West End Ciderhouse

What used to be more of a quiet events venue on the western edge of Athens has been transformed into a public gathering space for the first time in years. And it’s about time; Athens’ west end doesn’t have a lot of restaurants or hang out places if you live there — as I did for two years — and there wasn’t a lot to draw people around campus and to the east this far away. Now that’s changed. This spot isn’t just a bar, but also kind of a hang-out space, a little more low-key than what you will find uptown on Court Street. That’s a nice thing, especially during the day, and especially when you need somewhere to relax a little bit.

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Kaya Grill & Sushi

It’s pretty hard to find a place in the midwestern United States that does Korean barbecue — the distinctive style of cooking raw meats on a hot element is something that is easy to embrace…once you’re already familiar with the process. So around here, it doesn’t have much of a following. But if you want an introduction on the idea, a good place to go would be Kaya Grill & Sushi, a Columbus spot that specializes in Korean and Japanese cooking. But the best thing to try in the restaurant has to be this unique way of eating, both for its rarity in this area and for the potential to really walk away satisfied you’ve had a great meal.

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Gordon Ramsay BurGR

Chef Gordon Ramsay may have pioneered this namesake restaurant concept in the Planet Hollywood Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, and with a simple mission: a better burger. With a bold concept and a fantastic deputy in place in Chef Christina Wilson, BurGR sits on the hyped Las Vegas Strip, but there’s a real substance to the food that is served here. This isn’t just average food with a big name attached; it’s a genuinely different kind of burger. I’m liking it.

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Song’s Sushi

While it’s only been open a little over a year, Song’s Sushi along Airway Road east of Dayton has already drawn considerable praise as an under-appreciated new gem in the city. With a captive audience in nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the dive serves up Korean and Japanese food — and fast, to keep up with those tight lunch break routines. The rapid-fire service might lead you to think this is a no-frills place, but in reality, it’s great food served from a tight ship. This kind of efficiency is sure to impress by itself, but the food backs it up.

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Wandering Griffin Brewery & Pub.

Dayton’s newest brewpub, The Wandering Griffin has sprung up in a former bar chain location in Beavercreek. This bar makes use of a unique space to give it sort of a deconstructed feel; heavy wood tables and furnishings, a low-lit bar and dramatic lighting give way to a bar that favors creative culinary ideas and a wide variety of beers, both made in-house and produced across Dayton and all of Ohio. The Wandering Griffin is here to celebrate not just Gem City, but all of Ohio and the surrounding region, where many great kinds of beer are worth note and where brewers often collaborate to make a better beer.

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La Mexicana Restaurant & Grocer

Newport, Kentucky is dominated by the huge developments along the river, but this town is much more than that. The historic stretch of town to the south is home to plenty of great little restaurants, dive bars and small businesses. Amid the bevy of interesting food to try, you can find little storefronts like La Mexicana, a taco stand and shop with big-time tasty Mexican dishes and preparation styles for Tex-Mex favorites and more authentic dishes alike. It almost feels over the top, but this spot is all deliciousness.

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A Tavoola

Inspired by the classic Italian trattoria, or casual restaurant, A Tavoola brought this concept to Cincinnati as an eatery that offers shareable bites in a less formal setting. Now with locations both in downtown’s Over-the-Rhine and in Maderia on the East Side. Pizzas, pastas and other shareables dominate this menu and there are more than a few good drinks to try. A Tavoola brings a concept to areas that really benefit from having something like it, and I like the concept for its welcoming interior.

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Edley’s BBQ

Now with three locations around Nashville, Edley’s brings the classic barbecue counter a little bit of new dimension with a modern bar and a nice selection of drinks for evening groups. But the main reason people come to this place remains the same: the barbecue! This spot has that classic, sticky and smoky meats cooked top-notch. I like the spot for that nice, welcoming feeling and a very convenient system that prioritizes good food over everything.

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Table 33

A new restaurant which has set itself up in downtown Dayton, Table 33 is an interesting concept; focusing on locally-produced ingredients which are constructed into more creative recipes for lighter cuisine, while a friendly bar in the center of the establishment offers an inviting place to grab a drink in the evening. While the concept remains new and its ideas refined, Table 33 has begun to differentiate itself in a way its predecessors did not, as a place for greater experimentation and a push to grow, make, and eat local.

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Bar 145

An Ohio-centered concept with half a dozen locations, Bar 145 tends to find its way into larger new developments, where its entertaining take on the traditional pub makes it a place that supports a few different activities. The location in Kent, for example, has space for a dance floor and hosts regular DJ nights to support that. The location in Dayton, on the other hand, has taken the form mainly as a ‘barcade,’ where classic arcade games can be played for free. But don’t forget the food. Where the bar has focused its energy on building a good menu in recent years, it has brought some great ideas to the table.

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