The Cincinnati dining scene is flourishing and it just keeps on expanding, taking on new food trends to offer an even greater array of gastronomic delights. But as one of the largest cities in Ohio, Cincinnati’s infinite array of eating and drinking spots can initially seem overwhelming, as the stand-out eateries get lost amidst the countless restaurants and bars dotted throughout its streets. To lend a helping hand, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to Cincinnati for food lovers, from old favourites to contemporary cafes and global cuisine.
While neighbourhoods across the city now provide denizens with culinary diversity, some cultural characteristics have been around for far longer. When German immigrants came to the United States in the eighteenth century, many settled in Cincinnati, and this German heritage can still be seen today, with butchers and delicatessens, as well as stalwart German eateries like Mecklenburg Gardens, serving up schnitzels and wurst with German beer.
This German influence also mingles with the city’s deep-rooted Americana identity. Arnold’s Bar and Grill is the city’s oldest tavern, and has the look of these original drinking holes to match, with dark wood, vintage furnishings, and an intriguing bathtub as a centrepiece, which is believed to have once been used for gin. Tuck into comfort food like charred Bourbon cheese, crab cakes and spaghetti and meatballs, while sipping on Cincinnati draft brews, single barrel and small batch Bourbon, or specialty cocktails like the barrel aged Manhattan; all to the tune of live folk and blues.
BrewRiver GastroPub is the culinary turf for renowned chef Michael Shields. Craft beer is paired with cuisine that showcases the local produce. Locally brewed beers feature alongside sumptuous dishes like Canal Street Mussels, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, and curried beef short rib poutine, while Brunch brings dishes like the BrewRiver Benedict – with house-cured Canadian bacon and “˜beer’naise sauce – to the table.
To get a real feel for Cincinnati, settle into Habits Café, a neighbourhood bar and grill on Oakley Square that’s been serving up hearty fare and an impressive range of beer since 1980. Signature dishes here are the classic Cincinnati potato rags – golden hash browned potatoes with bacon, onion, tomato, cheese and ranch dressing – and their freshly ground burgers, which come in a variety of styles including “˜Godzilla’, “˜Big Easy’ and “˜Bacon Blues’.
Named after the home-grown 27th president of the United State, William Howard Taft, the restaurant and brewery Taft’s Ale House is housed in the 1850-built St Paul’s Evangelical Church. Here, sample the restaurant’s signature Tri-Tip steak, which goes through a five-step process of being aged (for 21 days), rubbed, charred, smoked, and then “˜perfected’ – to medium rare in the oven. Pair this with some Alehouse onions or fire-roasted veggies.
The barbecue contingent is strong in Cincinnati, too. And City Barbeque has been named one of the best, not just within the city, but across the United States. The More Cowbell sandwich is filled to bursting with beef brisket, peppers, smoked provolone cheese, onions and creamy horseradish sauce. HUIT Craft BBQ has a more globally eclectic barbecue offering, serving up Asian classics, like Bibimbap, Banh Mi and Pho.
Fine dining is no less celebrated within Cincinnati than these meat-centric joints. French chef Jean-Robert de Cavel is as famous for his charisma as he is for his French-inspired contemporary plates. In his restaurant, Jean-Robert’s Table, he gives classics like venison grand veneur his own modern twist. Orchids at Palm Court, meanwhile, combines heritage with modern flare, having opened in 1931 with modern fine dining plates by chef Todd Kelly, served in the Art Deco dining room. To experience the best of the chef’s culinary creativity, opt for the tasting menu.
Between the barbecue joints, grills and fine dining eateries are countless epicurean cafes, covering a wide spectrum of cuisines from filling fare to lighter bites. Cheapside Café is a breezy, light-filled, white-and-wood space with contemporary furnishings and an organic feel. Along with artisanal drip or pour-over coffee, tuck into a muffaletta or a smoked salmon nicoise. The café within Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center is another light and bright option, serving up craft coffee and lunchtime plates like fontina grilled cheese sourdough sandwiches with smoked apples and sage pesto. If pie is the order of the day, look no further than O Pie O, which recently opened in East Walnut Hills. Pie fillings change on a regular basis but look out for sweet slices like coconut cream or savoury specials like shrimpanadas. Pair your brunch-time pie with a mimosa or Bloody Mary.
With its surrounding farmland, Cincinnati is undoubtedly a city of locavores, resulting in regular farmer’s markets and countless eat-local restaurants and cafes. Hyde Park Farmer’s Market brings Cincinnati’s organic growers and artisanal producers together each Sunday, while Findlay Market – the city’s oldest – is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round. A regular vendor at both is Blue Oven Bakery, whose breads and pastries, like cider raisin rye and pretzel bites, have garnered a loyal following. At Findlay Market, the bakery has its own weekend Toast Bar, serving up artisanal toast with locally produced sweet and savoury toppings.
In this ever-evolving dining scene, new eateries pop up and food trends take the city at a breathless pace. One such eatery, which people are clamouring to get a taste of, is the soon-to-open specialty café and delicatessen, Share: Cheesebar, which has already gained a loyal following for its resoundingly popular food truck.
With these true-American origins, German heritage and more recent international influence, combined with abundant local produce and artisanal goods, Cincinnati’s dining scene is undeniably distinctive and utterly delicious.
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Have you tried any of the food spots in our guide to Cincinnati? What are your favourite restaurants in the area? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Lauren Hill