Cretan’s Grill may take the honor for Cincinnati’s least open restaurant. After finding them closed five times on Saturdays, Sundays, and at dinner time, I figured the place was a myth. Turns out they’re only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. With its vintage wood booths; red, black, and cream counter (probably the original decor from when it opened in 1948); and ultra-limited hours, Cretan’s Grill is the Brigadoon of chili parlors.
But is it worth the hassle to eat here? I made a special trip up from downtown at lunch and I’d have to say yes. First off, the chili must be added as a contender for best chili in town. It’s wonderfully spicy and laid so neatly on the coney that you can eat it with one hand. (It doesn’t overflow the bun like the chains, forcing you to eat with a fork.) The next time an out-of-towner gets a little too close and whispers “No, I want to know where to get the real Cincinnati chili,” this is the secret place to steer them. Many of the still-existing independent chili parlors have survived by serving big sandwiches, and Cretan’s is no exception. You can get a burger, chicken, or fish, but why not go for a triple decker of ham, turkey, beef, cheese, and tomato? There are also double deckers and single deckers for the less hungry. I still think there’s something mythical about this place. For a restaurant to be open only a few hours a week and survive 65 years, there must be some kind of magic going on here.
Cretan’s Grill 7039 Vine St., Elmwood Place, (513) 821-1203. $5–$10.
Originally published in the April 2014 issue.