Best Of 2022

Norwood got a little sweeter this year with the addition of over-the-top donut maker Starlight Doughnut Lab. In operation since the start of 2019, owner/baker Ben Greiwe has been crafting small-batch baked goods with a unique ingredient. Starlight donuts use mashed potatoes in the dough, which “boosts moisture, sweetness, flavor, and adds a crispy outside layer thanks to the potato’s natural sugars caramelizing in the fryer,” Greiwe explains. He says the flavor combos and that texture set Starlight apart from other local donut purveyors. The Norwood storefront offers both cake donuts and 48-hour brioche donuts with six always-on-the-menu flavors including churro, vanilla-glazed with sprinkles, and a raspberry lemonade. But our favorite is the everything-bagel donut with garlic-herb goat cheese. Greiwe tells CityBeat that this savory 48-hour brioche donut is his favorite flavor he’s ever made. facebook.com/starlightdoughnutlab.
China (left) and Nate Kautz outside their Cackleberry food truck
Photo: Provided by Cackleberry
China (left) and Nate Kautz outside their Cackleberry food truck

Squeezed into a bite-sized vintage trailer, husband-and-wife duo Nate and China Kautz serve eggy breakfast sandwiches as Cincinnati-based pop-up Cackleberry (a term for a hen’s egg). The petite menu blends Queen City staples with Filipino-fusion ingredients to offer options like the Lolo, with longanisa sausage and atchara pickled slaw, and a goetta sandwich called the Porter with muenster cheese and mustard aioli. The seasonal food truck parks in various locations on weekends and operates until all sandwiches are sold out. eatcackleberry.com.
After closing in October of 2021 for renovations, Alabama Fish Bar reopened at the start of 2022 to once again serve the self-proclaimed “best fried fish in Cincinnati.” 3CDC acquired and revamped the three-decade-old eatery as part of its $50 million Willkommen project, which includes building or rehabbing several buildings across Over-the-Rhine to create residential and commercial units. Out of the deal, Alabama Fish Bar got an updated storefront, new flooring and paint and some new kitchen equipment. Another update? They now take credit cards. facebook.com/alabamafishbar.
Purrfect Day Cafe
Photo: Danielle Schuster
Purrfect Day Cafe

Get your caffeine and cuteness fix at the Purrfect Day Cafe in Covington. At any given time, there are roughly 20 adoptable cats and kittens ready to cuddle and play. Purrfect Day works with three Tri-State-spanning animal rescues — Kenton County Animal Services in Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society in Northside and P.A.W.S. of Dearborn County Humane Center in Lawrenceburg, Indiana — to get their adoptable animals. And all have been spayed or neutered, are dewormed, are up-to-date on their shots and are FeLV and FIV negative. You can reserve a 50-minute session in the kitty lounge for $15 per person or simply stop in for cat-themed coffee, tea or cocktails (their menu includes “purrbons” and “meowmosas”) to watch the friendly felines through the cafe window. If you fall in love with a cat, adoption coordinators are on-site. Visitors can also treat themselves to snacks like “paw-pcorn,” cookies and scones. purrfectdaycafecovington.com.
Mi Cozumel in Springfield Township has already made a name for itself. Their giant, flaming fajitas come in a variety of flavors, and their margarita towers are so popular we’ve spotted a local police officer offering crowd control on more than one occasion. But, don’t get it too twisted: Mi Cozumel is still a family restaurant, as evidenced by their insane and all-encompassing kids’ menu. Got a picky kid? The options are nearly limitless. Sure, a quesadilla (with waffle fries) is a safe option, but they also offer such random yumminess as a Nutella-and-strawberry sandwich. Is 37 too old to order from the kids’ menu? Asking for a friend. The restaurant has two additional locations: one in Oakley and one in Finneytown. micozumel.com.
The Italian from Harmony Plant Fare
Photo: Sami Nowlin
The Italian from Harmony Plant Fare

Findlay Market’s Harmony Plant Fare is a New York-style deli that caters to vegetarians and vegans. They make their own seitan and meltable vegan cheese, along with a slew of dips, salads (no-tuna tuna, etc.) and heat-and-eat items. And, like any good deli, they also put together delicious sandwiches. The Italian sub features seitan ham and pepperoni, vegan provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, banana peppers and Italian dressing on a Sixteen Bricks roll. It’s a hearty, tangy, hefty dish that encapsulates the experience of eating a full-on Italian sub — all without animal by-products. There’s a wonderful bite to Harmony’s housemade meats that almost approximates the irresistible snap of a good, fatty pepperoni. Give this sandwich to a drunk (or sober) carnivore, and they won’t even know the difference. harmonyplantfare.com.
How many coneys and 3-Ways can one person eat before they need a change of Cincinnati-chili pace? Luckily, Cafe Mochiko offers those familiar flavors in a new way. It’s owned and operated by chefs Erik Bentz and Elaine Townsend, who have made an exceptionally good name for themselves in the culinary world, being highly revered by foodies across the nation (Townsend was featured in a 2021 issue of Bon Appétit and was also named a semifinalist for Outstanding Baker in the 2022 James Beard Awards). Bentz pays homage to the Queen City’s chili fixation with Cincinnati-style ramen — a Cincy-chili-flavored broth filled with minced and spiced meat, housemade noodles, diced raw white onion, tamago (marinated egg) and thinly shredded cheddar. The presentation is quite similar to a 3-Way, but the ramen broth and noodles take the concept to a whole new culinary level. cafemochiko.com.
Okto's signature octopus carpaccio
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Okto's signature octopus carpaccio

While Cincinnati is home to dozens of high-end eateries, downtown’s Okto holds its ground as being one of the only upscale Greek restaurants in the area. The menu includes traditional Mediterranean dishes, like savory tiropita and spanakopita pastries, kebabs, flaming saganaki (a pan-fried Greek cheese) and baklava, as well as branzino (deboned at the table), lobster pasta and chef Wissam Baki’s signature octopus carpaccio. The dish features thin slices of marinated octopus served with radish, pea tendrils, onion, caper and lemon. To wash it down, Okto’s bar is stocked with a selection of wine and liquors imported from Greece and cocktails created to pair nicely with the restaurant’s Mediterranean flavors. oktocincinnati.com.
Wanna get wings and bask in that humid Cincy summer air? Look no further than Roosters — specifically the new(ish) West Side Roosters location. Everything on the Roosters menu is delicious, so you’ll catch a great meal even in the winter. But throwing down some chicken tendies while sitting on their large, sunny patio on a summer day is literally the best thing ever. roosterswings.com.
Mount Adams recently welcomed a new dining establishment to its quaint hilltop neighborhood. El Barril Mexican Sports Bar & Grill opened last fall and takes over the space formerly occupied by Next Chapter. As its name suggests, the eatery is part restaurant — boasting both Mexican street food and bar bites — and part sports bar. The menu ranges from street tacos, piled-high nachos and meat-stuffed burritos to more traditional bar food like loaded burgers, mozzarella sticks and wings. Across the board, prices are reasonable, especially when it comes to the amount of food you get. But if you’re looking for a real bang for your buck, opt for the $12.99 Burger and Taco Combo. The meal comes with your choice of burger (options include over-the-top creations like the Breakfast Burger with goetta, bacon, cheese, fried egg and spicy Sriracha mayo, or the El Barril Burger with guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, onions and American cheese), two tacos (favorites are the carnitas and the Bang Bang Shrimp) and a side of fries. Enjoy your feast in one of three indoor dining areas, or on the first- or second-floor patios. The eatery plans to open a second location in New Richmond this summer. elbarrilmexicansportsbarandgrill.com.
Wanna try a new dish? Or maybe hear some authentic Puerto Rican music? Is it time to learn a new dance? On any regular day, Mashroots in College Hill may look like your typical fast-casual lunch spot. The twist is, of course, that you won’t find soup and sandwiches here. Instead, you can dig into mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed plantains, topped with veggies, protein and sauce. It gets better. About once a month, Mashroots puts on a night full of unique cultural fun — from Spanish language night to paella night to Brazilian music night — to help us all expand our worldview along with our tummies. mashroots.com.
Everybody has suffered as a result of COVID-19, some exponentially more than others. In terms of the hospitality industry, we saw a lot of beloved bars, shops and restaurants close their doors as a direct result of the pandemic, so it’s nice when there’s a tiny silver lining to this predominantly bleak period in history: 3CDC, in cooperation with the City of Cincinnati, unveiled a collection of streateries downtown and in Over-the-Rhine. The $2.2 million project introduced permanent wooden and concrete patios alongside the sidewalks to serve as additional outdoor seating for the city’s bars and restaurants. While this reduced the number of parking spots along some of Cincinnati’s busiest streets, it also gave local businesses a chance to increase profits without needing to overcrowd indoor dining and drinking spaces. As a result of streateries, Cincinnati seems a bit more metropolitan these days — European even — and business owners seem grateful for the free-to-them extra seating.
La Cantina's avocado and jalapeno margarita
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
La Cantina's avocado and jalapeno margarita

You might think this designation would be reserved for guacamole. It’s not. Crown Restaurant Group (Crown Republic Gastropub, Losanti, Rosie’s Cocktails & Pies) opened its newest restaurant, La Cantina in the former Cheapside Cafe location downtown in February. Offering a self-described mix of “contemporary, authentic Mexican cuisine and cocktails,” the kitchen is helmed by chef Johnny Curiel, recently the executive chef at Nada. With a modern-meets-Mexican vibe, the restaurant menu currently lists dishes like smoked prime brisket or lamb barbacoa tacos, mesquite cold-smoked tuna crudo, queso fundido and chicken mole. The cocktail menu plays off that concept by focusing on mezcal and tequila. One beautiful and creative drink is the avocado and jalapeño margarita. A base of tequila blanco is infused with orange liqueur, cilantro, jalapeño, lime, agave and, yes, avocado. The result is a creamy, beautifully chartreuse drink with some sweet and some heat. crowncantina.com.
The meat-free fast-food game has exploded in recent years, and LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria came through hot and heavy in 2021 with their new plant-based pepperoni, Italian sausage crumbles, diced chicken and vegan cheese offerings. If you’ve transitioned to an animal-free diet, this is incredibly good news when looking for an easy go-to takeout or delivery option. The dough and sauce recipes were already animal-free, so this means vegans can pile on the toppings if they’re in the mood for something other than mushrooms and peppers on a slice — and this makes LaRosa’s one of the city’s most equal-opportunity pizza chains in terms of menu items. Try serving a vegan pie to a drunk meat-eater next game day and they probably won’t even notice. larosas.com.
Where’s the beef? If you’re looking for the grade-A, top-of-the-line hookup for wagyu beef in the area, then the Wyoming Meat Market is your No. 1 destination. What makes wagyu beef so dreamy? Wagyu is a breed of cattle prized for its meat’s exceptional tenderness and distribution of fat. Meat connoisseurs consider wagyu to be the champagne of beef, which is appropriate given the animal’s tightly regulated guidelines on breeding and diet. Wyoming Meat Market sources its wagyu from Sakura Wagyu Farms in Westerville, Ohio, so it’s always fresh and local. Show up hungry: Shelbi Nation, the new owner, will make one of the best sandwiches you’ve ever had. wyomingmeatmarket.org.
Many local restaurants have shuttered their doors after dealing with fallout from the pandemic for the past two years. And some have just closed anyway, as businesses sometimes do. Two longtime Cincinnati favorites called it quits this year. Landmark downtown restaurant Washington Platform closed at the end of 2021, with owner and chef Jon Diebold announcing in a Facebook post a desire to end on a positive note, stressing that the closure had nothing to do with “the pandemic, the labor shortage, or any global shipping crisis.” He wrote, “We have weathered all those events, just as we have weathered other downturns in our three decades of business.” Established in 1875 (and reestablished in 1986), the bar and restaurant served up New Orleans-style grub and drink to the Queen City for decades and was well known for its oyster and lobster events. Diebold said the decision was well-thought-out and, while loyal customers will be missed, “it is time for a new chapter.” Glendale’s Grand Finale also announced on Facebook in early 2022 that it would be permanently closing after 46 years. The restaurant is known for its delicious desserts, among other fare. Owner Virginia Chambers didn’t provide a reason for the closure in her post, but, she wrote, “Through our generational friendship, you are family and we will miss you!”
Lunch just won’t be the same in the Central Business District after two decades-old staples closed their doors. Both Total Juice Plus and Fred & Gari’s received an ultimatum from their landlord telling them they had to be out of their longstanding, neighboring storefronts on Vine Street by the end of January this year. The restaurants, which had both been in month-to-month leases, weren’t super pleased about the news — and neither were patrons — with Total Juice Plus’ co-owner Emil Mallat telling CityBeat, “Twenty-four years serving Cincinnati, only to be shrugged off as if we were college tenants in an apartment.” Gari Jager, owner of Fred & Gari’s, said, “I knew that it was going to happen sooner or later, but I didn’t know when.” Total Juice Plus had offered healthy menu items like wraps, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, and all-natural nonfat smoothies since 1998. Fred & Gari’s had served food since 1987, first as a ZZ’s Pizza Company franchise, then independently starting in 1994 — with a rotating assortment of soups, pizza and classic deli sandwiches. Both establishments were frequent staff and reader Best Of Cincinnati winners. Jager says there may be some hope for Fred & Gari’s, telling CityBeat he’s going to start looking for a spot to reopen after taking a much-deserved vacation.
Finding a not-basic vegetarian sandwich is a feat. Luckily, Lil’s Bagels delivers. House-pickled radishes, housemade sauerkraut and spicy greens are sandwiched between a spicy beet-turmeric bagel and slathered with garden and chutney schmears. The Bad Judy is a collision of flavors that will leave even the most carnivorous satisfied. Make it vegan by swapping the schmear for veggie hummus and baba ghanoush. Grab it via the walk-up “windough” or recently-opened-for-takeout interior. lilsbagels.com.
Blue matcha at Proud Hound Coffee
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Blue matcha at Proud Hound Coffee

Since 2019, Proud Hound Coffee has been helping Cincinnatians get their caffeine fix via pop-ups with its coffee truck and cart, wholesale operations, events and collaborations. And in June, the roaster opened a cafe in its 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Silverton. The kitchen specializes in Southern-centric breakfast and brunch with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and seasonal dishes. And customers are able to snag all the usual espresso-based beverages — cortados, cappuccinos, americanos, lattes and mochas — alongside cold brews, pour-overs and drip coffees. Not into coffee? The cafe also offers tea, hot chocolate and a picturesque blue matcha. That vividly colored drink is made of ground Earl Gray tea, infused with blue-hue-inducing butterfly pea flowers. The Proud Hound team also adds in vanilla to create a craveable, almost “cereal milk” taste. proudhoundcoffee.com.
Tortilleria Garcia
Photo: Paige Deglow
Tortilleria Garcia

How does your family follow “Meatless Monday?” If it’s not with Taco Tuesday, you’re missing out. For a medium-size Midwestern city, Cincinnati offers up a shit-ton of delicious taco options. On Tuesdays, though, we get our tacos from Tortilleria Garcia. For cheaper-than-Taco-Bell prices, you can load up on good AF, authentic tacos with a few different delicious protein options. And, yes, of course they have a meatless option. Who’s up for $1 tacos, y’all? tortilleriagarcia.us.