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Cover Story: Where to Eat

250 great restaurants in Greater Cincinnati

By Staff · April 30th, 2008 · Cover Story
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Flavor: Amarin is friendly, delicious and a great value. The Thai Jade Noodle is the the most flavorful spinach pasta we've ever tasted. Better yet is the duck, a boneless duck half seasoned and crisp fried, sliced and fanned into a big ceramic bowl and surrounded by fresh green beans and carrots.

Flair: The small space is chic, if not flattering, and comfortably padded chairs surround the dark, wood tables that line the room.

3514 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-321-5533. Open 7 days. $9-$15.

Flavor: A standout among local Japanese places, Ando features elegantly prepared and presented dishes. It delivers simple, finely crafted food with painstaking attention to detail. Sushi rolls are fresh and tasty, and the vegetarian rolls are marvelous. But there are lots of other interesting things to try, too, like Goma Ae (boiled spinach) or Zaru Soba (cold buckwheat noodles). Dinner-for-two sushi and sashimi combinations can offer a better deal than separate entrées.

Flair: The atmosphere here is serious, perhaps even somber, with muted colors and drapes cloaking the windows. A Zen-like calm prevails.

5889 Pfeiffer Road, Blue Ash, 513-791-8687. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $12-$45.

Flavor: Along with the clean flavors and soft, velvety texture of the beautiful sushi and sashimi, the menu features traditional Japanese cold and hot appetizers, noodle soups and entrées such as Steamed Pork with Sesame Sauce and Beef or Chicken Teriyaki.

Flair: An elegant, uncluttered dining space with a semi-circular sushi bar dropped into the center of an otherwise angular room. Dramatic tones of deep red, bronze, gold and orange bleed down the wall of the booths which are separated by frosted panels that give you a delicious sense of privacy. From the time you're seated and your server provides a warm washcloth to clean your hands, you can relax in their care.

Newport on the Levee, Newport, 859-431-9400. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $5-$21.

Flavor: Asian fusion -- something for anyone who enjoys visiting Thailand, Cambodia and Sri Lanka all in one night. The cuisine ranges from the mild-mannered Blackened Ahi Tuna and Grilled Salmon to dramatic Cambodian Oxtail Soup and Sri Lankan curries. Come for happy hour and experience both exotic and Americanized appetizers, including the flavorful garlic and cilantro Crab Cakes with sweet chili aioli and mango chutney and the deeply satisfying Chicken Lettuce Wraps -- toasted ground rice stir-fried with chicken, watercress, green onions and cilantro.

Flair: Some men buy their wives dinner. Others, like the owner of Apsara, hire someone to create a replica of one of Angkor Watt's walls, with a 40-foot waterfall and reliefs of Apsaras, heavenly Hindu nymphs, and deliver it to her as a gift. The wall is visible from most places in the restaurant, but you can sit at the sushi bar for a close-up.

4785 Lake Forest Drive, Blue Ash, 513-554-1040. Open 7 days. $4-$30.

Flavor: A Thai/sushi restaurant offering eat in, carryout and delivery services. Specialties of the house include Pad Woon Sen (stir-fried wide noodles with chicken, egg, Napa cabbage, carrots, baby corn and snow peas) and delicious, reasonably priced sushi.

Flair: If your definition of a neighborhood joint includes sushi, this is the place for you. The modest décor in shades of green, pink and white provide a more feminine environment than many joints and make for a calm, relaxing experience. The service is leisurely and gives you enough time to sit back to enjoy your meal.

3922 Edwards Road, Oakley, 513-351-0999. Open Monday-Saturday. $8-$16.

Bangkok Bistro
Flavor: Offers Thai noodles, curries, seafood, steak and poultry as well as fresh sushi. House specials include Crispy Duck served with a variety of stir-fried vegetables and the Three Flavored Fish with Sweet Chili Sauce. Noodle dishes range from Pad Thai to Drunken Noodles (rice noodles stir fried with shrimp, chicken, vegetables and basil leaves). Sushi lovers should try the Sushi and Sashimi Platter with tuna and salmon sashimi.

Flair: Exposed brick walls, Asian accents and mismatched wooden tables emphasize the bistro's casual atmosphere. For newcomers, the savvy and helpful staff will easily guide you through the menu.

3506 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-871-0707. Open 7 days. $10-17.

Flavor: A swanky, Zagat-approved Asian-American eatery perfectly tailored for Hyde Parkerites to go and eat good sushi while complaining about not being able to find good sushi. The Asian-Western fusion menu also boasts halibut with black truffle polenta, lobster stuffed with crab and plenty of non-marine offerings such as pasta, duck and lamb dishes that combine complex flavors. Want still more fusion? Try the green tea cheesecake. If you're a hungry night owl, come for the midnight-2 a.m. happy hour Fridays and Saturdays featuring a half-price late-night menu.

Flair: Ah, the cocktails -- the specialty mojitos, the selection of martinis, even a great wine list -- all served at Beluga's hopping bar with thumping music and banks of plasma screen TVs. Look for live DJs Friday and Saturday evenings.

3520 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, 513-533-4444. Open Monday-Saturday. $8-$30.

Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro
Flavor: Healthy, affordable and quick Vietnamese food featuring stir-fried noodles, vermicelli salads and pho soups, all served vegetarian or with shrimp, pork, chicken or beef. It's feel-good food with plenty of cilantro and lemongrass to soothe the tummy. Not to worry: fried spring rolls with fiery dipping sauce offer one satisfying guilty pleasure.

Flair: A small, laid-back diner with good, friendly college vibes and plenty of sizzling action behind the counter. Great for when you're on the go, but plenty of counter and table seating for dining in.

2516 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, 513-281-1732. Open 7 days. $6-$6.50.

Dancing Wasabi
Flavor: It looks like a mild-mannered sushi bar until you see local celebrity sushi chef Charlie Choi mixing up a Hot Mama (one of his Chef's Special Rolls) behind the bar. With deeply flavorful -- and at times indulgent -- sushi, such as the tasty Sunday Morning Roll deep-fried with salmon and cream cheese, Dancing Wasabi serves up both creative and traditional Japanese and Korean cuisine. Korean favorites include Bibimbap with marinated beef, fried egg, vegetables and rice served steaming in a hot stone pot.

Flair: Surprises include the well-chosen list of refreshing, ice-cold sakes that evoke warm summer nights, including Snow Maiden, with cream of coconut and passion fruit undertones. Also enjoy playful presentations such as the Mochi Ice Cream, with quintessential green tea ice cream wrapped in a chewy, taffy-like rice cake, and delivered as a Sunday with a cherry on top. Open into the wee hours of the morning on the weekends.

1018 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-533-9218. Open 7 days. $5-$35.

Delight Thai Cafe
Flavor: Head here for some of the finest, most authentic Thai in the area. We love the soups like Tom Yum Goong (prawns, lemongrass, lime leaves, chili and lime juice) and the Tom Kah Gai (chicken, lemongrass, lime leaves and coconut milk). The Pad Thai is outstanding, and the curries (green, red, panaang) are particularly good. They also serve sushi.

Flair: Although a field trip for urbanites to a strip mall in the 'burbs, it's well worth the drive. The restaurant is pleasant and airy with high ceilings and lots of windows. Service is friendly and professional.

11928 Montgomery Road, Symmes Twp., 513-677-6175. Open 7 days. $8-$14.

First Wok
Flavor: Fresh-tasting Chinese cuisine with all the usual suspects. Chef specials include Beef and Scallops, Mussels with Black Bean Sauce and Seafood Delight (jumbo shrimp, scallops, lobster and crab meat with assorted vegetables in white sauce.) The lunch buffet is also popular, and kids younger than 3 eat free.

Flair: An interesting blend of traditional Chinese restaurant décor and 20th-century Jazz. Most business is carryout. When you dine in, expect a more leisurely pace than you get at most Chinese restaurants.

3870 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park, 513-321-8388. Open 7 days. $5.25-12.95.

Gajah Wong West Cafe
Flavor: Subtle and exotic, Northside's Indonesian café offers invigorating dishes built around aromatic ingredients like coconut milk, lemon grass, Java chilies and ginger. The Rendang is like a tropical pot roast, with slow-cooked beef in a richly spiced, dark sauce with a side of watercress sautéed in ginger and garlic. Choose from shrimp, chicken, tofu or tempeh with other entrées, and on warm weekends they light up the outdoor grill for specials like chicken sate.

Flair: The fenced-in patio is a magical island oasis with big teak tables lit by kerosene lanterns and strings of colored lights. There's a stage for live world music on the weekends, and plenty of coffee/tea/espresso drinks and cocktails for lingering over. Gajah also has beer and wine available now.

3937 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-591-3935. Open Wednesday-Saturday. $9.50-$22.50.

Green Papaya
Flavor: There's a lot to choose from at Green Papaya: Thai entrées, noodles, fried rice, curries, stir-fries and fish. There are many creative dishes you won't find in other Thai restaurants, including a health-conscious menu section. The Green Papaya Salad highlights fresh fruit and vegetables with papaya, string beans, carrots, tomato, garlic and roasted peanuts are tossed in fish sauce and limejuice. Takeout options include Lunch Boxes that include soup, appetizer, fruit and a nice selection of sushi and Thai dishes. Try the Bubble Tea -- Green Papaya is one of the few local places to carry this Asian beverage of black tapioca pearls.

Flair: Green Papaya's interior has an overall calming effect. The gracious staff and bubbling sounds of the fountain in the middle of the dining room will help you slow down for a minute so you can chew in peace.

2942 Wasson Road, Oakley, 513-731-0107. Open 7 days. $9.95-$17.95.

Jo An
Flavor: The discerning clientele of Japanese executives from down the road at the Toyota headquarters ensure that the food here is authentic and high quality. The sushi is excellent but don't limit yourself to that with such a wide variety of options. Choose from the sashimi, tempura, soups, salads, noodles and numerous cold appetizers. The menu also features items that are grilled, steamed or simmered.

Flair: The beauty of Jo An is that although it's located in the middle of nowhere (an anonymous office park by the airport), when you're there it really feels like somewhere else. The great sushi, subdued lighting, minimalist interior and tables full of Japanese businessmen in dark suits will transport you.

3940 Olympic Blvd., Erlanger, 859-746-2634. Open Monday-Saturday. $8 and up at lunchtime; $15 and up at dinner.

King Wok
Flavor: The flavor of the China Sea, or something like that, with all the usual Chinese favorites and a special emphasis on fresh seafood. Treat yourself to a whole lobster stir-fried with slices of fresh ginger and scallions in a buttery sauce. It's heavenly. Or come for the Chinese Dim Sum that's now served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Flair: Look for the neon fish. The atmosphere is casual, perked up by the pink linen napkins, nice China and very friendly service. Your server will bone your fish for ease of eating -- now that's helpful!

203 W. McMillan Ave., Clifton Heights, 513-723-1999. Open 7 days. $7-$13 (some prices seasonal and by the pound).

Ko-Sho Japanese Restaurant
Flavor: Ko-Sho is well known to a small group of downtowners who love traditional Japanese food. The Gyoza (sublime shrimp dumplings pan-fried until crispy) is a good starter. Try their tasty and fun-to-eat Shabu-Shabu (thin slices of raw beef cooked tableside on a burner in a furiously bubbling broth. There's also good-quality sushi and sashimi. Lunch specials are a great value.

Flair: Ko-Sho is low-key and pretty quiet most of the time. But what it lacks in ambiance and buzz is overcome by its tasty, traditional food and friendly, professional service.

215 E. Ninth St., Downtown, 513-665-4950. Open 7 days. $13-$16.

Lemon Grass
Flavor: Try the Crab Crispies (crab rangoons) appetizer, as Lemon Grass makes the best in town. From there, anything you choose from the varied menu is a safe bet. Some popular items are the Pad Thai, Yellow Curry or Lemon Grass Noodles served with egg, green and yellow onions, celery, bean sprouts and tomatoes.

Flair: This family-owned restaurant offers all the comfort of home, with intimate seating, friendly service and an overall good dining atmosphere. It's centrally located right next to Rookwood Pavilion.

2666 Madison Road, Hyde Park, 513-321-2882. Open 7 days. $9-$11.

Lu Lu's Asian Diner
Flavor: Noodle soup is the world's best comfort food and LuLu's has the best. Favorites on the noodle-intensive menu include Hall Fun (wide rice noodles stir-fried with a ginger soy sauce) and Lard Cha (udon noodles stir-fried in a garlic sauce with bean sprouts, scallions and eggs). Try the Tom Yum soup for a starter (lemongrass, green onion, mushrooms, shrimp and Thai basil seasonings). The Pad Thai is ever popular, and the folks there recommend the curry-spiked Singapore Noodles with chicken and shrimp.

Flair: Filled with families, especially on the weekends. The dining room is pretty boisterous and has a feel similar to a fast-food joint. The no-nonsense staff will take care of you right away.

135 W. Kemper Road, Springdale, 513-671-4949. Open Monday-Saturday. $5.50-$9.50.

Flavor: With three pages of appetizers and nine pages in total, Matsuya claims to have the most extensive menu of Cincinnati's numerous Japanese restaurants. If you go, take a page from the Japanese who rarely make a meal of sushi. Instead, order a bunch of hot and cold appetizers with sushi either at the beginning or the end of the meal.

Flair: Small, family-run restaurant with knowledgeable and professional servers, many of whom have been with the restaurant since it opened nearly 10 years ago. Clientele is a mix of Japanese businessmen and loyal locals.

7149 Manderlay Drive, Florence, 859-746-1199. Open 7 days. $11-$35.

Flavor: Offers good, solid Japanese food. From crisp, light Vegetable Tempura to sushi to a traditional bento box (a perfect choice for those who like to graze), dishes are fresh and expertly prepared. Also try the Ebi Shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings), which are light and tasty, or the moist and nicely flavored rendition of Chicken Terikayi. A large selection of specialty sushi rolls is also available.

Flair: Service is polite and deferential, with Japanese hostesses and servers decked out in traditional garb. The ambiance is airy with lots of light-colored woods. A wall of private rooms is available, and there's a patio for outdoor dining.

8608 Market Place Lane, Montgomery, 513-891-6880. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $12-$23.

Flavor: Opening a bento box of barbecued eel at Miyoshi is better than opening a present on your birthday: delicious, fresh sushi, sashimi and tempura, of course, but also a wide variety of less-familiar authentic dishes. Seafood arrives daily.

Flair: Excellent, friendly service in a relaxed yet refined setting, with sushi bar seating to watch the action or comfortable tables. Zen garden entry. Reservations required for the private tatami room (non-smoking).

8660 Bankers St., Florence, 859-525-6564. Open Monday-Saturday. $12-$25.

Oriental Wok
Flavor: Even if you've never gotten friendly with tofu, the Five-Spice version served over garlic spinach could become your new favorite food -- or perhaps the crisp and wonderful Five-Spice Shrimp and Calamari. Red-meat eaters will love the Beef Ho Fun or Peppercorn Stir-Fry. Save room for sesame balls and mango pudding. Try the Volcano Chicken served in a sweet and spicy Thai chile garlic sauce with pineapple, red peppers and other vegetables. All the appetizers -- from Crab Rangoon to Pot Stickers and more -- are made in-house from scratch. Not all Chinese restaurants can say the same.

Flair: The Wong family makes this place special. Mr. Wong is a showman, moving from table to table and making his guests feel welcome and special. His wife and daughters are as charming as they are beautiful.

317 Buttermilk Pike, Fort Mitchell, 859-331-3000. Open 7 days. $10-$25.

Pacific Moon Cafe
Flavor: Alex Chin's menu offers fresh classic pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian options from Pacific Rim countries in this new Levee location. Come for new Dim Sum brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays featuring traditional cart service. The dining hours are perfect for the service industry crowd or other late-nighters: they serve their full menu nightly until 2 a.m. (Sushi orders must be in by 1:30 a.m.)

Flair: The Little Pleasures appetizer menu allows diners to try a wide selection of Asian favorites, including delicious lightly fried crispy tofu, crab rangoon, steamed shark-fin dumplings and honey BBQ pork.

Newport on the Levee, Newport, 859-261-MOON. Open 7 days. $9-$22.

P.F. Chang's
Flavor: This national chain offers an unusual selection of Chinese dishes including a variety of seafood, chicken, beef, vegetarian and noodle dishes such as Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Wraps, Kung Pao Scallops, Szechwan Chicken Chow Fun (fat rice noodles tossed with Szechwan-spiced water chestnuts, scallions, chicken and chili peppers). Or try the Mongolian Shrimp or the grilled lemongrass prawns. Steak eaters will appreciate the soy-and-mild-chile-marinated N.Y. Strip served with bok choy.

Flair: The hip, fashionable décor provides an excellent backdrop for a night out on the town. Unlike most of the other popular chains, they take reservations. Winner of "Best Chinese."

2633 Edmondson Road, Norwood, 513-531-4567. Open 7 days. $7-$20.

Riverside Korean Restaurant
Flavor: Authentic Korean food in Kentucky? Believe it. We love the Ya Chae Pa Jun (a thin vegetable pancake) or the traditional hot stone pot of Dolsot Bibim Bab (rice with vegetables and beef, chicken, or tofu topped with an egg over easy). Entrées are accompanied by nine tiny bowls of appetizers -- each a treat -- from fish cake to spinach and kim chi to radish.

Flair: Unassuming on the outside and easy to miss, it's another world inside with low tables, silk cushions and exotic music. Wear good socks -- you must remove your shoes to sit at the more traditional low tables.

512 Madison Ave., Covington, 859-291-1484. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $12-$36.

Ruthai's Thai Kitchen
Flavor: The specialty of this kitchen has to be the noodle dishes, which come with your choice of vegetables and meat (chicken, pork, beef or seafood).

If you don't favor soy sauce or chewy noodles, try the curries, sushi or the interesting Green Papaya Salad. No worries for picky eaters -- Ruthai's has an extensive menu that can fit any palate and there's plenty for vegetarians.

Flair: Tucked into a small space on Mount Lookout Square, Ruthai's offers comfy seating among Asian knick-knacks and posters. With room to seat only 25, carryout is a bustling business here.

3164 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-871-7687. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $9-$15.

Sake Bomb
Flavor: Sushi gone wild. Plenty of traditional nori, nigiri and sashimi for purists, but for those seeking new horizons you might find barbecue sauce, mayonnaise and tropical fruit in your nori roll. The menu also boasts generously portioned Japanese dumpling, tempura and teriyaki dishes. Check back soon for new specials to come with their forthcoming summer menu updates.

Flair: This place has become an after-hours industry destination, especially on Mondays -- when special industry night discounts are offered. Naturally, the drink of choice is a shot of sake suspended on chopsticks over beer, knocked into the pint by a pound on the table ("3, 2, 1, Sake Bomb!") and swiftly gulped.

3672 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-533-0555. Open 7 days. $5-$15.

Shanghai Mama's
Flavor: Serves up a range of starters from Spring Rolls to Shrimp Tempura to the more unusual Shanghai Ravioli (spinach, tofu, ginger, siricha and hot mustard). For main dishes, choose among a wide selection of Shanghai Flatbread (scallion pancakes), noodle bowls and rice bowls.

Flair: With a setting meant to suggest a 1920s Chinese noodle house, it's dark and inviting. Friday and Saturday it's open until 3 a.m., serving up food and drink to weary post-clubbers and chefs and servers from Downtown restaurants looking for a bite to eat and a rest for tired feet.

216 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-241-7777. Open Monday-Saturday. $6-$10.

Song Long
Flavor: This family-run restaurant has a legion of loyal patrons that flocks for its unique, distinctive and delicious Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Cold Sesame Noodles win annual awards and the Goi Cuon (cold rolls in rice paper) is the best in the city.

Flair: Comfortable and simple with a touch of kitschy Asian décor. If you're not familiar with Vietnamese food, the staff takes the time to explain menu options without making you feel ignorant. There's never a "one time only" at Song Long -- once you've eaten here you'll be back.

1737 Section Road, Roselawn, 513-351-7631. Open Monday-Saturday. $7-$16.

Sukhothai Thai Cuisine
Flavor: Sukhothai's menu offers a number of perfectly prepared traditional dishes, including Pad Thai (the unofficial national dish of Thailand), various curries and a wide selection of stir-fries (which can be made with your choice of a protein, including tofu, shrimp, chicken and duck). Want something more exotic? Try the mango prawns stir-fried in a tamarind sauce or the garlic soft-shell crab. Just be sure to order a Singha (Thai beer) to take the edge off the spicy heat from those curry dishes!

Flair: Hidden down a winding path behind a car dealership off Montgomery Road, Sukhothai is well worth seeking out. The interior might be simple and a bit bare, but the delicious, highly seasoned food creates its own environment.

8102 Market Place Lane, Montgomery. 513-794-0057. Open Monday-Saturday. $6-$18.

Sung Korean Bistro
Flavor: Sung tries to stay true to authentic Korean food while making it more approachable, offering traditional favorites such as dolsot bibimbab as well as more familiar stir-fried dishes. a phenomenal appetizer option is Haemul Padjun, a pancake with egg, shrimp, crabmeat, squid, green onion and pepper could easily feed four.

Flair: The dining room includes traditional-style floor seating in the back of the room. There are plans for a sushi bar in the works.

700 Elm St., Downtown, 513-721-SUNG. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $14-$19.

Teak Thai
Flavor: Traditional Thai and unusual surprises, especially in the curry department, show up on this popular restaurant's menu. Teak's Pad Thai gets rave reviews, but some of our favorites are the Panaeng Curry (we love it with chunks of fried Tofu), Seafood Delight or Vegetable Thai Spicy.

Flair: The sushi bar downstairs lends itself to more of an upbeat bar atmosphere, but the upper levels are chic-casual for special occasions and small gatherings. The outside patio is one of the hardest seats to get in nice weather. Parking can be difficult, especially on weekends but the walk will be worth it. Winner of "Best Asian" and "Best Sushi."

1049 St. Gregory St., Mount Adams, 513-665-9800. Open 7 days. $11-$30.

Thai Namtip
Flavor: Excellent dishes include Crispy Tofu with a perky peanut sauce, Chicken Coconut Soup with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chunks of chicken, Shrimp Panang Curry served in a stone pot and Pad See Ewe with wide rice noodles. Try Thai Namtip Spicy Fish, especially when they have red snapper.

Flair: Portraits of the Thai president and first lady on one wall and a large mural of Niagara Falls on the other. Not fancy, so come to this hidden West Side gem for the food. It's excellent.

5461 North Bend Road, Monfort Heights, 513-481-3360. Open 7 days. $7-$14.

Wild Ginger
Flavor: This sleek venture from Lemon Grass owner Dao Yee has a full range of Thai, Vietnamese and even some Chinese food, but sushi is the way to go here, with selections like the Spicy Tuna Roll or Spider Roll. A new favorite is the Heema Roll with shrimp tempura, asparagus and avocado, topped with yellowfin tuna and sprinkled with crabmeat and tempura flakes. Order sushi by the boatload -- a Boat for One or a Boat for Two. Other menu selections include curries, Pad Thai and the Seafood Choo Chee with mussels, shrimp, calamari and scallops in a coconut milk curry sauce. Beer and wine are now available.

Flair: Wild Ginger conjures up visions of pungent, spicy Asian cuisine, but the low-key atmosphere, soft colors and bamboo furnishings create an intimate way to enjoy the flavor party in your mouth. As of press time, an expansion is under construction. Look forward to a pair of hibachi grills and a full bar!

3655 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, 513-533-9500. Open 7 days. $9-$15.


BBQ Revue
Flavor: The smell of hickory wood hits your olfactory senses before you even make it in the door. Once inside you'll find all the necessities of a good neighborhood BBQ joint: lots of smoked meat slathered in a sweetish hot sauce with sides like creamy mac and cheese, green beans flavored with pork and cole slaw.

Flair: BBQ should never be served on anything other than paper plates and eaten with plastic forks. Take your cafeteria-style tray to one of the banquet tables in the dining rooms and dig in to the sounds of local news and neighborhood chatter amongst the old Hudepohl, Schoenling and Wiedemann signs.

4725 Madison Road, Madisonville, 513-871-3500. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $3-$17.

City Barbecue
Flavor: This regional chain puts out some damn tasty barbeque, including mouth-watering beef brisket and a good and sloppy North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich. Don't neglect your sides -- the vinegary greens and crusty hush puppies are stellar. The new Pulled Chicken Sandwich is a yummy addition to the fare.

Flair: Play with your food. City BBQ offers three sauces to mix and match -- a vinegar- and onion-based Carolina sauce, an original tomato-based sauce and mustard sauce.

3804 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park, 513-871-8890; 7706 Voice of America Centre, West Chester, 513-755-0518. Open 7 days. $6-$19.

Goodie's Barbeque
Flavor: Mr. Goodie sure knows his pork butt -- pork pit-smoked slowly 'til the fat has completely dissolved and a crunchy caramelized crust has formed on the outside, resulting in a deep but delicate smoked flavor. For those not tempted by the sauce, there are more standard items like the fish sandwich or fried okra. And we'll eat the chess pie until we're as plump as a tick.

Flair: Complete with neon signs, this down-home restaurant screams good eatin' at reasonable prices. The waitstaff is always friendly, making each trip here feel like eating at home. Winner of "Best Soul Food."

5841 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, 513-542-4663. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$18.

Jim Dandy's Family BBQ
Flavor: Favorites include the baby backs and pulled pork, and according to the owner, "People love the brisket!" The homemade sides are pretty outstanding, too, with red beans and rice and a yummy broccoli cauliflower slaw that's served cold. The homemade sausage is worth a try as well. Jim Dandy's hosts a serious barbecue competition in September where everyone can enter as long as they use charcoal or wood. No propane -- sorry, Hank.

Flair: Counter service with Carhartts and cashmere, side by side. Stop by to "see our pits in action!" or pull up to the drive-in window.

2343 E. Sharon Road, Sharonville, 513-771-4888. Open 7 days. $5-$20.

Ms. Helen's Grill
Flavor: It's worth the wait for some of Ms. Helen's charcoal-grilled, slow-smoked barbecue slathered in her secret-recipe sauce, but you'll even find the side dishes addictive -- especially the crowd-pleasing mac and cheese and the cheesy garlic potatoes.

Flair: Drag a couple of small tables together and park yourself in the middle of the Findlay Market action for a ringside seat at Ms. Helen's, which is sandwiched between The Waffle Man and Luken's Poultry and Seafood Market.

126 Market House, Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-5678. Open Wednesday-Sunday. $3-$10.

Montgomery Inn
Flavor: Area residents have enjoyed the signature barbequed ribs for more than 50 years, and we'll probably be enjoying them for another 50. Round out your meal with an order of the Saratoga Chips for the quintessential Montgomery Inn experience. Other menu choices include barbequed chicken or a mixed shrimp and chicken combo as well as non-saucy options such as chicken, steaks and pork chops.

Flair: The nooks and crannies of the original Inn's dining room are filled with sports memorabilia. The bustling servers dressed in black pants, vests and ties will make sure you get the extra napkins and bibs you'll need. Winner of "Best Barbecue."

9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-791-3482 and other locations. Open 7 days. $16-$30.

Pit to Plate
Flavor: If any place could turn a vegetarian, Pit to Plate would be it. Its authentic Texas-style, hickory-smoked meat is slow-cooked and resonating with tenderness and flavor. Try the pulled pork or beef brisket -- both eye-rolling, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Plates come with a choice of two sides, including candied yams, cinnamon apples, greens and macaroni and cheese. The Rosemary Garlic Tilapia and the Chipotle Pork were recently added to the fare.

Flair: Ambiance is fun fusion kitsch -- Native American-meets-Southwest-meets-Cincinnati. Food is served on picnic ware with paper towels for napkins.

8021 Hamilton Ave., Mount Healthy, 513-931-9100. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$18.

Walt's Barbeque
Flavor: This place is meat-tastic, boasting a menu dominated by ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket all smoked and slow-cooked on-site.

Flair: The all-you-can-eat ribs deal on Tuesdays is worth the fight to secure a seat, which now much easier given Walt's new larger space.

6040 Colerain Ave., White Oak, 513-923-9800. Open 7 days. $10-$19.

Walt's Hitching Post
Flavor: Barbecue ribs and Southern skillet-fried chicken are Walt's two signature items, and the home-fried potatoes are the best anywhere on Earth. Another treat is the tomato garlic salad dressing -- so unique and delicious you don't even care that it's over iceberg lettuce. And the rye bread is unlike anything you've ever tasted, drenched in salted butter.

Flair: Walt's feels like a nice restaurant your grandparents would have gone to celebrate a special occasion in 1964. From the white brick smokehouse that fills the parking lot with the smell of burning hickory to the wood-paneled interior, this place is filled with character.

3300 Madison Pike, Covington, 859-331-0494. Open 7 days. $10-$30.


Flavor: We love the Blackened Bleu, Boursin Cheese or Spicy Black Bean burgers, but Arthur's also offers salads, sandwiches and entrées including Broiled Salmon, Asiago Cheese and Garlic Ravioli and Australian Sea Bass.

Flair: This neighborhood joint attracts an eclectic crowd of suits and blue-collar sorts. It's a great place to meet coworkers and friends after work. In season, the outdoor courtyard in the back is one of our favorite spots. Winner of "Best Outdoor Dining."

3516 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, 513-871-5543. Open 7 days. $7-$13.

Bronte Bistro
Flavor: This casual restaurant is all about guilty pleasures. The smoothies are always tempting and the dessert case is chock full of chocolate temptations and fruity delights. The entrées are a little more involved -- Anjou Pear and Bleu Cheese Salad as well as other light fare -- but who needs food after a hefty slice of chocolate cake?

Flair: Walking into Bronte from the attached Joseph-Beth bookstore, you might start thinking this is just another one of those pretentious cafés. But you'd be wrong. The café is doused in rich, aesthetically pleasing colors that elicit good vibes, complete with large, comfy booths that appeal to quiet conversationalists and book lovers alike.

2692 Madison Road, Norwood, 513-396-8970. Open 7 days. $8-$15.

Cafe de Paris
Offers Parisian café food at it's finest, focusing on traditionally French lunch and breakfast selections like Salade Nicoise and Croissant Foure aux Epinards (toasted croissant with spinach and feta).

Flair: Owner Khaled Atallah must be a favorite son of the City of Lights. His hearty "Bonsoir!" rings throughout the cafe, creating a charming, tres chic dining experience.

17 Garfield Place, Downtown, 513-651-1919. Open Monday-Friday. $3-$8.50

Dilly Deli Cafe Wines and Gourmet
Flavor: A surprising array of eclectic choices for a "deli." Does grilled shrimp and asparagus salad sound like a deli dish to you? The crab cakes, salmon filet and salad with grilled shrimp and asparagus are favorites among the regulars.

Flair: To accompany the fab food, you'll fine loads of excellent choices on the Wine Spectator and Beer Advocate award-winning beverage list. Still, this is a low-key neighborhood eatery for Eastsiders that's terrific for outdoor dining. Great wine shop and deli meats and cheeses.

6818 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, 513-561-5233. Open Monday-Saturday. $10-$25.

Greenup Cafe
Flavor: Country cookin' French style. Breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch and dinner featuring seasonal, local ingredients and simple, friendly preparations. Fine tart of ratatouille served with two fried eggs or buttermilk pancakes with Jill's maple butter. Good coffee and lovely assorted pastries all day long.

Flair: The most bohemian of the Jean-Robert Group restaurant, the rehabbed Covington brownstone that was previously home to the Wildflour Bakery. Bright walls with art nouveau décor and a charming garden patio make this cozy little neighborhood place a destination for people from all over the city. The scent of fresh-baked goods drifts seductively throughout the two floors calling you to make a choice between the almond and the chocolate croissants. Or you can have your croissant and eat it too -- just order the chocolate almond croissant and satisfy both urges. Winner of "Best Sunday Brunch."

308 Greenup St., Covington, 859-261-3663. Open 7 days; dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $15-$21.

Jean-Paul's Paradiso
Flavor: Sure they offer great soups -- try the creamy roasted portobella mushroom -- pastas, panini, wraps and calzones. But many say they make the best pizzas in town. Find out for yourself: Try the Northern Woods, topped with wild mushrooms sautéed with rosemary and thyme, roasted red peppers and goat cheese.

Flair: Jean-Paul Belmont, a master chef and baker from Switzerland, is building his own little culinary empire around the Clough Pike Market in Mount Washington. The environment might be casual but the attention to detail is impeccable.

6732 Clough Pike, Mount Washington, 513-231-2780. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$15.

JeanRo Bistro
Flavor: This is "homestyle" French done in all its peasant glory from Cincinnati's culinary king, Jean-Robert de Cavel, featuring steak frites, Coq Au Vin and Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, Steamed Mussels and Vichyssoise and velvety, bittersweet Pot de Cr#232;me (the French version of chocolate pudding).

Flair: From the marigold walls with posters, photos and artifacts collected by Jean-Robert throughout his travels, there's no place more French in the city, except perhaps his home kitchen.

413 Vine St., Downtown, 513-621-1465. Open 7 Days. $16-$31.

Kona Bistro
Flavor: Offers delicious appetizers and salads but the real gems here are entrées such as the Coconut Crusted Tilapia and the Asian Grilled Tofu stacked on top of fresh greens, with scallion sticky rice cakes. Kona is one of the few restaurants in Cincinnati that smartly honors vegetarians and vegans with as many interesting choices as the meat-eating patrons.

Flair: The first Kona up in Oxford gave Miami students a taste of something different. The Cincinnati arm of the operation opened in 2004 in a clean, trendy niche of Oakley Square. The service aims to please and the casual atmosphere will relax you if their unique wine and beer selection doesn't.

3012 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-842-5662; 31 W. High St., Oxford, 513-523-0686. Open 7 days. $14-$20.

La Cherie Bakery and Bistro
La Cherie focuses on something its owners felt was missing on the south side of the Ohio River: simple, healthy, home-cooked food. They make all their food from scratch including their French bread and bakery goods like the Cranberry Almond scones. One of our favorite things about the bistro is that breakfast never ends -- we can get quiche Lorraine, French toast with baked apple slices and a side of Glier's goetta, and time we want. Try the new made-from-scratch Blueberry Belgian waffles.

Flair: Service is as charming and personal as the space, which is simple in décor that includes and a larger table in the front window with a crotchet tablecloth, both heirlooms from co-owner Susan Burnett's family.

522 Main St., Covington, 859-261-8889. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $4-$8.

Flavor: Tapas with a seafood emphasis in the heart of Milford. Ahi tuna spring rolls, crab cakes, Buffalo-style shrimp and sautéed mussels are all great choices. Or go veggie with portabella mushrooms, grilled and topped with herbed cheese and crabmeat or ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and goat cheese. There's even a miniature bison burger! The dining is light and suited more for active couples than families.

Flair: A great place to enjoy street-side seating on a nice spring night or cozy loft seating on a more intimate occasion. Remember, there's no better date food than tapas.

18 Main St., Milford, 513-831-9888; 7426 Beechmont Ave., 513-233-9888. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $6-$11.

Flavor: Otto's continues to impress with a small, well-crafted menu that includes a certified black angus filet with blue cheese bacon cream sauce, seared sea scallops atop spinach parmesan risotto with smoked tomato aioli and Chicken Otto with roast fingerling potatoes. Have the tomato pie for lunch.

Flair: Intimate, friendly and delicious. Otto's servers are charming, and there couldn't be a better, more welcoming neighborhood restaurant. There's a small private patio out back or sidewalk dining out front to enjoy when the weather's nice. Summer season brings back Sunday brunch.

521 Main St., Covington, 859-491-6678. Open 7 days. $20-$32

Rock Bottom
Flavor: This microbrewery always has fresh ales to quench the beer thirst and a menu to cure any hungry appetite. Some of the most popular specialty dishes include Brown Ale Chicken with shiitake mushrooms, Mahi tacos served with a pineapple slaw and black beans and jambalaya with shrimp, sausage and chicken. Steaks, burgers and lighter salads are also offered.

Flair: Great meeting place for before or after a Reds or Bengals game. Rock Bottom's location also is a great place to take out-of-town guests or just for a night on the town.

10 Fountain Square, Downtown, 513-621-1588. Open 7 days. $10-$16.

Flavor: One of the original upscale/casual restaurants in Cincinnati, Trio features a California-style menu of pizza and pastas, salads, sandwiches and entrées that still turns out consistently good food. From a Niçoise Salad to Thai Chicken or Smoked Salmon Pizza and main courses such as Chilean Sea Bass, Trio's kitchen is always dependable and delicious.

Flair: Usually crowded with dating couples, family celebrations and business meetings or gal pals sipping wine at the bar from the extensive wine menu. Despite its country club vibe and definite swank appeal, Trio is never pretentious and one of our top choices when we need "something for everyone."

7565 Kenwood Road, Kenwood, 513-984-1905. Open 7 days. $20-$30.

White House Inn
Flavor: Serving what it calls "heartland cooking," the White House Inn offers a range of salads, sandwiches and main entrées that include Filet Mignon, Fried Chicken, Grilled Porkopolis Chops and Calf's Liver. Among the house specialties is a strip steak bathed in Jack Daniels sauce.

Flair: A relic of the West Chester of yesteryear, the White House Inn sits on six acres of former farmland, wedged in among myriad housing developments and warehouses that have blossomed in the past few years. It's big inside, with seven separate dining rooms.

4940 Mulhauser Road, West Chester, 513-860-1110. Open 7 days. $18-$30.

York Street Cafe
Flavor: This local favorite offers a lunch and dinner menu specializing in entrees like fresh halibut, smoked salmon and burgers. Try the popular Mediterranean Board, a sampling of hummus, tabouleh, baba ghanouj, Greek salad, spanikopita and pita that's perfect for sharing. Homemade desserts top off an always original and interesting meal at York Street.

Flair: Built as a pharmacy in 1880, the café is decorated in an eclectic, comfortable style, with original shelving and woodwork lining the walls. Original art shares space with quirky kitsch such as collections of dentures and Pez containers. Winner of "Best First Date Restaurant."

738 York St., Newport, 859-261-9675. Open Tuesday-Saturday. $8-$25.

Zebo's Bistro
Flavor: As a general rule we never sleep in restaurants or eat in hotels, but Zebo's is a surprisingly tasty exception to humdrum rule of most hotel cafés. Their dinner selections are paired with wine suggestions, and there are fresh fish entrées like Seabass along with signature items such as duck breast stuffed with boursin cheese and marinated in a bourbon glaze.

Flair: This Marriott overall is a cut above with an exceptionally amiable staff throughout. Zebo's has a great river view of the downtown skyline and the servers are very accommodating.

10 W. RiverCenter Blvd., Covington, 859-392-3750. Open 7 days. $15-$35.


Blue Jay
Flavor: For some great-tasting, greasy-spoon, eggs-and-bacon type of breakfast, there's no place better. Hearty portions of eggs, home fries and goetta are regularly fried on the grill, and meals like cheese coneys, cheeseburgers or ham and cheese sandwiches hit the spot when breakfast won't. If you're in the mood for a light snack, order a homemade pie to go.

Flair: Danny and Kathryn Petropoulos opened this tiny Northside restaurant in 1967, and the couple still spends their days cooking and baking for customers. Regulars drift in and out throughout the day, and the waitresses love to chat with newcomers.

4154 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-0847. Open Monday-Saturday. $3-$7.

First Watch

Flavor: This "daytime café" offers breakfast, brunch and lunch items that range from healthy to hearty. With multiple locations in the area, there is sure to be one close to you. The breakfast options include a Killer Cajun Omelette, stuffed with chicken breast, mushrooms, Monterey Jack cheese and onions. At lunchtime, try a burger, any of their specialty sandwiches or salads.

Flair: Great place for morning breakfast meetings, as it's a corporate reworking of a neighborhood diner. Coffee flows readily from large tureens to help jumpstart the brain. Great for family dining on the weekends. Winner of "Best Breakfast."

Multiple Locations. Open 7 days. $3-$7.

Martha Jeanne's Eatery

Flavor: Simple, homemade food without frills, flavored with affection. Traditional breakfast with biscuits and gravy, eggs and hash browns, pancakes and French toast. For lunch, soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as a blue-plate special. The desserts are homemade, too, and half-portions are available. Perfect -- a sliver of pie is just what we wanted!

Flair: Clean and cozy with bright vinyl tablecloths, unmatched chairs and the unbreakable Corel plates our grandma used to have. There are no strangers here.

511 Fairfield Drive, Bellevue, 859-491-9258. Open Tuesday-Saturday. $3-$8.


Flavor: It just keeps getting better at this creative breakfast and lunch spot. Join them for Wrap It Up Fridays with $5 wraps. The breakfast item that's on everyone's lips is Mokka's French toast battered with corn flakes and topped with cr#232;me brulee pastry cream and bananas. We bet you can't eat the whole thing.

Flair: Mokka is working on un-fine-dining its new space. It isn't as quaint as the old one, but there's plenty of room and great booths. And it enthusiastic staff and prices can't be beat. Nothing on the menu is over $7 and everything shows effort.

518 E. Fifth St., Newport, 859-581-3700. Open 7 days. $2-$7.

Original Pancake House

Flavor: A morning person's dream, offering everything from strawberry waffles to vegetarian omelettes. Regulars are hooked on the skillet-sized Dutch Baby Pancake (a bowl-shaped confection served with whipped butter, powdered sugar and lemon) and the Apple Pancake (an oven-baked specialty made with Granny Smith apples and a cinnamon glaze).

Flair: This family-style breakfast house has a loyal customer base and is always hopping, so there might be a wait, especially on weekends.

9977 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-745-0555. Open 7 days. $4-$9.

Paula's Cafe

Flavor: Offering hot and cold sandwiches, oversized salads and filling homemade soups, Paula's is more than a café -- it's an institution. The food here never fails to satisfy; just try the Cuban Sandwich: roast pork loin, ham and melted Swiss cheese pressed between slices of dense, fresh Shadeau Bakery bread to see just how good a sandwich can be.

Flair: This year, a bustling new downtown storefront joined its older sibling, still located in the heart of Findlay Market. At either spot, grab something on the run or hunker down for a well-deserved break from work or shopping.

41 E. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-381-3354. Open Monday-Friday. $4-$8.

Sugar 'N Spice

Flavor: Mmm, real hash browns, plump omelettes, wispy thin blueberry pancakes with the tang of buttermilk, custard-y scrambled eggs and bottomless cups of coffee. Sugar 'N Spice is known for good breakfast comfort food served all day, but try some of their daily lunch specials like the Alotta Bull (1/2-pound roast beef sandwich) or the Red 'n Yeller (grilled cheese with tomato).

Flair: Not much, and that's why we like it. Weekend mornings are a guaranteed wait for breakfast, but otherwise it's a no-nonsense, elbows-on-the-counter environment.

4381 Reading Road, Bond Hill, 513-242-3521. Open 7 Days. $3-$7.


Claddagh Irish Pub

Flavor: Enjoy traditional fish and chips beer battered with Bass Ale, Shepherd's Pie, corned beef and cabbage and Irish Beef and Guinness Stew.

Flair: We're tempted to break out the chain-mail outfit and call each other "wench" when hanging out in Claddagh's castle-like bar and dining rooms, but there's nothing like the outside dining area with the beautiful view of the downtown skyline to take the bite out of our blarney.

Newport on the Levee, Newport, 859-581-8888; 5075 Deerfield Blvd., Deerfield Twp., 513-770-0999. Open 7 days. $9-$20.

Cock 'N Bull
Serving "traditional" fish and chips -- well, without the mushy peas anyway -- a Reuben sandwich in a nod to Mainstrasse's German theme and the Famous Jim Beam steak to embrace Kentucky's famous bourbon tradition.

Flair: Especially lovely outdoors with a ringside seat on the liveliest corner in Covington.

601 Main St., Covington, 859-581-4253. Open 7 days. $7-$18.

The Crooked Nail Pub

Flavor: The menu is a combination of affordable English pub fare and bar food with sandwiches, including the pub's self-proclaimed Famous Fish Sandwich and an open-faced corned beef reuben. Try the unusual but delicious deep-fried pickles at least once just to say you've eaten a deep-fried pickle.

Flair: Typical pub décor with wood paneling, Guinness beer advertisements and British flags provides a comfortable, familiar feel.

9303 Cincinnati-Columbus Road (Route 42), West Chester, 513-755-7800. Open Monday-Saturday. $10-$20.

Molly Malone's Irish Pub

Flavor: Irish dishes, like the popular fish and chips, Shepherd's Pie and variations on a boxty theme: traditional beef and some twists, including chicken tikka and Seamus Ramirez's jalapeno version. There's also a filet, Sugar and Spice Salmon, Salmon and Cod Salad, Bow Tie Chicken Pasta and meatloaf. Wash your meal down with one of the many English or Irish ales.

Flair: The pub's cozy interior is a great neighborhood gathering place. Live music in the bar on Friday and Saturday nights, quieter in any of the three dining rooms.

6111 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, 513-531-0700. Open 7 days. $8-$16.


Flavor: There's nothing like a warm, comforting dish of Shepherd's Pie served with a good malty ale next to a warm, cozy fire. Well, except for winning the freakin' lottery, but what are the odds? So we suggest heading downtown to Nicholson's for a sure thing. The wood-grilled salmon is a best-seller, but the Osso Bucco is awfully good, too. Fresh seafood is market price. There are lunch and dinner specials daily.

Flair: The great mahogany bar -- which offers 90 single-malt scotches -- is the centerpiece, but even the urinals were made in Scotland! Now that's attention to detail.

625 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-564-9111. Open 7 days. $10-$33.


City View Tavern

Flavor: Still the best view and some of the tastiest burgers in town, and the prices are from back in the day when Mount Adams was known as a "bohemian" neighborhood with just regular folks. Try City View's Bloody Mary -- it repeatedly wins awards as the city's finest and hairiest. Stella Artois is among the beers newly added available at the bar.

Flair: Laid back and genuine, City View has managed to rise above the hype and stay real for generations. Good jukebox, cold beer, friendly folks. One note of caution: Unattended children of any age will be dismissed from the premises.

403 Oregon St., Mount Adams, 513-241-8439. Open 7 days. $3-$7.

Ollie's Trolley

Flavor: Mr. Ollie's cooking is mighty good. Cole slaw aficionados swear he has the secret, and what they say about that deep-fried turkey is true -- it's not greasy, quite moist and a helluva lot easier to buy than make.

Flair: Now in two locations for your Ollie Burger pleasure. Limited seating, so grab some and go. You didn't want anyone to watch you munching that turkey drumstick anyway!

1607 Central Ave., West End, 513-381-6100. Open Monday-Saturday. $3-$45 (for whole turkeys).

Quatman's Cafe

Flavor: Known for its burgers, which are a 1/2-pound of grilled beef served with a fat slice of onion and pickle. Additional dinner or lunch options include its famous mock turtle soup, cheeseburgers, ham and cheese, roast beef, corned beef and turkey sandwiches and fish on Fridays. The chicken and ham salads are top notch.

Flair: An authentic Norwood experience if you're looking for one -- and who isn't? Filled with regulars and characters of all makes, Quatman's is a burp from the '50s with neon beer signs, checkered tablecloths and paper plates.

2434 Quatman Ave., Norwood, 513-731-4370. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$10.

Zip's Cafe

Flavor: Zip's equals cheeseburgers. OK, now you get it. The meat is ground locally at Avril's on Court Street. The buns are baked locally at Klosterman's. Sure, there's a black bean burger, a turkey burger and even a tuna sandwich on the menu, but would you go to the Sistine Chapel and look at the floor? Eat the cheeseburger. The Girth Burger, a beef patty with a mett on top is sure to burst the seams of your pants.

Flair: There's a toy train running along the tracks, and patrons packed in like sardines. There's beer, and there are Zip Burgers. You're in the right place. Go wild and have the onion rings. Winner of "Best Burgers."

1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-871-9876. Open 7 days. $4-$8.


Dee Felice

Flavor: New Orleans-style right in Covington with a Portabella Etouffée for that rarest of dining species, a Cajun vegetarian. Blackened steaks and seafood, not too spicy despite the menu warning, and nightly specials.

Flair: Jazz rules here, with excellent live music Wednesday through Sunday complementing the crisp linens and shiny brass rails. Mainstrasse's most upscale eatery now allows smoking only at the bar, which, is one more spot than you can smoke on this side of the river.

529 Main St., Covington, 859-261-2365. Open daily (dinner); half-price wine and appetizers Mondays; Sunday Brunch. $15-$30 (more for market-priced entr�es).

Knotty Pine on the Bayou

Flavor: Gulf Coast seafood, done Cajun style, or just the way you like it. Knotty Pine mixes its own seasonings, and it's been a recipe for success. Farm-raised oysters all year around. You've got to try the Karma Cake, an opera cream cake baked from an old family recipe by the owner's sister -- whose name is Karma!

Flair: Funky, comfortable, home cooking at the restaurant with the crooked floor. Crawfish boil every Thursday, and half-priced wine on Wednesdays by the bottle or by the glass. Live music during Mardi Gras.

1802 Licking Pike, Cold Spring, Ky., 859-781-2200. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $13-$26.



Flavor: Best known for their Cajun menu items such as Blackened Gator, Jambalaya and Blackened New York Strip, but they also offer Tex-Mex Enchiladas, Burritos, Fajitas and Chimichangas as well as pasta dishes like the Lobster Ravioli Alfredo and Mardi Gras Pasta.

Flair: Great neighborhood hangout. The restaurant has a casual and lively bar/café atmosphere, especially on Sunday nights when the band cranks up. Check out the specialty shop where you can find local music CDs and a kick-ass wine selection at reasonable prices.

3538 Columbia Pkwy., Columbia-Tusculum, 513-871-5779. Open 7 days. $6-$25.

Arnold's Bar and Grill

Flavor: Arnold's serves up a nice range of lunch and dinner options at bargain prices, including a lunch menu (weekly specials) with sandwiches, burgers, bratwurst, grilled polenta, dinner specials, salads, meats and pasta.

Flair: The oldest continually operated bar in town -- Cincinnatians have been polishing the bar with their elbows here since 1861. There are authentic signs and antiques everywhere that create a real sense of history. Live music on weekends, and a courtyard for outdoor dining. Winner of "Best Restaurant with Live Music."

210 E. Eighth St., Downtown, 513-421-6234. Open Monday-Saturday. $8-$22.

Avari Bistro & Deli

Flavor: If you've ever lived in Manhattan, you owe it to yourself to come to Avari for a kosher meal that will bring back such memories as homemade matzoh ball soup, chicken shwarma, corned beef and brisket. If you're not a fan of Jewish food, then try the Pasta Pomodoro and Buffalo Chicken Tenders.

Flair: Move beyond the deli case and chalkboard that greet you at the entrance and you'll find a clean, contemporary space where one family might be saying grace to start their meal while another is bensching after finishing theirs. But everyone's welcome!

4858 Hunt Road, Blue Ash, 513-984-9804. Open Sunday-Thursday, Friday daytime. $8-$22.

Behle Street Cafe

Flavor: Homey and delicious shouldn't be taken for granted. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans can be heavenly, especially when followed by Otis's beautiful homemade bread pudding. Behle Street consistently delivers a straightforward menu. The crab cakes are quite good, too.

Flair: When the weather is nice, the patio is open at Behle Street, and it's the perfect vantage point from which to view Daniel Libeskind's Ascent while you enjoy a sirloin burger or a Greek salad.

50 E. Rivercenter Blvd., Covington. 859-291-4100. Open 7 days. $14-$28.

Blue Ash Chili

Flavor: Cincinnati chili, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: three, four and five. This fine independent chili parlor, established in 1969, offers coneys for the kiddies and hearty double-decker sandwiches for big appetites. Meatloaf and ribeye steaks are alte



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