There’s nothing quite like a heaping plate or pita full of Middle Eastern-style shaved meat with pickles and a garlic-heavy sauce to satisfy a hunger craving. Whether it’s for lunch, dinner or a late night fix, many of the best shawarma restaurants in Montreal are *constantly* packed. And with such a large Lebanese community in the city, there’s an impressive range of shawarma options for everyone, from carnivores to plant-based eaters to gluten-free foodies alike.
Unlike Greek gyro, where different spices are used and the meat is shaped into a loaf before cooking and slicing, and shish taouk, which usually involves grilling individual skewers of meat, shawarma usually means placing layer after layer of deboned chicken meat, lamb or beef onto a rotating vertical cone, so that the outside layer of the meat caramelizes in its own juices as it cooks. Every time the exterior bark is shaved off to make a sandwich or top a plate of rice, the newly exposed meat starts to caramelize, too. It’s the perfect cooking technique for anyone who loves the charred bits of barbecue best.
Others, though, say that what makes shawarma shawarma is just the spicing, and it’s fine if a restaurant simply marinates and grills its meat (or shiitake mushrooms or jackfruit), which is the case for a couple of the places below. But don’t judge them until you try them. Their methods may vary but in the end, they’re all delicious!
Here are 8 Montreal restaurants where shawarma shines:
Find it: 3618 Notre-Dame St. W.; sumacrestaurant.com, @sumacrestaurant
The lowdown: When this fast-casual Middle Eastern restaurant opened in St-Henri, Montrealers got excited. Never before had the area seen such high-quality shawarma served alongside homemade side salads like spicy carrots with currants, preserved lemon and cumin and fennel or cauliflower with tahina, yogurt, za’atar and dill. The fresh herbs and spices immediately set it apart, as did the stylish setting: a handful of banquettes and a long, communal high-top table with a sleek open kitchen behind the counter. Avoid peak mealtimes if you want to make sure you’ll get a seat.
Must order: The chicken shawarma pita with hummus, tahina, chopped salad, green and purple cabbage and homemade pickled turnip. Or get a plate or family-style platter of the same meat plus some side salads. Also highly recommended: adding a side of chicken shawarma to the addictive sabich plate of fried eggplant with hard-boiled egg and house-fermented amba, a Middle Eastern mango pickle.
Find it: 2020 Crescent St. and other locations throughout Montreal; boustan.ca, @boustanrestaurant
The lowdown: This Montreal institution is the epicenter of shawarma in the city. Open since 1986, it originally made a name for itself as the go-to spot for late-night eats on Crescent St., the west-side party area of the city. Now, its juicy and greasy (in the best possible way) pitas and plates are so popular that there’s often a line, making for a steady turnover that ensures that you’ll be getting the freshest meat from the rotisserie, day or night. The restaurant has locations throughout the city, but the favourite will always be the original.
Must order: “The Creation,” a.k.a. Boustan’s classic chicken shawarma, comes amped up with fried eggplant, potatoes, oriental omelet and enough creamy garlic sauce to scare away vampires and enemies for a week. Friends will understand. Especially if they have one, too.
Find it: 2140 Guy St. and 4705 Sources Blvd; chateaukabab.com
The lowdown: Specializing in Iraqi and Persian dishes cooked on a charcoal grill, this downtown restaurant near Concordia University is 100% halal. Even better, there’s no added MSG and you can take a seat upstairs (or on the patio in summer) and have your heaping plate of tender meat, fluffy rice, salad and garlic-laced mayo served to you while looking out over the busy student-packed street below. Sprinkle on some dark-red ground sumac (there are shakers on the table) and you’re good to go.
Must order: The chicken or beef shawarma sandwich or the Shawarma Château plate, which combines chicken and beef with rice, salad, hummus, pickled cucumbers and turnips and garlic sauce.
Find it: 1201 Ave. Van Horne; restaurant-damas.com, @damasrestaurant
The lowdown: Damas is not where you go for a quick, greasy shawarma fix. One of the most high-end and expensive restaurants in the city, it’s also the only place on this list where you’ll need a reservation. Most book well in advance for dinner at this Outremont restaurant, where no dish deserves less than five stars. The spices are freshly imported, the meat is second-to-none and the fish is grilled to perfection.
Must order: Shawarma-style marinated lamb leg hummus with pomegranate molasses, ghee and pine nuts. It’s not a plate or a pita, but you won’t find a lot of lamb shawarma in Montreal anywhere and you might never want to go back to your neighbourhood fast food shawarma option after trying this combination of perfectly seasoned meat with creamy hummus, sweet-and-sour pomegranate molasses, clarified butter and toasted pine nuts.
Prices: $10-165 (for mixed grill platters that serve three people)
The Green Panther
Find it: 2153 Mackay St., 1735 St-Denis St. and other locations in Montreal; thegreenpanther.com, @lapanthereverte
The lowdown: This all-organic, vegetarian, Middle Eastern-leaning restaurant has satisfied many a Concordia University student with its falafels and mixed salad plates, but once the restaurant grew into a small, local chain, the menu expanded to match. Now, in addition to smoothies, soups and addictive peanut butter and vegan tiramisu, there’s now a vegan shawarma option made with jackfruit.
Must order: The jackfruit shawarma bowl on a bed of lettuce or brown rice with onions, tzatziki, sweet potatoes, marinated lentils, shredded beets, carrots and sunflower sprouts. The young jackfruit comes spiced, cooked and shredded, creating a texture not unlike the meaty original version. It’s an eye-popping, all-organic treat whether you’re following a plant-based diet or not.
Falafel St. Jacques
Find it: 345 St. Jacques St.; falafelstjacques.com
The lowdown: This tiny, counter-service vegetarian restaurant off the beaten path in Lachine skips the rotisserie in its meat-free interpretation of shawarma, which it keeps juicy and toothsome with shiitake mushrooms. While most customers come for the signature falafels or the shawarma, either in a pita or on a plate, the extensive salad menu is a vegetarian’s paradise (think everything from babaganoush to portobello mushrooms to spicy Thai noodles).
Must order: The veggie shawarma pita sandwich or plate.
Find it: 1923 St. Catherine St. W.; restaurantnilufar.com
The lowdown: One of the cutest and longest standing Middle Eastern restaurants in downtown Montreal is also one of the best deals in the city on lunch. It seemingly hasn’t upped its prices on its popular vegetarian and non-vegetarian shawarma, shish taouk and falafel pita sandwiches in years. It has adapted to demand, though, and caters to gluten-free and vegetarian diners; there’s tofu shish taouk and mushroom shawarma and everything is naturally gluten free except for the pita, tabbouleh and couscous—but you can always get your shawarma sandwich in a bowl instead.
Must order: The vegetarian “mushwarma” pita with house-marinated shiitake mushrooms or the beef shawarma pita, which come with hummus, tahini, lettuce, pickled turnips and tomatoes.
Find it: 930 Decarie Blvd.; shawarma-royal.com
The lowdown: With a location on a northern strip of Decarie Blvd. near Côte-Vertu metro and a second in Ville Saint-Laurent, you might not think this restaurant would be the place to go for authentic Lebanese fare outside of the downtown core. But you’d be wrong. And fortunately, for anyone not willing to wander that far north, there’s delivery. The servings of delicious shredded meat are more than generous, as are the heaping spoonfuls of garlic sauce on your crispy and golden fried potatoes.
Must order: The poutine shawarma with chicken, cheese curds and gravy or beef shawarma pita with raw onions, parsley, pickles, tahina and tomatoes, or the beef shawarma plate with garlic potatoes, rice, hummus, garlic sauce and salad.