In the past year, many restaurants opened in Cincinnati, from ice cream parlors to fast-casual salads.
Many of them were good. Cincinnati has talented chefs at all levels of the food service. But when it comes to choosing the best and best restaurant of the year, I don’t think of ice cream parlors or salad bars.
I think of a restaurant with a full menu, a chef with vision, a menu that embodies a food philosophy. A restaurant for people who love restaurants that adds something new to the Cincinnati food scene. Not to mention a wine list, good cocktails, and reservations.
I think of You’re welcome. (The doors opened in 2016, but it’s a 2017 honorary restaurant because I only ate there last January.)
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Please’s food is exploratory, cross-border, and careless. Owner Ryan Santos took inspiration from Scandinavia’s hyper-local restaurants, Chicago’s tasting menus, but his own artistic ideas have been crafted over several years of pop-up dinners.
Not every restaurant can or should be like this, but it is the type of restaurant every city needs. The restaurant world, like any creative endeavor, needs to keep moving, reinventing, and driving forward to keep things fresh. Please is at the end of a spectrum for Cincinnati.
1405 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-405-8859, please.cincinnati.com
Other best restaurants:
There is more than one way to innovate, and in some ways: CWC, Cooking with Caitlin’s sister team Wyoming Restaurant is the Most Innovative Restaurant of the Year. Because Caitlin Steininger and Kelly Trush did it their own way, a way that works for their parenting lives and exceeds the macho demands of the typical restaurant. You can tell that they didn’t own a restaurant as usual.
So many restaurants don’t make an emotional connection, but with the first friendly greeting at the door and a meal of delicious, fun and surprising food from the open kitchen, it is an emotional connection at CWC.
1517 Springfield Pike, Wyoming, 513-407-3947, www.cwctherestaurant.com
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When it comes to a cook with a vision, sandwich has to be mentioned. Like Please, it opened in late 2016. With its sandwich-heavy menu, it’s a little too casual to be the best of the year. But this menu has such an integrity: rustic, funky, rich sausages coming from the spa room in the basement, the owner Nino Loreto’s fanatical devotion to the locals, and his grandfather’s butcher block built into the signage.
1313-1315 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-0287, www.finepanino.com
At least geographically more border crossings: Start OTR It opened in the Rhinegeist building north of Liberty Street. It’s a restaurant I’ll be happy to visit again in 2018 as the French-modern menu continues to evolve and the large, stylish dining room takes on a personality. The collaboration between old Jim Cornwell and young Justin Uchtman (a hometown returnee after learning his skills in San Francisco) makes for a solid menu with some wonderful lightning bolts.
1910 Elm Street, Over-the-Rhine, 513-879-1910, sartreotr.com
French crust went north of Liberty first, and while it’s not exactly a new restaurant, it’s a lot different from the little original across from the library. French food is the mother of all restaurant dishes, and it seems important to have such a good example of the standards. We should also be grateful for such beautiful French pastries.
1801 Elm Street, Over-the-Rhine, 513-455-3720, www.frenchcrust.com
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And there was also:
The most beautiful restaurant: Figueroa house with its vibrant Mexican graphics and colors.
6112 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, 513-631-3333, www.casafig.com
Best intersection for new bakeries: Main Street and 12th. come on on the Main with its crispy artisan bread, Brown Bear Bakery on the 12th for his cozy pastries.
1208 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-6700, www.allezbakery.com; 116 E. 13th St., across the Rhine, www.brownbearbakes.com
The most inspiring restaurant story: The owners of Namaste Curry House in Fairfield, who spent 20 years in a refugee camp before suddenly being transported to Chicago and then to Cincinnati. Their optimism and kindness are intact and fill me with wonderful admiration. The momos too.
6679 OH 4, Fairfield, 513-870-0067, www.namastecurryhouse.net
Best ice cream parlor: Dojo in Northside: looks and behaves like a soft serve stand. Serves fantastic handmade ice cream and delicious ice cream sundaes.
1735 Blue Rock St., Northside, 513-328.9000, www.dojogelato.com