Hamiltonians have been lucky to see a serious increase in their restaurant choices in the past decade. With the rush of new restaurants, we’ve also seen a big increase of newcomers to the city as well as people who grew up here coming back to the city. Mush and I felt it was time some of the old school restaurants in the city got some of the love they’ve earned from decades of serving up great dishes.
Welcome to Steeltown Chowdown’s Top 10 Old School Hamilton Restaurants.
Todd: Capri Pizza was one of the first places Mush and I ever reviewed. A small little Italian restaurant with the gaudy decor you expect at your Nonna’s. This is a perfect early relationship date spot, not too expensive, feels fancy and you appear to be in the know for finding such a hidden gem. Get the pizza, a bottle of wine and then take your date to Sam Lawrence Park. You’re welcome.
Mush: This place is worth the visit for the ceiling alone. It’s like Hamilton’s Sistine Chapel. Word on the street is that they’re doing a big reno; hopefully they can update without losing that old-school charm.
Mush: One of my favourite pre-TigerCat spots. It’s the rare place that does breakfast, lunch (anyone remember the lucky seat draw?) and dinner equally well. Take the time to look up and down the walls when you’re there to learn the fascinating story of Gary Rankin and how they became famous.
Todd: Spoiler Alert — he rode an actual bull in a china shop. The first time I ever went to Rankin’s was with Mush and his family for breakfast after a night of Super Nintendo and two litre colas. I remember the hashbrowns and the server was super friendly. Fast forward and last time I went, it was kind of the same story for the delicious hashbrowns and welcoming service. Nothing has changed, nothing should change.
Todd: Denniger’s used to be the place I would run to during my lunch hour at high school. I wish the tucked away location on Upper James was still there as it was the epitome of old school, even 20 years ago. Now, I still take friends to their shops for the hot table and force feed them a Big Rudy. That’s schnitzel, bacon, cheese on an onion bun with rudy sauce (see: Russian Dressing) served quickly for under $10. It’s the perfect on the go lunch for me, I think I may get one right after I finish writing this.
Mush: *In Usher voice* This is my confession. Sometimes I’ll go in to Denninger’s intending on getting a Schnitzel on a Bun, but instead just head to the deli counter, grab a number, get a quarter pound of veal bologna and eat it straight up.
Mush: How do you know this place is outstanding? It’s jammed. Always. From 4:30 to close. Why? Simple, uncompromising pizza and pasta. The deep dish may not be 100% authentic Chicago style, but there’s no better way to ingest pounds of cheese and still have some self respect.
Todd: Always busy and always best to get it to go because I’m busy writing articles about food and don’t have 45 minutes to wait for them to make it for me. OK, I’m not busy, I’m lonely and don’t like eating alone. Regardless, for me the best part about Chicago Style Pizza is eating it the next day as a leftover.
Todd: The Attic screams old school as soon as you pull into the driveway. That recognizable sign is always lit up and drawing me to it like a hungry moth. I hope this article inspires you to connect with some of your old school friends and this is the exact place to do it. Soft, doughy pizza, crispy breaded wings, cold beer, and don’t forget about their eating challenge. Grab your old high school buddies and get down there to try and get your name on the wall and enter The Attic’s lore.
Mush: Man, there used to be nothing better than getting a pizza at The Attic then heading down the street to Stoney Creek Dairy (Tiger Tail FTW). Luckily we can still do part one. For some reason, they don’t get nearly the love and respect they used to, but in my mind the quality hasn’t wavered one bit.
Mush: I love everything about this place. The menus and the uniforms look exactly like they did decades ago, and the Vienna schnitzel is still bigger than the plate. Do yourself a favour, grab a friend and devour the Black Forest plate.
Todd: I love the whole atmosphere of this place but have a hard time really digging into the schnitzel. It’s good but it’s not the best — there I said it! However, I’m typically lucky to have Mush with me when I go so he and I can enjoy the Black Forest plate, that way we get a bit of everything and he can have my schnitzel and leftovers.
Mush: Two things never change here: The quality of the fish and chips, and the songs in the jukebox. And there’s no reason to change either. Light fish, perfectly battered, with a mountain of fries that are somehow thick and crispy, but not overly potato-y. Pro tip: The small is large, and the large is massive!
Todd: I’ll be honest, I don’t like Hutch’s as much as Mush. I find the fries too potato-y and the fish to be good but not elevated above others in the city. I can say that it is an institution in the city and a destination to stop on the beach for ice cream. That’s why it’s a great old school restaurant to me. You can’t think of the beach without thinking of Hutch’s for one memory or another.
Todd: Tally Ho is one of those places best enjoyed at 2 AM after a night at the bar. The true test of a place like this is visiting sober, during the day and realizing it’s just as good, if not better because you didn’t spill gravy on your shirt. Gravy stains aside, Tally Ho has been pleasing Mac students and lifelong Hamilton residents alike for years. This is my number one quick serve classic in town; I just wish I lived closer to it.
Mush: Hot take — Tally Ho is a poor man’s Arby’s. Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of roast beef sandwiches here after dollar-beer Tuesdays at Billy Bob’s. But I think a lot of it has to do with university memories and if you moved Tally Ho to the other side of the city it’s not nearly as high on the list.
Todd: One of my favourite parts of Innsville is its flexibility. Fancy or casual dining, you can do both on separate sides of the dining room and still experience the same menu. Anything with their perfect prime rib is the way to go. The interior is classic, the hotel itself is still active and don’t forget to visit on Mondays for Beatles, Burgers & Beer. It’s a hell of a show.
Mush: What is it about the outskirts of the city that brings out the best in restaurants? The Innsville, The Plainsman (RIP), The Egg and I, Breezy Corners, — all are great examples of places on the boundary but worth the drive. I don’t have much more to add on the Innsville other than ask anyone who’s lived here their whole life where the best prime rib in the city is, and this is where they’ll send you.
Mush: The ultimate “Treat Yo Self” dinner in Hamilton. The service is impeccable; the ambiance surrounds you in wood and leather; and the best steaks and seafood in town. The total restaurant package, which is why they’ve been doing it for so long. Don’t forget to save room for the candy bowl!
Todd: There’s one thing Mush and I can agree on and that’s the truly elegant and sophisticated dining of Shakespeare’s. You would be hard pressed to find better places in the city to celebrate a special event than this iconic restaurant that represents indulgence at its finest — they even have 3-ply in the restroom. Steak or seafood, there really is no wrong choice and I recommend both. May Steeltown Chowdown congratulate you in advance for whatever you’re celebrating on your next visit!
If you’re looking for more great restaurants, check out this list of diners from our places page!
Let us know your fav retro spots in Hamilton in the comments below!
Authored By: Todd & Mush of Steeltown Chowdown (IG: @steeltownchowdown)