The Queen City of the West was in the midst of a dining boom when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Though COVID-19 remains with us, there are already signs that the dining scene is resuming its upward trajectory. Hope is visible in the city’s resilient, stalwart businesses: European-inspired kitchens with deep Germanic roots and shops ladling Cincinnati’s hallmark cinnamon-spiced chili over spaghetti and then smothering it with shredded cheddar. But that renewed energy can also be seen in the Korean shop serving bowls of bibimbap, the landlocked yacht club slinging chicken wings, and the intersection in Over-the-Rhine where you can find arepas and cachapas, fresh Hawaiian poke, and primo American smoked meats served au jus. Helping to piece it all together is the city’s streetcar, which connects dining hubs in the Banks district and Over-the-Rhine.
The city’s dining scene proved tenacious even during the worst of the pandemic, and some of the innovations devised to survive that period have become permanent staples of the industry. Upscale steakhouses no longer scoff at their cuisine being consumed off site; chefs known for pate en croute now offer finish-at-home lasagna; alleyways and entire streets have been transformed into outdoor “streeteries” complete with propane heaters and fire pits; and bars can legally sell to-go cocktails with meals.
The boom has also pushed new food outward. Previously much of the culinary innovation took place in Cincinnati’s urban basin, but chefs and restaurateurs are now turning to the suburbs for second or third locations of their popular concepts. You don’t have to go to one central district to eat well in Cincinnati; pockets of vibrant eateries have popped up in districts across the city, from Nepali cuisine and poutine in the artsy Northside neighborhood, to carnitas and carne asada in College Hill.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the City of Cincinnati.
Andy Brownfield has covered the bar and restaurant scene in Cincinnati for seven years. His work for the Cincinnati Business Courier can be seen here.