Is the best Chinese restaurant in Montreal Papa Jackie?

We went to Brossard to see if Papa Jackie lived up to the hype.

Montreal Chinese food Papa Jackie
Papa Jackie

Imagine you’re at a party. It doesn’t matter how you got there. What matters is that, aside from hosts you’re just getting to know, you don’t really know anyone else and it’s awkward if not remotely unwelcoming. You may not be able to charm a lot of people with talk, but there is one thing you can do: cook. Turns out you do a good job of it, and now everyone is milling around the kitchen to chat and eat. There are few greater pleasures in my mind, and few better ways to break the ice. I sometimes think about having this experience when I think about Montreal Chinese food.

Despite its rich history and variety, the Chinese historically had a terrible time being accepted in North America, but it’s their food that made a crack in what was otherwise relentless xenophobia. It sure as hell didn’t stamp out racism, but food’s a great equalizer with every passing day. For the Chinese, what started as restaurants serving chop suey — said to have been invented one fateful day in New York before the turn of the 20th century —  has become a range of Americanized takes on Chinese cuisine you can find just about anywhere.

Montreal Chinese food Papa Jackie
Papa Jackie

Certain menu items are so ubiquitous that it may seem odd to proclaim a place to be the best: We have our favourites near home, that place that delivers that does the trick, or we look to Chinatown. Maybe it’ll seem odd to be told you’ll have to travel to have some of the best, but if you want it, buckle in. Next stop: Brossard.

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Papa Jackie, to be exact. Located in a strip mall with a good view of the highway, this once-unassuming spot closed in May of 2017 to expand into the business next door and become the spot it was when I visited: a pristine spot filled with tablecloths and turntables atop wide, circular tables; large baskets of fresh flowers sent with wishes for a prosperous future; stacks of backlit fish tanks filled with live crabs, oysters, flounders and eels to send to the gallows. Nothing on the island stacks up to this, and it’s BYOB to boot. Eat your heart out.

Some tips I’ve learned over the years: Go with a group, in parties of at least four, but more is better as there’s more to order, more to share and more to talk about; order a bowl of rice, or else the delicious sauces some dishes are doused in go wasted; Peking duck is always worth it; ask about the specials they might not have written in English on a rotating menu; finally — and this one I can’t stress enough — you can get your peanut butter dumplings just about everywhere, so be adventurous and just Google it if you’re nervous.

PaPa Jackie’s menu runs at about two dozen options for just about each and every category, and they’ll make adjustments if needed. I can appreciate that they won’t do “everything,” so as opposed to serving up pad thai or bibimbap alongside kung pow chicken, the items stick to a stream of Cantonese and Szechuan options with enough Chinese-American dishes to keep everyone happy.

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Montreal Chinese food Papa Jackie
Papa Jackie

For reference, my party was pretty well-sated with nine dishes plus rice to pass around atop the Lazy Susan, picking a bit from every corner of the menu. When PJ does classics like moo shu or beef and Chinese broccoli, the differentiating factor is the freshness and precision of the ingredients. That means there’s no excess of salt or oil to drag it down, no watery quality to greens and proteins cooked to that pleasant peak of tenderness.

Top marks of the night go to two dishes in particular. The first was scallops and squid in XO sauce, the two meats rolled in the spicy sauce to give every taste a good piquant kick and a hint of sweetness. I don’t know if PJ’s making their own XO sauce — it’s not an especially difficult thing to make on your own, only time-intensive — but if they weren’t, this was amazingly done nonetheless. The other’s their Peking duck, as they have enough birds on the hanger to have one ready at any time, not requiring a day’s order in advance. It does the trick with its thin and crispy skin and juicy chops of bird. All of this being said, given the wealth of options at PJ, these formed only two more reasons why I should go back.

It’s long been said that any Chinese restaurant worth its salt has mainly Chinese patrons, and while there’s something about that line I find specious, it definitely applies to Papa Jackie. It’s as though it’s the community’s best kept secret, far away from the skeptical or prying eyes of downtowners, keeping the best to itself. The location may deter you, but one taste sure as hell won’t. ■

Papa Jackie on Facebook 
4745 Grande Allée (Brossard)
(450) 812-9354

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