Montreal, Quebec – Deli Lesters VS Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

by Mijune on March 1, 2012 · 32 comments

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Post image for Montreal, Quebec – Deli Lesters VS Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

Who has Montreal’s Best Smoked Meat?

Deli Lesters VS Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

Montreal Smoked Meat. It was one of the first things on my foodie itinerary when traveling to Montreal for the first time. I did the St-Viateur Bagel & Café VS Fairmount Bagel and the Montreal Poutine, and it only made sense to complete my “touristy” food experience with Montreal Smoked Meat. Don’t worry, I also indulged in Quebec cheeses, wines, foie gras, sweetbreads, croissants and maple sugar pies, but Follow Me Foodie to Montreal & Quebec City just had to finish with a Battle Montreal Smoked Meat!

Whether you’re a local or a tourist, the first place to come to mind when you think of Montreal Smoked Meat is likely Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. It’s an institution in Montreal and easily considered a must try for “foodies” and “non-foodies”. Not only is it generally considered “world famous” and “the best in the city” for Smoked Meat, but it’s part of Montreal history and tradition with a recipe that hasn’t changed since 1928. If you’re only going to have one Montreal Smoked Meat experience, I would say Schwartz’s is it, but if you happen to have a few extra days, or you live there, then you might consider trying another one.

Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

It was my last day in Montreal and although I was completely satisfied with having Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich as my one Smoked Meat experience, I couldn’t help but to think it could get better. I couldn’t base an opinion on trying one Montreal Smoked Meat, and to be honest, a fair opinion would only come out of trying all of them. In my ideal Follow Me Foodie world I would make that happen, but for now, I’ll do things realistically and a step at a time.

I decided to try another “Best Montreal Smoked Meat in the City” just for comparisons sake. I got the recommendation for Lesters from my hardcore foodie friend in Vancouver who frequents Montreal. He got the recommendation from old time born and raised Montreal locals, and it convincingly seemed like the secret “local favourite”. Even when I asked other Montreal foodies about it, very few had heard of the name, which almost made it even better and more special. I’m sure there are other Montreal Smoked Meat competitors, but this was definitely one of the creme de la creme of Montreal Smoked Meat.

If you want to avoid a line up, sit comfortably, and still get quality Montreal Smoked Meat, I would highly recommend Deli Lesters. It might not be as much of an “institution” as Schwartz’s, but it’s definitely worth a try if you’re in Montreal for the food, or I guess the meat. It could possibly be as much of a local’s choice as Schwartz’s if people only knew about it. But maybe more importantly is that those that do know about it are very loyal to it.

Deli Lesters VS Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

I ended up getting Montreal Smoked Meat from Lesters and Schwartz’s just so I could do a back to back comparison. I bought a pound of each fresh and then a couple vacuum sealed packages of each to take home. I have to say that the sealed versions are not really the same as getting it fresh on the spot. It might be “close enough”, but the spice crust is just different in texture and of course experience is a whole other topic.

Deli Lesters (right) Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen (left)

Deli Lesters VS Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

Deli Lesters

Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

 Since 1951  Since 1928
 1lb medium fat Montreal Smoked Meat = $14.95  1lb medium fat Montreal Smoked Meat = $13.95
 Softer, creamier and ham like in texture  Firmer, meatier and more like beef brisket like in texture
 Smoother in texture  Chewier
 Not bland, but less salty than Schwartz’s and possibly    less cured  More flavourful and not too salty, but saltier than Lesters and seems cured for longer
 Peppery, but less spices than Schwartz’s  More spices, more peppery than Lesters
 More moist (higher moisture content in meat)  Drier/dries out faster
 Fat seems more marbleized and does not break apart  Fat seems less marbleized and breaks apart in bits
 Possible line ups at peak hours  Very long line ups/busy at all times
 Freshly steamed/hand sliced meat upon order and freshly cut fries  Freshly steamed/hand sliced meat upon order and freshly cut fries

Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat

  • Again, I would be fully satisfied if Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen was my one Montreal Smoked Meat experience. However I did enjoy Lesters just as much, but on a different level.
  • I enjoyed Schwartz’s much more when it was hot and fresh on the spot, but it did dry out much quicker than Lesters Montreal Smoked Meat.
  • Schwartz’s had more of the texture of a traditional beef brisket and apparently the recipe is more traditional to an authentic Montreal Smoked Meat.
  • I also liked the spices and saltiness, although I have a higher tolerance for salt.
  • This was chewier, drier and obviously less marbleized than Lesters Smoked Meat, but I wouldn’t say it was tough or dry either. It was just relative and factual when doing the back to back comparison.

Deli Lesters Montreal Smoked Meat

  • Deli Lesters is definitely another local favourite and creme de la creme for Montreal Smoked Meat and I would recommend it.
  • It wouldn’t be considered a “plan B”, but I would recommend trying Schwartz’s first since it’s the known benchmark and classic for Montreal Smoked Meat.
  • I liked Lesters because it was more moist, smoother and marbleized, but the flavours just didn’t seem as dynamic, bold and full.
  • It definitely has a ham like quality to it and at times I missed the meatier chew of a beef brisket (even if it was a bit drier) because it almost came across as Black Forrest Ham.
  • Apparently it’s not as “authentic”, partially because it doesn’t break apart in bits, but authenticity aside, most people did prefer Lesters in a blind tasting.

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Deli Lesters on Urbanspoon
Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen on Urbanspoon




{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 patti wan March 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

My friend in Montreal says Lesters is the best too . She always buys coleslaw there too- I don’t normally like coleslaw much , but Lester’s is delicious. She lives in Outremont and told me that locals consider it better than Schwartz’s . I do like both – but it’s best cut fresh . Thanks for the info .

2 WS March 2, 2012 at 1:47 am

Yes, I think overall Schwartz’s smoked meat is a drier product. That’s why I would recommend only Schwartz’s smoked meat to be ordered medium-fat. You know there’s now a Lesters Deli location at Montreal Trudeau International airport? Did you eat any great croissants in Montreal?

3 Mijune March 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm

@WS – I DID!!!! LOVE almond croissants! I just didn’t write about it! Although I might! Stay tuned WS! Thanks!

4 Mijune March 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm

@Patti Wan – you have friends everywhere! That’s great! I like both too! I wonder if I alternated the 2 meats in a sandwich how that would taste? I should try it next time! It would add more texture and balance out flavours!

5 Sara March 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Mijune!! LOL! I don’t think Anthony Bourdain would approve of this type of technical analysis when it comes to food! He loves to make fun of food bloggers and this just proves his point.

Sometimes it all goes down to something very personal and emotional when it comes to food. I did pass by Lesters once but never gave it a try. I like the fact you describe the meat as ”creamier” which is how I like mine!

6 Mijune March 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

@Sara – lol I don’t think I ever expect Anthony Bourdain to read this… nor would I care if he would “approve” as cool as he is. That’s the fun part of blogs… they’re yours :) I did mention it was personal preference and I’m just sharing mine :)

7 Linda March 6, 2012 at 10:20 am

oooo great comparison chart mijune! definitely sums up everything in a nice little package :)

do you find putting mustard in the sandwiches enhanced or detracted from the meaty taste?

8 Mijune March 6, 2012 at 7:46 pm

@Linda – the mustard I think is an enhancer… it enhanced the spices used to make it. As long as you use not too much to drown out the flavours.

9 Sara March 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Bourdain just happens to be my ultimate foodie idol! I think he makes a really good point on this issue of technical analysis of food. He sums it up quite well ”It’s just food!”.

Gotta say I love your descriptions. Very straightforward and pins down the important points for those who want to try a specific dish. Unlike other bloggers who can yap on more than 3 paragraph long the origins of plate, its meaning, its taste, the aroma, returning the plate, the bla bla bla……….. yawn! And you also add some humoristic twist to your comments! Which makes you sound less contrived and more approachable!!! Love your blog!

10 Mijune March 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm

@Sara – Awww!!! Sara!! Thank you!!! I’m so glad you like my conversational/tongue and cheek approach! Thank you thank you!!!

so funny cause “it’s just food” yet he manages to make a very comfortable living and build a life around it lol. I say each to their own… he’s not the one paying for our meals lol… I DO think he’s super cool too though!!

11 filmbeats April 8, 2012 at 1:12 am

I always thought Lester’s was the smoked meat you would buy at the supermarket or at least when I had it that’s what it always tasted like to me. Not necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely different than Schwartz. I’ve only had it at random locally owned fast food diners (and once in Ontario too) and never knew there was an actual Lester’s located in Montreal. Maybe I will give it a try one day.

12 WS June 30, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Mijune, you have anymore new entries from your Montreal trip November last year? You knowledgeable on good coffee? Curious, how does Cafe Myriade in Montreal compare to the best cafes in Vancouver(as far as taste)? What is your favourite cafe for great coffee in Vancouver? What is considered the best local coffee roaster in Vancouver? In Montreal, we can get 49th Parallel coffee fairly easily.

13 Mijune July 1, 2012 at 1:56 am

@WS – Hi! “Best” is always arguable so I never have an answer especially since I haven’t tried every single coffee out there. I can tell you what I enjoy though. Cafe Myriad is a solid option in Montreal and it can compare to our excellent ones in Vancouver. Please refer to my posts on Matchstick Coffee and Revolver for further details. 49th Parallel is loved here and I do love it myself, but I prefer it only at their cafe or places serving it with properly trained baristas and the right machines to brew it.

14 WS July 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Just checked Matchstick Coffee twitter feed. They finally started roasting their own coffee beans just over a month ago(they were using Phil & Sebastian coffee beans of Calgary when they started as you indicated in your Matchstick Coffee write-up). Here’s a link to a feature article from May on the brand new wave of progressive coffee shops that have opened in Montreal the past year http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Montreal+coffee+scene+perks/6562376/story.html
Here’s link to side piece of the article http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/food-wine/selection+progressive+caf%C3%A9s/6562374/story.html

15 Mijune July 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

@WS – thanks!!! This is great! Thank you for sharing these helpful links!

16 candice December 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm

i have to say, the doesnt look at all like lesters smoked meat. i have tried both places smoked meat and there is not a questions that Lesters beats the other delis in montreal BY FAR!!! the only people who prefer schwartz dont know what lesters is! foodies unite- lesters is the best

17 Mijune December 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Yup that is in fact Lester’s! I promise. I had versions from the package and versions at the restaurant. Of course at the restaurant was better.

18 WS December 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm

@filmbeats I just re-read your messsage. The commercial Lester’s smoked meat vs the Lester’s Deli smoked meat are two totally different establishments(they have no connection with each other). In fact, several years ago in Montreal there was a lawsuit between the two Lester’s(Lester’s Deli vs Lester’s commercial food company). I suspect some of the Lester’s smoked meat you ate at locally fast food diners was their regular smoked meat(they make both regular & old fashioned smoked meat).

@Mijune, from my experience at Schwartz’s even with a very long lineup, you don’t have to wait very long if you’re doing take-out or willing to take a counter seat if you’re dining there. I always prefer a counter seat at Schwartz’s, instead of eating at one of their communal tables.

19 Mijune December 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

@WS – thank you for sharing! Yes! i love eating at the counter/in front of the kitchen no matter where I am!

20 Nora January 10, 2013 at 10:52 am

I’ve lived in Mile End Montreal for over 37 years and have always adored Lester’s fries and smoked meat over Schwartz’s, which I found to be extremely dry and tasteless.

21 Elizabeth March 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I live in New Hampshire USA where can I purchase this?

22 Elizabeth March 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I live in New Hampshire USA where can I purchase this?

23 Mijune March 17, 2013 at 12:48 am

@Elizabeth – best to call the restaurants. This is just a blog :)

24 Steve March 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

It seems like Lester’s is winning this battle. I’ve tried a sandwich from Schwartz but regrettably my hotel was a little too far and I didn’t have enough time to go to Lester’s. Still, I really liked Schwartz and its still better than anything I’ve tried Toronto. Lester’s for sure, next time.

25 joe zavazal June 5, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Iam looking for smoked back fat. Thank’s in advance JOE

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