10 Cincinnati Classics
For a taste of the Queen City, check out these local favorites.
Photo By: Courtesy of Skyline Chili
Photo By: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com
Photo By: Jeremy Kramer
Photo By: Mark Byron
Photo By: Courtesy of Graeter's
Photo By: Alias Imaging
Photo By: Courtesy of United Dairy Farmers
Photo By: Jared Hopkins/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images
Photo By: Courtesy of Busken Bakery
Photo By: Ryan Reed
In 1949, Greek immigrant Nicolas Lambrinides left the stoves at Empress Chili — where two of his countrymen, Tom and John Kiradjieff, had invented the Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce now called Cincinnati chili — to open Skyline, a chain that’s part of everyday life for thousands of Cincinnatians today. Start with a three-way, which consists of chili, spaghetti and a tall mound of fluffy cheddar, and a few chili-and-cheese-topped coneys. Sprinkle the provided oyster crackers and the house hot sauce on everything. For dessert, buy a York Peppermint Pattie at the counter.
Frisch's Big Boy
Cincinnati restaurateur Dave Frisch became the country’s first Big Boy franchisee in 1946. Frisch promptly made the California-based brand his own, going so far as to change the look of the famed mascot and replace the mayonnaise and relish on the flagship burger with tartar sauce and dill pickles. Today, Frisch’s onetime franchises make up an independent, Cincinnati-based chain, still anchored by the vintage Mainliner in Fairfax.
Cincinnatians used to drive half an hour out of the city to pick up hot, fresh doughnuts by the dozen from this bakery, run by four generations of the same family over the past six decades. They got the message and opened a downtown location a few years ago. So it’s easier than ever to get your hands on a box of made-from-scratch doughnuts in such specialty flavors as maple bacon and s’mores.
Cincinnati isn’t a barbecue town, though new critically acclaimed new restaurants such as Eli’s BBQ and Pontiac Bourbon & BBQ are beginning to change that, but locals have celebrated special occasions with Montgomery Inn’s ribs since 1951. The ribs are baked, not smoked, but fans will tell you that the sticky-sweet sauce, caramelized on tender pork, doesn’t need an assist from hickory or oak. The view alone at the Boathouse location, overlooking the Ohio River just outside of downtown, is worth the price of a rack of ribs and a pile of thick-cut Saratoga chips — with extra sauce for dipping.
Since 1870, this fourth-generation family business — beloved by Oprah, as well as millions of Cincinnatians — has been churning rich, high-quality ice cream. Don’t miss the seasonal flavors, including Pumpkin and Peppermint Stick, or the popular Black Raspberry Chip. Graeter’s now sells its products at supermarkets in forty-seven states, but they still taste best at any of the twenty-some scoop shops in the greater Cincinnati area.
Arnold’s has only gone through four owners in a century and a half, which helps explain its remarkable consistency. You can still sit at the original bar at the oldest watering hole in town and enjoy a pint of locally brewed beer. If you’re hungry, don’t hesitate to put in an order of spaghetti and meatballs.
United Dairy Farmers
Cincinnatians are sometimes surprised to learn that, in other parts of the country, people don’t get their ice cream cones at convenience stores. At this chain’s two hundred locations, you can up a pack of smokes, a cup of coffee, groceries, and two scoops of chocolate chip — and, sometimes, full tank of gas. On hot summer nights, you’ll see kids outside slurping down malts or spooning up sundaes.
Camp Washington Chili
Once you’ve tried Skyline, you’ll want to pay your respects at Camp Washington, a landmark on Cincinnati’s working-class West Side since 1940. The chili is meatier, the noodles are heartier, and the smaller oyster crackers, from Cincinnati’s Shur-Good Biscuit Co., are ideal for scattering. Plus, you can order hot-off-the-griddle goetta — a Queen City cousin to scrapple made from pork and oats.
Shaped like shamrocks, smiley faces or jack o’lanterns, the crumbly iced cookies from this fourth-generation family bakery are go-to gifts year-round. You can buy them in most supermarkets. Or, you can stop by the bakery’s eight retail outlets to pick up fresh doughnuts, pastries and breads.
For many Cincinnatians, LaRosa’s is synonymous with delivery pizza. Square-cut slices, sweet tomato sauce, and blankets of provolone cheese owe more to Midwestern pizza tradition than its Italian inspirations, but there’s no more authentic way to kick off a low-key night in the Queen City than dunking the sixty-four-year-old chain’s provolone-topped breadsticks in garlic butter. For more local flavor, try the Zesty Barbecue Pizza, with chicken, bacon, jalapeno and onion on a base of thick, sweet sauce from Cincinnati’s iconic Montgomery Inn.