Cincinnatians consume more than two million pounds of chili annually, so there’s no denying its regional pull. This chili is renegade, with neither a bean nor chunk of meat to be found. Its soupy consistency is enhanced with finely ground beef and hints of cinnamon, clove and allspice.
While there’s an agreement that Cincinnati-style chili is this city’s most important addition to America’s culinary lexicon, this town is on the brink of epicurean evolution. Its dining scene hits the highbrow-lowbrow sweet spot, so a visit here needn’t make a big dent in your wallet. Pay a visit the following eating establishments and you’ll taste for yourself that Cincinnati has gone beyond the chili.
Allison Tibaldi is a NYC based travel writer who is always looking for her next culinary adventure.
1 of 6
Residents favor eating their chili atop a tangled mound of not al dente spaghetti or a ballpark-style hot dog. Sample some at one of the numerous branches of dependable Skyline Chili and you'll join legions of hungry locals. While most agree it's an acquired taste, go for broke and order the traditional 3-Way. You'll get heaping plate of pasta topped with chili and covered with a mountainous mound of shredded American cheese.
Photo courtesy of 3-Ter Studios
2 of 6
Mita's young chef Jose Salazar is a major player in the growth of Cincinnati's upscale dining scene. His inspired menu is loaded with Spanish and Latin American panache. To really get a feel for the zesty flavor profile, order tapas-style and sample a variety of small-plate offerings. Ceviche de Camarones combines ultra-fresh raw shrimp with strawberries, radish, a dash of jalapeno and cilantro. An array of diminutive crunchy concoctions and a selection of Spanish hams sliced veil-thin are always on offer. The tasty tapas pair perfectly with the house white, red or rosé sangria.
Photo courtesy of Gina Weathersby
3 of 6
Many Cincinnati bakeries sell doughnuts, but humble Holtman's is a homespun homage to fried dough. Family owned and operated for generations, Holtman's makes doughnuts that are unpretentious treats and prioritizes traditional taste and freshness over newfangled flavors. You'll find a mouth-watering mix of yeast-raised and cake-style doughnuts in tantalizing flavors such as maple bacon and cream cheese-frosted red velvet. These favorites sell out fast, so set your alarm and arrive early.
Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA
4 of 6
Boca's spacious kitchen is a culinary voyeur's fantasy. And it's open, so you may watch every inch of the entertaining preparations. Chef David Falk's pan-European menu changes daily according to the Midwest market's bounty. He yields a magic wand with risotto, each individual grain of rice firm yet exceptionally creamy. Falk highlights seasonal and sustainable foods from local purveyors, including meats and produce from a nearby Amish farm. Expect a dynamic wine list and desserts that span the globe, from an Australian Pavlova to a decadent Ohio-born brownie topped with peanut butter gelato.
Photo courtesy of Boca
5 of 6
Taft's Ale House
Taft's Ale House oozes character. Named for hometown boy William Howard Taft, the 27th U.S. President, Taft's Ale House is known for its omnipresent attention to detail; the eagle-eyed will notice wooden beer taps shaped like gavels in a nod to Taft's career as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Housed in what was once a church, it's a cavernous yet comfortable place where locals congregate to cheer on their beloved Bengals and Reds on the big screens.
They take suds seriously and brew the beer on premise. Stick with a traditional Pilsner or go for the avant-garde Nellie's Key Lime Caribbean Ale, brewed with fresh citrus and just a hint of coriander. The nostalgic bar food, especially a melt-in-your-mouth buttery tri-tip steak sandwich, is pure comfort on a plate.
Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA
6 of 6
Cincinnati Food Tours
Get a local take on all that is edible when you nibble away with Cincinnati Food Tours. Owner Barb Cooper is a passionate advocate for this city and a fountain of foodie knowledge. Her Signature Over-the-Rhine Tour is a three-hour guided walk that escorts you through this revitalized neighborhood that goes by the moniker OTR. Nosh at five delicious establishments as you explore this history-heavy community. The tour includes an insider's look at venerable Findlay Market, a local institution where fresh food from nearby fields and orchards has been enhancing urban tables for generations.
Photo courtesy of Findlay Market