Each year, CityBeat curates the Best Of Cincinnati issue, highlighting the city’s most outstanding entities in categories including Arts & Culture, Shops & Services and Eats, among others. The responsibility of selecting these exceptional people and places is divided between our readers and staff. But for this issue here, we’re focusing on our readers’ favorites.
This year, more than half a million votes were tallied to determine our Reader Picks. Readers logged on to the ballot site to vote for their favorites in broad categories like Best Chili, Best Sushi and Best Pizza, with more niche topics including Best Raw Bar, Best Salads and Best Restaurant Design. But these were the top 10 vote-getters for Best New Restaurant, as selected by CityBeat readers. And, as you can see, there’s a little bonus pick: two eateries tied for No. 7.
No. 1: Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey
Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey is inspired by the trappings of the American frontier and California’s 19th-century gold rush. Its name is a nod to the term “boomtown,” which refers to the burst of economic and population growth of towns that popped up seemingly overnight during the California Gold Rush.
Choosing a cocktail or a whiskey is akin to panning for gold in soil made entirely of the stuff. Order a cocktail when you sit down so you have time for another before dinner is over — and then another for “dessert.” Each drink is crafted to perfection, priced between $8 and $12 and includes a clever icon to denote the type of glass it’ll be served in. I’m not telling you to choose the cute, antique cordial cocktail for the aesthetics, but the option is there if you want it.
If you don’t want alcohol, your choices at Boomtown aren’t an afterthought. There is freshly prepared orange cream soda and housemade horchata, plus a selection of juices, coffee, iced tea and sodas.
At Boomtown, the true delight comes plated. The signature biscuit isn’t a run-of-the-mill thousand-layer flaked baked good. It’s a buttery, soft disc with a close crumb and a browned, lightly bubbled top that no breakfast chain can compete with.
The most popular sandwich is the Yukon, with fried chicken, gravy, smoked cheddar and thick-cut bacon. The option to add an egg is, theoretically, optional (and a $2 upcharge), but better thought of as an intrinsic part of the dish. This sandwich is sumptuous. My mind told me there were too many rich elements for one dish, but my mouth disagreed. Jokes were made about only eating half, but in the end there was nothing left to box up.
Besides the sandwiches, the menu offers plates, which are more entrée-style than the sandwiches; “Sundries,” aka the sides you’ll want at least a few of; “Nuggets of Gold,” for condiments and dips; and sweets for dessert.
By this point, you may think the star of the show was the dreamy biscuit. Plot twist: It’s the greens y’all. For $4, the campfire greens packed more punch than the testosterone in a Spaghetti Western shootout. They are peppery, sweet and lip-smackingly savory, so much so that I wish I got my own instead of sharing with my dining companion.
We also got an extra biscuit side with black and blue jam and an extra helping of berries at dessert with Cascades, a French toast made with biscuits and mixed berry compote, topped with house whipped cream and powdered sugar. I don’t need to tell you that this is what dreams are made of.
Boomtown breaks the mold — or rather makes a new, gold-nugget-shaped one — with its fun take on American favorites. 1201 Broadway St., Pendleton, boomtownbiscuitsandwhiskey.com. — MCKENZIE GRAHAM
No. 2: Sacred Beast
Sometimes a lot of advance hype doesn’t do a new restaurant much good. At least, not unless the place lives up to it.
Sacred Beast qualifies as a case in point. Before I had the chance to eat there, I had heard so much buzz — about the concept, the owners and their impressive pedigree, the physical design and the “simple food, taken seriously” motto — that my expectations were over the moon.
It took me two tries to understand the raves, but then I did become a believer.
First time, I made my way down to the upper reaches of the gentrified portion of Vine Street to meet a friend for lunch. The restaurant feels like one of the largest in OTR, although the effect may be enhanced by its corner location, floor-to-ceiling windows and open floor plan. You have a choice of seating areas, including a back room with tables, plenty of counter stools, roomy leather booths and a few patio tables on one sidewalk.
A week later, my husband, two friends and I went for supper. It wasn’t easy to decide what to eat, but I’m happy to report that my choice of the Diner Breakfast hit the jackpot. It’s a truly great plate of food and I’d be hard-pressed to order anything else upon a return visit. Soft scrambled eggs, a short stack of ricotta pancakes topped with two strips of maple-glazed pork belly and a small grilled tomato make up this scrumptious meal. Clearly, this kitchen knows how to get the very best out of the humble egg: My husband had the equally delicious omelet filled with a simple combo of goat cheese and sweet peppers. I’ve heard that the deviled eggs with pork rinds and chilies are excellent, as well.
Our friend Michael, an architect, made an interesting observation about the diner’s acoustics. He noted that even though we could converse easily, the ambient music also was crystal clear and enjoyable. That makes Sacred Beast unusual among so many eateries not only in OTR but pretty much anywhere you go. That’s another feature to appreciate while you enjoy those delectable eggs. 1437 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, sacredbeastdiner.com. — PAMA MITCHELL
No. 3: Agave & Rye
Over the past few years, the “craft taco” eatery has become quite the thing in our town and Agave & Rye, at the corner of Madison Avenue and Seventh Street, couldn’t be better for this kind of casual food. The restaurant faces both Hotel Covington and The Madison Event Center and is just around the corner from the Braxton Brewing Company. With its full bar and kitchen, this glossy taqueria has been an instant hit for patrons of those neighboring establishments and pulls in families and young couples as well.
Interestingly, though, owner Yavonne Sarber said she doesn’t consider Agave & Rye to be a Mexican restaurant. “The taco is a vessel for our food,” she said, and the food — taco fillings — ranges across many cuisine influences.
Mexican or not, except for a few small side dishes and a couple of desserts, the menu consists entirely of tacos. They’re currently organized under headings like “Chicken,” “Steer,” “Game” and “Grow” (for veggie versions). Meat offerings are the largest category, with more than a dozen different options that include a taco based on kangaroo meat — we didn’t try that one — as well as chicken, pork, beef, lobster and duck confit.
One unusual feature of the menu is that each taco comes in a crispy corn shell and a soft flour tortilla. The filling goes inside the crispy taco and the flour tortilla surrounds the whole shebang. With Agave & Rye tacos, you get that yummy corn crunch with every bite while the firmer flour tortilla holds it all together.
For our meal, the three of us selected six tacos, two sides and a cocktail each. We all loved The Alderman — ancho grilled steak with Mexican street corn salad and a good salsa. One of the veggie tacos, The Bang Bang, hit the right notes with crispy cauliflower, spicy carrots and a creamy cheese sauce.
We enjoyed the food and drinks, but what I liked best was the décor and vibe of the place. 635 Madison Ave., Covington, agaveandrye.com. — PM
No. 4: Joe's Pizza Napoli
Tucked away in the Cincinnati suburbs, Joe’s Pizza Napoli reaffirms faith in the Old World — in the value of utilizing traditional methods to prepare a meal — and it is a worth-the-drive dining destination no matter where you live in the city.
The restaurant is 1,500 square feet, seats 39 diners and has a patio just begging for some nice spring weather. When you walk into Joe’s Pizza Napoli your eyes are immediately drawn to the massive tiled pizza oven, which owner and chef Joe Nunner chose to have built in the semblance of Mount Vesuvius. The oven was built in Naples, which is where Nunner strives to source as many of his ingredients as possible. His inventory purchasing prioritizes Naples first, the rest of Italy second, and local produce and meats are the natural decision for all remaining practical purposes.
Nunner wanted to go about this whole pizza business the right way, so he was certified by Vera Pizza Napoletana, a group of Italian pizza makers who ensure anyone that claims they’re making Neapolitan-style pizza is doing so authentically. See, Naples has strict guidelines for how pizza is made in their traditional style — 100-percent wood fired, certain ingredients, certain procedures.
The characteristics of Neapolitan pizza include hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes; mozzarella cheese; a dough comprised of water, fresh yeast, flour (Caputo, a very fine 00 grit in this case); and salt. The hydration level on Joe’s pizza is about 60 percent. Everything is made fresh every day and Nunner is proud not to have a freezer or a microwave anywhere in the kitchen.
Even the tap list has a taste of Italy. Moretti Beer is a light pilsner with a fresh, clean taste that pairs well with everything on the menu. Especially pizza. 507 Chamber Drive, Milford, joespizzanapoli.com. — SEAN M. PETERS
No. 5: Lucius Q
There’s a new pitmaster in Pendleton. And while the name of the barbecue joint may look like “luscious” — which isn’t a bad association — the restaurant is actually called Lucius Q (loo-shus q), a moniker taken from a Roman general with ties to Cincinnati: Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.
The Roman association is pulled through in the branding, created by locals Keith Neltner and Tommy Sheehan: The restaurant logo is a Centurion riding a pig. But the Italian influence stops there. The menu is all about the meat; no pizza or pasta in sight — unless you count the macaroni and cheese waffle. Instead, it draws influence from regional barbecue specialties and the partners’ own backgrounds.
“The sauce and the meat and how we do that is inspired by all the best regions in the country and we bring it here to the heartland,” says co-owner Aaron Sharpe. “We’ve got the Texas brisket, the Carolina pulled pork, the Memphis-style ribs (and then) we’ve got the Avril-Bleh sausage from right here in Cincinnati.”
All the meat is provided by Avril-Bleh (except for the chicken wings) and prepared with dry rubs; you sauce the meat yourself at your table. The sauces — which range from Carolina-style Queen City Gold mustard sauce to Kansas City-style Luscious Lucius sweet and smoky sauce to the unique ‘Bama White mayonnaise-based sauce — are made in house. The only thing not made in house are the buns, which are sourced from Giminetti Baking Company in Walnut Hills. For vegetarians, there's a mushroom sandwich with barbecue sauce and sides like coleslaw, grits and queso corn or pie.
Along with their interest in curating a veritable geographic exploration of barbecue, the guys are also adamant about curating the restaurant’s vibe — especially when it comes to the music; Sharpe was a DJ on the now-defunct WNKU. The building, a former auto mechanic, hosts live music, DJs and a curated daily playlist. 1131 Broadway St., Pendleton, luciusq.com. — MAIJA ZUMMO
No. 6: LouVino Restaurant & Wine Bar
Take your taste buds on a journey from the marigold-lined pathways of Château Guiraud in France to the Alps-framed Castelfeder winery in northern Italy — all while dining at LouVino in Over-the-Rhine. The concept restaurant opened in late August on Main Street and offers 60 wines by the glass as well as small plates inspired by Southern cuisine.
You’ll see some familiar names on the wine list, too, as flights are named after Ohio and Kentucky celebrities like Carmen Electra and John Legend. They are served in three 2-ounce pours and can be paired with cheese for an additional $2. Individual glasses are 6 ounces and range in price from $8 to $29.
While their wine selection is impressive, their elevated comfort food deserves a spotlight of its own, too. There are two menus: classics and seasonal. The former features dishes that are permanently available while the latter is a rotating menu dictated by the chef.
When I visited LouVino, it was a little past dinnertime and my boyfriend and I were seated by the front overlooking the rest of the restaurant. For food we shared the Brussels sprouts salad which came in a cilantro lime vinaigrette, the steak and hoe cakes, the beef sliders and the loaded baked potato tots. While they’re called small plates, you get very generous portions. Two per person would be more than enough to leave you satisfied.
The OTR location also serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday. You can expect savory classics like eggs benedict as well as inventive options like pancake tacos. Classic mimosas are $2 (need I say more). 1142 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, louvino.com. — LAUREN MORETTO
No. 7 (tie): Maize
Maize specializes in a unique fusion menu that honors traditional recipes from across Latin America, with an emphasis on Venezuelan cuisine. The restaurant takes its name from maize, a corn flour dating back some 10,000 years and first utilized by indigenous Mexicans. The flour serves as the basis for the arepas, cachapas and empanadas served at Maize, and indeed, is the starting point for the restaurant’s whole concept.
To that end, the menu is colorful and varied, with dishes from across the region that complement one another while retaining their traditional roots like the Peruvian ceviche, Mexican street corn and Venezuelan cachapas and asado negro.
For appetizers, my friend ordered the ceviche and, on our server’s recommendation, I tried the guasacaca gruesa, which is a chunky Venezuelan avocado dip, similar to guacamole, but prepared with olive brine for acidity instead of lime. And allow me, briefly, to exalt the ceviche: it was perfect. Crisp, bright, tangy, fresh; it tasted like the ocean.
For my main dish, I ordered the reina pepiada arepa, stuffed with avocado chicken salad, red onion slivers, queso de mano (think mozzarella but saltier) and cilantro. It was filling and very, very good. Empanadas and traditional Venezuelan cachapas, a sweet corn pancake, are also available. 1438 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, maizeotr.com. — LEYLA SHOKOOHE
No. 7 (tie): Revolution Rotisserie & Bar
Revolution Rotisserie & Bar has come far since its early days as a chicken-and-pita-sandwich pop-up in Findlay Market. After expanding into a full restaurant on Race Street in 2015, Revolution extended its reach with a second location in Pleasant Ridge in the former Emanu Ethiopian restaurant.
The restaurant specializes in antibiotic-free roasted Amish chicken offered on everything from sandwiches and salads to bowls and their originals “chitas,” grilled pita dishes named after revolutionaries — Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela, John Hancock and George Washington. Salads take on the monikers of greats like Helen Keller, Einstein and Rosa Parks as do the seasonal cocktails, like the R.B.G. or Rosie the Riveter.
They also offer delicious tater tots available as a side, covered in parmesan truffle or inside their poutine. (FYI: During happy hour, there are free bottomless tater tots with the purchase of alcohol.) For drinks, look for their specialty takes on the Moscow Mule. In Pleasant Ridge, you’ll find a selection of draft mules infused with housemade ginger beer, lime and whiskey (Kentucky Mule) or vodka (Moscow Mule). Get a pitcher for just $34.
For daily specials or food and events specific to Pleasant Ridge — tap takeovers, burger nights, etc. — check out facebook.com/RevolutionRotisseriePR. 6063 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, revolutionrotisserie.com. — CB
No. 8: Condado Tacos
Since 2014, Condado’s build-your-own-taco concept has taken Columbus’ taco loving population by storm, starting with their first location on North High Street. After finding success, three more opened in the city. Now, the creative taco joint has opened shop in Cincinnati across from the Reds' stadium.
They commit to the build-your-own tacos concept down to the type of tortillas — each taco is under $5 with plenty of enticing options. The formula is simple: check off what you want on your taco, then the goodness is brought out to you.
For protein, customers have several options (even multiple choices for vegetarians) — like housemade chorizo, tequila-lime steak, Thai chili tofu, barbecue pulled jackfruit and more. They’ve got toppings, too: cilantro and onions, jicama and cabbage slaws, queso fresco, Middlefield smoked cheddar and Chihuahua cheese. Salsa? They got it, coming in a variety of flavors made fresh every day just like their selection of sauces. Drizzle some chipotle crema on your taco, or maybe Mexican chimichurri, and yes, they have guacamole.
They also serve brunch during the weekends (11 a.m.-3 p.m.), with special eggy dishes.
Condado has housemade margaritas, which come in several fruity and spicy variations; get them half-price during happy hour from 4 -7 p.m. Monday through Friday. They’re slated to open a second Cincinnati location in Oakley soon. 195 E. Freedom Way, Downtown, condadotacos.com. — LIZZY SCHMITT
No. 9: Zundo Ramen & Donburi
Zundo, which means “big pot” in Japanese, has a small but fierce menu comprising four ramens with different broths, 10 donburis (including katsu curry, an Asian native favorite), a thoughtful smattering of appetizers and a few desserts. Donburi is essentially a Japanese stew, with meats and veggies served over rice. In addition to tonkotsu, Zundo also offers ramen with a miso pork broth (regular or spicy) and a vegetarian version.
The pièce de résistance of the ramen menu is the insider’s version: order the vegetarian miso ramen, request it spicy and add an egg and pork belly. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of all the other ramens, dragging in each of the best bits of the others and leaving your stomach in a state of near-bliss. Before slurping, you want to give all the delicious ingredients floating in the deep bowl a good mix. You want the doily-like slices of lotus root to mingle with the strips of pork belly, the rim of red miso paste, the jammy-centered soft-boiled egg and sprinkling of chopped green onions. (Fun fact: Zundo has a machine dedicated solely to chopping green onions because they go through so many.) Slurp as instructed. Repeat until done. You have two to three minutes to complete your mission.
Dessert is understated at Zundo, but there are two daily ice cream offerings and a fun sasa dango, a dumpling made of sticky rice — which tastes like green tea and is a vibrant shade of green — wrapped around red bean paste, all wrapped up in a banana leaf and tied with a length of cord. It’s fun to unwrap, and fun to see if you are, as our server said, someone who likes the taste or someone who doesn’t. (My friend and I fell into opposing camps but I won’t tell who belongs to which.)
On Fridays and Saturdays, Zundo brings in two specialty cannoli from Covington baker Steve Del Gardo: a green-tea-cream-filled cannoli and a spicy plum sake. Speaking of sake, there’s a ton to choose from at Zundo. The menu will follow the seasons of fall/winter and spring/summer. Expect a sake float come warmer days and a sake mimosa. 220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, zundootr.com. — LS
No. 10: Crown Republic Gastropub
Family is the name of the game at Crown Republic Gastropub. Located on the first level of the same building as Encore Apartments, Crown Republic is the culinary child of a three-member ownership team consisting of Anthony Sitek, Haley Nutter-Sitek and Mike Casari. The trio of friends (Anthony and Haley are now married) met in culinary school and worked in restaurants up and down the East Coast before finally opening their own in Cincy.
I stopped by on a Saturday for a solo, pre-theater meal, and because my eyes are always, always bigger than my stomach, I ordered enough food for two: the octopus tabbouleh, fried chicken gobbets and pappardelle. The octopus is no longer on the current menu, but there are several other seafood-forward appetizers and small plates to chose from including avocado and crab toast and Yemeni mussels with Moroccan curry, coconut, lemongrass and sweet potato.
Did you know the name “pappardelle” comes from the Italian phrase “to gobble up”? Well, it does, and that’s exactly what you’ll do. The housemade noodles are at least two-inches wide and curled in a winding nest under a nice Bolognese sauce, topped with a pat of green ricotta gremolata and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Oh, and the gobbets. You’re probably wondering what those are. They’re basically adult chicken nuggets, soaked in the malt brine the crew makes their pickles in, then fried and served with honey hot sauce on the side. 720 Sycamore St., Downtown, crgcincy.com. — LS
Top 10 Overall Restaurants
- Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct
- The Eagle OTR
- Taste of Belgium
- Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse
- Incline Public House
- Taft’s Ale House
- Dewey’s Pizza
Top 10 Overall Restaurant (Northern Kentucky)
- Walt’s Hitching Post
- Kung Food Chu’s AmerAsia
- Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar
- Frida 602
- Greyhound Tavern
- Agave & Rye
- Coppin’s Restaurant & Bar // Keystone Bar & Grill (TIE)