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Juan Lopez Luna’s guide to Montréal

Chef Juan Lopez Luna and the Montréal skyline.

The Sav Collective/Matthias Mullie via Unsplash

Juan Lopez Luna’s guide to Montréal

The chef from Alma shares his picks for where to eat in Montréal, from chunky sandwiches to perfect pastas, pad Thai to grocery store tacos.
17 May, 2024

Chef Juan Lopez Luna is in a good place. “For the first time in my life, I feel I’ve really connected my head, my heart, and my plate,” he says, talking about the new Mexican approach he’s taking at Alma, his Montréal alta cocina restaurant that just turned six.

An arduous journey from Tlaxcala, Mexico brought the teenage Lopez Luna to kitchens in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he met his business and life partner, Lindsay Brennan. Challenged to remain in the US because of his illegal status, the pair returned to Mexico, married, and explored Italian and Catalonian foodways before settling in Brennan’s native Montréal in 2010.

The focus at Alma was initially Catalán fine dining; they started serving rotisserie chicken, octopus, and patatas bravas from the back lane as a pandemic pivot. When the convenience store right next to Alma on a leafy side street in Montréal’s Outremont became available in 2021, the more casual Tinc Set was born: a tapas bar, rotisserie, and bottle shop featuring wine from Brennan’s import company.

Trips to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Mérida now influence Alma’s (mostly tasting) menu: Lopez Luna’s ardent embrace of the food of his childhood have led him to rediscover nixtamalized corn, native chiles, and traditional cooking techniques, making tortillas by hand with an heirloom family press. Once a month, Lopez Luna shares the kitchen with select chef friends for taco omakase evenings which sell out in a flash.

With all this going on, Lopez Luna’s time off is limited. But when he does have a day free, or even a few hours before service, these are his Montréal restaurants of choice.

Satay Brothers

“Alex and Mat are real brothers who have a restaurant now, but I started by going to their original stall in the Atwater Market. Mat makes me a special pad Thai, and then I get some of their steamed buns, plus a Satay Brothers beer, their own collab.”

Lawrence

Pork risotto at Lawrence in Montréal.

Rachel Cheng

“I think [sister restaurant] Larry’s burger and fries are the best in town, but sometimes I like to go to the new Lawrence for Marc Cohen’s inspiring tasting menu. Seeing Marc doing everything himself in that kitchen is so great.”

Mano Cornuto

Mano Cornuto in Montréal.

“I love going to Mano Cornuto for Italian on my days off. It feels like you’re in another part of the city. The pastas and drinks, the wine list are all great. My favourite is the crudo with pine nuts and pecorino aioli. And the focaccia is just so good.”

Juliette Plaza

Pork belly skewers at Juliette Plaza in Montréal.

Matthieu Goyer

“This is my new spot, especially in the daytime. Cheryl Johnson is doing her thing there, and it’s just so fun. Her layered sandwich reminds me of sandwiches we used to have at home on Bimbo bread. And those pork belly skewers, wrapped in bacon? Just give me six of them.”

Super Condiments

Super Condiments in Montréal.

“I’m there way too often because it’s really close to the restaurant. I get their jambon-beurre on baguette, either with a coffee or a beer, depending on the time of day. The music is always good, too—they always have the beats. This neighborhood needed something like that: easy and nice.”

Buvette Chez Simone

“There’s something about this place—it’s a classic, and one of the first places that we started going to in the city. Chef Alejandro Ramirez Huerta’s menu always has tostadas or crudo. I like the way you have to step up to the bar, and the terrasse—if you can get a seat.”

Carlota Boulangerie Mexicaine

“I want to eat all of Mariana Martin’s pastries—but I can’t, so I’ll bring them back to the kitchen, and share. My favourites are the beso with marmalade in the middle, the conchas, and the puerquitos—little gingery cookies that are really a childhood memory. Mariana made a mandarin tamal with mezcal and hoja santa for our omakase, and it was incredible.”

Mi Tiendita Mexicana

“This is a special Mexican grocery store where they make tacos on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The tacos and the carnitas here—OMG! They give you the meat, the tortillas, the salsas— it’s a family business and the people are super sweet. They even have nopales (cactus), and it’s just like back home.”