As much as we all love Chipotle and Panera, there is something uniquely special in appreciating and supporting the lesser known delicacies of a city; small hubs of good food and better company, often equally managed by both small business owners and genuine neighborhood hospitality. The area surrounding the University of Cincinnati is decorated with incredible cuisine and hidden gems of roadside eateries. Here are six you must try before you graduate.
6 Restaurants to Try Before You Graduate
1. Keystone's MacShack
249 Calhoun Street, open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
As the little sibling (more like the exact mini-me) of Cincinnati’s infamous Keystone, this little yellow shop on Calhoun street holds its own. Taking its mother’s most signature dish and expanding into a full-on mac-and-cheese bar, every single Keystone mac-and-cheese dish is offered at this miniature roadside haven (order yours to-go, either regular-size or large), served quickly and hot. It’s a sit-down good home-cooked meal, without requiring the sit-down part. Just breeze by and order your selection of cheesy, affordable goodness (a favorite is the Fleetwood Mac: mozzarella, pesto, and tomato). http://eatmacshack.com/
2. Alabama Que
2733 Vine Street, open 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
The definition of a barbecue joint, this small spot on Short Vine is the perfect embodiment of southern flavor, savory sauces, and smoky goodness—all the things that make weekly barbecue stops an unbreakable habit. Alabama Que, owned and operated by former UC Football player Dwan Ward, specializes in a unique menu item: turkey tips. The chunks of smoked turkey meat are doused in one of four sauces (original, medium, hot, and gold). They're wildly popular, accounting for 90% of business—attracting the likes of Snoop Dogg, A.J. Green, and rap artist Wale. Complete your meal with some Alabama favorites including baked beans, potato salad, corn bread, and mac-and-cheese. Daily Deals exist Monday through Saturday (they’re closed Sundays), making this barbecue an incredible bang for your buck. https://www.alabama-q.com/
3. Ambar India
350 Ludlow Avenue, open 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Opened since 1994 in Clifton’s Gaslight district, this Ludlow Street staple is wildly popular among college students, Clifton locals, and Cincinnati residents alike. CityBeat calls it, “the area’s most popular Indian restaurant” and CincinnatiUSA.com states, “Ambar offers a casual but classy experience with white tablecloths, chandeliers overhead and servers eager to please.” A perfect lunch and dinner spot, the menu is enormous and the restaurant almost always crowded (in a good way). The prices, although reasonable, are technically not the cheapest in the city. We must admit, however, that the large serving sizes and exceptional spicy flavors make up for this slight rise in price. Order the saag paneer (a spinach-based cream dish with cheese) and chicken shahi korma (a spicy chicken dish covered in sauce with turmeric, chili powder, and cheese). But most importantly, don’t forget to order a hefty side of naan (traditional Indian style, oven-baked flatbread). http://www.ambarindia.com/directions.htm
4. Mac’s Pizza Pub
205 W McMillan Street, bar open 11 a.m.-2 a.m., kitchen open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
This hole-in-the-wall bar and pizza factory contains rooms more spacious than one would think; step inside to first be greeted by the large copper bar, then further explore the deeper dimensions that include ample seating, stained-glass lighting, gritty floors and a quaint back-room bar. Although known for its beer and late-night parties, this dive bar’s most notorious faculties include $1 pizza slices (yes, only $1 dollar) and crowded Wednesday trivia nights, which serve up some hot and surprisingly reliable competition—every Wednesday is sure to be a good time. https://www.macspizzapub.com/
open Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m., and Saturday 12 p.m.-7 p.m.
This well-known central vendor on campus is named after the term rathskeller: “the cellar or basement of the city hall, usually acting as a German saloon below the street level, where drinks and simple food may also be had.” Combine rathskeller with bearcat and you get Catskeller. The campus hub is frequented by students searching for mid-day snacks (try the harvest turkey ciabatta sandwich) and late-night escapades (their craft beer selection does not lack). The black walls give a cave-like vibe, ensuring any visitor will feel removed and relaxed from the chaos of class and the daily grind. Recently, the morning rush has been busier than usual, as new food options for breakfast have been added—dubbed Catskeller By Day—including bagels, wraps, and fruit. We recommend the bacon, egg and cheese croissant. http://www.uc.edu/food/catskeller.html
2605 Vine Street, open Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
As promised by their slogan, this small Short Vine oasis is “bringing the Caribbean to Cincinnati.” Astonishingly affordable and even more so delicious, the menu consists of handmade empanadas (spicy beef, chorizo pork, curry chicken, just to name a few), stews and rice (coconut curry chicken, citrus chicken, veggie black beans), and “extra value specials” (a super combo of 2 meals for $8.50). Sure to fill you up and satisfy a hunger for the fried and tropical—and, even better, keep your wallet full—this roadside eatery is a college student’s best friend. (They deliver quickly and conveniently via Order Up!) http://www.caribeonvine.com/