Gina Weathersby

From a CBD-infused take on Sonic to a pop-up bakery offering dalgona coffee pie to drive-thru chili-topped spaghetti, here’s where to eat in the Queen City

The Queen City of the West was in the midst of a dining boom before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The city’s Germanic roots were holding steady in European-inspired kitchens, and its eponymous cinnamon-spiced chili was still being ladled over spaghetti and smothered in shredded cheddar. But another side to the city’s food scene was thriving like never before, in bowls of Korean bibimbap, creative plates like those from chef Ryan Santos at Please, and, at a single intersection in Over-the-Rhine, in arepas and cachapas, fresh Hawaiian poke, and primo American smoked meats served au jus. Bringing it all together was — and is — the city’s relatively new streetcar, which connects dining hubs in the Banks district and Over-the-Rhine.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on some of that buzz, not to mention its rapid growth, but Cincinnati is neither down nor out. Upscale steakhouses no longer scoff at their cuisine being consumed off-site; chefs known for pate en croute now offer finish-at-home lasagna; alleyways and entire streets have been transformed into outdoor “streeteries” complete with propane heaters or fire pits; and bars are taking advantage of a new law that allows them to sell to-go cocktails with meals.

That’s not to say the last 10 months have been easy on the industry. Restrictions mandate six feet of space between parties both indoors and outdoors, limiting capacity at many restaurants, and a statewide curfew closes bars and restaurants by 10 p.m. This initially spurred innovation, but has now forced some establishments to hibernate through the winter and others to close permanently after decades in business.

Still, many are holding on, attacking the pandemic with the city’s famed tenacity. They make up the following list of Cincinnati establishments that have pivoted, popped up, or pushed ahead to keep feeding the city, safely, amid COVID-19.

Note: Many if not most restaurants in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky have reopened their dining rooms for lunch and dinner service. Their inclusion here should not be taken as an endorsement for dining in. All of the restaurants on this list offer takeout options, and heated outdoor seating is available where indicated, though contingent on the weather. Hours and levels of service may vary. Studies indicate that there is a lower risk of exposure when dining indoors, but that is contingent on restaurants following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines. For updated information, visit the city of Cincinnati’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Andy Brownfield has covered the bar and restaurant scene in Cincinnati for seven years. His work for the Cincinnati Business Courier can be seen here.

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