Nfld. & Labrador·Food

An oldie but a goodie: St. John's restaurants that stand the test of time

Contributor Gabby Peyton writes that while many restaurants open and close within a year in the St. John's area, some have stood their ground in the churning economic tides.
The weekend lunch buffet at Woodstock Public House. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

What does it take to maintain a successful restaurant? Those in the know say if you can stay open for more than five years, you're considered a success — others claim it takes making a top 10 list or inventing the next cronut.

While many restaurants open and close within a year here in St. John's, some have stood their ground in the churning economic tides. From the infamous lunch buffet to wing night Wednesdays, these restaurants have the recipe for resolve, many withstanding flood, fire and changing tastes. 

The restaurants on this list have all been open for more than 20 years — one for almost a century — a testament to the dining scene in the St. John's area. While trends may come and go (remember all those fancy burger joints and frozen yogurt spots?), a good dining experience will keep customers coming back again and again. They might not have the fanciest decor or the most acclaim, but these restaurants are institutions. Here are the ones doing it right in the St. John's area.

Woodstock Public House

Formerly Woodstock Colonial Restaurant, the buffet is always bopping at this Topsail Road mainstay. Opened in 1927, it's the second oldest restaurant in the province behind the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook. The main dining room as we know it today was added in 1963 — and while the decor hasn't changed much since then, the buffet on Sundays is continuously appreciated for its variety, from the prime rib carving station to the duck risotto. The restaurant went under new ownership with Brendon O'Rourke in December 2019.  

The nearly century-old restaurant has reopened as the Woodstock Public House. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

Ches's Fish and Chips 

The deep-fryer at this iconic 'fi and chi' spot hasn't been turned off in almost 70 years. Ches and Betty Barbour opened their Harvey Road snack shop in 1951 and never looked back; by 1958 they had moved to their larger Freshwater Road location which is still in operation today. Now a Ches's two-piece fish and chips can be enjoyed in seven different locations across the province — and they're pumping out more chips, dressing and gravy than anyone. You can even buy their malt vinegar by the bottle to take home with you.  

Ches's will mark its 70th anniversary in 2021. (Ches's Famous Fish & Chips/Facebook)

Quintanas de la plaza 

Rebecca and Leith Quinton opened Quintanas (a creative take on their surname) and are responsible for bringing Tex-Mex cuisine to Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1980s. The pair opened Casa Grande on Duckworth Street in 1980, boasting the first Tex-Mex restaurant in St. John's. Though this particular restaurant has closed, their Casa Grande brand tortilla chips and salsa have reached cult status here in the city and are still sold in grocery stores around town. Quintanas opened in Churchill Square in 1991 and the bustling eatery continues to serve up quesadillas, tacos, burritos and changas (deep-fried burritos) to MUN faculty and students at lunch and families at dinner time. In 2017 Robyn Ennis and Adam Carroll took over from the Quintons and have maintained the status taco.

Chicken changas are a fan favourite at Quintanas de la plaza in Churchill Square. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

The Magic Wok

For three decades this downtown restaurant has been featuring Hong Kong-style Chinese and Canadian Chinese food. Rennie So and Mei Tam emmigrated from Hong Kong in 1983 and opened The Magic Wok at its original nine-table restaurant on Water Street in 1989. When it was destroyed by fire in 2001 the dim sum duo rebuilt a bigger and newer stand alone eatery on Water where it stands today. In 2015, the pair sold The Magic Wok to their good friends, Jerry and Carrie Li, who continue to pump out brilliant dim sum and 12-course traditional tasting menus, and it's still one of the only places you can order a full Peking duck. 

The Magic Wok has been in operation in St. John's since 1989. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

India Gate 

While India Gate may not be the first Indian restaurant in the city, it's the oldest still standing. Nickie and Daviner Sood opened the Duckworth Street mainstay in the early 1990s and it has been dishing out huge buffet lunches every since. Despite a destructive fire and a 14-month closure, India Gate reopened in 2017 with major upgrades to the dining room and the buffet — still a fixture for hungry lunchtime eaters. This buffet boasts butter chicken, pakora and endless warm naan brought to your table, attracting people from all over the city. 

Family-owned India Gate Restaurant has been a staple in downtown St. John's for more than 25 years. (India Gate/Facebook)

Jungle Jim's Eatery

This chain of tropical-themed restaurants has stood the test of time with their chimichangas, colourful cocktails and affordable family dining. The original location at 286 Torbay Road, which was opened in 1991 by Stephen Pike and business associates Barry Walsh and Sean Brake, is still going strong — and now there are more than 24 locations throughout Atlantic Canada. Wild Wacky Wing Nights on Wednesdays are legendary and The Kitchen Sink appetizer consisting of an actual 'sink' filled with mozzarella sticks, onion rings, wings and iconic waffle fries has been on the menu for decades. 

The Kitchen Sink is one of the most popular menu items at Jungle Jim's Eatery. (Jungle Jim's/Facebook)

International Flavours

This small Pakistani eatery on Quidi Vidi Road has a loyal following. Talat Mian, who immigrated to Canada with her husband from Pakistan, started up her business in 1996 as a small spice shop upon the encouragement of friends who loved her samosas. Almost 25 years later International Flavours has become a fixture in the community, despite only having two choices on the menu — meat or no meat — accompanied by flavourful basmati rice, spiced lentils and stir-fried veg.  

With a small set menu, International Flavours is located on Quidi Vidi Road, around the corner from Signal Hill. (International Flavours/Facebook)

Oliver's Restaurant 

This intimate bistro on Water Street celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Owner Calvin Vincent opened Oliver's in 1999 after transforming a small coffee shop into a restaurant. A loyal customer base ordering up classic dishes like lamb shank with a red wine demi-glacé, fettuccine with pesto cream sauce and their house salad of greens, with candied walnuts, bacon, blue cheese, dried cranberries and a honey balsamic dressing.

Oliver's Restaurant is a cozy bistro-style restaurant on Water Street. (Oliver's Restaurant/Facebook)

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