Downtown Dundas: All but food perfect - Hamilton City Magazine Skip to main content
Celebrating all things Hamilton / Welcome Message
Food + Drink

Downtown Dundas: All but food perfect

Hamilton is a city blessed with great food and dining districts. Here, we feature downtown Dundas.

If you’re a certain age you may recall people being referred to as an “old coot,” implying that they were silly, an oddball. The Oxford Dictionary suggests that the expression is linked to the sometimes odd behaviour of certain birds. Given the preponderance of birds around the Desjardin Canal, the area was at one time named Cootes Paradise. In 1814 John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, renamed the area as Dundas after his friend Henry Dundas – who in fact never set foot in Canada. 

Founded as a manufacturing village, it became a centre of culture known for its natural beauty. Study it on a map and you may be surprised that it includes areas that you assumed were part of Westdale or Burlington or Ancaster. Despite some referring to it as “Valley Town,” sections are on the escarpment.

Dundas is old in terms of history, but hardly an old coot. For food enthusiasts, it may well be perfect. An expansive range of eateries and food services – some old and some new – will have you coming back often. What follows highlights only places in the core of the “downtown,” a charming streetscape that has never lost its historic village-like charm.

Collins Brewhouse has roots back to 1833 in Dundas. PHOTO: Mike Schymkiw for HCM

Collins Brewhouse is the oldest establishment in town with roots back to the Collins family from Ireland who opened a saloon in 1833, followed by a hotel in 1841. In 1913, ownership transferred from the Collins family and operation as a hotel ceased in 1968. Its striking architecture makes it a visual focal point and its casual food menu remains popular. 

A newer restaurant is Pinbones. Rebecca deWildt opened a fish market in 2021 and has now moved down the street and added a restaurant. PEI summers with her grandparents spawned her keen interest in seafood and propelled her toward chef training. She has experience at some of Toronto’s best seafood eateries. The fresh fish is tantalizing and the freezer is well stocked with seafood. The restaurant? So far everything I’ve eaten there has been delicious.

Crab cakes at Pinbones. PHOTO: Diane Galambos

Also somewhat new is Hanma Japanese Foods. For over a decade, Takayoshi Li worked in award-winning kitchens. With this Dundas enterprise, he’s returned to his cultural cooking roots – all things Japanese from sushi, onigiri, and bowls and sandwiches made from iconic milk bread. His Instagram feed announces specials and he always has grab-and-go, including Japanese ice creams and snacks.

A bowl at Hanma Japanese Foods. PHOTO: Diane Galambos

Sometimes “new” meets “old.” In what for decades was The Schwaben Inn, Betula opened as a casual restaurant with the philosophy that “good food builds good communities.” The seasonal, contemporary and creative menu retains one item as a tribute to the past – pork schnitzel with Bavarian spaetzle, sauerkraut, and pickled apples.

Betula's spaetzle and schnitzel. PHOTO: Diana Galambos

2019 “newcomers” to the Dundas scene had been long-time fixtures in Hamilton. Sensational Samosas is run by Lorelei Charles and husband Kevin Gamble. She’s the daughter of Reuben Charles, who founded the family enterprise in the 1980s. He opened a stall in the Hamilton Farmers’ Market in 1987 selling, at first, poultry. His eventual expansion into samosas made him an early adopter of selling ethnic foods. The abundance of not only samosas but foods from around the world must be experienced to be appreciated.

A variety of offerings from Sensational Samosas. PHOTO: Diane Galambos

Family is a recurring theme in many Dundas eateries, including chef Ken LeFebour’s Nellie James Gourmet Food to Go. In the past two decades, he’s acquired faithful fans who enjoy food that reflects his experience with cuisines ranging from Creole to French. Honouring family influences, his business is named after his maternal grandmother. Nellie James, born in India to an Irish father and an Anglo-Indian mother, raised 13 children. She was a “fiercely strong redhead” and “an exceptional cook,” LeFebour shares on his website.

Quatrefoil is at the elegant end of Dundas food options. Owners Georgina Mitropoulos and Fraser Macfarlane both have careers that include work in prestigious restaurants overseas. It’s no surprise that Quatrefoil quickly garnered accolades and awards. Contemporary French cuisine is on offer made from the finest ingredients, prepared creatively and presented artfully. While it could be described as “upscale,” it is not pretentious. Be prepared for a warm welcome and a memorable meal.

Quatrefoil is stylish and welcoming.  PHOTO: Courtesy of Quatrefoil
The bass at Quatrefoil> PHOTO: Courtesy of Quatrefol

The town’s main street – King Street – is where you’ll find most Dundas eateries. Red Door Cucina is a hidden treasure off the main road. Dave Maciulis combines a full-time job with creating award-winning pizzas and other Italian food.

Red Door Cucina. PHOTO: Diane Galmbos

No “detour” is required to arrive at Detour Café where terrific coffee and pastries await, along with breakfast/lunch offerings and Dear Grain breads. Coffee fans can also be found at Café Domestiique. When your preferred beverage is a beer, visit Shawn and Ed Brewing Co. a few steps away from King Street.

Thirsty Cactus is a mainstay in downtown Dundas.  PHOTO: Mike Schymkiw for HCM

The list of cuisines serving every taste is long – and this list may be incomplete. Namu (Asian fusion), Bangkok Spoon (Thai), Little Asia (vegetarian and vegan Asian food), India Village, Dundas Shawarma, Emilio’s, Winchester Arms (British pub food) and the Thirsty Cactus (Tex Mex). The flavours of various cuisines can all be found in the creative soups at Burnt Tongue.

The Dundas food scene offers more than restaurants and many of these shops can lay claim to a longstanding, family-operated presence. Picone Fine Foods was founded in 1915, operating today in the exact location, welcoming you with fresh, local and organic produce, in-house prepared foods, specialty imported products and the produces of local culinary artisans.

French Revolution has much to tantalize patrons.  PHOTO: Diane Galambos

Other top-quality food services can be had at Cumbrae’s (meat, charcuteries, prepared foods); the French Revolution Bakery & Crêperie (croissants, crepes, quiche, patisserie, baguettes); the Horn of Plenty urban market selling gourmet and health foods since 1980 is next to sweet treats from The Cookie DOH Factory; check out Mickey McGuire’s Cheese and every kitchen supply you can think of at The Keeping Room. It’s regrettable that the beloved Taylor’s Tea Room and Beanermunky Chocolate closed. They added to the perfection of Dundas as a dining district.