By Michael Taylor for CityBeat
The rise of Cincinnati food trucks came not without a fair share of growing pains. City Council initially didn't know what to make of their burgeoning popularity or how to fold them gently into the existing business arc without annoying owners of established downtown eateries. Once the trucks were given designated parking spots, most controversy was averted.
Matt Greco, owner of Grecos downtown, deftly steered clear of all that hubbub. Serving breakfast and lunch for several months now out of his new space just west of Paul Brown Stadium, Greco combines the hip and funky menu of popular food trucks with all the comforts and amenities of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Located inside Longworth Hall, Grecos embraces both the history of the 108-year-old building formerly known as the B&O Freight Terminal and the railroad industry so vital to Cincinnati's growth in the early- to mid-1900s. Through its floor-to-ceiling windows, Grecos' dining room features expansive views of a busy freight train route elevated on piers near the north base of the Brent Spence Bridge. The restaurant's colorful walls are covered with airbrushed street art, paying homage to the moving train graffiti snaking along just a few hundred feet away.
Tables are covered in white paper and most come armed with several crayons, allowing patrons to draw a little "street art" of their own. The prominent, empty bar wants to be a room focal point and its bare shelves scream for a liquor license. Dinner service, say the owners, looms soon on the horizon.
Grecos' menu reads like a "greatest hits" of popular food truck-inspired selections, including a variety of street tacos, a kicked-up Cuban sandwich, Chicago-style Italian beef dipped in au jus, Angus beef sliders and grilled-then-roasted pizzas.
Their hearty Pork Green Chili and Sweet Potato Chipotle soups are rich and complex. Fresh mixed green salads and a respectable number of vegetarian options round out the diverse lunch menu.
Street tacos are ragingly popular in Cincinnati, so I immediately gravitated toward Grecos' version. They offer three varieties: Cilantro Steak, Chicken Tinga and the Pork Carnitas. Each is served on either corn or flour tortillas, with a side of pickled red onions, lime wedges and small containers of tomatillo-jalapeño and tomato-chipotle salsas. They can be ordered in pairs or in threes, ranging in price from $5-$6 for two tacos; or three from $7-$8.50, depending on the meat. Two tacos might be enough for a light lunch, but three will more adequately fill the belly. I greedily ordered one of each on corn tortillas.
The smoky Chicken Tinga was a pleasant surprise. The spicy blend of potatoes, chorizo and roasted chicken elevated it beyond what you might find at a common taqueria. The Cilantro Steak was tender and juicy, accentuated by a playful hint of tomatoes, cilantro and onion. The Carnitas, while authentic, featured a comparatively more conservative preparation, making it an excellent vehicle for the accompanying salsas. Each taco's single corn tortilla held up remarkably well, with none of the tearing or unfortunate taco explosions I've endured elsewhere.
Sandwiches come with a choice of a mixed green side salad or a cup of black beans treated with jalapeño, cilantro and fresh-off-the-cob corn. In subsequent lunch outings, I've enjoyed both Grecos' Cuban sandwich ($8) and the South Side Chicago Beef ($9).
The Cuban was served on a fluffy, rounded Telera roll, tripping me up a bit. It's advertised as a pressed sandwich — maybe they'd forgotten. Still, the flavors were all there — an enjoyable and otherwise faithful attempt at a Cuban.
I asked to have my entire Chicago Beef sandwich dunked in au jus, and it was blissful. Thinly shaved prime rib, grilled peppers, onions and a spicy side of giardiniera on a baguette soaked in meat juices made for a napkin-piling indulgence not seen since my last trip to Wrigley Field.
Grecos successfully marries tasty food with Longworth Hall's rich industrial history. While its location may seem off the beaten path, there's plenty of incentive to make the short trek. Enjoy the food, admire the architecture and watch the trains pass by.
GO: 700 W. Pete Rose Way, Downtown
HOURS: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday
ENTREE PRICES: $5-$12
ACCESSIBILITY: Fully accessible via Longworth Hall lobby
You can read the full review on CityBeat's website by clicking here.