Food Town: Cincinnati

You’ve heard about the Reds and the Bengals, but with plenty of fresh markets, top chefs, and cutting-edge menus, Cincinnati’s dining scene has game, too.
“Cincinnati is a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving, and animated. I have not often seen a place that commends itself so favorably and pleasantly to a stranger at first glance,” declared Charles Dickens in his 1842 travelogue, American Notes. And while the Queen City has changed a bit in 174 years, it still manages to retain much of its congeniality. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in its food stands and dining establishments—ground zero being Findlay Market (1801 Race St., 513-665-4839) in historic Over-the-Rhine. Wandering amid the bustling outdoor stands, curious cooks will delight in heirloom produce at Madison’s, highbrow kitchen gadgets at Artichoke, Lebanese olive oils and Valbresso feta at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, and local, on-tap kombucha from Fab Ferments available at DIRT, the market’s in-house business incubator. Head farther uptown for big-city sophistication at Mita’s (501 Race St., 513-421-6482). Jose Salazar, a 2016 James Beard Award finalist, elevates the humble empanada to an art form, while sending out plate after plate of almost translucent, acorn-fed Iberico ham and deftly spiced pozole, upgraded with lobster, shrimp, and squid. If carbs are what you crave, the grotto-gorgeous, practically candle-lit Sotto (118 E. Sixth St., 513-977-6886) is pure (housemade) pasta perfection. Chef Danny Combs’s tagliatelle con tartufo is a no-brainer, especially if you can convince your crew to split a bottle of Isole e Olena Chianti Classico. And weekend getaways won’t be complete without a Sunday morning on Hyde Park Square. This eastside suburb is home to The Echo (3510 Edwards Rd., 513-321-2816). Tuck into their Oktoberfest omelet and sample Cincy specialty (and scrapple cousin) goetta tossed with onions and Swiss cheese, and potato cakes heady with onion and dill. Stave off the food coma with a Sunday post-prandial tour of Hyde Park Farmers’ Market, one of the most successful grassroots markets in the city. Vendors sell a range from kale and chamomile to artisanal dog treats, coffee, English muffins, and granola. When it’s time to sit a spell, head to the ultimate insider hangout, The Comet (4579 Hamilton Ave., 513-541-8900) for local suds (MadTree and Rhinegeist) and esoteric Belgian taps while listening to the Sunday night house band, the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, an award-winning group that packs the joint when they’re not touring with the likes of Ricky Skaggs.