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Matsuya is a wonderful sushi restaurant in a place you'd never expect. We're talking about Florence, Ky. (Image: Leah Zipperstein / Cincinnati Refined)

16 Hidden Gem Restaurants You Need To Try

There are lots of restaurants that get regular play in the media. The Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine comes to mind. But what about the hidden gems? We asked our staff to pick some of their favorite restaurants around town. Here's what they had to say.


1) The Schoolhouse Restaurant
8031 Glendale Milford Road, Camp Dennison

If you want real country food, you have to go to the country. Head east on Glendale Milford Road to find an old farm schoolhouse-turned restaurant (tetherball and teeter totter included). Diners sit at large round tables, which are often shared among guests. They choose entrees written on a chalkboard (fried chicken, country fried steak), then are served communal starters and sides on the tables' Lazy Susans. Spoon your helping of sugary, finely chopped homemade coleslaw, then pass around the basket of sweet, buttery cornbread. When bowls are empty, just ask for more. When you can't eat any more, ask for a box. Or 10. Afterwards, peruse the general store and petting zoo behind the school. Because that's what you do in the country.

2) The Houston Inn Restaurant
4026, State Route 42, Lebanon

The farm-heavy stretch of State Route 42 between Mason and Lebanon has held a restaurant staple for almost 50 years. The Houston Inn Restaurant is an ode to dinners past with linen-lined tables, aqua glassware, and family photos memorializing the three generations of owners. A 55-item salad bar gives you whipped mustard mashed potatoes, a pink marshmallow and fruit salad, and even homemade tapioca for after-dinner returns. Save room for entrees like prime rib, specials like baked stuffed pork chops, and features like breaded frog legs, dipped in an addicting house-made batter. Grab a hard candy from the register's dish before you leave. Just like Grandma's.



3) Scotti's Italian Restaurant
919 Vine Street, Downtown

Open since 1911, it's a fourth generation family-run Italian restaurant. Rustic trattoria interior with carafes of wine covering the ceiling, Scotti's is my favorite spot for celebrating special occasions. A five-course meal includes garlic bread, salad with house-made Italian dressing, minestrone soup, pasta with their famed marinara sauce, and an entree. My go-to is the Scallopini ala Sporti: rolled veal and ham, stuffed with eggplant, mozzarella, and marinara sauce.

4) KungFood Chu's AmerAsia
5th and Madison, Covington

Graffiti walls, paper lanterns, and Kung Fu movies playing in the background, Amerasia gives the feel of eating Chinese food in New York City. With an extensive craft beer menu, staff help pair drinks that complement your meals. Prepared like the fresh quality of Thai food but featuring all your Chinese favorites, you'll never go back to a buffet again. I've tried just about everything on the menu and it's all excellent. Recommended are the spicy Dragons Breath Wontons, Tofu Teriyaki, and Ho Fun noodles.



5) Longnecks Sports Grill
1009 Town Drive, Wilder

Longnecks Sports Grill is tucked away off the intersection where 275 meets 471 in Wilder. It's a dive bar -- a gathering place. This spot has some of the best bar food in the city. From the pretzels and beer cheese, to the buffalo chicken wrap, Longnecks never disappoints. Great place to watch a game or get a hot meal on a night when cooking sounds like torture.



6) Siam Orchid
511 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue

This adorable little Thai place has the best Crab Puffs (aka Crab Rangoon) around. And my body is made up of at least 10% Crab Rangoon, so I should know. Their Pad Thai is the stuff of my starving dreams. I go here for lunch at least twice a month (but they're open for dinner, too). And the town that houses this magic spot is so charming I keep expecting a character from the Gilmore Girls to walk around a corner at any minute.

7) Taqueria Mercado, Inc.
6507 Dixie Hwy, Fairfield

This is the kind of store-front joint that Anthony Bourdain is always visiting in his TV shows -- a real hidden gem. You would miss this place if someone didn't point it out to you (ahem, you're welcome). The quesadillas are, as they say, "off the hook." Don't expect waitstaff in cute uniforms or free bowls of chips and salsa. This ain't that type of party. It's about authentic, affordable, delicious Mexican staples. Plus, two words: Mexican Coke. Score! (Yeah, they don't have a website.)



8) Amma's Kitchen
7633 Reading Rd., Roselawn

Amma's is the only south Indian Vegetarian Restaurant on my radar. Instead of lots of heavy cream sauces, you'll get lots of vegetables and great spices. Wednesdays are vegan and its lunch buffet includes a free dosa (grilled flatbread stuffed with potatoes or chiles). Amma's flavors are unlike anything else you'll get in the city.

9) BLOC Coffee Company
3101 Price Ave., East Price Hill

A small, quality coffee shop that's been around since 2007 in East Price Hill. They've got a cappuccino happy hour Monday through Friday from 3-5pm and grilled breakfast sandwiches on Thursday and Friday mornings.

10) The Wildflower Cafe
207 E. Main St., Mason

Whenever I've got the time to drive to Mason, I go to the Wildflower. Their card says it all: local, organic, delicious. With a constantly rotating menu, Chef Todd always has something good going on.

11) Sebastian's Greek Restaurant
5209 Glenway Ave., Westside

A westside tradition. The best Greek food in town since 1976. Order the large gyro and a tiropita. If you don't know what that is, well then, just trust me. And watch out for Sue. If you're single, she'll hook you up.

12) Half Day Cafe
1 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming

A great breakfast/ lunch place in Wyoming. They're only open the first half of the day so get there early. Try the sweet potato pancakes and some applewood smoked bacon.



13) Through the Garden
10738 Kenwood Rd. Blue Ash

I've been going to Through the Garden since high school. (I won't reveal how many years that makes it.) And it's never disappointed. Though it's not my drink of choice, I have a group of girlfriends who can never pass up the Long Island. I attest; it's quite good. I go to the Garden for the food, however. Specifically, for the Thai chicken stir fry. Giant cuts of veggies, including carrots, celery, mushrooms, and broccoli, surround a bed of rice and a healthy portion of chicken. You'll leave full. I promise. Start with one of the garden salads. My pick is the Greek, but they're all delicious.

14) Matsuya Japanese Restaurant
7419 Manderlay Dr., Florence

It took a while for me to jump on board the sushi train. As a kid, I easily fell into the "ewww, that's raw fish!" camp. Then, at some point, the light bulb went off. Now I love it. But I have a discerning palate. I want high grade fish. I'm going to pass on that cream cheese and spicy mayo. Let's keep it authentic, please. So when I had friends tell me about a sushi restaurant in Florence, Ky., I chuckled. But I'm always game to play along. Sure glad I did. Matsuya is sushi at its finest. Granted the restaurant sits next to a Marathon gas station and in a strip mall, but who cares? The fish is fresh and the experience is fly. Go there.



15) Fuel Coffee
2726 Riverside Dr., Hyde Park (...technically. It's in that area between Columbia Tusculum and Downtown)

What can I say? Nice folks, great coffee, and a chocolate chip scone for the ages. (I'm eating one right now, if truth be told. It's a bit more moist and cake-like than your typical specimen. And that's fine by me.) That actually brings up a good point. ... Fuel does its own thing. It takes its own road. There's a definite thread of the iconoclastic in the way Fuel operates. What can I say? I'm a sucker for that. Go, Fuel, go!

16) Tusculum Grille
4343 Kellogg Ave., Columbia Tusculum

Look, I can't go out every night. I don't want to go out every night. You know what I do want to do? Order a big ol' pizza (the thinner the better), cuddle with my girl (and dog), and catch up on the latest episodes of Scandal. (What will that Olivia Pope get herself into this time?!) It's an inside type of night. Good thing I've got Tusculum Grille on speed dial.