Stories by G.A. Benton, Nicholas Dekker, Jenny Rogers, Carrie Schedler, Kristen Schmidt, Emily Thompson
After a fun-filled weekend, the last thing on your mind is cooking a big meal. Bono Pizza has you covered. You can get three 10-inch pizzas for $25 any night of the week (except when they’re closed on Tuesdays), but owner Jake Wilch recommends stopping by on a Sunday. “Sundays seem to be the night where it’s more of a family night, and everybody just hangs out,” he says. Grab some pies to go or stick around at this casual, cash-only pizza joint—you can even bring your own non-alcoholic drinks to go with the ham and bacon Carbonara, the five-cheese, pesto and sausage Lady L, or the pizza of the month special.
Arepazo tapas & wine
Just like El Arepazo Latin Grill downtown, this Gahanna location is usually packed. But co-owner Carolina Gutierrez says Monday is the day to come and avoid the crowd. Stop in between 5 and 6 p.m. for happy hour specials—$4 drafts, $3 import bottles and $2 domestic bottles—and grab one (or a few) of 14 tapas, like the Peruvian Ceviche or the Venezuelan Empanaditas. You’ll get the same vibe at this South American fusion eatery as you would at the Downtown location, plus liquor options. “It’s kind of like a bistro—dimmed lights, busy, kind of crowded, cozy,” Gutierrez says.
Discriminating fans of frugal prices and global flavors stamp their passports at this hip gem. Chef Dan Varga’s zesty melting pot cuisine—in which a Latin-accented menu is supplemented with (usually country-of-the-month) themed menus—is wholly handmade. Though herbivores are catered to (November’s bonus menu is vegan/vegetarian), lately smoked meats and made-here sausages have become prominent—and the huge charcuterie plate (duck pastrami, local pork tasso, Hungarian sausages, smoked salmon and homemade bread) is a phenomenal deal. Weekend brunch chilaquiles are a must (Bloody Marys are $4 on Saturdays), as are half-off Tuesday margaritas. Hint: December’s “old favorites” menu brings back Varga’s Mofongo burger.
Katalina’s Cafe Corner
Sandwiches may seem like a boring dinner choice, unless you find yourself staring down the menu at Katalina’s. True to the tiny corner cafe’s quirky sense of humor, the menu twists traditional forms, like grilled cheese and BLTs, into spicy and surprising iterations. The Puebla BLT, for starters, includes the must-have sweet and spicy bacon and a house-made mole sauce. The over-the-top Mazatlan pork and egg sandwich rightly hogs a lot of attention, but unsung heroes like the bacon and avocado or the Cuban pressed Mixto are perfect for consuming in the quieter evenings at the cafe.
Creative juices don’t just flow into the galleries at the Wexner Center, they stream out of its scratch-cooking kitchen. Roots are significant here—in chef John Skaggs’ Tucson background and Southwestern flavor preferences, and the herbs and vegetables grown behind the counter and in its nearby garden. Daily specials (note: Heirloom stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays) are now featured—check out the red eye gravy with chorizo and biscuits. Soup du jour’s on, too—they’re all good. So is the killer Gila Monster turkey meatloaf sandwich. January’s opening of the Wex’s ongoing Via Brasil showcase will usher in Brazilian-influenced specials.
Yabo’s Tacos (three locations, we visited Upper Arlington) might be just another neighborhood joint if it didn’t feel so much like a neighborly meetup. You can sit in the rear dining room, but the cozy, homespun feeling of the place is best experienced in the front room, either at the bar or a nearby high-top. From this perch, you can chat with a friend or the bartender, catch the game on a big-screen—and get your order of chips and guacamole all the faster. Don’t miss that combo, made with warm spice-dusted chips and dip perked up with generous lime juice. Order the house margarita as is—this concoction, sweetened with agave syrup, is the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Yabo’s menu is no-muss, no-fuss—choose your meat and tortilla delivery system—but each ingredient bursts with flavor, adding up to a satisfying meal. Try the Baja-Style Tacos with fried fish, the Massive Yabo and guilty-pleasure Mosquito Bites with pork. And watch that Serrano Lime sauce—it’ll sneak up on ya.
Philco Bar +Diner
The “Diner + Bar” in Philco’s name easily translates to “dinner + drinks.” Snag a swiveling counter seat, or slide into a booth between 4 and 7 p.m. on a weekday for happy hour. Select glasses of wine are only $5, local draft beers like those from Seventh Son and Actual Brewing are half off and mini Miller High Life bottles are only $1. These complement easy wins like the 6-ounce Phillip’s Burger or the Steak Frites, a flatiron steak paired with hand-cut fries. Beer and wings play nicely together, and Philco serves barbecue duck wings with a side of Nueske’s bacon-and-potato salad.
Of all the weeknight specials that run at this New Albany restaurant, the one chef Alfonso Contrisciani makes on Tuesdays is his favorite. That’s when he pulls together a meatloaf that’s a far cry from the childhood dinnertime horror. His version features ground black angus beef with pepper jack cheese tucked inside. “You cut into it and get all this cheese,” he says. “It’s like a Swiss knodel (dumpling).” Topped with a Jack Daniel’s onion sauce alongside Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and cauliflower, it’s emblematic of what Plate does best: tasty yet unfussy versions of Italian weeknight dinnertime standards, the type of food you can feel nostalgic for all week long.
Starliner Diner is your go-to for nostalgic-meets-eclectic, Cuban-inspired comfort grub. It’s the kind of place that sells candy at the checkout counter (yes, there’s still a checkout counter), and the staff is focused more on consistently great food and friendly service than on embracing anything too trendy. Starliner’s breakfast has been called one of the city’s best, and Wednesdays are the perfect time to indulge … for dinner. “People love our breakfast, but when we’re busiest on Fridays and Saturdays, we just can’t do breakfast for dinner,” says owner Molly Davis. “But stop in on a Wednesday and it’s no problem.” Try the Huevos Rancheros and treat yourself to some mid-week jalapeno corn bread.
If you’ve ever found yourself among the throngs waiting close to an hour for a weekend brunch table at Skillet, the thought of getting seated in less than 10 minutes in the miniscule dining room at a peak meal time could sound preposterous. But chef Kevin Caskey says that’s often the case for their weeknight dinner service, which is about to get a lot more enticing by year’s end: The restaurant’s received a liquor license (they’ll be adding a curated menu of eight to 10 cocktails at every meal), and an expansion of the dining room with a new bar is underway. For dinner, the menu changes nightly (check online before you head out, as they post each night’s menu there first), and Caskey’s excited for cold weather to set in: “The food gets protein-heavy, and that’s ideal for us.”