(Left to right): Potstickers, salmon, Memphis-style dry rub pork

Mr. Pot

Nestle the way in the suburbs of North Columbus, Mr. pot only sells one thing: Chinese style hot pot. This is a unique kind of eating that lets you cook meats, seafoods and vegetables in a boiling broth and then dipping them in a sauce of your choice. It’s an immensely popular dish in Asia but this kind of cooking really hasn’t penetrated its way to the United States, except on a small scale with restaurants like this. Come hungry, this place will fill you up quickly.

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Belle's Bread - Coffee roll cake

Belle’s Bread Japanese Bakery & Café

Focused specifically on providing baked goods and desserts specifically for an east Asian audience, Belle’s Bread sits among a number of Asian businesses but remains approachable. This Columbus bakery has many kinds of goodies that can’t be found in your average Midwestern shop. Roll cakes, green tea frozen yogurt, Rice cake based dishes. That in addition to the traditional cakes, pies, and bread are available here. What are you aiming to dine in, or you’re taking some food to go, you’ll this is a pretty nice place to try a few new goodies.

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Shrimp and grits

ele Cake Co.

While the name may suggest that Ele Cake Co. is a simple bakery operation, the several Dayton-area locations of this restaurant feel much more like a bistro. With a menu of sandwiches, small plates and other kinds of cuisine with specialties around the world, there’s definitely more to the place than its name. Come hungry and be ready to be filled, but don’t think about skipping dessert; that would be a mistake. About as bad a mistake as missing out on this spot.

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1/2 pound prime burger

Fork Chicago

An American gastropub that serves the northern Chicago neighborhoods around Lincoln Square, Fork Chicago specializes in farm to table cuisine. A combination bar, kitchen and tasting room the spot offers a seasonal menu of cheeses, small plates and charcuterie and is wonderful as a place to bring a friend or a small group for a pleasant evening out. I like this spot for its small plates and for its place in town, an experimental kitchen that has a few different modern interpretations on long-time favorites.

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Fried chicken Benedict

Dunlays on the Square

Situated in north Chicago’s well-to-do Logan Square and surrounding neighborhood, Dunlays on the Square is an upscale bar and brunch place that’s’ hard to forget. The walls and bar are laden with nice wood trim finishes and each dish is plated with great meticulousness. That upscale feel brings a nice sense of refinement to the dishes, but a the end all of the food to be tried here is still approachable, and at price points which aren’t too bad. If you’re going with more than a few people, consider sitting in that pleasant patio in the good weather, but be sure to make a reservation.

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AMK Chicago

Setting up shop in the nice Bucktown neighborhood in northern Chicago, AMK is a nice, more modern bar with a focus on good American cuisine, cocktails and whiskeys. The memorable interior of the bar gives way to a solid menu of good sandwiches, small plates and pizza. Make a point to grab a cocktail before you get your meal, it’s a bit of a pricier place, but the experience is worth it. This kitchen is a perfect one to try on a date or out with a few friends.

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Chicago’s Pizza

The very simply named concept of Chicago’s Pizza makes its home at three locations in the city’s northern neighborhoods where it serves up pizza by the slice until 5 a.m. It’s a very simple operation — good pizza that’s easy to walk with — which caters to the walking-friendly neighborhood and the many local bars in the blocks around this part of town. The experience is pretty easy to like for its approachable nature.

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Pontiac BBQ & Bourbon Bar

A definite modern take on a very beloved Midwestern cooking style can be found in the middle of Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood in Pointiac BBQ and Bourbon Bar. The street has brought forth many interesting concepts in the past few years with a contemporary flare, but one with a special focus on something as dear to the city as barbecue is rarer and more ambitious. This spot is great for its bevy of good drinks and the food deserves a definite tasting.

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Double cheeseburger

Carl’s Townhouse

A community gathering spot that has survived decades in Chillicothe in some creative ways, Carl’s Townhouse has been a sandwich shop and diner that brings people of all kinds for lunch. Family friendly and serving up comfort foods like burgers, soups and breakfast foods, Carl’s revels in a simpler kind of restaurant concept; one that thrives in small towns as a familiar place where everyone has made happy memories and the food has that charm that transcends the ages. When this place almost closed, they literally moved the building to a new site to save it. There’s a reason it’s got a place like that in the community.

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Barbecue ribs

Old Canal Smokehouse

A historic joint in downtown Chillicothe, Old Canal Smokehouse is a historic building that sits in a historic town and offers a casual atmosphere with some great Midwestern barbecue. In spite of all of the years that this building has, the smokehouse has a very approachable, friendly appeal. It’s a small-town hangout with some good barbecue, and there’s a reason this spot is known outside of town. It’s a nice representation of the appeal that drives Chillicothe; casual in spite of its many stories.

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