Love food? If yes, get yourself to Hamilton asap. Once known for its manufacturing industry, the city has transformed into a food-lovers paradise. The emerging culinary scene is energized, inspired and collaborative: a place where food entrepreneurs unite to fulfill their dreams. Step inside any of their establishments and you’ll feel their energy pulse through you. That’s because food isn’t just a business to them: it’s a passion. And you can truly taste it in every morsel and every gulp. Here are some drool-worthy spots to add to your must-eat list in the hammer…
Delirious Burger – Located in Westdale, this burger joint serves up some seriously delicious patties. No fillers here, just pure goodness sourced from local farms. The menu is pared down and focuses on what they do best: well-seasoned, juicy and perfectly-cooked burgers. Tip: order the Cheeseburger and load it with fried jalapenos OR go for the Stuffed Portobello Burger. Oh, and do NOT skip out on the fresh cut fries: they have just the right amount of starch, sugar and salt to make your taste buds jump for joy.
NàRoma Pizza Bar – Combining the best of both worlds – Naples and Rome – this Italian pizza bar is the place to head if you’re looking for authentic pizza in Hamilton. These guys are all about quality and use the same techniques and ingredients that pizza masters have been using for generations. The best part? A crust that had me daydreaming of Italy at first bite. Hand-kneaded and allowed to rise for at least 72 hours, the dough is made from a secret blend of doppio zero flour, minimal yeast (you won’t feel bloated after eating here) and extra virgin olive oil. Once it’s out of the oven, the pizza is served Al Taglio (by the rectangular slice) so you can order a few different flavours to try in one sitting. Tip: get the Funghi (mozzarella, oyster + portobello + button mushrooms, truffle oil) and Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, bocconcini, basil, cherry tomatoes). Oh, and I hear they serve up an amazing Nutella pizza!
Relay Coffee Roasters – If there’s one thing that’s certain, this quaint coffee bar on Concession St. is bursting with love. Greeted by the husband and wife duo who run the business, we truly felt like we stepped inside the Hofing household. Not only are they the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but they’re fully committed to serving up hand-crafted coffee made from quality beans that are fair trade certified, certified organic and sustainably grown. These guys are coffee-obsessed and pay attention to all the little details that make a perfect brew (temperature, aroma, colour, tones etc.) Tip: try the pour-over coffee, grab a pound or two of their freshly roasted beans to enjoy later AND if you’re lucky enough to spot the Cake & Loaf Bakery bars (they sell out fast) make sure to grab a few – they are divine.
Southern Smoke Barbecue House – Ask any local and they’ll point you to Southern Smoke Truck for the best BBQ in town. I’m talking locally-sourced meat that’s smoked on all-natural hardwood and smothered with 40 Creek BBQ sauce; the kind of sandwich that I’d gladly line up for any day. But soon you’ll be able to take a seat inside their new store on Ottawa St. as you devour the deliciously messy grub! We visited them a couple of times during its construction and can tell you that this casual BBQ joint is going to be epic. Tip: order the 40 Creek Beef Brisket Burger (topped with bacon, caramelized onions and 40 Creek BBQ sauce) and their Sweet & Savory Chuck Wagon Beans. I hear their Pineapple Spears are killer too. There’s a lot of soul poured into Mike’s southern style menu so I’m convinced you won’t go wrong with any pick. Oh, and don’t wear white.
The Burnt Tongue – Or otherwise known as soup heaven. Pulling on all the nostalgia strings, this resto is the place to go if you’re looking for comfort food. Yes, they serve up classics like burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, but head here for the soup. These guys understand how to create complex flavour profiles and are always dishing out new concoctions; they’ve served over 700 different kinds of soup! And pretty much anyone can eat here: vegetarians, vegans, celiacs, people with lactose intolerance – you name it. This is the kind of food that warms you up from the inside – literally and figuratively. Tip: they’re always switching up the soups so take a look at their Instagram or website to see what’s on the menu. If you ever spot the Moroccan Lamb Soup on there, make sure to order it. Be prepared for line ups – they fill up fast!
The Ship – Known for their craft beer and gourmet burgers, this is a great place to hang out with a group of friends. It’s cozy, the service is super friendly and the prices are reasonable (especially considering the ginormous portions). What I loved most? The eclectic decor: there is ship memorabilia everywhere! Tip: order The Yankee (8oz beef burger, american cheese, bread and butter pickles, crispy fried onions, bbq sauce) and I hear their crab poutine is to die for.
Mezcal Tacos and Tequila – Tacos and tequila. Need I say more? This new resto on James St. is going to be the talk of the town when its doors open to the public in a couple of weeks. The space is edgy, the staff are knowledgeable and the food is mouthwatering. I’m talking homemade chips, creamy guacamole and a charred tomatillo salsa that is one of the freshest I’ve ever tasted (the secret ingredients? mint and agave nectar). Expect bold flavours and a good time at this new joint. Tip: order the beer battered cod, sip on an El Burro Mezcal, try their homemade pickled goods and don’t leave without tasting the salsa.
Radius – Everything about this place screams Hamilton: from the food on its menu (which is locally sourced – some of it even comes from the owner’s family farm in Carlisle!) to the building it’s housed in (which was once occupied by Isaac Buchanan, one of the city’s great innovators). The space is grand and oozing with character – think Montreal meets NYC. What I loved most? The diverse crowd: we spotted romantic dates, birthday parties and even a couple of long-time supporters who hopped over from a retirement home! Tip: grab a seat at the bar, order a Buchanan and raise your glass to his portrait as you take it all in. Oh, and I hear they have a multi-level patio in the summer so mark this place down for those long, summer nights ahead.
Aberdeen Tavern – When I told my friends that I was heading to Hamilton to check out the food scene, every single one of them recommended that I dine at Aberdeen Tavern. Although this charming restaurant has only been around for a year, it truly feels like an institution. The kitchen is headed up by Chef Matt Beasley (formerly at One in Yorkville) who recently moved to Hamilton to cook up a storm in his hometown. Needless to say, the food here is exceptional: well-balanced, inspired and beautifully plated. And the ambience? Intimate with a dash of old world charm; it’s located inside a former bank and lined with leather banquettes and wood accents. Tip: Head here for brunch, date nights or an evening out with friends (especially when their new supper club opens on the second floor). Oh, and make reservations because this place is loved by all.
Black Sheep Snack Bar – There’s a new kid on Ottawa St. and it will make your stomach very, very happy. Serving up artisanal cocktails and a solid selection of beer and wine from around the globe, this is the kind of bar I could go to every week. It’s warm, friendly and – most importantly – the chef-driven bar snacks are crammed with flavour. One bite into their Perfect Nacho Chips and I was sold. Unique menu items include: Crispy Chicken Skin Garam Masala, Thai Deboned Stuffed Wings and Truffle Popcorn. Trust me, you’ll leave this place with a smile on your face. Tip: sit at the bar and ask Jeremy to pour you a Beau’s (their best seller) and pair it with the Perfect Nacho Chips.
Hamilton has always been a city filled with hardworking people and the emerging culinary scene is no exception; the food entrepreneurs are blazing a trail and pouring every ounce of passion into their businesses. Their energy is infectious, their collaborative approach is commendable and their food truly comes from the heart. That’s great news for food-lovers like moi! I hope you guys get a chance to check out some of these incredible establishments. What are your favourite eats in the hammer?
UPDATE: I keep receiving so many great recommendations from all of you so I’ve been heading back regularly to feast at the new restos. Check out this link and this link for more current coverage on the food scene!
The food tour featured above was coordinated by Hamilton’s Economic Development Office as part of a press trip to Hamilton. Our meals were complimentary. As always, all reviews and opinions are entirely my own.