Excerpts and highlights from CityBeat’s 2019 dining coverage — plus what to order at each restaurant

This cozy brunch spot on Monmouth Street has been serving local, seasonal cuisine to the masses since December 2018. Chef and co-owner David Willocks aims to make everything in-house, including the bread, and calls it the canvas upon which the food appears. As such, the menu reads like a love letter to biscuits and brioche and sourdough sandwiches. Options run the gamut from biscuits and gravy with Eckerlin pork sausage to pumpkin French toast. Willocks runs The Baker’s Table with his wife, Wendy Braun, a designer. There’s a bar at the entrance with a hardwood mantelpiece behind it; nearby, a bright yellow velvet couch and vintage chairs serve as a cafО-like spot or a waiting area during a busy brunch rush. The main seating area extends almost back to the kitchen, but right in the back is the namesake of the eatery: a 25-year-old table from the kitchen of Jean Paul’s Paradiso bakery in Anderson Township that seats 16. Food and culture website Eater named The Baker’s Table one of 2019’s best new restaurants in America. The Baker’s Table also recently launched dinner service. What to order: The ricotta donuts are little balls of fluffy joy with a thinly fried exterior and a generous sugar dusting. They come with strawberry lemon curd and are a perfect appetizer before your eggs or pancakes. 1004 Monmouth St., Newport, bakerstablenewport.com. — LAURA LEAVITT

Littlefield Restaurant Group rehabbed a historic Art Deco bank building over a two-year period and opened the aptly named restaurant, Branch, and adjacent downstairs bar Night Drop. Branch is a much more ambitious venture in food, service and ambiance than their original eatery, Northside’s Littlefield, although we can thank chef Shoshannah Anderson for creating the delicious menus in both places. Dinner choices are presented in two columns, “Shares” and “Stocks,” a play on the building’s history. It was the shares — or smaller plates — that knocked me out. Over the course of two visits, I and my companions tried almost all the smaller plates, and we were delighted by the variety of savory dishes among the starter choices. What to order: Our favorites included a pork belly and vegetable dumpling — a few tender but chewy crescent-shaped pasta pillows covered lightly in an umami-rich miso broth. Two other hits were roasted sunchokes and curry roasted cauliflower. 1535 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, eatatbranch.com. — PAMA MITCHELL

Hearing a Boogie-Woogie tune on the piano while sipping a craft cocktail on a brightly furnished patio with a magnolia tree in view — you wouldn’t even have to squint to think you were in New Orleans. The atmosphere and cuisine at BrewRiver Creole Kitchen brings the spirit of the Crescent City to Cincinnati in a stately 150-year-old building on Eastern Avenue. From 2011 until 2018, owner Joby Bowman and chef Michael Shields ran BrewRiver GastroPub on nearby Riverside Drive before deciding to branch out to a 200-seat restaurant with a 35-seat patio. Shields, who earned his chops under Emeril Lagasse, has added new items to the menu — broiled oysters, fried green tomatoes with a pecan cornmeal crust and bread pudding for dessert — but kept his focus on Creole cuisine. What to order: Pasta Monica. Pasta Monica is inspired by the wildly popular Crawfish Monica from New Orleans Jazz Fest. The plump shrimp are generously coated in a Creole cream sauce, which manages to pack a major flavor punch without burning one’s tongue off. 4632 Eastern Ave., East End, brewrivercreolekitchen.com.— LL

Fausto, in the lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center, is the latest offering from the Ferrari brothers — Tony and Austin — and their expanding local food service empire. The menu is contemporary and upbeat and honestly feels like the culinary equivalent of the light that streams into Fausto’s seating area through the CAC’s massive panes of glass. A heightened brunch, lunch or dinner experience, for sure — not many places are serving trout roe on potatoes — but one that safely resists pretension. Tony describes Fausto’s food as “California cuisine” with splashes of citrus and extra-virgin olive oil, not full of fat or butter. Breakfast features several egg and toast options, yogurt and granola and that aforementioned trout roe, which is served on the cleverly named “potatoes and eggs.” The lunch menu has plenty of light and crisp salads and sandwiches. But dinner offerings feel more involved. There is a three-course selection, or several individual entrОes, appetizers, pasta and dessert. What to order: The chicken salad is perhaps the best of the salads and sandwiches, at least in my pragmatic mind, because it marries the two in one great offering. 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, faustoatthecac.com. — LEYLA SHOKOOHE

Appealing to residents on either side of the Ohio River, Fairfield Market brings coffee, cocktails, locally sourced snacks on pretty plates and a sun-dappled workspace to Bellevue’s main drag. The decor blends Midcentury Modern with a Palm Desert vibe, mixing original terrazzo with contemporary furniture and plenty of outlets for charging electronics. Fairfield operates around a fast-casual concept, offering bites, which are ordered at the bar, alongside drinks, starting with coffee service in the morning and lunch, followed by beer, wine, cocktails and snacks in the evening. There’s also Sunday brunch. What to order: Definitely a cocktail. The streamlined drink menu is fiercely seasonal and offers fresh twists on classics. Grab an old fashioned if you’re feeling traditional or a bright and peppery creation while you snack on a build-your-own charcuterie board. 700 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, thefairfieldbellevue.com. — SAMI STEWART

Helmed by Dan Wright and his wife Lana (of Senate, Abigail Street and Pontiac), Holiday Spirits and its in-house eatery Forty Thieves evoke the vibe of a dive bar and serve a menu of Middle Eastern street food. You can order your falafel or shawarma either from a walk-up window facing Liberty Street or inside Holiday Spirits itself. What to order: Go for the falafel over hummus, which is worthy of an entire article dedicated to its deliciousness. The falafel — crisp with a pillowy center — is served with charred tomato and shishito peppers, red onion and pickled radish. Pair it with the tomato soup. 1538 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/fortythievesgang. — SEAN M. PETERS

The owners of Ludlow Garage, Dave and Claudia Taylor, have renovated a historic building across the street and opened the Gaslight Bar & Grill in the old Clifton branch of the public library. It serves lunch and dinner, includes an expansive bar with a dozen seats and debuted Clifton’s first rooftop patio. Chef/General Manager Kevin Worthington and his team have put together the dinner, lunch and drinks menus toward what I would characterize as straight-ahead American comfort food with a few high-end flourishes. You can get soups, salads and sandwiches or try pricier pasta entrОes or meat/seafood dishes. Dinner is Gaslight’s strong suit, along with giving the neighborhood the best bar it’s had over my 20-year time as a resident. Two of the three apps met with everyone’s approval: the excellent fried oysters and what the menu listed as a “beet plate” — very thinly sliced red and yellow beets with a large-ish serving of mild creamy cheese and balsamic drizzle. What to order: The Greek spaghetti, nicely al dente and boasting hearty flavors of tomato, olives, onion and feta. We took a staffer’s advice when choosing dessert: He said the bread pudding was the bomb. This one surpassed my expectations. 351 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, gaslightbarandgrillclifton.com. — PM

Goose & Elder is quite different from chef Jose Salazar’s first two restaurants — Salazar and Mita’s — which serve up rather elevated, somewhat pricey fare that makes them once-in-awhile treats for most of us. And yet as executive chef, his creativity comes across just as clearly at Goose & Elder as his team works with less rarified ingredients. (Sydney Fisher is chef but Salazar himself greets patrons and puts finishing touches on just about every plate coming out of the kitchen.) Memorable, signature dishes have become a Salazar trademark. A savory, fall-off-the-bone duck leg confit over grits was the first dish I tried within days of Goose & Elder’s opening and it was marvelous. The last time I tried it, however, the meat was tough — but it still has the potential to be my go-to meal here. My dining companions and I enjoyed most of the other food we tried, from an appetizer of bone marrow with grilled bread — rich and delicious — to an entrОe of chicken schnitzel with perfectly-cooked, buttered noodles and a special dessert, cherry bread pudding. What to order: Duck leg confit. The duck rests in a pool of buttery grits alongside a generous portion of bacon-braised Southern greens — flavors that complement each other beautifully. 1800 Race St., Over-the-Rhine/Findlay Market, gooseandelder.com. — PM

Tucked away in the Cincinnati suburbs, Joe’s Pizza Napoli is a worth-the-drive dining destination no matter where you live in the city. Owner Joe Nunner wanted to go about this whole pizza business the right way, so he was certified by Vera Pizza Napoletana, a group of Italian pizza makers who ensure anyone that claims they’re making Neapolitan-style pizza is doing so authentically. Even the tap list has a taste of Italy. Moretti Beer is a light pilsner with a fresh, clean taste that pairs well with everything on the menu. Especially pizza. One 12-inch pizza yields eight slices. In addition to the pizza, we ordered a caprese salad: the cherry tomatoes were perfectly dressed in olive oil and sliced basil and the kitchen was generous with the mozzarella balls. Along with masterful pizzas (both red and white varieties), there are green salads, calzones, meatballs and cannelloni. What to order: On our table was a Roma pizza with sausage and pepperoni from Columbus-based Ezzo Sausage Co. The pepperoni cup and char perfectly on Joe’s pizza after their time in the oven. The dough was thin, but not overly crisp despite the beautiful coloration from the fire, and the cheese was flavorful and held a wonderful texture. 507 Chamber Drive, Milford, joespizzanapoli.com. — SMP

Karrikin combines a distillery, brewery, bar and restaurant in a gigantic former warehouse located in Fairfax. Once we settled in, the first order of business at a distillery and brewery — quite naturally — was to decide what to drink. The three-page beverage menu starts with a description of the spirits made in-house. Below that are house cocktails and a few mocktails featuring housemade non-alcoholic sodas and shrubs. If none of that suits your mood or taste, page two covers Karrikin’s own draft beers and hard pop, and after that a short list of wine offerings. We tried items from up and down the menu — everything from beef heart pastrami with sauerkraut fritters to shaved Brussels sprouts and apple salad and sliced pork shoulder with polenta and kohlrabi. What to order: My hands-down favorite combined creamy, roasted cauliflower with crunchy grains — not sure if it was rice or quinoa — in a savory sauce. I’m all about texture contrasts and appreciate something crunchy in almost any dish, sweet or savory. 3717 Jonlen Drive, Fairfax, karrikinspirits.com. — PM

Kiki owners Hideki and Yuko Harada have created their dream restaurant in an old corner bank on Hamilton Avenue. While they built out the space, Hideki and his two sous chefs, Jordan Ellerhorst and Alex Brackett, spent a-year-and-a-half hosting pop-up ramen nights at the Northside Yacht Club. Hideki, Ellerhorst and Brackett are all veterans of Over-the-Rhine’s Kaze; Hideki was the former owner/chef of the Japanese gastropub. There are nine appetizers and two varieties of ramen on the current Kiki menu — that’s it. But it isn’t lacking. Veg-heads and meat lovers can dine in harmony here, and there’s an option for gluten-free noodles. The two ramen choices are shio ramen, a chicken broth with pork belly, negi (a Japanese green onion), a tea-marinated egg and rayu (chili oil); and kimchi ramen, featuring housemade kimchi, tofu, negi and a tea-marinated egg. To warm up your pre-ramen palate, try the shishito peppers crowned with fluffy shreds of parmesan cheese or the edamame that comes piled high and deep and tossed in sea salt or tare. Don’t expect to have ramen leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. You likely won’t need a to-go container after a meal here, but you can plan on leaving comfortably full. What to order: The curry pan, a sort of fried bread or dumpling which Hideki has described as a “curry donut,” with potato, onion and carrot. 5932 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, kikicincinnati.com.— SS

There’s no denying that the folks behind Libby’s Southern Comfort have impressive bona fides in the poultry arts. The owners of this entry into Covington’s flourishing restaurant scene claim not just a family history of chicken expertise but a professional one to boot, with a lineage going back decades. Butch Wainscott owns the Greyhound Tavern in Fort Mitchell, which has maintained a reputation for exceptional chicken dinners throughout the 30-plus years that he’s been at the helm. This year, his son, Brad, fired up the fat in Covington and opened Libby’s, which pays tribute Southern classics with a Charleston slant. Appetizers include fried green tomatoes and goetta hush puppies and mains range from an oyster po’ boy and a pork belly BLT to a plate of fried oysters, a decadent open-faced sandwich called Charlie Brown, meatloaf and shrimp and grits. Look for a full menu of bourbon drinks and desserts like oatmeal cream pies. What to order: Chicken dinners keep tradition alive here. You must try the fried chicken. 35 W. Eighth St., Covington, libbyssoutherncomfort.com. — PM

While this place has become a Northside mainstay since opening about five years ago, a new chef and menu made me think it’s a good time to delve into what’s changed and what hasn’t in recent months. When chef Shoshannah Anderson took over the Littlefield Group’s Branch in East Walnut Hills, they hired Joe Stalf to oversee food service at the Littlefield and neighboring bar Second Place. When I asked him how his cooking differs from Anderson’s, he said that while they share many values, his tastes lean toward combining elements of both Southern and Asian cuisines. For instance, the Littlefield’s new brunch menu abounds with Southern dishes such as fried-chicken biscuits and shrimp and grits, a hickory-smoked pork tostada with Memphis-style barbecue sauce at lunch, and for dinner, the chicken and corn chowder with cornbread feels about as down-home as you can get. As for the Asian influences, I think that’s where Stalf’s cooking really shines. What to order: The Smoked Pork Katsu might be one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. He smokes a whole loin with a crust of togarashi, a Japanese spice blend. Next, he cuts the loin into half-inch slices, coats the slices with panko and pan-fries them for crispness. It’s topped with katsu — a Japanese curry sauce — blended with a housemade barbecue sauce. The plate is finished with a cooling slaw made from thinly sliced veggies — local Napa cabbage, red cabbage and carrots — and dressed with a ginger/basil/lime vinaigrette enriched with sesame oil. Spectacular. 3934 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, littlefieldns.com. — PM

The casual dining destination takes a simple concept — quality food at an affordable price — and elevates it with Southwestern flair and retro decor. From Gorilla Cinema Presents, Lonely Pine is the first foray into food service for the company and is less focused on blatantly paying homage to a film, though there are clues for those on the hunt for Easter eggs. There are nods to Back to the Future hidden throughout. Steaks are dry-aged with shareable sides like au gratin potatoes. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s options like kettle corn creme brulee and a pecan brownie. What to order: The New York strip, dry-aged in house for 30 days. An aggressive sear yields a perfectly cooked medium-rare center. You can order a pad of garlic butter on the side, but the seasoning on the beef is so well applied that it’s unnecessary. 6085 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, lonelypinesteakhouse.com. — SMP

Billing itself as a “boutique steakhouse,” Losanti — from the team behind Crown Republic Gastropub — has revamped the space near Washington Park that used to be The Anchor-OTR and given the area a meat-centric menu unlike anything in Cincinnati’s hottest neighborhood. As you would expect, the menu is heavy on meat choices, from steaks to chops, a burger and a chicken entrОe. The three types of steak — filet, New York strip and ribeye — are priced by the ounce. We tried two cuts of steak — the smallest filet they had that night and a strip — each served with a head of roasted garlic and half a lemon. The filet was almost fork-tender, but the strip packed more flavor thanks to its higher fat content. The 12-ounce frenched pork chop tasted great, too, and I liked the fact that it came with braised kale, carrots and a few tablespoons of mostarda — a fruit compote in a mustard-flavored syrup. What to order: Among appetizers and sides, the creamed kale stands out as an improvement on most steakhouse creamed spinach sides; the sauce was creamy without being heavy and the baby kale was tender and flavorful. 1401 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, losantiotr.com.— PM

Inspired by the vibrancy of Mexico City, Centro still serves the classics — tacos and tostadas, tequila and Topo Chico. But a handful of dishes exclusive to this Mazunte location were added to the menu, namely tortas and tlayudas (imagine a love child between a Mexican pizza and a giant loaded nacho). Out-the-door-tacos for those on their lunch break and lingering evenings sipping tequila are both served with the same warm hospitality. Although folks in Mexico indulge in a leisurely meal and siesta midday and grab street tacos at night, Americans are more accustomed to working through lunch and partying after dark. Mazunte serves Mexico City food on a Cincinnati schedule. What to order: The impressive chicharron de queso. Literally translated to “cheese cracklings,” it’s a disc of shredded cheese wrapped around a wine bottle and fried. Don’t be alarmed when a foot-tall cheese tube arrives at your table; be amazed. It’s an excellent two-for-one deal — snap some off and dip it in salsa roja or salsa verde (both if you’re bold) or crumble it over the tlayuda for an added crunch factor. 611 Main St., Downtown, centro.mazuntetacos.com. — SS

As a hotel restaurant, Metropole serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and most of my experiences here have been at dinner. The restaurant has gone through some upheaval recently after executive chef Jared Bennett left to help open Karrikin Spirits Co. in Fairfax, taking a few Metropole staffers with him. I’ll have to admit that I was a little worried that the quality might decline after Bennett’s departure. On board since early this year, new executive chef David Kelsey has been with the 21c company for several years and brings continuity rather than change, which is a good thing when what you’ve got is mighty fine to start with. A few signature items remain prominent on the dinner menu, such as the charcuterie option and the burnt carrot salad (our server said that one would never go away). You still finish your meal with a complimentary bowl of lemony cotton candy, even if you’ve already scarfed down the famous house dessert, the Metropole candy bar. What to order: Roasted Brussels sprouts. They were rich and cooked to a creamy consistency and accented with some of Metropole’s unforgettable smoked butter, which also comes with the complimentary Blue Oven bread basket. 609 Walnut St., Downtown, metropoleonwalnut.com. — PM

One side of the shared space at 2014 Elm St. offers glowing neon signs, ’80s music videos and pizza by the slice via Mikey’s Late Night Slice, while the other side houses an old-school bar, classic cocktails and walls full of antique finds at Oddfellows Liquor Bar, all perfectly curated for guests’ Instagram feeds. Mikey’s Late Night Slice serves a blend of Ohio/New York-style pizza and “unpretentious classic cocktails.” The Columbus-based pizzeria marries Ohio’s love of toppings, crispy edges and a good mozzarella-provolone blend with New York’s iconic adult-human-face-sized triangle-shaped slices, thinner crust and tangy, slightly spicy tomato sauce. Late Night Slice strives to serve all people: vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diners are welcome here. What to order: With the “late night” nod in the name, Mikey’s offers classic “drunk food.” Order one of the Sacraments — a list of outrageous pizza bastardizations. The Pizza Dawg is a butterflied hot dog stuffed with pepperoni and cheese and served with a pizza as the bun. The Cheezus Crust and the Baby Cheezus are grilled cheese sandwiches with pizza instead of bread; the Baby Cheezus is slightly less overwhelming in size but “every bit as blasphemalicious.” 2014 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, latenightslice.com. — SS

Mom ‘n ‘em is a passion project four years in the making for the Ferrari brothers, Tony and Austin and a tribute to mom Theresa. Located in a former 1890s home, Mom ‘n ‘em acts as a third place, with a diverse offering of wines and coffee, tinned fish varieties, cheeses, cured meats, pastries from North South Baking, the “Dirty Nati” Egg Samich and more, including toasties. Mom ‘n ‘em also has a full liquor license with cocktails like a classic negroni and Manhattan, and a smart selection of beer in their cooler. They were recently named one of the best coffeeshops in the country by Food & Wine magazine. What to order: The anchovy toastie comes on thick slices of local Allez country loaf, generously swiped with homemade salsa verde, atop which rest silver strips of previously-tinned anchovies, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and doused with a sprinkling of Aleppo chili. 3128 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, momnemcoffee.com. — LS

The brainchild from the team behind Pleasantry OTR occupies its own space in the local Venn diagram of chicken, fast-casual and heat factor. Separating Money Chicken from the easy assignation of “hot chicken” joint is their signature spice rub they employ on all of their chicken dishes, which include The Money Chicken sandwich, tenders and wings. Their chicken comes from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is hormone, steroid and antibiotic-free, and definitely tasted juicier than any fast-chicken I’ve had to date. Also available on the menu are two salads, a vegetarian sandwich and two kids’ meals. What to order: The Money Chicken Sandwich is served with large, crisp pickle rounds and a dollop of mayo hiding underneath a sturdy potato bun. The spicy honey pleasantly enhances all elements of the sandwich — spice factor, texture — and I recommend getting it every time. I also want to applaud the sturdy potato bun choice (from Klosterman) that didn’t disintegrate halfway through the meal. 300 E. Seventh St., Downtown, moneychicken.co. — LS

Oakley Wines started as a boutique bottle shop just off the main drag. And then it became more than a neighborhood hang when upward of 100 people started stopping in for Friday-night wine tastings. Recently taken over by the owners of The Rhined cheese shop — Dave and Stephanie Webster — the bar has been featuring a new food menu overseen by chef Lydia Jackman. Oakley Wines had featured a small plates menu since before the ownership change but putting food front-and-center at the wine bar was one of the Websters’ new priorities. Jackman focuses on creating a seasonal “multi-cultural experience where you can eat French, Italian and German-inspired dishes,” paired with Oakley’s glass or bottle list. What to order: Stephanie has a few favorites despite discovering constant novelty and seasonality in Jackman’s cooking. “The mushroom toast is so good, it has so much umami, so meaty and filling and savory,” she says. “It’s like you’d think there was meat, but it’s vegan.” 4011 Allston St., Oakley, oakleywines.com. — LL

This fall, brothers Bao and Duy Nguyen got the chance to move their original Pho Lang Thang restaurant from the cramped, Findlay Market location to a newly renovated building a stone’s throw away on Race Street. The new space is stunning, and such an upgrade from the original Pho Lang Thang that you feel like you’re almost in a different universe. The market location served only soft drinks and strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee, still available here, but now you can select from a dozen draft beers, many more suds in cans and bottles and a short but carefully selected list of wines by the glass or bottle. Don’t overlook their playful, Asian-accented cocktail list, either. The food is conveniently adaptable for meat lovers, flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans — not to mention those who avoid gluten or lactose. What to order: Banh mi bo, a sandwich with strips of tender beef, crunchy fresh vegetable strips such as carrots and zucchini. I’ve always loved those sandwiches and that’s what I invariably ordered at the original Pho Lang Thang location. The spectacularly fresh, yeasty baguette that surrounds those ingredients harkens back to the French colonial influence in Southeast Asia and is a perfectly delicious combination of cultures. 1828 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, pholangthang.com. — PM

Ripple Wine Bar is one of those sweet little spots that hits all the right notes: good wine, lots of it, paired with good food. The bar offers 40 varietals by the glass or half glass, bottle or half bottle and also does a half-bottle happy hour for gun-shy consumers or folks dining solo. The menu’s overall vibe is laid-back — a true “California kitchen,” with wine-friendly food that is seasonally inspired. Look for items like choose-your-own charcuterie with Urban Stead cheese. What to order: The beef wellington popovers. The juicy little pastry packets are stuffed with beef and surrounded by a mushroom duxelle, with a pert tarragon aioli to balance the meatiness. Chef Will Smith goes through about 25 pounds of short rib a week to create the popovers, braising “the crap out of it” in red wine, garlic and shallots until it’s fork tender. 4 W. Pike St., Covington, ripplewinebar.com. — LS

A nonprofit venture owned by the Corporation for Findlay Market, Social OTR not only nails its ambitious New American menu but also aims to fill a multitude of societal and business needs in our community. Social OTR “teaches people looking for employment the necessary skills to get restaurant jobs” in partnership with CityLink, a faith-based nonprofit organization that works on multiple fronts to combat poverty. The restaurant actually is a two-in-one, with a front eatery and back bar featuring different decor and service styles but the same menu of snacks and shareables. And libations shine brightly. Whether you prefer tequila, rye, gin or any other spirit, the house cocktail list has you covered. What to order: A piping-hot and generous portion of pappardelle pasta. 1819 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, socialotr.com. — PM

Omar Garcia grew up on a family farm in Michoacan, Mexico and learned how to make corn tortillas the old-fashioned way from his mother and grandmother. Garcia has committed to honoring his family’s culinary history and his restaurants uncompromisingly follow the family recipe for fresh tortillas — never using flour or preservatives. Garcia’s menu consists of straightforward Mexican classics like tamales, burritos, housemade salsas and rotisserie chicken, in addition to tacos, plus his classic tortilla shells are available in two-pound packs so you can make your own inspired creations at home. What to order: Tamales. Made with the same masa as the tortillas and wrapped in corn husks, tamales are extremely portable and make an excellent take-out option. The spicy carnitas tamales with hot salsa are a perfect marriage of flavor and texture (just make sure your body is ready for some serious heat), while the pollo tamales with verde salsa are ideal for picky eaters — simple, straightforward. 5917 Hamilton Ave., College Hill; 11774 Springfield Pike, Springdale, tortilleriagarcia.us. — SMP

Owner Sarah Dworak pays tribute to her Ukrainian heritage not only with the decor but also through her drink and food menus. Vodka — the “w” is simply an Eastern European spelling and is pronounced like an English “v” — represents the iconic spirit of that part of the world, and Dworak wants to enlighten people who don’t appreciate its complexities. Before opening Wodka Bar, Dworak had already developed a following for her pierogies — palm-sized steamed potato-based turnovers with various fillings — at Babushka Pierogies. You can try them, along with a several other items on the bar’s food menu, while sipping spirits and cocktails. The drink menu includes a rotating selection of infused vodkas as well as a couple of vodka flights with either an infusion theme or four different types of “plain” vodkas. Bar snacks are mandatory, of course, but forget about french fries and beer cheese. Instead, you can chase your shots with caviar in puff pastry, a kielbasa bowl or smoked trout in cream sauce. What to order: One of the current charcuterie-style platters featuring options like smoked kielbasa, farmers cheese, house pickles, dill butter and rye bread from nearby Allez bakery. 1200 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, wodkabarotr.com. — PM

Open since Mother’s Day 1975, Yum Yum was Cincinnati’s first Sichuan-Hunan style restaurant. (Sichuan- or Szechuan-style cuisine comes from southwestern China and incorporates a lot of heat and garlic.) Dining here is best enjoyed slowly — and with patience — to allot enough time to relish every quirky piece of history. The dishes that were typewritten into the menu decades ago are still served for dinner — Yum Yum Mein, Sichuan Pepper Steak, and Ding Dong Chicken are crowd favorites, and prix fixe dinners haven’t gone out of style just yet. Yum Yum is only open from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and the business hours are regarded more as a suggestion than a rule. The restaurant is also cash only. What to order: A prix fixe for two runs just over $40 and starts off with hot and sour soup with its mОlange of textures ranging from soft tofu to crunchy scallions and an order of egg rolls fresh from the fryer. Next comes the Yum Yum Jumbo Shrimp and an order of Ding Dong Chicken, both served in silver platters accompanied by a cup of perfectly domed steamed rice. 909 Race St., Downtown, 513-721-7705. — SS

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You’ve probably been eating ramen the wrong way as long as you’ve been eating it. But before you panic, it’s OK. Ramen is fast food in Japan and embodying the concept of swift satisfaction is something at which Zundo excels. Zundo, which means “big pot” in Japanese, has a small but fierce menu comprising four ramens with different broths, 10 donburis, a thoughtful smattering of appetizers and a few desserts. Zundo’s traditional tonkatsu broth takes 14 hours; they also offer miso pork broth and a vegetarian version. What to order: The piece de resistance of the ramen menu is the insider’s version: order the vegetarian miso ramen, request it spicy and add an egg and pork belly. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of all the other ramens, dragging in each of the best bits of the others and leaving your stomach in a state of near-bliss. 220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, zundootr.com. — LS

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