When it comes to great comeback stories, few places can top Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood. The area was once dubbed “one of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhood’s in the country” and has since been revitalized. And the food scene of Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood—the streets resemble a 1960s New York City—is surprisingly happening. Check out some of OTR’s top spots. Please note that my trip and all of the food at these spots were paid for by Cincinnati USA.
Local chain Holtman’s Donuts has been serving hot donuts since 1960. And you don’t stay in business that long if you don’t know what you’re doing. The Over the Rhine outpost—one of three total in the area--dishes out novelty creations like bacon-topped donuts that are just as tasty as its classic creations like vanilla glazed with sprinkles. You’ll have to stop yourself from drooling all over the case and ordering one of each variety. Enjoy watching the creators whip up these tasty morsels in the window inside the shop too.
And since coffee is what pairs the best with donuts, hit up 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab for some smooth java. And this space really does work as a dual coffee shop/wine bar. Expect a shelf full of wine on one wall, exposed brick on another and a chalkboard wall where the menu is displayed on the back. It makes for a charming setting. For a very regional drink (Kentucky is just a river away from Cincy), try the Pale Horse Bourbon Latte—a white chocolate latte mixed with Bulleit Bourbon.
To counteract the sugar rush, try Happy Belly. True to its name, this establishment aims to supply dinners with healthy fare that’s easy on the digestive system. Guests should look forward to vegan gluten-free smoothies, kale salads and breakfast quinoa bowls. I ordered a tasty breakfast sandwich—an English muffin that was filled with a free-range egg, avocado, spinach, red pepper, tomato and lactose-free cheese—that was beyond fresh. Just be sure to eat everything from here right after ordering. I enjoyed my meal in the morning, but it was almost too soggy to eat by the time the afternoon rolled around.
When lunchtime comes, consider Salazar Restaurant & Bar. This is notable Cincinnati chef Jose Salazar’s first venture. Expect a light-filled, sleek interior that would make an ideal environment for business lunches and intimate late-night meals. My favorite from the many items I sampled here included the juicy burgers, the just-crispy-enough fried oyster sandwich topped with garlic mayo and the fried Brussels sprouts. You’ll probably want to walk off your hearty meal, and I’d recommend stopping at the Cincinnati Music Hall. The historic hall is gorgeous and worth walking by so you can admire its architectural glory. Washington Park, which sits in front of the Music Hall, is luscious green space where you’ll want to soak up the sun after you check out the city’s storied musical venue.
During the late afternoon, consider hitting up Findlay Market. This public market is a must-see, and one of Cincy’s most-visited attractions. Stroll alongside businesses and admire fresh produce in addition to meats inside. Since you’re traveling and might not be in the market to buy, let’s say, a whole fish, there are a few vendors you should hit up. I’d recommend Taste of Belgium. These warm, sugary and authentic Belgian waffles are a perfect afternoon snack.
Bean-to-bar (and not to mention award-winning) Maverick Chocolates is another vendor you’ll want to visit. This family-owned business serves small-batch, handcrafted chocolate made with ethically sourced cocoa beans. I’d recommend the rich Prohibition Milk chocolate bar along with the Espresso Dark Chocolate one. If you need a reason to consume even more sweet stuff, remember that chocolate offers some health benefits and may even reduce risk of stroke, lower blood pressure and even help out with menopause symptoms. So you should feel good about eating the pure stuff from Maverick.
And you might as well keep eating chocolate. And no trip to Cincinnati would be complete without a trip to legendary ice cream shop, Graeter’s. Oprah put this one her favorite thing’s list one year, and it’s not hard to see why. This ice cream is rich, decadent and doesn’t seem to melt as fast as other brands. Staying true to Ohio’s roots, I ordered the Buckeye Blitz-chocolate peanut butter ice cream dotted with sweet morsels of dark chocolate chips and peanut butter cookie dough, which was a perfect end-of-trip treat. Since Ohio is known as the Buckeye state, this ice cream scoop is the perfect send off to the state and Cincy’s best comeback neighborhood.
Teresa K. Tobat is a travel writer and editor. Check out her clips at teresaktobat.com. Follow her tweets @ttobat88.