There has never been a better time to dine out in Cincinnati. Our town is exploding in all regions, price ranges and types of cuisines. That’s why we’ve assembled (with a bit of help from some trusty local professionals) this list of places — in no particular order — you need to know about now. Some are tried-and-true stalwarts, a couple are still sweeping away the construction dust and others might take you a bit out of your comfort zone and put a few miles on the family roadster, but all are totally worth it. Go forth and eat.
NEW AND NOW
Recently featured in Food & Wine Magazine for its vast array of natural wines, Pleasantry is a cozy little Over-the-Rhine eatery that features plenty of perfectly paired dishes to go along with their wines. This place is of-the-moment, but nothing feels too precious or hipster-y. Do not pass up starting the evening with the fried olives — they’re totally addictive — as is the salmon tartare with mango, jalapeño and avocado. Feeling adventurous? Eschew a meat-based main and try the cauliflower with coconut milk, grapefruit, cilantro, cashew and sambal. Menu prices are exceedingly friendly (entrées are in the $10-$20 range), and according to Nicolas Wayne, co-owner of A Tavola, it’s the perfect place for a night out with his wife. “For me, it’s a hidden gem and perfect for date night,” Wayne says. “First, the space is beautiful and comfortable with great outdoor seating as well as an intimate and comfortable interior with great light. Second, the food is easily some of the best in the city right now.” Pleasantry, 118 W. 15th St., Over-the-Rhine, pleasantryotr.com.
Everyone’s favorite French Chef, Jean-Robert de Cavel, has just launched a trio of eateries in all price ranges, starting with the fast-casual, family-friendly Frenchie Fresh, offering salads, four different varieties of macaroni and cheese and sandwiches — all for $15 or less. Add to that six different types of burgers, including a veggie option, along with dozens of toppings and you’ve definitely got something for every family member. Options blend French and American inspiration — par exemple, there’s a béchamel mac and cheese with seafood and truffle, or an option with bacon, hot dog and sausage. And burger toppings run the gamut from shredded iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato to onion and grape compote and roasted tomato provençal. Popular downtown breakfast and lunch spot French Crust Café and Bistro has moved to larger digs adjacent to Findlay Market, and L, a partnership between chef de Cavel and hospitality expert Richard Brown, is a luxurious fine-dining experience with absolutely no air of stuffiness. CityBeat dining writer Pama Mitchell recently gushed, “‘L,’ the latest endeavor by two local creative geniuses, has elevated Cincinnati’s dining landscape almost immeasurably.” Frenchie Fresh, 3831 Edwards Road, Norwood, 513-366-3960, facebook.com/eatfrenchiefresh; French Crust Café, 1801 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, jrcincy.com; L, 301 E. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-760-5525, jrcincy.com.
Head to Findlay Market on the weekends for our very own United Nations progressive-dining experience courtesy of the outdoor food stands. Bridges features authentic Nepalese dishes prepared by Ashak Chipalu and his mother, Rose. Nepalese cuisine centers around rice topped with gently seasoned dishes like chicken tikka masala, made with grilled and marinated chicken, and potato curry. Bridges also serves samosas, which are savory pastries filled with different potato blends. Chipalu will be opening a brick-and-mortar location in 2017 in Northside at 4165 Hamilton Ave., after current occupier Melt relocates to its larger, alcohol-friendly location in the Gantry Apartments storefront.
The Arepa Place Latin Grill serves scratch-made arepas (Venezuelan corn or flour pockets stuffed with a variety of fillings). These tender little hand pies are available stuffed with combinations of beef, chicken, cheese, beans and plantains.
If you’re on a gluten-free diet, are vegan, vegetarian or just love tamales, seek out Jenn’s Hot Tamale. This delicious, traditional Mesoamerican dish is made from masa, or corn flour, wrapped around a tasty filling of chicken, pork or veggies. We’re huge fans of the vegan mushroom version.
Do not pass up French pastry stand Baudry for delectable eclairs (the caramel is amazing), shortbread cookies, cream puffs and croissants. Other stands include Saigon Market for fried rice; Babushka Pierogies for stuffed Eastern European-style dumplings, filled with combos like potato and cheddar, cabbage, and beef and mushroom; and Mapi’s Barbequehan for Filipino barbecue. Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, findlaymarket.org.
Worth a drive to the suburbs is Phoenician Taverna in Deerfield Township for super-fresh and flavorful Mediterranean fare — you can make a meal from a variety of their mezze/appetizers alone. Or Sawasdee Thai Cuisine in Fairfield, which chef Andrew Vogel, culinary instructor at Midwest Culinary Institute, calls “fresh, flavorful, inexpensive.” Budina Noodle and Rice in West Chester is another favorite of Vogel. “They do everything in house,” he says. “Their noodle dishes are outstanding.” Phoenician Taverna, 7944 Mason Montgomery Road, Mason, 513-770-0027, phoeniciantaverna.com; Sawasdee Thai Cuisine, 6600 Dixie Highway, Fairfield, 513-330-5050, sawasdeethaicuisineonline.com; Budina Noodle and Rice, 8179 Princeton Glendale Road, West Chester, 513-889-4088, noodleandrice.com.
CASUAL AND CHEAP
It’s no surprise that busy chefs enjoy fast, casual, yet good food, especially if they’ve got kids in tow. Chef Nathan Jolley of Madeira’s La Petite Pierre has been going to Sebastian’s Gyros on the West Side for years. “It’s kind of a hole in the wall, but my first gyro was from there,” he says. “It’s been owned by the same family for years, with Greek salad, spanakopita, tiropita and Greek fries. Nothing fancy, nothing really unique, just a good, long-standing spot.” Sebastian’s Gyros, 5209 Glenway Ave., Western Hills, 513-471-2100, sebastiansgyros.com.
For chef Jason Louda of Metropole, it’s Werkhaus Pizza for good, cheap eats. “They do hearty, stuffed pizzas with a really broad variety of fillings as well as a thin pizza with a sesame crust,” he says. “It’s always my go-to when I have to bring food to a gathering but don’t have time, because they have something for everyone. Really great sandwiches, too. Kid-friendly, budget-friendly and a hidden gem.” Werkhaus Pizza, 3637 Werk Road, Western Hills, 513-451-9911, werkhauspizza.com.
It’s been a long road back, but Tucker’s Restaurant, the iconic 70-year-old family-run diner, has literally risen from the ashes of a kitchen fire and is back to serving their grateful customers omelets (breakfast is served all day), patty melts, veggie chili and Big Tuckers — Tucker’s famous double-decker burger with cheese and special sauce. A cup of coffee is only $1.50, and you can’t go wrong with their veggie BLT, made with vegetarian bacon. Tucker’s Restaurant, 1637 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-954-8920.
TRIED AND TRUE ADDITIONS
Some favorite tried and true places have opened new outposts. The good folks behind The Eagle/Bakersfield family recently debuted Maplewood Kitchen & Bar in the Central Business District, and not only is the food great, but we’ve also fallen in love with taking our meetings in the giant, round banquettes. For breakfast, try the avocado toast made with 16 Bricks bread, pistachio, Carriage House Farms’ honey drizzle and sea salt. They also make a mean tomatillo bloody mary with fresh-pressed green juice. Maplewood Kitchen & Bar, 525 Race St., Downtown, 513-421-2100, maplewoodkitchenandbar.com.
There’s no doubt that the Pietoso family knows Italian food. Nicola’s and Via Vite are two of our best local restaurants, and now there’s Forno Osteria + Bar in Hyde Park offering authentic, classic pasta, main dishes and wood-fired pizza. It’s all good, but whatever you order, go for a side of the truffled cream corn and save room for dessert. And on Tuesdays, pony up to the bar for a special $12 portion of handmade tagliatelle Bolognese, salad and Blue Oven bread. Forno Osteria + Bar, 3514 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-818-8720, fornoosteriabar.com.
Bones’ Burgers, the go-to food truck for juicy, locally sourced, grass-fed beef burgers as well as salmon and veggie burgers, has opened a brick-and-mortar location in a fairly nondescript strip mall in Montgomery. Inside, top your burger with everything from applewood smoked bacon and avocado to pineapple and smoked Gruyere. Bones’ Burgers, 9721 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-407-2939, bones-burgers.com.
BY EMILY BEGLEY AND MAIJA ZUMMO
Chef Ryan Santos, the mind behind the popular pop-up concept Please, will soon be turning his gypsy culinary caravan into a cool and cozy brick-and-mortar restaurant on Clay Street in Over-the-Rhine. Tucked behind a beautiful blue façade and hefty honey-colored wood doors, expect the same level of creative and seasonally sourced dishes — with ingredients grabbed from the Please garden, just a half-block from the restaurant, as well as other area farms and artisan food purveyors. That commitment to local extends to the décor, with plates handcrafted by Cincy-based CGCERAMICS and tables and chairs made locally by the Brush Factory and Simple Wood Goods. (Get a sneak peek of what their cocktail menu could feature on page 21.) Please, 1405 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, pleasecincinnati.com.
The name Cooking with Caitlin likely sounds familiar: Helmed by Kelly Trush and her sister Caitlin Steininger, the brand began as a blog nine years ago and has since booked a regular column in The Cincinnati Enquirer and a radio show on WKRC-AM. Trush created the blog to share her younger sister’s talent for cooking, a passion that propelled the duo’s decision to open their own brick-and-mortar specializing in sandwiches and Italian food. The restaurant, which will be named CWC, is scheduled to open mid-November in the sisters’ neighborhood of Wyoming. Local herbs and produce will be incorporated into the menu. CWC, 1517 Springfield Pike, Wyoming, cookingwithcaitlin.com.
Sisters Shayne and Heather Byer purchased a former home, doctor’s office and Veterans Hall in Pleasant Ridge last year with the goal of transforming the space into three floors of dining as Cal-Mex restaurant Casa Figueroa, complete with a wrap-around deck, retro game room and basement bar. On the menu, expect unique salsas, nachos, tacos, salads and entrées like lamb shoulder mole negro. For special events, the eatery will fire up a locally produced Arteflame grill, which cooks food directly over a wood flame or on a near-500-degree steel plancha. Casa Figueora, 6112 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, facebook.com/casafig.
Also coming soon: a Taco Bell Cantina. A higher-end concept for the late-night beef, bean and Baja Blast purveyor, the cantina is slated to open in 2017. If concepts in Chicago and San Francisco are any indication, expect industrial-modern décor, digital additions, shared apps and alcohol. Soon you’ll be able to get drunk while eating your Crunchwrap Supreme instead of getting drunk before eating your Crunchwrap Supreme. Taco Bell Cantina, 580 Walnut St., Downtown, tacobell.com.