Welcome to 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 64 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).
To start off the tournament, listed below are match-ups on the left side of the bracket, a brief description of each restaurant, and a poll to vote for who you think is better. Each voting session spans three days (This round closes Thursday at 11:59 p.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.
VOTING IN THESE MATCH-UPS HAS ENDED.
Orchids at Palms Court
The nationally renowned five-star, Four Diamond-winning Orchids at Palm Court 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 matches up in the first round against Over-the-Rhine creative kitchen Lavomatic, which fancies itself a gastropub café with a small rooftop dining area that is perfect in the spring. Lavomatic was one of the first on board with the revival of the Gateway Quarter in 2008, puts an emphasis on locally-sourced food, and the prices are usually right for a casual night.
Virgil’s is a staple on the Kentucky side of the river, quaintly nestled in Bellevue, with a creative menu spawned from its artistic owner and chef. Featured on "Dinners, Drive ins, and Dives" on Food Network, this casual café is able to turn frog legs into delectable dining. It matches up with Italian favorite Bella Luna, 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.
A four-star, Four Diamond steakhouse, The Celestial sits regally atop Mt. Adams, and the rest of the food scene in Cincinnati. This spot offers a diverse menu, stellar service and an award-winning wine list, all in the presence of the spectacular views of downtown Cincinnati’s skyline and the Ohio River. The opponent, Zip’s Café in Mt. Lookout, 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.
Tom + Chee
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. It matches up with Local 127, which stresses the use of local ingredients to create Cincinnati-themed dishes, like the mac & cheese with pork. Local 127 will use ingredients you’ve never heard of, but will want plenty more of, not to mention the mouth-watering mix of creative cocktails.
La Poste has carved out a fine dining niche in the vibrant Clifton neighborhood where you might not expect it with so many college-aged residents nearby. Their salads are to die for, and they top it off with a vibrant selection of wine to choose from. Its match up, Melt, is the quintessential Northside sandwich shop, offering 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.
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. Its opponent, Oriental Wok, has long been a staple of Asian cuisine in the Tri-State, with notable locations on both sides of the river. It’s not just a place you eat, it’s a spot to hang out with your friends and family that just happens to have some great food in the building.
Terry’s Turf Club
Terry’s Turf Club, another competitor to appear on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on Food Network, is the first name that comes to mind when Cincinnatians think “burgers.” Nestled off the beaten path in the East End, Terry’s serves up all the greasy, savory goodness you could ask for in a burger, keeping its business strong not by central location, but by reputation for great food and a good time at a reasonable price. Its opponent, Anchor OTR, is relatively new on the dining scene, but 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.
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. The opponent, Sung Korean Bistro, is one of the few spots in the Tri-State that offers authentic Korean food and atmosphere. The downtown eatery provides a private room for traditional on-the-floor dining, and the food tastes the part, leaving you transported to a different part of the world for a few hours.
Knotty Pine on the Bayou
Born in 1981 in the former Cincinnati Police Patrol House Number 6, The Precinct is the longest, continuously running white tablecloth restaurant in Cincinnati. Owner Jeff Ruby touts The Precinct as having Cincinnati's best steaks, seafood and service -- and it doesn't hurt that local Olympic medalist Nick Goepper said he was craving it when he arrived in Cincinnati after competing in Sochi. The Precinct matches up with Knotty Pine on the Bayou. 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.
Jag's has an extensive steak and seafood menu, a full raw bar and varied selection of sushi. If you're hankering for some wild mushroom risotto, Chilean sea bass or certified angus beef, this up-market surf 'n' turf eatery may win your heart. The West Chester dining hot spot also has six mahogany-lined dining rooms and a lounge that's perfect for hosting live music and DJs. Jag's goes head-to-head with Meritage, a Glendale restaurant with 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.
Tacos and other Mexican dishes are served up in a chic, upbeat, margarita-fueled atmosphere that always packs a crowd at Bakersfield. 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. Bouquet challenges Bakersfield in a battle of well-done staple versus food you won’t have anywhere else. Sweet potato flatbread with rabbit? Yes, it’s there, and yes, it’s delicious. Come
by this charming eatery in the heart of Mainstrasse, for an excellent drink list, relaxing atmosphere and cheerful service.
Parker’s Blue Ash
At Parker's Blue Ash, steaks, burgers and hand-pulled ales combine with yummy salads, great seafood and an award-winning wine list. The menu has several popular dishes, including cedar-planked salmon and crème brûlée cheesecake. Its opponent, run by award-winning sushi chef Charlie Choi, Dancing Wasabi in Hyde Park 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.
Tony’s steakhouse 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. It faces off against Nicholson’s, the go-to gastro pub before and after shows at downtown’s Aronoff Center. Simple fare done right, Nicholson’s offers an entertaining atmosphere for guests seeking as good of a time as the meal that goes with it.
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 in the first round is Otto’s, a small boutique restaurant along MainStrasse in Covington. A bistro/bar/café in one, Otto’s offers their own variations on traditional dishes, such as the phyllo-wrapped chicken cordon bleu. As for the desserts: You’ll never try anything like the apricot white chocolate bread pudding.
Who in Cincinnati doesn’t see downtown’s Boca as one of the premier spots for fine dining? 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. Boca takes on Oakley’s Maribelle’s, which offers a much more modest dining experience, but no less tasty. With unique offerings each night, Maribelle’s is always offering something new, but their staples can hold their own on any given night as well, with the unique twist on cocktails to match.
Check back with WCPO.com for the latest vote tallies as they come in, and the match ups are decided!