Cincinnati locals and visitors alike know that our town is home to the greatest percentage of “chili heads” per capita. We just can’t get enough of the steamy dish! The mediterranean-spiced meat sauce can be eaten straight out of the bowl, or used as a topping for hot dogs or pasta. Then finish it off with any combination of cheddar cheese (lots of it), onions, oyster crackers and several varieties of beans. Different topping choices are dubbed, “ways,” the most elaborate usually being chili five ways. Regardless of how you choose to consume the dish, you can count on it being hella delicious.
While Texans might scoff at the “strange” recipe, locals will tell you that there’s nothing strange about it — the only crazy thing would be to try and find a good option outside of Cincinnati. With so many chili parlors around town, it can certainly be tough to decide where to grab a classic chili-topped spaghetti or a coney. These are our personal favorites.
Photos courtesy of Empress Chili
This shop seems like a good way to begin this list, as it’s the parlor that started it all. The “coney” (a hot dog topped with chili) originated from immigrant restaurateurs, Tom and John Kirajieff, who were trying to expand their customer base by melding ethnic styles of cuisine with American classics. The brothers served their first coney in 1922 outside of a burlesque theatre named the Empress. Now, the shop is thriving in three different locations. The parlors still serve up the original recipe, so come by and sample a bit of history.
Price Hill Chili
4920 Glenway Avenue, Cincinnati
Whether you’re stopping by for breakfast on the patio, a late dinner, or to catch the game with some friends in the Golden Fleece Lounge, Price Hill has it all. Serving the west side of Cincinnati since 1962, the family-owned spot has gained a reputation for its stellar cuisine, regularly drawing patrons from as far as Kentucky and Indiana. While everything on the menu is incredible (and under $10), rumor has it the chili cheese omelet is the way to go.
Blue Ash Chili
Photos courtesy of Blue Ash Chili
There is something for everyone at Blue Ash Chili — even non chili fans (if they exist). Enjoy a burger, barbecue, or the signature dish served up three, four, five or even six ways. Once you’ve tried ’em all, maybe step it up a notch with the “No Freakin’ Way Challenge”, which includes two and a half pounds of steaming spaghetti topped with two and a half pounds of chili, finished with two pounds of shredded cheddar cheese and a pound of fried jalapeño caps. Finish your plate in 60 minutes and you won’t pay a cent. You also might never eat chili again… nahhh.
Dixie Chili & Deli
733 Monmouth Street, Newport
Located just over the border in Newport, Kentucky, Dixie Chili holds its own when it comes to Cincinnati-style chili. The checkered floors and diner-like atmosphere remind you of days gone by as you dig into some of the best darn chili you’ve ever tasted in your life. Enjoy the stuff one, two, three, four, five or even six ways. Regardless of your choice, you can eat easy knowing that the recipe is the original 1929 formula from founder Nicholas D. Sarakatsannis, fresh from the kettle every day. (Not in the area? You can order canned Dixie Chili online, although we do recommend you try it in person.)
843 Monmouth Street, Newport
This spot might be newer than the rest, but it doesn’t slack when it comes to offering up amazing chili. You’ll enjoy a friendly, neighborhood diner-vibe while slurping a hearty serving of the stuff. We hear the gyros are pretty great too if you’re still hungry. Don’t forget to bring cash!
Camp Washington Chili
3005 Colerain Avenue, Camp Washington
In the heart of Cincinnati’s Camp Washington neighborhood, you’ll find one of the town’s most prized gems. The namesake dish at Camp Washington Chili certainly speaks for itself, and has been satisfying hungry locals and visitors alike since 1940. With a James Beard Award in its pocket for being an “American Regional Classic” and some of the best chili in the country, it is no wonder this place has been successful for so many years. Stop in 6 days a week, 24 hours a day for a taste of what makes our beloved city truly unique.
Pleasant Ridge Chili
6032 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati
The tried-and-true family recipes at Pleasant Ridge Chili are made from scratch daily using fresh ingredients, which gives the chili a bit of an edge. The restaurant has been family-owned since 1964, and is currently helmed by the third generation of the Sideris family. Step into the diner for American favorites — the award-winning gravy cheese fries are some of the best around — or classic chili dishes made with love.
Skyline Chili at the Great American Ball Park
100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati
Photo courtesy of the Great American Ball Park
Fans of the Cincinnati Reds know that America’s favorite past time is never truly complete without a smothered coney from Skyline Chili. While there are nearly 10 locations of this renowned chili hotspot throughout the state (and even in Kentucky), grabbing a bite here during the big game might be one of the most Cincinnati-esque things to do. We’re for it. Find it at sections 103, 116, 130, 518 and 533.
Chili Time Restaurant
4727 Vine Street, St. Bernard
This cozy cafe in St. Bernard emanates a friendly atmosphere that invites you in to stay awhile. You’ll feel like a member of the family as you’re ushered to a window-side table and served with a hot, steaming plate of chili fries, a coney, or whatever chili-smothered entrée your heart desires — even a chili salad if you’d like to go with a healthier option. Some have tried it and sworn off of other chili parlors as a result. We wonder what the secret is…
Gold Star Chili
2231 Beechmont Ave, Cincinnati
We’re sure you’ve heard of this infamous chili chain, but we don’t believe any list would be complete without it. The original restaurant was established in the Mount Washington neighborhood in 1965, but has grown to include 82 locations across Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. The no-frills shop serves chili three, four or five ways. Feeding a family (or just really hungry)? Maybe grab the 10-piece coney crate to go.
Blue Jay Restaurant
4154 Hamilton Avenue, Cincinnati
Photos courtesy of Blue Jay
Wife and husband duo Danny and Tina Petropoulos opened this restaurant in 1967. Since then, not much has changed — thankfully. The mouthwatering family recipes, comforting interior and old-school atmosphere set Blue Jay apart. Start your day off with a Jacob Special (hash browns loaded with chili and cheese). The flavorful, chunky and juicy chili is sure to carry you through the day.
The Silver Ladle
580 Walnut Street, Cincinnati
This downtown hotspot (with a second location in Anderson) might get you your food fast, but it also invites you to sit on the patio and enjoy it for as long as you please. Pick your base first (spaghetti, greens, fries, a burrito or chips), then pick a chili style (beef, chicken or bean), and top it with any combination of cheese, onions, jalapeños, beans or sour cream to create a dish that meets your preferences exactly — mmm mmm good!
1036 Delta Avenue, Cincinnati
This restaurant is actually well-known for its burgers, but don’t let that scare you off. The chili is some of the best in town. Grab a cup or a bowl to enjoy in house, or indulge in a ½ gallon serving to take home and share with the family.
What are your favorite chili stops in Cincinnati? Let us know in the comments!