Review: Zip’s

Can you believe in 2.5 years of wine me, dine me I’ve never written about Zip’s?

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).

Zip's Cafe on Urbanspoon

  • http://arecycledbin.blogspot.com JennyKay

    I took my super duper picky younger cousins there, and they loved it. If you’re stuck with kids and need a no-fuss but fun dinner, this is it. Hot dogs, cheese fries, hamburgers and a train. What else do you need? :)

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Jenny, totally agree. The families there all seemed super-happy. They use Moscow Mule cups to hold crayons. Very family-friendly.

  • http://www.bigdaddieshouse.com Big Daddie

    Zip’s makes a damn fine burger.
    Quatman’s makes a better one.
    Ain’t never heard of Terry’s.

  • http://shermanbrothers.blogspot.com Sherm

    For me, its still easily the best burger in town, but I was raised a Zip’s loyalist, so that may be clouding my judgement a hair ;).

  • http://www.pfoody.com Bryan Sherman

    Nice review. Zip’s is one of my favs (though they switched to Pepsi). Definitely a no-nonsense burger. I think the ambience is worth the trip for out-of-towners including the mural and train.

    • http://californiatraveler.blogspot.com/ Suz

      Hmmm…Pepsi, definitely a step in the right direction, but do they have any veggie friendly offerings?

      • http://www.bigdaddieshouse.com Big Daddie

        Veggie friendly offerings at a classic burger joint?

        Get out of town, sister. You’re living in Porkopolis.

        • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

          Most classic burger joints offer a veggie burger of some sort.

          • Amy

            Actually, Zips has a great black bean burger, and they also serve Gardenburgers.

  • http://howidealwithmycrazylife.blogspot.com/ Jessica E.

    I just don’t get the hype about Zip’s. I went there, after so many recommendations, and it was okay, but nothing stellar. Now, Terry’s! That’s one amazing burger! It’s out of this world, whether you get a regular cheeseburger or a burger with goat cheese (YUM!) and some fancy sauce! And their fries are heavenly (then again, I don’t care for shoestring fries…I’m a fresh cut girl)!

    I do want to try Quatman’s though…since it’s right down the street. But every time I think about it, I think “Can it really top Terry’s? Wouldn’t I just rather go to Terry’s…where there’s delicious goat cheese?” It’s a conundrum!

  • marmaladefatty

    Mmmm, ZIPS. I think you missed the boat on what Zips is and is not. Zips is the best traditional burger in town, hands down. My reformed vegetarian friend and I went on a quest two years ago for the best burger in town and after stops at Terry’s, Zips, Quatmans, and a few others Zips stood out as the best traditional burger in town. Yes, Terry’s fries were much better, and the lighting and beverators much hipper but when you want that simple meaty American burger without the caramelized onions and imported blue cheese Zips is where it’s at. Burger perfection.

  • DocCappy

    The best thing about Zip’s is it keeps a few parents with snot-nosed little varmints away from Terry’s.

    I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has made more than three burgers in their lifetime who would not be able to make a burger comparable to the one served at Zips. There’s nothing special about it, it’s just a burger. It was never the best in town, that joint is all about the train.

  • stevezim

    @winemedineme Enjoyed your review on Zips. I thought it was right on the mark.

    • http://twitoaster.com/country-us/winemedineme/ winemedineme

      @stevezim thanks steve!

  • Davis

    Ohh…..Zips has been around a lot longer than you, and will be around after you are gone. Some traditions you just don’t diss. You have just disappointed a, well what used to be, huge fan base.

    Why not post – “Skyline su*ks”?

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I didn’t “diss” it, I simply stated that I didn’t love it. Everyone has their opinion, right?

      • http://cincinnaticocktails.com Craig Hochscheid

        Well, Skyline DOES suck.

  • http://culinaryadventuresofbill.blogspot.com Bill

    I really like Gordos also. Ken Durbin and I ate there a few weeks ago and ken raved about it having his favorite burger. Never had Zips.

  • http://www.andyjessaddison.blogspot.com jessica

    As a relative newcomer to Cincinnati I find Zip’s pretty darn good – somehow it just all works for me. We’ve brought a couple of out of towners and they’ve loved it. My three year old loves the train, of course.
    I haven’t been to Terry’s or Quatman’s, although they’re on my list of places to hit. Last summer we wandered into City View Tavern – their burger is pretty delish too.

  • http://cincinnaticocktails.com Craig Hochscheid

    I’ve always been underwhelmed by Zip’s burgers, and i particularly hate shoestring fries in general-they’re invariably greasy and lacking in texture & flavour. I’d take an In-n-Out burger over Zip’s any day.

  • kelly

    Spot on review! Glad someone mentioned the City View. I’ve been to Terry’s numerous times, and do like it a lot, but when I’m in the mood for a burger, the City View is where we head. Perfect, every time. You should give it a try!

  • DerekLutz

    Like, not love, Zips. Good quality meat from Avril-Bleh. The chili is also good, especially the white chicken chili. And the onion rings.

    Biggest turn-offs, waiting in the narrow doorway and the kids. Always too many in there, probably because of the train.

  • Marshall

    Quatman, Zip’s and Terry’s (especially) are over-hyped. They’re good, but not anywhere as good as Gordo’s. His Jean-Ro and Hawaiian burgers are fantastic, and his black bean (for the vegs) is stellar.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I need to go back to Gordo’s. I haven’t been since a bit after it first opened and liked the flavors but not the physical size of the burger, nor did I like the steak fries. I’ve called it #2 in town, and I stick by that.

      http://winemedinemecincinnati.com/2008/12/review-gordos

  • http://www.udandi.com Andi

    For me, Zips is all about the onion rings and when possible I prefer to sit past the salon doors. Pepsi is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Brianne

    I love Zips because big, greasy, and complicated doesn’t usually mean better in a burger. Zips is straightforward and tasty – every time.

  • Aaron Roco

    Please stop talking about Quatmans like it’s anything. It’s garbage. Zips on the other hand is a classic. You should have gotten the chili too. They’ve always done their burgers on a flat top now a bunch of new places (five guys, flipdaddys) are on that.

    PS Love the shoestring fries.

  • rms

    Have been to Zips a couple of times. Liked it okay. But the waiting in the narrow doorway–everytime–is a real disincentive. I hate waiting, especially when there is no place to wait comfortably.
    The prospect of that wait just send me elsewhere.

  • vudutu

    I used to live near Zips and wayyy back then when we were cruising Ault Park it was pretty much Zips and Frisches Big Boys, still crave them once in a while, love their tartar sauce and onion rings. Zips and traditional places like it were all we had. Lots of good burgers out there now.

  • Amy

    I used to live almost next-door to Zips, and the smell of onion rings after a late night at work was heavenly. Zips was the one thing that almost got my hubby to move to Cincinnati, and we still visit every time we’re home. The shoestring fries are fantastic, especially with chili and cheese, and we always get a bowl of chili as well.

  • Cheezqueen

    I also thought to give Zips another try a few years ago, trying to figure out what all the hype was about. I had a cheeseburger and cheese fries. Nothing special. Apparently, if you want “special” you are supposed to have the Girth burger. A Zips burger with a grilled, split mettwurst on top. I might have been more excited about that. I haven’t managed to go back to try it though with Arthur’s, Gordo’s and Quatmans less then 10 minutes from my house. Also, if I was going to try somewhere new , I would go to the Gaslight Cafe about 3 minutes from my house and voted #4 burger in the city by Cincinnati Mag.

  • Chriscox85

    i tried zip’s for the first time and agree 100% with your review.  good, but the repeated ‘best burger’ title is only on tradition.  terry’s is the style of burger place that piques the interest of today’s curious food finder.  the best part of our meal was the cheese-stuff on the fries – very tasty and i would get it on the burger the next time…although i know you weren’t a fan. they had good beer on tap, too.  but to be known as an award winning burger joint, i was left underwhelmed.

  • Jon

    You need to get a real job…you are so not a “Foodie”

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      Uh, what leads you to that conclusion?