A three way and a cheese coney
I tried Cincinnati chili for the first time during my freshman year of college. I was brand new to Cincinnati and when you meet people in Cincinnati, the first thing they ask is where you went to high school. When they found out I was from out of town, the next question they asked was if I liked Cincinnati chili and if I preferred Skyline or Gold Star.
I quickly realized I needed to try this chili and figure out my answer to that question. After a Cincinnati Bearcats football game, a friend and I ventured to the Clifton Skyline (in my opinion the BEST Skyline) and I ordered a three way and a cheese coney. I remember liking the meal but not loving it. I thought it was okay but wasn’t dying to go back.
The iconic sign at the Clifton Skyline
Well, I’m not sure what happened exactly but I quickly grew to love Skyline and it became one of my staple foods throughout college. I hold Skyline cheese coneys and three ways responsible for the Freshman 15 I gained and not the cheap beer and cafeteria food that causes it for most.
I always find it funny when people hate Cincinnati-style chili. To me, there is nothing to hate about a big plate of noodles, covered in meat sauce, and topped with an obscene amount of cheese. It’s not the most glamorous or prettiest dish, but it’s satisfying and definitely filling. I think you grow to love it with time and it is much easier to enjoy if you don’t think about it as traditional chili, but as a meat sauce used to garnish other dishes.
If you’re looking to try Cincinnati chili for the first time, start with the basics. Order a three/four/five way and a cheese coney. For the uninitiated, a three way is a plate of spaghetti, covered with chili, and topped with a mound of cheese. A four way is a plate of spaghetti, chili, and cheese with beans OR chopped onions (when you order, specify a four way with beans or a four way with onions). A five way has spaghetti, chili, cheese, beans, AND onions. A cheese coney is a small hot dog in a steamed bean topped with chili and cheese. When you order a cheese coney, the server will ask you if you want mustard or onion (I recommend both). If you’re at Skyline and you like spicy food, make sure to order ‘extreme cheese’ which is a habanero cheese blend that I absolutely love.
A plate of cheese coneys
When you sit down, a server will bring bowls of oyster crackers to your table. If you want to fit in with the locals, eat the crackers topped with drops of hot sauce (known as ‘cracker bombs’) as you wait for your food.
For a Cincinnati chili beginner, I think Skyline is the best place to start. After that, consider checking out some of the independent chili parlors on this list. I’ve had a blast trying the different chili parlors around town and getting to know the personalities and quirks of each place. They may all serve similar dishes but they are all very different and worth a visit.
8 Essential Cincinnati Chili Parlors
Check out 8 Essential Cincinnati Chili Parlors
What is your favorite Cincinnati chili parlor? Do you have a standard order? Comment below!