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The King of restaurant row

The east-west King William Street is a historically significant street in the city and is now one of Hamilton’s most important dining districts.

I visit the King William Street dining district often. It has much to offer and triggers fond memories. Readers of a certain age will recall a vibrant downtown, boarding buses at nearby Gore Park, and trolley buses on Hughson Street, the Lister Block (now restored), Graftons’s (The Loft) and Maynard’s chocolates on King William. Popular food spots were the cafeterias in Kresge’s and Zellers – hardly foreshadowing today’s food scene, but a memorable treat in the day.

Stretching way back, the original inhabitants of the Hamilton area were Indigenous, with the first Europeans appearing in the 1600s. It was not until after the War of 1812 that the “City of Hamilton” began to take shape (with official city status granted in 1846.) Key players had names that now appear on street signs – Durand, Hughson, Stinson, Jackson and Wilson to name a few.

According to online sources, "George Hamilton, a settler and local politician, established a town site in the northern portion of Barton Township after the war in 1815. He kept several east–west roads," which were trails used by Indigenous peoples. By 1833, the town limits were defined with Gore Park at the centre. The east-west King William Street may once have been a well-used trail and could be one of the oldest streets in the city. Once the location of the town hall, the street was named after King William IV who was the British monarch from 1830 to 1837. 

There are many heritage buildings that survived long enough for some recent, excellent and exciting restorations. The recent neighbourhood “highs” were preceded by some “lows” in the late 20th century. We are now witnessing an infusion of energy – and investments. Surprisingly, the current vitality dates back only about a decade. 

King William Street east of James Street North has developed into one of the city's great dining districts. Photo: Mike Schymkiw

In a 2017 Globe and Mail interview, chef Mike Cipollo and his wife Paula talked about being part of an exodus of chefs from Toronto to Hamilton. Referring to their launch of King William’s Hambrgr in 2015, Cipollo said: “It was a leap of faith on multiple counts – a chance to be part of the city’s evolution and to bring life to a lifeless downtown street with only a bingo hall and a couple of restaurants drawing visitors. ‘Oh my God, I thought. There’s no one here. This place is abandoned.’”

The evolution of King William continues and is listed as one of Hamilton’s “mega projects.” Hamilton City (Eaton) Centre, completed in 1990 and shuttered in late 2022, is slated to be replaced with a high-rise housing complex that will add open spaces and extend King William to the west. Though developer IN8 Developments indicated to local media in December that the project is on hold – and no new timeline is in place – until the local real estate market improves. 

The Hamilton Public Library has photos from the 1940s showing that King William used to run west past James Street North. and was the location of the old City Hall. Built in 1888, it was demolished in 1961 and by 1972 Jackson Square had thoroughly changed the neighbourhood. 

Emily Walsh, executive director of the Downtown Hamilton Business Improvement Area, spoke highly of the cooperation between King William businesses, mentioning in particular the Beacon and Gate public art project approved for the corner of King William and James Street North. 

In HAMILTON CITY Magazine’s September 2023 issue, Eugene Ellmen wrote about today’s plans for changes in Hamilton’s downtown, referring to residential developments seemingly on every corner. “With an expected occupancy average of between 1.5 and about 2 people per unit, that means that 18,000 to more than 24,000 additional residents are expected to live in the core...” Many of the 30-storey towers will have commercial ground floors – perhaps retail or more eateries.

In recent summers, the section of the street from James to Hughson has been closed to traffic to become a pedestrian mall and extended patio. The added vibe enhances the draw of this dining destination.

The main King William “restaurant row” is somewhat bookended by restaurants on James and John North. On James, the (closed) Union Social space will soon open as The Standard – another project of the Cipollo team. Next to that is Pearle Hospitality's Bread Bar, which is now rebranded as Bardo, along with locations on Locke Street and in Guelph. And on John, don’t overlook Pintoh (Thai), the iconic Capri (Italian), Lulu’s Shawarma, Tony G’s Pizzeria and the John St. Diner. And keep your eyes on the Orella Group’s restoration project on the northwest corner of King William and John Street. The iconic Windsor Hotel will one day reopen as another exciting restaurant.

In order of appearance as you stroll from west to east, here’s the cobblestoned King William restaurant row.

Electric Diner

Lister Block: 28 James St. N.
Instagram (IG): electricdinerhamont

Reminders of the 1980s are by design since owners Erika Puckering and Jamie Ewing love that decade, which was central to their youth. They have remained young at heart with playful menu items and décor. Fun extends to their frequent community-building events that include family-friendly nights and date nights. The Lister Block location is their second, having first opened in Hess Village. 

Mezza Caffe

Lister Block: 28 James St. N., Unit 104
IG: mezzacaffe

The Meza family, with roots in Venezuela, has a passion for coffee. “The steamed fragrance that indulges the senses, its unique aroma and its decadent warm taste, prepares you for a new day.” Mezza on King William, opened in 2013, as their fifth café in Canada. Enjoy classic and creative coffees with tantalizing sweets or pizza and panini. 

Parma and Piccolo

Next on the street is an empty space with signs promising Parma – an Italian sandwich bar – for summer 2023. No updates were available.

Relay Coffee

27 King William St.
IG: relaycoffee

“Joy is Good Coffee” is the motto of Relay. Since 2008, owners Rachel and Jason Hofing have been small-batch roasting/blending fair trade and organic coffee here in Hamilton. Coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages can be enjoyed with waffle sandwiches, snacks and desserts. Watch for special events like afternoon tea.

Photos: Diane Galambos

Berkeley North

31 King William St.
IG: berkeleynorthkitchen

The west coast kitchen vibe and menu always includes some seafood and vegetarian leanings to entice diners. The mushroom dumplings (subtly flavoured mushroom filling served with an umami sauce) and fresh cheese and sourdough (made-in-house ricotta – their signature dish) are so popular they are menu standards.


35 King William St. 
IG: eatundefined

The name of this restaurant from the Cipollo team is meant to imply that there will be no constraints on the menu. Brunch, lunch and dinner menus offer updated classic dishes and refreshing creative choices. As the website proclaims: “We are not afraid to take the familiar and turn it into something wild…” 

The French

37 King William St.
IG: thefrenchhamont

The stone-walled décor and charming ambiance of this cozy restaurant might seduce you into believing you have been transported to the countryside in France. Classic and modern French cuisine are on offer for brunch, lunch and dinner. Like The Diplomat, the standards of Equal Parts Hospitality guarantees kitchen and service professionals. 

Conversate Steak and Seafood

38 King William St.

While most King William restaurants are on the north side of the street, Conversate dominates the south side. Masterfully renovated after the departure of Club Absinthe, beautifully designed spaces offer perfect settings to “engage in conversation.” Add to that specialty cocktails and a steakhouse with modern flair and you have the makings of a great lunch or evening out. 

Photo: Conversate

The Mule

41 King William St.
IG: themulemakestacos

An extensive (and clever) drinks menu, can be enjoyed with a gluten-free menu of tacos and “not tacos” (aka wings, tamales, ceviche). Owners Erin Dunham and Matt Kershaw of The Other Bird “happen to think that tacos are a dish best served fun, with a side of liquor…” The setting is The Empire Times building – beautifully restored by award-winning Core Urban Inc.

Photo: Mike Schymkiw

The Diplomat

43 King William St.
IG: thediplomathamont

Baltimore House (a heritage building) was transformed into The Diplomat – a modern space with stylish, hip décor and a welcoming vibe. A variety of seating options include window seats with views of the King William street scene. Jason Cassis and his Equal Parts Hospitality team have taken hospitality to a fine art with a menu to match from chef John Forcier.

Sagarmatha Curry Palace

43 King William St.
IG: sagarmathacurrypalace

Since 2011, this family-run restaurant offers cuisine that blends Indian and Nepalese traditions, with influences from Tibet. The menu includes over 19 vegetarian dishes. Naan and roti are made fresh onsite in an authentic tandoor oven. The fiery hot clay interior also enables the creation of tikka, kababs and an entire tandoor oven menu. This family-friendly, affordable restaurant is a favourite with groups.

Photos: Diane Galambos


49 King William St.
IG: eathambrgr

The Cipollo team were early adopters of life on King William beginning with Hambrgr, now expanded from the original space. Despite the preponderance of Hamilton burger joints since they opened in 2015, their imaginative burgers and build-your-own burger options, not to mention, chicken, snacks and funky desserts, maintain their status as one of the city’s top burger joints. 

Mystic Ramen

51 King William St.
IG: mystic.ramen

For several years, talented chef Noah Woods and partner Heather Elson created delicious noodle dishes (and more) at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market. A year ago they moved to a dine-in restaurant on King William. From appetizers, to signature and vegan bowls they never disappoint and deserve top marks for service. Stay tuned for their introduction of curry rice bowls and, as always, fun special events. 


162 King William St.
IG: seasonedhamilton

King William’s restaurant row does not end at John Street. A few short blocks away is a treasure of a restaurant run by brothers Matt and Will Gaynor and Will’s wife Kristin Kusturin. Having moved from Stratford, it’s no surprise that they landed close to Theatre Aquarius and enjoy serving patrons. The brothers have long and impressive cooking CVs and never disappoint even with their yummy desserts.

Photos: Diane Galambos

Other restaurants close by:

Bardo - James

14 James St. N.
IG: bardojamesst

Capri Ristorante

25 John St. N.
IG: capriristorante

John Street Diner

29 John St. N.

Lulu’s Shawarma

32 John St. N.


21 John St. N.
IG: pintohcuisine

Tony G’s Pizzeria

30 John St. N.
IG: tonygshamilton