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Founded in the 18th century and later settled by German immigrants, Cincinnati is a classic Midwest city best known for its professional sports teams and prime location on the Ohio River. Before our visit, we didn’t know a lot about the city beyond what we learned from the classic television sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati
But we knew about the Cincinnati famous food and wanted to try the two best things to eat in Cincinnati.
What Food Is Cincinnati Famous For?
We were intrigued to visit Cincinnati since it’s the home of both Graeter’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili. Yes, we will travel for food, and these two Cincinnati Ohio food icons were reason enough for us to add a stop in Cincinnati to our US road trip.
Although we weren’t sure what we’d find to do beyond eating chili and ice cream in Cincinnati, this food travel opportunity was enough for us to stop in the city for a quick visit. We loved the city’s vibe and quickly found a number of fun things to do in Cincinnati like the American Sign Museum and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
As we traversed the city’s streets, many colorfully decorated with evocative murals, we discovered a surprisingly progressive city with a food culture that includes third wave coffee shops, a happening craft beer scene and lots of donuts. We quickly learned that the Cincinnati cuisine is for real.
Iconic Cincinnati Food Favorites
There are so many reasons to visit Cincinnati. We visited Cincinnati for just two of them – Graeter’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili. We wanted to try these famous Cincinnati food icons in Cincinnati, the city of origin for both of these popular foods.
Graeter’s Ice Cream
Graeter’s Ice Cream was our initial impetus to visit Cincinnati. Just like we can’t resist Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream, we couldn’t resist an invitation to visit the Graeter’s Ice Cream plant in Cincinnati for a special ice cream tour.
We often enjoyed Graeter’s French Pot style ice cream back in Philadelphia, and it’s easily our favorite American ice cream brand. If you think that all ice cream is the same, then you need to try Graeter’s Ice Cream right away!
Graeter’s has been owned and managed by the Graeter clan for over a hundred years, and the quality of the ice cream is a true testament to the family and its loyal customers who are willing to pay a little bit more for a better ice cream product.
What makes Graeter’s Ice Cream so special?
Maybe it’s the special French Pot method that involves a labor-intensive small batch process. Maybe it’s the quality of ingredients like the real chocolate they use in every batch. Maybe it’s the wide variety of flavors and big chunks of chocolate. Or maybe it’s the extra touches like how they pack each pint by hand.
We saw all of this and more during the special factory tour. The owners and employees at Graeter’s couldn’t have been more gracious and even participated in our very first YouTube video.
Although Graeter’s Ice Cream is available in 47 states, we recommend that you try it in Cincinnati. The factory isn’t open to the public, but Graeter’s has over 50 stores where customers can order popular flavors like Black Cherry Chocolate Chip and Butter Pecan as well as limited edition and summer bonus flavors like Key Lime Pie and Watermelon Sorbet.
If you can’t get to Cincinnati, you can visit a Graeter’s shop in select Midwest cities like Chicago, Indianapolis and Columbus.
What do you get when you combine spaghetti, chili and shredded cheddar cheese on one plate?
If the concoction includes flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate, then you get the Cincinnati food favorite known as 3-Way Chili. Totally different from Texas chili, Cincinnati chili is more of pasta dish where the chili serves as the gravy.
Don’t ask us for the Skyline Chili recipe – that’s apparently a well-guarded secret.
This unique chili dish was invented in the early 20th century by Greek immigrants, which explains the exotic flavors. You could almost say that Cincinnati Chili is a close relative to moussaka, a Greek food staple, both in flavor and concept.
Nicholas Lambrinides opened the original Skyline Chili in Cincinnati and named the restaurant after the restaurant’s view of the city’s skyline. Fast forward to today, and there are now over 150 Skyline Chili locations in four states.
Be sure to get a York Peppermint Patty when you pay your bill at Skyline Chili. This popular candy provides a sweet counterpoint to the restaurant’s spicy chili.
So what did we think about Cincinnati’s iconic chili dish? We liked it so much that we ate it again at Camp Washington Chili, a popular Cincinnati chili parlor. The 24-hour (except Sundays) restaurant serves a range of food to eat beyond the ever-popular Cincinnati chili.
Don’t feel like you have to order three-way chili. You can ramp your order up to four-way with onions or five-way with onions and beans.
Where to Eat in Cincinnati
Why stop at Graeter’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili when you visit Cincinnati? The city has more great food that warrants attention.
Beyond the most famous food in Cincinnati, we recommend checking out the following local Cincinnati food establishments during your visit:
- Jungle Jim’s International Market – Megastore with tours, food demos and more.
- Incline Public House – Gastropub with a great selection of local craft beer, Kentucky Bourbon and the spectacular view featured at the top of this article.
Plan Your Cincinnati Stay
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.