December 23, 2020

The 25 Best Things We Ate in Cincinnati This Weird Year

Despite a rather restrictive year, it's safe to say our personal culinary endeavors went virtually unharmed over the course of the pandemic, and our rather unrestrictive sweatpants aided us in these delicious journeys. Many restaurants adapted their business plans to offer excellent carry-out and delivery services, and many created outdoor patio spaces to serve their patrons dining in. From pizza party pop-ups to upscale Cincinnati chili-inspired pasta, DIY ramen and more, here's a few of our favorite things we ate throughout the year.
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Parlor Pizza Project at Oakley Wines
4011 Allston St., Oakley
On Sundays, Oakley Wines teams up with Parlor Pizza Project to throw a tasty little pizza party pop-up. They typically feature two or three different 10-inch pizza options weekly, which you can eat either at the shop or take to-go. It was late August when I visited, and they had a local sweet corn and heirloom tomato pie available. The crust was chewy and crispy and the toppings were deliciously balanced between sweet, savory and delightfully fresh. — Hailey Bollinger 
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Parlor Pizza Project at Oakley Wines

4011 Allston St., Oakley
On Sundays, Oakley Wines teams up with Parlor Pizza Project to throw a tasty little pizza party pop-up. They typically feature two or three different 10-inch pizza options weekly, which you can eat either at the shop or take to-go. It was late August when I visited, and they had a local sweet corn and heirloom tomato pie available. The crust was chewy and crispy and the toppings were deliciously balanced between sweet, savory and delightfully fresh. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Cincinnati-style chili-inspired pasta from Khora
37 W. Seventh St., Downtown
Khora restaurant opened its doors inside of downtown’s Kinley Hotel this fall. Back in 2019, both Food & Wine and Vogue magazines named the eatery on their lists of the "most anticipated" American restaurant openings of 2020. The restaurant offers "modern pasta dishes and small plates with a Midwest sensibility," according to a press release, which includes a Cincinnati-style 3-Way made with lamb ragù. A lover of both lamb and our local delicacy of Cincy-style chili, this dish offered a sophisticated take on a nostalgic comfort meal. Hearty, yet playful sauce, perfectly al dente swirl-shaped noodles and topped with a delicious caramelized goat cheese. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Cincinnati-style chili-inspired pasta from Khora

37 W. Seventh St., Downtown
Khora restaurant opened its doors inside of downtown’s Kinley Hotel this fall. Back in 2019, both Food & Wine and Vogue magazines named the eatery on their lists of the "most anticipated" American restaurant openings of 2020. The restaurant offers "modern pasta dishes and small plates with a Midwest sensibility," according to a press release, which includes a Cincinnati-style 3-Way made with lamb ragù. A lover of both lamb and our local delicacy of Cincy-style chili, this dish offered a sophisticated take on a nostalgic comfort meal. Hearty, yet playful sauce, perfectly al dente swirl-shaped noodles and topped with a delicious caramelized goat cheese. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Duck confit at Goose & Elder
1800 Race St., Over-the-Rhine
Here’s a dish that travels well from an OTR kitchen to your home dining table: duck leg confit over creamy polenta and sautéed kale. There’s usually bits of bacon dotting the kale, as well, and a small container of gravy puts the richness factor over the top if you add that, too. — Pama Mitchell
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Duck confit at Goose & Elder

1800 Race St., Over-the-Rhine
Here’s a dish that travels well from an OTR kitchen to your home dining table: duck leg confit over creamy polenta and sautéed kale. There’s usually bits of bacon dotting the kale, as well, and a small container of gravy puts the richness factor over the top if you add that, too. — Pama Mitchell
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
DIY Ramen Kit from Mochiko
Japanese pop-up Mochiko offers weekly pre-order ramen kit pick-ups and local delivery of their Asian-inspired pastries. The duo behind Mochiko — Elaine Townsend and Erik Bentz — have been working hard to adapt to the new food industry landscape that's emerged in recent months. Each ramen kit makes one generous serving and contains fresh, unboiled noodles; soup; a salty sauce used to season the soup called tare; and toppings. For the recently featured chuka soba ramen, the toppings included a marinated boiled egg (ajitama), savory slices of slow roasted pork (chashu), pickled bamboo shoots (menma), sliced scallions and dried seaweed (nori). To prepare the ramen, you simply heat up the soup, boil the noodles and arrange your toppings. — Sean M. Peters
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

DIY Ramen Kit from Mochiko

Japanese pop-up Mochiko offers weekly pre-order ramen kit pick-ups and local delivery of their Asian-inspired pastries. The duo behind Mochiko — Elaine Townsend and Erik Bentz — have been working hard to adapt to the new food industry landscape that's emerged in recent months. Each ramen kit makes one generous serving and contains fresh, unboiled noodles; soup; a salty sauce used to season the soup called tare; and toppings. For the recently featured chuka soba ramen, the toppings included a marinated boiled egg (ajitama), savory slices of slow roasted pork (chashu), pickled bamboo shoots (menma), sliced scallions and dried seaweed (nori). To prepare the ramen, you simply heat up the soup, boil the noodles and arrange your toppings. — Sean M. Peters
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Fried veggie Syrian flatbread wrap from Baladi Restaurant & Bakery
3307 Clifton Ave., Clifton/CUF
OK. So I actually like every single thing at Baladi (except the meat dishes because I'm a vegetarian) — all of it is delicious. I gave them a Best Of Cincinnati Staff Pick  last year because I am obsessed. The Barazi family opened the restaurant in 2017, serving a broad menu of Arabic eats with an emphasis on desserts and welcoming hospitality. On the list of dishes, you’ll find familiar hits with influences from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. There’s hummus, falafel, kebabs and gyros, but branch out and try something you won’t find on other Middle Eastern-leaning menus, like Foul (fava beans, olive oil and lemon juice); Fatayir, a “cheese boat” baked in handmade dough; or the Syrian flatbread wrap. The wrap isn't just your normal pita pocket filled with falafel — it uses unleavened Syrian flatbread as the wrapper. The one I like is filled with fried veggies: eggplant, cauliflower and potatoes. I add feta for an upcharge. Also do not miss the grape leaves, called yalanji. They are vegetarian and very different than any others you'll try in the city: they're served warm. This was a really long-winded way of saying, please eat anything and everything at Baladi. — Maija Zummo 
Photo via facebook.com/BaladiRestaurantandBakery

Fried veggie Syrian flatbread wrap from Baladi Restaurant & Bakery

3307 Clifton Ave., Clifton/CUF
OK. So I actually like every single thing at Baladi (except the meat dishes because I'm a vegetarian) — all of it is delicious. I gave them a Best Of Cincinnati Staff Pick last year because I am obsessed. The Barazi family opened the restaurant in 2017, serving a broad menu of Arabic eats with an emphasis on desserts and welcoming hospitality. On the list of dishes, you’ll find familiar hits with influences from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. There’s hummus, falafel, kebabs and gyros, but branch out and try something you won’t find on other Middle Eastern-leaning menus, like Foul (fava beans, olive oil and lemon juice); Fatayir, a “cheese boat” baked in handmade dough; or the Syrian flatbread wrap. The wrap isn't just your normal pita pocket filled with falafel — it uses unleavened Syrian flatbread as the wrapper. The one I like is filled with fried veggies: eggplant, cauliflower and potatoes. I add feta for an upcharge. Also do not miss the grape leaves, called yalanji. They are vegetarian and very different than any others you'll try in the city: they're served warm. This was a really long-winded way of saying, please eat anything and everything at Baladi. — Maija Zummo
Photo via facebook.com/BaladiRestaurantandBakery
Donut Day at Northside’s Happy Chicks Bakery
4035 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Saturdays are donut days at this Northside bakery and cafe. They whip up donuts made with croissant dough so they’re delightfully flaky and light. But you’d be hard pressed to find your average chocolate sprinkle donut here. The bakery offers creative new flavors weekly like a spicy peanut butter curry-glazed donut or a bourbon ginger cherry-glazed donut. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo via Facebook.com/happychicksbakery

Donut Day at Northside’s Happy Chicks Bakery

4035 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Saturdays are donut days at this Northside bakery and cafe. They whip up donuts made with croissant dough so they’re delightfully flaky and light. But you’d be hard pressed to find your average chocolate sprinkle donut here. The bakery offers creative new flavors weekly like a spicy peanut butter curry-glazed donut or a bourbon ginger cherry-glazed donut. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo via Facebook.com/happychicksbakery
Lamb pot pie from Arnold’s Bar & Grill 
210 E. Eighth St., Downtown
Chef Kayla Robison is at the helm of this historic downtown eatery. This past fall, I tried the lamb pot pie and I’ve been drooling over it since. It’s sadly not a menu constant, but it is occasionally available as a special. The pie was decadently savory and herby, with a succulent lamb shank emerging through the flaky crust. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo via Facebook.com/arnoldsbar

Lamb pot pie from Arnold’s Bar & Grill

210 E. Eighth St., Downtown
Chef Kayla Robison is at the helm of this historic downtown eatery. This past fall, I tried the lamb pot pie and I’ve been drooling over it since. It’s sadly not a menu constant, but it is occasionally available as a special. The pie was decadently savory and herby, with a succulent lamb shank emerging through the flaky crust. — Hailey Bollinger
Photo via Facebook.com/arnoldsbar
Artichoke alla Giudia at Pepp and Dolores
1501 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
This translates to artichokes “Jewish Style,” as prepared for centuries in the Jewish neighborhoods of Rome.  They’re  flash fried and served with creamy lemon vinaigrette, simple and perfect. — Pama Mitchell
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Artichoke alla Giudia at Pepp and Dolores

1501 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
This translates to artichokes “Jewish Style,” as prepared for centuries in the Jewish neighborhoods of Rome. They’re flash fried and served with creamy lemon vinaigrette, simple and perfect. — Pama Mitchell
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Beyond Burger and crinkle fries at Fifty West Burger Bar
7605 Wooster Pike, Columbia Township
Fifty West Brewing Co. opened this retro-styled root beer and burger stand this spring serving up classic cheeseburgers, milkshakes and flat-top hot dogs. But there are also 12 specialty burgers named for the 12 states that U.S. Route 50 runs through. They’re loaded with staple ingredients inspired by each state, including Cincinnati-style chili, Maryland tartar sauce, West Virginia apple butter and Kansas smoky barbecue. I like my Beyond Burger "classic" style with fry sauce, American cheese, pickle, lettuce, tomato and onion.  A side of crinkle-cut fries is a must, as is extra fry sauce. I have no idea what fry sauce is — ketchup plus mayo? — but it is addicting. — Maija Zummo
Photo: Savana Willhoite

Beyond Burger and crinkle fries at Fifty West Burger Bar

7605 Wooster Pike, Columbia Township
Fifty West Brewing Co. opened this retro-styled root beer and burger stand this spring serving up classic cheeseburgers, milkshakes and flat-top hot dogs. But there are also 12 specialty burgers named for the 12 states that U.S. Route 50 runs through. They’re loaded with staple ingredients inspired by each state, including Cincinnati-style chili, Maryland tartar sauce, West Virginia apple butter and Kansas smoky barbecue. I like my Beyond Burger "classic" style with fry sauce, American cheese, pickle, lettuce, tomato and onion. A side of crinkle-cut fries is a must, as is extra fry sauce. I have no idea what fry sauce is — ketchup plus mayo? — but it is addicting. — Maija Zummo
Photo: Savana Willhoite
Veggie sub from Sub Station II
1826 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright
My husband grew up in Northern Kentucky and convinced me to try Sub Station II recently. I was a little weirded out because it's in a sort of crappy strip mall in Fort Wright, but appearances can be deceiving. They make AWESOME subs. As a vegetarian, I am always trying to find sandwiches that aren't just cheese plus mayo. I build my own with a salted rye roll, topped with multiple cheeses and a crap ton of toppings — including, but not limited to — black olives, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, avocado, peppers, oil and vinegar and spices. The closest thing I can compare this to is a Publix sub. And if you've had a Publix sub, you know what's up. — Maija Zummo
Photo via facebook.com/SubStationIIFt.Wright

Veggie sub from Sub Station II

1826 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright
My husband grew up in Northern Kentucky and convinced me to try Sub Station II recently. I was a little weirded out because it's in a sort of crappy strip mall in Fort Wright, but appearances can be deceiving. They make AWESOME subs. As a vegetarian, I am always trying to find sandwiches that aren't just cheese plus mayo. I build my own with a salted rye roll, topped with multiple cheeses and a crap ton of toppings — including, but not limited to — black olives, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, avocado, peppers, oil and vinegar and spices. The closest thing I can compare this to is a Publix sub. And if you've had a Publix sub, you know what's up. — Maija Zummo
Photo via facebook.com/SubStationIIFt.Wright