Chicago may have its pizza. Key West may have its key lime pie. Kentucky may have its bourbon and hot browns, but no one does chili like Cincinnati.
With inspiration from the Mediterranean (yes, the Mediterranean), and eaten more like a casserole than a soup or stew, this is nothing like your five-alarm chili, your white chicken chili, your Midwestern chili served with cinnamon rolls or the chili you pick up at a certain fast food restaurant.
This deserves its own category.
Cincinnati chili has your normal ground beef and tomato sauce, as well as your beans, but the spices are completely unique. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves — you’d almost think you were making a holiday bread.
You can order it five different “ways.” Two-way is chili over spaghetti layered like a casserole, so don’t you dare twirl that spaghetti around your fork. It’s strictly cut and eat. Three-way is spaghetti, chili and cheese; four-way, spaghetti, chili, cheese and onions OR beans; five-way is all of the above.
If you so choose, you can also get it served on a hot dog (and why wouldn’t you?).
Camp Washington Chili is quite easily the most lauded chili parlor in Cincinnati, receiving praise from an endless line of celebrities and celebrity chefs alike. It’s been written about in endless publications as well.
It’s easy to see why. When you arrive at Camp Washington, the appearance is of any small-town diner. Parking is relatively easy. You head inside, you’re seated and you can glimpse the back of the house as you go. Everything remains diner-esque. There seems to be a good population of locals who stop by, and it also seems like the place where the waitstaff and even the owners would start to know your name.
Camp Washington Chili has been open since 1940, and the family owners started with Johnny Johnson, who immigrated to Cincinnati from Greece in 1951. He hasn’t worked anywhere else in the country — just at Camp Washington Chili. He and his family love this place, and it’s easy to see in the food and the easy ambience.
Try a little bit of everything while you’re there — or at least a little bit of everything covered in chili. Get a bowl plain, a five-way, some coneys, some chili cheese fries. Share with your friends.
It’s true comfort food. Warm, filling, cheesy, probably not healthy for you at all — but it just makes you feel good. While I haven’t tested this theory for myself, I’d be willing to bet it’s also a great hangover cure. Luckily, Camp Washington Chili is open 24 hours a day, six days a week (closed Sundays). Plus, with a five-way starting at just $6, there’s no way you’ll be breaking the bank.
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