THIS ROUND OF VOTING IS OVER.
Welcome to the second round of WCPO’s Meal Madness!
We’re asking the Tri-State to vote in an NCAA Tournament style to find the reigning restaurant champ of the region.
In the bracket are 32 remaining eat-in restaurants unique to the Cincinnati area that are not predominantly chains, selected after evaluating reviews, reputation, experience and popularity. Not included are common food items like deli sandwiches, wings and pizza, and any chili restaurants (because let’s be honest, that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the eateries).
More than 60,000 votes were tallied in Round 1, and it came with its share of upsets. Knotty Pine on the Bayou rallied the votes to overtake steakhouse favorite The Precinct; 4-star powerhouse The Palace lost out to Covington Cajun stronghold Dee Felice; relative-newcomer Anchor OTR took down Cincinnati-staple Terry's Turf Club, but fellow burger-shack Zip's overcame Mt. Adams' finest, Celestial; BBQ favorite Eli's fell to downtown's original Mexican, Taqueria Mercado; and Tony's and Sotto overtook Nicholson's and Mecklenburg Gardens with just a few hours left in the voting.
Listed below are the Round 2 match-ups, a brief description of each restaurant, and a poll to vote for who you think is best. This voting session spans three days (This round closes Saturday at 8 a.m.). The cumulative vote total of each restaurant at the end of those three days will win the match up and move on to the next round.
Knotty Pine on the Bayou
Knotty Pine on the Bayou comes off a a big win over steakhouse The Precinct, and they take on Meritage in Round 2. If you're in the mood for red beans and rice, frog legs, blackened chicken, cream cake and red potatoes, Knotty Pine may be the menu for you. The cozy Newport roadhouse dishes up Louisiana-style Cajun and Creole specialties in a laid-back atmosphere. Its opponent, Meritage, also took down a steakhouse in round one. This Glendale restaurant touts an eclectic menu of fresh seafood, hand-cut steaks, specialty sandwiches and an impressive amount of salads. Each item on Meritage's menu -- from the salad dressings to the desserts -- is made in-house. The eatery prides itself on being a comfy choice for a creative take on American fare.
Bakersfield OTR comes off of an easy victory in the first round. Here, tacos and other Mexican dishes are served up in a chic, upbeat, margarita-fueled atmosphere that always packs a crowd. The owners of the hip Over-the-Rhine restaurant and bar say they have the best guacamole in town, and it's hard to find someone who doesn't agree. Bakersfield also offers an ample list of local and national beers that go excellently with some scrumptious house-made chips and queso. The opponent, Jimmy G's, handily took down Moerlein Lager House at The Banks in the first round. Jimmy G's is an upscale steakhouse and cocktail lounge that offers prime cuts and seafood in a midcentury-modern setting. Popular menu items at Jimmy G's include the creamy, bubbly and crusty mac and cheese and the charcoal grilled yellowfin tuna steak.
Hyde Park favorite Dancing Wasabi easily got past Parker's Blue Ash in Round 1. It features a mix of traditional, modern Japanese cuisine. Choi also crafts unique and tasty Asian dishes using Japanese, Korean and Chinese influences. If you're craving a basic California or Philadelphia roll, or something wild you can't pronounce, Dancing Wasabi has the dish for you at all hours of the day, and it’s more than likely half-priced. The opponent in Round 2 is Tony's steakhouse, which barely squeaked past Nicholson's at the 11th hour in the voting. Tony’s offers up prime steaks and seafood brought in daily. It’s a place where traditional steakhouse food meets innovative cuisine, with eclectic wine and hospitable service. This Loveland spot is definitely on the pricier side, but the experience matches the cost.
Primavista made it to the second round with little challenge. The most beautiful view of the city from a restaurant in town, Primavista offers traditional Italian food to match the
best seat in the house. An extensive wine list preludes a menu that includes the most succulent of pasta and finely prepared meats. Though the prices can run as steep as the incline it sits on, there are few places as impressive. Its opponent, Boca, also reached this round without question. Boca is one of the premier spots for fine dining in downtown Cincinnati. Specializing in Italian and French cuisine, Boca’s menu speaks for itself, with delectable offerings like truffle gnocchi, seafood risotto and the specifically sourced beef for each serving of their boutique ranch selections, all a cut above their competition.
Orchids at Palms Court
Orchids was down early to OTR eatery Lavomatic, but a large swing of votes vaulted it to the next round. The nationally renowned five-star, Four Diamond-winning restaurant has a reputation that precedes itself when it comes to fine dining in Cincinnati. Its menu is refined and unique, while its atmosphere is relaxing and elegant, worth every penny of its pricier nature. It takes on Italian family eatery Bella Luna, which had little difficulty getting past its first round match-up. The king of the prime rib cannelloni, Bella Luna’s home-style Italian cooking leaves diners satisfied with every bite. The atmosphere is a selling point all its own, with Bella Luna’s owner taking hold of the mic for some tunes on a weekend evening, but first and foremost ensuring you’re as comfortable as you would be in your own dining room.
Tom + Chee
Zip's Cafe took down Mt. Adams giant Celestial in Round 1, earning a spot in this round thanks to its juicy burgers. The Mt. Lookout spot has a very specific menu with its most famous item, the Zip’s burger, as the hands down favorite for a full belly and some happy taste buds. It might be tough to get a seat, but the price is right for a good meal and a fun, albeit crowded, atmosphere. It takes on fellow casual restaurant Tom + Chee, which melted into the second round without issue. Tom + Chee’s now nation-wide gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches are second to none when it comes to food involving bread and cheese, but their unique dishes and even more creative atmosphere leaves them as an eatery to be remembered. Plus, you won’t feel like you’re paying for a gourmet meal, but your stomach will sure think you did.
The quintessential Northside sandwich shop, Melt, impressively made it past white-tablecloth La Poste in Round 1. Melt offers a wide range of healthy, but deliciously created sandwiches, wraps and salads, specifically catering to the vegetarian lifestyle. It’s simple, casual, but reliable for a satisfied stomach. Its Round 2 opponent is a tall task to overcome, as Montgomery Inn got a huge edge in voting in their first match-up. Montgomery Inn has long-reigned as the ribs king of Cincinnati, and rightfully so. Whether it’s the boat house or the original, the sauce can’t be beat, no matter what you get it on. The atmosphere also presents a unique mix between fine dining and bar noise, keeping your stomach full and your attention grabbed.
Relatively new Anchor OTR took down Terry's Turf Club in Round 1, a vote tally that surprised many. Anchor OTR boasts some of the best seafood in the city. The hush puppies will put you in a food coma, and with a different catch of the day week in and week out, you won’t ever get bored with the range of selection, something many Tri-State seafood restaurants can’t say. Plus, it’s one of the few OTR restaurants that accepts reservations, guaranteeing your spot without delay. It takes on one of the favorites to win it all in Meal Madness, Jean-Robert's Table, which had one of the widest victory margins in the first round. Jean-Robert de Cavel redefined how the Tri-State looked at French food, and brought the best of that cuisine to Table on Vine Street. The wine list is extensive, and the options for dinner are even vaster, with every bite crafted with meticulous care.
Brown Dog Cafe
Famed OTR Italian restaurant Nicola's had no issue in Round 1, and the fine dining staple of the Queen City takes its deliciousness into Round 2. The menu highlights contemporary Italian, with unique dining spaces (like the outdoor patio when it’s warm) and top-notch service. Not to mention their wine room will blow you away. The opponent, Brown Dog Cafe, got past a Mt. Lookout favorite by just a few votes. The unsuspecting restaurant, nestled in a strip mall just off Pfeiffer Road. What it lacks in flash from the outside, it more than makes up for on the table. The menu is ever-changing, but never-disappointing, cooking with ingredients all over the spectrum, from venison and sustainable Hawaiian fish, to wild boar and rabbit.
View Cucina turned the second Jeff Ruby upset of the tourney in Round 1, and the votes left little doubt about it, too. With quite literally a great view of the eastern portions of the Ohio River, this Walnut Hills restaurant has a flexible menu that wears a lot of hats, sure to please all taste buds, and its owner frequently stops by tables to make sure you’re experience is all it should be, in a candid, conversational way. It takes on One of the early OTR-revivalists, A Tavola, which also had no issue in Round 1. A Tavola took pizza Tri-Staters were used to and turned it on its head. With ingredients like dates and eggplant, A Tavola serves up irresistible combinations of wood-fire grilled pizza, in a buzzing atmosphere right in the heart of the Gateway Quarter. Quick cooking times allows for fast turnover too, and this spot has the reputation for some of the shortest wait times on Vine Street.
One of the newest restaurants in the bracket, Bistro Grace blew past its first round opponent having quickly proven itself on the Cincinnati dining scene. A quality drink list precedes appetizers that are tasty and unlike most Cincinnati cuisine. The main courses take a Northside approach on every plate. The bourbon cherry sauce on the lamb or the coconut mushroom sauce on the chicken breast speak for themselves. But now one of the hands down taco favorites of Cincinnati, Nada, stands in its way. The atmosphere is upscale, but the food is affordable and the drinks go down easy. With prime location right next door to the Aronoff, Nada's convenience is only rivaled by the taste of their dishes. Pick a taco, any taco, and you won’t be disappointed.
Taste of Belgium
Taste of Belgium's proven waffle prowess got it into the second round with ease. With one of the best start up stories on its road to success with a premier brick and mortar shop on Vine Street in OTR, it would be difficult anywhere in the country to find a better chicken & waffles dish. Their combination of savory and sweet with their other entrees (typically involving crepes or, you guessed it, waffles) will have you coming back often. It takes on adjacent Senate, which embarrassed its first round opponent. With the accolades that Senate restaurant has received, which first put the Gateway Quarter in OTR on the map as a legitimate dining destination, it's a tough spot to beat out. Any one of their regular gourmet hot dogs match up well with their exquisite drink list and hip atmosphere, but everything on this menu will satisfy. Taste buds everywhere anticipate the unique dog of the day that always pulls hungry diners in.
Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse
Jeff Ruby did get one of his steakhouses in Round 2, and it's appropriately the namesake in downtown Cincinnati. If you're looking for high-energy, upscale dining in the heart of the entertainment district, Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse is the perfect choice. Owner Jeff Ruby says his USDA Prime Steaks are the best in the Tri-State. The restaurant also boasts award-winning seafood and live music. It takes on Kenwood's Embers after it defeated The Rookwood. Embers sports a large menu filled with steaks, seafood and sushi made to order. The newly renovated bar has a wine list that pairs excellently with the restaurant's signature Oreo-stuffed doughnuts and raspberry sauce -- perfect for a cheat day.
Sotto will have to regroup after barely inching into Round 2, pulling off a win over Mecklenburg Gardens late in the voting. Sotto is a traditional Italian restaurant with a hip urban feel in the heart of Cincinnati's business district. The eatery is perfect for an intimate dinner with options like the breaded pork loin, the wood fired branzino or the short rib cappellacci. It takes on up-start Taqueria Mercado, which surprisingly took down Eli's in Round 1 handily. Taqueria Mercado is a Mexican favorite in Cincinnati. It is known for its homemade tacos, chips, burritos and other traditional Mexican food served up in a simple, colorful space. The menu is also highlighted by a delicious variety of flavored margaritas.
The longest wait in Cincinnati didn't deter voters from launching The Eagle into Round 2. The Eagle is a newcomer to Over-the-Rhine, but already one of the hottest spots in town. Open most days until 2 a.m., it is the perfect stop for the late night crowd. The eatery specializes in fried chicken, unforgettable mac & cheese and American sandwiches all priced under $10. It takes on fellow OTR spot Abigail Street, which has a reputation of its own. Subway tiles and brick adorn this stylish Vine Street eatery. Abigail serves Mediterranean small plates that range from grilled octopus to house made ricotta and honey on grilled bread to crispy pork belly. The restaurant also has an extensive list of beer and wines on tap.
Teller's is a Hyde Park staple set in an old bank. It's an expansive contemporary eatery with eclectic plates like the roasted garlic apple Brie flatbread and pork belly lettuce wraps. It has been serving the Hyde Park community since 1995. Teller's beat out Andy's Mediterranean in Round 1, but will have its hands full with Dee Felice, who might have come out with the biggest upset of the tournament so far, receiving more votes than The Palace. Dee Felice is a lively café in the heart of Covington featuring New Orleans-style cuisine and occasional live music. Serving Northern Kentucky great food and live Jazz since 1984, Dee Felice is known for its excellent crawfish etouffee, shrimp creole, blackened halibut and deep fried oysters.