Restaurants & Reservations: Dining in Cincinnati

What happens when a rabbi and a lawyer walk into a bar? We'll let you know in a few years, but until then we'll do our best to share with you our favorite (and not-so-favorite) Cincinnati restaurants and hope you'll share some with us, too!

Reliably Predictable Tex Mex at Don Pablo's

Don Pablo's2692 Madison Road • Cincinnati, OH 45208 • (513) 631-1356
401 Riverboat Road • Newport, KY 41071 • (859) 261-8100

His Take

Don Pablo's is one of those chains for which sometimes you are just in the right mood.  As the name implies, it's a Tex-Mex restaurant, which means chips, salsa, burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, fajitas, and every other variation of those words that seem to be introduced into the vernacular from time to time.

Generally, when we head to Don Pablo's we're hungry and feeling like fajitas.  Sadly, I'm forced to avoid most of the cheesy items, which makes fajitas option numero uno.  In the past, I've usually done either the steak or chicken fajitas (or sometimes both), but then I discovered a secret few carnivores know.  At Don Pablos, the vegetarian portobello fajitas are far tastier than any of the meats they have.  Shocking, I know.

While we've been to Don Pablos in a variety of cities, locally we've been to the Rookwood and Newport locations.  As the pictures show, the Newport location has a great outdoor patio for the summer that overlooks the river.  Like the Rookwood location, the Newport one is also decorated to accent its warehouse origins.

Meals at Don Pablos always start with chips and salsa.  Their salsa is not the most amazing salsa you've likely ever had, but it's not bad, and if you're eating at Don Pablos, that's probably good enough for you.

I think Jessica has pretty much covered the details of the food, so I'll let you read and check out the pictures without further delay. Enjoy!

Her Take

I have been to Don Pablo’s at least a half dozen times in the last year or two, more because it’s convenient and good enough for a last minute dinner than because it’s really fantastic. The Rookwood location is in an old warehouse, and it still has a bit of that feel to it, but it has been decorated in a sort of funky Tex-Mex theme. The waitstaff is fairly non-notable. Sometimes they are a bit social with the tables, but more frequently they simply get their jobs done in a not particularly interesting fashion.

Meals at Don Pablo’s tend to start the same way. Instead of the bread and olive oil of many restaurants, they keep with their theme and bring chips and salsa to the table. It’s a never-ending basket, so if the table is as hungry as we usually are, it’s no problem for the waiter to continually refill both the chips and the salsa.

Because I am a creature of habit—but more because of a lack of vegetarian options—I tend to order the Portabella Fajitas. I get three plates with my order, and sometimes more, depending on the waiter. It comes with one dish of sizzling seasoned portabella, peppers, and onions, one dish of tortillas, and a third of all the other stuff, generally rice, refried beans, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and lettuce. I say generally because the waiters do differ on one key point. When I ask whether the sides are all vegetarian, I have gotten more than one different answer.

There is a general consensus that the refried beans are, in fact, meat/pork-free, but the rice seems to be a bit of a mystery. Some have told me that it, too, is vegetarian, but others, as on my most recent visit, told me it was cooked with a chicken broth, making it decidedly not-vegetarian. In exchange, I got the corn bread, which brings my total number of dishes to four. A couple of other sides are also generally offered in exchange for the potentially-meaty-rice, but the corn bread is my favorite!

Once the vegetarian-ness has been sorted out, I thoroughly enjoy my meals at Don Pablo’s. The portabellas have good spices on them, and I generally leave stuffed. I can’t finish all the tortillas they bring, both because I get too full and because they are so messy to eat. After one or two (they’re small!) I tend to just mix the ingredients together on one of my several plates and eat it with a fork. The too-many-plates issue tends to be an issue only when everyone at the table orders fajitas, in which case multiply the 3-4 dishes per person by the number of people at the table, add chips and salsa and drinks, and, well, it’s a little crowded.

My most entertaining Don Pablo’s experience, by far, involved leaving before we ate. During the blackout in the fall, we showed up needing dinner, since without power, dinner was difficult at home. They had power, and they were crowded, but they had a couple of open tables. The hostess, however, warned us that they were out of a few things: chips and tortillas for starters. We laughed, since that meant few things on the menu were being served as usual…and we left to go elsewhere. But we generally go back again when we’re looking for something at the last minute. It isn’t the best in the city, but it’s reliable and certainly good enough for an unexciting and unadventurous night out.

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