If you’re coming to Cincinnati for the first time, you undoubtedly intend to sample the famous Cincinnati chili you’ve heard so much about. Have you done lots of research? Do you have time and transportation? Then you’ll probably wind up at one of several well-regarded independent chili shops. Otherwise, you’ll be dining close to your hotel, which means you’ll receive your initiation at one of the almost two hundred Skyline Chili restaurants in the city and suburbs.

Spaghetti, beans, and chili – the way Sue likes her Cincinnati chili

Not to worry — Skyline chili is just fine. All it really lacks is the hipness factor, and perhaps some of the soul of the independents. Allow us, however, to interject a thought: if you plan to sample the independent shops, do make a point of stopping, as well, at one Skyline store in particular. We’re referring to the long-standing Skyline in the Clifton neighborhood, just north of the University of Cincinnati.

Oyster crackers show up at many chili parlors, and always at Skyline. Some folks like to top the chili with a handful, others mindlessly much on them for the three or four minutes they have to wait for the food to arrive. The crackers are important to Cincinnatians: when Skyline changed suppliers early in 2017, a kerfuffle ensued. Everyone was talking – what happened? Are the new crackers better or worse?

The Clifton franchise, one of the oldest in the chain (opened in 1966) and the busiest as well, is not your typical Skyline. Well, actually it is, from a food perspective — like McDonald’s and KFC, Skyline’s a chain, and that means value is placed on consistency from store to store. What we mean, though, is that the Clifton Skyline, unlike all the others, is physically different. It resides in a turn-of-the-century Dutch Colonial brick building, sports a great looking sign, and is colorfully ornamented with local Rookwood tile.

We always like a cheese coney or two on the side .

They even have their own parking lot. This particular Skyline also keeps late hours, closing at 3 or 4A most days. Inside, the Clifton Skyline looks unusually spiffy and well-kept. The staff here are noted for being particularly friendly and solicitous. There’s counter seating if you want to view the goings-on in the open kitchen. Otherwise, as at all Skylines, a member of the waitstaff will be by to take your order. Your food will arrive minutes after she or he departs.

The Skyline on Ludlow Street in Clifton is the jewel in the crown.

How do you order? You’ve probably heard about the whole 3-way, 4-way thing. 3-way refers to a plate of spaghetti topped with chili and shredded cheese. 4-way adds either beans or chopped raw onions. 5-way means both beans and onions. What if you want spaghetti, beans, and chili, or some other combo that doesn’t conform to the system? Just ask for it! Nobody’ll give you a hard time.

Skyline Chili was founded in 1949. The original Skyline has been closed for some time. Opened in 1966, the Clifton franchise is one of the oldest still open.

Coneys? These are short hot dogs on short buns, topped with chili, mustard, and chopped onions. Cheese is optional but, really, so’s everything else. Ask for it the way you like it. Do you eat them before, or with, a plate of chili? Sure, if you want. Know that, like everywhere in Cincinnati, the cheese will be piled on in enormous quantities, whether it’s a coney or a 5-way. It’s always pretty mild cheese, and adds more of a dairy richness to whatever it tops, rather than cheesy sharpness.

For that matter, the chili, as well, packs minimal heat, and minimal flavor of chiles, the vegetable. If you are familiar with the sweet-spiced meaty part of the Greek pastitsio, you will have an accurate idea of what to expect. In fact, Cincinnati chili might even be accurately described as a bastardized, if delicious, version of pastitsio.

Oh, we can’t forget one more reason to hit this particular Skyline: across the street is a Greater’s!

290 Ludlow Avenue
Cincinnati OH 45220
Skyline Chili’s Website
Skyline Chili on Facebook