Before embarking on the adventure that is my life in Pittsburgh, I lived in Cincinnati for five years. I moved there when I was a sprightly eighteen year old to pursue my degree in fashion design. In my time there, I went from the dorms, to a nearby apartment with friends, to a not-as-nearby apartment with my husband(!) I loved it there, but never really thought of it as my “forever home”. I had always planned to do my time there, and then move forward to the next adventure. So when I (finally) graduated, Dustin and I looked elsewhere for our next step. That isn’t to say I didn’t fully enjoy the city. I have so many fun memories there, I’d be lucky if I got to share 1/100th of them with you.
A friend of mine was recently planning a trip to Cincinnati, and knowing my alma mater, she asked me for local recommendations. I tend to go overboard on most things, so rather than send her a list of a couple things I could remember, I thought it would be a good opportunity to pull together a guide based on my experience there. I certainly didn’t take advantage of as many things as I could have, or perhaps should have in my five years there, but I do have some favorites that are worth sharing. My one rule is I am only including things I’ve actually experienced first hand. That shouldn’t limit us TOO much...but there are probably a hundred places that I forgot, and a thousand places I never went to, so by no means in this list exhaustive. Be sure to chime in if you have favorites of your own...it’ll give me a reason to go back!) We’ll feature one category per day, all this week. Check back to see what’s next!
Our first order of business is food- I’m starting with this category because it’s my favorite!
This is a chain, based in Cincinnati, there are a few locations around the city. I used to live next door to the one near UC, and it is my all time favorite Cincinnati restaurant. Every time we go back, we make sure to stop here at least once (making sure to order enough to have leftovers). If you want to do it up right, order the house salad, or the candied walnut and grape salad, and then get a specialty pizza: I love the green lantern, but they’re all delicious.
Gold Star Chili
Cincinnati chili is a must try. Even if you hate it- it’s an experience! A lot of people are going to tell you that skyline is the best, but I wholeheartedly disagree (though it’s kind of like a McDonald’s vs. Burger King fries argument...everyone’s a winner!) A warning about Cincy chili though, it is nothing like the southwest style dish. The secret ingredients range from chocolate, to cinnamon, to clove, giving it a much sweeter taste than most are used to. Also- it is very thin, so it isn’t eaten plain in a bowl. Instead- order a three way...(no, it’s not what you think!)...spaghetti, covered in chili, topped with TONS of cheddar cheese. I also recommend the chili dogs, and the chili dips. But who am I kidding, it’s all really the same stuff in a different order! Don’t just take my word for it though- it’s also the official chili of The Cincinnati Bengals (not sure if that’s an endorsement or a warning...)
I have a few of recommendations that are tied for this category. They’re all “hole in the wall” type joints, with charming atmosphere and cheap eats.
A tiny, tiny, cheap, delicious place to eat. Because there is limited seating you may have to wait, but for $5 burgers, it might be worth it!
One of our “regular” haunts when we lived in the area, Arthur’s is a simple place for a great burger. I recommend going between Sunday and Tuesday, for “Burger Madness”- burgers with unlimited toppings for $6. Also worth checking out is the mural painted on the dining room wall, how many of the famous Cincinnatians can you recognize?
Oakley Pub and Grill
The lesser known of the three, but no less delicious. They have a Wednesday burger deal, so you could just make the rounds each day!
Another chain based in the Queen City, this is THE BEST (not an opinion....Fact!) ice cream ever. In addition to the homemade ice cream, they make their own chocolate, so anything with “chips” is a must! (I say “chips” because they’re more like Chunky Hunky My favorite? Blackberry Chip, although Dustin is probably partial to Buckeye Blitz (due to his love of OSU football of course. I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with the delicious mix of chocolate and peanut butter) Also- this was one of Oprah’s Favorite Things....need I say more?
This place is a Cincinnati legend, and has won countless cook-offs and competitions in the world of ribs and bbq. Their sauce is truly fantastic, we keep a bottle of this on hand for at home grilling.
Tellers of Hyde Park
I like this place as much for the atmosphere as I do the food. It used to be a bank, but a decade or so ago they turned into into a restaurant. They have an extensive bar, and a great patio, you can even eat in the “vault”!