We reminisce on our favourite Newcastle eateries of the past
A few weeks ago, our Newcastle and Central Coast editor Alicia brought an interesting predicament to the office.
Did any of us remember the American-style, 1950s-inspired diner on the Pacific Highway at Charlestown?
She reminisced about going there for family dinners as a kid in the early 2000s, but couldn’t for the life of her remember its name (a helpful reader told us it was called Burgers and Bobby Sox, so that mystery has thankfully been solved).
It got us thinking about all the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie businesses that have come and gone over the years – the ones we’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and graduations at, that have formed our core memories, that we look back on with nostalgia.
Take a trip down memory lane with us as we remember some of our favourite Newcastle and Lake Macquarie venues of the past that made us into the foodies we are today.
Jas, HUNTERhunter’s sub-editor and accounts manager
After taking part in a high school musical at the Mission Theatre on King Street, I was amazed when this beautiful building was transformed into the sophisticated Bacchus restaurant. Think elaborate wrought iron dividers, a wall full of wine bottles, and a sommelier.
As teenagers, my friends and I spent a lot of time – after watching a movie at Greater Union or Showcase Cinema – at Big Al’s diner. Burgers with special sauce and fries were devoured in vinyl booths, alongside a wall where you could line up and take mug shots of your friends.
The Black Cat
Before it was Asa-don, (which I also miss) this space on King Street used to be The Black Cat. We’d sit in the back courtyard, with small dishes of Spanish tapas, like morcilla blanca, and a bottle of wine, whiling the evening away.
Tongue and Groove
When we first moved to Newcastle after two years of living near Byron Bay, my family would visit Tongue and Groove in The Junction. It was laidback, with yellow cement-rendered walls and bold artwork, and had a bohemian vibe. I can’t remember the food but if it was the late 90s, it was probably sundried tomatoes and focaccia, right? I’d love to hear other people’s recollections of this place.
Amy, HUNTERhunter’s Hunter Valley & Port Stephens editor
Many a Novocastrian were devastated when this beloved, family-run Italian restaurant closed in 2020. I remember celebrating friends’ birthday dinners here when we were teenagers, and could finally choose to do something for our birthdays without our parents’ supervision. What stuck with me though was the down-to-earth pasta and pizza in hearty portions.
Frankies’ Place – where Mr. Rice is now on Darby Street – was the cafe I remember frequenting the most when cafe culture really started booming in Newcastle in the early 2010s. It was a funky spot to hang out with friends over a chai, while we tested out our newfound teenage freedoms (are you sensing a theme here?). We felt very cool hanging out at Frankies’ Place when we were decidedly not cool.
It took me a while to remember the name of this place – I had to go deep into the recesses of my brain, back to when I was around 10 years old and dined here for the first time. I have fond memories of eating at Nok Restaurant with my childhood best friend and our families, trying octopus for the first time and kickstarting a love of Mediterranean cuisine.
Alicia, HUNTERhunter’s Newcastle & Central Coast editor
Blue Water Pizza
Located on the shores of Lake Macquarie at Warners Bay, Blue Water Pizza was home to many family dinner memories. The two-storey building, now home to Canon, was the hub for so many Lake Mac locals for years. My favourite foodie memory would have to be devouring their wedges with sweet chilli and sour cream (sure, nothing too elevated but my palate as a young’un wasn’t exactly what it is today).
Burgers & Bobby Sox
Can anyone else remember this absolute gem of a diner that was on the Pacific Highway in Charlestown? My childhood memories are of red leather booths and black and white checkered tiles – it felt like a scene straight out of Grease.
Casa De Loco
What we all now know and love as The Falcon Bar & Restaurant was once Casa De Loco, a Tex-Mex joint known for its sangria mixes and margarita concoctions. As a fresh-faced 18-year-old, I can say I don’t remember much about the food offering, but the sangria was TO DIE FOR.
Covered in Crumbs
I still hold out hope that Gareth and Paula from Covered in Crumbs will bring back their almighty pastry goods. Their initial stint at the Olive Tree Markets and pop-ups across venues around town saw their sourdough sell out each and every time. When they moved into Muster Point, the weekends would see queues of people lining up to secure their goods. That lemon curd and sour cream bundt cake will always hold a special place in my heart.
This place was well ahead of its time – a waiterless takeaway joint based on King Street that offered fuss-free healthy takeaway, and the food was bloody scrumptious. Think lots of salads and wraps with tasty sauce toppings.
Popcorn but make it OTT. That’s exactly what Kernels Popcorn was and my golly it was a childhood favourite. Set up on the lower level of Charlestown Square, the big blue popcorn kiosk offered the biggest range of flavours – the weird and wacky, to the sweet and sour. My favourites included the creamy caramel and salt & vinegar.
Lulu’s Bowls, Cafe, and Poke
Another old favourite that I would like to see return to the Newcastle food scene – Lulu’s Bowls, Cafe, and Poke. Located where Marshall & Daughters is today, the light and bright space served up some of the tastiest and healthiest lunch options in town. Order of the day? The Karaage Chicken or Halloumi Bowl.
Pizza Hut Belmont
As a kid in the 90s, there truly was nothing better than when Mum announced you’d be having a family night out at all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut. Our local was in Belmont, and I can still remember the smell of the never-ending pizza options and the loaded desserts you’d fill up on til you were sick. Oh the 90s were simpler times.
Alissa, HUNTERhunter’s director
Kitami on Darby Street
The only reason I studied Japanese in high school was because of the annual ‘excursion’ to Kitami on Darby Street. As an early teen in the mid 90s, going to lunch at a restaurant that had teppanyaki bars and sunken seating was a massive step up from the high school canteen offering. I have no doubt we didn’t get too adventurous with the menu selections, but the memory of Kitami on Darby Street will forever live on and has no doubt influenced my obsession with all things Japanese.
Milano’s on the Lake
There’s not enough restaurant venues on the lake in my opinion, which is why I miss Milano’s on the Lake. It was back in 2016 that the restaurant partially collapsed into Lake Macquarie, ultimately marking the end of the lakeside restaurant. Seafood was always a must when dining, and together with the sophisticated interiors it made for the perfect long lunch venue, especially throughout the warmer months.
It was around the early 2000s that we dined at Union Brasserie in The Junction. The exposed concrete flooring and industrial-style interiors were well ahead of the trend, and the menu was equally as memorable. The scallops were a definite standout! Situated in the middle of Union Street, Union Brasserie was a sophisticated dining experience in the burbs and it’s very much missed.
Restaurant on King Street
Most recently known as Local Bar, the name of the restaurant circa 1999 escapes me, but what I do remember was the alfresco-style dining space which made the perfect platform for King Street people watching. We dined here a few times during that time, and it also happened to be the location for my first date night with my now-husband. I ordered the steak, and he ordered a vegetable lasagne… fellow Seinfeld fans will appreciate why this was memorable.
We asked you what your favourite now-defunct Newcastle eateries were, and boy did you deliver! Here are 20 of HUNTERhunter readers most-missed Newcastle restaurants, bars, and cafes:
- Asa Don
- Restaurant Mason
- Bistro Tartine
- Barrio 2304
- Bar Petite
- Coal River and Co
- De Lucas
- Fortunate Son
- Hawaiian Steakhouse in Darby House
- Le Dynasty
- The Flying Tiger
- The Bistro
- Red Baron
- Restaurant Deux
- East End Enoteca
- Winnie’s Jamaican
- Wil & Sons
What Newcastle venues do you miss? Let us know!