November 16, 2021

Cincinnati-Based Restaurant Chains That Are Actually Good

From cheese coneys to Big Boys, there are plenty of popular chain restaurants that have Cincinnati roots. And by "chain," we mean any local restaurant with more than one location — not necessarily a big corporation or franchise situation. Just local businesses who have expanded beyond a single storefront. Note: This is not a comprehensive list of every Cincinnati chain.
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Skyline Chili 3-Way
Multiple Locations
The history of Cincinnati-style chili goes back to the 1920s, when it was invented by Greek immigrants who used Mediterranean-inspired spices to create a meat sauce used initially to top hot dogs sold out of a cart. The beef-based sauce — it’s kind of like a runny pasta sauce with hints of cinnamon, chocolate and other spices — eventually became the key ingredient in the 3-way, a plate of pasta topped with chili, an unnecessary amount of shredded cheddar cheese and a side of oyster crackers. Adding onions to the 3-way makes it a 4-way; onions and beans make a 5-way. Local chain Skyline Chili was founded by Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides in 1949, inspired by his mother's family recipes from their hometown of Kastoria, Greece. In an eternal regional chili war, locals are divided over whether Skyline has the best chili and the other popular local chain, Gold Star, is for losers, or if it’s the other way around. You’ll find die-hard supporters of both. But if you want to go non-chain, there are more than 250 chili parlors in Cincinnati — restaurants big and small offering their own take on this regional favorite. Most people, however, start with Skyline.
Photo via Facebook.com/SkylineChili

Skyline Chili 3-Way

Multiple Locations
The history of Cincinnati-style chili goes back to the 1920s, when it was invented by Greek immigrants who used Mediterranean-inspired spices to create a meat sauce used initially to top hot dogs sold out of a cart. The beef-based sauce — it’s kind of like a runny pasta sauce with hints of cinnamon, chocolate and other spices — eventually became the key ingredient in the 3-way, a plate of pasta topped with chili, an unnecessary amount of shredded cheddar cheese and a side of oyster crackers. Adding onions to the 3-way makes it a 4-way; onions and beans make a 5-way. Local chain Skyline Chili was founded by Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides in 1949, inspired by his mother's family recipes from their hometown of Kastoria, Greece. In an eternal regional chili war, locals are divided over whether Skyline has the best chili and the other popular local chain, Gold Star, is for losers, or if it’s the other way around. You’ll find die-hard supporters of both. But if you want to go non-chain, there are more than 250 chili parlors in Cincinnati — restaurants big and small offering their own take on this regional favorite. Most people, however, start with Skyline.
Photo via Facebook.com/SkylineChili
Tom & Chee
Multiple locations including 125 E. Court St., Downtown; 9328 Union Centre Blvd., West Chester; 6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason
The gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup shop is famous for their signature grilled-cheese donut. The eatery started as a food tent on Fountain Square and was then featured on TV show Shark Tank. Tom & Chee now has locations in Ohio, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma. 
Photo: Facebook.com/4TomAndChee

Tom & Chee

Multiple locations including 125 E. Court St., Downtown; 9328 Union Centre Blvd., West Chester; 6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason
The gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup shop is famous for their signature grilled-cheese donut. The eatery started as a food tent on Fountain Square and was then featured on TV show Shark Tank. Tom & Chee now has locations in Ohio, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
Photo: Facebook.com/4TomAndChee
Frisch’s Big Boy
Multiple locations including 25 W. Fifth St., Downtown; 5760 Wooster Pike, Fairfax; 8383 Vine St., Hartwell
Samuel Frisch opened the Frisch Café in 1905. His son, Dave left school to help the family business. Dave opened the Mainliner restaurant in 1939 as the city’s first year-round drive-in and named it after the first tri-motor passenger airplane; a replica of the plane is still on the location’s sign. In 1946 Dave met Bob Wian, who introduced him to a burger named the “Big Boy.” The rest is history.
Photo: Catie Viox

Frisch’s Big Boy

Multiple locations including 25 W. Fifth St., Downtown; 5760 Wooster Pike, Fairfax; 8383 Vine St., Hartwell
Samuel Frisch opened the Frisch Café in 1905. His son, Dave left school to help the family business. Dave opened the Mainliner restaurant in 1939 as the city’s first year-round drive-in and named it after the first tri-motor passenger airplane; a replica of the plane is still on the location’s sign. In 1946 Dave met Bob Wian, who introduced him to a burger named the “Big Boy.” The rest is history.
Photo: Catie Viox
Montgomery Inn
9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery; 925 Riverside Drive, Downtown
World-famous for its ribs, Montgomery Inn has been a staple in Cincinnati for more than 60 years. Along with ribs, the Inn offers barbecued spring chicken, silver salmon, pulled-pork sandwiches, burgers, salads and more, including everyone’s favorite: Saratoga chips served with their famous barbecue sauce.
Photo: Paige Deglow

Montgomery Inn

9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery; 925 Riverside Drive, Downtown
World-famous for its ribs, Montgomery Inn has been a staple in Cincinnati for more than 60 years. Along with ribs, the Inn offers barbecued spring chicken, silver salmon, pulled-pork sandwiches, burgers, salads and more, including everyone’s favorite: Saratoga chips served with their famous barbecue sauce.
Photo: Paige Deglow
Graeter’s Ice Cream
Multiple locations including 332 Ludlow Ave., Clifton; 511 Walnut St., Downtown; 1401 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Since its founding in 1870, Graeter’s French Pot Ice Cream, handmade chocolate confections and fresh-baked goods have become traditions in the Queen City. Today, the Graeter family still faithfully uses century-old recipes and methods of production. If you’re not in Cincinnati, don’t fret. They ship and you can most likely find pints in the grocery store.
Photo: Facebook.com/Graeters

Graeter’s Ice Cream

Multiple locations including 332 Ludlow Ave., Clifton; 511 Walnut St., Downtown; 1401 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Since its founding in 1870, Graeter’s French Pot Ice Cream, handmade chocolate confections and fresh-baked goods have become traditions in the Queen City. Today, the Graeter family still faithfully uses century-old recipes and methods of production. If you’re not in Cincinnati, don’t fret. They ship and you can most likely find pints in the grocery store.
Photo: Facebook.com/Graeters
CityBird
1344 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 11309 Montgomery Road, Symmes Township; 7893 Beechmont Ave., Anderson; 2887 Dixie Highway,
Crestview Hills
The deep-fried offspring of The Eagle in OTR, CityBird dishes out cage-free, all-natural chicken paired with housemade craft sauces. CityBird’s “house-brined, fresh fried” chicken leans more toward tenderness than crispiness, but still packs a considerable punch. The Beechmont Avenue location even includes a drive-thru.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

CityBird

1344 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 11309 Montgomery Road, Symmes Township; 7893 Beechmont Ave., Anderson; 2887 Dixie Highway, Crestview Hills
The deep-fried offspring of The Eagle in OTR, CityBird dishes out cage-free, all-natural chicken paired with housemade craft sauces. CityBird’s “house-brined, fresh fried” chicken leans more toward tenderness than crispiness, but still packs a considerable punch. The Beechmont Avenue location even includes a drive-thru.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Holtman’s Donuts
1332 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 1399 State Route 28, Loveland; 3356 Madison Road, Oakley; 9558 Civic Centre Blvd., West Chester; 214 W. Main St., Williamsburg
In September 2013, the Loveland-based Holtman’s Donuts opened an OTR location, complete with a window you can peer through and watch them make donuts, like the sensational maple bacon. Since their initial opening, they’ve opened up multiple additional locations. Homer Simpson would be so proud... and hungry.
Photo: Provided by Holtman’s Donuts

Holtman’s Donuts

1332 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 1399 State Route 28, Loveland; 3356 Madison Road, Oakley; 9558 Civic Centre Blvd., West Chester; 214 W. Main St., Williamsburg
In September 2013, the Loveland-based Holtman’s Donuts opened an OTR location, complete with a window you can peer through and watch them make donuts, like the sensational maple bacon. Since their initial opening, they’ve opened up multiple additional locations. Homer Simpson would be so proud... and hungry.
Photo: Provided by Holtman’s Donuts
Taste of Belgium
Multiple locations including 16 West Freedom Way, The Banks; 1135 Vine St., Over The Rhine; 2845 Short Vine St., Corryville
In 2007, Jean-François Flechet began baking Belgian waffles in the back end of a store at Findlay Market. Soon, he was told to find somewhere else to go because the store was too crowded. Now, it has expanded into multiple locations. Hot, fresh Belgian waffles are made from a thick dough and coarse Belgian beet sugar, which caramelizes on the cast iron press. Find the heavenly breakfast food topped with strawberries and cream or ricotta, or as the bread in a McWaffle sandwich (egg, gruyère and maple syrup). The crepe station prepares sweet and savory crepes. At dinner, the sophistication goes up a notch with mussels, steak frites and Belgian specialties. The shop also offers an exclusive selection of Belgian beers. 
Photo: Brittany Thornton

Taste of Belgium

Multiple locations including 16 West Freedom Way, The Banks; 1135 Vine St., Over The Rhine; 2845 Short Vine St., Corryville
In 2007, Jean-François Flechet began baking Belgian waffles in the back end of a store at Findlay Market. Soon, he was told to find somewhere else to go because the store was too crowded. Now, it has expanded into multiple locations. Hot, fresh Belgian waffles are made from a thick dough and coarse Belgian beet sugar, which caramelizes on the cast iron press. Find the heavenly breakfast food topped with strawberries and cream or ricotta, or as the bread in a McWaffle sandwich (egg, gruyère and maple syrup). The crepe station prepares sweet and savory crepes. At dinner, the sophistication goes up a notch with mussels, steak frites and Belgian specialties. The shop also offers an exclusive selection of Belgian beers.
Photo: Brittany Thornton
Larosa’s
Multiple locations including 1250 W. Eighth St., Queensgate; 417 Madison Ave., Covington; 2717 Vine St., Clifton
Are Cincinnati birthday parties without LaRosa’s even considered birthday parties? This chain of local pizzerias has been dishing up pies for more than 60 years, as well as pasta, salads, sandwiches and more. The sauce and crust are both a tiny bit sweet.
Photo: Facebook.com/LaRosasPizzeria

Larosa’s

Multiple locations including 1250 W. Eighth St., Queensgate; 417 Madison Ave., Covington; 2717 Vine St., Clifton
Are Cincinnati birthday parties without LaRosa’s even considered birthday parties? This chain of local pizzerias has been dishing up pies for more than 60 years, as well as pasta, salads, sandwiches and more. The sauce and crust are both a tiny bit sweet.
Photo: Facebook.com/LaRosasPizzeria
Currito
Multiple locations including 111 E. Fifth St., Downtown; 222 Calhoun St., Clifton; 3654 Edwards Road, Hyde Park
In 2005, Joe and John Lanni founded Currito. Now, with locations in over seven states, Currito is the most expansive of the Lanni brothers’ Thunderdome concepts. Currito is a build-your-own burrito, bowl, salad and smoothie eatery that sources ingredients locally. Thunderdome Restaurant Group also includes Bakersfield, The Eagle, Krueger’s Tavern, CityBird, SoHi and Maplewood.
Photo: Facebook.com/CurritoEats

Currito

Multiple locations including 111 E. Fifth St., Downtown; 222 Calhoun St., Clifton; 3654 Edwards Road, Hyde Park
In 2005, Joe and John Lanni founded Currito. Now, with locations in over seven states, Currito is the most expansive of the Lanni brothers’ Thunderdome concepts. Currito is a build-your-own burrito, bowl, salad and smoothie eatery that sources ingredients locally. Thunderdome Restaurant Group also includes Bakersfield, The Eagle, Krueger’s Tavern, CityBird, SoHi and Maplewood.
Photo: Facebook.com/CurritoEats