February 26, 2021

25 Cincinnati Staple Restaurants Every Newbie Needs to Try

Whether you're a Queen City visitor or a new resident, Cincinnati has plenty of eateries to grace your taste buds with. But there are a couple dozen that have become solid culinary staples for our city. Some have been around for decades, carving their name in locals' hearts. Others are more recent additions but have become fast favorites within the community. If you want to really get to know Cincinnati or show it off to others with pride, you'll want to visit these incredible spots.

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Zip's Cafe 
1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout
Zip’s has been doing burgers right since 1926, and generations of East Side Cincinnatians call Zip burgers their favorite. If you’re feeling like a light meal, order a classic Zip burger, with fresh, flame-broiled meat from local butcher Avril-Bleh & Sons, nestled in a toasted honey-egg bun from Klosterman Baking Company, and a side of super crispy onion rings. Or go big with the Girth Burger, a Zip burger topped with a split Avril-Bleh mettwurst. With worn wood flooring and dark wood paneling, the small space is separated into a dining area and a bar by a saloon-style door with a model train circling above. Head to the back bar for a local beer on draft while you wait for space at a booth or a seat at one of the shared family-style tables. 
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Zip's Cafe

1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout
Zip’s has been doing burgers right since 1926, and generations of East Side Cincinnatians call Zip burgers their favorite. If you’re feeling like a light meal, order a classic Zip burger, with fresh, flame-broiled meat from local butcher Avril-Bleh & Sons, nestled in a toasted honey-egg bun from Klosterman Baking Company, and a side of super crispy onion rings. Or go big with the Girth Burger, a Zip burger topped with a split Avril-Bleh mettwurst. With worn wood flooring and dark wood paneling, the small space is separated into a dining area and a bar by a saloon-style door with a model train circling above. Head to the back bar for a local beer on draft while you wait for space at a booth or a seat at one of the shared family-style tables.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Sugar n’ Spice
1203 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine
For over 75 years, this family-friendly diner has been serving up “Wispy Thin” pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, corned beef hash and much more to one of the most-diverse clientele in town. From the after-church crowds to college students to doctors heading off to work at nearby hospitals, folks from all over the economic spectrum start their day at this cozy counter or crammed into the booths. Wait time is often long for both the Paddock Hills and Downtown locations, but when those coveted seats finally come available, diners are rewarded with rubber duckies in addition to their meals. 
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Sugar n’ Spice

1203 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine
For over 75 years, this family-friendly diner has been serving up “Wispy Thin” pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, corned beef hash and much more to one of the most-diverse clientele in town. From the after-church crowds to college students to doctors heading off to work at nearby hospitals, folks from all over the economic spectrum start their day at this cozy counter or crammed into the booths. Wait time is often long for both the Paddock Hills and Downtown locations, but when those coveted seats finally come available, diners are rewarded with rubber duckies in addition to their meals.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Frisch’s Mainliner
Multiple locations including 5760 Wooster Pike, Fairfax; 1001 Gest St., Queensgate; 520 W. 5th St., Covington 
Big Boy sandwiches. All-day breakfast. Warm bowls of chili and soups. Frisch's Big Boy Mainliner opened in 1939, when founder David Frisch opened Cincinnati’s first year-round drive-in, which could hold up to 60 cars. Now the regional diner chain is an iconic stop for Queen City residents. The famous menu still carries on today — with additions — and offers up both nostalgic memories and classic grub. 
Photo: Catherine Viox

Frisch’s Mainliner

Multiple locations including 5760 Wooster Pike, Fairfax; 1001 Gest St., Queensgate; 520 W. 5th St., Covington
Big Boy sandwiches. All-day breakfast. Warm bowls of chili and soups. Frisch's Big Boy Mainliner opened in 1939, when founder David Frisch opened Cincinnati’s first year-round drive-in, which could hold up to 60 cars. Now the regional diner chain is an iconic stop for Queen City residents. The famous menu still carries on today — with additions — and offers up both nostalgic memories and classic grub.
Photo: Catherine Viox
Camp Washington Chili
3005 Colerain Ave., Colerain
If you don’t want to be basic, head to this James Beard Award-winning chili parlor. A great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Camp Washington Chili features greasy-spoon breakfast offerings, double decker sandwiches, Cincinnati-style chili, coneys and even a few salads. The chili parlor opened its doors in 1940, and current owner Johnny Johnson has been working at the parlor since 1951. 
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Camp Washington Chili

3005 Colerain Ave., Colerain
If you don’t want to be basic, head to this James Beard Award-winning chili parlor. A great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Camp Washington Chili features greasy-spoon breakfast offerings, double decker sandwiches, Cincinnati-style chili, coneys and even a few salads. The chili parlor opened its doors in 1940, and current owner Johnny Johnson has been working at the parlor since 1951.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Precinct
311 Delta Ave., Columbia Tusculum
You can always rely on a Jeff Ruby restaurant for a big, rare steak and platters of seafood. The Precinct, housed in a historical Romanesque-style former police precinct, opened in 1981 and was the first in a long line of Ruby steakhouses. If you bleed red and black, the Bearcat filet mignon may be a good choice for you. But there are other options, like seared scallops or something from the tableside service menu like seafood fettuccine alfredo. Desserts like the bananas foster ice cream torte or four-layer chocolate cake make for the perfect after dinner treat.
Photo via Facebook.com/JeffRubysPrecinct

The Precinct

311 Delta Ave., Columbia Tusculum
You can always rely on a Jeff Ruby restaurant for a big, rare steak and platters of seafood. The Precinct, housed in a historical Romanesque-style former police precinct, opened in 1981 and was the first in a long line of Ruby steakhouses. If you bleed red and black, the Bearcat filet mignon may be a good choice for you. But there are other options, like seared scallops or something from the tableside service menu like seafood fettuccine alfredo. Desserts like the bananas foster ice cream torte or four-layer chocolate cake make for the perfect after dinner treat.
Photo via Facebook.com/JeffRubysPrecinct
The Eagle OTR
1342 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 5065
The Eagle is nested inside a retired post office and has a relatively small menu, consisting of fried chicken, sandwiches, snacks and several side dishes. Booze-wise, they serve 100 kinds of beer and have about 15 different brews on tap. The fried chicken is free-range, all natural and sourced from Ohio farms. Opt for a whole, half chicken (white and dark meat) or a quarter of a chicken (select white or dark) and make sure to ask for extra of their spicy hot honey sauce. You’ll want as much as you can get.
Photo via Facebook.com/TheEagleRestaurant

The Eagle OTR

1342 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 5065
The Eagle is nested inside a retired post office and has a relatively small menu, consisting of fried chicken, sandwiches, snacks and several side dishes. Booze-wise, they serve 100 kinds of beer and have about 15 different brews on tap. The fried chicken is free-range, all natural and sourced from Ohio farms. Opt for a whole, half chicken (white and dark meat) or a quarter of a chicken (select white or dark) and make sure to ask for extra of their spicy hot honey sauce. You’ll want as much as you can get.
Photo via Facebook.com/TheEagleRestaurant
Maplewood Kitchen and Bar
5065 Deerfield Blvd., Mason; 525 Race St., Downtown (temporarily closed)
Maplewood serves up dishes and ingredients that would be right at home on the West Coast: cold-pressed juices, superfood salads, egg-white omelets and somewhat nutritious cocktails, like the roasted tomatillo bloody mary. Made with Tito’s vodka, house tomatillo bloody mary mix and cold-pressed Super Greens juice (kale, celery, spinach, romaine and pineapple), it’s topped off by a purple cabbage accouterment. 
Photo via Facebook.com/MaplewoodKitchen

Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

5065 Deerfield Blvd., Mason; 525 Race St., Downtown (temporarily closed)
Maplewood serves up dishes and ingredients that would be right at home on the West Coast: cold-pressed juices, superfood salads, egg-white omelets and somewhat nutritious cocktails, like the roasted tomatillo bloody mary. Made with Tito’s vodka, house tomatillo bloody mary mix and cold-pressed Super Greens juice (kale, celery, spinach, romaine and pineapple), it’s topped off by a purple cabbage accouterment.
Photo via Facebook.com/MaplewoodKitchen
Bakersfield
1213 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Part bar, part taco joint, all classy. Bakersfield specializes in gourmet tacos (pollo verde, pastor, huitlacoche, etc.), quality tequilas and whiskeys and hand-crafted margaritas made the old-fashioned way, not from a pre-made mix. 
Photo via Facebook.com/BakersfieldTacos

Bakersfield

1213 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Part bar, part taco joint, all classy. Bakersfield specializes in gourmet tacos (pollo verde, pastor, huitlacoche, etc.), quality tequilas and whiskeys and hand-crafted margaritas made the old-fashioned way, not from a pre-made mix.
Photo via Facebook.com/BakersfieldTacos
Nicola’s
1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine
Nicola’s housemade pastas and secondi piatti are among some of the thoughtfully conceived dishes that will transport patrons to the heart of Italy in Over-the-Rhine. After over decades, the eatery has become an area staple for those looking for a romantic, upscale dinner. Former owner Nicola Pietoso recently passed the torch to his restaurateur and chef son Cristian Pietoso in the winter of 2021. The house breadbasket will add $1.99 per person to the tab but the quality and variety of the focaccia, sliced Italian bread and crunchy breadsticks is well worth the small charge.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Nicola’s

1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine
Nicola’s housemade pastas and secondi piatti are among some of the thoughtfully conceived dishes that will transport patrons to the heart of Italy in Over-the-Rhine. After over decades, the eatery has become an area staple for those looking for a romantic, upscale dinner. Former owner Nicola Pietoso recently passed the torch to his restaurateur and chef son Cristian Pietoso in the winter of 2021. The house breadbasket will add $1.99 per person to the tab but the quality and variety of the focaccia, sliced Italian bread and crunchy breadsticks is well worth the small charge.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger