An Editor’s Guide To Cincinnati’s Best Downtown Lunches


So, you’re downtown, it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. Now you have to make the all-too-important decision of just where you’re going to scarf down some delicious food before you have to get back to work or get on with your otherwise busy life. There are certainly plenty of choices for you, but only a few can deliver exactly what you’re looking for. Luckily for you, we’re located right in the heart of downtown, so we know exactly where you need to be eating.

For Mexican:

Taqueria Mercado 

Looking to head south of the border without heading south of the border for lunch? It doesn’t get better than a quick pop in at Taqueria Mercado for the best tacos you’re going to find downtown. Their guac is always fresh, and the margaritas always loaded. They have plenty of regulars due to their great deals on tacos and ensuring the fact that they make everything as fresh as possible.


Oh, and you can’t leave without trying all of their house-made sauces. The spiciest, in the red bottle, is nothing short of perfection on their Fish Tacos. The Al Pastor will always be our favorite, though.


This place is literally in the middle of everything. Only a block away from Fountain Square sits one of the classiest Mexican restaurants that you’ll ever experience. Before you wolf down some of their delicious fish tacos, you’ll have the option of trying one of their Mexican imports at the bar. Our personal recommendation is Pacifico with one of their meaty tacos, especially the Crispy Pork Belly. They just complement each other so well!


If tacos aren’t your thing, though, their Steak Fajitas are absolutely out of this world. The blend of fresh, locally-sourced veggies and high-quality steak comes together to grant you everything you could ever want from a fine Mexican meal, but don’t forget to grab some chips, because their guac is always fresh.


For Pizza:

Lucy Blue

Mmmm, pizza… but who wants that over-processed sh*t that the bigger names are putting out? The good news is that you can still get high-quality pizza without having to pay a ridiculous price. They have one of the best lunch specials in the area, where you can get two slices of pizza and a pop for only $5. Yeah, you heard us, only $5! That’s especially crazy considering the fact that you’re downtown, where most meals will cost you over $10 for something that most likely won’t even fill you up. Honestly, you can just stick with the pepperoni and you’ll never go wrong.



Speaking of great lunch specials, you can get the same deal at another pizza joint only a few blocks away. We couldn’t choose between both of these pizza spots, because the styles are so different, but we can confirm the fact that both are on top of their game. Another sick thing about Rusconi is the fact that you can unwind with a few video games after you wolf down your first two slices. We won’t even blame you for grabbing another two, because we couldn’t resist ourselves.


Even if you’re not planning on heading out to grab a meal, you could still stop by their in the evenings for some pretty excellent drink specials and plenty of food deals. Our personal favorite is their Monday Wing Night, where you can chow down on fifty cent wings. What an amazing deal…


For Italian:


Looking to load up on carbs over your lunch break? Well, we can guarantee that Scotti’s is the best place for that when you’re downtown. After 100 years of operation, Scotti’s has stuck with the same family recipes that have been passed down for generations. Authentic Italian is hard to come by in a sea of fakers, but you can be assured that this family-run operation will give you only the best. The quaint little shop is located close to everything, and has the best Scallopini Ala Porti to ever grace the earth. It’s definitely a smaller operation, but people love it. You’re about to fall in love too.


Trattoria Roma: 

You want to talk about plenty of unbelievable deals for lunch… how about the amount of options that this place has for filling lunches, all under $10. All you have to do is check in on Foursquare. Loading up on carbs has never been so cheap and delicious. Even their lasagna, one of the most simple items on their menu, alongside with a glass of wine, is absolutely perfect for someone looking for an up-to-date Italian spot.

We had a tough time choosing between all of their items, but ultimately decide that the best item for lunch was their Tilapia Al’agro, which was just light enough to not bog us down for the rest of the day, but still packed with flavor.


For Sandwiches:


What makes a relaxing lunch even better? Grabbing some fresh air with some patio dining. Instead of being couped up inside, you get the chance to take a little time to stretch out a little bit on a sunny day. They also have an excellent selection of beers if you’re trying to ease the tension a little bit, but the real treat is their short list of sandwiches. Every one of them offers something unique, but definitely worth a try every time.


If you haven’t heard of a Salmon Patty Po Boy before, you’re never going to forget it after stopping in for one at Arnold’s. We’re not quite sure how they go about making something as simple as a salmon patty go so far, but it’s an amazing deal. Even if you’re not looking for a sandwich, they still have another bargain in their Fried Cod. Fishy lunches have never been so good.



For Burgers:

Paula’s Cafe

So, it’s kind of odd that there aren’t more unique spots for a lunchtime burger when you’re downtown, but Paula’s is a little diner that delivers plenty of taste on every one of their burgers to satisfy our cravings. A favorite among the business crowd, Paula’s has risen to its current popularity due to their friendly staff and low prices, but we were definitely shocked when we laid eyes on their pride and joy.

Heavenly music seemed to be playing as they brought her out. That beautiful patty seemed to be winking at us as they placed her on the table in front of us. Yes, we were enamored by the Angus Chuck Burger. That goes without talking about the salty goodness of their fries. If you’re looking for the best diner food downtown, this is the spot for you.


For Vegetarian:

Park + Vine

Not a fan of gargantuan, meaty burgers nor fishy tacos and sandwiches? Luckily there’s a great option for all of the green-friendly folks out there, or those simply looking to eat on the healthier side during their lunch breaks. Featuring everything from vegan-friendly burgers to a delicious dessert section, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing. Oh, and the best news? Healthy foods actually do taste good!


There’s a store of options for the on-the-go diner, but our favorite is definitely their unique selection of hardy, healthy burgers. Some think of veggie burgers and get turned away, but they have a consistently rotating burger menu. One of our personal favorites was the Beer Burger, which featured many of the spices they put in many of our favorite beers. Yeah, it’s pretty incredible, what they do with their burgers.


For Something Different

Cheapside Cafe

It’s not every day that you get to enjoy beer from a keg. It’s also not every day that you get to try a soda created right in Cincinnati with a whole lot of all-natural, local ingredients. Luckily, Cheapside is here to break the boring everyday routine with something fun and unique. It’s much more than the drinks, though, because they have a plethora of both breakfast and sandwiches for the masses to enjoy for lunch.


While every one of their sandwiches looked delicious, it was one of their breakfast items, the Challah French Toast, that captivated us. Featuring the scrumptious trio of candied pecans, whipped butter, and maple syrup, it tasted like something we could only have dreamed of. The best part is the fact that they serve breakfast all throughout the day. Who doesn’t love a little brunch here and there?


Cafe De Paris: 

You won’t find many places that serve French food in Cincinnati, let alone the downtown area, but you’ll find everything from Crepes to Quiche at Cafe De Paris. Not only that, but they have plenty of salad options for those eating on the greener or lighter sides. Even if you’re just looking for pastries, you’re going to find more than enough options, but that Nutella Crepe… let’s just stay we’re fantasizing about it.

If you’re looking to get something a little different, though, you have to try their Mussels. They may not be for everyone, but they’re light, and perfect if you’re trying to switch things up a bit.


For Asian:

Quan Hapa 

How many Asian gastropubs are there in Cincinnati? We’re going to go with one. Not only do they have the interesting, eclectic atmosphere that many people desire, but they also have quite a few unique twists on items that most would never even think of trying. Then there’s also the “Gastropub” part, meaning they have a sick selection of beers for you to try while you’re enjoying that amazing food.

It may sound crazy, but we still have to say that the best item on their entire menu has to be their Hapa Wings. Unique, full of various tastes, and an interesting mix between sweet and tangy is exactly what the doctor ordered for lunch with a twist. Plenty of craft beer, fascinating twists on Asian cuisine, and a contemporary vibe make this one of the best all-around experiences for Cincinnati lunches.


Shanghai Mamas:

Is there ever a bad time for Pad Thai? The answer is no. Shanghai Mamas just makes it better than anyone Downtown. It’s close to everything, and draws in a consistent clientele due to it’s dedication to having a little of something for everyone. You want something spicier, they’ve got it. You want something vegetarian, they’ve got it. Pretty much we’re saying that you can’t go wrong by stopping in for lunch. Their Pad Thai really never lets us down.