CINCINNATI -- Cinnamon- and chocolate-laced chili might not be what most Americans think of as chili, but we do things a little differently in Cincinnati.
Whether we eat it poured over a hot dog topped with cheese, in any number of "ways," or even just in a bowl, not only do we love our Cincinnati-style chili, but opinions on the "best" chili parlors are as divided as the West Side and the East Side. In addition to chili, each parlor has other specialties as well, such as double-decker sandwiches, breakfast or other delicious, greasy-spoon items.
Here are our top nine recommendations for chili parlors across Greater Cincinnati.
Camp Washington Chili: This might be one of the most famous Cincinnati chili parlors, with its retro-vintage feel, extensive menu and 75-plus years of history, as noted by Bon Appetit, the Smithsonian and Road Food. This James Beard award-winning local staple is open 24 hours a day (except Sundays and two weeks in July), serving chili, fries, Greek salads, double-decker sandwiches and a full breakfast menu. (Try the Greek omelet with feta and Gyro meat.)
Blue Ash Chili: Featured on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," you can get this chili at locations in Blue Ash, Mason and Tri-County, as well as from its roaming food truck. Blue Ash Chili is famous for its 6-way (chili, cheese, spaghetti, onions, beans and fried jalapeno caps) and chili lasagna, which substitutes chili for tomato sauce. The chili lasagna harkens back to Cincinnati chili's roots in pastitso, which is similar to Italian lasagna.
Price Hill Chili: This West Side institution has captured the hearts of people on both sides of I-75. It's covered in sports memorabilia, and it's usually filled with regulars (who know all of the waitresses and always order the same thing) and people stopping in for food after an Elder game. The chili is a bit thicker and spicier than Skyline, and Price Hill Chili has killer double deckers (in case you aren't in the mood for a 3-way or a coney).
Dixie Chili: Dixie Chili is a staple in Northern Kentucky. The chili is less sweet than Skyline (but not as savory as Gold Star), and there's also a vegetarian version. You can get it served in your traditional "way" as a coney or on top of waffle fries. Also try the Greek salad with homemade Greek dressing or an Alligator, which is a hot dog with mayonnaise, mustard, pickle and cheese. Weird? Yes. Good? Yes, indeed.
Empress Chili: Empress is the original Cincinnati chili parlor, named for a burlesque theater where Macedonian immigrant brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff set up their hot dog stand. Empress is still available in Alexandria, Kentucky, and in Bridgetown.
Pleasant Ridge Chili: This cash-only parlor serves a thick, savory chili in all of the "ways" other places offer, double-deckers and a full breakfast menu, but it's also known for its gravy cheese fries. It's a heart attack on a plate, but what a way to go.
Gourmet Chili: Not far from Dixie Chili in Newport is Gourmet Chili, which has more of a greasy spoon vibe. You can get standard chili, as well as great breakfast and even homemade baklava. Warning: It does allow smoking, and it's cash only, too.
Skyline Chili: No Cincinnati chili list is complete without Skyline. It's the best known chili, to the point where many people simply refer to Cincinnati chili as "Skyline." Skyline is sweeter than many other parlors' chili, and while it doesn't offer breakfast or double deckers, it has other items such as Chilitos and a great black bean burrito seasoned with the same spices used in the chili.
Gold Star: You also can't leave Gold Star off of the list; it's a larger chili chain with a lot of fans. Gold Star's chili is a little spicier than Skyline's, and it offers crates of 10 coneys for parties (or for a really hungry person). Try the Gorito, which involves Fritos, chipotle ranch, chili and cheese or chili dip (the party classic with cream cheese, chili and melted cheddar).