Burgers in Cincinnati are a divisive issue. The classic rivalry is between Zip’s fans and Quatman’s fans, with Terry’s Turf Club entering the fray as a relative newcomer. Quatman’s and Zip’s are a little more in the “classic” territory, with Terry’s Turf Club kicking things up with some gourmet twists.
Though my loyalties lie with Terry’s Turf Club, Zip’s isn’t bad. It’s located in Mt. Lookout, in a space that feels like a cross between an old tavern and a cave (seriously. The picture to the left was taken at noon on a sunny day, and it looks like it was late evening!) and is filled, on a Saturday afternoon, with families and a couple of folks who were obviously there to watch college football. There is nearly always a line, with only a few booths and a couple of rows of communal seating. We were a party of three, and ended up at one of the communal tables.
Terry, Katy and I sat down and ordered fairly quickly. Terry ordered a double Zipburger, forgetting that the burgers at Zip’s are of the somewhat thick, homestyle variety, and not the super-thin variety. Oops. Katy and I both ordered regular Zipburgers. They both got onion rings, I got cheese fries. The burgers are the same as they’ve always been. Thick and somewhat juicy, and just a bit messy– generally, the bottom of the bun slips off before you’ve eaten the whole thing (I think that’s because the bun isn’t toasted). I got mine with everything but tomato, plus a slice of American cheese. The bun is fairly average, and the toppings pretty average as well. The fries are shoestring, and the cheese fries are topped with a Cheez Whiz-style topping (not actual cheese), which is kind of nice for nostalgia but isn’t really “good”. The onion rings are probably the standout– beer-battered and very thick. Sorry they’re not pictured, but it was just too dark.
Despite the line, I think Zip’s may just fall into one of those restaurants that rests on tradition, but isn’t really the “best” in town anymore. Do I like it? Sometimes, particularly when I’m nostalgic for the burgers my grandma made when I was a kid. Would I take out-of-towners there? Honestly, probably not. It is great for quick, fairly inexpensive food: my burger, fries and a soda were exactly $10, and is very family-friendly, at least in the afternoons. They generally have a pretty good beer selection, and a fairly large bar behind the main dining room. And, for a bar, the ambiance is great (I do love the little train that rides around the edge of the ceiling).