Best Restaurants No. 9: Kiki Offers A Delicious And Highly Shareable Menu

The funky Japanese restaurant serves guests with affordable prices and a laid-back atmosphere.
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Photograph by Catherine Viox

When the James Beard Foundation comes knocking, you know you’re doing something right. As of this writing, Kiki’s Chefs/Owners, Hideki and Yuko Harada, were jointly named as James Beard Award semifinalists for “Best Chef: Great Lakes Region.” After sampling the small plates and bowls at this funky College Hill izakaya, it becomes obvious that the nomination was well-deserved.

Kiki’s taut, highly sharable menu consists of about 15 dishes, all lumped together on a single page. Each dish gets all the love and attention it deserves—food here is prepared with the same painstaking detail and respect for ingredients one expects from Japanese fine dining, though the prices are affordable and the atmosphere laid-back.

Take the curry pan. At just $4, it might be one of the best values in the city. Potato, onion, and carrot, mixed with a bold curry, are breaded and deep fried to a golden brown. The curry flavor is pleasingly strong, though it doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the fresh vegetables. This sort of balance is central to Kiki’s technique.

It is perhaps most evident in Kiki’s celebrated shio ramen. The noodles have the perfect combination of chew and slurp and the chicken-stock broth, with a touch of chili oil, is both comforting and piquant. It’s the best ramen in a city brimming with flavorful options. And while we’re on the subject of top choices, Kiki’s pan-fried pork gyoza dumplings are best in class as well.

Kiki’s got some funky roots, starting out as a pop-up at Northside Yacht Club. That funkiness still pervades the restaurant, from the whimsical mural of Tokyo on the walls to the indie rock blaring over the stereo. And we can’t forget the drink menu, with its simple-but-refined cocktails, Japanese beers, extensive sake list, and Suntory Whiskey highballs on tap.

A place that serves food and drinks this exquisite, and at such accessible prices, was bound to garner attention from the top tastemakers in the nation.

5932 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, (513) 541-0381, kikicincinnati.com

See the full 2023 Best Restaurants list here. 

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