Rumor Has It

Investigating “best of” claims behind Cincy’s urban legend restaurants

Dec 3, 2014 at 12:03 am
click to enlarge Knockback Nat’s Travel Channel-approved smoked chicken wings
Knockback Nat’s Travel Channel-approved smoked chicken wings


f you ask the average Cincinnatian where to find the best [insert cuisine here], he or she is going to have an opinion. Best chili? You’ll find die-hard fans willing to go head to head for every mom-and-pop parlor from Camp Washington to Price Hill. Late-night diners? Depends on whether you like the Pepper Pod’s fried pickles or the Barbie jukebox at the Anchor Grill. Best fried fish? Get in line at the Alabama Fish Bar.

The following five dining destinations all boast a specific reputation (and rabid following) when it comes to their food. They’re among the city’s best hidden gems — moderately priced, unpretentious and for people “in the know.” Plus, they’ve all received a 90 percent or higher on Urbanspoon (except Gaslight Café, which has a close 87 percent), the true crowd-sourced marker of both excellent and off-the-radar eateries. 

So are these restaurants really worth their urban legend status? We set out to demystify these claims, one meal at a time.

Gaslight Café

Claim to fame:

Home of the fourth best burger in town

Worth the hype?

It depends. Gaslight Café has all the qualities of a neighborhood dive. Most of the patrons are from Pleasant Ridge or nearby, the booths are so old they’re cracking and there are zero frills. Some folks consider their Gaslight Burger ($6.25) to be on par with Terry’s, Zip’s or City View, and if you like your burger char-grilled, greasy and uncomplicated, then you’re one of those folks. Top four though? Maybe not. My personal favorite at Gaslight isn’t the burger at all, it’s the crinkle fries. They’re crisp, hot and tasty — definitely worth the a la carte price ($3). Don’t expect stellar service; in fact, walk into Gaslight with the understanding that they love their regulars and they’ll get to you eventually. Just order a beer and wait; this place isn’t for whiners. 6104 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, 513-631-6977.

Knockback Nat’s

Claim to fame:

Smoked chicken wings

Worth the hype?


A Travel Channel veteran, this dark and narrow sports bar has that old-school Cincinnati feel and welcomes the kind of people who will strike up a conversation with strangers and pat them on the back when their team loses. And their smoked chicken wings ($7.95)? Delicious. Their award-winning sauce is perfect; they truly understand hot (XXX hot, if that’s how you like them). I actually prefer them without any sauce at all — they’re smoky, flavorful and cooked perfectly. 10 W. Seventh St., Downtown, 513-621-1000.

La Mexicana

Claim to fame:

Authentic Mexican cuisine

Worth the hype?

Absolutely. La Mexicana features some truly authentic taco fillings (for less than $3 a taco), including huitlacoches (made from a delicious mushroom-like delicacy that grows on corn); flor de calabaza, or seasoned pumpkin flower; and lengua, or beef tongue. Huitlacoches tacos can be found at trendier joints like Bakersfield, but they’re nothing like the ones here. The housemade corn tortillas, layered in twos or threes, provide the perfect pillowy backdrop to the very fresh and well-seasoned ingredients. La Mexicana also makes their own horchata, a traditional Mexican drink with milk and cinnamon, and the staff is so incredibly friendly, you’ll be back just for them. 642 Monmouth St., Newport, 859-261-6112.

Thai Express

Claim to fame:

Best Pad Thai in town

Worth the hype?

Yes and no.

The Thai Express building is covered with the neon lettering of a used car dealership. Walk in, however, and you see that the take-out spot is running like a well-oiled machine. Customers order at the counter and watch two ladies prepare authentic Thai dishes in two huge, beach ball-sized woks. Ingredients for traditional sauces are neatly organized next to each wok and you can see the fresh vegetables as they are thrown into each serving. The speed with which these women move is incredible. Their Pad Thai ($6.50 for lunch) is nothing life changing, but it is reliable, tasty and utterly fresh. They also offer a spice level of 10-plus, or “Thai spice,” which is hard to find anywhere else in town. 213 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, 513-651-9000.


Claim to fame:

“Greasy spoon” breakfast joint with a heart of gold

Worth the hype?


This is (the real) OTR. Tucker’s has been on 13th Street since 1946. We walked in on a freezing Saturday morning, sat at the counter and watched our pancakes, eggs and breakfast sandwiches sizzle on the griddle. The food is just as good as Sugar & Spice or the Echo, the service is fast, the people are sweet and the price is unbeatable. The plate-sized pancakes are thin yet fluffy; the Glier’s goetta breakfast sandwich (served on a waffle or toast) could use more meat but does the trick (when they ask you if you want jelly on it, say yes). They even offer veggie sausage. Tucker’s is small, unpolished and you shiver every time the door opens, but their carry-out is perfect if you want to avoid the wait at Taste of Belgium. 18 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-241-3354*. ©

* an earlier version of this story had the incorrect address for this restaurant. It was the other Tucker's, on Vine, which is also a great no-frills breakfast and lunch spot.