but my gosh: this one was amazing. The black pudding was soft in the middle, crispy on top, and served with a beet spread. I think it is safe to say that we highly recommend Chez Rioux and Pettigrew– and next time we head back to Quebec City, I want to check out them out for dinner too!
L’affaire Est Ketchup– Quebec City’s worst-kept secret (maybe thanks to Anthony Bourdain? I’ll take his suggestions any day! Spill all the secrets, please- the world misses you, Anthony.) L’affaire est ketchup is actually a Quebec expression meaning ‘it’s a done deal’ and the name is fitting. L’affaire Est Ketchup was a very opposite experience to our experience at Bo in terms of style of resturant. Both meals and vibes were off-the-charts awesome, but couldn’t have been more different! While Bo was trendy, modern and had a lounge-feel, L’affaire was cozy, wooden and homey and I’ll describe it in more detail below since it was a huge highlight of our trip. L’affaire was originally suggested to us by our friend Thula, who is friends with one of the owners. The spot was the biggest trek we had made all trip from our hotel (only 15-20 min), and we very luckily caught a cab on a very snowy evening when it wasn’t looking likely.
L’affaire has a very unassuming curb appeal with a painted ketchup bottle on its wooden front door. Upon entering, it it felt as though we were heading into a converted older home- which we probably were. The restaurant was about the size of the main floor of our home in Toronto and fit about seven tables, a kitchen, plus a few seats at the bar. The menu was written on a chalkboard, and once the 6:00 seating had ordered their drinks and picked out their bottles of wine from an antique wooden pantry, the server caught everyone’s attention and announced what each element son the chalkboard entailed, in both French and then English for the few of us who didn’t speak the native tongue. Ian and I shared white fish-stuffed dumplings, covered in broth and accompanied by roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes. Ian found the dumplings a bit stretchy and undercooked for his liking, and while I enjoyed the appetizer overall, I wasn’t super keen on the fish. But don’t let our experience with the appetizer deter you- it was still delectable and the rest of our meal tickled our taste buds beyond belief. My mouth is watering as I think back on our meal….
For our mains, I ordered the bison (I cannot describe how beautifully this was cooked- so tender and melted in my mouth), which was accompanied by mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beets and other root vegetables including perfected roasted parsnips. Ian had pork steaks as his main and mentioned a few times during our meal how much he was enjoying them- something he doesn’t do unless he really loves something. On our way to the airport leaving Quebec City we chatted about our favourite meals of the trip, and the pork steaks from L’Affaire Est Ketchup were his. I think this meal will be ingrained in our heads for a longggg time. We also had the most incredible brownie dessert with sponge toffee and caramel sauce that I may have ever tasted? It was warm and melted in our mouths, literally.
The whole vibe of L’Affaire, from the one-man-show server who was such a pro, and the delicious drinks and full bodied wine, to the small menu, cozy, friendly, warm and homey feeling of its interior– the experience was something you just can’t replicate. The cooking is done on coil electric stove tops, and definitely contributes to the tastiness + uniqueness of the overall meal. There is something to be said for the uniqueness of cooking in such a way. The experience was so lovely and special, and while the outstanding food was the protagonist in this story, we recommend everyone head here for the entire experience.
The Smith- We spent two mornings heading around the block from Le Chateau to grab coffees and breakfast treats from The Smith. I enjoyed the rustic-meets-modern ambiance and their extensive coffee menu. We were happy to hit up this local joint (they look to have a few locations) and their pastries exceeded expectations too. We especially enjoyed their Croque Monsieur and their gigantic butter croissants- extra chewy and moist!
Chez Ashton– After a bunch of researching, Chez Ashton came out as one of the top greasy spoon poutine joints/chains. Ian and I shared a poutine from Chez Ashton, and while the cheese curds were a bit rubbery (I didn’t mind because they were also super plump, Ian did), I couldn’t help thinking of how much my kids would have loved it. I even took a photo of the menu for then, since the French menu featured a photo of a hot dog with poutine on it! Also, my kids especially would have loved that mayo and ketchup came on the side of the poutine, almost as a given.
Bar 1608– One small bummer was that 1608 in the Fairmont was still closed due to the most recent lockdown measures, however, we luckily were still able to check out the beauty of the bar. We were also fortunate to do a gin tasting with one of the 1608 bartenders, so Ian and I still feel as though we had a mini taste as to what the bar entailed. (We heard they made an amazing gin and tonics and after making a few of them in our gin tasting with the bartender, we ended up buying their tonic syrup that is custom made for the castle). Delish and refreshing!
Le Sam Bistro in the Fairmont– We had two awesome experiences with Le Sam- the first was our night of room service. We wanted to have a chill night in and the room service blew us away! The service was amazing, and the food all came from Le Sam. We ordered French onion sop (otherwise known as just inion soup in Quebec, haha), a caesar salad and the chefs burgers.Everything was fantastic and the burgers were so thick and massive!
Our second experience at Sam was for a quick lunch before heading to the airport and was unexpectedly awesome! I shouldn’t say unexpectedly I suppose… but we weren’t anticipating such amnestying upscale poutine lunch option! You see, we originally wanted to check out Chic Shack— another greasy spoon poutine and burger chain that April recommended (check out her QC blogpost here) however they weren’t open until 4:00! Well, we didn’t end up having a greasy spoon experience- and we can’t complain! We were seated overlooking the gorgeous St. Lawrence River, and were served pulled beef cheek poutine (cheese curds and meat juice sauce, pickles). I typically prefer my poutine the traditional way, but this upscale pulled beef cheek option was delectable and the meat was so tender.
Mary’s Popcorn– We popped in (get it?!) to Mary’s after an early afternoon of skating. We wanted to bring back popcorn for the boys, and were delighted to see they had something different that we hadn’t tried. Mary’s reminds me a little of Garrett’s in Chicago, and while they did have Chicago mix, what we got was their Quebec Mix: White Cheddar, Organge Cheddar and Maple Syrup. It was a home run!
Pub Saint-Patrick– We popped in here for a drink (thanks Sarah!) and Pub Saint-Patrick, while a bit touristy, has an entire cavernous underground with cozy fireplaces and stone walls that you would never expect from the outside corner lot. Definitely ask to be seated on the bottom floor. I had a delicious café brésilien (brandy d’Eaubonne V.S.O.P, Tia Maria, Triple Sec, café, crème fouettée) and it warmed me right up! This pub is perfectly situated and in Old Quebec and is a warming spot for any pub crawl.
Il Taetro– This scrumptious-sounding Italian restaurant is located beside Bo, and was recommended to us by a handful of people. if you go, drop of a line and let me know how you like it!
Chez Muffy– Recommended to us, atmosphere and food look stunning.
Pub L’Oncle Antoine– Recommended to us by our friend Reid on our last day and we didn’t have time to check it out! Described on their site as follows: The ancestor of the Quebec city Pubs, located in the marvelous vaults of the Barbel house, where you can eat and enjoy one of our various micro-breweries products, a nice whisky from our excellent selection or drink good wines, in a perfect atmosphere for relaxation. It sounds awesome and we will definitely check it out our next trip to QC. (Yes, we will be back).
L’Orygine Organic Bistro- This super-cool looking bistro with its fresh interior has food described by an influencer I follow as “unreal.” The Influencer is also friends with my sister, so I trust her opinion a bit more than the run-of-the-mill influencer with a ton if paid partnerships). They use a ton of local and fresh ingredients, and their five course discovery meal looks like a must-try. While we didn’t make it there this time around (never enough time!) we are adding it to the top of the list (after all of fave places from this trip, haha) for next time!
Le Saint-Amour– Recommended by our friends April and Anup, this fine dining restaurant sounds like a bougie, delightful experience.
Chez Boulay– Also recommended by April and Anup, this spots is home to Nordic cuisine with local ingredients.
Le Michelangelo : This came recommended by our Quebecois friend! He said “great food : so so on the look and fell and area.”
Le Buffet de L’antiquaire– Also came recommended for an epic brunch.
Albacore– Comes recommended from our friend Ashley and looks so fresh and delish! She said it was amazing and we have the same taste in food, so I believe her! 🙂
Bar Le Sacrilege– My friend Ashley also had an amazing time at this bar, with incredible services and generous pours. We didn’t make it here this time, but will definitely check it out on our next trip to QC!
La Buche– Recommended to have a great poutine by a Local and is within close walking distance from the hotel.
Restaurant Le Continental– Fine dining and recommended by a Local- also very walkable from the hotel!
Strom Spa– Wow- I cannot say enough amazing things about Strom Thermal Baths and Spa. Ian and I spent over three hours at the baths; we did cold plunges, saunas, infinity pools, thermal baths, steam rooms… and we even spent 45 minutes in a giant salt water flotation pool. It was the ultimate relaxation, not to mention the most incredible view of the St. Lawrence River. Props to April who gave us this recommendation- there are a few baths the pick from in QC from and this one exceeded all of our expectations!
Moments Spa at Fairmont – Ian and I booked facials at the hotel; the spa was an easy one floor above our room. Our aesthetician, Sophie, was awesome and so sweet and friendly, and we both had such great experiences. We both upgraded to their luxury line of products, and our skin felt great afterwards. It was Ian’s first facial and he is- dare I say- hooked?! (Probably not, but he enjoyed it, haha).
Siberia Station- Another spa/baths in the area that our friend Kim recommended to us is Siberia Station. We had already booked at Strom, so we didn’t head to Siberia Railway this time around but it does look beautiful! I asked our aesthetician from the Fairmont, Sophie, if she preferred Siberia Railway or Strom better and she said she likes Strom better because of the option to dine and drink there as well, haha. If you have been drop me a line!
Le Nordique– If you have a car, also check out this spa. It is 25 minutes outside of Quebec City and looks like it is really beautiful and remote!
Au 1884– Tobogganing outside Le Chateau was one of my favourite activities on our trip! In fact, we had so much fun, we went back for a second run on our last day! Fairmont kindly gave us a free pass + hot cocoa upon check-in and I am so glad we checked it out! It’s good old fashioned fun for any age!
Patinoire de la place D’Youville– Recommended by Ian’s Quebecois coworker, the D’Youville refrigerated rink is situated in the most romantic, gorgeous spot overlooking Old Quebec. (It also just happens to be across the street from Bo and Il Taetro too! May make a nice little evening outing!)
Art Gallery Exploring– We loved spending an afternoon walking through Old Quebec and exploring many of the art galleries in the area. There were so many! Two of our favourites were Galerie D’Art L’Esprit Creatif (with an amazing artist and owner, Nathalie Chiasson) and Galerie Beauchamp (it’s huge and hosts so many incredible artists- and they have a location in Toronto too).
Boeing 737– So, I noticed an old Boeing 737 had been converted into some kind of tourist attraction as we drove past on the way to the airport, and made a note to look into this. If you click on the hyperlink here, you will see that this retired plane has been converted into a restaurant and attraction. If you had kids with you, or an interest in planes, this could be worth checking out!
Winter Carnival- We loved walking around and seeing all of the snow and ice sculptures left over from Carnival throughout Old Quebec.
Commission des champs de bataille nationaux– In the centre of the city, with a view of the St. Lawrence River, explore the beautiful Plains of Abraham Park. We walked the tops (almost 400 of them!) and hiked through the snow to Strom Spa. We say lots of cross country skiers and also learned of the skating rink in the area. This park is beautiful and has so much to offer!
Cocktail and Cooking Classes– Since the 1608 bar wasn’t open, I mentioned above that we had a gin tasting put on by the hotel! We created and drank gin and tonics, and even left with some of their delicious, customized tonic! If you are looking for cooking or cocktail-making classes in QC while you are visiting, click here for a cool establishment I found in my research!
Chute Montmorency– This looks beautiful and came recommended. If we had more time and a car (and if there was less snow, haha) Montmorency Falls is about 15 minutes from QC and looks like a beautiful spot to visit!
3 Poules a L’ile– an adorable boutique, comes recommended.
We didn’t do any boarding this trip, but wanted to include our friend Eric’s recommendations:
Stoneham– GOOD and only 20 minutes from Quebec City. (This is the area that Le Nordique Spa mentioned above is also located).
Mont Ste-Anne– GREAT and 50 min from Quebec City.
Massif– GREAT and 1 hour and 15 minutes from Quebec City.
Airport- Checking in and out of the QC airport was a seamless experience. It has been super quiet, and security was so quick it was a reminder to avoid gigantic airports like Pearson at all cost for domestic travel in the future whenever I can help it. This airport is proof that the airport doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. The Toronto Island Airport- BillyBishop- is a smilier experience, though not international.
Getting Around- We were in QC in February between rain and snowfalls. Prior to us arriving in QC, they had had a massive storm themselves, so the snow was thick, packed and beautiful. The snow, in combination with the narrow, winding, hilly roads of old Quebec made it sometimes challenging to get a taxi or an Uber. In the evenings, we quickly learned to c all our taxi or Uber 20-30 minutes ahead of when we actually wanted to leave. Also please note, Lyft isn’t available in QC at the time this was written.
Coming With Kids- On this trip, I thought several times of any amendments we would have had to have made had we been here with kids. The trip obviously would have been completely different, but I think the most difficult thing would have been trying to get taxis and Ubers when you needed them. I would think the summertime (or maybe even the wintertime, at a time with less snow) would be easier for parents to navigate. The city is very walkable, so as long as you have a snow-friendly stroller, there are tons of streets and parks.
Grocery- Chez Jules. We wanted some options for libations and snacks to bring back to the hotel room, and Chez Jules around the corner from the hotel has mostly artisan snacks, but it was a great moption for us to be able to run into! We stocked up on wine, sparkling water and nachos, and some artisan marshmallows top bring home to the kids! Bonus: it is also a cafe!
Thanks for reading my in-depth blogpost, mostly about food. I hope you experience some of these epic places on your next trip to QC, and that this post either helped you plan your trip, or gave you some wanderlust vibes for your next aspiring vacation! Either way, I highly recommend QC. It felt like I was in a European City with its architecture and food, yet a proudly Canadian small city too, as we often spotted peaceful protestors with Canadian flags strapped to their backs and learned about traditional Quebec instruments, history, food and overall heritage. If you have any additional recommendtations for me, please shoot me a note or leave a comment and I will add them to the list! Sharing is caring 🙂
For now: a bientot, Quebec City! We cannot wait to visit again!