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Best Cincinnati Restaurants

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It was a sad day in Cincinnati when the Maisonette closed. This was Ohio’s only Mobil Five-Star restaurant. Not Cincinnati’s, mind you—Ohio’s. Several Cincinnati restaurants have been filling in the gap by continuing Maisonette’s tradition of upscale cuisine. Contemporary and creative are the tastes of the day, but Cincinnati-style chili remains the biggest crowd-pleaser. This Greek-cuisine-inspired dish, first spooned onto spaghetti in 1922, is a texture and flavor marvel. That’s right. Chili on spaghetti, topped with shredded cheese. That’s a three-way. Add kidney beans, and that’s a four-way. Top that with finely-chopped onions for a five-way. Shift out the spaghetti with a hotdog in a bun and you’ve got a Coney. A few words about the chili: The hamburger meat is cooked in the thin tomato sauce, not browned beforehand, and chili powder is not an ingredient. Cinnamon and cloves are. In any of the array of chili parlor choices, you can’t go wrong.

The Rookwood Bar and Restaurant

Neighborhood: Mt. Adams Price: Expensive

The Rookwood has hit the mark as the latest restaurant to take up residence in what was Cincinnati’s world-famous Rookwood Pottery Co. from the late 1870s to 1967. The restaurant’s name change helps. When he bought the place, Joel Creighton ditched the name Porkopolis and found a name that made sense. The Rookwood. Smart. Admittedly, Porkopolis also fit Cincinnati’s history (as the capital of pork), but it sounded like a barbecue joint with a superhero. Today’s Rookwood serves up contemporary American. The Barnsdale burger—a hamburger with caramelized onions, house pickles, fontina cheese and thyme—and the deviled eggs with truffle and caviar have received the greatest applause. Burgers are also served at night, but for upscale, try the Angus Reserve rib eye. The prices may be a tad high, but consider the Tudor building and its perch overlooking the Ohio River. So what if you might save a dollar or two elsewhere? Elsewhere, you can’t dine in a walk-in size kiln that functions as a private dining room.  The rest of the restaurant uses Rookwood Pottery’s history as a focal point, displaying pottery in cases and enlarged reproduction photographs on the walls.

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The Rookwood Bar and Restaurant  

Nicola's

Neighborhood: Over-the-Rhine (Gateway quarter) Price: Expensive

Boca makes you want to take your time. If you eat too fast you’ll miss the high points—plus, you’ll have dropped some cool cash for no good reason. Savor your food. Chef owner David Falk’s contemporary Italian creations have been described as “art on a plate,” with each dish a sensory experience of textures and flavors. No wonder—Falk’s culinary pedigree is impeccable. He trained under Maisonette chef Jean-Robert De Cavel and then spent time in Italy upping his Italian cuisine game. The menu changes daily. Boca is closed Sunday and Monday. On Friday and Saturday, the menu is Prix Fixe.

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Nicola's  

Boca

Neighborhood: Oakley Price: Expensive

Boca makes you want to take your time. If you eat too fast you’ll miss the high points—plus, you’ll have dropped some cool cash for no good reason. Savor your food. Chef owner David Falk’s contemporary Italian creations have been described as “art on a plate,” with each dish a sensory experience of textures and flavors. No wonder—Falk’s culinary pedigree is impeccable. He trained under Maisonette chef Jean-Robert De Cavel and then spent time in Italy upping his Italian cuisine game. The menu changes daily. Boca is closed Sunday and Monday. On Friday and Saturday, the menu is Prix Fixe.

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Senate

Neighborhood: Over-the-Rhine (Gateway quarter) Price: Moderate

At Senate, a restaurant with exposed brick walls and rich wood in one of Over-the-Rhine’s historic buildings, urban sophistication meets gourmet hot dogs. Put aside thoughts of the stadium version slathered with mustard and a bit of relish. This is street food gone upscale. Try the wasabi mayo and Japanese slaw. That’s “Hello Kitty.” The “Trailer Park” is a hot dog wrapped in bacon with American cheese and topped with crushed Grippo’s potato chips. Chef Daniel White’s inspiration for the dogs and other dishes comes from customers and Findlay Market, where he picks up fresh ingredients from Cincinnati’s top produce vendors. Hot dogs aren’t the only offerings. White and his wife Lana, who co-owns the business, serve small plates like mussels and an avocado and mozzarella salad, as well as sandwiches and a few entrees like wood-grilled sirloin strip and seared scallops. The truffle fries get rave reviews, as well.

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Senate  

Honey

Neighborhood: Northside Price: Moderate

This unique international-cuisine eatery attracts an eclectic crowd in one of Cincinnati’s artsy and interesting neighborhoods. When Boca moved to its Oakley location, Honey moved in. Since then, Doug and Shoshannah Hafner have developed their own following. Their brunch on Sunday draws crowds, so be patient. One item that is a must-try, and a menu staple at this Cincinnati restaurant, is the honey fries with sweet, Yukon and Idaho potatoes and chili-lime honey. Honey’s menu is seasonal. Try one of Doug and Shoshannah’s homemade raviolis, like the mint-scented sweet pea version, or the wild mushroom and goat cheese. Get a table by the window if you can—this is a great spot for people-watching.

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Honey  

Otto's

Neighborhood: Northern Kenturcky
Price: Moderate

Otto’s is what happens when a neighborhood gets behind a project; the best neighborhood restaurant opens and you wish it were in your house. Otto’s quirky, friendly feel is due to owner chef Paul Weckman’s wing-and-a-prayer approach to starting an eatery. With only $300 for start-up food and help from friends, neighbors and passersby who pitched in to fix up a worn-down mini-mart, Weckman managed to create a restaurant where people flock. The atmosphere of colorful mismatched tables and chairs provides a touch of homey fun. The menu is also eclectic. For a traditional Kentucky lunch fix, go with Otto’s Kentucky Hot Brown. It’s a bubbly concoction of homemade bread, roasted turkey, smoked ham, bacon, shredded cheese, bacon and tomato. The shrimp and grit cake turns grits, another southern favorite, into a WOW! Oh, yeah, and here’s where fried green tomatoes hit a high note. On Friday nights, Weckman has added Covington’s indie rock country band The Turkeys.

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Otto's  

Melt Eclectic Deli

Neighborhood: Northside Price: Budget

At Melt Eclectic Deli both vegans and carnivores can find happiness in healthy food. Meats are drug-free and hormone-free, and vegetables are usually organic. Step up to the counter to order, and you’ll likely find what you’re after. The variety is astounding. Melted sandwiches are a specialty—there are 14 of them. Ingredients range from roasted vegetables to baked tofu and roast turkey. Go with the Tasty Plate that includes your choice of two of the following: sandwich, salad and soup. Although tables are available, one option is to order takeout and turn lunch into a picnic.

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Melt Eclectic Deli  

ForkHeartKnife

Neighborhood: Over-the-Rhine (Gateway quarter) Price: Budget

A newcomer to the Cincinnati restaurant scene, ForkHeartKnife, a humble eatery drenched in natural light, with white-and-blue-checked floors, has won hearts already. Chef Sierra Laumer and friend and co-owner Leah Heisel prepare each creative dish with pleasure and comfort in mind. What’s on the menu depends upon Laumer’s inspiration and what’s available at the market. Recently watermelon became a salad with feta cheese, red onions, jalapeno and mint. The short menu changes daily. You might have Swiss chard from a neighborhood garden one day, or a Mexican-style corn dish the next. Portobello pizza, a large mushroom cap filled with tomato, chorizo, mozzarella and basil oil, is a favorite. The restaurant’s tiny size—it only seats 12—makes it feel like sitting in a cozy kitchen watching the cook’s love for food and life get stirred into each dish. The restaurant hours are way limited—Thursday and Friday nights for dinner and Sunday for brunch. ForkHeartKnife is also a catering business that offers private parties. Traveling to Cincinnati with a gang? Call Sierra. It’s an idea.

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ForkHeartKnife  

Skyline Chili

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget

People have their favorite Cincinnati-style chili parlors and stay loyal. We always head to Skyline, or perhaps Dixie Chili. Skyline Chili, started in 1949, is the largest franchise, thus the easiest to find. As with the other parlors, the chili toppings run the spectrum of cheese to kidney beans. Oyster crackers are served on the side. Over the years, Skyline’s menu has expanded to include baked potatoes topped with chili and all the fixins’ and even chili wraps and burritos. An offshoot of Empress Chili, Dixie Chili, founded in 1929 in Newport in northern Kentucky (733 Monmouth St., Newport, KY, 41071, 859-291-5337), has anchored the chili scene there for 75 years. Both Skyline and Dixie Chili offer seating in a combination of booths and tables. Although the food comes fast, this is not fast food.

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Skyline Chili  

Dixie Chili

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget

People have their favorite Cincinnati-style chili parlors and stay loyal. We always head to Skyline, or perhaps Dixie Chili. Skyline Chili, started in 1949, is the largest franchise, thus the easiest to find. As with the other parlors, the chili toppings run the spectrum of cheese to kidney beans. Oyster crackers are served on the side. Over the years, Skyline’s menu has expanded to include baked potatoes topped with chili and all the fixins’ and even chili wraps and burritos. An offshoot of Empress Chili, Dixie Chili, founded in 1929 in Newport in northern Kentucky (733 Monmouth St., 859-291-5337, www.dixiechili.com), has anchored the chili scene there for 75 years. Both Skyline and Dixie Chili offer seating in a combination of booths and tables. Although the food comes fast, this is not fast food.

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Dixie Chili  

Green Dog Café

Neighborhood: Mt Lookout
Price: Budget
Environmental sustainability and stellar food are chef-owner Mary Swortwood’s passions. Green Dog Café is her showcase. Swortwood uses fresh local ingredients to get across her message, “Isn’t food grand?” The salmon is organic, poultry is local and the pork is free of antibiotics and hormones. You won’t find beef at the Green Dog Café. This Cincinnati cafe is all about green. The portion sizes match Swortwood’s aspirations—huge. “Bowls” are house specialties. Dig into the quinoa bowl, a concoction of quinoa, mint, lime, onions, tomato and chicken and go “Wow.” Order at the counter, find a table and the food will come. Notice the Vs and Gs on the menu. These dishes can be made vegan or gluten-free.

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Green Dog Café  
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