Whether you’re searching for a bar with a really great rum selection or you’re craving an authentic German pretzel, this list breaks down Cincinnati’s best food and drink items of 2019.
Asian Bakery: Chako Bakery Café
hisako “Chako” Okawa doesn’t just bake some seriously Instagram-worthy Japanese pastries (like the vibrant green matcha roll cake); she serves up inspiration galore. Before moving to America in 2015 and opening her startup bakery in 2017, she made a bold career switch after working as a nurse for 35 years—going all in, studying at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and Il Pleut Sur la Seine in Japan. Taste the dedication and passion she puts into each of her sweet and savory items (the pork katsu sando is a must try!), all made with fresh, local, and natural ingredients.
611 Main St., Covington, (859) 609-0166
Bagel Sandwich: The Lil, Lil’s Bagels
Cincinnatians looking for New York–quality bagels should look no further than this walk-up window just across the Roebling Bridge in Covington. Each bagel is hand-rolled, boiled, and baked with locally sourced ingredients. Even better? They offer sandwiches. The Lil is the rightful best-seller: A stack of lox, chive spread, red onion, dill, and capers, between the chewy but crunchy halves of a perfectly prepared everything bagel.
308 Greenup St., Covington, (859) 412-6922
Food Tour: Riverside Food Tours – Ethnic Eats
Take a culinary tour around the world in the comfort of your own city. Owner and tour guide Laura Noyes will take you and a small group to a handful of ethnic eateries in Over-the-Rhine, where you’ll sample the fare as she describes the dishes and tells tales of the neighborhood’s German heritage all along the way. Think you’ve been there, done that? Chances are there’s more to learn about your home city than you think.
Dining for a Cause: Social OTR
Among a seemingly endless roster of trendy dining options in Over-the-Rhine, Social OTR sets itself apart with its mission: Provide a communal dining experience for guests and hands-on job training for prospective chefs who would otherwise face barriers to entering the food industry. Its atmosphere (hello, local artist Cody Gunningham’s enchanting mural wall), Findlay Market–adjacent location, and impressive take on New American food and beverage offerings make the experience all the better.
1819 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 263-6893
Smoked Sausage: Cincinnati Sausage, Station Family + BBQ
Call it a love letter to Cincinnati chili in sausage form. We call it utterly addictive. These pork links are made fresh daily: Wyoming Meat Market supplies the meat, and Chef-Owner Caitlin Steininger and crew toast and grind the seasonings—the same ones found in Cincinnati chili—mix with the meat, and then fill ’em, braid ’em, and smoke ’em. Top the sliced sausage with a drizzle of Station’s house Carolina gold–style mustard barbecue sauce, made with mustard, beer, and molasses, for a perfect pairing.
400 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, (513) 679-6797
Walk-Up Window: Forty Thieves
Chef and restaurateur Daniel Wright has had no shortage of success in Over-the-Rhine. Now he’s sharing the wealth at his fourth eatery, Mediterranean walk-up window Forty Thieves in OTR. In November, he began lending his kitchen to a rotating roster of aspiring chef-preneuers on Sundays in something of an incubator program. Wright and his wife Lana will also mentor participants on the nuanced business side of things, those make-or-break factors that include branding and service.
1538 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 818-9020
Restaurant Closing Reversal: Hathaway’s Diner
The internet was abuzz at the sudden announcement in January that Hathaway’s Diner (founded in 1956!) would shutter. Childhood memories of sipping milkshakes and tearing into a slice of warm apple pie (free with lunch on Tuesdays!) flashed before our eyes. Had we taken Hathaway’s for granted? The restaurant gods must have heard us pleading for forgiveness. About a month later the lease dispute between the diner and its landlord was resolved, the closing date was retracted, and order was restored once again.
441 Vine St., downtown, (513) 621-1333
Local Seltzer: Vive, Braxton Brewing Company
Getting in on the hard seltzer craze, Braxton takes the light, bubbly drink you already love from the national brands and makes it even better with natural fruit flavors, juice concentrate, and natural cane sugar. It’s available in four flavors (mango, lime, dragon fruit, and grapefruit)—plus special-edition collabs like a Bengals tailgate variety pack and cucumber mint for Hotel Covington. We don’t think this stuff will be going out of favor anytime soon.
27 W. Seventh St., Covington, (859) 261-5600
Specialty Mimosas: E+O Kitchen
Take your #boozybrunch game to the next level at E+O Kitchen. Besides the eclectic selection of brunch entrées and small plates, all with E+O’s signature Asian fusion flair, you can pretty much build your ideal mimosa (or Bellini, for all those prosecco fans out there). Start with the base bubbles and then choose from the seemingly endless list of fresh juice mixtures: orange, pineapple, passion fruit, mango, grapefruit, peach, pear, or guava (our fave).
3520 Edwards Rd., Hyde Park, (513) 832-1023
Rum Selection: Longfellow’s Other Room
Behind the already small Longfellow is the Other Room, a jewel box space that feels like you’ve stepped into someone’s well-stocked mid-century rec room, where your knowledgeable, welcoming hosts hold court. They’ll help you navigate the 137 rums (sorted by country) on the list, whether you want them straight up or in a cocktail. We recommend the rum old fashioned, but here, you can definitely trust your bartenders.
109 E. 13th St. and Brackett Alley, Over-the-Rhine, (513) 549-0744
Fermented Veggies: The Pickled Pig
After making a name for their pickled and fermented veggies business at Newport’s Incubator Kitchen Collective and selling jars all over town, husband-and-wife duo Gary Leybman and Libby Power have opened a brick-and-mortar deli in Walnut Hills. The fermented veggies are as good as ever, and we dare say the napa kimchi is the best in the city. The mix’s cabbage, daikon, and carrots are lactofermented in the Korean tradition with red chiles, ginger, garlic, and fish sauce for a complex spicy, tangy, and briny flavor.
645 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, (513) 748-7114
Goetta Pizza: Trotta’s Pizza
That pork and oats you smell doesn’t mean breakfast this time—it’s a pizza topping. And at Trotta’s eccentric drive-thru, you can get the Cincinnati delicacy on the notoriously large, fluffy-crusted Lotta Trotta, a dense Sicilian deep-dish, or a super thin crust. It’s pretty heavy on its own, but when you surround the spicy oats and pork topping with red onions, green peppers, and black olives? That’s a whole new reason to get a Lotta Trotta.
3501 Werk Rd., Westwood, (513) 451-5555
New Deli: Peppe Cucina
We’d visit Peppe Cucina for the fresh-baked bread alone, but there’s so much more to the five-month-old New York–style Italian deli and bakery. Mainly a carryout joint, it serves sandwiches stuffed with hand-sliced meats and cheeses, Sicilian-style pizza by the slice, fresh pasta, baked goods, and side salads. We especially loved the sand dollar–sized ravioli filled with a creamy cheese blend, topped with meatball arrabiata sauce, and served with five ciabatta wedges. Trust us when we say you can’t order wrong and the portions are big enough for two.
39 W. Pike St., Covington, (859) 360-0045
Wedding Dessert (Instead of Cake): Holtman’s Donuts
Doughnut walls (and displays, and favors, and, and, and…) are having a major moment at wedding receptions. Here, brides skipping the cake look to Holtman’s, which can personalize flavors and frosting, even matching the day’s color scheme. They’ve done strawberry cake with lavender-infused sugar, pineapple fritters with habanero glaze, and fudge cake with whipped chocolate cream cheese frosting. This sweet trend is so popular that Holtman’s recommends you place your order four to six months in advance. The largest order they’ve done is 45 dozen!
9558 Civic Centre Blvd., West Chester, (513) 755-1261
Cheesy Date Night: The Rhined
The Rhined offers the cheesiest (and we mean that in the best way possible!) way to impress a first date. For $12, indulge in a plate of ham, potatoes, pickled veggies, mustard, and arugula smothered in melty cheesy goodness at Raclette Night, held every Wednesday evening October through March. Then, from April to September, Mozzarella Night takes over, featuring a fresh ball of hand-stretched mozz paired with toasted ciabatta from Allez and seasonal toppings for $10.
1737 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 655-5938
Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies: Salty Chocolate Chip, Brown Bear Bakery
Four dollars for a single cookie seems steep. But this, friends, is a salty chocolate chip cookie from Blair Fornshell’s OTR pastry shop. Thick, oversized (but not obscene), and a magical balance of crisp and chewy, it is packed with Graeter’s-worthy slabs of 72 percent cacao dark chocolate. A few flakes of sea salt on top cut the richness. This $4 cookie will make you feel like a million bucks.
116 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 975-2142
Dumpling: Momos, Bridges Nepali Cuisine
Bridges Nepali Cuisine opened a second restaurant on Court Street this July, so you don’t have to drive to Northside for their best-selling momos. Marinated with Nepali spices, the bite-sized juicy dumplings are stuffed with a chicken or vegetable filling, steamed, and served with tangy and spicy sauces. (Go to Northside for fried or pan-seared momos.) All orders are 10 for $10; trust us, they’re plenty filling.
4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 374-9354; 133 E. Court St., downtown, (513) 978-9055
Utility Player: Karrikin Spirits Company
We can’t stop singing the praises of this brewery/distillery/restaurant in Fairfax. Maybe it’s the food—Jared Bennett is clearly having fun at the wood-fired grill. His seasonal, shareable plates always include something unexpected. Or maybe it’s the booze— the cocktail lineup features Karrikin’s housemade spirits and hard sodas to great effect, and you can choose the size of your pour. Or maybe it’s the whole package. If you haven’t been, don’t wait. And if you have, well, we’ll see you there.
3717 Jonlen Dr., Fairfax, (513) 561-5000
Chicken Tenders: F&N Goode Chick’n Tenders
In our May issue we dubbed the tenders at F&N Goode Chick’n Tenders the tastiest in town. Our findings haven’t changed. Located in a small Westwood strip mall, the family-owned carryout and sit-down eatery serves perfectly portioned, juicy, hand-cut and hand-breaded fried tenders. And although the chef won’t share the “proprietary blend of spices” he uses to make the crispy flour-based breading, he did reveal what makes their Awesome Sauce so awesome: a chipotle-ranch base.
5102 Crookshank Rd., Westwood, (513) 451-3000
Beer Collaboration: “Community” Coffee Pale Ale, Samuel Adams
Made right here in Cincinnati, this amber-hued English-style pale ale with notes of caramel malt is the fourth iteration of the collaboration between Samuel Adams OTR Taproom and local roaster Deeper Roots. It’s brewed with the chocolate-and-caramel-forward Community coffee blend, boasting a bold roasty coffee flavor without losing its crisp, refreshing sip.
1727 Logan St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 412-3300
High Class Creamy Whip: The Bold Face Dairy Bar Company
Have a sweet tooth and enjoy the finer things in life? You’ll love The Bold Face Dairy Bar Company’s inventive twists on classic ice cream offerings. Flavors at this East Price Hill spot, which opened in April, range seasonally from dirty martini to bourbon barrel stout and gold-leaf covered chocolate to chai tea. Our favorite is a simple cone of cardamom with coconut flakes—taken from the walk-up window to the Incline District overlook (and its impressive view) just a short walk up the street.
801 Mt. Hope Ave., East Price Hill
Fried Cheese: Taglio
You’ve probably heard lots of adjectives describing this kid-friendly appetizer, but you probably haven’t heard refined. That’s what Taglio’s version feels like. Hot out of the kitchen, with a seasoned breading of garlic, onion, and cayenne encapsulating ooey, gooey cheese, this is a grown-up’s appetizer. The order of four sticks also comes with a side of classic marinara. It might actually make you feel like picking up a fork and knife. But don’t, because that’s ridiculous.
3531 Columbia Pkwy., Columbia-Tusculum, (513) 321-0454
Authentic German Pretzels: Tuba Baking Co.
Inspired by his family’s deeply rooted German lineage, Drew Rath launched his wholesale Swabian pretzel business, Tuba Baking Co., in April 2018. He’s since opened a kitchen/bar space in Covington, which is open to the public on Saturdays. With skinnier arms and higher fat and hydration levels than the Bavarian variety, Rath’s pretzels are harmoniously crunchy and soft. Taste them at his shop or at local spots like Share Cheesebar, Streetside Brewing, Crafts & Vines, and more.
212 W. Pike St., Covington, (859) 835-2171
Hand-Pulled Noodles: Fortune Noodle House
There’s a reason almost no one else in Cincinnati makes hand-pulled Chinese noodles fresh daily. It’s hard work! Watch chef and co-owner Rachel Sun through the window into the kitchen as she kneads, then stretches the dough, swinging it through the air. As it gets longer, it’s folded over, and the process is repeated until a bundle of long, thin noodles is all that’s left. Take her husband and co-owner Steven Sun’s advice: Dine in to enjoy the noodles’ springy bite in all their glory.
349 Calhoun St., #1332, Clifton Heights, (513) 281-1800
New Wine Bar: Ripple Wine Bar
Matt and Kathleen Haws call Ripple a “juice joint,” and their cozy, quirky space lives up to that unpretentious description. With a 33-bottle Cruvinet system and half-glass pours of everything, it’s easy to explore. Chef Will Smith makes magic in a pocket-sized “kitchen”—no fryer, no grill hood, just a Merrychef oven and deliciousness in the form of crispy Brussels sprouts with anchovy vinaigrette or sweet potato gnocchi with Italian sausage, finished with sage and brown butter sauce.
4 W. Pike St., Covington, (859) 261-0004
Non-Beef Burger: Turkey Burger, Bones’ Burgers
You might already know that Bones’ serves up one of the best grassfed beef burgers in town. When your craving comes calling, you probably take one hasty glance at the menu, think why mess with a good thing? and proceed to order. But we challenge you to fight your instincts and try the turkey burger. Mixed with fresh herbs, minced red onion, and a white- and dark-meat blend of locally sourced free-range turkey from Bowman & Landes farm, it’s incredibly juicy. Customize it as you please or order it with one of the 15 specialty topping combinations.
9721 Montgomery Rd., Montgomery, (513) 407-2939; 3235 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 321-0369
Where to get the best vegan…
North of Liberty: Essen Kitchen
Around the corner from Findlay Market, Essen is a hidden gem and a real vegan’s vegan restaurant. Its totally plant-based menu features meat and dairy substitutions that make biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, and even Reuben sandwiches possible.
Goetta: Gramma Debbie’s
Sold by the pound at her Findlay Market stall, this tofu-based goetta is bound with pinhead oats, quinoa, and flax seeds and is seasoned with white pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cayenne. It even sizzles, browns, smells, and tastes like the real thing.
Soft Serve: Cone Zone
From spring through fall, Cheviot’s your source for dairy-free vanilla soft serve. Smooth, indulgent, and made with almond milk, it’s as close as you can get to its dairy-based counterpart.
BBQ: Lucius Q
The veggie ’cue at this Pendleton joint is an explosive umami bomb, made with trumpet mushrooms, cabbage, and onions cooked in the restaurant’s signature barbecue sauce. Even the meat eaters should give this one a go.