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A Food Lover's Journey Through Cincinnati's Best Eateries

Eat | By Cullen Fischel | Updated September 25, 2023

Cullen Fischel of Cleveland journeys through Cincinnati's best eateries

Key Takeaways

  • Breakfast hotspots: Start your day with a sumptuous breakfast at Maplewood Kitchen and Bar or Sleepy Bee Cafe, promising fresh and local flavors that embody Ohio’s rich culinary culture.

  • Lunch locales: Dive into the BBQ culture at Eli’s BBQ or enjoy a spicy feast at Gomez Salsa, each offering a vibrant and authentic Cincinnati dining experience.

  • Dinner destinations: End your day with gourmet hot dogs at Senate Pub or indulge in authentic Italian cuisine at Sotto, promising a dining experience that echoes the vibrant spirit of Ohio.


I am Cullen Fischel, your trusted guide to everything delightful and mouth-watering in Ohio, and today I am super thrilled to take you on a culinary journey through Cincinnati's best eateries. Having experienced the vibrant food culture of Cleveland, I was eager to explore what Cincinnati has to offer, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint!

A city where the culinary scene is rich and diverse, Cincinnati boasts of a food landscape that is steeped in history. The gastronomic scene here is a beautiful concoction of age-old traditions and modern flair, offering a delightful experience to food aficionados like myself. This place has successfully combined the local Ohio culture with a gastronomic innovation that beckons food lovers from all around.

So, come along as I take you through Cincinnati’s vibrant eateries, promising an experience that marries tradition with contemporary, giving you a food journey that is both memorable and delightful. From well-established iconic spots to fresh-on-the-scene gems, I will be your guide to the best dishes and eateries that this wonderful city has to offer.

Iconic Cincinnati Eateries

Try Skyline Chili when in Cincinnati, says Cullen Fischel of Cleveland

Skyline Chili

An absolute legend in Cincinnati, Skyline Chili stands as a testament to the city's rich culinary history. I remember stepping into this establishment, the air rich with spices, evoking a sense of warmth and welcome that is hard to find elsewhere.

But what really caught my fascination was the history behind this place. Founded in 1949 by a Greek immigrant, it brought a distinct Mediterranean touch to the traditional chili, resulting in a dish that is now synonymous with Cincinnati. Yes, this place gave birth to the famous Cincinnati-style chili, a dish that holds a special place in the heart of every Ohio resident.

If you are wondering what to order, let me guide you. The "3-Way" – a delightful combination of spaghetti, chili, and cheese is an iconic dish that is an absolute must-try. Pair it with their refreshing salads and you have a meal that promises not just a burst of flavors but also a rich gastronomic experience.

Graeter's Ice Cream

Our next stop is Graeter's Ice Cream, a place that resonates with sweet memories and sweeter treats. Trust me, your Cincinnati food journey is incomplete without stopping by at Graeter’s. Their history spans over a century, harboring the secrets of the finest ice cream recipes passed down through generations.

Being an ice cream enthusiast myself, I found myself in a paradise of flavors, each one telling a story of rich traditions and meticulous craftsmanship. The black raspberry chocolate chip, a signature flavor, is a culinary masterpiece that I highly recommend. The balance of sweet and tart with generous chunks of chocolate is a delight that is second to none.

But what makes Graeter's stand out in the vibrant Ohio dessert scene is their time-tested French Pot process of making ice cream. This not only retains the rich, creamy texture but also ensures that each scoop is packed with flavor, promising a gastronomic journey that is both delightful and memorable.

Breakfast & Brunch Hotspots

Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

Bright and early, I found myself at the ever-popular Maplewood Kitchen and Bar. This place has managed to become a beacon of breakfast brilliance in Ohio. And no wonder, their farm-to-table approach brings freshness right to your plate.

Cincinnati takes its morning meals very seriously, and this is apparent in the sumptuous spread that Maplewood offers. Lemon Ricotta pancakes, a delight for the palate, offer a zest of lemon paired with the soft texture of ricotta, creating a heavenly start to your day.

But it was not just the food that captured my heart; the ambiance of Maplewood, with its spacious, well-lit interiors and friendly staff, set the perfect tone for a pleasant morning. Whether you are a resident of Ohio or a visitor, you cannot miss the vibrant breakfast culture that this place embodies.

Sleepy Bee Cafe

Next up on my culinary itinerary was the Sleepy Bee Cafe, a place that promises a cozy and delightful breakfast experience in the heart of Cincinnati. Offering a range of gluten-free and vegan options, this cafe caters to every palate, ensuring a gastronomic delight that is both healthy and delicious.

Being a bee enthusiast, I was immediately drawn to their honey-themed dishes. I highly recommend their Queen City Bee, an omelet that is a true homage to Cincinnati, bursting with local flavors and fresh ingredients. It’s an experience that speaks volumes about the rich culinary culture that Ohio harbors.

The cafe also has an array of freshly brewed coffees and teas, offering a perfect complement to their breakfast delights. Trust me, a visit to Sleepy Bee Cafe promises a morning filled with joy, hearty meals, and the warm embrace of Ohio’s hospitality.

Lunch Hotspots in Cincinnati

Cullen Fischel of Cleveland's top picks for lunch in Cincinnati

Eli’s BBQ

As the sun climbed higher, it was time to explore Cincinnati’s lunch offerings. First on my list was Eli's BBQ, a place that has carved out a niche for itself in the Ohio BBQ scene. With a laid-back ambiance and a simple menu that focuses on quality, it offers a gastronomic experience that is both comforting and satisfying.

One cannot visit Cincinnati without indulging in some classic BBQ, and Eli’s BBQ promises just that. My recommendation would definitely be the pulled pork sandwich, a dish that epitomizes the rich and deep flavors that Cincinnati's culinary scene offers.

And what adds to the charm of Eli's BBQ is their community-focused approach. Often hosting live music and events, it is a hub of culture and food, representing the vibrant spirit of Cincinnati. It’s a place where food meets culture, offering a culinary journey that is rich and diverse, echoing the vibrant spirit of Ohio.

Gomez Salsa

A little later in the day, I found myself at Gomez Salsa, a place that brings a burst of Mexican flavors to the Cincinnati food landscape. A taco window that promises a vibrant and spicy culinary adventure, it is a must-visit for anyone exploring the gastronomic scene in Ohio.

This spot offers a variety of tacos, tostadas, and salsas, promising a burst of flavors in every bite. One of the standout dishes, in my opinion, is the turtle shell, a hard shell taco wrapped in a soft shell with a layer of gooey cheese in between. It's a flavor-packed dish that promises a spicy and delightful culinary journey.

What makes Gomez Salsa a must-visit is not just the food but also the vibrant and lively atmosphere that it harbors. It is a place that promises a culinary adventure, echoing the vibrant spirit and rich gastronomic history of Cincinnati.

Dinner Delights

Senate Pub

As day turns into night, Cincinnati lights up with a selection of eateries that promise to end your day on a high note. I suggest starting your evening at Senate Pub, a place renowned for turning ordinary hot dogs into gourmet experiences. Yes, you heard it right – gourmet hot dogs!

The ambience in Senate Pub is lively and buzzing, encapsulating the energetic spirit of Ohio. Their menu is diverse, offering something for everyone. A favorite of mine is the "Trailer Park" dog, a riot of flavors with applewood bacon and American cheese, coupled with crushed Grippo's – a homage to Cincinnati’s favorite chip.

Pair your gourmet dog with a refreshing locally brewed beer, and you have yourself a quintessential Cincinnati dining experience. It’s a place where casual meets chic, promising a dining experience that is both relaxed and upscale, a true representation of Ohio's diverse culinary landscape.


After a hearty start at Senate Pub, I found my way to Sotto, nestled in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. This is a place where the Italian culinary tradition meets Ohio’s warm hospitality, offering a dining experience that is both authentic and unique.

In the rustic yet elegant setting, I was transported to a little corner of Italy. The handmade pastas and the authentic Italian dishes promise an experience that is both comforting and luxurious. If I were to recommend a dish, it would certainly be the ‘Ricotta Doughnuts’ - a dessert so heavenly it would bring a smile to anyone's face.

It is the attention to detail, the warm and inviting ambiance, and the authentic culinary offerings that make Sotto a must-visit on your Cincinnati food journey. It’s a place where each dish tells a story, promising a dining experience that is rich, authentic, and truly memorable.

Cullen Fischel's Tips for the Best Experience

  • Make reservations: Popular places like Sotto often have a waiting list, so it’s wise to book in advance to secure your spot.

  • Local flavors: Embrace the local flavors. Cincinnati has a rich culinary history, and trying local dishes is the best way to experience it.

  • Seasonal offerings: Many restaurants in Cincinnati focus on seasonal and local produce. Make sure to check the seasonal offerings for a fresh and sustainable dining experience.

The Ohio Traveler Explains

What are some of the must-try dishes in Cincinnati?

In the culinary paradise that is Cincinnati, you have a wide variety of dishes to try. From the gourmet hot dogs at Senate Pub to the Italian delicacies at Sotto, every eatery offers something special. However, one must not miss the ‘Ricotta Doughnuts’ at Sotto and the unique 'turtle shell' at Gomez Salsa, which promise a gastronomic delight that is uniquely Cincinnati.

Are there vegan and gluten-free options available?

Absolutely! Places like the Sleepy Bee Cafe cater extensively to varied dietary preferences, offering a range of vegan and gluten-free options. This ensures that every individual, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can enjoy the rich culinary culture of Cincinnati, Ohio.

What is the best time to visit these eateries?

While these eateries offer a fantastic dining experience throughout the day, I would recommend visiting the breakfast spots early in the morning to avoid the rush and to catch the freshness of morning offerings. For dinner destinations like Sotto, an early evening visit would allow you to soak in the elegant ambiance at a leisurely pace, making your dining experience truly special.

With this, we come to the end of a culinary journey through Cincinnati's best eateries. It has been a pleasure to guide you through some of my favorite spots, and I hope this serves as a helpful guide for your own food adventure in Cincinnati, Ohio. Until next time, happy dining!

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