Hamilton’s reinvention is happening at a furious pace. Leading the way is a strong food scene fuelled by boomerangs (Hamiltonians who left and came back), and by chefs and restaurateurs setting up shop away from Toronto’s sky-high real estate. Here are 10 dishes worth the trip to Steeltown.

Cheesecake-stuffed French toast at Aberdeen Tavern

Housed in an old bank (complete with steel vault), this stylish spot is busy, especially for weekend brunch. The cheesecake-stuffed French toast is the dish to try. Sweet and crunchy, it’s prepared with brioche, stewed strawberries, vanilla chantilly cream and brown butter graham crumbs.


Gnocchi at The French

Judging from social media, you’d think gnocchi was all this elegant downtown bistro served. While the menu does indeed offer plenty of other appetizing dishes, these little morsels are standouts because they are made with ricotta cheese, not potato, and come topped with truffle, Parmesan and mushrooms.


Monte Pollino pizza at Born and Raised

Photo by Valerie Pek

Chef Vittorio Colacitti studied pizza-making in Rome, which might explain why his creations are so divine. This Monte Pollino is dotted with crispy pork cheeks (cooked in duck fat), roasted pineapple and pickled habaneros. A unique, fermented dough gives the crust great chew and a delicate tang.


Crispy cauliflower tacos at Mezcal

Photo by The Generator2/Tourism Hamilton

Get your tequila and taco fix at this compact, popular eatery located along hip-and-happening James Street South. Vegetarians and carnivores alike adore the crisp pieces of cauliflower backed up with mint, tomatillo-avocado salsa, cotija cheese, thin strips of daikon radish and lime crema in the crispy cauliflower tacos.


3AM in Venice burger at HAMBRGR

If you had to choose a last meal, make it this—even if you have to wait in one of HAMBRGR’s infamous lineups to get it. This burger is made with a local, all-beef patty crowned with herb-marinated tomatoes, mozzarella, arugula, caramelized onions, pesto aioli and balsamic glaze.


Canadian brunch plate at Cannon Coffee Co.

Photo by Bob Liao

This laid-back java and breakfast-centric joint in the east end earned some serious star appeal after director Guillermo del Toro visited while filming in Hamilton and tweeted: “Best, fluffiest, chewiest fresh-made waffles ever!” Cannon’s version costars on a brunch plate with cheddar cheese, bacon and two poached eggs.


Classic poke bowl at Pokeh

Courtesy of Tourism Hamilton

Though poke is available across Canada, Pokeh, which was once just a stall in the Hamilton Farmers’ Market, was the first place to specialize in this Hawaiian dish. Now it also has a brick-and-mortar location on Concession Street, and the go-to bowl features ahi tuna, green and white onions, cucumber, sesame seeds and macadamia nuts.


Class Vienna schnitzel from Black Forest Inn

Photo by Marty Edwards/Tourism Hamilton

The Black Forest Inn is unapologetically old-school with a menu and decor style that has remained largely unchanged since 1967. The schnitzel has long been a menu favourite—it’s cooked to crispy perfection, well-seasoned and so large, it eclipses the plate. Order it with a side of doughy spaetzle (German dumplings).


Sushi nachos at Nique Restaurant

Located just off James Street North, this local hangout with funky decor describes its menu as “a cultural mosaic.” True enough with these Japanese-inspired, crowd-pleaser nachos that feature diced tuna atop deep-fried wonton wrappers, along with sushi fixings such as pickled ginger, avocado, chilies and spicy mayo.


Chicken mulligatawny at The Burnt Tongue

Locals come to the small, but mighty, downtown eatery primarily for its revolving lineup of stellar soups. While all the broths are delicious, the chicken mulligatawny is a standout—there could be protests if this fragrant, curry-infused, creamy soup disappeared from the menu.


Getting there: WestJet flies to Hamilton 19 times a week from four Canadian and two U.S. cities.

Hamilton, Ont., is one of our must-visit destinations of 2018