Chili is a hot topic that is debated in at least five regions of the United States. When it comes to the best chili in the country, it is generally claimed that Texas is home to some of the best styles of meat only. When it comes to chili in the Northeast, there are rumors of secret ingredients that help make the best – and any ingredient that adds flavor or spice isn’t off limits. However, when visiting Cincinnati, the chili style is clear: four ways with onions, cheese, and chili, all stacked on a plate of spaghetti.
“Isn’t that technically a meat sauce?” One might ask, but the overwhelming answer (which usually comes with a rolling of the eyes) is “no”. Because in Cincinnati, chili is a way of life, and according to Reddit, these restaurants are undefeated to this day.
The Story Behind Cincinnati Chili
Cincinnati’s history is as unique as the dish itself. The story goes that in 1922, a man named Tom Kiradjieff, who came from Macedonia to the United States, opened a Greek restaurant with his brother. While the restaurant itself wasn’t a big hit, one dish saved the day: Cincinnati chili. The Middle Eastern spice blend used in chili made it tasty and bold, which was something new and exciting when it comes to a traditional chili recipe.
This chili was served in several ways, the most popular being “five ways”: spaghetti as a base topped with chili, red beans, chopped onions and cheese. The accompaniments that came with this dish were usually hot dogs topped with cheese and oyster crackers, just for good measure.
Where to find the best Cincinnati-style chili
Obviously, the best place to start is none other than Cincinnati. This city is home to many chili salons, but not all of them claim the title of being the ultimate in chili dining. When it comes to the best in town, Reddit has some pretty strong opinions on which ones deserve the top spot. If the bold, meaty, and slightly spicy chili flavor of the best of Cincinnati is what a person is looking for, here’s where to go first.
Best overall: Skyline Chili
Skyline Chili first opened in 1949, more than 20 years after Cincinnati Chile had already existed and started to make a big impression. However, it is this restaurant that seems to have practically perfected the recipe as it is highly touted by almost everyone in Cincinnati. Nicholas Lambrinides, the owner of Skyline Chile, learned from his mother who incorporated much of their Greek origin into the family’s cooking.
It’s that same love for Greek ingredients and flavors that has made Skyline Chile one of the best chili resorts in the city and in Ohio. Today the restaurant is located in four different states with 136 franchised restaurants in total. The recipe is always kept a secret but can also be served in five different ways, just as it was always meant to be. Those in the mood for a chili dog will be happy to know that this is another menu alternative to classic spaghetti.
- Must try: Either chili dog or five ways spaghetti with chopped onions, beans and cheddar cheese.
Finalist: Camp Washington
Another popular chili restaurant, both on Reddit and in general, is Camp Washington. This restaurant is not only historic in its menu, but also historic in its chili offerings, as the dining establishment’s location is on a site of preparations for the war against Mexico in the 1840s. Camp Washington has been open since 1940 and has seen many decades of history, including WWII, when it made a huge impression. This impression continued to grow so massively that Camp Washington was named one of America’s most iconic dining destinations by Smithsonian magazine.
Today Camp Washington serves chili dishes just like 60 years ago. With an occasional twist, like taking inspiration from classic German cuisine, guests can expect a traditional Cincinnati chili experience. According to Reddit, the battle is still on between Skyline Chile and Camp Washington fans, but our recommendation? Try both.
- Must try: Goetta, a German-style chili made with German breakfast sausages, chili, chopped onions, beans and cheese.
Fancy more Cincinnati chili suggestions? Other restaurants known for their chili (in no particular order) as mentioned by Reddit include:
- Goldstar Pepper
- Blue ash
- Hill Chile Award
- Chili Pleasant Ridge
- Empress Chile
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