The pandemic shut down our world three years ago this month. I distinctly remember scoffing when Fauci, the Brooklynese-spouting doctor on TV, said COVID would disrupt daily life for a long time, possibly years. We all thought things would calm down after just a month or two, making the new routines like working from home, watching live theater on the computer, and ordering takeout from nice restaurants tolerable, if not fun.
The fun stopped pretty quickly. The “new normal” soon got boring, then annoying, and finally destructive. Start with more than 1 million Americans dead from COVID. Add in the millions of children whose school years were interrupted, if not ruined, with the long-term impact on their educations yet to be known. What about the businesses and organizations dependent on human interaction—from restaurants and bars to performing arts and retail shops—that couldn’t hang on during the uncertainty? Most of us made it through the past three years in OK shape, but too many didn’t.
March 2020 was the last time we rated the top restaurants in Cincinnati Magazine. We used the next two years’ Best Restaurants issue to recognize and celebrate those who were struggling to keep their doors open, keep staff employed, and keep us fed. Rankings were beside the point; survival was the only goal.
We return to a top 10 restaurant list in “Where to Eat Now.” This feels like the right time to close the pandemic curtain—two months before the Biden administration officially does—but we can never forget the damage done in the past three years. Three of our 2020 best restaurants closed: Please (No. 1), Restaurant L (No. 4), and Orchids at Palm Court (No. 10). Boombox Buns and Zula, highlighted for certain dishes or chefs, are out of business. Jean-Robert de Cavel, the spiritual leader of Cincinnati’s restaurant industry, passed away.
The local restaurant scene pushes on nonetheless, with new concepts and old favorites rising to the occasion and a variety of chefs grabbing James Beard Award nominations. Life will never be like it was before March 2020, so we’ll take all the bright spots we can get.