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Take a southern stroll

Yes, James Street North gets all the attention but James Street South has much to offer as a dining district. Start at Forest Avenue for a downhill journey.

My life story began at the Delta and the next chapter was on “the Mountain.” The one-way James and John streets were my up-down links to the city core. James and John became two-way in 2002 and yet it still unnerves me to see traffic going in both directions. One more confession – it took me ages to remember that heading toward the escarpment was south, not north. Hamilton roads transition from north to south at King Street. While there has been much ado (deservedly so) about the James North neighbourhood, James South also has much to commend it as a dining district.

The street’s name has nothing to do with a “King James.” Rather, it is named after a son of one of the city’s founders – Nathaniel Hughson. To be more precise, it was renamed. It was originally called Lake Road because it ran down to the harbour where business was booming with the 1826 opening of the Burlington Shipping Canal. The south end ran right to the escarpment where, in the late 1800s, an incline railway linked the lower and upper city. Lake Road became Jarvis for a time and then James. 

That’s the past and here are the enticing food experiences that you’ll encounter strolling downhill in the present. 

Wass Ethiopian

207 James St. S.

Proprietors Yonas Endale and his wife Etsegenet Kassa both have roles in the kitchen. Ethiopian cuisine features notes of ginger sauce, garlic, turmeric and berbere spice blend. Tables are set without cutlery since the custom is to use pieces of flatbread called injera to scoop up food by hand.

The Wass menu, with many vegetarian options, is well explained and illustrated and a platter is the best way to experience a range of menu items. For example, atop rolls of injera enjoy lamb, green and red lentils, split yellow peas, kale, salad, beets, pressed chickpeas, cabbage, carrots and cottage cheese. Delicious!

The wee haze you might notice upon entering is linked to the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. As the menu explains, “Coffee had its beginnings in Ethiopia, being cultivated as early as the 9th century. The Ethiopian region named Kaffa, is the source of our word coffee.” Guests witness the preparation, which includes roasting dried, green coffee beans – hence the fragrant haze. Presented in a clay coffee pot/flask called a jebena, this might be the best coffee you ever had and it comes with a surprise. The coffee is served with popcorn – an Ethiopian tradition!

The Wass the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony includes popcorn. PHOTO: Diane Galambos

House of Java 

200 James St. S.
Instagram: @houseofjavaofficial

Hamilton directories have listed House of Java since the 1930s and in the 1950s the proprietor was the grandmother of the current owners Laurie Clifford and her sister Teri Pacini. Expropriated from King and James in 1968 to make way for Jackson Square, House of Java reappeared, run by their mothers, eventually making its way to James South.

Boasting more than 50 types of coffee – single origin, blends, fair trade organic, decaf, flavoured, rare and exotic – tea is also available to be enjoyed with pastry counter treats. A mini gift shop offers coffees, teas, chocolates, jams, snacks, gourmet foods and a British import section – all of which can be used to create personalized gift baskets. House of Java has no indoor seating, but a few cozy outdoor tables appear as weather permits. This shop enjoys many local fans, some who’ve been patrons for generations.

House of Java has no indoor seating, but cozy outdoor tables appear as weather permits. PHOTO: House of Java

Bronzies Place

201 James St. S.
IG: @bronzies201

This family-run establishment has served authentic Italian food for more than 40 years. Still a discovery for some, it has regulars contributing to its brand and slogans: “Boston has Cheers and Hamilton has Bronzies. Everyone knows everyone. It’s like family!” The menu offers specialty pizzas, pasta, chicken and veal parmesan, lasagna, appetizers, wings, and salads. Check out the daily specials and desserts. The indoor space offers licensed dining and delivery has recently been added as an option.

Family-run Bronzies Place has served authentic Italian food for over 40 years.
PHOTO: Bronzies Place

Flora Pizzeria

4 Young St.
IG: @flora.pizzeria
IG: @lilibet.cakery 

With decades of cooking experience, chefs Aydin Kinnaird and Jesse Bierman opened what has become one of Hamilton’s great pizzerias. The delicious crusts of their square sourdough Roman-style pizzas are made with 1847 spelt flour – an organic, locally-grown brand from Fergus. Local also applies to their use of meat products from J. Waldron Butchers. Choose from 11 pizza options that include the classics as well as on-trend flavour blends and consider adding sides of salad or arancini. Connect with them for news of the weekly Wednesday sandwich special. 

Make this treat even sweeter by adding house-made cannoli or a cake slice – or a full cake! Flora hosts colleague Libby Lowry’s Lilibet Cakery featuring creative cakes tempting you with descriptors such as vanilla chiffon, orange diplomat, buttery date caramel, and Swiss meringue buttercream. Place a special order for an event. Sharing updates, the chefs offered a teaser – some exciting things are in the works.

Rustic Reuben 

180 James St. S.
IG: @rusticreuben

Tucked in a corner of a wee strip mall, Rustic Reuben offers possibly the best Reuben sandwiches in town. Begin with a comforting soup or chili and then face the difficult decision – which Reuben to order. You can’t go wrong with the OG (original), a generous serving of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, marble rye, and sauce, with a bread and butter pickle. Other Reubens are turkey, smoked brisket and pork belly – with all the meat prep and processing happening in-house.

For anyone in a “non-Reuben” mood, there are six other sandwiches, including a vegetarian option. All have fun names (Little Piggy, Fun Guy V) and enticing ingredients. They make perfect, crisp fries – without deep frying! Limited indoor seating is cozy with artsy rustic décor.

Rustic Reuben’s OG (original) is corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, marble rye, and sauce.
PHOTO: Diane Galambos

Pizza Bell and Wings

180 James St. S.
IG: @pizza_bell_hamilton 

In the same strip mall, Pizza Bell claims to offer “one thousand flavours in one place.” They do have an impressive menu that includes the taste experiences of shawarma, paneer, tikka, tandoori, chaap, masala, and pakora. 

One Duke Tavern 

1 Duke St.
IG: @oneduketavern

This eatery on Duke Street is so close to James South that it counts as “part of the family.” Opened seven years ago, it weathered the pandemic, welcoming patrons back to a space renovated with artistic flair. One Duke appears often on many best wings roundups, but the menu offers much more. Items are grouped under “From the Surf” (shrimp, calamari, scallops, oysters, tuna, salmon, mussels) or “From the Turf” (pastas, salads, chicken, ribs, steak, pizza, burgers, nachos, wings). Think taste sensations – fig jam & brie burger – seasoned with house spices, grilled and topped with brie, caramelized onions, arugula and fig jam. Think special touches – the sauce on Duke curry fries is layered, with signs of the toppings to the last fry. There are daily features and special events that include entertainment. 

In season, the patio vibe is welcoming. And the news at One Duke is that they have just opened Paloma TnT (Tacos and Tequila) further east on Augusta. 

One Duke’s Mussels, simmered in garlic, red wine and tomato sauce. PHOTO: One Duke Tavern

Odds Bar 

164 James St. S.
IG: @oddsbar

Max Kerman and Nick Dika, members of Hamilton’s Arkells, own Odds Bar. They call it a sports bar – one that challenges preconceptions with the goal of inclusivity. Everyone is welcome. They even have a children’s menu. They have wines, cocktails, alcohol-free drinks and many beers – one of which is brewed locally and named for Odds. The menu seems to have every favourite bar food: smash burgers, chicken, “chien chaud,” fries, wings – even a breakfast – with vegetarian and vegan options. Craving something sweet? Try the deconstructed s’mores. Oh, and there's all the popcorn you can eat.

Their online calendar outlines daily specials on foods and activities. There are “watch parties” for sports and even the Oscars. “We’re the perfect spot for a patio hang, dinner with pals, and late-night drinks… This summer we’re showing the Euros, running karaoke idol on Thursdays and half-price wings on Mondays.” In a January interview with Streets of Toronto, Kerman and Dika invited food enthusiasts to propose a collaboration. Open-minded to any pitch, they are offering space for a range of activities. “Our goal for 2024 is to have ODDS busy for as many hours of the day as possible … Let’s put the space to work.”

Odds Bar menu runs the gamut of favourite bar foods. PHOTO: Felix Vlasak

La Luna Express 

163 James St. S.
IG: @lalunaexpress

In their own words, the family behind this business strives to provide patrons with “the best, most authentic taste in Lebanese food. After 30 years in business, we are still moving forward, always adapting and changing to the needs of our customers.” 

La Luna’s halal menu includes hummus, falafel, kibbeh, rice dishes, salads, soups, shawarma, kebabs, shish tawook, tabbouli, and fattoush. If eastern Mediterranean cuisine is not your thing, you may find happiness with their poutine, chicken fingers, fish and chips or burgers. Their family feasts, combos and mixed grill sound appetizing.

Menya Kyu 

154 James St. S.
IG: @menyakyu

Native to Japan, chef Yoshiyuki Aiba has been in Hamilton for almost two decades, accumulating an impressive cooking CV but not always creating authentic Japanese dishes. “With the culinary skills he earned at renowned establishments such as Auberge du Pommier and Ancaster Mill, chef Yoshi set out to recreate the ramen he grew up with in Japan – clear, refined chicken-based ramen.”

Chintan (clear chicken broth) and paitan (creamy chicken broth) are made using local ingredients with vegan and gluten-free options. With attention to allergy concerns, he uses no peanuts, tree nuts or shellfish. The classic menu also includes donburri (aka rice bowls); chicken karaage, teriyaki, curry; edamame pods, gyoza; and Japanese coleslaw. Dine in or do takeout or delivery and note that you can also order frozen ramen to stock up your freezer.

Menya Kyu menu includes various ramen dishes, karaage, slaw and karaage don. PHOTO: Menya Kyu

Goldies Fast Food 

152 James St. S.
IG: @goldies_fastfood

Joel Soares seems to have a superpower:  making ideas come to life. With kitchen credentials from some of Hamilton’s top restaurants, he became one of the founders of the award-winning Cowabunga Pizza. After Cowabunga, he set his sights on quality, made-to-order fast food, betting he could outperform the big corporations cornering the market. Many would agree that he’s achieved this goal and they flock to his cozy spot for smash burgers – and there are several to choose from. Vegetarians enjoy Goldies’ version of the Impossible Burger. 

The menu also offers fried chicken, chicken tenders, and (since February) new fries with creative toppings. Top it all off with a soft serve sundae, cookies and maybe even a slushie. The kids combos deliver parental happiness. Follow Goldies’ social media for specials. 

A staple of Goldies ia the Gold Standard smashburger. PHOTO: Talisman Media Co.


150 James St. S.
IG: @secco.hamilton
IG: @11.11hamilton

Hamilton’s first Prosecco bar features more brands than you knew existed – all put to good use in creative cocktails. Enjoy these paired with “globally inspired dishes that are meant to be shared. We're proud to offer a variety of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.” Except for weekends, when they offer brunch, this is a late afternoon/evening spot. Brunch, by the way, offers mimosa choices and a creative selection of Bennys, toasts, classic brunch dishes and sides.

On the lower level, is a sister restaurant called 11:11 where snacks and sharing plates are combined with cocktails. Cozy corners suit date nights. Music and special events such as tequila tastings and trivia nights guarantee a fun night out with friends.


151 James St. S.
IG: @lobby.hamilton

In the space once occupied by radius (which moved to Hess Village) emerged Lobby. Adjoining a lounge with a spacious bar is a dining area with the ambience you’d expect for dining in style. Like its Toronto location, Lobby promises to redefine your dining and nightlife experience. Entertainment includes music and live performers. Watch for special events and offers such as buck-a-shuck oysters and half-off bottles of wine.

Sunday brunch offers bottomless mimosas and, for those who cannot decide what to order, there are three-tier “brunch towers.” Bottom tier: blueberry pancakes, croquettes, scrambled eggs, turkey sausage; middle tier: eggs Florentine, smoked salmon and avocado bagels, honey and orange labneh, granola; top tier is seasonal fruit. A new lunch menu will be launched alongside the mid-May opening of a 2,500-square-foot patio.

The Lobby menu includes sandwiches, salads, pasta, steak, veggies and seafood. PHOTO: Kevin Nguyen

Plank Restobar

18 Augusta St.
IG: @plankrestobar 

Only a few steps away from James South on Augusta, Catch Hospitality Group, which runs Plank in Bronte, opened in the new building that houses The Laundry Rooms. Sharing an entry with the boutique hotel, enter and admire The Laundry Rooms’ lobby décor and then step inside Plank and ponder the menu loaded with playful names for the choices it offers. Choose from bits and bites, bigger bites, pizza and sweet tooth. Many items have become patrons’ favourites – but check out the house sliders and the bao.

Plank describes itself as “a gathering spot that specializes in small plates, great music and a fine selection of beers, wine and bourbons. Whether you’re looking for a casual bite to eat, a group dinner, or a classic cocktail, this spot has it all. In the warmer months, reserve a spot at the brand-new rooftop bar!”

Steve’s Open Kitchen

149 James St. S. 

At the end of your James South stroll you’ll encounter this family-run diner offering breakfast and lunch since 1975. Steve’s son and daughter-in-law have carried the torch since Stavro (Steve) and his wife Venetia retired. Visit their Facebook page for updates and tributes from fans.

In February, Steve’s launched a new menu with classic breakfasts and a long list of omelettes. No surprise that there are Benedicts, pancakes, French toast, waffles and sides. A long list of sandwiches, including the western and clubhouse, will tempt you away from burgers. You’ll decide it’s important to return for Steve’s platters (chicken tenders or gyros reflecting the family’s Greek heritage). Like every good diner, there are desserts, milkshakes and a kids menu. 

Sharp Knife Shop

142 James St. S.

Though not an eatery, professional and serious home cooks will enjoy a visit to take in all of the handmade Japanese knives. Also on offer are sharpening kits and services, cookware and accessories.