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  • There are 320,193 independent restaurants in America. Another Food Critic is here to find which ones are the best.

  • Dayton dining — 230 Reviews

  • Cincinnati Dining — 58 Reviews

Hazel Grille & Tavern - Catfish

Hazel Grille & Tavern (CLOSED)

The Dayton Mall area is home to dozens of restaurants, many of them chains and many of them independent. While it’s been known as an area where lots of restaurant concepts come and go, the spot is also one that the better restaurants tend to stick around for a long time. Hazel Grille, which has been open for a year and a half, looks to be off to a good start. A casual bar concept, the wide-open concept of this bar makes it the kind of place where you can bring a group of people and enjoy some bar food with a crowd.

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The Varsity - Burger

The Varsity

The Varsity: this massive diner in midtown Atlanta has been a high-profile name both in Georgia’s growing dining world and across the U.S. for decades, and especially lately, having secured a spot among The Daily Meal’s list of the top 100 burgers in the U.S. as well as a shout-out for its chili dogs in Travel Channel’s “Hot Dog Paradise.” You’ll instantly be drawn into the spot for its massive red sign, and once you set foot in the halls of the converted school building, you’ll quickly find yourself hooked. The Varsity is many things, a car-friendly drive in in the midst of a crowded inner city and a converted school building that can handle a massive number of customers. The experience is simply addicting.

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Derks Filet & Vine - Club sandwich

Derk’s Filet & Vine

While Montgomery, Alabama is the state Capitol, it’s really not that large of a city. And so the best restaurants in town get passed around quickly until they become locally well known. Derk’s Filet and Vine, a deli and winery concept, is one of these hidden gems, ticked in the shadow of downtown as a lunch spot popular with locals and downtown workers. The food options are varied and you can get quite a few groceries here while you’re dining. But like much of Montgomery, this spot has an under-appreciated charm.

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Pork Tenderloin

Doubleday’s Grill & Tavern

There’s an especially large contingent of bars around the south Dayton town of Centerville, so it’s no surprise that a spot like Doubleday’s is as popular as it has been. The bar much resembles a classic, close-in dark tavern feel though the establishment is located in the fairly spontaneous Cross Pointe Shopping Center. The food is typical American cuisine, and the experience is a decent one for company and for a good experience at lunch. I’m a fan of the food and the people are great.

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Pulled Pork

Dark Horse Tavern

Dark Horse Tavern is a bar and barbecue joint just off the highway in Miamisburg, south of Dayton, one that can still be easy to miss unless you know where to look for it. While the exterior is simple and the interior a dark, close-in and very classic feeling bar, the food shows the extra effort that really kicks the Dark Horse up a notch with its food. It’s a great option for Midwest-style barbecue and some good music for the Gem City.

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Boston Stoker

Large chain restaurants dominate too many of Dayton’s neighborhoods, with the likes of Zagat and other national critiques overlooking too many of Gem City’s home-grown innovations for regional or national brands. One of them is Boston Stoker, a small coffee chain with locations in all of the largest spots in Dayton, representing the major coffee destination in downtown, the Centerville area, and in each of the three Dorothy Lane Markets in town. It’s in this chain of locally-produced coffee spots with a great variety and a great atmosphere, that you find out what Zagat has been missing about this city.

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Pulled pork

Fifth Street Brewpub

It’s organized as the second brewpub co-op in the nation, and Fifth Street Brewpub in the neighborhood east of downtown Dayton generated a lot of hype when it first opened, having attracted over 2,000 members at this point for something of a neighborhood bar concept. But while it added food as it has spun up, those craft brews it was created to churn out proved elusive; months went by and they still weren’t brewing their own beer. And now, finally, Fifth Street’s first brews are starting to churn out. But what makes Fifth Street such a great place to go isn’t the brews, or the food, really. It’s the great people that have made this spot happen.

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W.G. Kitchen & Bar - Chicken Marsala

W.G. Kitchen & Bar

A contemporary wine concept with a flair for Italian specialties, the Wine Guys Kitchen and Bar — or “W.G. Kitchen & Bar” for short — is a wine bar concept with three locations in greater Cincinnati. The walls are filled with vintages from around the world, and the large open interior dining area gives way to many intimate recesses for small groups to congregate along with large parties. W.G., the product and namesake of longtime wine connoisseur and Ohio food name Craig Decker, is is great place to go to try a few different kinds of spirit, whether you’re a novice to wine or an expert looking for a refined glass.

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Happy Chicks Bakery - Cupcakes

Happy Chicks Bakery

Another recent addition to Northside in Cincinnati, Happy Chicks Bakery was created by vegans for vegans, and will appeal to the sweet tooth in you while keeping the flavors local and conscientious. In all of the cupcakes, cookies, pies and other seasonal items, what I really found wandering through this place was a group of folks who care deeply about what they do. And while the spot brings out a lot of locals, this neighborhood bakery should bring about a lot more attention for its great niche.

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Chicken salad sandwich

The Deli on Webster

Webster Street isn’t far from downtown Dayton proper, but you don’t spot a lot of other things in that part of town that bring people out during the week. In fact, though, with the Second Street Market, the Dayton Dragons, and a few other things that bring downtown folks to play. But I consider The Deli to be a very under-appreciated gem of downtown dining. Too many folks missing out on the opportunity to try some great food.

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