Anyone who reads CityBeat’s dining section knows that we try not to cheerlead for restaurants unless they truly deserve it. We’re honest in our assessments, and that’s what gives our dining section credibility. One thing that’s part of our dining coverage’s philosophy, though, especially under my watch, is that we lean towards local. There are so many great locally owned and operated restaurants here in our fair city that I don’t need to encourage you to spend your dining dollars at big chains.
Things certainly have changed since I ate exclusively vegetarian. There were very few vegetarian-friendly restaurants in this city of flying pigs, let alone vegetarian-only restaurants. Now there are surprises — like a special vegetarian and vegan fine-dining menu at Primavista, Myra's Dionysus and more.
Cincinnati has 320 reasons to be proud of its dining scene — that’s the number of local restaurants in CityBeat’s annual Dining Guide. We’ve got amazing Asian cuisine, bodacious burger joints, fantastic fine dining and even delicious dives. You name it, we’ve got somebody who does it, and does it well.
Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, Palomino and Lavomatic, three busy downtown restaurants, recently hosted 10 Hughes STEM High School students for an unforgettable learning experience. Hughes STEM High School in Clifton, with its focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), ups the educational ante by incorporating a one-week intersession course twice a year to provide students with “outside of the box” educational experiences.
Though I had a couple bones to pick, Island Frydays is full of that cool Jamaican spirit. With good service, good food and good people, it’s a great place to go and try something different. Where else in Cincinnati can you find a full menu of Caribbean classics?
What’s the best way to take on the big restaurant chains? Learn, succeed and then beat ’em at their own game! That’s what they’re doing at the new Copper Blue (A Grub Shack) in Milford. Copper Blue goes up against all the casual chain restaurants in the area and comes out a winner.
The dining scene in the Gateway District is getting better all the time. Senate is a huge hit and the owners are opening a second destination next door. A Tavola Pizza is opening any day now, and I’ve heard rumors of more plans in the works. Lavomatic Café put the first fork on the neighborhood’s table and they haven’t lost their luster.
When it was announced that Chalk Food Wine in Covington was closing its doors this year, it left an empty spot in our stomachs (or hearts, for you sentimental types). Sandy Meyer and Gary Ginn with their chef Jon Spencer, they created a menu and had Blinkers Tavern open, breathing new life into the space.
A decade and a half after planning began, we finally have evidence of The Banks' existence with the opening of the Holy Grail Tavern and Grille. Located directly across from Great American Ball Park, this spot is guaranteed to be packed for our boys of summer and will be a hotspot to root on our beloved and beleaguered Bengals in the fall and winter.
In the next few months, CityBeat’s dining crew is going to periodically revisit some classic Cincinnati restaurants. What defines a classic? Well, if longevity is a factor, Hyde Park’s China Gourmet certainly qualifies. They’ve been serving fine Chinese cuisine since 1977. In an era when restaurants close within months of opening, the fact that China Gourmet is still going strong in its fifth decade is an amazing testimony to its ownership.
People who hate surprises, rejoice! I have good news. You may now come downtown, park your car and enjoy dinner and a show at the Aronoff and a very nearby eatery. Jeff Ruby has opened a new place that is custom tailored for you — the Walnut Street Grill. There are no bad surprises here. Nothing unfamiliar. These are upscaled (ever so slightly) versions of dishes you’ll find in most familiar casual restaurants.
Asian fusion restaurants seem to be in fashion lately, and The Painted Fish in Northside has thrown its hat into the ring with modern décor and an eclectic menu. The Fish has transformed the former Gajah Wong West space into a hip environment where the dining soundtrack is Passion Pit and the sushi chef is Nick, a young, energetic owner who hollered a greeting from the back sushi bar as we walked in.
There are a few foods that people have such strong opinions about that they’ll start a conversation (or a fight) whenever they’re brought up. Hamburgers, ice cream and Cincinnati-style chili are a few, but I’ve only ever experienced honest-to-goodness harsh words from anyone over pizza. With this in mind, we headed to Mellow Mushroom.
If Northside had a Mini-Me, surely it would be The Grove. Terry and Amanda Vincent opened The Grove in the space I used to call “Kay’s-Ray’s-that Mexican place that was supposed to open” on Dec. 1, 2010. Like Northside in general, The Grove could use a little sprucing up. But isn’t that part of the community’s (and restaurant’s) charm?
Along with George, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei and the other stars, the movie shoot has brought to town a huge crew — an army, really. So who’s feeding them? I was cutting through the Carew Tower arcade when I thought I saw the answer to that question — a redhead wearing a black chef’s jacket and a baseball cap with a skull-and-crossed-cutlery logo. “Hey, catering guy!” I hollered. That’s how I met Dan Gearig, co-founder of Chow Catering out of Detroit.