Over-the-Rhine: Cincinnati’s booming foodie neighborhood
Built in the 19th century by German immigrants, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood gradually slipped into decay before falling into some serious hard times. But an urban renewal program helped revitalize this historic area just north of downtown, turning it into a hub of the city’s culinary scene.
Eating in the so-called OTR starts — but doesn’t necessarily stop — in the 1300 block of Vine Street, which has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past decade. You can do breakfast, lunch and dinner without leaving the block.
Begin at the OTR outpost of Holtman’s Donuts, 1332 Vine St. This venerable homage to fried dough was founded in 1960 and has been voted the city’s best doughnut shop many times. While you’re waiting in line, watch the half-dozen bakers rolling, slicing and shaping dough, and glazing and frosting the doughnuts.
The maple syrup and bacon doughnut is a yeast-raised delight as addictive as crack and far tastier, though admittedly, not much healthier. My wife and I fought over the last bite. Our favorites were the apple fritter, glazed dipping and red velvet cake doughnut topped with cream cheese.
About 10 yards away is The Eagle Food & Beer Hall, 1342 Vine St., a sit-down restaurant that specializes in juicy, Southern-style fried chicken with a kick. Sure, you can order sloppy joes, pork shoulder sandwiches and even healthy salads, but what’s the point? You’re here to eat fried chicken raised by Amish farmers before it’s brined, dredged and deep-fried to a golden crispness that makes you salivate like a pit bull. Having 15 beers on tap takes some of the sting out of the long wait for tables.
Just across the street — don’t want to overexert yourself here — is Pontiac Bourbon & BBQ, 1403 Vine St., an upscale barbecue joint with a laid-back atmosphere. My wife ordered the pulled pork quesadilla, and our neighbors at a communal table selected the beef brisket burrito. I’m a more traditional Q aficionado and chose the brisket sandwich, slaw on the side, with steaming slices of slow-cooked brisket and a few burnt ends.
Across the street is Quan Hapa, 1331 Vine St., an Asian street food eatery that’s a hipster hangout with a fusion twist. The menu features homemade ramen noodle dishes, crisply satisfying Japanese pancakes with meat and vegetables, entree-size bowls and a variety of drink and craft beer specials.
Not far away, you’ll find an older Cincinnati institution: Graeter’s Ice Cream, famous for its pastries, doughnuts and other baked goods, but mostly for its thick ice cream made in 2.5-gallon French pots. It’s a decadent, rich treat available at 16 Cincy locations.
A block away is the legendary Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., one of the oldest indoor markets in the country. Fresh produce, flowers, meat, fish, cheese and baked goods are sold here, alongside specialty restaurants, and coffee and gelato shops. Potters, soap-makers and jewelers display their wares. Some shops, such as Gibbs Cheese & Sausage, date back 100 years.
Germanic culture and traditions, such as beer brewing, dominated Cincinnati for more than a century. Bavarian immigrant and blacksmith Christian Moerlein started his eponymous brewery in OTR in the mid-1800s.
Decades after Prohibition ended, Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. began brewing again. Visitors can sample the suds at Moerlein Lager House, 115 Joe Nuxhall Way. The brewery-restaurant in Smale Riverfront Park is nestled along the banks of the Ohio River, a kind of Midwest version of the Rhine.
Mark Taylor is a freelance writer.
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