Cincinnati Restaurants Offer Variety, Value and Great Food
By Terri Weeks
Cincinnati Local Expert
Cincinnati has a dynamic restaurant scene with an abundance of excellent independent restaurants and new ones opening all the time. Choosing just ten was a very difficult task. Many Cincinnati restaurants have won awards for their cuisine. Others are worthy because of their legions of loyal customers. Some have been featured on TV shows, further increasing their popularity.
Many of Cincinnati’s best restaurants aren’t expensive. Most travelers don’t usually choose expensive restaurants every night, so this list reflects that. It includes restaurants at all price points that have one thing in common: great food.
Most cities have a food specialty that they are known for, and Cincinnati is no exception. Cincinnati is known for its chili, which can be found in chili parlors all over the city. The freshest chili around is at Camp Washington Chili.
Cincinnati’s metro region includes northern Kentucky, so you’ll see Southern influences in the cuisine, especially at The Eagle. There’s also an international influence in Cincinnati’s restaurant scene. Salazar and Via Vite are owned by chefs from Colombia and Italy, respectively, while Mazunte’s menu was inspired by its owner’s travels through Oaxaca, Mexico.
Cincinnati knows how to do fine dining too. Orchids at Palm Court is one of only 63 AAA Five Diamond Restaurants in North America and Jeff Ruby’s Precinct serves up award-winning steaks. Parents will be happy to learn Cincinnati has many kid-friendly restaurants that don’t sacrifice culinary quality. There’s truly something for everyone here.
Dewey's Pizza is a Cincinnati success story. Andrew DeWitt started with a single store in the Oakley neighborhood in 1998 and now owns 21 stores in the Midwest, eight of them in Greater Cincinnati. This popular, family-friendly pizzeria is known for their specialty pizzas with fun names like the Bronx Bomber, Edgar Allan Poe, and Socrates' Revenge. They also offer a seasonal specialty pizza. Some of the seasonal specials have been so popular that Dewey's has added them to the regular menu. Dough is made fresh daily in a commissary and delivered to the stores. Two sauces - red and white - are made in house. Dewey's seeks out top quality ingredients, like free-range Amish chicken, for their toppings. Gluten-free dough and excellent salads are also offered. (859-431-9700)
Having opened in 2013, Mazunte Taqueria is still a relative newcomer on the Cincinnati restaurant scene, but it is quickly making a name for itself. The menu is inspired by owner Josh Wamsley's travels through the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca where he learned to cook from the locals. This casual restaurant has a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Place an order at the counter, then find a seat inside or out. Appreciate the unique furnishings - many were handmade by Josh's father - along with Mexican art, murals and a unique piece that combines Cincinnati icons with a map of Mexico. The menu includes several varieties of tacos (fish, chicken, steak and pork) that come three to an order, along with other Mexican specialties. Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup with pork, chicken and hominy, is a popular choice. (513-785-0000)
York St. Cafe
The décor in York St. Café will certainly catch your eye. This former historic pharmacy building is filled with antiques and collectibles that make great conversation starters. Perhaps that's why York St. Café has been voted the best place for a first date. But the ambience isn't the only reason to visit: the food is excellent too. When Cincinnati's five-star Maisonette closed in 2005, York St. Café hired one of their chefs, Curtis Paul. They use the freshest ingredients, including vegetables and herbs from a garden down the street. Soups, cakes and pies are made daily. Try a Conversation Board as an appetizer for a group. The menu includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items. Kids like the Tooth Pick Meal which includes chunks of grilled chicken, cheese and fruit speared on tiny plastic swords. (859-261-9675)
Camp Washington Chili
Family-owned for over 75 years, Camp Washington Chili is a Cincinnati favorite that was named one of the 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America by Smithsonian Magazine. Cincinnati chili was invented by Greek immigrants and is very different than Texas-style chili, both in the spices and the presentation. A 'three-way' consists of chili served over spaghetti then topped with a generous mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese. Beans or chopped onions are added for a 'four-way'; both are added for a 'five-way.' Cincinnati chili can be found all over the city in local chains and independent restaurants. Camp Washington Chili serves theirs 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (closed Sundays). When the street was being widened several years ago, owner Johnny Johnson built a new building next to the old one and moved the casual, family-friendly eatery into the bright new space without missing a beat. They grind their own meat and make fresh chili daily with no preservatives. Their consistent quality and service resulted in the restaurant earning a James Beard American Regional Classic award. (513-541-0061)
Terry's Turf Club
It's no wonder that Terry's Turf Club has been featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Located in an industrial area on the city's east side, the building housed a crack and heroin bar until Terry Carter bought it, gutted it, filled it with neon signs and antique memorabilia, then started grilling gourmet burgers that Chef Bobby Flay has named the Best in Ohio. Terry's burgers are handcrafted using coarse-grind, certified Black Angus chuck, served on grilled Ciabatta rolls, and garnished with toppings inspired by Terry's fishing trips all over the world. Choose your toppings to create your own culinary masterpiece or ask your server for a recommendation. Creative sauce choices include Burgundy Wine with Wild Mushrooms and Truffles, Chorizo Bruschetta Parmesan, and Wasabi Red Curry and Ginger. Cheeses are imported from all over the world: French Brie, Spanish Manchego, and Halloumi from Cypress. Non-carnivores will be pleased to find seafood, chicken, and giant portabella and shitake mushrooms as an alternative. Kids love the atmosphere, but need to order from the regular menu since there isn't a kids' menu. (513-533-4222)
Via Vite is a modern Italian Bistro situated in the heart of Cincinnati at Fountain Square in a space that was custom designed for Executive Chef Cristian Pietoso's vision. The restaurant's location on Vine Street also factored into its name - Via Vite translates to 'Way of the Vine'. Pietoso was born, raised and trained in Florence, Italy, and he draws from his culinary training as well as family recipes for his menu. Via Vite is a moderately-priced restaurant that is also very versatile. It boasts the largest outdoor seating area of any restaurant downtown and serves a variety of customers. At different times, you'll see executives conducting business over lunch, downtown workers kicking back for happy hour, symphony patrons savoring a four course dinner before the show or Reds fans enjoying a pre-game beer and pizza. The menu includes pasta, risotto and gnocchi; meat and fish entrees; and pizza. The Penne Bolognese is a family recipe, and the pizza is Naples style, baked in a stone pizza oven. It's definitely worth saving room for dessert too. (513-721-8483)
Jeff Ruby's Precinct
Jeff Ruby's Precinct has been a go-to spot for steak in Cincinnati since it opened in 1981. Ruby opened the Precinct with celebrity backers, and celebrities and professional athletes have been flocking there ever since. The lobby walls are covered with photos of Ruby posing with them. The rest of the building is decorated with police memorabilia which pays tribute to the turn-of-the-century building's original purpose as a Patrol House for Cincinnati's Mounted Patrol. Just like his other restaurants, Jeff Ruby's Precinct specializes in steaks (that come with salad and potatoes), but shellfish is also popular. The menu also offers fish, chicken and pork tenderloin. Additional sides to share are also offered, including baked macaroni and cheese made with six imported cheeses. Servers are very attentive. The Precinct is a white tablecloth restaurant with business casual attire. The attached bar serves the same menu, but is more casual. Reservations are recommended for both. (513-321-5454)
The Eagle Food & Beer Hall
The Eagle Food & Beer Hall is located in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Several years ago, this was considered an unsafe neighborhood; now it's in the midst of a revival and is home to many trendy independent shops and restaurants. The Eagle, opened in 2013, is located in a former post office. Exposed brick walls and tables made from reclaimed wood create a fun, casual and loud atmosphere that is popular with just about everyone--locals, travelers, business professionals, singles and families. The menu is limited--there are about 60 beer types but only 20 or so food choices--but every item is carefully vetted and has a chef's touch. Their specialty is fried chicken which is served with a spicy honey sauce. Salads and sandwiches, including a fried chicken sandwich and blackened shrimp po boy, round out the main courses. Side dishes are served separately: the southern-inspired offerings include mac & cheese, white cheddar grits, and spoonbread. (513-802-5007)
Salazar is a chef-owned restaurant that fits into a newer breed of restaurants: fine dining in a casual atmosphere. Executive Chef Jose Salazar's restaurant is located in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, a hotbed of new, independent restaurants. Salazar's Chef de Cuisine, Andy Hiner, works with local farms to source fresh ingredients for the seasonal menu. Salazar has a casual and intimate feel. The restaurant has just 42 seats inside and another eight on the patio. A bar is integrated into the restaurant and provides much of the seating. The kitchen and menu are small, but everything on the menu is deliberate and well executed. This is a restaurant that foodies will appreciate; interesting ingredients are creatively combined. Servers are attentive. While most of the menu changes seasonally, there is always a burger and a vegetarian risotto offered. The 'everything-crusted' salmon and veal sweetbreads are so popular (and so delicious) that they may become standard offerings. (513-621-7000)
Orchids at Palm Court
Orchids at Palm Court is the place to go for a luxurious fine dining experience. Located in the historic Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel, Palm Court is one of the most elegant spaces in Cincinnati. Originally the hotel lobby, Palm Court has a French Art Deco theme with lavish touches. Crystal, French china and genuine silver add to the opulence. Award-winning Executive Chef Todd Kelly and his team prepare the finest cuisine, worthy of being served amidst this grandeur. They seek out the finest ingredients, and if they can't find the quality they want, they personally make the ingredients, such as catching the fish from which they harvest caviar and making their own cheeses. Todd combines these ingredients with great technique and bountiful creativity, leaving no detail untouched, to create the kind of culinary masterpieces that earned him the title of American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year in 2011. The restaurant is one of only 63 in North America with a Five Diamond rating from AAA. Diners will probably want to dress up a bit - business casual at minimum - but a jacket and tie are not required. Be sure to save room for desserts created by Pastry Chef Megan Ketover. (513-421-9100)
About Terri Weeks
Terri Weeks, a Cincinnati mother of three, is a former mechanical engineer who became a travel writer quite accidentally. She and a friend started intentionally exploring attractions around Cincinnati with their kids in 2003. After many requests, they compiled their favorites into their bestselling book, Adventures Around Cincinnati and released an expanded second edition in 2014. They are also authors of the e-book Adventures Around You which teaches readers how to plan their own adventures regardless of where they live. Terri and family recently accomplished their goal to visit all 50 states. She is a member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association.
Read more about Terri Weeks here.