Home Food And Drinks 25 Essential Foods Every Cincinnati Visitor Should Try

25 Essential Foods Every Cincinnati Visitor Should Try

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Skyline Chili 3-Way

Multiple Locations

The history of Cincinnati-style chili goes back to the 1920s, when it was invented by Greek immigrants who used Mediterranean-inspired spices to create a meat sauce used initially to top hot dogs sold out of a cart. The beef-based sauce — it’s kind of like a runny pasta sauce with hints of cinnamon, chocolate and other spices — eventually became the key ingredient in the 3-way, a plate of pasta topped with chili, an unnecessary amount of shredded cheddar cheese and a side of oyster crackers. Adding onions to the 3-way makes it a 4-way; onions and beans make a 5-way. Local chain Skyline Chili was founded by Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides in 1949, inspired by his mother’s family recipes from their hometown of Kastoria, Greece. In an eternal regional chili war, locals are divided over whether Skyline has the best chili and the other popular local chain, Gold Star, is for losers, or if it’s the other way around. You’ll find die-hard supporters of both. But if you want to go non-chain, there are more than 250 chili parlors in Cincinnati — restaurants big and small offering their own take on this regional favorite. Most people, however, start with Skyline.

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Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Multiple locations including 643 Vine St., Downtown; 290 Ludlow Ave., Clifton; 617 W. Third St., Covington

Since its founding in 1870, Graeter’s French Pot Ice Cream, handmade chocolate confections and fresh-baked goods have become Queen City traditions. Today, the Graeter family still faithfully uses century-old recipes and methods of production, including making each 2-and-a-half gallon batch in a French pot freezer and packing each pint by hand. Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip is their signature flavor — and an Oprah Winfrey favorite. The flavor is crafted with black raspberries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley and bittersweet chocolate chunks. Instead of boring old chips, Graeter’s pours liquid chocolate into each batch resulting in wonky-sized and sometimes gigantic pieces of chocolate; whoever gets the biggest chunk wins.

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A Frisch’s Big Boy

Multiple locations including 25 W. Fifth St., Downtown; 1001 Gest St., Queensgate; 5760 Wooster Pike, Mariemont

Well-known for their burgers and fish sandwiches, Frisch’s also brings in quite the crowd for their affordable breakfast buffet. Grab a Big Boy burger with a quarter pound of beef, cheese, lettuce, pickles and Frisch’s famous tartar sauce — a family recipe you can find on items across the menu and in jars at the grocery store. For a taste of nostalgia, visit the original Mainliner location, which David Frisch opened in 1939 as Cincinnati’s first year-round drive-in.

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Montgomery Inn Ribs

9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery; 925 Riverside Drive, Downtown

World famous for its ribs, Ted and Matula Gregory’s Montgomery Inn has been a staple in Cincinnati since 1951. Matula’s secret-recipe sweet and tangy all-natural barbecue sauce dresses the hand-spiced, slow-roasted and custom broiled ribs and is featured on everything from barbecue spring chicken and pork chops to Saratoga chips. Dubbed “the Ribs King,” the Gregorys ribs joint is a must-stop for locals, visitors, in-town celebrities and more.

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Izzy’s Reuben

Multiple locations including 800 Elm St., Downtown; 610 Main St., Downtown


A Cincinnati tradition, Izzy’s serves a Reuben we can all be proud of: delicious corned beef topped with sauerkraut, Izzy’s special dressing and imported Swiss cheese, served with a potato pancake and dill pickle. In the late 1800s, founder Izzy Kadetz left Russia and settled in Cincinnati, cooking at the Sinton St. Nicholas Hotel in Cincinnati and eventually founding the first Kosher-style deli west of the Alleghenies. His son, David, opened a second deli in downtown Cincinnati in 1982 — with manager John Geisen, now Izzy’s president and CEO — and the Izzy’s legacy has grown from there. It’s possibly the closest thing the Queen City has to a New York-style deli.

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Blue Ice Cream from Kings Island

6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason

Introduced by Kings Island in 1982 to promote a then-new Smurfs ride in Hanna-Barbera Land, the theme park’s classic blueberry soft serve put blue ice cream on Cincinnati’s radar and it has maintained its cravability ever since — leaving without having one is a sin. Get it plain, doused in rainbow sprinkles or swirled with creamy vanilla at locations across the park. (Or at various creamy whips across the city.)

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Glier’s Goetta

Available at various restaurants and events

Glier’s Goetta has been a Cincinnati breakfast staple for over 60 years. The Queen City loves it so much there’s even an entire festival devoted to the sausagey oat-meat mixture on the Newport riverfront each summer. Most restaurants throughout the city carry it as a breakfast side, like at the Metropole at 21c, or you can visit Glier’s Goettafest and try it in calzones, nachos, donut sandwiches and more. They even have a Glier’s Goetta vending machine.

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The BonBonerie’s Opera Cream Torte

2030 Madison Road, O’Bryonville

Have your cake and eat it, too, at The BonBonerie. Opened in 1983 by Mary Pat Pace and Sharon Butler, the shop has crafted beautiful and delicious sweets and savories for more than 35 years. Scones, tea and quiche adorn the café menu, but the real treat is for those with a sweet tooth. The bakery features tortes, cakes, pastries and old-fashioned cookies to please everyone. Make sure to try their signature Opera Cream Torte — it’s a taste of heaven: a double chocolate chip cake filled with vanilla opera cream and covered in chocolate glaze and Belgian chocolate shavings. Little white chocolate buttercream rosettes and hand-cut white chocolate diamonds complete the picture.

Photo: Hailey Bollinger
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An Avril-Bleh Meat Market Mett

33 E. Court St., Downtown

This historic butcher shop has been serving Cincinnati homemade sausages, smoked meats and more since 1894. Avril-Bleh offers over 30 varieties of sausages ranging from Irish bangers to Cajun chicken or smoked Polish kielbasa. They use no additives or fillers and they use their own blend of all natural herbs, spices and seasoning. As Cincinnati has a strong German heritage, find their metts on the menu at restaurants like Zip’s, Senate and Moerlein Lager House or just grab one to go from the butcher shop.

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Taste of Belgium Waffles

Multiple locations including 16 West Freedom Way, The Banks; 1133 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 2845 Vine St., Corryville; 3825 Edward Road, Rookwood, Norwood


Hot, fresh Belgian waffles are made from a thick dough and coarse Belgian beet sugar, which caramelizes on a cast iron press. Owner Jean-Francois Flechet brought one of these presses back from his native Belgium with him in 2007 on a mission to introduce locals to his childhood favorite food. Find the heavenly breakfast food topped with strawberries and cream or ricotta, or as the bread in a McWaffle sandwich (egg, gruyère and maple syrup). The crepe station prepares sweet and savory crepes, like the Nati Crepe with goetta, made fresh to order. At dinner, the sophistication goes up a notch with mussels, steak frites and Belgian specialties. Exclusive selection of Belgian beers. Visit their original location at Over-the-Rhine’s historic Findlay Market and peruse the surrounding shops, restaurants and vendor offerings.

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A Tom + Chee Grilled Cheese Donut

Multiple locations including 125 E. Court St., Over-the-Rhine

A gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup shop with a famous grilled-cheese donut. With the backing of Shark Tank, founders Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward went from a Fountain Square pop-up to a 14-state chain. They make their own dressings, sauces and spreads in-house and roast their own meats, but the dish that put them on the map was their grilled cheese donut — featured on multiple TV shows including The Chew, Man v. Food Nation and TODAY.

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Holtman’s Donuts

Multiple locations including 1332 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 1399 State Route 28, Loveland; 214 W. Main St., Williamsburg

A family operation in one iteration or another since the 1960s, the Loveland-based Holtman’s Donuts finally opened an OTR location in September 2013, complete with a window you can peer through and watch them make donuts. Donuts are made from scratch daily and include both yeast and cake donuts, a vegan donut and the decidedly non-vegan and sensational maple bacon donut.

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Pasta from Sotto

18 E. Sixth St., Downtown

Located under Boca restaurant, the Tuscan-inspired Sotto from chef/owner David Falk offers a more approachable atmosphere and price point than its upstairs neighbor. With multiple dining rooms, the kitchen is open to view, including the custom-made wood-fire grill in front and a fresh-pasta room in the back hallway. Menu items include handmade pasta, house-cured salami and big-ticket items like Bistecca Fiorentina, a grilled creekstone porterhouse steak with daily sides. Sotto sources their bread from Blue Oven and also grows their own herbs and vegetables. It also made OpenTable’s annual list of the 100 best restaurants in America in 2018.

Photo: Hailey Bollinger
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Eli’s BBQ Pulled-Pork Sandwich

3313 Riverside Drive, Columbia Tusculum; 133 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine

Originally started in 2011 as a pop-up on Fountain Square, Eli’s specialty, the pulled-pork sandwich, is a good intro to his amazing homemade barbecue sauce. You can move on from there to hickory-smoked ribs, smoked turkey or an all-beef hot dog topped with pulled-pork crispins and coleslaw. Try the mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, baked beans or the jalapeño corn bread.

Photo: Hailey Bollinger
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A Brown Bear Bakery Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie

16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine

Cincinnati pastry artist Blair Fornshell uses all-natural ingredients to create so-beautiful-you-almost-feel-bad-about-eating-them desserts, such as their beloved salty chocolate cookies, savory scones, cinnamon rolls, lemon bars and more. The OTR bakery and café space is the perfect blend of old and new and has a very Lower Manhattan vibe.

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Gomez Salsa’s Turtle

107 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine; 2437 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills

Gomez’s walk-up taco window in OTR has it all: mahi-mahi tacos with slaw and Baja sauce, chips with pineapple salsa, taco salad bowls and owner Andrew Gomez’s greatest invention, the Turtle Shell. Take a tortilla, stuff it with rice, beans, sour cream, lettuce, salsa, meat, veggies and cheese, layer in a tostado for crunch, put some cheese on the top and then brown it. It’s a fat little crunchy burrito envelope, a walking taco. And the Turtle tastes even better if you stumble over after imbibing at the adjacent HalfCut, a craft beer café of sorts. Now open for lunch and brunch, with a second cantina location in Walnut Hills.

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The Eagle’s Fried Chicken

1342 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine

The Eagle is nested inside a retired post office and has a relatively small menu, comprised of fried chicken, sandwiches, snacks and several side dishes. The crowd-favorite fried chicken is free-range, all natural and sourced from Ohio farms. Opt for a whole, half chicken (white and dark meat) or a quarter of a chicken (select white or dark). The Southern greens and artichoke dip is a must. Booze-wise, they serve 100 kinds of beer and have about 15 different brews on tap.

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Pho Lang Thang’s Pho

114 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine

Located in the heart of Findlay Market, Pho Lang Thang offers dishes like hot pho soup, spring rolls and the ever-popular banh mi sandwiches, which come sprinkled with assorted pickled vegetables and your choice of meat or tofu. They also serve Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk and brewed right on the table into your glass. This hip bistro opened by brothers Duy and Bao Nguyen with friend David Le in 2011 has become a cult favorite and will soon be expanding into a larger storefront nearby.

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Kaiser Pickles

Available at various restaurants throughout the city

The unofficial pickle of Cincinnati, you can find Kaiser Pickles at many restaurants throughout the city, including Izzy’s, Cabana on the River, Frisch’s and more. Kaiser Pickles has been in business for over 60 years, providing the Queen City and beyond with tangy, snappy pickles.

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Salazar’s Little Fried Oyster Sandwich

1401 Republic St., Downtown

The eponymous restaurant from chef Jose Salazar mixes old and new to create an approachable yet refined farm-inspired menu. There are creative, comfortable choices like burgers, fish and a vegetarian option. Seasonal, farm-fresh specials frequently pop up on the changing menu, as do staple favorites like the little fried oyster sandwich with kimchi, local radish sprouts and garlic mayo. The wide-ranging drink menu features thoughtful craft beers, cocktails and wines. Salazar is a frequent nominee for the James Beard Award’s Best Chef in the Great Lakes region.

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Bakersfield’s Tacos

1213 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine

Part bar, part taco joint, all classy. Bakersfield specializes in gourmet tacos (pollo rojo, pastor, huitlacoche, etc.), quality tequilas and whiskeys and hand-crafted margaritas made the old-fashioned way, not from a pre-made mix.

Photo: Hailey Bollinger
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