The city of Cincinnati has been overlooked as a foodie destination for far too long. Sure, most folks know about the great ice cream parlors and the city’s *ahem* unique style of chili, but restaurants in Cincinnati have so much more to offer. Don’t believe us? Consider the city’s history as a major pork producer in the midwest. Blend in the culinary stylings of the German immigrants who settled the area in the 1800s and toss in a dash of Southern influence from their Kentucky neighbors just over the river, and you’ve got all the makings of one of the more diverse and unique food towns in the country.
In some cities, the downtown restaurant scene is limited to fast food chains and quick-serve spots that cater to the business lunch crowd. Not so in Cincinnati!! Here, the downtown district has plenty of great spots no matter what you’re craving or how much you want to spend. Here are a few of our picks for the best restaurants in downtown Cincinnati:
O’Malley’s In the Alley ($). Stepping into O’Malley’s is like stepping back in time—just watch your head: Cincinnati’s second oldest bar still boasts its original, low-hanging tin ceilings! The cuisine is standard pub-grub fare done right, but the real draws here are the beer selection and the excellent views from the patio.
Maplewood Kitchen & Bar ($$). This popular brunch spot uses organic ingredients to elevate dishes like lemon ricotta pancakes and rotisserie chicken hash. The breakfast sandwich also manages to make goetta seem healthy, so this spot deserves a mention just for that.
Sotto ($$$). If you’re looking for great Italian restaurants in Cincinnati, consider Sotto, where the ambiance is dark and romantic and the food is authentic and rich. (Insider tip: go for lunch, and you’ll receive one of their popular ricotta donuts free with your meal).
Restaurant L ($$$$). Few restaurants in Cincinnati do a better job setting the stage for a special-occasion meal, from the elegantly-plated fine French cuisine to the gorgeous tree in the center of the dining room.
Even if you’ve never been to Cincinnati, chances are you’ve heard about its chili. Cincinnati chili is one of those things people have strong feelings about, both good and bad. But what makes it so different from the chili served in other cities?
Cincinnati chili borrows owes its unique flavor profile to the Greek immigrants who first started serving it in 1922. It’s actually an Americanized version of a popular Greek stew made with ground beef and chili powder, and flavored with a secret blend of spices that many folks have identified as cinnamon, cumin, and unsweetened cocoa. But don’t expect to dig into a big bowl here. In Cincinnati, the chili is served over noodles, the customized in different “ways” with toppings. Here’s how to order:
Hungry for more? Read our comprehensive Guide to Cincinnati Chili before you dig in.
Every town has its most famous pizza place. In New York, it’s Lombardi’s. In Chicago, it’s Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s (depending on who you ask). And in Cincinnati, it’s LaRosa’s, which began as a family-owned pizzeria in 1954 and has since ballooned into a regional chain with more than 60 locations.
Though there’s no officially-recognized Cincinnati-style pizza, LaRosa’s pies are distinct enough to make the case for one. Distinct how? There’s the sauce, for starters, which is noticeably sweet, and thickly layered atop a choice of thin, hand-tossed, or crispy pan crust. And then there’s the cheese: instead of traditional mozzarella, LaRosa’s prefers provolone cheese—a choice that proves pretty divisive (just like the city’s famous chili, people tend to either love or hate LaRosa’s pizza). The aforementioned sauce, however, is universally beloved… so much so that you can now buy it in most major Cincinnati grocery stores!
One unique regional dish you might encounter at restaurants in Cincinnati is goetta (pronounced “gedda”). A dish often compared to scrapple, goetta is comprised of ground pork and oats mixed with spices, then sliced and fried to crispy perfection. Originally created by the German immigrant population of Cincinnati, today it’s most commonly found at diners and greasy spoons, where it’s served as a breakfast meat, though other restaurants in Cincinnati pile it on burgers, into omelettes, and even sprinkle it atop pizza. Here are a few of the best places to try goetta:
Eckerlin Meats: technically a butcher shop that supplies goetta to lots of restaurants in town, this spot also serves a goetta and egg sandwich in the morning if you want to cut out the middleman and get straight to eating.
Price Hill Chili: check off two of your Cincinnati bucket list items off in one fell swoop by pairing your goetta and eggs with a bowl of Cincinnati chili.
Colonial Cottage: this popular spot is constantly dreaming up new ways to serve goetta, from sprinkling it on nachos to layering it on a reuben sandwich.
Arnold’s could stake its reputation solely on the fact that it’s Cincinnati’s oldest bar (it opened in 1861), but instead it’s set its sight on also becoming the city’s best bar, as well. Apparently, the plan is working because Arnold’s is consistently ranked one of the country’s best bars by outlets such as Thrillist, Esquire, and Serious Eats. Here are just a few reasons why everyone loves Arnold’s: