This month marks Cincinnati Magazine’s 20th consecutive Best Restaurants issue, an annual ranking of the area’s top dining destinations with an occasional focus on the year’s top new spots. Until the pandemic hit, our March issue was a reliable barometer of which chefs, trends, and neighborhoods were up or down and which were likely to emerge next on the scene. Like the food industry itself, though, our plans got scrambled over the past two years by COVID.
We did publish a top 10 list in our March 2020 issue, which went to press in early February and was based on restaurant visits at the end of 2019. You know, in the “before times,” when places were packed and reservations were hard to get. With the crazy upheaval since then—restaurants pausing operations, switching to takeout, and struggling to hold on to staff and suppliers—it made no sense to attempt to evaluate and compare Cincinnati’s best dining experiences. Restaurateurs were just trying to keep their doors open; many couldn’t.
Last March we caught up with local restaurant families who don’t simply work in the hospitality industry but live it 24/7, and in many cases have passed that passion on to the next generations. This year, we focus on classic restaurants that have stood the test of time and weathered two catastrophes since our first Best Restaurants issue: the financial meltdown of 2007–2008 and the pandemic. The section’s centerpiece is a refresher course on nine restaurants from the original 25 featured in 2003 that are still going. A few have changed locations and even owners, but they’re chugging along thanks to strong leadership and loyal customers.
I find it remarkable that roughly a third of the area’s best restaurants in 2003 continue to operate at a high level, given all the challenges the hospitality world (and the world at large) has dealt with. I mean, three of the top 10 from two years ago have closed. It’s a tough business, and we’re thankful that lots of talented people here are still willing to give it a go.