How to Eat Cincinnati-style Chili in Cincinnati, Ohio

Eating Skyline Chili in CincinnatiGoing out to eat in some communities should come with a list of instructions so the visitor does not make a complete fool of themselves. Such is the case when going out for chili in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Of course, looking like a fool is something I often manage very well on my own, but I was assisted in that task by the waitress when we sat down to eat at Skyline Chili, a culinary tradition in Cincinnati since 1949.

Yes, they put me in a bib. It’s a good look, don’t you think?

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What is Cincinnati-Style Chili

Entrance to Skyline Chili in CincinnatiI had never thought of chili as a Greek dish, but the evolution of Cincinnati-style chili began in the village of Kastoria, Greece with the family recipes of Nicholas Lambrinides. When young Nicholas immigrated to the U.S., he fulfilled a dream by opening a restaurant that served these family recipes, overlooking the skyline of Cincinnati OH.

The meat sauce of this chili is flavored with cinnamon and chocolate, creating an earthy, sweet sensation. And it’s served on a plate over a bed of spaghetti.

But here’s how those around you will know if you are a first timer at Cincinnati-style chili:  if you twirl the spaghetti on your fork, which is of course what I did.  Seasoned Cincinnatians cut the spaghetti with a fork, no twirling allowed.

How to Order Cincinnati-style Chili

A platter of Cincinnati-style chili at Skyline ChiliBut here is where I got really confused. The waitress asked if I wanted a 3-way, 4-way or 5-way? My face reddened a bit as I imagined the possibilities, but it’s not what you think.

A 3-way is chili on spaghetti topped with mountains of shredded cheddar cheese.

A 4-way is the same thing but with diced onions or beans.

A 5-way is with diced onions and beans.

I went with the 4-way and was very happy and a little sloppy. So glad I had that bib. I would have hated to make a fool out of myself. Again.

Try Some Cincinnati-Style Chili


A packet of Cincinnati-style chili seasoning

Skyline Chili has eight or more locations around southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. A little packet of their seasonings makes a great little souvenir, but you do have to provide your own bib once you get home.

Although Skyline is the most prominent of restaurants specializing in Cincinnati-style chili, and it’s where I enjoyed my first plateful, there are other places you should check out as well.

Camp Washington Chili was one of the first. Gold Star Chili, Dixie Chili and Deli, a funky place called the Madison Diner. There are dozens. Check ’em all out and tell us what you think.

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