Best of the City: Food

From tricked-out Bloody Marys to sushi-making lessons, we rounded up the best food of 2015.

Bloody mary
straightforward > The Incline Public House
No celery forest here. The unfussy presentation keeps this cocktail grounded (and easy to drink), but the taste is far from ordinary. The complex flavors of the house-made bloody mix include garlic for spice, a hint of pickle juice for tang, and milk stout for body. Perfect portioning makes ordering a second easy, so have Uber on speed dial. Price Hill, inclinepublichouse.com

The Incline Public House Bloody Mary
The Incline Public House Bloody Mary

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

fully loaded > The Anchor OTR
Not just for breakfast anymore! With a lobster claw, shrimp, or oyster, this cocktail can double as an appetizer. Celery, olives, and pickled veggies don’t get in the way of the smooth and savory bloody mix inside a salt-rimmed glass mug. Don’t be shy; dig into all this garnish-y goodness with your hands. Just ask for a wet-nap. Over-the-Rhine, theanchor-otr.com

The Anchor OTR Bloody Mary. Yes, that's a lobster claw.
The Anchor OTR Bloody Mary. Yes, that’s a lobster claw.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Museum Food
The Terrace Café at Cincinnati Art Museum
Lofty and full of light is the right way for a museum café to be. The coffee and the food—sandwiches, soups, appetizers, and a bit more—will reinvigorate your museum schlep. And if you go a little off-hour and get a table by the window facing the courtyard, you can lose yourself in a bowl of soup and a reverie induced by the brute mysteries of Gerhard Richter’s abstract painting. 953 Eden Park Dr., Eden Park, (513) 639-2986, cincinnatiartmuseum.org

Baby-friendly Bar
The Comet
Maybe the biggest post-baby culture shock is the massive hit to your social life that little bundle of joy actually represents. But when a kindly barkeep busts out crayons and a paper line-cook hat for your antsy toddler to color on, you know you’re among friends again. It helped that we were there at 4 p.m. and left while it was still light out. But hey, it beats (or augments) another night at home with Netflix. And they have nachos. 4579 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 541-8900, cometbar.com

Last-minute food for a party
Servatii Pretzel Bread & Beer Cheese
Maybe it’s because owners Greg and Gary Gottenbusch are third generation bakers. Maybe it’s because there’s horseradish and Tobasco in their signature cheese dip. Whatever the reason, if you’re assigned “appetizers” at your next social function, grab a bag of Servatii pretzel bread and a tub of beer cheese and call it a day. They sell other flavored dips, too, but trust us: You can’t go wrong with the beer cheese. Multiple locations, servatii.com

Servatii pretzel bread and beer cheese
Servatii pretzel bread and beer cheese

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Lobster Roll
Keegan’s Seafood
Red, white, and pink pieces of lobster meat glisten between crisp, buttery, flaky buns. Keegan’s lobster roll is served New England-style—a salad of chilled meat with mayonnaise—and Keegan’s jet-set Atlantic lobster arrives in light, creamy balance with crisp celery and just a hint of tarragon.  The meat is cooked to tender perfection and the fresh bun is baked exclusively for Keegan’s by Breadsmith of Cincinnati, which has an outpost just around the corner. 2724 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 321-0181, keeganshydepark.com

Corned Beef Hash
MOTR
At this Over-the-Rhine live-music hot spot, they’ve overhauled the classic greasy spoon dish in favor of a deconstructed version with Tex-Mex flair for Sunday brunch. Slices of Angus corned beef are paired with oven-roasted red potatoes, then topped with a fried egg, diced tomatoes, heaping dollop of sour cream, and green onions. The dish swims in a delicious pond of thin gravy made with Guinness—it is a pub, after all. 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 381-6687, motrpub.com

dinner en masse
Taft’s Ale House
You know the drill: A happy hour group balloons from four to seven to…standing room only. But since more really is merrier, you just need a one-size-fits-all place. Taft’s Ale House is both cavernous and intimate—there are stools for your buds, picnic-style banquet tables for your coworkers, and an entirely separate downstairs bar with its own cozy hideaways. Take your seat and order the tri-tip sliders. 1429 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 334-1393, taftsalehouse.com

Taft's Ale House
Taft’s Ale House

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Alt PB&J
Kitty’s Coffee CB&J
It’s the nexus, the place where OTR hipster and downtown hustler meet, where barristers from the courthouse and hoodlums from the street all come to a lunchtime resting point. And when they do, it’s time to behold the state-of-the-art CB&J. The secret is in the cashew butter, so sweetly applied with strawberry jam on toasted white bread. Smooth, too—the roof of your mouth will thank you. 120 E. Fourth St., downtown, (513) 721-2233

Business Separation
La Petite Pierre and La Soupe
Sometimes a family business resembles a family home: People grow apart and move on. Our sympathies go to Michele Vollman and Suzy Deyoung, daughters of famed Maisonette chef Pierre Adrian, but our palates must rejoice. Michele continues to operate La Petite Pierre, the long-established French bistro and catering business in Madeira, while Suzy has created La Soupe in Newtown, a “roadside soup shack” whose menu and tastes belie that scrappy subtitle. We lament the loss of family unity, but we can’t help but enjoy the city’s wider variety of delicious lunches and dinners. La Petite Pierre, 7800 Camargo Rd., Madeira, (513) 527-4909, lapetitepierre.com; La Soupe, 4150 Round Bottom Rd., Newtown, (513) 271-0100, lasoupecincinnati.com

Weather-dependent dining

Sunny Day Lunch > Grab a to-go custom sandwich from Avril-Bleh & Sons. Walk up Sycamore Street and grab a spot on one of the benches by the old SCPA. Downtown, avril-blehmeats.com

Sunny Day Dinner > Mecklenburg Gardens achieves the rare yet impeccable balance of shade, German fare, and live accordion. Clifton, mecklenburgs.com

Sunny Day Drinks > Watch the sunset bleed through the buildings while you sip on a nice cocktail or three at the Cocktail Terrace at 21c. Downtown, 21ccocktailterrace.com

Rainy Day Lunch > Grab a book, a stool and huddle over a piping bowl of ramen and roasted cauliflower at Huit Craft BBQ. Downtown, huitfoodbar.com

Rainy Day Dinner > Channel your inner Gene Kelly and request a terrace seat at Via Vite for mussels zuppa. (It’s covered. You’ll stay dry.) No singing, please. Downtown, viaviterestaurant.com

Rainy Day Drinks > Esquire Theatre: Because rain, an indie flick, popcorn, and a draft beer are the John, Paul, George, and Ringo of nightcaps. Clifton, esquiretheatre.com

Gyro
Sebastian’s
When a sandwich is spare, every element has to sing, and Sebastian’s gyro is a veritable choir of flavor. Soft, chewy pita cradles seasoned sliced meat, tomatoes, onions, and cool, creamy tzatziki sauce—all combined in perfect proportion. Cash only, but there is an ATM inside this small, sunny corner joint. 5209 Glenway Ave., West Price Hill, (513) 471-2100, sebastiansgyros.com

Place to get Sushi with Your Dog
Kaze’s Patio
For those of the canine-loving persuasion, finding a spot to dine out with Fido can be tricky in this town. Kaze is one Gateway Quarter restaurant that loves dogs, and they’re happy to open the gate to their spacious patio for easy pooch access. They’ll even supply a bowl of water alongside the carafe of sake or ice-cold Sapporo for you. Just call ahead or let someone at the hostess desk know you’ve got your best friend in tow. 1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 898-7991, kazeotr.com

Portable Dinner
Gomez Salsa Turtle Shell
Sometimes you need a dinner on the go. The reasons for this are endless, but the real reason is that if you don’t eat something rightnow, you’re going to get hangry. Gomez Salsa’s turtle shell is your Bruce Banner antidote. It’s basically the highbrow version of a Taco Bell Crunchwrap—a burrito stuffed with your choice of meat, a crispy tostada, and all the fixings, then wrapped up like a pentagon with some melted cheese to keep it nice and tight. Perfect for mobile face-stuffing. 107 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 381-1596, gomezsalsa.com

Hummus
Summuh
Some rush headlong into restaurant ownership; Ethan Snider decided to dip. He started his hummus business in 2012, selling spreads at farmers’ markets. Two years later, he opened Fond: Lunch and Deli where he rocks out some seriously avant garde hummus flavors. Our favorites include Just Beet It (navy beans, beets, and sesame oil) and Sister Mary Rosarita (which elevates garbanzo beans, lemon zest, and organic rosemary to heavenly heights). 10764 Montgomery Rd., Montgomery, fondlunchdeli.com

Summuh hummus
Summuh hummus

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Smoked Wings
Midwest Best
Smoked wings are popping up all over town, but for the real winners, head to the place that has the superlative in its name. This tiny corner barbecue joint/ice cream parlor smokes their wings out back, then deep-fries them, creating a crispy skin around lusciously smoked meat. While they’ll happily sauce you up if you want your wings messy, we’d point you toward the signature G-Funk, which are teriyaki glazed, then dry rubbed with ranch. Pro tip: Plan carefully, as wings are only on the menu Saturday and Sunday. 7832 Glendale-Milford Rd., Camp Dennison, (513) 965-9000, midwestbestbbq.com

Queso
Mama Lo Hizo
“It’s tough, because it’s so simple,” says Mark Whitworth. The owner of Mama Lo Hizo—Findlay Market’s gem of a Mexican food stand—means his queso recipe. For six months he melted every variety of cheese Jungle Jim’s offered, but couldn’t get it quite right. Then a friend/Mexican restaurant owner let him in on the secret: creamy American cheese. “Really!” says Whitworth. He mixes it with butter, cream, whole milk, and puréed jalapeños for a melty, spicy nectar. 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 621-6262, facebook.com/mamalohizo

Instagram Account For Food
Cheapside Café  
@cheapsidecincinnati
Your daily fix of natural light, arty lattes, and comely baked goods.

@cheapsidecincinnati on Instagram
@cheapsidecincinnati on Instagram

Images courtesy Cheapside Café

Date Shake
Dean’s Mediterranean Imports
This cool ruler was purportedly invented in the 1930s by a Southern California farmer, but too bad, Palm Springs: Now it’s ours, and the Queen City is taking this delicacy to heart. At Dean’s Mediterranean Imports at Findlay Market, you can have this concoction made with ice milk, soy milk, or yogurt. Any way you get it, the dates are ground to a gritty-smooth consistency, sweetly flavoring the shake. Plenty of reason to say “ey shake ey shake ey…”  108 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 241-8222, mediterranean-imports.com

Holiday celebration with dragons
Oriental Wok’s Chinese New Year
Celebrate with nine courses of traditional Chinese cuisine (jellyfish salad, roasted pork belly, fried chicken feet, and whole steamed flounder), dance troupes, and a real-life (yes, living) specimen from the Chinese zodiac: 2015 was the year of the sheep, and February 8, 2016, will start the year of the monkey. That night, the Wong family throws open the Oriental Wok doors to guests young and old eager to explore Chinese cultural traditions. 317 Buttermilk Pike, Ft. Mitchell, (859) 331-3000, orientalwok.com

Fish market
Lobsta Bakes of Maine
A native of Swan’s Island, Maine, Kevin Smith built a strong seafood clientele here with his former east side location, Bounty Seafood II, selling fish sourced directly from his family’s seafood business back home. After expanding into “lobsta bakes” catering, he decided to open a new market, selling the very freshest in salmon, marlin, rainbow trout, sea bass, and shellfish (oysters, crabs, and mussels), not to mention plenty of live lobsters from a giant tank. 3533 Church St., Newtown, (513) 561-0444, lobstabakes.com

Floats
Adults > Sundry and Vice’s Supremecicle
It’s one tasty reason to get out of bed on weekends: orange Crush, French vanilla ice cream, Cointreau, and Aperol, whipped into a frothy confection that tastes like an adult update of summer camp, circa 1984. It’s one of six floats available with old-school sodas during (liquid) brunch hours. Over-the-Rhine, sundryandvice.com

Sundry and Vice's Supremecicle
Sundry and Vice’s Supremecicle

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Kids > Aglamesis Nectar Float
The pale pink parlor, open since 1913, is an Old World meets Americana soda fountain. This float (the shop prefers the term soda) is their signature vanilla ice cream frothed with red cream syrup (“nectar”) and soda water, topped with plenty of whipped cream, and served with a straw in a tall glass. Oakley, aglamesis.com

Aglamesis Nectar Float
Aglamesis Nectar Float

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Tongue sandwich
Le Bar A Boeuf Beef Tongue French Dip
Move past the ick factor and embrace this fork-tender cut of beef. Tongue has long been a staple of authentic Mexican menus (under the Spanish name lengua), but Le Bar A Boeuf puts a French spin on the meat. The sandwich comes on an open-faced baguette lathered with melted gruyere and peppery arugula. Offer a bite to a picky friend and help them expand their culinary horizons. 2200 Victory Pkwy., East Walnut Hills, (513) 751-2333, jrcincy.com/le-bar-a-boeuf

Happy Hour for Dinner
The Bar at Palm Court
A heaping plate of spicy, crisp smoked Cholula chicken wings: $5.50. Lightly fried Brussels sprouts with gulf shrimp and a Vietnamese vinaigrette: $4.50. A glass of select, rotating wine: $6. Leaving the stunning, historic Art Deco Orchids restaurant space stuffed and slightly tipsy for less than $20? Priceless. The seating is cozy; the ceilings are soaring; there’s live jazz on weekends; it’s classy as hell, and again, cheap. If you’re not there Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m., you’re doing it wrong. 35 W. Fifth St., downtown, (513) 421-9100, orchidsatpalmcourt.com

Pony keg food
Miami Market
From Dagwood-style sandwiches made with Boar’s Head meats and Servatii bread (like the pastrami, above) to daily, hungry-man-sized hot meal specials (meatloaf and mashed potatoes)this Milford pony keg can more than handle your harried weeknight supper. Need adult beverages to share once the kiddos are a-slumbering? They’ve got a great selection of craft beers and affordably priced wines to take the edge off a long day of adulting. 1296 State Rte. 131, Milford, (513) 831-8646, miami-market.com

Pastrami sandwich at Miami Market
Pastrami sandwich at Miami Market

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Pimento Cheese
Country Fresh Farm Market
Hipster gastro-pubs may think they invented it, but this low-key Southern staple has been part of sustainable kitchen culture for decades. Case in point: Country Fresh’s pimento cheese is made with butt-ends from a wide variety of deli cheeses, a soupçon of Marzetti’s cole slaw dressing, and plenty of canned pimento. Organic, free-range, and paleo it most definitely is not. Starry-eyed soul mate to the workhorse saltine, it most definitely is. Don’t mess with tradition. 8315 Beechmont Ave. #15, Anderson Twp., (513) 474-9167, countryfreshbeechmont.com

Carry-Out for a Cause
Little Thai Cosmic
It’s a lemongrass take-over: Once a week, DiStasi Banquet Center in Wyoming opens its kitchen to Ornuma “Ao” Evans and friends, who make and sell Thai food. Why this flurry of curry? After Evans’s husband, Rich, was murdered at his Hartwell pizzeria, his widow couldn’t maintain the family business on her own. But with the help of friends, and with the support of DiStasi’s, she supplements her income by cooking food from her native land. Circle the calendar: “Thai Tuesday” is a regular deal. DiStasi Banquet Center, 400 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming; to order: littlethaicosmic.com

Cannoli
Wyoming Pastry Shop
There’s a fine line between a sweet, petite cannoli and a bloated, frozen-shelled monstrosity. Luckily, Wyoming Pastry Shop understands bigger isn’t always better: their perfectly proportioned Italian treats extend the length of a finger and come with a ricotta-cream-to-shell ratio that would make Pythagoras swoon. There is a welcome crack of the deep-fried crust, and miniature chocolate chips add an extra layer of texture and sweetness. Italians say eating one cannolo shouldn’t take more than two bites, but thankfully there’s no rule on limiting how many to eat. 505 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, (513) 821-0742, wyomingpastryshop.com

Wyoming Pastry Shop cannoli
Wyoming Pastry Shop cannoli

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Sushi Making in a Brewery
Sushi Cincinnati at Braxton Brewing Company
Learning to make sushi shouldn’t be reserved for bachelorette parties or office fun time. On the third Friday of each month, helpful sushi experts from Sushi Cincinnati set up tables in the garage at Braxton Brewing Company in Covington to teach rookies how to press the rice, roll the seaweed, and slice the roll. It’s a steal at $5 per roll and perfect when paired with one of Braxton’s nitro brews. 27 W. Seventh St., Covington, (859) 261-5600, braxtonbrewing.com; sushicinti.com

Sushi Cincinnati at Braxton Brewery
Sushi Cincinnati at Braxton Brewery

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Late Night Snack
Calle Cantina
Forget the drive-thru. Get up the hill to Calle Cantina for sopes—thick masa tortillas topped with chicken verde, beef barbacoa, or vegetarian raja—made fresh on a cart out back until 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday. The saucer-sized chips are the same addictively crunchy snack served at Mazunte, whose owner Josh Wamsley opened the Mexican street-food joint with Whit Hesser of Sprout. Wash it down with a house-mixed, shrub-spiked margarita, and don’t fret if things get sloppy. It’s dark, it’s late, and no one cares. 950 Pavilion St., Mt. Adams, (513) 721-6977, callemtadams.com

Unpretentious healthy lunch
Total Juice Plus
Looking for a lunch that’s low-fi, low-cal, and doesn’t taste like corrugated cardboard? Get thee to Total Juice Plus, pronto. Not to be confused with the shady vitamin pyramid scheme of a similar name, this family-owned business has been blending up fruit smoothies, wheatgrass, and vegetable juices since 1997. You can also fill up on their lentil and hummus plate, falafel wrap, and grilled chicken and avocado Greek salad. 631 Vine St., downtown, (513) 784-1666, totaljuicecincy.com

Homage to Classic Cincy Foodstuff
Goetta Fried Rice at Yat Ka Mein
It turns out that fried rice and goetta—that other divisive Cincinnati delicacy—make a very happy pair. Cooked crispy and crumbled into rice with onions, eggs, peas, carrots, and sprouts, it adds serious porky richness and texture to the classic dish. And for something that sounds sorta gimmicky, the setup is pleasantly restrained. 2974 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 321-2028, yatkamein.biz

Raw Oyster Happy Hour
The Anchor OTR
You love oysters. You live in the Midwest. Your pricey addiction is denting your budget. Solution? Happy Hour. What used to be a Thursday-only proposition at The Anchor OTR has now extended to include every day except Sunday: Oysters are $1.50 each (shucker’s choice), plus you’ll get $1 off specials on beer and wine. Indulge yourself and still have enough to pay the cable bill. 1401 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 421-8111

Kid-friendly haute kebab house
Phoenician Taverna
“Family friendly” need not involve nuggets. Succulent lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs arrive off the skewer with plenty of rice (or fries with garlic whip) and grilled veg. Hit the meze menu hard: Baba ghanoush, labneh, m’hammara, and hummus are in essence exotic dips, and they’re accompanied by regularly refilled baskets of warm, house-made pita—a boon for all, but especially young, fussy bread-etarians. Pro tip: At $22 per bottle, the Lebanese house red wine from Chateau Kefraya does wonders for mama’s mood. 7944 Mason Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 770-0027, phoeniciantaverna.com

Coffee Shop Sustenance
Cheapside Café
The coffee at Cheapside may be pret’near as good as you can get in town, with pour-overs, drip, and kegged cold Joe all on the docket. But go there for coffee, stay for the kale salad, the challah French toast, or the great grilled cheese. It’s not that the menu is ambitious, it’s that everything is really fresh and good. And if you don’t want coffee, the folks in this chic parking lot shack will make you a homemade soda with fresh flavors that change daily. 326 E. Eighth St., downtown, (513) 345-6618, cheapsidecafe.com

Dessert destination
Sotto
When it comes to dessert, sumptuous flavor trumps architectural prowess every time. Which is why we head straight down the dimly-lit steps of Sotto to sample James Beard-award-winning pastry chef Randy Sebastian’s inspired riffs on Italian classics. Like the chocolate budino—gianduja mousse and candied hazelnuts atop chilled chocolate custard—and the gelato. The pistachio maintains its earthy nuttiness, which is to say Sebastian’s stint at MEC3 International School of Gelato in San Clemente, Italy, has paid off. 118 E. Sixth St., downtown, (513) 977-6886, sottocincinnati.com

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