You know the scene: A jangled Parker family makes their way to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day, still mourning their turkey’s fate as a plaything for 785 “Notafinga!” bloodhounds.
The Old Man, trying to be jolly — perhaps for the first time in his life — orders the Peking Duck and watches as a meat cleaver comes down on its head to the tune of “fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra.” For one brief, magic-filled holiday moment in the Parker household, the matriarchy overcomes the patriarchy and the entire table breaks out into a fit of giggles, the ultimate release of the over-domesticated.
If you’re looking for a dramatic Christmas dinner out this year or a not-so-dramatic one or perhaps a mythical and xenophobic one (see A Christmas Story above), there are plenty of options around town. Our list below includes everything from traditional holiday fare to Italian to Japanese.
We have vetted these; all have our “scrumptious” guarantee. More importantly, all are reasonably priced.
Cozy hotels and motels
Let’s start with the hotel restaurants that have to stay open every holiday to accommodate guests. Unfortunately, there’s only one hotel restaurant offering a reasonably priced holiday dinner this year, and that’s the historic Vernon Manor. Well, it’s not even dinner; it’s brunch. But it’s really good. The buffet includes omelets to order and every breakfast food you can imagine. It’s also a virtual love fest for meat eaters offering smoked and poached salmon, prime rib, spiced leg of lamb and salmon fillet with granny smith apple butter — and that’s not even the half of it. The buffet runs from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Dec. 25. $27.95 per adult. 400 Oak St., Corryville/Avondale, 513-281-3300. Make reservations now. If you need to lure out-of-town guests, tell them that The Beatles, The Monkees, Bob Dylan, The Temptations and, OMG, Nickelback have all stayed there.
Cheap and easy
If you’re feeling ironic this Christmas or have inebriated yourself to deal with your family and you need a place where you can curl up in a booth, there’s always Waffle House. We take it for granted, but the truth is it’s the only thing people on the East and West coasts envy about us. So as you count your Christmas blessings this year, count your local Waffle House — everyone has one, except for maybe Indian Hill — and indulge in sweet cream waffles (sweet Jesus!) or the Grilled Texas Bacon Egg & Cheese Melt Plate (hallelujah!). Very cheap. Go to wafflehouse.com to find one near you.
What better place to celebrate Christmas than a Turkish restaurant? Here, you can toast to the birth of Barack Obama, our first Muslim president. And Café Istanbul is the perfect place to do it, warm and cozy, with comfort food done the Middle Eastern way. CityBeat recommendations include the enticing Doner Kabob, an Istanbul street eatery staple consisting of thinly sliced lamb slow-cooked on a vertical spit, served with rice pilaf and vegetables, and the Iskender Kabob, a lamb kabob over pita bread cut in strips and cooked in garlicky tomato sauce. If you’re not a fan of Middle Eastern food, you can indulge in more familiar dishes, such as the Vegetarian Lasagna and Grilled Apple Salmon. Newport on the Levee, Newport, 859-581-1777. $12-$25. Call for reservations.
If you’re looking for more hipness in your Christmas, and you’re spending it with your family or friends, go to Dancing Wasabi. Because Christmas falls on half-price sushi night this year — how did Christ know? — you’ll be able to indulge in tasty treats like the Sunday Morning Roll, deep-fried indulgence with salmon and cream cheese, without paying for it. (In cash, not calories.) Or you can warm yourself with the Bibimbap, that classic Korean rice dish served in a steaming hot stone pot. As a finish, frost yourself with the playful Mochi Ice Cream, green-tea ice cream wrapped in a taffy-like rice cake and delivered with a cherry on top. And don’t forget to bask in winter wonderland with the Tozai Snow Maiden cold sake; it’s like drinking creamy fruit silk. 1018 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-533-9218. $5-35. Call for reservations, because the place is tiny.
This dimly lit, cozy restaurant exudes warmth and is one of the best home away from homes to spend Christmas dinner. This is a great place to bring your family, especially if you like them; it’s ideal for conversation, wine and meals that last into the night. An impressive selection of dishes from Northern and Southern Italy, Ferrari’s Little Italy offers the popular Seafood Cannelloni (cheese and seafood filled manicotti with a creamy lobster basil sauce), one of the best Italian dishes in the city, as well as the Parmesan-crusted sole with lemon butter. An impressive wine list as well — sometimes you’ll even get a server who knows something about wine. 7677 Golf Terrace, Madeira, 513-272-2220. $12-$29. Call for reservations.
New and unusual
One of the few restaurants in Cincinnati open on Christmas, Sabor Peruanu offers a nice break from Midwestern holiday party food like iced Santa cookies, eggnog, meatballs and every type of cheese and cracker known to humankind. As long as you didn’t over-indulge on Bistek a la Pobre at the company holiday party this year, you won’t be too burnt out to try it when you arrive here. “What is it?” you ask. (We didn’t know either.) It’s steak with rice, fried banana and egg. Other options are green stew beef with cassava and rice and seafood ceviche. Beware that you will experience the new and unusual, and won’t be greeted with holiday lights and mistletoe, but you might get fireworks and salsa dancing — two Christmas traditions in some parts of Peru. In reality the restaurant is pretty barebones, so don’t expect much decoration. 7105 Dixie Hwy., Fairfield, 513-860-0349. $4-$13. Call for reservations.
Seafood in the city
This is holiday city dining at its best, with a location across from Fountain Square. Even if you have an aversion to chains, you have to give McCormick and Schmick’s credit for keeping it fresh — their menu changes twice a day to keep up with their seafood deliveries. There’s nothing amusing to say about this restaurant, because there’s absolutely nothing quirky about it; it just is. You’ll find cozy dining and many non-seafood comfort food options such as Meatloaf with Portobello Gravy and Mashed Potatoes and Filet Mignon with Maitre d’Hotel Butter. These entrées start at $13.70 — not bad for Christmas dinner. 21 E. Fifth St., Downtown, 513-721-9339. $10-$20. Call for reservations.