Our Iconic Eats: 10 Cincinnati Dishes We Love

These mainstay Queen City eateries serve up some of our city’s most beloved dishes. 
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You know them. You love them. You crave them. These mainstay Queen City eateries serve up some of our city’s most beloved dishes.

Photograph by Marlene Rounds / food styling by Katy Doench / prop styling by Emily Cestone

LaRosa’s

Buddy LaRosa was the son of Italian immigrants who witnessed how much people loved his Aunt Dena’s pizza recipe at church festivals, so he and some friends took a chance in 1954 and opened their own pizzeria on the West Side. When his friends left the business, he renamed it LaRosa’s. While maintaining a family-friendly tradition—along with the original recipe—LaRosa and his own sons, Mike and Mark, have embraced consumers’ new dining and ordering habits by introducing dairy-free cheese and plant-based pepperoni options, regionally-sourced greens, and drive-through pickup windows. • Multiple locations 

Izzy’s Reuben

Known for its superior cuts of meat, Izzy’s has been in the deli business for more than 120 years. And nothing on the menu is more well-known than the restaurant’s “world’s greatest” Reuben. Stacked high with Izzy’s famous corned beef, the sandwich comes with sauerkraut, Izzy’s special dressing (a rich Thousand Island-ish flavor), and melted imported Swiss cheese, served on rye bread. If you need an extra dose of corned beef, order a “Reubenator,” the double decker version of the classic. One bite and Izzy’s guarantees that you’ll be back. • Multiple locations

Photograph by Marlene Rounds / food styling by Katy Doench / prop styling by Emily Cestone

Skyline

To many of us, Skyline and “Cincinnati chili” are synonymous. Visitors, ex-pats, and Cincinnati celebrities on national TV will all say, Let’s get some Skyline! when referring to the local delicacy. It’s easy to understand why, given its outsized presence downtown, at sports stadiums, and in numerous neighborhood business districts. And yet you can still harken back to the juggernaut’s early days by visiting the old-school Clifton parlor. • Multiple locations

Frisch’s Big Boy

Tartar sauce? On a hamburger? Don’t make that face. You shouldn’t knock it until you try it. According to some diehard Frisch’s fans, it’s exactly what makes Frisch’s Big Boy worthy of icon status. This quarter pound of beef is divvied up into two patties, layered with cheese, lettuce, and pickles, served on a double decker bun, and slathered with that tangy sauce. It’s so popular that when NRD Capital purchased the chain in 2015, the owner almost immediately announced that the burger was staying on the menu to assuage fans’ fears. Now that’s iconic. • Multiple locations

Photograph by Marlene Rounds / food styling by Katy Doench / prop styling by Emily Cestone

Greyhound Tavern

A century ago, the Dixie Tea Room served ice cream to streetcar travelers at the very end of the line in Ft. Mitchell. Today’s hungry travelers are greeted with a more substantial menu, including two house specialties that rightfully belong in any local food hall of fame. First, the onion rings. Huge, sweet Spanish onions, hand-sliced and hand-battered, are deep-fried golden brown, the platonic ideal of onion rings. Follow that with fried chicken. While it’s on the menu every day, on Monday and Tuesday, the moist, perfectly breaded half chicken is served family style, with bottomless bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, green beans, and biscuits. It’s true home cooking. • 2500 Dixie Hwy., Ft. Mitchell, (859) 331-3767

Gold Star

This titan of Cincinnati’s chili scene, like most others, built its business on family recipes from the founders’ Mediterranean homeland. The Daoud brothers came from Jordan, however, not Greece, and their chili has a spicier, meatier flavor profile when compared to the Empress/Skyline/Camp Washington approach. The four brothers bought a restaurant in Mt. Washington, Hamburger Heaven, in 1964 and changed its name to Gold Star the following year. Today, their sons run the company, which has 70 company-owned and franchise locations in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana offering a varied menu of chili and sandwiches, including (of course) hamburgers. • Multiple locations

Zip’s Burger

Last summer, Zip’s Café was ranked the best burger in Ohio by Food & Wine magazine. Be they amateur or professional, the Mt. Lookout joint consistently makes nearly everyone’s “best burger” list. It’s deceptively simple (onion, pickle, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on a Klosterman bun) so we chalk its popularity up to the chuck—the burgers, seasoned and hand-formed into patties, are made fresh with ground chuck from Avril-Bleh. Jazz it up with your choice of condiments but you won’t need much; just let that flame-broiled goodness shine through. • 1036 Delta Ave., Mt. Lookout, (513) 871-9876

Jeff Ruby Steaks

Almost from the moment it opened in 1981, The Precinct became known as the best steakhouse in town, delivering prime aged beef to diners hoping for a side of sports hero stardust. New Jersey transplant Jeff Ruby started his local hospitality career managing Holiday Inns and overseeing iconic nightclubs, including Lucy’s, before he made the jump to his own spot in a 1901 former police station on Columbia Parkway. Over four decades, the sports heroes have changed (all hail Joe Burrow), but the steaks have stayed spectacular. Ruby’s daughter Britney Ruby Miller is now CEO, overseeing the company’s seven restaurants across three states • Multiple locations

Taco Casa

Polly Laffoon is sometimes credited with introducing Tex/Mex to Cincinnati when she opened Taco Casa in 1968, and the devoted fans of Taco Casa’s particular brand of Americanized “Mexican” food would likely agree. There’s nothing authentic about much of the menu. The taco salad here is iceberg lettuce, seasoned ground beef, onions, tomatoes, pinto beans, ranch dressing, and cheese. Not even a tortilla bowl for novelty. Then there’s the tuna boat: Tuna salad, wrapped in a tortilla, warmed, topped with cheese and buttermilk ranch dressing, plus diced onion and jalapenos on top. It’s an only-in-Cincinnati institution. • 4600 Smith Rd., Norwood, (513) 827-9440 • 10798 Montgomery Rd., Montgomery, (513) 891-8333

Montgomery Inn

In 1951, Ted Gregory and his wife Matula purchased McCabe’s Inn, where he’d been working, and renamed it for its suburban home. Gregory would eventually become known as Cincinnati’s Rib King, thanks to Matula’s barbecue recipe and homemade sauce as well as to the movie stars, pro athletes, and U.S. presidents who stopped by for a bite. The family’s Boathouse on the Ohio River has a higher profile these days, and fans across the country can have ribs, chicken, and desserts shipped to them. But you owe it to yourself to lounge at the old inn with a bowl of warm Saratoga chips and sweet barbecue dipping sauce and let the world drift by. • 925 Riverside Dr., East End, (513) 721-7427

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