BEST ACCLAIMED CHEFS IN THE CITY COUNTRY
Area chefs have been all over national news in recent years. Chef Todd Kelly of Orchids at Palm Court was named Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation for 2011-2012 (Orchids also got a recent nod from Zagats); Food & Wine named Senate/Abigail Street’s Daniel Wright as 2012 People’s Choice for the Best New Chef in the Midwest; Jean-Robert de Cavel of Jean-Robert’s Table has repeatedly been up for Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. Big props to these and all the local chefs making major waves while keeping their delicious work here in Cincinnati.
BEST LATE NIGHT CHINESE FOOD REVIVALWhen a fire at downtown late-night haunt Shanghai Mama’s forced them to close in 2011, it left a void in the Cincy night owl scene, that is, until Mama bounced back last summer with a spruced up dining room and bar and a new menu. Along with their noodle bowls, the menu now includes more vegetarian items, dishes made with seitan and a litany of seafood entrees. Best of all, their vast menu is still available until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, just like in the good ol’ days. 216 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-241-7777, shanghaimamas.com.
BEST UPDATE TO THE CLASSIC 3-WAY
It’s no surprise that Tim Lambrinides’ new restaurant, Silver Ladle, would be a hit… He is the great-grandson of Skyline founder Nicholas Lambrinides! It also makes sense that the soup, salad and sandwich joint (recently opened for dinner as well as lunch) offers Cincinnati chili. But it’s Silver Ladle’s twist on this classic that keeps us coming back for more: the Cincinnati-style chicken chili. Tender shredded chicken cooked with the traditional cinnamon and spices, this version offers a lighter but flavorful take on the Cincy classic. Chicken chili (along with a beef version and Ladle’s delicious black bean soup) is available on its own, over a hot dog, a bed of spaghetti, in a burrito or as a salad. And it’s crazy good in every form. 580 building on Sixth Street between Main and Walnut, 513-834-7650, silverladle.com.
BEST LUNCH JOINT WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME
Located around the corner from CityBeat’s HQ, Marrakech Café is a lunch staple for many of our staffers. And while you can’t have a beer at this cozy Mediterranean spot, Nina and the rest of the friendly staff will have you feeling like you’re in Cheers. Delicious lunch specials are affordable and ready on the fly. It would be a sin to go and not try their famous gyro, but Marrakech’s lime grilled chicken Caesar salad and rice dishes are all shovel-in-your-mouth tasty — and don’t forget the baklava! Who ever said you can’t be good, fast and cheap? 801 Elm St., Downtown, 513-421-0049.
BEST THING FRIED IN FOUR KINDS OF FAT
A little more than a year old, the downtown steak/seafood house Jimmy G’s impressed us not just with their chops but with their 4 Fat Fries cooked in beef, pork, chicken and duck fat and then served with a smoked black pepper-duck egg aioli for dipping. These fries are crusty, slightly meaty and so decadent and sinful you might feel the need to go to confession afterward. Normally, using so many kinds of animal fat seems rather superfluous, but Jimmy’s fries are exempt from all the rules. 435 Elm St., Downtown, 513-621-8555, jimmy-gs.com.
BEST HIGH-END LUNCH FOR AN AFFORDABLE PRICE
The name Jean-Robert de Cavel represents Cincinnati’s culinary scene in the same way 98 Degrees represents our music scene. OK, not quite, but the former does have a reputation for recherché food: Jean-Robert’s Table restaurant will tug at the purse strings unless you visit them Monday-Friday for their weekly French Lunch Tray menu. Why have a quotidian lunch at Subway when you can eat four courses of refined salad, soup, entrée and dessert for $14? A few weeks ago the Tray offered a salad made with grapefruit and Banyuls dressing; that sounds a helluva lot more interesting than a six-foot meatball sub. 713 Vine St., Downtown, 513-621-4777, jrtable.com/french-lunch-tray.
BEST FOOD COOKED IN A FIREPLACE
Situated inside the brand-spanking-new 21c Museum Hotel is Metropole restaurant, where many dishes are smoked and/or cooked inside a wood-burning fireplace, including their butter. Parallel to the artfulness of the hotel and adjoining museum itself, Chef Paley uses the fireplace to cook creative specialties like whole string-roasted chicken, seasonal veggies, octopus and salads — pretty much everything on the dinner menu is tossed into the primitive pit of fire. Basically, Metropole is the complete opposite of the raw food craze, but that’s OK — sometimes it’s actually good to sear your food. 609 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-578-6660, metropoleonwalnut.com.
BEST SANDWICHES WITH A SMILE
Fred & Gari’s has developed an incredibly loyal following of Downtown workers over the years — CityBeat employees included — for their extremely fast, friendly service and delicious deli sandwiches. All of their sammies are made while you wait with fresh-baked meats — they roast their own turkey, ham, pork tenderloin and chicken breast daily — and other choices including a fantastic egg salad. And their sides (homemade soup, macaroni salad, etc.) are definitely not an afterthought; any place that offers a brownie as one of your side dish choices has reached carryout enlightenment. Although the store is so small you’ve got to grab and go, take a second to watch the sassy and animated masters at work behind the counter, quickly crafting comfort meals while lightheartedly taking jabs at each other and singing. There aren’t many places around anymore that use the honor system when they run out of change, and this is one of them (seriously, one of our staffers currently owes $7.50). Open for lunch (carryout and delivery only) and they also do catering. 629 Vine St., Downtown, 513-784-9000.
BEST HIP TAKE ON SUBWAY-STYLE PREPARATION
When you think sushi, you probably think of a fancy restaurant with dim lighting, too-small portions and Electronic music bumping in the background. Fusian Sushi is defying that stereotype, joining the ranks of fast-casual downtown lunch joints with healthy, locally sourced fare and sushi rolls you can design yourself. Think a Subway- or Chipotle-style assembly line. Combinations abound, go traditional with a good old California roll or mix it up with tofu, jalapeno, yakisoba sauce and raw salmon. The power is yours. 600 Vine St., Downtown, 513-421-7646, fusian.com.BEST MEDICINE DISGUISED AS DESSERT Here’s one more reason to love Hello Honey. This adorable ice cream eatery has homemade green tea cake and it is delicious! Green tea, alleged to do everything from preventing cancer and heart disease to delaying dementia, is now available in layers, with frosting.
Of course, Hello Honey isn’t acting all snake-oil-salesman about it, but if you need an excuse to eat cake, you have it. And if you need no excuse to eat cake, then have the dark chocolate topped with a Hershey’s Kiss. We think it cures something, too — a chocolate deficiency! You don’t want to let that linger. Better safe than sorry. 633 Vine St., Downtown, 513-977-0300.
BEST NEW GASTROPUB WITH ITS OWN BEER PROGRAM
The name BrewRiver conjures an idyllic stream of malty beer trickling through a forest — the East End brewpub is almost like that. Brewed at Great Crescent Brewery in Aurora, Ind., their house suds are ales (Island Queen Blonde Ale), lagers (RiverWater Dark Lager), IPAs (Calliope) and porters (Ubiquitous Coconut Porter) that pair nicely with burgers, truffle fries and Amish chicken dishes. Order a pint or a beer flight that’s best sampled on their patio on a hot summer day. Make sure you save room for dessert as they are made with, of course, beer. 2062 Riverside Drive, East End, 513-861-2484, brewrivergastropub.com.
BEST PLACE TO PRETEND YOU’RE IN FLORENCE, BUDAPEST OR ANYWHERE BUT HERE
Recently relocated from Mainstrasse to Covington’s RiverCenter, Europa Bistro is a gem that is as close to continental as it gets. Chef Nicola always makes sure the menu never stays the same. The emphasis is on Italian and Mediterranean and it’s always varied and delicious. Everything is fresh with plenty of options for vegetarians. Did I mention the amazing desserts? There’s always a staggering array of tortes, pies and cakes to enjoy. Great for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner; we’ve often thought about coming to Europa for breakfast and staying all day. It could happen. 50 E. Rivercenter Blvd., Covington, europabistrocafe.com.
BEST GOURMET PIZZA FROM A TRUCK
In March 2012, Pizza Bomba joined the ranks of the ever-growing food truck population in the city with their array of eclectic, gourmet pizzas like crab rangoon, beer mac and cheese and kimcheeza (kimchi, pork belly). They’ve popped up at Fountain Square, at music festivals and now have a brick-and-mortar locale in Covington. Cincinnati’s flooded with pizzerias, but Bomba makes everything from scratch and tries to source locally, which automatically makes it a slice above corporatized pizza stores selling from a truck. We’d rather have something weird like a $3 slice of brussels sprouts, bacon and ricotta cheese than a boring slice of pepperoni. Follow the truck: twitter.com/PizzaBomba, 513-500-4239, pizzabomba.com; or stop by the restaurant: 14 E. Fifth St., Covington, 859-814-8892.
BEST COFFEE SHOP TUCKED AWAY IN A TINY BOOKSTORE
Either driving or walking toward the Roebling Bridge, you’ve probably passed one of the best-hidden treasures on the Ohio River and didn’t even know it. On the exterior, Roebling Point Books and Coffee has a chalkboard with literary quotes written on the board; inside, there’s a bookstore containing things like the latest Junot Diaz novel, local history books and a small barista station brewing up excellent coffee and tea drinks. Get a latte to go or ensconce in one of their quiet tables and sip away while immersing in the latest novel or Internet meme. 306 Greenup St., Covington, 859-815-7206, facebook.com/roeblingpointbooksandcoffee.
BEST GERMAN BAR TAKING PUB GRUB TO A NEW LEVELCovington’s Wunderbar has sent its roots deep. They stretch into the soil of artisanal quality inherent in German culture and, by extension, our Cincinnati heritage. The various platters of wholesome and house-made whatever-you-want-wursts (try the currywurst), kraut and spuds burst with flavors sourced from local vendors at Findlay Market, placing the restaurant firmly in our business community. The sausages will fill all your meaty needs, and the delicious vegetarian options will satisfy the rest. If all that feel-good hominess doesn’t get you all fuzzy inside, just quash your nerves with one of their 35 bottled or draft beers and call it a day. 1132 Lee St., Covington, 859-815-8027, facebook.com/wunderbarcovington.
Bacon is already a hot culinary accessory right now, and Queen City Cookies’ Bacon Schnecken takes it to the next level by adding it to this famous sticky, sweet bun. Owner/founder Peggy Shannon even created special heart-shaped bacon schnecken for O, The Oprah Magazine, so you know these bad boys are delicious. The treats have also been featured on the Today Show and in the Wall Street Journal and were awarded a Silver sofi award by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Go, QCC! 1662 Blue Rock St., Northside, 513-591-0022, queencitycookies.com.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD TO LOAD UP ON TACOS
Northside’s known for a lot of things, but tacos? Yup. Django Western Taco (not to be confused with the “Unchained” version) offers tacos, seafood stews and festive margaritas; Tacocracy, located inside Northside International Airport, features flights (get it?) of tacos, tacos, tacos. You can order individual tacos or get a shareable Round Trip flight, comprised of seven varieties such as Korean beef, tofu and mashed potatoes. And the popular food truck Taco Azul's brick-and-mortar called Barrio Tequileria on Spring Grove featuring tacos, margaritas and a big patio for more taco consumption. Django Western Taco, 4046 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-542-3664, facebook.com/djangonorthside; Tacocracy, 4029 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-8226,
facebook.com/tacocracy; Barrio Tequileria, 3937 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-541-6400, facebook.com/BarrioTequileria.
Over-the-Rhine mainstay Tucker’s is a beloved Cincinnati institution first and foremost for its artfully down-home, affordable breakfast and lunch food, but it’s the employees who hold the power make your Sunday morning hangover happy and healed. You’ll never see the bottom of your coffee mug —there’s a Tucker’s fairy right behind you top it off, and they won’t judge you if you ask for a liter of ice water or somehow manage to down the entirety of any one of their generous portions (a rare feat). The staff is made up of some of the most genuinely friendly folks in town — it never feels like you’re constantly being wooed for a good tip, because they don’t need to. They’re just that good. 1637 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-7123.
BEST FOOD TREND TO HIT OTR
Haute Asian cuisine hit Cincinnati in a major way when both Kaze and Quan Hapa, two Asian gastropubs, opened in one neighborhood (the same street, no less!) in the same month. But we don’t believe in too much of a good thing. Kaze’s back garage bar and the world DJs they bring in on Saturday nights totally transform the Cincinnati Color Building. Plus, you get a totally authentic Japanese feel with some high-class food and drinks! Quan Hapa is perfect for the trendy foodie looking to indulge in some unique Asian fare. Get a taste (and a sip) of the best Korean, Vietnamese, Japananese and Hawaiian spirits and dishes right here in the ’Nati. Kaze, 1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-898-7991, kazeotr.com; Quan Hapa, 1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-7826, quanhapa.com.
BEST PRODUCT WITH A RUSSIAN NESTING DOLL MASCOT
In Transylvania, they’re called piroti. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, they’re pierogi. Here, at Grandma Debbie’s Kitchen, Madison’s at Findlay Market, Park + Vine or various pop-up locations, Babushka Pierogies are simply delicious. The Babushka ladies handcraft their pierogies at the Kitchen Factory in Northside. They fill these half-moon-shaped dumplings with potato and cheddar, sauerkraut, butternut squash with basil, or prune filling — all very authentic. You take a half-dozen home, sauté them in a little butter and swoon. If your heritage is even slightly Slavic, they will take you right back to your culinary past. facebook.com/BabushkaPierogies.
BEST NOW-ABOVE-GROUND UNDERGROUND DINNER SERIES TURNED INTO A RESIDENCY
Please’s Arts & Lettuce underground dinner series, once held in secret and clandestine locations (like apartments), went above-ground this year with a popular pop-up experience at the streetpops storefront on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. But with Please’s chef Ryan Santos gone through May in Belgium, working as a “stagaire” at In De Wulf in Dranouter, Arts & Lettuce will transform into a curated residency dinner series at Carriage House Farm in North Bend, under a new name, when he returns. Starting June 1, Please will have four dinners a month at the farm. Fourteen guests will enjoy locally sourced outdoor meals — with ingredients gathered from the property and nearby farms using a forager and hunter — cooked and prepared over a wood-fire grill and oven. Super local and super innovative, we can’t wait. pleasetoeatyou.com.
BEST CULINARY GRIDLOCK
One of the best parts of springtime in the city is the arrival of The City Flea. Vendors from all over the Tristate and beyond crowd together in various locations once a month (this year will mostly take place in Washington Park) to peddle their wares. Once you’ve packed your ride with a new coffee table, vintage clothes and handmade treasures, you’ll find that you’ve worked up a real appetite. Luckily, just about any food truck who is anybody parks their rig right in the midst of the action and serves up pizza, sandwiches and baked goods until they run dry. Get there early if you want to try it all! thecityflea.com.
Jesse Ebaugh, the bassist for the locally spawned, nationally acclaimed, Austin, Texas-based Heartless Bastards (known formerly for work with local bands like Heeva Hava and Pearlene), was honored with a special sandwich on Park + Vine’s summer menu last year. The Jesse Hee Haw — described as “Upton’s Naturals BBQ seitan on an open-faced Blue Oven Bakery Froagie topped with organic shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and red onion” — was crafted by another awesome local musician, Melissa Cox Howard. Park + Vine, 1202 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, parkandvine.com.
BEST WAITING ROOM FOR THE GATEWAY QUARTER
Everyone knows that Vine Street has become the dining hot spot and only keeps growing. With the abundance of popular new restaurants like A Tavola, Kaze and Senate, you can find yourself in a situation willing to wait two hours to mingle with the in-crowd and nibble on small plates of some of the best food Cincinnati has to offer. So what to do while you wait? Walk to The Lackman at Vine and 13th streets and rub elbows, quite literally, with other soon-to-be diners and locals. The bustling atmosphere, fast flowing drinks and delicious bar snacks will keep you entertained until the host calls your cell phone to tell you your table is waiting. 1237 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-0741, lackmanbar.com.
BEST NEW COFFEE SHOP WITH A CHEMISTRY APPROACH TO COFFEE MAKING
OTR’s new coffee shop, Collective Espresso — well, it’s not your typical coffee shop — uses a Chemex (looks like an Erlenmeyer flask) and a Hario (cone-like brewing apparatus) to create a perfect pour over. Procuring small-batch roasted beans from local purveyors like Deeper Roots, owners Dustin Miller and Dave Hart are able to control the ground beans’ brewing temperature, which results in a robust cup of joe. Right now the Collective is the closest thing Cincinnati has to a West Coast coffee shop, and that’s a great thing. 207 Woodward St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/collectiveespressoOTR.
BEST RESTAURANT FOR “ACCIDENTALLY” EATING TOO MUCH
Abigail Street is a Mediterranean restaurant that emphasizes tapas — small dishes that are considered appetizers in some countries. The dishes are so small that it’s normal to order a bunch of them before it’s too late to realize how much your stomach hates you. They have all sorts of choices, ranging from beets to octopus and even churros that can be dipped in pure chocolate. 1214 Vine St., Downtown, 513-421-4040.