Hamilton Restaurants

HUNGRY IN HAMILTON:
An Insider's Guide to Eating Downtown

Looking for downtown Hamilton restaurants? First time in town? Hungry after a day of exploring Hamilton tourist attractions? Maybe you’re catching a show, and just need to grab something to eat either before or after the event.

I know what it’s like to arrive in a new city and try to find a decent place to eat that isn’t too far from your central location and doesn’t cost an arm and leg. I’m a downtown Hamilton resident, and I eat out frequently (more often than I should for my wallet), so I can offer a few suggestions. These are all walking distance from the Jackson Square mall which is at the corner of James and King, the heart of downtown Hamilton.

1. Italian & Portuguese

Italian food is popular here, thanks in part to our sizable Italian-Canadian population (about 11% of citizens have Italian backgrounds). One of the oldest Italian restaurants in Hamilton is The Capri, at 25 John Street North. Their pizza and pasta comes in a variety of different flavours including vegetarian, the servings are very generous, and the wild decor (with murals and a glowing blue ceiling) is like something out of a 1940s gangster movie. Prices are about $10-18 per main dish which is moderate for Hamilton restaurants.

Two other Italian restaurants in downtown get thumbs up from food fans: Lo Presti’s on Jackson Street East and La Cantina on Walnut Street. These are pricier than The Capri (around $20-40 for main dishes).

James Street North has two Portuguese places: Acclamation and Ventura.

Note: I devote a section below specifically to Pizza Joints.

2. German/Austrian restaurants in Hamilton

People of German background make up about 9% of Hamilton, and there’s plenty evidence of their food culture here. One example is the popular delicatessen, Denninger’s, which has a lunch counter in its small store in Jackson Square and a cafeteria in the back of the larger store at 284 King Street East. Both are handy for a quick lunch or afternoon snack. This is German fast food, they’re not fancy, but for a quick nosh, they hit the spot.

Just across from Denninger’s is the German restaurant, The Black Forest Inn, at 255 King Street East. You can’t help but notice the hilarious murals on the outside walls. It has been around forever (well, 1967), and its decor – “Bavarian-kitsch” -- proves it. This local hangout serves schnitzel, goulash, sausages, and of course Black Forest cake. NOTE: this is very FILLING food so if you have a smaller appetite, order from the smaller plates section of the menu; I usually get their Small Vienna Schnitzel and leave stuffed. Although the service is quick and friendly once you’re seated, this is a very busy place that doesn’t take reservations, so either go early (by 4:30 pm on weekends, later on weekdays) or be prepared to wait for a table. During the summer, there’s a small patio. Prices are moderate ($10-20/main dish).

3. Middle Eastern

One of my favourite Hamilton restaurants is Nabil’s Middle Eastern Fast Food at 1 Wilson Street. It’s located in a strip plaza and the decor is VERY basic ... this is “fast food” after all, and you order at the counter, but don’t be put off by that. The food is delicious! Their kebabs are the reason I keep going back. And their lentil soup hits the spot in cold weather. Sweet tooth? Try the baklava. You can get a shawarma or kebab sandwich for about $5, or around $10 for a plate with meat, veggies and rice. They also have vegetarian items.

The Lebanese restaurant, La Luna, has several locations. The ones closest to downtown are 306 King Street West and 163 James South (right near the GO Station). No matter what main dish I get, I always order their deep fried cauliflower & grilled tomato slices, an absolutely addictive starter. If you are travelling with your Aunt Martha who doesn’t want “spicy”, they also serve what they call a “Canadian menu” with burgers, steak, chicken fingers.

4. Asian restaurants in Hamilton

The original My Thai opened at 21 John Street North in 2001 and quickly became one of the more popular Hamilton restaurants in the downtown district. The owners have since opened restaurants in Ancaster, Burlington, Brantford and Waterloo. Although I guess that makes it a “chain” now, it doesn’t feel like a chain at all. It feels like a friendly, neighbourhood restaurant.

You’ll find several other Asian restaurants in downtown Hamilton that are quite popular with locals too. These include B&T (Ben Thanh) on James Street North. There’s Pho Dau Ba at 15 Cannon Street East which has been voted #1 Vietnamese Hamilton restaurant for 6 years running (VERY affordable). If you’re craving Japanese, there’s Sapporo Sushi at 96 Main Street East. And Alirang at 354 Main Street West has yummy, sizzling Korean dishes.

5. Pizza Joints

Yes, we have the chain pizzerias, but you were looking for something a little different, weren’t you? Here are a few local pizzerias. They’re not right downtown but Locke Street is only about a 20-30 minute walk west of King and James. Go early and take a look at some of the shops. If you like original art and craft, check the artists’ co-op Textures where I buy a lot of gifts (for myself and others).

Earth to Table Bread Bar at 258 Locke Street South is one of the newer Hamilton restaurants and it’s popular, so be prepared for a lineup, especially on the weekends (but it does move quickly). The pizzas are delicious, and the simple wooden tables and mismatched funky chairs lend a casual “artsy” feel to the place that reminds me of Montreal for some reason... You can also buy gourmet bread to take out. Their CROISSANTS are fabulous.

NaRoma at 215 Locke Street South. You can buy it by the slice, or buy a whole pizza for yourself. The toppings are tasty but I found the crust of the slice I ordered a bit dry for my taste. Having it made fresh is probably best.

6. Pub Food/Family Restaurants

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Hamilton was the large numbers of pubs in the city. Could this have something to do with the large English, Scottish and Irish populations?

For sheer convenience, if you’re going to a live show at Hamilton Place, or First Ontario Place (formerly Copps Coliseum), there are some casual restaurants within a block of these sites:  Toby’s, Anchor Bar, The Honest Lawyer, The Works (burger place) - all in Jackson Square mall. Wendel Clark's is a sports bar inside the Lister Building on James St N just across the street from Jackson Square.

Swiss Chalet at 151 York Boulevard across from Copps. You can always tell when there’s a big event (especially a family event) at Copps because Swiss Chalet is packed. If you’re not Canadian and don’t know this chain, they serve barbecued chicken, ribs and other dishes like chicken stir-fries, pot pie, burgers, fish, etc. They are what the Brits call “cheap and cheerful”. Service is fast and prices reasonable.

For a little bit more of a walk, Corktown is a neighbourhood just south of downtown (settled by Irish immigrants in the 1800s, hence the title). It’s also the name of a tavern that serves pub grub too, along with local music. Corktown Tavern is at 175 Young Street. Nearby you’ll find the Cat & Fiddle (good burgers), Augusta House Gastropub, The Pheasant Plucker (say that fast), The Winking Judge Microbrewery, and so on...

Nearby, "One Duke" at 1 Duke Street, just off James Street, is also a nice casual spot for pizza, pasta or meat or fish dishes.

Hess Village is not a village but a small neighbourhood about 15 minutes west (on foot) from downtown. (Are you starting to realize now that we like to mess with people in Hamilton… like the way we call Hamilton’s escarpment “The Mountain”.) The main street in this tiny district is Hess Street with a couple of streets running off it. Here you’ll find pubs with patios that are popular with university and college students. Warning: can get loud.

Rolly Rockets BBQ at 470 King Street West is one of the more unusual Hamilton restaurants I’ve tried. They call themselves a hillbilly pub and serve Southern food like ribs, pulled pork and smoked chicken. Tables are actual picnic benches! You go up to the counter to order but they bring the food to your table. The ribs are juicy and delicious... worth every calorie.

7. Hamilton restaurants: cafes and tearooms

Sometimes you just want a quick bite or cup of coffee when your legs have given out after touring the sites. A few years ago, Hamilton didn’t have much in the way of cafes downtown other than the ever-present Tim Horton’s (which began here... did you know that? You can visit the ORIGINAL Timmy’s on Ottawa Street). But nowadays there are several choices.

Mulberry Street Coffeehouse at 193 James Street North serves Panini sandwiches, desserts and fancy coffees. They’re housed in a renovated historic building. Inside you’ll discover a revolving art exhibit and lots of artsy-entrepreneur-types plugging away on their laptops.

I like Ola Bakery, at 230 James St North, for a fresh pastry and coffee. Their sandwiches are great too.

Also on James Street North you'll find Charred (a chicken place). Yum. And just off James at 10 Cannon East, Burnt Tongue, a place that serves gourmet soups.

The Baltimore House, with its Edgar Allan Poe theme, at 43 King William Street is a cafe, a bar, a live theatre venue, a dancehall, a poetry-reading venue, your second living room... what else? It’s quirkily decorated with antique couches, a piano, church benches, wing-backed chairs, velvet drapery and chandeliers. A limited menu includes sandwiches, desserts and coffee as well as liquor.

On James Street South, just after the underpass for the GO Train, you’ll find The Coffee House at 144 and Red Crow at 211.

I hope you'll find this survey of my favourite convenient and affordable Hamilton restaurants helpful. Bon appetit!

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