Your Guide to the Buzzy Homegrown Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries of Cincinnati
In the early 19th century, a small settlement called Cincinnati suddenly became a boomtown. It was the heyday of the steamboat, and this city on the northern shore of the Ohio River welcomed wave upon wave of immigrants, growing so fast that it soon earned the moniker Queen of the West. But in the mid 20th century, as manufacturing and river trade fell into decline, the population, as in so many other Rust Belt hubs, dwindled.
Now that's beginning to turn around, even amid a pandemic. The Queen City is growing — and getting younger. New businesses are reinvigorating historic neighborhoods. Cincy is poised to have a major moment, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Over-the-Rhine, a vibrant, culturally rich district that's home to Findlay Market: the 165-year-old focal point of the city's growing food scene.
Read on for where to eat.
Cincinnati-born Tom McKenna opened his shop for a simple reason: "There wasn't another bakery doing what I wanted to do. So here I am." Trained at the New England Culinary Institute, McKenna makes natural-yeast breads that are both sophisticated and elemental: Nordic-style rye, durum-semolina loaves, a sourdough dotted with sunflower seeds and cherries. Check the rotating lunch menu for top-notch sandwiches like chicken salad with fennel and a classic pastrami on rye. allezbakery.com.
Brown Bear Bakery
Ohio native Blair Fornshell spent years honing her craft at home before opening her sun-filled, pastel-hued bakeshop in 2017. The pastry case is stocked with familiar treats in contemporary flavors, like matcha cheesecake, lavender-infused lemon bars, and turmeric sugar cookies. Fornshell's partner, designer Chaske Haverkos, often helms the counter, which is covered in stunning seafoam-green tiles custom-made in Cincy. brownbearbakes.com.
Deeper Roots Coffee
This roaster and wholesaler originally pitched its products at fellow coffee professionals. But the brand, which puts an emphasis on sustainability and ethical sourcing, quickly became a hit among Cincinnatians at large. The team recently expanded to a space just a stone's throw from Findlay Market. Also available: kombucha on tap and a menu of regional goodies, including bread from artisan bakery Sixteen Bricks and treats from Cincy favorite Donna's Gourmet Cookies. deeperrootscoffee.com.
Ryan Santos began his cooking career in Cleveland before heading overseas to Copenhagen, staging at Relæ and other Danish temples of modernist cuisine. He returned home and ran a series of popular pop-ups, which eventually crystallized as this experimental 30-seat restaurant. His dishes are both whimsical and technically precise, incorporating haute interpretations of regional specialties like æbleskiver (apple popovers) or potluck favorite goetta, an addictive meatloaf bound with steel-cut oats. Please is currently on hiatus, but its impact in OTR continues; Santos hopes to reopen later this year. pleasecincinnati.com.
Cincinnati is a beer town — and long has been, thanks to a large influx of German immigrants beginning in the 1830s. It was that heritage that spurred Rhinegeist cofounders Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding to set up shop. Their craft brewery, which opened in 2013, is often cited as a bellwether of the city's renaissance. Head brewer Jim Matt oversees the production of a roster of standards and rotating limited releases — try Bubbles, a fruit-infused rosé ale, or the lemongrass-ginger cider, Swizzle. Rhinegeist HQ is a vast complex inside a former bottling plant with a kidfriendly taproom and an adults-only rooftop. rhinegeist.com.
Salazar and Goose & Elder
Jose Salazar is a fixture of Cincinnati's dining scene. The Colombian-born chef, who moved to Ohio after cutting his teeth in New York City, has earned multiple James Beard Award nominations since opening his namesake restaurant Salazar in 2013. The menu functions as a culinary map of his life: an oh-so-Midwestern bratwurst and kraut plate sits alongside "everything"-crusted salmon with bagel chips and cream-cheese dumplings. He recently opened Goose & Elder, a more casual space offering small plates, up the street at Findlay Market. salazarcincinnati.com, gooseandelder.com.
...and some hotels with taste.
The Kinley Cincinnati opened in October with a bold color scheme and a hotly anticipated restaurant, Khora, where chefs Edward Lee and Kevin Ashworth focus on ancient grains. Nearby, the 21c Cincinnati houses an impressive collection of contemporary art and chef Vanessa Miller's Metropole, which focuses on produce from the Ohio Valley. Hotel Covington, just a quick stroll across the Ohio River — and the Kentucky border — offers opulent rooms and a restaurant, Coppin's, which has a regional menu and a lavish whiskey bar.
A version of this story first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "A Spark in Cincy."