Welcome to the second group of the first 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 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).
More than 40,000 votes were tallied in the first group of Round 1 (results will be released once the second group voting is finished), and listed below for the second group of Round 1 are match-ups on the right side of the bracket, 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 Sunday 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. (NOTE: One match-up from the left side of the bracket is included below also)
THIS ROUND OF VOTING IS OVER
Moerlein Lager House
The heritage of Cincinnati's celebrated brewing history comes alive along the Ohio River at Moerlein Lager House, a world-class restaurant and brewery. Moerlein's beer is the perfect follow-up to a day at Great American Ball Park and the sweet potato chips, prime rib sandwich and BBQ chicken are just the tip of a menu filled with explosive tastes. The restaurant also offers river views from a wraparound patio. Moerlein takes on Jimmy G's, 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.
Nicola’s owns the Italian food scene in OTR, having long been a fine dining staple of the Queen City. 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. Its opponent in Round 1 is the Quarter Bistro in Mariemont. Not to be overlooked as just another bistro, Quarter’s seasonal cuisine combined with a swanky environment, all at reasonable prices, is sure to impress. They too offer a patio, nestled just off of historic Mariemont Square.
Brown Dog Café
A staple of Mt. Lookout square, Nectar’s small menu is not to be scoffed at. Their food is always rotating, prepared with local quality and a French Mediterranean flair in mind. Nectar compiles dishes that other restaurants only dream of conjuring up. Its opponent is the unsuspecting Brown Dog Café, 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.
Carlo & Johnny’s
Another Jeff Ruby steakhouse makes the tournament with Carlo & Johnny’s. Much like the other Ruby eateries, it is unique all its own, housed in a historic mansion that was once a stagecoach stopover, a casino and a gangster hideout. The steaks here are truly off the charts, and the ambience offers character unrivaled by any other Cincinnati spot. View Cucina opposes the steakhouse with a twist on Italian-American food. 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.
One of the early OTR-revivalists, 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. The match-up, Buz, calls Columbia-Tusculum home, nestled at the bottom of the hill. The Kentucky bourbon, bacon and caramel popcorn sets the tone as your appetizer early on that this is no ordinary eatery, and the drink list and entrees to follow measure up. The staff there are especially friendly, and make sure you’re catered to upon each and every experience.
York Street Cafe
Bistro Grace is one of the newest restaurants in the bracket, but with its location the former incarnation of “Honey”, it wasn’t hard to see this eatery pleasing the senses. 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. It takes on York Street Café, which sports an outdoor garden patio that offers an oasis in Newport, Ky.’s busy streets. The menu is prepared daily on a seasonal basis, and puts a tasty twist on some otherwise run-of-the-mill dishes. Few other places in town will offer you blackened salmon over cheesy jalapeno grits.
When Cincinnati thinks “tacos,” Nada always comes to mind first. 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 atmosphere is only rivaled by the taste of their dishes. Pick a taco, any taco, and you won’t be disappointed. The opponent, Zula, finds its home adjacent to Washington Park. A modern, relaxed restaurant focuses on their wine and tapas, and is ideal to come with groups, as they are one of the few OTR restaurants that accepts reservations. With such a vast menu of items, it keeps customers salivating to come back again and again.
Pho Lang Thang
Taste of Belgium
Taste of Belgium put waffles on the map in Cincinnati, and has one of the best start up stories on its road to success with its 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, and their combination of savory and sweet with their other entrees (typically involving crepes or waffles) will have you coming back often. It matches up against fellow Findlay Market staple Pho Lang Thang. Pho offers Vietnamese dishes that no other eatery in the Tri-State measures up to. With such variety on their noodle dishes, there is something for everyone to enjoy, and it’s in a location right next to a whole day’s worth of shopping and activities, making it perfect for lunch or dinner.
Relish Modern Tapas
Who hasn’t heard about the accolades that Senate restaurant has received, which first put the Gateway Quarter in OTR on the map as a legitimate dining destination? 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. Beware the deliciousness of the dog of the day, it will always pull you in. It faces off against a Mason restaurant full of small dishes that pack a flavorful punch in Relish Modern Tapas. Everything from paella and empanadas to flatbreads and more, each item is crafted to project the most out of each of your taste buds.
Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse
If you're looking for high-energy, upscale dining in the heart of downtown Cincinnati's 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.
Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse matches up with Via Vite, a sleek and modern Italian eatery with a wine bar and great views of Fountain Square. Via Vite offers a variety of delectable menu items, including the Boucheron goat cheese salad, lamb shank and penne Bolognese.
Embers Restaurant, near Kenwood Towne Centre, 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. Embers goes head-to-head with The Rookwood, an American restaurant serving surf 'n' turf, sandwiches and more in a former Mount Adams pottery factory. Highlights include the veal short rib mac and cheese, the house made pastrami and the duck fat potatoes.
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. Sotto matches up with Mecklenburg Gardens, a Bavarian-style German restaurant in a 19th century building. Mecklenburg has a beer garden with more than 15 beers on tap and up to 80 bottled beers to choose from. Lovers of Mecklenburg talk about the fried pickles and potato pancakes.
Eli's BBQ serves up arguably the city's best smokehouse barbeque dishes, including mouth-watering pulled pork, hickory turkey, succulent ribs, mac and cheese, baked beans and homemade cornbread with a kick. Eli's offers outdoor seating, making it the perfect place to enjoy a cold beer and great barbeque on a hot summer day. Eli's faces off with Taqueria Mercado, a Mexican favorite in Cincinnati. Taqueria Mercado 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.
Trio is a comfortable, upmarket bistro that has been serving American dishes in Cincinnati for more than 20 years. The menu features steaks, fresh seafood, specialty pizzas and an array of other dishes like the popular lemon chicken, smoked salmon and banana cream pie. Trio faces off with The Eagle, a newcomer to Over-the-Rhine. Open most days until 2 a.m., The Eagle is the perfect stop for the late night OTR crowd. The eatery specializes in fried chicken, unforgettable mac & cheese and American sandwiches all priced under $10, although you'll likely have to wait to enjoy it as a result of its overwhelming popularity.
Myra's Dionysus is a Greek-leaning cafe with homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and multicultural rice dishes. Anyone in the mood for eclectic Mediterranean fare can feast upon menu items like the baked tofu, pumpkin soup, gado gado and imam baildi, a stuffed eggplant dish. Myra's matches up with Over-the-Rhine's Abigail Street. 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.
Andy's Mediterranean is a bistro-like hot spot off Gilbert Avenue with kebabs, flatbreads and other great menu items like hummus with tahini, red lentil soup, lamb shank and several hand-tossed pizzas. The eatery's owners say they serve the most authentic and traditional Middle Eastern cuisine available in the Tri-State. Andy's matches up with Teller's. Set in an old bank, Teller's is an expansive contemporary eatery
with eclectic plates like the roasted garlic apple Brie flatbread and pork belly lettuce wraps. Teller's has been serving the Hyde Park community since 1995.
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. Dee Felice faces off with The Palace, a popular and award-winning upscale restaurant in the historic Cincinnatian Hotel. Mushroom risotto and beef tartare are just a few of the refined new American dishes with a seasonal edge served at The Palace. The restaurant has received AAA's Four-Star Diamond Award for 26 consecutive years.
Check back with WCPO.com for the latest vote tallies as they come in, and the match ups are decided!