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Tim's Cincinnati Chili Adventure

A Cleveland native, Reference Librarian Tim Chatlos has always been fascinated by regional food such as Cincinnati chili. When he relocated to the Cincinnati region, he promptly tried the chili chain restaurants. Tim weighs in on the eternal Skyline versus Gold Star debate by recommending Skyline for the three-ways and Gold Star for the coneys.
After dining at the chains, he then realized other restaurants also featured the chili and was curious to find out how many there were. Through his research, he found three helpful, but now inactive, blogs:

Although these blogs haven’t been updated in a while, they still provide a good source
of restaurant names and reviews. Through his research, he discovered over 50 places in the area serve Cincinnati chili and this inspired his quest to visit as many chili restaurants as possible. Between 2011 and 2013, Tim traversed the region, sampling restaurants offering Cincinnati Chili. He was impressed by how many restaurants are dedicated to the chili, as well as the consistency of the chili across the region, down it being served on oval plates. Approximately 75% of the restaurants use oval plates to serve the chili, which Tim found to be a unique, but unifying, way to display the chili.
His chili adventure not only allowed him to enjoy eating his way across the region, but helped him to learn the city inside and out as he traveled to restaurants located in all nooks and crannies of the city. He was also happy to find a way to help support local businesses and is grateful to have never gotten sick or gained weight during his Cincinnati chili adventure. As of this post, Tim has visited around 60 unique chili places. Since it’s been a few years, unfortunately some of the restaurants have since closed. However, each year more new chili places are discovered, so the adventure continues!
Tim’s Chili Tips:

  • Stick to places with three-ways. He didn’t seek out restaurants serving only coneys, which usually meant the chili was coming out of a can.
  • Order the regular with the maximum number of ways available (up to a 7-way at some places) along with a coney or chili cheese sandwich for fun.
  • Order a chili cheese sandwich in lieu of a coney when an option. Dropping the hot dog allows for the chili to stand out more. Not all restaurants offer the chili cheese sandwich option, but most are willing to make one if you ask.
  • Always bring cash because not all of these mom & pop places accept credit cards.
  • Always have spare change because you’ll often have to park on the street and feed the meter.
  • Be mindful of the hours. Many of the mom-and-pop places are closed on Sundays or only open for breakfast and lunch.
  • At some restaurants, the chili is considered a special and is only offered on certain days.
  • Not every restaurant has chili in its name. For example, the Greek places often don’t include it. As you may or may not know, Cincinnati chili was originally created by Greek immigrants who used Mediterranean spices to create a meat sauce similar to some lamb stews.
  • It is noticeable what restaurants freshly shred the cheese. Pre-shredded cheese from a bag just isn’t the same.

Tim’s Favorites:

  • Price Hill Chili –It has a large menu with a lot of variety in case you aren’t in the mood for chili.
  • Camp Washington– Not a chain, accessible area, distinct vibe with its diner theme.
  • The Silver Ladle – Unique variation on Cincinnati chili made with chicken instead of ground beef
  • Dixie Chili – NKY represent! Home to one of the rare 6-ways (5-way plus garlic).

Below is the Google map Tim created when he planned his chili sampling trips. The map was created several years ago and since then some of the places on it have closed, so please check on availability before you visit.

2 Comments

  1. George Nolte

    Steve, I hate to disagree with ALL of Cincinnati, but Cincinnati (in my option) doesn’t know the secret to the Art of making good Chili. To make hearty chili one needs to take 3 days. Day 1: mainly the sauce preparation. This includes the “secret” way to reduced the acid of the sauce . Mix in spice (good chili is rarely hot). Put in frig. Day 2. Brown the meat, mix with sauce, mix all other ingredients (Green Chile’s, Green Peppers, Fresh Onions, Chili/Kidney your choice). ( **blanche any “hard vegetable to soften). Mix ALL ingredients into a Crockpot basin and place in frig over night. Day 3: put crockpot on counter on Low heat seating. 6 hours later allow to cool for an hour then serve over a bed of rice ….. Thick, Hearty, and Delicious Chili ….. and NEVER too HOT with too much Chili Powder and just enough Cumin to call it Mexican.
    If you care to learn how to make chili that has won an East Coast and West Coast Cook off, you can reach at my email address and we can get together and cook.

  2. Valerie Taylor

    George Nolte, wrong. Cincinnati chili isn’t the same as other chili. You do not brown the beef. You do not add any veggies at all. You do not add beans. You do not serve over rice, for god’s sake. You clearly have no idea what Cincinnati chili is. It’s NOT NOT NOT the same as chili con carne.

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