Best Of 2018

Please
Hailey Bollinger
Please
click to enlarge Best Ramen Roundup
Hailey Bollinger

Steamy, savory and filled with noodles, ramen is as much of a food for the soul as a bowl of chicken soup on a cold day (or a hot one). Chef Hideki Harada’s weekly ramen pop-up, held every Monday from December through March at Northside Yacht Club, provided a warm escape from the winter chill, dishing out an array of concoctions from traditional tonkotsu ramen to a vegetarian mushroom ramen and a Mighty Duck blend (Peking-style roasted duck, bok choy, tea-marinated egg and red mayu). This was all to hype Harada’s forthcoming Japanese gastropub in College Hill, Kiki. OTR’s Please also threw its hat into the weekly ramen game with its Tuesday night ramen menu. Chef Ryan Santos blended classic with creative to make three options each week: a veggie bowl, a traditional bowl and a wildcard. The big fan favorite? His vegetarian take on Cincinnati-style chili, which eerily resembles something you’d slurp up at Skyline — complete with cheese. Both nights were so popular for each establishment that they were selling out a couple hours into the evening each week. Thankfully, they both upped their rations and bowl counts. Northside Yacht Club, 4227 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, northsideyachtclub.com; Please, 1405 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, pleasecincinnati.com.

Eats
Illustration: David Wilson


2. A Tavola

3. Sotto

2. Marx Hot Bagels

3. Panera Bread

2. City Barbeque

3. Montgomery Inn

4. Pontiac

5. Pickles and Bones

6. Just Q’in

7. Sweets & Meats BBQ

8. Big Art’s BBQ Grill

9. Alabama Que/SmoQ (TIE)

10. Bee’s Barbecue

2. Moerlein Lager House

3. Flipdaddy’s Burgers & Beers

A mouthful to say on top of being a mouthful to taste, Quan Hapa's okonomiyaki are far and away worth the added labor behind the tongue twister. Dubbed an “oki” for the faint of heart, the Japanese-style pancake comes three ways: pork lovers can stick to the house oki, featuring tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), bacon and a fried egg; the ahi tuna oki suits seafood savants with its seared ahi tuna, pickled red onions and bonito flakes; and for veg fans, the cauliflower oki features fried cauliflower tossed in a housemade honey-Sriracha sauce. Keeping things fresh, chef Mapi De Veyra tests his talents on new oki recipes every Monday after 5 p.m. and serves them at the discounted price of $8. Quan Hapa, 1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, quanhapa.com.

Best (Mostly) Guilt-Free Pizza
Brittany Thornton
click to enlarge Best (Mostly) Guilt-Free Pizza
Brittany Thornton

Pizza, in all its cheesy, carby goodness, is pretty much always a guilty pleasure. And the pies at Harvest Pizzeria are super binge-worthy. Their pizzas have a magically crunchy-yet-chewy and light-but-substantial crust with gourmet toppings like fennel sausage, almond pesto and vegan chorizo; the menu is rounded out by yummy small plates, salads and burgers — the whipped cheese, cherry tomato and candied prosciutto bruschetta is almost good enough to fight over. Unlike your average delivery hut, you can actually feel good about eating this pizza: Ingredients are sourced from Ohio bakeries, producers and dairy farms, like Mushroom Harvest in Athens and Bluescreek Farm in Columbus. And, if you do want to feel a little bad, splurge on the buttermilk-fried pickles with zesty remoulade. They’re addictive. Harvest Pizzeria, 1739 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, harvestpizzeria.com.   

The animatronic band is certainly rad, but there’s something about Chuck E. Cheese’s appeal that fails to hold up once you’ve made it to adulthood. While the trip may keep your kids occupied, it’s not as fun for adults to sit surrounded by the wafting smell of sub-standard pizza, screeching toddlers and loud arcade games with buttons that stick. Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House has the solution to this generational gap, hosting weekly Family Fundays. Monday evenings, keep the kids occupied with old-school arcade games and free food (with the purchase of an adult dinner) while you work your way through Rivertown’s beer and barbecue menus. Say sayonara to Skee-Ball and germy tokens: this fun night covers everyone’s bases. Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House, 6550 Hamilton Lebanon Road, Middletown, rivertownbrewery.com.

Our historic city market is becoming a dining destination. Starting when Jean-Robert de Cavel opened his tres chic bistro French Crust in 2016, a few other restaurants also have made it possible to enjoy meals even when the market is not open. French Crust serves breakfast, lunch and very popular weekend brunches along with Parisian-style dinners Thursday through Saturday and rings all the bells for Francophiles. The corner location at Elm and Elder streets faces Findlay Market’s beer garden and main entrance, sits right on the streetcar line and will brighten anyone’s day thanks to expansive windows and Provence-yellow walls festooned with colorful posters and ceramics from de Cavel’s vast personal collection of French memorabilia. The effect is as jaunty and friendly as its owner. Patrons sit at booths, tables or at a 20-seat bar and soak up the bonhomie of a lively bistro ambiance. The food matches the surroundings and delivers note-perfect versions of dishes you’d expect for breakfast, brunch or lunch — a variety of quiches, sandwiches on croissant or baguette, omelets and, of course, a croque monsieur. At dinner, more bistro classics tempt diners, from appetizers of snails and beef tartare to mains ranging from duck leg confit to steak frites. French Crust, 1801 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, frenchcrust.com.

Best Alternative to Fries
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Alternative to Fries
Hailey Bollinger

A burger joint without fries may sound like sacrilege to fast-food fry-hards: the holy union between crispy potatoes and grilled beef is as solidly devised as the balance of nature itself. Where the earth meets the water, so too do sesame seed buns meet cheese. Where the wind stokes the fires, salt tinges the fry’s oily jacket. It’s a classic American tradition, but one that Tickle Pickle is here to disrupt. Eschewing fast food’s favorite side from their menu, the Northside stop dishes out mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, Grippo’s and potato salad; each adding its own textural contrast to sandwiches crafted from locally grown ingredients. It’s enough to make you fall in love with the potato all over again. Classic Rock-inspired burger creations crafted with locally sourced ingredients keep things fresh, yet still familiar: the pepper-laden Rob Zomwich and the sauerkraut-topped Hammstein are worth dropping the needle on. Tickle Pickle, 4176 Hamilton Ave., Northside, ticklepicklenorthside.com.