Asking local chefs where they eat when not in their own kitchen has become a CityBeat tradition in our dining guides. After all, what better recommendation is there than food-obsessed people spending their own money and precious down time in someone else's restaurant?
This year, we fanned out to ask not only some of the area's top chefs where they like to eat but also lots of other kinds of culinary-focused folks -- from shop owners and gardeners to butchers bakers and winemakers -- all of whose lives revolve around preparing, selling or making food. Enjoy!
Owner of Café de Paris, Downtown
CUMIN, 3514 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-871-8714. "Refined Indian cuisine that's not heavy at all."
LEMON GRASS, 2666 Madison Road, Hyde Park, 513-321-2882. "A family-owned place that makes traditional Thai cuisine from original recipes. The seafood combinations are particularly good."
Owner of Avril Bleh & Sons Meat Market, Downtown
WASHINGTON PLATFORM, 1000 Elm St., Downtown, 513-421-0110. "I like old buildings and anything downtown. The food is good, and the service is friendly. Great onion rings!"
SCOTTI'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT, 919 Vine St., Downtown, 513-721-9484. "A good little family-owned place."
GABBY'S CAFE, 515 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, 513-821-6040. "A casual, family-owned restaurant that's a nice place to take friends."
POMPILIO'S, 600 Washington Ave., Newport, 859-581-3065. "An old-fashioned place with a great selection, good food and good cheer."
Chef de Cuisine at Orchids at Palm Court, Downtown
SMOOTHIE KING, multiple locations. "So darned good! I get the pina colada smoothie and make it my lunch. It's refreshing, and I love the taste."
CRACKER BARREL, multiple locations. "Good and simple, super casual and you can go any time of day. You get some comfort food, and you're done."
JEANRO BISTRO, 413 Vine St., Downtown, 513-621-1465. "I've been there 12 times. I like that you can get a good glass of wine. I go and sit at the bar, where there's a great bartender."
NICOLA'S RISTORANTE, 1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-6200. "It's hip and has good service. The food is modern but not trendy, not overboard."
Owner of Marvin's Organic Gardens, Lebanon
CHOPSTICKS, 7735 Cox Lane, West Chester, 513-777-0804. "Great Vietnamese food with lots of fresh herbs."
THROUGH THE GARDEN, 10738 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, 513-791-2199. "They have a little garden out back where they grow fresh herbs and some vegetables. The food is really fresh, and they have a nice selection."
TRIO, 7565 Kenwood Road, Kenwood, 513-984-1905. "You can always count on something good there. I'm a fish person, and they always have something delicious."
CRACKER BARREL, multiple locations. "Once a day I stop in for a breakfast meal.
They have good quality. I order one pecan pancake with crispy bacon and a couple of eggs."
Winemaker, Burnet Ridge, College Hill
EMBERS, 8170 Montgomery Road, Kenwood, 513-984-8090. "The best bone-in Ribeye steak I've ever had."
DILLY DELI, 6818 Wooster Pk., Mariemont, 513-561-5233. "The Dilly Deli has an excellent lunch menu with great draft beers to wash it down."
DEWEY'S PIZZA, multiple locations. "Dewey's Pizza lunch or dinner is great when I'm not able to cook while driving daughters to soccer practice."
HONEY, 4034 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-4300. "This is casual Maisonette dining at a fraction of the cost. I like their assorted vegetarian meals and those Honey Fries."
PIT TO PLATE, 1527 Compton Road, Mount Healthy, 513-931-9100. "Pit to Plate has the best BBQ brisket in the city. We use them for lunch carryout while pressing grapes."
Owner, of Fontova Mexican Restaurant, Covington
MONTOYA'S, 2507 Chelsea Dr., Fort Mitchell, 859-341-0707. "The one Mexican restaurant that serves a few dishes that are good enough to entice me to leave my restaurant. ... Their red mole enchiladas and their carnitas plate are truly authentic Mexican dishes."
Certified Master Chef and Chef Instructor at Midwest Culinary Institute
BOCA, 3200 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-542-2022. "The service is outstanding. The chef is consistently creating new dishes. The menu is an evolution. I had five courses with wine pairings. The selections were perfect."
JEAN-ROBERT AT PIGALL'S, 127 W. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-721-1345. "Always outstanding. A great menu and excellent service."
LONGHORN'S, multiple locations. "If I don't want to go spend a lot of money, I can go there and get a great USDA choice steak without spending a lot. Service is always excellent."
SKYLINE CHILI, multiple locations. "I love the flavors and the original recipe. It's always hot and tasty."
MCDONALD'S, multiple locations. "I like the consistency. The product is always the same quality. I go there every Sunday morning for breakfast for a war veteran's group. We like to tell stories."
Brewmaster at Samuel Adams Brewery, Over-the-Rhine
SYMMES TAVERN, 500 Wessel Dr., Fairfield, 513-829-8440. "The food is good and the menu varied. You can order anything from burgers to full dinner."
CANCUN MEXICAN RESTAURANT, 11930 Hamilton Ave., Forest Park, 513-851-6310. "I lived in Texas for 10 years, and this is the real deal. Just like neighborhood Mexican in Texas."
MECKLENBURG GARDENS. 302 E. University Ave., Corryville, 513-221-5353. "Unique atmosphere, especially when the Beer Band is around."
HOFBRÅUHAUS, 200 E. Third St., Newport, 859-491-7200. "I happen to know the brewers there. Great guys, and they do a good job brewing beer. Always good traditional beers. Good German cuisine, and the atmosphere is styled after the Hofbr#228uhaus in Munich."
MIKE FINK, 100 Greenup St., Covington, 859-261-4212. "Usually reserved for a nice dinner/fine dining event. I like the raw bar on the river looking over at the Cincy skyline."
Carolyn and Bryan Madison
Owners of Madison's at Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine
JEAN-ROBERT AT PIGALL'S, 127 W. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-721-1345. "Our special occasion for a complete dining experience."
HONEY, 4034 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-4300. "Weekend dining requires a wait to be seated, but the meal is well worth the wait."
OTTO'S DELI, 521 Main St., Covington, 859-491-6678. "Great tasting food and good service. A nice place to just sit back and relax to live music on weekends."
NECTAR, 1000 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-929-0525. "Newly opened by Julie Francis, the decor is subdued and the menu selection, with many local and organic items, is outstanding."
THAI NAMTIP, 5461 North Bend Road, Monfort Heights. 513-481-3360. "Casual and nicely decorated, with great service and beautifully presented plates of good tasting food."
Owner of Mokka, Newport
ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE, 9977 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-745-0555. "I like to keep track of the competition. It's the only other place I'll go to eat for breakfast. Portions are great, and they don't charge a lot."
TINKS CAFE, 3410 Telford Ave., Clifton, 513-961-6500. "Their presentations are phenomenal. They have a little bit of everything. The menu is regionalized, and it's also got a foreign flair."
CASUAL CHINESE, 88 Carothers Road, Newport, 859-431-2900. "I'm a Chinese connoisseur, and this is as authentic as you can get. The food is phenomenal, with fresh, quality ingredients and nice portions."
Owner of Take the Cake, Over-the-Rhine
MYRA'S DIONYSUS, 121 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-961-1578. "I love that the menu and the prices haven't changed since I worked there in 1990."
BOCA, 3200 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-542-2022. "The new space is very alive, and it's the best place to get a well-rounded foodie experience."
WALT'S BBQ, 6040 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, 513-923-9800. "I actually am a new patron of this particular BBQ, but I think they have the best brisket in town."
HONEY, 4034 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-4300; MELT, 4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-681-MELT. "My two new favorites are Honey and Melt. Although there are obvious differences, they're both located in my 'hood, Northside, and bring great food and energy to a well-deserved community."
SHADEAU BREADS, 1336 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-665-9270. "Last but not least, I had to throw in my favorite bakery. I just had to."
Director of Jungle Jim's Cooking School, Fairfield
JEAN-ROBERT AT PIGALL'S, 127 W. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-721-1345. "Jean-Robert (de Cavel) does a wonderful job. His food is very special."
DAVEED'S AT 934, 934 Hatch St., Mount Adams, 45202, 513-721-COOK. "David Cook is an excellent cook and does all the cooking. He's a hands-on chef."
ZIP'S CAFÉ, 1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-871-9876. "For a good hamburger in a little neighborhood place."
ECHO RESTAURANT, 3510 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, 513-321-2816. "Nothing fancy, not 5,000 combinations of omelettes, waffles and pancakes. A simple delicious breakfast is what you get there."
Owner of Dean's Mediterranean Importing, Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine
JEANRO BISTRO, 413 Vine St., Downtown, 513-621-1465. "I like what they serve, and I like the atmosphere. I also enjoy what they do with seafood."
RIVERSIDE KOREAN RESTAURANT, 512 Madison Road, Covington, 859-291-1484. "A wonderful place. They serve things that you can't find anywhere else. I like the lots of little plates with many varieties of foods."
UDIPI CAFÉ, 7633 Reading Road, Roselawn, 513-821-2021. "Excellent southern Indian vegetarian cuisine."
SONG LONG, 1737 Section Road, Roselawn, 513-351-7631. "I like the lettuce wraps, the spring rolls and their seafood. The atmosphere is great. It's a family restaurant. I see lots of my friends and customers there." ©