For hungry travelers, the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, is forever synonymous with two things: Graeter’s ice cream and Skyline Chili. Both of these long-standing institutions remain mandatory stops for visitors (pro tip: order the “4-way” at Skyline — spaghetti smothered in Greek-inspired chili, shredded cheddar and your choice of beans or onions — then cool down with a double dip of the impossibly creamy Black Raspberry Chip at Graeter’s). But there’s more to Cincy’s dining scene than just these simple pleasures. Lots more, actually. Here are five places making Ohio’s Queen City more vibrant, fun and delicious than ever.
Located on the corner of 14th and Republic in the city’s Over the Rhine (OTR) neighborhood, Salazar is the kind of restaurant every neighborhood deserves. Here’s why: The space is small, with just 30 seats (plus 15 at the bar), so it always maintains a cozy vibe. The design is smart yet familiar, with its tiled mosaic floor, dark wood tables and marble bar. As for the food, it’s approachable and delicious. “We’re just inspired by what tastes good and what we like to eat,” says chef and owner Jose Salazar of his fuss-free approach to cooking. Kimchi-topped fried oyster sliders are obvious crowd-pleasers, while the roasted beets with chestnut puree and orange segments are a lighter and brighter way to kick off a meal. Seafood fans will flip for Salazar’s fish, because no matter the cut, he never fails to produce irresistibly crispy skin and perfectly flaky flesh. Plus: What chef will gun a shot of mezcal with you at the end of your meal? Chef Salazar, that’s who. 1401 Republic St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513-621-7000; salazarcincinnati.com
With the unstoppable rise of simple, casual comfort food, fine dining has fallen out of favor. And even though I love onion rings, burgers and pizza as much as the next guy (okay, okay, much more than the next guy), there’s something to be said for going to dinner wearing something besides cutoffs and slouchy shoulders. Enter the highly acclaimed Orchids at Palm Court, located at the historic Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel in downtown Cincy. From the jaw-dropping Art Deco dining room to the spotless service to the refined cooking of executive chef Todd Kelly, everything here makes you want to look sharp, sit up a little straighter and give your meal the attention it deserves. Because here, no detail (no matter how small) goes unnoticed. Even the lovely little wedge of ash-ripened goat cheese and honeycomb presented before dessert are sourced from the restaurant’s on-site cheese caves and private beehives. 35 W. 5th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513-421-9100; orchidsatpalmcourt.com
At this casual, bustling spot, chef and owner Daniel Wright (also the operator of equally popular nearby spots Abigail Street and Pontiac) pushes out all sorts of hearty treats, from poutine to pig tails to pot stickers. If there’s one thing you can’t miss, though, it’s the legendary hot dogs. For starters, the snappy sausages are made locally by Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market. The fluffy, faintly sweet egg buns are also local, from the famed Giminetti Baking Company. While they’re absolutely awesome on their own, magic happens when Wright loads on the toppings. The Hello Kitty 2.0 holds a special place in my heart, with its creamy, spicy heap of wasabi slaw, crunchy wasabi peas, sesame seeds and wasabi mayo. Every heat-laced bite is deeply satisfying, yet demands another. Cool things off with an ice-cold pint from a local brewery, like Rhinegeist or MadTree. 1212 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513-421-2020; senatepub.com
In regards to both design and food, many restaurants lately have been favoring function over flash. Boca isn’t one of them. When you enter the space, the first thing you’ll notice is its size. It’s huge. Also: It’s decked out with a massive 19th-century chandelier, blood-red leather banquettes and soaring ceilings. But despite the massive space and flashy appearance, Boca pulls off what many of its diminutive counterparts don’t: polished food, service and ambience, night after night. The Italian- and French-inspired menu is brief but full of sophisticated surprises. The popular pommes soufflés are balloon-like puffs of potato — crisp, crackly shells with nothing inside. They get even better after a dip in béarnaise. The Cappellacci di “Gianno” also satisfies with sweet English-pea-filled handmade pasta purses, chunks of lobster and butter sauce. 114 E. 6th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513-542-2022; bocacincinnati.com
Brunch: It’s the meal that polarizes big eaters and critics alike. Because really, who wants to pay for overpriced eggs from an uninspired menu and grind with hoards of hungover people? And that’s exactly why Metropole is such a gem. It’s typically packed for dinner, but perhaps because of its downtown location (in the well-appointed 21c Museum Hotel, no less), brunch maintains a surprisingly chill vibe. Yes, there is an omelette — a really fluffy one stuffed with Broadbent ham from Kentucky and topped with green goddess dressing — but there’s plenty of other dishes to tuck into. The burnt-carrot salad is tangy, bright and perfect for restoring depleted nutrients from last night’s bender. And because nothing seems to fight a hangover better than the combination of salt, fat and sugar, be sure to order the house sticky bun drenched in salted caramel. It’s warm and pillowy, and pleasingly comes undone with the slightest tug. 609 Walnut St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513-578-6660; metropoleonwalnut.com