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Best Burger In The West?

Tavern On The Bend
5471 North Bend Road Cincinnati, Ohio 45247 513-481-7777

I casually mentioned to the Knotty Pine owner I’m always on the hunt for Cincy’s next “Best” burger. He had a recommendation immediately, the Westside’s Tavern On The Bend. “Can they topple Terry’s?” I asked, “I don’t know, but they are sure going to try.” He replied. Coming from him, that was good enough for me. I left the Pine and went straight there. My wife was concerned we would be too late as it was way past 10 pm. Luckily, The Tavern serves food until midnight.
We loved it right off. A massive rectangle bar dead center dominates the space. It’s surrounded by leather booths and tall tables. Entirely open throughout. A suspended tin ceiling hangs over the bar.
Dark woods and rich colors feel warming. No sports signs, flashing neon, beer posters or other such bar regalia. B&W framed photos are the sole decor. It felt downtown.
It also felt pricey. The question would be, is it worth it? We found our own seats in a quiet corner and were greeted promptly by a server. I asked right off for a Strongbow cider (my favorite bar test, only quality places seem to have it). As usual, he said they didn’t carry it. Damn! Then he saved the fumble though. Quickly he suggested Original Sin Cider. It was on tap even! I got it. I was glad. It was a near equal to my favorite bar beverage. I would gladly accept it as a substitute anytime. Good save my man. Good start.
To our relief not only was the menu interesting, it was affordable. Seven signature burgers with toppings ranging from Grandma’s Chili to Ham & Swiss ($7.95-$10.50 with fries). To my wife’s delight, all burgers are available in veggie patty form. Damn good veggie patties as it turns out. A rare thing.
Aside from burgers, Tavern On The Bend offers six signature Mac & Cheese dishes, four salads, Grandma’s Chili and... get this, Hanky Panks! Spicy sausage, blended with signature cheese sauce on pumpernickel ($7). That’s the entire menu spiel. Get drinks from the bar, a burger, salad, mac & cheese, hanky panks or piss off. I loved it. That’s what a contemporary pub menu should be. A short & sweet list of quality offerings to please most. Cheap and done right. But how right?
I’ll cut to the chase. Both burgers were a pleasant surprise from the norm. Toasting the bakery bun assured it held up against soggy-ness. The toppings were super fresh, nice thick real cheese, perfectly cooked, lightly seasoned beef patty. Good bun-burger ratio. They didn’t ask how to cook it, they just did it. A perfect medium + with no pink. Simple but impressive. The accompanying fries shared the same quality.
The mac was obviously made with pride. A browned top covered creamy cheesy goodness. Al dente pasta spirals held their shape and still had spring. I ordered the Tavern Mac (just mac & cheese), you can opt for varieties such as Lobster Mac (take a guess), Philly mac (Philly steak mixed in), Westside Mac (grilled chicken, bacon and BBQ sauce) and Buffalo Chicken Mac (Buffalo sauced chicken and sharp cheddar). They are all $5-$7. Salads are $6-$7 including the Candied Almond & Grape. Mixed greens, Romaine, candied almonds, red grapes, goat or blue cheese and the Tavern’s own Citrus Basil Vinaigrette.
The handsome decor, quality food, casual ambiance (plus the cider on tap) won us over. If we were Westies, this would be a frequent stop for us. We found the food worthy of returning for and we liked the simple, adult, no frills concept. The Saturday night crowd appeared to be in the 30-55 age group. A perfect fit for us.
Comments on urbanspoon include food praises mixed with complaints about the paper serving dishes and plastic silverware. Obviously the commentators didn’t read the fine print on the menu that says “Served in biodegradeable tableware”. Or didn’t care. To me that’s a responsible plus on the Tavern’s part and should be given honorable mention. This is a casual-tasteful-adult pub. Look around, the decor is screaming it. The only complaint I have is that the Tavern appears to have no website. If you’re a local, who really cares.
Is Tavern On The Bend’s burger a Terry’s toppler? That’s a tough one. Terry’s burger has a sensual unctuousness about it no one has quite surpassed yet. However, concept vs concept, I’d prefer The Tavern In The Bend over the overcrowded, cramped, noisy Turf Club any day. Unless I need a neon tan.
Burger vs burger, The Tavern may well best any other name on the current urbanspoon list in competition, or at least tie. Probably depends on the day.
The Great Cincy’s Best Burger Debate will undoubtedly roll on, for now anyway. Maybe it was always there. Just not in as many media forms as today. Perhaps it will never end. Either way, enter “Tavern On The Bend” to the list of names you usually see on such lists. Regardless if it’s #2 or #12, Westsider’s should delight that they have such a nice burger pub with contemporary taste and fine quality that’s affordable. Too few neighborhoods do.
PS Every bar has beer, try the cider.