We’ve been fans of Jeff Mathews’s witty pork-centric blog A Dork and His Pork since he started writing about his culinary adventures in 2008, and we can’t decide what we love more: that he writes great posts introduced by brilliant headlines (Ex: “Why Strippers Can Only Be Friends With Other Strippers”), or that he considers bacon and chocolate two of the four essential food groups. Or both.
Melt Eclectic Deli Hear the one about how the hipster burned his mouth? Melt is no laughing matter. Put aside the fact that the offerings are inventive and the bread is super-fresh: These sandwiches are skillfully constructed and are never too bready or, lack “containment.” You’ll always do OK. Even if you ate your muffuletta before it was cool. 4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 681-6358, meltcincy.com
Tucker’s We all make bad decisions once in a while. But the best way to atone for the previous night’s sins is to stop by this OTR institution for a late breakfast. I don’t know another spot in Cincinnati that treats simple food with so much respect. The pancakes have a fluff that belies their richness, and the fruit is always fresh. 1637 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 721-7123
Parkside Café The ice machine alone is sufficient reason to visit, but try the sandwiches when they cut you off from the crunchy stuff. I like the gyros. 1024 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, (513) 221-2026, parksidecafe.info
Jo An I wish I were more like sushi: balanced, neat, well-composed, vivid, and convivial. Count on high-quality ingredients prepared with no more and no less fuss than is called for. Try the bento box the first time, then venture to the bar and put yourselves into the steady hands of the masters. 3940 Olympic Blvd., Erlanger, (859) 746-2634, joanjapanese.com
Pompilios It’s sad that so many people visit Newport and never venture south of the Levee. There is a rich history here, one that still resonates through many of the neighborhood places still around, despite all of the changes these last 20 years. Next time, do yourself a favor: Walk about three blocks south for the perfect bowl of tortellini. 600 Washington Ave., Newport, (859) 581-3065, pompiliosrestaurant.com
La Mexicana Corn tortilla. Skirt steak. Lime wedge. Go alone, so as to not ruin this moment with small talk. Let alone sharing. 642 Monmouth St., Newport, (859) 261-6112
Riverside Korean Sometimes bacon gives me a Hall Pass and lets me enjoy pork belly. This is the best place in Cincinnati to do it. It’s slow-cooked in such a way to take advantage of its salty unctuousness, and served with several piquant side dishes that offer heat and contrast. Take it from someone who knows: Make sure your socks match if you’re going to sit on the floor. 512 Madison Ave., Covington, (859) 291-1484, riversidekoreanrestaurant.com
Cactus Pear You know your friend from college who still owes you 50 bucks? There is something to be said for making peace with a sentimental favorite. This was the first restaurant I patronized in Cincinnati 18 years ago, and with any luck, you’ll still find me here 50 years from now, attacking chicken fajitas with my remaining teeth. Don’t forget the roasted tomato salsa. 3215 Jefferson Ave., Clifton Heights, (513) 961-7400; 9500 Kenwood Rd., #9, Blue Ash, (513) 791-4424, cactuspearcincy.com
Ambar India The first thing you have to do when you move to Clifton is pick an Indian Restaurant. I’m proud to be on Team Ambar. What truly stands out is the rice: articulated but not dry, and gently fragrant. Try it with the luscious Dal Makhani. 350 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, (513) 281-7000, ambarindia.com
Comfort This restaurant does not technically exist, but “Comfort” is the one I fantasize about owning whenever I shop at Findlay Market. The roasted garlic and Spanish chorizo soup is real: the broth is extracted from Heist Fish & Poultry, the always-fresh veggies are from Madison’s, and the sausage from Silverglade’s.
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