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

  • Dayton dining — 257 Reviews

  • Cincinnati Dining — 64 Reviews

Sirloin steak

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

It’s a furiously growing concept out of Charlotte, and as soon as you step foot into Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, the smell of smoked hickory fills your nose. This concept is a sleek and modern take on the mid-priced steakhouse restaurant, with plenty of comfort food favorites on tap for diners. Like many in this category, you tend to find only one or two locations to a city, but what it offers in quality and experience is above the bar. Firebirds has a great, well-rounded menu of steaks and sandwiches, and its presence seems to complement upscale shopping centers very well.

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Sushi boat

Shen’s Szechuan & Sushi

A sushi house with a few favorite Chinese dishes, Shen’s Szechuan & Sushi — formerly known as Mr. Lee’s Fine Dining — looks to bring an upscale dining experience to the neighborhoods north of Dayton. This spot keeps it classy with dozens of great options for sushi, including a new specialty roll that comes out weekly, from its experienced chefs. The prices here are a little higher than what is average in the market, but I found them to be worth it, experience is a good one and the staff is great.

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Raspberry pie

Mehaffie’s Pies

One of Dayton’s longest-running bakeries, Mehaffie’s Pies has had a few locations around the city and its suburbs but now operates from a single location on Linden Avenue east of town. The bakery has been in operation since 1930, churning out fruit pies, key lime, specialty desserts and more — always popular with locals. But what really sets the spot apart is its cheesecakes, the classic New York-style take on the favorite dessert that gives you a different experience with it than you may be used to. This spot doesn’t really put the word out about itself, but it’s a place you’ll want to visit.

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Rays to the Third - The Little Devil

Rays to the Third

Washington DC flinched when one of its best known restaurants, Ray’s Hell Burger, closed its doors. It broke a cold sweat when Rays Hell Burger Too followed suit. Fortunately, no one seems to be shy about their love for the final restaurant in the chain, Rays to the Third. The burger stop in Arlington draws people from all over the country — and it’s no surprise. You bring up “best burger” lists from anywhere including Washingtonian and The Daily Meal, and Ray’s is sure to be on there. And if you’re within a 50-mile radius of this place, I say you need to make a special trip.

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Dukem - Vegetarian Platter

Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant

Washington DC attracts people from all over the world for business, so it’s to be expected that the dining scene here has some of the most interesting world cuisine you can find in America. Among the most interesting spots along U Street is Dukem, a small bar and restaurant that serves Ethiopian foods popular across the world but very hard to find in the United States. If you’re unfamiliar, there’s a lot to learn, but the food here is fantastic either way.

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Steak and eggs

Matchbox Chinatown

One of the restaurants in the highly-successful Matchbox Food Group that is responsible for some of Washington DC’s best breakfast spots, Matchbox Chinatown sits along the very popular H Street Northwest corridor, one where brunchers and lunch goers crowd every day for some of the most interesting restaurants in town. The spot is especially known for its breakfast foods and its interesting takes on classic American cuisine, but it’s also known for burgers, pizzas and a ton of other great food. The menu is strong with a ton of great food, and it’s hard not to want to go back.

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Busboys and Poets - Seitan Panini

Busboys and Poets

Busboys and Poets is an interesting concept for Washington D.C. — it’s more than just a restaurant. This spot is something of a work of art in and of itself, both as a spot where you can buy and read the latest books, and a place where poetry and spoken word can be shared. While I’ve never encountered something quite like it in my travels, it was the menu that brought me to Busboys and Poets, and it’s the menu that really sticks with me since then. What an interesting idea! And it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Coffee Nature (Tenleytown, MD)

Coffee Nature

Little local coffee shops are an increasingly dying breed, especially in a vibrant and younger town like Washington DC. Every corner has a Starbucks or an Au Bon Pain or some other big name. And while there’s always a crowd who loves those spots, there’s also a crowd who wants to go somewhere where they can really feel like they’ll find a unique, lower-key experience. Coffee Nature, in Tenleytown near where Washington and Maryland meet, sits among a row of local restaurants, definitely off the beaten path from many of the most popular neighborhoods. Still, it’s a pleasant and economical experience.

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Thunder Burger & Bar - Thunder Burger

Thunder Burger & Bar

Immediately west of Washington DC, the Georgetown neighborhood has been lucky enough to see the benefits of so many young professionals streaming into the city in recent years, bringing energy and money that has revitalized this area into one of the hippest in town. Along the main stretch of M Street sits Thunder Burger & Bar, a rocker-themed dive with a low-lit interior for something of a rocker experience. But what has really gotten Thunder out there has been its namesake burger, which has quickly gained notoriety in the local dining scene as well as across the nation for its quality. And it delivers.

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Jack's Famous Pastrami

Jack’s Famous Deli

Situated right in the heart of Washington DC, Jack’s Famous Deli isn’t a flashy place, despite being mere blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall. Between Judiciary Square and the many office buildings that populate the heart of DC, there is a huge lunch crowd. Fortunately, Jack’s delivers with a cafeteria-style selection with sandwiches any way you want them, soups, light cuisine, and a large central spot where you can pick out one of dozens of items of food. But what really gets people coming here seems to be the sandwiches, and for good reason.

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