The Dining Guide: 119 of the Best Places to Eat in Cincinnati Right Now

Hello. Are you hungry? You probably will be at some point today or in the near future (unless you’re a robot).

click to enlarge Overlook Kitchen + Bar - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Overlook Kitchen + Bar

Hello. Are you hungry? You probably will be at some point today or in the near future (unless you’re a robot). And when you’re ready to eat, you may need a restaurant recommendation. That’s where we come in.

This year, CityBeat’s handy annual Dining Guide is a collection of some of the best places to eat in Cincinnati — as decided on by readers in our annual Best Of Cincinnati issue. We’ve been in the business of curating the BOC for more than two decades, highlighting the city’s most outstanding selections in Eats, Shops & Services, Music & Nightlife, et al, and the responsibility of selecting these exceptional entities is divided between our readers and staff. 

In 2018, more than 900,000 votes were tallied to determine our Reader Picks — and readers logged on to the ballot site to vote for their favorites in a slew of categories. As this is the Dining Guide, we’re focusing on winners in the Eats section aka places where you can eat.

Note: This is obviously not a list of every restaurant in Cincinnati. And you may not agree with every pick on here. But it is certainly an excellent starting point in any conversation that begins with “Where should we eat?” that would otherwise end in a) tears b) loud arguments c) starvation. So close your eyes, point your finger at a random dining destination and get ready to bon voyage to bon appétit (unless you’re a robot).

Best Restaurants

The top 10 picks for best overall and best Northern Kentucky restaurant from CityBeat’s Best Of Cincinnati 2018

click to enlarge Anchor Grill - PHOTO: MEGAN WADDEL
Photo: Megan Waddel
Anchor Grill

Anchor Grill

It’s verifiable: the more surreal the atmosphere, the better diner food tastes. Three cups of coffee and a plate full of home fries deep into the witching hour, no local hole-in-the wall can compare to the Anchor Grill’s dream-like coziness. Its wood-paneled walls are festooned with lovably hokey knick-knacks and nautical memorabilia. Dim lighting fixtures and ferns form swirls of chiaroscuro color among black leather booths. To top it all off, your jukebox quarters yield a live show for you and your fellow diners: as your ’70s Soft Rock single of choice crackles to life over the Anchor’s speakers, a curtain opens in a small box attached to the ceiling, revealing an animatronic Jazz band comprised of nine handmade puppets and a Barbie doll. The stage, held behind glass, bears an uncanny resemblance to Twin Peaks’ “Red Room,” which is appropriate considering the diner’s Lynchian ambiance. Taking its blazing neon “We May Doze, But Never Close” sign to heart, the Anchor stays open 24/7, offering round-the-clock breakfast fare along with lunch and dinner comfort-food classics. Must try: The goetta and cheese omelet — the Glier’s Goetta factory is just across the street. 438 W. Pike St., Covington, Ky., 859-431-9498, searchable on Facebook.

Boca

A trip to chef David Falk’s Italian/French gemstone is an experience to be savored as much as the food itself. Take your time, invest a few hours and allow him and his attentive, knowledgeable staff to unfold an epic tale of two or three courses, plus dessert; most entrées are available in full or tasting portions. While the menu changes seasonally, look for satisfying pasta dishes, deliciously prepared fish and other meaty proteins and the always popular Boca Burger — a high-end American-style burger with cheese, red onion, tomato and the sauce maison on a brioche bun. Must try: The Pommes Soufflées “1949” — puffy french fries — are a call back to the restaurant’s former iteration as the Maisonette. 114 E. Sixth St., Downtown, bocacincinnati.com.

click to enlarge Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar - PHOTO: JESSE FOX
Photo: Jesse Fox
Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar

Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar

Working closely with local sources, Bouquet’s farm-to-table approach means a fresh, frequently rotating menu packed with seasonal ingredients. Elegant small plates, entrées and thoughtful wine pairings set the stage for an intimate dining experience. Find options like pork from local Marksbury Farm with pickled ramps and bacon-fat Brussels sprouts or a Black Hawk Farm wagyu grass-fed beef burger on a Sixteen Brick brioche bun. Most menu items can also be modified to suit the needs of different diners, from vegetarians to those with a gluten intolerance. Must try: The Motherboard charcuterie board, featuring four cured meats, five cheeses and a multitude of accouterments. It’s huge. 519 Main St., Covington, Ky., bouquetrestaurant.com.

Dewey’s Pizza

A hip neighborhood pizza chain with craft beers, seasonal salads, specialty toppings and a window where kids (and adults) can watch the pizzas being hand-tossed. Must try: Whatever the pizza of the moment is. Seasonal salads and pies rotate based on, well, the seasons and feature fresh and fun toppings. The Tito Santana Pizza is back for fall with taco sauce, Chihuahua and cheddar cheese, seasoned ground beef, corn, shredded lettuce and Chipotle ranch. Multiple locations including 3014 Madison Road, Oakley; 7767 Kenwood Road, Kenwood; Newport on the Levee, Newport, Ky., deweyspizza.com.

The Eagle OTR

The Eagle is nested inside a retired post office and has a relatively small menu, comprised of fried chicken, sandwiches, snacks and several side dishes. Booze-wise, they serve 100 kinds of beer and have about 15 different brews on tap. The fried chicken is free-range, all natural and sourced from Ohio farms. Opt for a whole, half chicken (white and dark meat) or a quarter of a chicken (select white or dark). Must try: While it is hard to look past all the ways in which you can indulge in some deep-fried bird here, do so because you’ll land upon the grilled cheese. Forgoing poultry perfection in order to just have a sandwich featuring three cheeses, apricot preserves and granny smith apples may sound crazy, but it isn’t. 1342 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, theeagleotr.com.

click to enlarge Frida 602 - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Frida 602

Frida 602

The restaurant, named after the legendary painter Frida Kahlo, has Kahlo’s portrait and famous unibrow emblazoned all over the place. The cocktail list is divided into margaritas and house cocktails made with either tequila or mezcal, and they offer both alcohols in a flight, served in copitas (small clay cups). The menu is categorized into antojitos of chips and salsas, salads, nachos and several kinds of tacos, along with “mission style” burritos and two sandwiches — a Cubano and Oaxacan mezcal-glazed chicken. Must try: The vegetarian Brussels sprout tacos are the best, topped with a smoked peanut salsa on a fresh corn tortilla. Also a must: The queso dip. It’s a blend of melted cheeses, corn and hot peppers served in a round iron skillet and accompanied by a metal bucket of crispy tortillas to scoop up the gooiness. 602 Main St., Covington, Ky., fridaonmain.com.

Greyhound Tavern

The Greyhound Tavern has offered down-home comfort food to Northern Kentuckians since the 1920s. The atmosphere is pleasantly country-fied, with wood paneling, vinyl tablecloths and multiple fireplaces, and so is the menu. The tavern is known for its herbed secret-recipe fried chicken, available daily with family-style specials on Mondays and Tuesdays and a starring role on the Sunday brunch buffet, which also features a carving station, casseroles, goetta, biscuits, mashed potatoes and other hearty fare. Must try: A classic Kentucky Hot Brown. Get country ham or oven-roasted turkey on toast points, topped with cheesy mornay sauce, cheddar cheese, bacon and tomato. 2500 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell, Ky., greyhoundtavern.com.

click to enlarge Hofbrauhaus - PHOTO: SUSAN KELLER
Photo: Susan Keller
Hofbrauhaus

Hofbräuhaus

Newport is home to the first authentic German Hofbräuhaus in America, modeled after the legendary Munich location. Traditionally decorated rooms, beer brewed on-site (in line with the German Purity Law “Reinheitsgebot,” using only hops, malt and water), a huge biergarten and German dishes make this a fun dining option. Servers bring you your schnitzel and wurst in traditional German garb and there’s live music almost every night. Must try: A giant glass boot-stein of whatever beer has been recently tapped and something German. The Bavarian sampler platter for two, or Schmankerlplatte, has schweinebraten (pork roast with bier sauce), schnitzel wiener art (breaded pork cutlet) and three types of wurst with fried cabbage, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. 200 E. Third St., Newport, Ky., hofbrauhausnewport.com.

Other German Picks:

  • Mecklenburg Gardens: 302 E. University Ave., Corryville, mecklenburgs.com.
  • Wunderbar!: 1132 Lee St., Covington, Ky., facebook.com/wunderbar.covington.3.

Incline Public House

With a 1,400-square-foot deck for soaking in vistas and cocktails, IPH’s name is derived from the actual Cincinnati Incline that existed there from the late 1800s to the 1940s. Their upscale twist on pub food features sandwiches, salads, epicurean appetizers and a slew of craft cocktails and draft beers. Must try: Their pizzas are surprisingly delicious for a non-pizza-parlor. Build your own with toppings ranging from pepperoni and prosciutto to fried egg and oven-roasted tomato. Or order a house option like the Garbage pie with basically everything ranging from bacon, pepperoni and sausage to arugula, fried egg and cheese. Bonus: the crust can be ordered gluten-free for an extra $3*. 2601 W. Eighth St., Price Hill, inclinepublichouse.com.

*The print version of this story does not include the fact that the gluten-free crust is optional.

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse

Modeled after a 1940s New York Art Deco steakhouse. If you love steak you have about a zero-percent chance of being let down with one of Ruby’s — they dry-age their own. There are several non-steak options on the menu, including good seafood dishes, but cow is king at Ruby’s. Must try: A steak, duh. Opt to go all-out with a Japanese A5 (the highest grade) wagyu tenderloin, cut to order and market priced. 700 Walnut St., Downtown, jeffruby.com.

click to enlarge KungFood Chu's AmerAsia - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
KungFood Chu's AmerAsia

KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia

Quaint and comfortable with a huge beer list, AmerAsia offers all the usual Chinese dishes and chef specialties, but the food is anything but the usual. Chef Chu makes it all from scratch. His motto: “Do not take short cuts and do everything with passion and love.” Enjoy it all while taking in the eclectic décor of Kung Fu movie posters and paper lanterns. Must try: Favorite dishes include the inferno-hot Dragon Breath wontons and General Chu’s orange and sesame street chicken. 521 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky., facebook.com/kungfoodchu.

Mazunte 

Taco fillings range from shredded pork to crispy braised chicken, and specialties include Memelitas (open-faced tortillas), corn husk tamales and corn empanadas with queso Oaxaca. It’s a refreshing and authentic culinary surprise, considering the restaurant’s location in a Madisonville strip mall. The Mazunte Mercado in the restaurant’s commissary (6216 Madison Road) serves meat by the pound, homemade salsa, dried goods and fresh produce. Must try: The special Sunday brunch menu — Dia de Los Huevos — features eggy options like breakfast tacos, chilaquiles and a delicious Huevos Rancheros. 5207 Madison Road, Madisonville, mazuntetacos.com.

Otto’s

Otto’s does lunch and dinner, but it’s definitely a happening brunch spot. For brunch, Benedict Otto’s substitutes fried grit cake and smoked salmon for the English muffin and ham of a traditional eggs Benedict. It’s delicious, a bit rich and a true indulgence. There are a half-dozen mimosa options, from Violette Royale to citrus vanilla spice, and bloody marys made with house-infused cucumber or jalapeño-garlic vodka. Must try: Otto’s is known for its panko-crusted fried green tomatoes, so if you go during brunch, order the B.L.F.G.T. aka the bacon, lettuce, fried green tomato, egg and cheese sandwich on a croissant. If you’re there for dinner, order the appetizer portion of tomatoes with dipping sauce. 521 Main St., Covington, Ky., ottosonmain.com.

click to enlarge Please - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Please

Please

Tucked away on Clay Street in Over-the-Rhine, Please serves modern and artful small plates. Chef Ryan Santos helmed Please as a gypsy pop-up from 2011 to 2016 and the design of the cozy brick and mortar is note-perfect down to the very instagrammable bathroom (search #pleasepotty for guest selfies with the abstract hand-painted wall tile). It feels like a first-class affair because it is one — each four-course dinner is served with fanfare and attention. Diners can choose from a vegetarian, pescetarian or omnivore menu, although gluten-free options are always available. Please also offers an à la carte and bar menu. Must try: The apple aebleskivers are a unique interpretation of the flavors found in Cincinnati chili — Danish-style apple donut holes are topped with maple and shredded, sweet and caramel-like Norwegian gjetost cheese. 1405 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, pleasecincinnati.com.

Pompilios

This restaurant, where the toothpick scene in Rain Man was filmed, has been offering classic family Italian since 1933. Can’t go wrong with any pasta dish. Play a game of bocce ball on the back court or grab a beer-and-burger special in the attached Colonel Pomp’s Tavern. Must try: Anything with their famous (and available-by-the-jar-at-Kroger) house marinara sauce. Spaghetti and meatballs is always an excellent option. For vegetarians, the Ronaldo pasta is spicy and garlicky and very good, featuring olive oil, red pepper flakes, sundried tomato, black olives and feta cheese over pasta. 600 Washington Ave., Newport, Ky., pompilios.com.

The Precinct

You can always rely on a Jeff Ruby restaurant for a big, rare steak and platters of seafood. The Precinct, housed in a historical Romanesque-style former police precinct, was the first in a long line of Ruby steakhouses. You can’t go wrong with a sirloin or porterhouse, named after current and past Cincinnati sports greats. But there are other options, like blackened diver scallops or something from the tableside service menu like seafood fettuccine alfredo for two. Must try: Anything from the raw bar. Options like Alaskan king crab and a daily selection of oysters are served over glowing, neon ice — they drop a light into the bowl before adding the sea creatures. It’s cool. 311 Delta Ave., Columbia Tusculum, jeffruby.com/precinct.

Sotto

Located under Boca restaurant, the Tuscan-inspired Sotto offers a more approachable atmosphere and price point than its upstairs neighbor. With multiple dining rooms, the kitchen is open to view, including the custom-made wood-fire grill in front and a fresh-pasta room in the back hallway. Menu items include handmade pasta, house-cured salami and big-ticket items like Bistecca Fiorentina, a grilled creekstone porterhouse steak with daily sides. Sotto sources their bread from Blue Oven and also grows their own herbs and vegetables. Now serving lunch during the week. Must try: Any pasta. The handmade options change with the seasons, but if the cacio e pepe or short rib cappellacci are on the menu, order one of those. The cacio is spaghetti topped with creamy pecorino cheese and black pepper and the cappellacci (little pasta “hats”) are filled with short rib and topped with shallot, Amish butter and thyme. 118 E. Sixth St., Downtown, sottocincinnati.com.

click to enlarge Taste of Belgium - PHOTO: BRITTANY THORNTON
Photo: Brittany Thornton
Taste of Belgium

Taste of Belgium

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, like the Nati Crepe with goetta, made fresh to order. At dinner, the sophistication goes up a notch with mussels, steak frites and Belgian specialties. Offers an exclusive selection of Belgian beers. Must try: Waffle & Chicken. This take on chicken and waffles features a sweet, thick Belgian waffle accompanied by tasty fried chicken, Ohio maple syrup and hot sauce. Multiple locations including 16 W. Freedom Way, The Banks; 1135 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 2845 Vine St., Corryville; 3825 Edwards Road, Norwood, authenticwaffle.com.

Walt’s Hitching Post

Walt’s Hitching Post is a kick-back, casual place where everybody knows your name. Open in some iteration since the 1950s, classic menu items include Walt’s Legendary Fried Chicken, country fried steak with white-pepper-bacon gravy and fried chicken livers. All steaks are dusted with a unique seasoning blend and charred to perfection at 850 degrees. Must try: On Fridays, Kosher-salt encrusted prime rib is on special — while it lasts. 3300 Madison Pike, Fort Wright, Ky., waltshitchingpost.com.

New (And Newish) Dining Destinations

The top 10 best new restaurants from BOC and a handful of other recent additions

click to enlarge 13th Street Alley - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
13th Street Alley

13th Street Alley 

Get a taste of Philly in Cincy via a window in OTR where Philly cheesesteak reigns supreme. But seriously, this little eatery is overflowing with wraps and bowls to get you through the day. Want some fries with that? Here, you definitely do. Must try: The OTR Philly, a classic Philly cheesesteak with thin-cut grilled sirloin steak, topped with provolone cheese, sautéed onions, mushrooms, green peppers and mayo. 126 E. 13th St, Over-the-Rhine, searchable on Facebook.

Agave & Rye

Agave & Rye faces both Hotel Covington and The Madison Event Center and is just around the corner from the Braxton Brewing Company. With its full bar and kitchen open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week, this glossy taqueria has been an instant hit for patrons of those neighboring establishments and pulls in families and young couples earlier in the evening as well. Except for a few small side dishes and a couple of desserts, the menu consists entirely of tacos. They’re organized as “Graze” for meat-based fillings, “Swim” for fish-filled tortillas and “Grow” for veggie versions. Graze is the largest category, with eight different options that include kangaroo meat as well as chicken, pork, beef and duck confit. Must try: The monthly feature. Recent tacos have included The Sensei — soy-and-ginger kangaroo tenderloin with sticky hoisin glaze and crispy rice noodles — or The Covlove, with crispy calamari, pomelo, feta and passionfruit and watermelon in a wonton shell. 635 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky., agaveandrye.com.

Aladdin’s Eatery + Lounge

Although the Aladdin’s Eatery chain has been around since 1994, their new location in OTR marks something novel and adventurous for the Lebanese-American franchise: a full bar. Now, you can not only grab a freshly squeezed juice, smoothie or freshly brewed mint tea, you can also opt for a drink from a clever selection of cocktails. Housed in the space on the corner of Main and 12th streets that once held Mixx Ultra Lounge, Aladdin’s boasts the same food menu as other locations, but with the addition of a large patio and outdoor bar, plus industrial-modern-meets-Lebanese décor. This location is also open late-night, with hours until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Must try: Get an Aladdin’s Favorite Combo with beef kafta, shish kabob and shish tawook on a bed of rice with vermicelli to sample a selection of Aladdin’s eats. 1203 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/aladdinseateryOTR.

ALTO Pizza Kitchen + Bar

ALTO is the first tenant in Covington’s $19 million Duveneck Square development, bringing pizza, pasta, sandwiches and more than 30 wines and craft beer and cocktails to the downtown area. The menu currently boasts items like brisket pasta (penne, brisket, barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, smoked gouda and mozzarella), a charcuterie pizza (pepperoni, salami and mortadella on a tomato sauce pizza with multiple cheeses), a roasted portabello mushroom sandwich and extras like cannoli and Charleston crab dip. Order at the restaurant or from the kiosk inside nearby Braxton Brewing Company’s taproom. Must try: Mac and cheese pizza because why not! Macaroni and cheese with bacon and roasted jalapeños on pizza. 43 W. Seventh St., Covington, Ky., alto-pizza.com.

click to enlarge Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey

Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey

The Pendleton restaurant is inspired by the trappings of the American frontier and California’s 19th-century gold rush. Order a cocktail when you sit down so you have time for another before dinner is over — and then another for “dessert.” But at Boomtown, the true delight comes plated. The signature biscuit isn’t a run-of-the-mill thousand-layer flaked baked good. It’s a buttery, soft disc with a close crumb and a browned, lightly bubbled top that no breakfast chain can compete with. Choose from sandwiches, “Prospector Plates,” bowls, sides and dessert. Must try: The most popular sandwich is the Yukon, with fried chicken, gravy, smoked cheddar and thick-cut bacon. The option to add an egg is, theoretically, optional (and a $2 upcharge), but better thought of as an intrinsic part of the dish.1201 Broadway St., Pendleton, boomtownbiscuitsandwhiskey.com.

Buddha Barn Thai

Using family recipes and those gained from experience in New York City Thai restaurants, owner Niruti Puakkawe makes classics and new Thai dishes. Find Pad Thai, curries, soups and Thai iced tea. BYOB. Must try: Something from the “Out of the Ordinary” section, like GaGa Gangpa — pork or beef cooked in coconut-less red curry sauce with anchovy, squash, string beans, peppers, Thai ginger and basil. 6625 Gracely Drive, Sayler Park, buddhabarnthai.com.

Camporosso

This wood-fired pizza destination in Northern Kentucky is a neighborhood hang in a converted auto shop. Enjoy Italian-American classics and crusty wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas topped with options ranging from sopressata and local hot honey to four cheeses. The American-style pies are more traditional. Must try: A classic margherita pizza, topped with san Marzano tomatoes, fresh housemade mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil. 2475 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell, Ky., camporosso.com.

click to enlarge Casa Figueroa - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Casa Figueroa

Casa Figueroa

This highly-anticipated Cali-Mex eatery in Pleasant Ridge is as fresh and colorful to look at as its food is delicious. Well before you sip or bite anything, you’ll be wowed by the artwork and décor — from displays of Mexican folk art to wall-sized murals (mostly on the façade outdoors) and a gorgeous wooden-flower creation adorning the main dining room. They’ve mastered the basics — housemade guacamole, carne asada tacos, churros with chocolate-caramel sauce — and push the envelope with dishes like Nova Scotia lobster tacos, PEI Blue Mussels with jalapeño and interesting vegetarian options like cauliflower and potato. Must try: Chorizo tacos with Betty’s cheese blend, lime aioli and a flour and hard corn tortilla. 6112 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, casafig.com.

CityBird

The deep-fried offspring of The Eagle in OTR, CityBird is the latest addition to the Thunderdome Restaurant Group, dishing 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. Must try: The CityBird Sandwich, made up of tenders covered in coleslaw, sauce and pickles.1344 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, citybirdotr.com.

Colonel’s Kitchen

With creative takes on breakfast fare such as pancakes, French toast and egg dishes to sandwiches, salads, soups and biscuit concoctions, the place delivers “fast-casual from scratch.” Colonel’s Kitchen offers breakfast and lunch six days a week, with brunch specials on Sunday. While it’s not any kind of fancy, both the layout and décor make it feel homey and welcoming. Chalkboards tell you what’s to eat and the cooking is done behind a long counter. Must try: Not Your Mama’s Veggie Burger. Made from roasted falafel and red pepper and topped with arugula and harissa cream this burger is creamy and flavorful with a crunchy crust — not your typical mushy and bland housemade veggie burger. 22 N. Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, Ky., colonelde.com.

Commonwealth Bistro

Commonwealth Bistro brings the principled sensibilities of farm-to-table dining to the treat-yo-self spirit that so often accompanies brunch (they also serve a scrumptious lunch and dinner). This quaint spot on Main Street in Covington puts their own spin on each and every brunch classic, whether it’s the arugula salad with berries, ricotta and spiced pecans, or a Scotch egg wrapped in Flattop Farms goetta. Must try: The Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Waffle, served with a scoop of buttermilk ice cream, is a non-negotiable and worth the trip itself. So is the goetta sandwich with pimento cheese and a fried egg — for that true Southern splurge. 621 Main St., Covington, Ky., commonwealthbistro.com.

Crown Republic Gastropub

This casual from-scratch kitchen offers up a range of inventive entrées and shareables for lunch, dinner and dessert. The menu draws on a Mediterranean influence, with clean and light flavors in dishes like duck fat hummus, octopus tabbouleh and hanger steak with chimichurri. The restaurant is closed on Sundays to give the staff time to spend with their families. Must try: Octopus tabbouleh. The octopus is tender, served on a bed of farro tabbouleh under creamy, zesty duck-fat hummus and loaded with fresh herbs and merguez. It is delicious food confetti. 720 Sycamore St., Downtown, crgcincy.com.* 

*An earlier version of this write-up listed Fat Ben's Bakery as having a walk-up window attached to the restaurant; that is no longer the case.

Court Street Lobster Bar

At Court Street Lobster Bar, there is nary a bright-red shell in sight. Instead, there are several ways to enjoy tender, buttery lobster meat — in a creamy bisque or as an ingredient in poutine; as part of the decadent lobster mac and cheese; or in one of two styles of lobster rolls. The Maine roll is a chilled lobster salad with lemon mayonnaise while the Connecticut roll has warm lobster meat drizzled with hot butter. Must try: A lobster roll, for sure, but also something unusual like the Loboutine: hand-cut fries topped with lobster bisque, white cheddar cheese curds and Maine lobster. 28 W. Court St., Downtown, courtstreetlobsterbar.com.

CWC The Restaurant

To borrow from the tagline for the original Disneyland in California, CWC the Restaurant might just be the friendliest place on Earth — or at least in Cincinnati. CWC, from Cooking with Caitlin chef Caitlin Steininger’s longtime catering business, opened on Springfield Pike in a building that used to be a carwash. The menu isn’t extensive, with seven items listed as “shareables” or “starters” — just about everyone orders homemade baby biscuits with tomato jam and corn butter — and a half-dozen “Mains,” like the Char Cheddar Burger covered in a housemade cheese sauce. Dessert is a strong suit here. Must try: The restaurant is only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Go for brunch and order the Breakfast Nachos, which everyone raves about. Chips come topped with charred tomato-chipotle salsa, homemade queso, crumbled goetta and fried egg. 1517 Springfield Pike, Wyoming, cwctherestaurant.com.

click to enlarge Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop

Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop

Dope! serves ramen bowls, dumplings and lighter fare like a green papaya salad. The big difference is the theme — the music, artwork and names of some dishes are a paean to the 1990s. Noodle bowls are graced with names like Baby Got Beef or Wu-Tangy chicken noodle, and rice bowls have punny names like Ice Ice Baby chicken. Must try: Grammy’s Laksa, Cantonese-style noodles, sprouts, green onion, arugula, fried shallot and grilled lemongrass chicken in a creamy laksa curry broth. 29 E. Court St., Downtown, dopecincinnati.com.

Harvest Pizzeria

Harvest Pizzeria pizzas have a magically crunchy-yet-chewy and light-but-substantial crust with gourmet toppings like fennel sausage, almond pesto and vegan chorizo; the menu is rounded out by yummy small plates, salads and burgers. Also try the buttermilk-fried pickles with zesty remoulade. They’re addictive. Must try: The whipped cheese, cherry tomato and candied prosciutto bruschetta is almost good enough to fight over. 1739 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, harvestpizzeria.com.

click to enlarge Kitchen 1883 - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Kitchen 1883

Kitchen 1883

Kitchen 1883 lives up to its “New American comfort food” concept by taking the guesswork out of any dish for the consumer, and leaving them with a nice, pleasantly full feeling. The restaurant is sandwiched between a Kroger supermarket and a Kroger liquor store. This might seem strange unless you know that Kitchen 1883 is the grocery chain’s first foray into sit-down casual dining. In fact, it’s one of the first grocery-chain-affiliated restaurants in the country. Fun fact: It’s named after the year Kroger founder Barney Kroger opened his first store. Must try: The braised beef short ribs with horseradish smashed potatoes and blistered carrots are incredibly tender and the beer-battered cod— made in-house, with Braxton beer — is a distinct winner. 9003 US Highway 42, Union, Ky., kitchen1883.com.

Lil’s Bagels 

Lil’s Bagels are a bite of Brooklyn in Cincinnati — hand-rolled, boiled, baked and superbly chewy, they’re “made with chutzpah” and come in flavors ranging from sesame and salt to Old Bay and cranberry cardamom. Follow a stone pathway down a cute little alley to find Lil’s take-out “windough,” where you can order a bagel and housemade schmear, plus local bonuses like Smooth Nitro Coffee and Teeny Pies (literally tiny pies). The bagels and menu choices change frequently (based on how quickly they sell out), but expect to see creative sandwiches that turn deli staples into gourmet mashups and spreads like Dolly’s Caviar (pimento cheese), Lil’s famous egg salad and Dream Cream (Nutella + cream cheese). Must try: The Gawd Father: pimento cheese, bacon, bibb lettuce and pickled green tomato on a bagel. 308 Greenup St., Covington, Ky., lilsbagels.com.

LouVino

This Louisville-based wine bar offers Southern-inspired small plates, as well as bourbon, cocktails, beer and 17 preselected wine flights. Brunchers: Louvino serves up $2 mimosas on Saturdays and Sundays plus foodie items like pancake tacos, stuffed French toast and chicken biscuit sliders. Get a little more traditional with dishes like steak and eggs, eggs benedict or a croissant BLT sandwich. As for non-brunch dishes, their Brussels sprouts salad topped with pickled cherry peppers and a cilantro-lime vinaigrette is a customer favorite. A portion of the menu changes once per quarter, so guests can expect something new. Must try: Loaded baked potato tots — fried balls that are crunchy on the outside and the consistency of cheesy mashed potatoes on the inside. 1142 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, louvino.com.

click to enlarge Lucius Q - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Lucius Q

Lucius Q

While the name of this barbecue joint may look like “luscious” — which isn’t a bad association — the restaurant is actually called Lucius Q (loo-shus q), a moniker taken from a Roman general with special ties to Cincinnati. The restaurant logo is a Centurion riding a pig. But the Italian influence stops there. The menu is all about the meat; no pizza or pasta in sight — unless you count the macaroni and cheese waffle. Instead, it draws influence from regional barbecue specialties and the partners’ own backgrounds: there’s Texas brisket, Carolina pulled pork, Memphis-style ribs and Avril-Bleh sausage from Cincinnati. Everything is smoked out back. Must try: Veggie Q is a fake pulled pork made with trumpet mushrooms, cabbage and onions and topped with housemade Luscious Lucius Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. 1131 Broadway St., Pendleton, luciusq.com.

Maize

Maize specializes in a unique fusion menu that honors traditional recipes from across Latin America, with an emphasis on Venezuelan cuisine. The restaurant takes its name from maize, a corn flour dating back some 10,000 years and first utilized by indigenous Mexicans. The flour serves as the basis for the arepas, cachapas and empanadas served at Maize and acts as an access point for the rich world of Latin American cuisine. The bright blue accents of the restaurant lend to the tropical vibe, as do the multitude of rum options on the drink menu — there are more than 30 in house. Must try: The ceviche is perfect: plump and plentiful mahi, snapper and shrimp with diced mango, serrano pepper and lime. 1438 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, maizeotr.com.

Overlook Kitchen + Bar

Foodies, take note: a lot of excellent food is coming out of the kitchen division of the new Overlook Kitchen + Bar at Madisonville’s The Summit hotel. The fourth-floor dining facilities of The Summit, which include a separate space open only for breakfast and lunch, features a large patio. Chef Kyle Goebel most recently was executive chef at Cooper’s Hawk, and also previously worked with chef Todd Kelly at Orchids. He’s now overseeing all the food service at The Summit and deserves attention and praise for the delightful and seasonally changing fare he’s created. Must try: Stand-out entrées include gnocchi with lions mane mushrooms and spring peas and perfectly cooked bass on top of potatoes, onion and parsnip. The Summit, 5345 Medpace Way, Madisonville, thesummithotel.com/dining.

Sacred Beast

“Simple food. Taken seriously” is the motto for Sacred Beast, the modern diner at 15th and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine, helmed by chef Jeremy Lieb, most recently of the Boca Group, and his wife Bridget. The menu is a collection of Lieb’s favorite things, which run the gamut from a “Diner Breakfast” with scrambled eggs, maple-glazed pork belly and ricotta pancakes to a double or triple burger with Dijonnaise, onions, pickles and American cheese on a freshly made Blue Oven bun. Must try: Literally the best French-style omelet in town — fluffy, soft and full of goat cheese and piquillo peppers. 1437 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, sacredbeastdiner.com.

click to enlarge Sartre OTR - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Sartre OTR

Sartre OTR 

Located at street level in the Rhinegeist building on Elm Street is Sartre, a French-ish brasserie that serves spirits and victuals in a majestic and intimate space. The décor is industrial bonhomie, warmly lit, cozy and at times playfully absurd (in line with its French existentialist motif) and a perfect space to indulge in the inviting seasonal menu of shareable hors d’oeuvres, entrées and thoughtful cocktails. The mostly French wine list is catnip for a Francophile and nicely compliments dishes like sea scallop and king crab with fennel bouillon, burger frites with American cheese or suckling pig poutine. Sartre even offers bar-style bites delivered to the upstairs brewery via a pneumatic tube. Must try: The vegetable beignets, especially if the veggie happens to be a sweet potato. Now, the word “beignet” conjures up images of deep-fried delicate pastry covered in a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but these potato balls aren’t sweet: they’re puffy, yet filling and served in a bowl with a swipe of delicious harissa sauce that honestly looks a little bit like it belongs on a Big Mac. 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, sartreotr.com.

Sweets & Meats

Kristen Bailey’s ascendancy in the often male-dominated world of barbecue is no surprise: Sweets & Meats hits all the barbecue fundamentals with ribs, brisket, pulled pork and the fan-favorite pulled chicken sandwich. The store and food truck also sometimes offer more unique fare, including smoked meatloaf and a strawberry crunch cake that makes the trip to Cincinnati’s eastern-most neighborhood worth it all by itself. Must try: A combo with any smoked meat (can’t go wrong with any of them) and two sides. Choose from homemade mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, vinegar-based coleslaw, loaded baked potato salad and more. 2249 Beechmont Ave., Mt. Washington, sweetsandmeatsbbq.com.

Taft’s Brewpourium

An extension of Over-the-Rhine’s Taft’s Ale House, the Brewpourium is fitted with all of Taft’s top beers, New Haven-style “apizza” and enough televisions to satisfy all of Cincinnati’s sports fans. Apizza is a crispy, coal-fired version of Neapolitan pizza that originated in Connecticut, which the Brewpourium opted to serve over other styles (e.g. New York, Chicago) because William Howard Taft — former president, Cincinnati native and brewery namesake — went to Yale in New Haven. The dough is made with filtered water and flour imported from Italy, and toppings range from classic white clam to a BBQ Pork Pie. Must try: The BBQ Pork pie. Featuring a barbecue sauce made with Taft’s Cherrywood amber ale, the pizza includes pulled pork, red onion, jalapeño and smoked cheddar. 4831 Spring Grove Ave., Spring Grove Village, taftsalehouse.com/brewpourium.

The Takeaway

The Takeaway’s premise is simple: grab a really good sandwich …and go. Step inside, though, and you’ll probably be tempted to stay as long as possible. The cheerful white subway-tiled interior is full of blonde wood surfaces — including long, thin countertops, which line the huge picture windows looking out onto Main Street — complemented by a gleaming silver deli case. Business is split between the deli — with sandwiches and cut-to-order meats and cheeses — and a tidy retail grocery. The deli offers an assortment of sandwiches, sides, daily soups, salads and a kids menu. Must try: The housemade tuna salad on a Mainwood Pastry croissant. The croissant lasts to the very last triumphant bite — no soggy bottom slice here — and the housemade mayonnaise sets the salad apart from others of a similar ilk. 1324 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/takeawayonmain.

click to enlarge Zundo Ramen & Donburi - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Zundo Ramen & Donburi

Zundo Ramen & Donburi

Han Lin, the chef behind Montgomery’s traditional Japanese sushi restaurant Mei, has taken his talents to Over-the-Rhine in an effort to captivate the district’s foodies with ramen done the soulful way. Donburi — the other half of the restaurant moniker — is a Japanese stew that consists of various meats and vegetables served over steamed rice, topped with options like chicken teriyaki, eel or sashimi. Zundo also offers sake, Japanese beer, soju and late-night dining on weekends. Must try: Loco Moco Don, which is a deep-fried beef patty with egg and green onion over rice, like a hearty, Japanese-inspired meatloaf. 220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, zundootr.com.

Best of the Rest

Here are some other top picks from different BOC dining categories

Barbecue: Eli’s BBQ

Eli’s specialty, the pulled-pork sandwich, is a good intro to his amazing barbecue sauce, and you can move on from there to hickory-smoked ribs and smoked turkey to mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, baked beans or the jalapeño corn bread. Must try: You haven’t done Eli’s right until you’ve had the 2 All-Beef Dogs. You’ll still get a barbecue fix because the two smoked franks come in a bun with Eli’s famous sauce, however the flash fry preparation and pork crispins and coleslaw toppings will make you forget that Eli’s is known for anything else.3313 Riverside Drive, East End; Findlay Market, 133 W. Elder St., Over-the Rhine, elisbarbeque.com.

Other Top Barbecue Picks: 

  • City Barbeque: Multiple locations including 7706 Voice of America Drive, West Chester; 10375 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash; 8026 Burlington Pike, Florence, Ky., citybbq.com.
  • Montgomery Inn: 9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery; 925 Riverside Drive, Downtown, montgomeryinn.com.
  • Pontiac: 1403 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, pontiacbbq.com.
  • Pickles and Bones: 1149 OH-131, Milford, picklesandbones.com
  • Just Q’in: 6901 Valley Ave., Newtown; 975 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, justqin.com.
  • Big Art’s BBQ Grill: 2796 Struble Road, Colerain, bigartsq.com.
  • Alabama Que: 2733 Vine St., Corryville, alabama-q.com.
  • SmoQ: 275 Pictoria Drive, Springdale, smoqbbq.com.
  • Bee’s Barbecue: Find Bee’s next stop at facebook.com/beesbarbecue.

Burger (Non-Chain): Zip’s Café 

Zip’s has been doing burgers right since 1926, and generations of East Side Cincinnatians call Zipburgers their favorite. If you’re feeling like a light meal, order a classic Zip burger, with fresh, flame-broiled meat from local butcher Avril-Bleh & Sons, nestled in a toasted honey-egg bun from Klosterman Baking Company, and a side of super crispy onion rings. Or go big with the Girth Burger, a Zip burger topped with a split Avril-Bleh mettwurst. Or even bigger with the Train Wreck, a Zip burger topped with shaved ham, the aforementioned split grilled mettwurst and three types of cheese. Must try: The restaurant’s “famous” chili. It’s not Cincinnati chili; it’s actually chili chili — like beef and tomato Texas-y chili, which you can top with onions, cheddar and jalapeño. 1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, zipscafe.com.

Other Top Burger Picks: 

  • Flipdaddy’s Burgers & Beers: Multiple locations including 7453 Wooster Pike, Mariemont; 8863 US Route 42, Union, Ky.; 12071 Mason Montgomery Road, Symmes Township, flipdaddys.com.
  • Arthur’s Café: 3516 Edwards Road, Hyde Park; 8221 Beechmont Ave., Anderson, arthurscincinnati.com.
  • Chandler’s Burger Bistro: 10533 Harrison Ave., Harrison; 6135 Cleves Warsaw Pike, Delhi, chandlersburgerbistro.com.
  • Bard’s Burgers & Chili: 3620 Decoursey Ave., Covington, Ky., bardsburgersandchili.com.
  • Nation Kitchen & Bar: 1200 Broadway St., Pendleton, nationkitchenandbar.com.
  • Krueger’s Tavern: 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, kruegerstavern.com.
  • Gordo’s Pub & Grill: 4328 Montgomery Road, Norwood, gordospub.com.
  • Tickle Pickle: 4176 Hamilton Ave., Northside, ticklepicklenorthside.com.

Brunch: Sleepy Bee Café 

Whether you’ve got your BFFs or your toddler in tow for a weekend (or weekday) brunch, Sleepy Bee caters to both. The flagship Oakley location of this breakfast-and-lunch destination now boasts additional spots in Blue Ash and downtown, which all serve bee-friendly, non-GMO and local foods from head chef Frances Kroner. Expect tofu scrambles, buckwheat pancakes, Moroccan chicken salad sandwiches and a clever “food for the brood” kids menu along with craft coffee and “stingers” — cocktails like a kombucha mimosa or a Hugo with sparkling wine, mint and elderflower. Must try: The Queen City Bee. With a messy broken egg yolk for sauce, this sandwich on ciabatta has goetta, apple, arugula and “nectar” sauce. Roasted sweet potatoes make the perfect side with a hint of sweetness, served with an apple butter dip that perfectly complements the sandwich. 3098 Madison Road, Oakley; 8 E. Fourth St., Downtown; 9514 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, sleepybeecafe.com. 

Other Top Brunch Spots:

  • GGrand Finale: 3 E. Sharon Road, Glendale, grandfinale.info.
  • Orchids at Palm Court: 35 W. Fifth St., Downtown, orchidsatpalmcourt.com.
  • Hang Over Easy: 13 W. Charlton, Corryville, hangovereasycincinnati.com.
  • Keystone Bar & Grill: 313 Greenup St., Covington, Ky.; 3384 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; 249 Calhoun St., Clifton, keystonebar.com.
  • Nation Kitchen & Bar: 1200 Broadway St., Pendleton, nationkitchenandbar.com.
click to enlarge Maplewood Kitchen and Bar - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

Business Lunch: Maplewood Kitchen & Bar

Do not be dismayed if the line is out the door when you arrive at Maplewood. For one thing, it’s worth the wait, but just as importantly, they have a super-efficient operation that moves you along quickly. While you wait, you can ponder your many excellent choices. There are toasts — such as avocado with chopped pistachios and honey, or roasted mushrooms with caramelized onions and whipped goat cheese — and an egg dish or two. But wait, there’s more. How about something with a little kick, such as Chicken Tinga (chipotle chicken provides the spice)? Or you can go lunch-like with a salad or sandwich. The cocktails include good versions of a bloody mary, margarita and mimosa, but try the cucumber sangria, made with Sauvignon Blanc, dry vermouth, juices and prosecco. Must try: The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, with seasonal fruit, berry compote and local syrup. Go ahead and add a side of Daisy Field Farms bacon if you’re in an indulgent frame of mind. The pancakes were recently featured on the TODAY Show. 525 Race St., Downtown, maplewoodkitchenandbar.com. 

Cajun/Soul Food: Knotty Pine on the Bayou

Knotty Pine offers Louisiana cooking featuring alligator, lobster bisque, oysters, fried catfish and frog legs with a mess of sides. Be sure to ask about the nightly special. Must try: The section of Louisiana Favorites on the menu includes dishes like red beans and rice, gumbo and étouffée but opt for the Cajun Sampler, with blackened steak strip, chicken, shrimp, a cup of red beans and rice and gumbo to get a samplin’ of the swamp. 6302 Licking Pike, Cold Spring, Ky., theknottypineonthebayou.com.

click to enlarge Blue Ash Chili - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Blue Ash Chili

Chili (Non-Chain): Blue Ash Chili

This family-owned chili parlor, established in 1969, not only offers traditional Cincinnati-style chili with coneys and 3-, 4- and 5-ways, but also a menu loaded with sandwiches, burgers, salads and sides. Featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Must try: Blue Ash’s 6-way goes above and beyond your typical spaghetti-and-meat dish with your choice of sliced jalapeños or fried bottle caps on top of your standard 5-way, with beans, onions and shredded cheddar. 9565 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, blueashchili.com.

Hot Dog: Senate

Pushers of beer, wine and gourmet street food. Senate’s mission is to present upscale street food, and they do a terrific job of it, grabbing national attention from the likes of the New York Post, Forbes and more. The menu plays heavily on hot dogs, from gourmet Chicago dogs to more interesting dog-of-the-days and menu staples like the Trailer Park, with applewood bacon, American cheese and crushed Grippo’s. The lobster BLT is great, as is the “$25 wood-grilled, dry-aged ribeye,” which costs just $24 and is served with marrow butter and truffle fries. Must try: Senate is known for gourmet hot dogs, but they also have the best mussels in town. The Mussels Charmoula features bivalves served in a tomato and saffron broth that is both thick and flavorfully vibrant. 1212 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 1100 Summit Place Drive, Blue Ash, senatepub.com.

click to enlarge Ambar India - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Ambar India

Indian: Ambar India

Nestled near the University of Cincinnati, Clifton’s Gaslight District is home to a plethora of global dining destinations, including a thrilling selection of Indian restaurants. Among several other nearby choices like Dusmesh and Grill of India is Ambar. Ambar is more of a casual, white-tablecloth Indian eatery — which sadly doesn’t do a lunch buffet — with a vast selection of creamy, perfectly cooked and highly fragrant North Indian cuisine. Think favorites like saag, korma, tikka masala and more, including popular Tandoori grilled dishes. Must try: Malai kofta. It’s like vegetarian meatballs cooked — not fried — and submerged in a sweet, savory and creamy sauce with tomato and onion. 350 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, ambarindia.com.

Japanese: Kaze

The old Cincinnati Color building on Vine Street is such a landmark that it would have been dreadful had it been torn down. Thankfully, Japanese gastropub Kaze saved it. With a distinct bar and dining room, favorites are the pork belly buns, pork belly ramen and the OTR Roll with tuna, avocado, cucumber and ponzu. The huge patio and attached bar do one of the city’s best daily happy hours, with $5 specialty cocktails, discounted sushi rolls and half-price wine bottles on Sunday. Must try: Meatloaf. This Asian take on a traditional American dish features peas, carrots, Korean barbecue sauce, onion straws and wasabi mashed potatoes. 1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, kazeotr.com.

Korean: Riverside Korean

For authentic Korean dishes, Riverside Korean Restaurant is an excellent choice. They offer traditional rice-based, steaming hot Dolsot Bibimbap with mixed vegetables, a sunny-side up egg and your choice of beef, chicken or tofu. All entrées are served with a delightful selection of traditional side dishes called Ban Chan. Floor tables are available. Must try: During the Korean War, Spam was introduced to the country by the United States army. When post-war rations ran low, the country sought out the meat and other canned food items, and by the 1980s, Spam became a popular part of the Korean diet. At Riverside, the Bu Dae Zhi Gae hot pot dinner for two is a spicy kimchi mix with pork, hot dog, Spam, tofu, rice cake, zucchini, mushroom, hot pepper, onion and ramen noodles. You can even add extra Spam, hot dogs or noodles for just $3! 512 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky., riversidekoreanrestaurant.com.

click to enlarge Gomez Salsa - PHOTO: LINDSAY MCCARTY
Photo: Lindsay McCarty
Gomez Salsa

Late-Night: Gomez Salsa

Gomez’s walk-up taco window in OTR has it all: tacos, burritos, salad bowls and turtles (a hybrid burrito with crusty cheese to seal the deal). On weekends, it’s open until 2:30 a.m., making it the perfect drunk-off-your-ass Saturday pit stop before piling into your Uber. Must try: Owner Andrew Gomez’s greatest invention, The Turtle. Take a tortilla, stuff it with rice, beans, sour cream, lettuce, salsa, meat, veggies and cheese, layer in a tostado for crunch, put some cheese on the top and then brown it. It’s a fat little crunchy burrito envelope, a walking taco. It tastes even better if you stumble over after imbibing at the adjacent HalfCut or if you pack it to picnic while lounging in Washington Park, during lunch break or literally whenever you feel on-the-go. 107 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine; 2437 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, gomezsalsa.com.

Live Music While You Eat: Arnold’s Bar & Grill

Open since 1861, Arnold’s is the oldest continuously running tavern in town, complete with dark wood walls, vintage memorabilia and a big ol’ bathtub in the dining room, rumored to have been used to make gin during Prohibition. A Cincinnati classic, it serves up a nice range of lunch and dinner options — pasta, sandwiches and burgers, plus vegan and gluten-free options — at bargain prices. Enjoy a local draft in the outdoor beer garden and almost daily live music. Named as one of the best bars in America by Esquire magazine. Must try: Their Yo Mama Burger was featured on the Travel Channel’s Man V. Food, so try that. A custom beef blend from Avril-Bleh & Sons is topped with American cheese, goetta, a potato cake, a sunny-side-up egg and chipotle mayo on a Sixteen Bricks bun. 210 E. Eighth St., Downtown, arnoldsbarandgrill.com.

Pizza (Non-Chain): A Tavola

Armed with a pizza oven from Naples, Italy, A Tavola strikes a resounding chord of authenticity while redefining the perfect pie. Their playful selection of signature pizzas — such as the Fig + Prosciutto, Sweet Pea + Bacon or Sausage + Sage — are a blend of the familiar coupled with the exotic. Whet your appetite with their roasted cauliflower or wagyu beef meatballs, or share a plate of Tagliatelle al Ragu. Must try: The Supreme Pizza. This tomato-sauce topped pie comes with red onion, green pepper, mushroom, aged mozzarella, house sausage, spicy capicollo and maldon sea salt. 1220 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 7022 Miami Ave., Madeira, atavolapizza.com.

Other Top Pizza Picks: 

  • Adriatico’s: 113 W. McMillan Ave., Clifton, adriaticosuc.com.
  • Catch-A-Fire Pizza: 3301 Madison Road, Oakley, catchafirepizza.com.
  • Fireside Pizza: 773 E. McMillan St., East Walnut Hills, firesidepizzawalnuthills.com.
  • Strong’s Brick Oven Pizzeria: 336 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky., strongsbrickovenpizza.com.
  • Camporosso: 2475 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell, Ky., camporosso.com.
  • Mac’s Pizza Pub: Multiple locations including 205 W. McMillan St., Clifton; 6309 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, macspizzapub.com.
  • Trotta’s Pizza & Drive Thru: 3501 Werk Road, Western Hills, trottaspizza.net.
  • Two Cities Pizza Co.: 202 W. Main St., Mason, twocitiespizza.com.
  • Newport Pizza Co.: 601 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky., newportpizzacompany.com.

Sushi: Cloud 9 Sushi

An unpretentious sushi joint serving half-price sushi all day, every day, with a selection of more than 50 different rolls. Open until 4 a.m. on the weekends. Must try: It’s all half price all the time, so you can’t really go wrong with any roll. But the Hot Mama roll is a fave, with chopped tuna, salmon, tilapia, white tuna and yellow tail in a roll with garlic, red pepper paste, Sriracha and green onion. For vegetarians, the Premium Veggie roll is a regular veggie roll (avocado, cucumber and pickled radish, carrot and squash) topped with more avocado, radish and carrot. 1018 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, facebook.com/cloud9sushi.

Other Top Sushi Spots: 

  • Ichiban: 1020 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, ichibancinci.com.
  • Kaze: 1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, kazeotr.com.
  • Green Papaya: 2942 Wasson Road, Hyde Park; 4002 Plainville Road, Mariemont, greenpapayacincinnati.com.
  • Fusian: Multiple locations including 600 Vine St., Downtown; 3780 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park; 8060 Montgomery Road, Kenwood, fusian.com.
  • E+O Kitchen: 3520 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, eokitchen.com.
  • Mr. Sushi: 580 Walnut St., Downtown, mrsushiusa.com.
  • Ando Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar: 5889 Pfeiffer Road, Blue Ash, andojapaneserestaurant.com.
  • Wabi Sabi: 508 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky., wabisabicovington.com
  • Wild Ginger: 3655 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, wildgingercincy.com.
click to enlarge Bakersfield OTR - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Bakersfield OTR

Tacos: Bakersfield

Part bar, part taco joint, all classy. Bakersfield specializes in gourmet tacos (pollo rojo, al pastor, huitlacoche, etc.), quality tequilas and whiskeys and hand-crafted margaritas made the old-fashioned way, not from a pre-made mix. Must try: The short rib tostada. This little Mexican sandwich features the most delicious braised short rib, served on a crispy tortilla and topped with a fried egg, cilantro-buttermilk dressing, hot sauce, black beans and queso fresco. While this tostada is still in the Mexican-food genre, know that it’s worth passing up an order of al pastor tacos to order this instead. 1213 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, bakersfieldtacos.com.

Other Top Taco Spots:

  • Mazunte: 5207 Madison Road, Madisonville, mazuntetacos.com.
  • Gomez Salsa: 107 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine; 2437 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, gomezsalsa.com.
  • Nada: 600 Walnut St., Downtown, eatdrinknada.com.
  • La Mexicana Restaurante Cantina & Tienda: 642 Monmouth St., Newport, 859-261-6112
  • Cancun Mexican Restaurant: Multiple locations including 6385 Glenway Ave., Western Hills; 4747 Montgomery Road, Norwood, cancunmexicanrestaurantes.com.
  • Frida 602: 602 Main St., Covington, Ky., fridaonmain.com.
  • Django Western Taco: 4172 Hamilton Ave., Northside, djangonorthside.com.
  • Taco Casa: Multiple locations including 3711 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park; 1202 E. McMillan Ave., Walnut Hills, tacocasacinti.com.

Tapas: Abigail Street

The Mediterranean-inspired menu of small plates revels in Italian, Spanish, Turkish and Greek influences, with unique twists only chef Daniel Wright could pull off — chorizo-stuffed dates, grilled octopus, Batata and more. Wines are available on tap, by the bottle or the glass. Must try: The menu offers some seasonally changing items, but the fattoush salad is a mainstay, featuring yellow peppers, radish, tomato, scallion, cucumber, zaatar, pita, cheese and lemon. 1214 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, abigailstreet.com.

Thai: Green Papaya

If you’re a Thai food fan, this mainstay — locally owned by Bangkok-born husband and wife Sak Kertpet and Sunee Panichluechachai — focuses on unique sushi rolls, curries and noodle dishes. Sak, a former chef, and Sunee, a sushi chef, bring their expertise to dishes like Massaman curry, Pad Woonsen noodles and a TaTa roll (lightly fried shrimp, smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado). Must try: The Choo Chee Curry comes with coconut milk curry sauce, pineapple chunks, eggplant, tomato, baby corn, peas, squash, zucchini, red pepper and basil leaves with your choice of tofu, meat (duck, pork, etc.), fish or seafood like shrimp, squid and scallops. 2942 Wasson Road, Hyde Park; 4002 Plainville Road, Mariemont, greenpapayacincinnati.com.

Vegetarian: Melt

Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diners aren’t an afterthought at Melt, especially with its new owners who have taken Melt back to its roots. But the carnivorous can feast, too. A plethora of sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads tempt every palate. Sandwiches include items like the veggie cheesesteak made with seitan and the Joan of Arc, with braised brisket, blue cheese, caramelized onions and provolone on flatbread. Must try: The Rachel has always been one of the restaurant’s most popular sandwiches, with smoked turkey, red cabbage, apple sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on Sixteen Bricks rye. 4100 Hamilton Ave., Northside, meltrevival.com.

click to enlarge Krueger's Tavern - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Krueger's Tavern

Veggie Burger: Krueger’s Tavern

Krueger’s Tavern has legit the best veggie burger — possibly ever. The housemade patty is a blend of beets, breadcrumbs and other binding ingredients, all mushed together into a sort of disc, then dropped in a fryer. Deep frying anything is a good idea, especially vegetables, and this is no exception — a friend recently noted that the end result is falafel-like in texture. The burger is crispy on the outside and super flavorful on the inside. Topped with melty provolone cheese, pesto mayo, mixed greens and housemade pickles on a challah bun, it’s got substance, tang and crunch. Must try: The veggie burger, duh. 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, kruegerstavern.com.

Vietnamese: Pho Lang Thang

Located in the heart of Findlay Market, Pho Lang Thang offers dishes like hot pho soup, spring rolls and the ever-popular banh mi sandwiches, which come sprinkled with assorted pickled vegetables and your choice of meat or tofu. They also serve Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk and brewed right on the table into your glass. Must try: If you’re going to a restaurant with “Pho” in the name, eat the pho. The 20-hour beef broth in the Pho Bo can be filled with rice noodles and combos like rare steak and meatballs, tendon and tripe or brisket. 114 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, pholangthang.com.

Waterfront Dining: Montgomery Inn

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, salmon, pulled-pork sandwiches, burgers, salads and more, including everyone’s favorite: Saratoga chips served with the Inn’s famous barbecue sauce. Must try: Are you iron deficient? Try Ted’s Platter: original and smoked ribs plus slow-smoked brisket served with onion straws and cornbread. 9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery; 925 Riverside Drive, Downtown, montgomeryinn.com.

Other Waterfront Options:

  • Moerlein Lager House: 115 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown, moerleinlagerhouse.com.
  • Cabana on the River: 7445 Forbes Road, Sayler Park, cabanaontheriver.com.
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