Here’s a good problem to have: There are so many fabulous little places out there to find Cheap Eats in Cincinnati that narrowing down the choices for the Dining Guide just about drove me crazy. I had a few arbitrary rules. No chains were allowed, not even local chains. Sorry Skyline! Sorry, dollar burger night at Bar Louie! I didn’t include happy-hour pricing or daily specials, even though there are some great bargains at places like McCormick’s, Palomino’s and Morton’s. Oh, wait, those are chains. So, double whammy!
Finally, I selected one gem in each direction from downtown to give a geographical balance. But most of all, I picked the places that I just love the most.
For me, the quintessential Cincinnati cheap eats can be found at Tucker’s (1637 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-241-3354). Not only is the food incredible and the clientele wonderfully diverse but I also have to believe that it’s not humanly possible to spend $10 a person there without exploding from overeating. Tucker’s breakfast dishes are the best in the city. My favorite is the French Toast ($4.75), which consists of three huge slabs of brioche flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, then topped with fresh fruit. Another favorite is the Shrimp & Grits for $7.50. The shrimp is spicy, the sauce is rich and the grits are creamy perfection. If you haven’t eaten at Tucker’s you can’t possibly call yourself a real Cincinnatian!
I discovered a real gem on the West Side last year — Riverside BBQ and Drive Thru (2790 River Road, Price Hill, 513-471-1111).
Crossing the Ohio, my favorite cheap eats in Kentucky is La Mexicana (642 Monmouth St., Newport, 859-261-6112). La Mexicana is a small, unpretentious Mexican spot that has some truly authentic Mexican food. At $2.49 each, the tacos can’t be beat. The corn taco shells are homemade and you can add anything from the traditional (pork, steak or chicken) to the exotic (goat, beef tongue or pumpkin seeds). The tacos come with cilantro, onion, lime and your choice of red or green salsa. Also, La Mexicana has the most amazing guacamole. They make it fresh for every order and it is chunky, flavorful and truly a mouth fiesta.
Going up north I am in love with Lu Lu’s Noodle & Rice Shop (135 W. Kemper Road, Springdale, 513-671-4949) in a strip plaza just down the street from Tri-County Mall. Lu Lu’s has a fiercely loyal clientele who swear by the big-ass noodle bowls ($6.25 -$10.75). The Udon noodle soup bowl at $6.75 is a heaping amount of thick rice noodles served with your choice of protein in a rich brown soup with veggies and lots of scallions. Also deserving of praise is the Tom Yum ($3.95) where shrimp, lemongrass, mushrooms and onion combine to deliver a spicy, hearty soup. There are also traditional Chinese dishes on the menu, but trust me: go for the soup bowls.
Finally to the east, where I couldn’t make up my mind. Blue Ash has two of my favorite sandwich spots. Blue Ash Chili (9565 Kenwood Road, 513-984-6107) offers the biggest double-decker sandwiches in town ($5.75-$6.50). The Beef & Bacon at $6.50 is seriously enough food for two lunches. There has to be a full pound of bacon on this behemoth and almost as much thinly sliced rare roast beef, and then they add lettuce and tomato. However, down the street at Rascal’s NY Deli (9525 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, 513-429-4567) they are serving up awesome New York-style deli food. Both the Pastrami or Corned Beef sandwiches (each $9.95) are excellent and all sandwiches are served with two crispy potato latkes, cinnamon applesauce and crazy-good homemade pickles. When you are there you have to order a New York Egg Cream ($2.50) to drink, and for dessert the cheesecake at $4.95 is filling enough for at least two people.
There you have it, my geographical tour of my favorite cheap eats in the city. Argue about my choices all you want, but the important thing is to go out there and support the great local restaurants in Cincinnati.