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The sign on top of a restaurant exterior, with the word ‘chili’ extending upward in red letters above ‘Camp Washington Chili’.
Outside Camp Washington Chili.
Hailey Bollinger/Eater

The 10 Best Chili Parlors in Cincinnati

From the original Empress Chili founded in 1922 to chains like Skyline and Gold Star, here’s where to eat chili in Cincinnati

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Outside Camp Washington Chili.
| Hailey Bollinger/Eater

Cincinnati chili dates back a century to Empress Chili, a parlor run by Macedonian brothers John and Tom Kiradjieff. According to lore, the brothers were serving a Bolognese-like meat sauce over spaghetti, until a customer suggested topping it with cheddar. A classic was born — one that would forever confuddle visitors to the Queen City.

The confusion starts with the appearance: It’s served as a sauce or a topping, primarily over heaping plates of spaghetti or hot dogs, both typically finished with shredded cheddar. Then there’s the Greek-influenced spice mixture — cinnamon, cumin, allspice, oregano, cloves, chili powder — which creates a sweet, spicy flavor beloved by locals but controversial outside of the Midwest (and that’s putting it generously — its detractors are loath to call it chili at all).

Then there’s the language barrier. You can walk into any one of the more than 300 chili parlors in Cincinnati — each with its own variation on the recipe — and order using the same terms. Chili over spaghetti is called a “way,” and the standard is a three-way: spaghetti topped with chili and cheddar. A two-way omits the cheese, a four-way typically adds either onions or kidney beans, and a five-way throws it all on. A coney, the other dish found at just about every chili parlor, consists of a hot dog topped with chili and cheese, often served with mustard and onions. Leave off the hot dog and you have a chili cheese sandwich (served in a bun). Chili parlors are also known for high-stacked sandwiches and deli offerings, along with hamburgers and — in a nod to the Greek heritage of many owners — gyros.

The Cincinnati chili scene is dominated by two large chains, Skyline and Gold Star, but neighborhood chili parlors dot the city, including some that trace their lineages back to Empress. Each musters its own army of fans claiming that it is the city’s best. Any of the options on this list makes a great choice — just don’t ask for Texas chili or chili con carne.

Andy Brownfield has covered the bar and restaurant scene in Cincinnati for nine years. His work for the Cincinnati Business Courier can be found here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

The Chili Hut

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Owner Fadi Khalilieh — whose family owned the now-shuttered JK’s Chili in Madeira, Ohio — took the family recipe and started a food truck in 2013, before finding a brick-and-mortar home in early 2022. The Chili Hut puts some innovative spins on classic chili parlor fare, like the Eden Pork, a cheese coney made with a spicy mettwurst sausage in a nod to Cincinnati’s German heritage, topped with chili, cheese, and coleslaw; or the Walking Taco, made with corn chips topped with chili, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, sour cream, and jalapenos.

A small cardboard boat full of cheese and crackers (on top of unseen spaghetti and chili).
Three-way at the Chili Hut.
The Chili Hut

Blue Ash Chili

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While the city center may be saturated with chili parlors, Blue Ash Chili caters to the city’s northern suburbs. Their chili packs less heat than other restaurants, but patrons can amp it up with a unique take on the six-way, which includes the addition of fried jalapeno caps. Blue Ash Chili also offers chili lasagna: flour and corn tortillas layered with chili, sour cream, and shredded cheddar. For the truly bold, the No Freakin’ Way Challenge awards a free meal and T-shirt to anyone who can finish a combined 5 pounds of chili and spaghetti topped by another 2 pounds of cheese and 1 pound of jalapenos.

From above, a picnic table laden with dishes include chili and cheese on spaghetti, a cheeseburger, onion rings, fries, and chef’s salad.
A three-way and other dishes from Blue Ash.
Blue Ash Chili

Pleasant Ridge Chili Restaurant

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Pleasant Ridge has seen an influx of hip restaurants serving dry-aged beef and slices of floppy New York-style pizza, a cocktail bar themed for The Shining, and a craft brewery with an extensive barrel-aging program — but long before any of that, this neighborhood chili parlor, established in 1964, was a fixture in the neighborhood. Pleasant Ridge Chili offers all of the chili parlor classics, but it’s known for its thick-cut french fries, famously topped with gravy, but you can get them with chili cheese as well. It’s a cash-only business, so hit up an ATM before visiting.

Chili Time Restaurant

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The sign out front shows a clock sitting inside a bowl, and it doesn’t get much more straightforward than that: it’s Chili Time. The diner in St. Bernard, a blue-collar village completely landlocked by the city of Cincinnati, retains the mid-century look and feel of its 1963 opening. Its noodles are thicker than other parlors and its chili saltier, but balanced out by creamy, hand-shredded cheddar. They offer a bunless coney consisting of three hot dogs, chili, cheese, mustard, and onion.

Skyline Chili

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No list of Cincinnati chili parlors would be complete without mentioning Skyline Chili. While it’s not the oldest parlor still in existence, it is the largest chain, with 160 restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida. It’s so ubiquitous that Cincinnati chili is often colloquially just known as “Skyline” to out-of-towners. The chili here is sweeter than others, so patrons often spice it up with the house hot sauce, a mix of Tabasco, jalapeno, and cayenne pepper. Skyline’s chili is also widely available in cans and frozen in regional grocery stores.

A close-up on a three-way with two coneys in the background.
Three-way and coneys at Skyline Chili.
Skyline Chili

Camp Washington Chili

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A fixture in Cincinnati’s blue collar Camp Washington neighborhood, the namesake chili parlor is one of the most lauded in the city, including a nod from the James Beard Foundation as an American Regional Classic and a starring role in a Lonnie Mack song. The parlor was founded by Greek immigrant Johnny Johnson in 1940 and is run today by his daughter Maria Papakirk, who traded a career in law for the family restaurant. The chili itself is a little spicier and more savory than other offerings. Try the restaurant’s unique 513-way, which swaps the traditional spaghetti for goetta, a crispy fried loaf composed of pork and pinhead (steel-cut) oats. Camp Washington Chili is open 24 hours a day, six days a week.

A cook in a branded Camp Washington shirt passes cheese and cracker-topped spaghetti across a pass.
Handing over chili-topped spaghetti at Camp Washington.
Hailey Bollinger/Eater

Price Hill Chili Family Restaurant

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Another parlor that traces its family tree back to the original Empress Chili. Price Hill Chili was founded by Sam Beltsos, who’s great-great uncle worked at Empress before spinning off his own place called Latonia Chili, where Beltsos worked before opening Price Hill Chili at age 22. Beltsos has since retired — though he still stops in at the parlor — and the restaurant is now run by his son Steve. Price Hill’s chili is mellower than its rivals and offered in the classic varieties, with the addition of a hot chili cheese mettwurst.

A plate with two cheese-smothered coneys and a plate of three-way spaghetti.
Coneys and three-way at Price Hill Chili.
Price Hill Chili Family Restaurant

Gold Star Chili

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Gold Star is the other major chili chain in Cincinnati, founded by the four Daoud brothers. After immigrating from Jordan, the quartet bought the restaurant Hamburger Heaven in Mount Washington in 1965 and shifted the restaurant’s focus to its preexisting chili recipe. Now run by the son of one of the original founders, Roger David, Gold Star has expanded to 70 locations and offers unique dishes like the Gorito, a flour tortilla wrapped around chili, cheddar, chipotle ranch dressing, and Fritos. Gold Star also offers a vegetarian chili using Beyond Meat.

A plate of chili cheese-topped spaghetti and coneys, beside a tall soda.
Chili-topped delicacies at Gold Star.
Gold Star Chili

Dixie Chili & Deli

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Macedonian immigrant Nicholas Sarakatsannis learned the chili trade in Cincinnati’s first parlor, Empress Chili, before developing his own recipe and starting Dixie Chili across the river in Newport, Kentucky. Today his sons Panny and Spiros Sarakatsannis operate three locations in Kentucky, making 150 gallons of chili a day. The family serves their recipe in the classic ways, but also atop salads, baked potatoes, in soups, and in a six-way that adds fresh-chopped garlic to the typical five-way.

Empress Chili

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Empress Chili is the parlor that started it all. Founded in 1922, the restaurant served performers and patrons of the Empress Theater in downtown Cincinnati, from which it drew its name. That original location has since closed, but the spirit lives on at a location in Alexandria, Kentucky. The Papakirk family, which operates Camp Washington Chili, acquired Empress from its previous owners in 2012, but kept the Empress recipe the same. In February 2020 they sold the parlor to Alexandria resident Steve Martin. Unique on the menu is a chili pizza, a crust topped with mustard, onions, chili, and cheese.

The Chili Hut

A small cardboard boat full of cheese and crackers (on top of unseen spaghetti and chili).
Three-way at the Chili Hut.
The Chili Hut

Owner Fadi Khalilieh — whose family owned the now-shuttered JK’s Chili in Madeira, Ohio — took the family recipe and started a food truck in 2013, before finding a brick-and-mortar home in early 2022. The Chili Hut puts some innovative spins on classic chili parlor fare, like the Eden Pork, a cheese coney made with a spicy mettwurst sausage in a nod to Cincinnati’s German heritage, topped with chili, cheese, and coleslaw; or the Walking Taco, made with corn chips topped with chili, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, sour cream, and jalapenos.

A small cardboard boat full of cheese and crackers (on top of unseen spaghetti and chili).
Three-way at the Chili Hut.
The Chili Hut

Blue Ash Chili

From above, a picnic table laden with dishes include chili and cheese on spaghetti, a cheeseburger, onion rings, fries, and chef’s salad.
A three-way and other dishes from Blue Ash.
Blue Ash Chili

While the city center may be saturated with chili parlors, Blue Ash Chili caters to the city’s northern suburbs. Their chili packs less heat than other restaurants, but patrons can amp it up with a unique take on the six-way, which includes the addition of fried jalapeno caps. Blue Ash Chili also offers chili lasagna: flour and corn tortillas layered with chili, sour cream, and shredded cheddar. For the truly bold, the No Freakin’ Way Challenge awards a free meal and T-shirt to anyone who can finish a combined 5 pounds of chili and spaghetti topped by another 2 pounds of cheese and 1 pound of jalapenos.

From above, a picnic table laden with dishes include chili and cheese on spaghetti, a cheeseburger, onion rings, fries, and chef’s salad.
A three-way and other dishes from Blue Ash.
Blue Ash Chili

Pleasant Ridge Chili Restaurant

Pleasant Ridge has seen an influx of hip restaurants serving dry-aged beef and slices of floppy New York-style pizza, a cocktail bar themed for The Shining, and a craft brewery with an extensive barrel-aging program — but long before any of that, this neighborhood chili parlor, established in 1964, was a fixture in the neighborhood. Pleasant Ridge Chili offers all of the chili parlor classics, but it’s known for its thick-cut french fries, famously topped with gravy, but you can get them with chili cheese as well. It’s a cash-only business, so hit up an ATM before visiting.

Chili Time Restaurant

The sign out front shows a clock sitting inside a bowl, and it doesn’t get much more straightforward than that: it’s Chili Time. The diner in St. Bernard, a blue-collar village completely landlocked by the city of Cincinnati, retains the mid-century look and feel of its 1963 opening. Its noodles are thicker than other parlors and its chili saltier, but balanced out by creamy, hand-shredded cheddar. They offer a bunless coney consisting of three hot dogs, chili, cheese, mustard, and onion.

Skyline Chili

A close-up on a three-way with two coneys in the background.
Three-way and coneys at Skyline Chili.
Skyline Chili

No list of Cincinnati chili parlors would be complete without mentioning Skyline Chili. While it’s not the oldest parlor still in existence, it is the largest chain, with 160 restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida. It’s so ubiquitous that Cincinnati chili is often colloquially just known as “Skyline” to out-of-towners. The chili here is sweeter than others, so patrons often spice it up with the house hot sauce, a mix of Tabasco, jalapeno, and cayenne pepper. Skyline’s chili is also widely available in cans and frozen in regional grocery stores.

A close-up on a three-way with two coneys in the background.
Three-way and coneys at Skyline Chili.
Skyline Chili

Camp Washington Chili

A cook in a branded Camp Washington shirt passes cheese and cracker-topped spaghetti across a pass.
Handing over chili-topped spaghetti at Camp Washington.
Hailey Bollinger/Eater

A fixture in Cincinnati’s blue collar Camp Washington neighborhood, the namesake chili parlor is one of the most lauded in the city, including a nod from the James Beard Foundation as an American Regional Classic and a starring role in a Lonnie Mack song. The parlor was founded by Greek immigrant Johnny Johnson in 1940 and is run today by his daughter Maria Papakirk, who traded a career in law for the family restaurant. The chili itself is a little spicier and more savory than other offerings. Try the restaurant’s unique 513-way, which swaps the traditional spaghetti for goetta, a crispy fried loaf composed of pork and pinhead (steel-cut) oats. Camp Washington Chili is open 24 hours a day, six days a week.

A cook in a branded Camp Washington shirt passes cheese and cracker-topped spaghetti across a pass.
Handing over chili-topped spaghetti at Camp Washington.
Hailey Bollinger/Eater

Price Hill Chili Family Restaurant

A plate with two cheese-smothered coneys and a plate of three-way spaghetti.
Coneys and three-way at Price Hill Chili.
Price Hill Chili Family Restaurant

Another parlor that traces its family tree back to the original Empress Chili. Price Hill Chili was founded by Sam Beltsos, who’s great-great uncle worked at Empress before spinning off his own place called Latonia Chili, where Beltsos worked before opening Price Hill Chili at age 22. Beltsos has since retired — though he still stops in at the parlor — and the restaurant is now run by his son Steve. Price Hill’s chili is mellower than its rivals and offered in the classic varieties, with the addition of a hot chili cheese mettwurst.

A plate with two cheese-smothered coneys and a plate of three-way spaghetti.
Coneys and three-way at Price Hill Chili.
Price Hill Chili Family Restaurant

Gold Star Chili

A plate of chili cheese-topped spaghetti and coneys, beside a tall soda.
Chili-topped delicacies at Gold Star.
Gold Star Chili

Gold Star is the other major chili chain in Cincinnati, founded by the four Daoud brothers. After immigrating from Jordan, the quartet bought the restaurant Hamburger Heaven in Mount Washington in 1965 and shifted the restaurant’s focus to its preexisting chili recipe. Now run by the son of one of the original founders, Roger David, Gold Star has expanded to 70 locations and offers unique dishes like the Gorito, a flour tortilla wrapped around chili, cheddar, chipotle ranch dressing, and Fritos. Gold Star also offers a vegetarian chili using Beyond Meat.

A plate of chili cheese-topped spaghetti and coneys, beside a tall soda.
Chili-topped delicacies at Gold Star.
Gold Star Chili

Dixie Chili & Deli

Macedonian immigrant Nicholas Sarakatsannis learned the chili trade in Cincinnati’s first parlor, Empress Chili, before developing his own recipe and starting Dixie Chili across the river in Newport, Kentucky. Today his sons Panny and Spiros Sarakatsannis operate three locations in Kentucky, making 150 gallons of chili a day. The family serves their recipe in the classic ways, but also atop salads, baked potatoes, in soups, and in a six-way that adds fresh-chopped garlic to the typical five-way.

Empress Chili

Empress Chili is the parlor that started it all. Founded in 1922, the restaurant served performers and patrons of the Empress Theater in downtown Cincinnati, from which it drew its name. That original location has since closed, but the spirit lives on at a location in Alexandria, Kentucky. The Papakirk family, which operates Camp Washington Chili, acquired Empress from its previous owners in 2012, but kept the Empress recipe the same. In February 2020 they sold the parlor to Alexandria resident Steve Martin. Unique on the menu is a chili pizza, a crust topped with mustard, onions, chili, and cheese.

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