Attempting to capture the essence of LaSalle’s expansive mom and pop food scene is to bite off more than any one person can chew. The southwestern tip of Montreal’s underbelly is detached from trends and has been doing its thing in anonymity. Although welcoming to outsiders, the longstanding spots here have never needed nor desired outside acceptance.
It’s also why this cloistered area of the city, mostly disconnected from the metro unless you’re willing to hoof it from Angrignon, can be tough to get into. Ask locals and the best pizzeria or sub tends to be from the place across the street.
You’ll hear the term “working class” a lot when talking about LaSalle, and in this case I think it’s more of an ethos. There are condos going up along the water like everywhere else, but this is the part of town where all-you-can-eat buffets on Newman thrive, so people still respect a good deal when they see one. After hitting up a few places, one gets the feeling that chains like Mike’s built their pizza and sub mini-empires on the LaSalle model.
LaSalle’s waterfront is a hidden jewel. It’s quiet and spacious, a little untapped oasis of tranquility on an island that’s otherwise completely tapped out. Right along the water the humble LaSalle Drive-In has sat for 35 years, and like many places in Montreal, can trace its origins indirectly to the halcyon days of Expo 67. When the weather improves, grab an outdoor bench of theirs and bite into the Peter’s Special, ostensibly a pizza-submarine amalgam where the bread is made from pizza dough and the filling can include pizza sauce (or meat sauce), cheese and smoked meat. A small Peter could probably feed two and somehow improves upon both the Montreal pizza and Montreal sub templates in one fell swoop. LaSalle Drive-In in particular is worth a visit: bike along LaSalle Boulevard and take in the calming views of rushing water.
One quirk that was established here and re-confirmed at every subsequent stop: LaSalle prices are quite reasonable. (8760 LaSalle)
Baby-faced compared to the competition, it’s hard to say no to a completely customizable burger spot that touts never-frozen Angus beef and artisanal Quebec cheeses. The crunchy chicken poutine looked impressive in its sleek black bowl, and the impossibly thick gravy gave me A.A. flashbacks, but unfortunately the sauce had a peculiar bitter tang (something to do with the chicken stock?) that held it back from greatness. While the burger options are impressive, they too just fell a bit short of expectations. While the poutine maybe suffered from too much sauce, the burgers at Capitales could’ve used a flavour jolt. (8612 Centrale)
Dépanneur Snack Shack
A memorable experience just west of where the Mercier Bridge sits overhead. The whole area feels far removed from the city: the adjacent Fleming Mill recalls school field trips to Pointe du Moulin out in Île-Perrot. The diner was populated but dead silent when we walked in, with locals carefully eyeing us while we stared at the Betty Boop statue in the corner of the room. After what felt like an eternity of awkwardness, a customer at the counter recommended we try a steak sandwich. We ordered a small feast consisting of burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, Greek wedge potatoes and the aforementioned sandwich, which takes extra time to prepare but we’re told is worth it. The cheeseburgers were simple and affordable, with a nice diner level of char on the meat. The coffees came in cute non-matching mugs, really giving the feeling that we’d accidentally walked into a hospitable person’s kitchen by mistake. As we were munching on our tasty diner fare, the room started getting smoky. There are only two pillars separating us from the kitchen, and the smoke building from the steak sandwich on the grill was engulfing the whole room. When it finally arrived, it did not disappoint: crunchy homemade bread, not too greasy and loaded with hot peppers. Maybe the most perfectly pleasant homemade meal you’ll get at a restaurant in Montreal, making Dépanneur Snack Shack a unique, personable experience worth trekking out for. (9641 LaSalle)
Even if you’ve never been to LaSalle, the Montreal type of pizza and sub you’ve had at a casse-croûte or sporting event feels like it was perfected here first. There were so many pizza places to choose from, but the one with the most lore attached to it might be Manzo, which doesn’t deliver outside of LaSalle, making it a true safe haven for locals. They were doing renovations at the time but were still open, and the menu board with large print-outs of glowing newspaper reviews were impossible to miss. Once again, pizzas and subs co-mingle together in a singular dish, so I went with the restaurant’s titular sous marin, which comes with steak, Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onions and cheese. Compared to LaSalle Drive-In’s Peter, which is truly a sub shaped like a pizza, the Manzo is still more in the sub category, although the fresh pizza dough bun might confuse your taste buds. There was a special sauce present as well – a combination of Dagwoods relishy vinaigrette and the sweet salad dressing you might get at a family resto. Maybe a bit too sweet for lunchtime, but it also felt weirdly familiar. (1033 90e Avenue)
LaSalle’s subs, burgers and pizzas have a hint of nostalgia to them beyond taste. Time may march on elsewhere, but in LaSalle, they’re still doing things the Montreal way. ■