As a young Lebanese man living in Cincinnati, Andy Hajjar found himself longing for the tahini, mint, and feta flavors of his family’s home cooking. Once his mother and brother joined him in the US, the three of them decided to start a deli. Their corner establishment quickly burgeoned into an award-winning restaurant, Andy’s Mediterranean Grill, where they continue to share family recipes without asking relatives to adopt every diner first. Their talent with seasoning lamb—which they grind, chop, marinate, and even serve tartar, if a diner orders in advance—landed Andy on WCPO Channel 9, where he showed the audience how to make lamb burgers. When preparing skewers of charbroiled tenderloin, cilantro-flavored sea scallops, and flatbread pizzas, the kitchen also relies on fresh ingredients and house marinades. Diners can also sip dozens of beers or wines, including some from Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey, as they relish the old-fashioned coziness of a wood-burning stove and the modern joys of a flat-screen television. On weekend evenings, belly dancers appear, and on any evening guests can lounge on black-and-red striped cushions in the wood-paneled hookah room. The Hajjars also sell marinades, salad dressing, and Turkish coffees through Andy’s International Market, which helps customers stock the pantry in their own apartment, home, or sandcastle.
At It’s Just Crepes, you’re encouraged to eat with your hands. That’s because every crepe on the menu is folded into what Soapbox Cincinnati calls "a convenient to-go style," eliminating the need for knives, forks, or tiny plate-side catapults. Instead, diners bite straight into the golden-brown bundles, which are stuffed with fillings both savory and sweet. The smoky BLT, for instance, oozes with pepperjack cheese and chipotle mayo, while sweet crepes pack in classic flavors such as Nutella, strawberries, and brown sugar. Utensils can come in handy, however, when attacking one of the eatery’s fresh salads, which meld fresh spinach, chopped romaine, and other greens with diced veggies, cheese, dried fruit, and slices of meats.
Co-owner Keven Paizannoglou founded the first It’s Just Crepes with his wife and partner, Karrah, after realizing how much he missed the crepes he’d enjoyed in his native Greece. Now, more than 20 employees serve up the delectable treats from three trendy dining spots decorated with blue and orange hues and contemporary white furnishings.
The chefs at Blue Elephant Restaurant craft Thai curries, Japanese sushi, and Italian pasta dishes, tying them all together with the common thread of fresh ingredients and careful preparation. They specially order ingredients that are not available locally to ensure that each dish contains the freshest possible items. Basil leaves flavor the Thai-style basil chicken, and cashews add salt and crunch to mango chicken. Within sushi rolls, thinly sliced fish such as tuna and salmon complement the silky texture of cream cheese and avocado.
Prior to establishing the restaurant, the owners committed themselves to observing environmentally responsible building practices. As a result, the entire building is constructed from sustainable and recyclable materials. Energy-efficient light bulbs illuminate the dining room, and a geo-thermal heating and cooling system regulates the temperature. On stormy days, an onsite pond directs raindrops into the soil, preventing them from falling into a gutter or discarded chip bag.
Gilpin's lets their diners do the work—when it comes to thinking up and naming each of the shop's steamed sandwiches. After that, the kitchen staff gets to work creating the menu's 70+ sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, steamed salads amid a casual atmosphere. It's so casual and rustic, in fact, that it's playful: the restaurant is outfitted with old-school Nintendo system.
In the morning, chefs playfully fold buttery breakfast croissants over piles of cooked eggs, turkey bacon, and pepper jack cheese. During the afternoon and evening hours, the staff builds sandwiches on pretzel buns, French and honey wheat hoagies, and gluten-free bread. They construct grilled cheeses from dill havarti and Doritos, pair veggies with hummus, and top piles of meats—from smoked pulled pork and bacon to roast beef—with hot sauce and garlic cream cheese. But sandwiches aren't the only food steamed by the team at Gilpins. To leave exteriors soft and the cheese perfectly melted, they also steam cheeseburgers, pizzas, and salads.
Cici’s Pizza fills bellies with a sprawling buffet filled with more than 28 varieties of pizza, as well as pastas, salads, and dessert. Their eclectic offerings include Cheeseburger pizza with crumbled beef, crisp dill pickle slices, and mac ‘n’ cheese sauce; Hog Fest pizza with bacon, italian sausage, ham, and pepperoni; and Zesty Veggie pizza with seasoned parmesan-ranch sauce. Pizza pies rest on a made-from-scratch crust, which cooks lovingly adorn with a variety of sauces, including homemade marinara. After filling plates with all-you-can-eat portions, eaters can settle into an environment more family friendly than an animated movie that shows viewers how to clean a house. The eatery’s carry-out menu allows on-the-go diners to top their pizzas with pineapple, onions, jalapeños, and more.
Begun by the Fuentes family, who traces their culinary roots to La Piedad, Mexico, El Toro Mexican Restaurant serves up time-tested Mexican dishes that range from tamales and chiles poblanos to chimichangas stuffed with beef tips. Their peppery fajitas can be made either with beef or with selections from the seafood menu, such as a combo of shrimp, crab, and tilapia. Patrons wash down their spicy medleys with drinks that include Dos Equis beer and specialty margaritas such as the Margarona, which adds Corona and acapella renditions of "My Sharona" to the classic beverage. The eatery surrounds its appetite-satisfying food with a similarly bright atmosphere, allowing diners to tear into burritos and tostadas amid sunny-yellow walls and colorful murals.