The Ultimate Guide To Cincinnati's Restaurants

When you think of the best foodie cities in America, Cincinnati, Ohio, probably isn't the first place that comes to mind. However, this underrated food lover's paradise is home to a plethora of dining spots that offer everything from authentic global cuisine to comfort foods.

The city's food scene garnered attention when it made Food & Wine's list of the "next great food cities" in America in April 2022. One of Cincinnati's standout features that helped it make the list is its rich traditions. Some of the restaurants in Cincinnati were founded by children of chefs native to the city. This new generation of chefs has kept their families' cooking traditions alive.

In a press release via PRNewswire, Food & Wine Editor in chief Hunter Lewis stated that innovation also plays an important role in Cincinnati's food scene. "It's an exciting time for food in our country, with places like Cincinnati, where a constellation of food entrepreneurs is spurring a renaissance," said Lewis.

While there are many incredible restaurants to try in Cincinnati, we've pinpointed a few classics and new crowd favorites that you won't want to pass up.

Sotto is an underground dining gem

Cincinnati has a rich history of brewing alcohol during Prohibition. This is evidenced by the 10,000 square feet of tunnels that were built in 1855 for Linck Brewery. The company stored their lager inside the tunnels because they maintained cooler temperatures than could be achieved without refrigeration (via Cincinnati Magazine).

The tunnels have since been transformed into homes for businesses in the city, like Sotto, a restaurant found in Cincinnati's central business district. "Located in the subterranean space," as noted by Cincinnati Magazine, the restaurant features dim lighting, exposed brick and stone, and candlelit tables. 

The menu features authentic Italian cuisine, such as vitello tonnato, swordfish alla plancha, and rigatoni con pomodoro. Several reviewers on OpenTable also point out that Sotto's famous ricotta doughnuts are a must-try dessert. The restaurant was listed as one of the Top 100 Restaurants in America for 2021 on the site.

Arnold's Bar and Grill is one of the city's oldest dining spots

Arnold's Bar and Grill opened in 1861, which makes it Cincinnati's oldest bar that's still in operation today (via Arnold's). The tavern was converted into a cafe during Prohibition and is known today for its "above-par American comfort food and well-priced drinks (per Arnold's). Reviewers on TripAdvisor rave about the burgers, fried green tomato BLT, sauces, sangria, and salmon, among other dishes. 

Arnold's has received numerous awards over the years, including Best Business Lunch, Best Neighborhood Burger Spot, and Best Outdoor/Patio Dining in 2017 by Citybeat, as well as Most Iconic Bar in Ohio in 2015 by Thrillist. In 2019, the bar and grill also received a unique feather in its hat. The Enquirer reported that the tavern's chef, Kayla Robison, competed in an episode of "Guy's Grocery Games" and won. In 2022, she was named the champion in an episode of "Chopped."

Tickle Pickle blends burgers and rock music

Tickle Pickle not only has one of the most unforgettable restaurant names in all of Cincinnati, but it also apparently has some of the most unforgettable food. In 2021, CityBeat readers voted the restaurant as one of their top 29 favorite burger joints in the city thanks to its variety of burgers with unique flavors and toppings. Owner Lea Dickman explained to the outlet why Tickle Pickle burgers are so loved: "All our burgers are amazing because a lot of time and effort went into taste-testing flavor combinations to make some killer burgers to rock your taste buds."

And the food isn't all you'll find here. When you stop in, pick up one-of-a-kind drinks, like the Flan Halen Milkshake, Five Finger Death Punch, or Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum (via Tickle Pickle). Reviewers also note that the restaurant's vibe, which is very rock-and-roll-esque, is something they look forward to when they visit.

Tortilleria Garcia brings authentic Mexican cuisine to the city

Founder Omar Garcia's concept for Tortilleria Garcia was driven by his passion for his family's authentic Mexican cooking. Garcia's family grew corn on the family farm in Michoacan, Mexico. His mother and grandmother taught him their recipes, including how to make handmade tortillas. Today, the restaurant's menu is inspired by those homegrown recipes, with tortillas being at the front and center (via Tortilleria Garcia). Fresh tortillas are made daily and featured in a variety of dishes, such as their taco platter, quesadilla, and burrito. The tortillas are also available in 1- and 2-pound packs to take home.

The restaurant landed the No. 5 spot on TripAdvisor's list of the highest-rated Mexican restaurants in Cincinnati with a 5/5 star rating (via Stacker). Diners absolutely praise Tortilleria Garcia's tacos, with one reviewer on the restaurant's site stating that the spot is "Absolutely my favorite taco spot in the city..."

Taste of Belgium might make the best waffles in Cincinnati

Taste of Belgium began as a modest dining spot in Findlay Market in 2007. While the restaurant still calls the market home, it has since expanded to seven locations around the city.

The house specialty is Belgian waffles, but the restaurant also serves other traditional foods, such as Belgian Frites, fennel salad, and mussels provencale, in addition to American-Belgian fusion dishes (via Taste of Belgium). The restaurant is open for all meals, including weekend brunch, where they offer a wide variety of Belgian beers.

According to its site, Taste of Belgium is a "Cincinnati staple" and makes the "official waffle of the Cincinnati Reds" and has been featured on "Diner's Drive-ins & Dives" on Food Network. Why do customers love the Belgian restaurant so much? According to several TripAdvisor reviewers, the beer selection, filling portions, and unique menu offerings are just a few of the reasons people keep coming back.

Zip's Cafe is a classic Cincinnati burger joint

Zip's Cafe was named the best burger in Ohio by Food & Wine. This Cincinnati establishment made the list thanks to the top-notch ingredients used and serving size. The burger joint sources fresh meat from a local butcher and forms it into massive, 1/3-pound burger patties.

In a 2016 interview with WLWT5, Zip's Cafe owner Mike Burke said that the restaurant is considered a staple in the city. He attributes much of the restaurant's success to sticking with tradition and simplicity rather than veering away from the recipes its customers know and love. "That's really our secret. It's fresh, quality ground beef and simple toppings — Americana toppings, if you will. We just keep it simple," said Burke.

One Google reviewer provided some insight into the classic Zip's Cafe experience. "Everything was incredible!!" said the diner. "The double burger was so big that my fiancé struggled to finish it, and he can eat! They don't mess around when they say double burger."

Eli's BBQ has the city's go-to pulled pork

In 2011, Eli's BBQ opened its doors and quickly became famous for its hickory smoked pulled pork sandwiches. The sandwiches are drenched in a homemade barbecue sauce and topped with coleslaw. While the pork sandwich is what started it all, the menu has evolved to include all-beef hot dogs, a smoked turkey sandwich, hickory-smoked ribs, and southern-inspired side dishes (via Eli's BBQ).

In 2022, Eli's BBQ was named the best barbecue joint in Ohio by 24/7 Wall St. The publication specifically called out the pulled pork sandwich as being a must-try if you're in the area. The restaurant receives rave reviews on TripAdvisor as well. One reviewer wrote, "A pulled pork sandwich is nothing special until I tried this. I had heard it was the best there is but did not care to go to dinner to eat this type of food. Then I tasted the sandwich. Who would have known this could taste so great."

Enjoy food on the go with the Cincinnati Dinner Train

For a unique dining experience and amazing views, hop aboard one of the vintage railcars on the Cincinnati Dinner Train. The public dinner train ride lasts more than three hours long and takes you through 25 miles of track in and around Cincinnati. A three-course meal is served that includes summer sausage spread and salad, dessert, and the main course, which consists of prime rib, salmon, or boneless chicken breast (via Cincinnati Dinner Train). After the meal, diners can head to the Albee car and listen to the Queen City Sisters perform live music.

Plenty of reviewers on TripAdvisor say that riding the Cincinnati Dinner Train is a must, especially when fireworks are being shot in Cincinnati during special events. One reviewer mentioned their trip during Labor Day, stating, "We disembarked, watched the fireworks, jumped back on the train, and headed back to the north. No stress, no traffic, just good fun with friends and a nice evening. Loved it!"

Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati-based tradition

Skyline Chili may not have been the inventor of Cincinnati chili, but it certainly helped put the city on the map in the chili world when it opened its first store in 1949 (via WVXU). Located on Price Hill, the first Skyline Chili offered incredible views of the downtown skyline, which gave founder Nicholas Lambrinides the inspiration for its name (via Skyline Chili). The company now operates more than 150 locations throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, and Indiana.

The restaurant's signature dish is made using a secret family recipe. It is served atop spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese, beans, and diced onions.

Skyline Chili has earned many prestigious awards, such as a spot on USA Today's list of "10 best regional fast food chains in America," and Best Chili Chain in Cincinnati 2022 by CityBeat. One TripAdvisor reviewer said, "It's not gourmet food, but it's fun and iconic. When you are in Cincinnati, there must be one trip to Skyline Chili."

Maplewood Kitchen and Bar prioritizes fresh, healthy foods

Maplewood Kitchen and Bar opened in 2016 in downtown Cincinnati. The restaurant infuses West-coast dining habits — light, fresh, and healthy ingredients — with Cincinnati's love for fine-casual dining. General manager and executive chef Bhumin Desai told ABC 9 WCPO that the menu features plenty of enticing options, with healthy ingredients being used to cut down on fat and cholesterol.

The all-day breakfast menu is a fan favorite and features tasty classics with a spin, such as Avocado Benedict and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Other offerings include short rib skewers, cold-pressed juices, specialty coffees, and fresh green salads. One Facebook reviewer raves, "Food was delicious! The chicken club sandwich was hands down one of the best club sandwiches I have ever had. All the food was so fresh." 

Expect to take some photos of your food when you visit, too. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar landed one of the top 51 spots on Yelp's 2022 list of the most photo-worthy dining spots in the United States and Canada.

Cafe Mochiko serves award-winning Asian food and pastries

Cafe Mochiko started as a pop-up restaurant in Cincinnati, offering a taste of authentic Japanese pastries and cuisine. The restaurant now has a permanent location on Madison Road. City Beat calls out Cafe Mochiko's delicious ramen and croissants as excellent additions to Madison Road's eclectic offerings. 

During the day, the restaurant serves coffee alongside pastries, such as kimchi and egg croissants, barbecue pork snow bao, and sweet corn bibingka. At dinnertime, the hot spot features "Asian American comfort food," including katsu sando and Fujisawa soba (per Cafe Mochiko). Cafe Mochiko even puts its spin on the city's signature dish with its "Cincinnati-chili-style ramen," which includes ramen, spiced pork chili, umami-flavored broth, onions, cheddar cheese, and an egg that has been marinated in chili (per City Beat).

In 2022, co-owner Elaine Townsend was a semi-finalist in the "Outstanding Baker" category of the James Beard Award, a prestigious honor reserved for some of the most celebrated people in the culinary industry. In an interview with Women of Cincy, she discussed her love of baking at Cafe Mochiko. "These food items make it feel like me on a plate or more like an extension of who I am," she said.

Sugar n' Spice Diner makes a must-have breakfast

Sugar n' Spice Diner has been a Cincinnati establishment since 1941. For many patrons, the diner has become their go-to spot for lunch. Locals visit the spot on a daily basis to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and delicious pancakes, sandwiches, and giant omelets (via Sugar n' Spice Diner). The restaurant's signature dishes include thin pancakes made with blueberries, bananas, and chocolate chips, breakfast sandwiches, and the Cuddlin' Puppy, which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with relish and cheddar cheese.

It also has a tradition that Cincinnatians love: Every child that dines at Sugar n' Spice receives a rubber duck when they visit. This whimsical tradition adds to the off-beat atmosphere for which the diner is known. Former owner Steven Frankel said in a Cincinnati Magazine interview, "You can get bacon and eggs anywhere. People come here for the omelets, the pancakes, and the insanity."

Izzy's is the king of the Reuben

In 2022, Izzy's was voted by readers as the Best Delicatessen in City Beat's Best of Cincinnati list, an honor it has received multiple times over the years. Founded in 1901, Izzy's has become a Cincinnati staple that is especially famous for its corned beef Reuben sandwiches (via Cincinnati Refined). The restaurant even transforms Reubens into salads and offers unique twists on the traditional sandwich with menu additions like the turkey Reuben and veggie Reuben. Izzy's sandwiches come with a side of pickles and one of the restaurant's "award-winning potato pancakes" (via Izzy's).

Despite being a household name in Cincinnati for more than a century, Izzy's continues to keep its menu fresh and interesting. More recent additions, like its cod sandwich, which is aptly named the Codfather, and the Bengals King, a nod to the Cincinnati Bengals' champ Joe Burrow, make Izzy's stand out from the crowd.

Pepp & Dolores is an award-winning Italian restaurant

Opened in 2019, Pepp & Dolores is a casual Italian restaurant that "pays homage to family and to the food that brings people together" (per Pepp & Dolores). The restaurant is co-owned by brothers Joe and John Lanni, along with their partner, Alec Blust. The brothers named the restaurant after their Italian grandparents, Pepp and Dolores, who openly welcomed family to their home for authentic Italian meals (via CityBeat).

Pepp & Dolores blends the family's traditional recipes with new flavors to create an exciting menu featuring Italian comfort foods and homemade pasta dishes. Notable dishes include frutti di mare, which is a squid ink pasta with seafood, and agnello, which is a red wine rigatoni served with braised lamb ragu.

The restaurant has been featured on OpenTable's "Top 100 Restaurants in America for 2021." Pepp & Dolores also resides as a Best Overall Restaurant for the Cincinnati/Dayton area based on customer reviews.

Check out the cityscape at The View at Shires' Garden

The final stop on our digital tour of Cincinnati restaurants is The View at Shires' Garden. The restaurant and bar is on the 10th floor of City Club Apartments and offers breathtaking views of the city's downtown area, riverfront, and sports stadiums (per The View at Shires' Garden). The View at Shires' Garden plays host to live events and has become a popular spot for watching fireworks while enjoying live music and delicious food. 

The restaurant has a seasonal menu featuring a variety of dishes made with fresh ingredients. According to OpenTable, the most popular dishes include the braised beef short rib empanadas, spinach salad with crispy prosciutto, and fried green tomatoes with goat cheese.

The restaurant has a casual atmosphere, as explained by general manager Sean Garner in an interview with WCPO. "This is a place for everyone," he said. "You should feel comfortable coming in here with your shorts on after a Reds game as much as you'd like to come in here for your anniversary with your special someone to celebrate."