This "20 to Try" guide is led by a place that gives riverfront sports fans a major-league game-day experience right on the stadiums' doorstep.

Face it, fans have been starved for places to eat and drink before and after games. So, dig into Cincy's inaugural restaurant guide and then let us know what you think.

The Holy Grail Tavern and Grille was the first restaurant to open on the finally blossoming Banks "” on St. Patrick's Day "” a Jay Bruce throw directly across from Great American Ball Park.

The restaurant, a third in a locally-owned chain, is shaping up to be the place to be this summer downtown. Even with 6,000 square feet and a capacity for 300 people indoors and 50-60 outdoors, you'd better get there early.

The location certainly is a draw, but so is the food and drink. Co-owner Paul Goebel calls its "quality pub food" made with fresh ingredients.

"We put a lot of care into bar food," Goebel says. "We've thought this out pretty far. We don't just open boxes and drop things into a deep fryer."

You'll find all your appetizer, burger, salad and sandwich favorites.

On the day Cincy staff visited, the loaded fries (cheese, bacon, ranch dressing, scallions), Cajun chicken sandwich with pepper jack, and burger with sautéed onions, mushrooms and American cheese were all well above average. The meat was juicy, obviously fresh, the buns were soft, and service was prompt.

The tavern has 30 hi-def TVs, 15 beers on 20 taps and garage-type doors. When those are open, the place has an open-air feel "” as if it's an extension of the stadium.

But perhaps the coolest attraction is the two tap tables, or round tops that seat 5-6 with two beer taps literally sprouting from the middle of the tables. The taps calculate electronically how much beer is dispensed and charge the patron's credit card. There is a $200 minimum purchase. But, really, let's talk convenience.

Goebel says that for "every Reds game" and "every weekend night" you should call weeks in advance to reserve the tables. You "might get lucky on a normal happy hour, but any special event they'll be gone."

The day Cincy went, the tap table beer combinations were Coors Light-Blue Moon and Miller Light-Leinenkugel, but Goebel says requests can be made.

With a great location, quality food and drink, and a coolness factor working in its favor, the Holy Grail promises to be a fan favorite even after the rest of The Banks gets into high gear later this summer and fall.
 
1. HOLY GRAIL TAVERN AND GRILLE
Opened in March
161 Joe Nuxhall Way
Downtown
(513) 621-2222
Signature Dish: Goebel's Reuben Wontons "” Corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss wrapped, fried and served with Thousand Island dressing, two for $5.99 or four for $9.99
 

DON'T MISS THE REST OF THE LIST
Here's a look at the rest of our choices as the top restaurants that have opened in the past year. 
 
 
2. BLINKERS TAVERN
Opened in March
318 Greenup St.
Covington, KY 41011
(859) 360-0840
The Scoop: This horse racing themed restaurant and pub, run by the former owners of the Havana Martini Club and The Reserve,
serves everything from a dozen sandwich options, to fine cuts of steak and pasta.
Signature Dish: Blinker Steak "” New York Strip topped with mushrooms, garlic and wine, 10 oz. $22, 12 oz. $25.
 
3. COPPER BLUE
Opened in December
900 Main St.
Milford, OH 45150
(513) 239-8450
The Scoop: This casual restaurant features made-from-scratch jazzed up classics (think: blackened meatloaf and fish cakes), handcrafted sides and a self-described "grub shack" atmosphere.
Signature Dish: Drunken Carrot Cake Volcano "” Homemade carrot cake bread pudding topped with vanilla ice cream and a Kentucky Bourbon crème anglaise, $6.
 
4. THE FIREHOUSE GRILL
Opened in March
4785 Lake Forest Drive
Blue Ash, OH 45242
(513) 733-FIRE (3473)
The Scoop: Opened by Blue Ash resident and former firefighter Bob Davis, this 12,000-square-foot upscale-casual restaurant features a pub-like ambience with a huge outdoor patio that includes a fireplace overlooking a pond. The menu features gourmet pizzas and signature burgers.
Signature Dish: Backdraft Burger "” Ground sirloin or grilled chicken breast, jalapeños, chilies, Monterey jack, guacamole, bacon, $9.
 
5. GEISHA MODERN ASIAN CUISINE & LOUNGE
Opened in February
West Chester, OH 45069
Phone: (513) 777-3888
Signature Dish: Filet Mignon Carpaccio "” Thin sliced, seared filet mignon, garlic, scallion with ginger soy reduction, $11.
The Scoop: With a fusion of Asian, French and Italian cuisine, this is a sushi house with a twist, accented with an upscale, trendy, elegant décor and featuring the largest selection of sake in the Cincinnati area.
 
6. HEBRON BREW HAUS
Opened last April
2030 Northside Drive
Hebron, KY 41048
(859) 534-5600
The Scoop: Hoagies, calzones with almost 20 ingredient options, and more than 10 homemade specialty pizzas, including a Cincinnati chili-style pie, highlight this pizza and beer joint that often comes alive with karaoke and music. The restaurant features an extensive beer menu, including support for regional brews, and a vast dessert menu led by fried Twinkies.
Signature Dish: Loaded Potato Pizza "” Garlic mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese, bacon and chives, served with a side of sour cream, $15 for a large.
 
7. INDIAN BISTRO
Opened in February
8460 Beechmont Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45255
(513) 474-7500
The Scoop: The menu focuses on Northern Indian cuisine, featuring more than a dozen each of vegetarian dishes and specialty breads among traditional lamb, chicken and seafood options. The daily lunch buffet is just $7.
Signature Dish: Ultimate Bistro Special "” Chicken tikka and sheikh kebab cooked in a thick tomato, onion and butter sauce, $16.
 
8. JEAN-ROBERT'S TABLE
Opened in August
713 Vine St.
Downtown
(513) 621-4777
The Scoop: Celebrity chef Jean-Robert de Cavel has returned, reuniting with most of his former cast and crew from Pigall's, to offer his French-styled cuisine with understated Cincinnati sensibilities and in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Signature Dish: Halibut "” Served with a light citrus sauce, spaghetti squash, fennel, purple potatoes, oyster mushroom and rapini, $26.
 
9. LUNAR/LAUNCH
Opening spring/summer
435 Elm St.
Downtown
(513) 381-2573
The Scoop: Cincinnati's newest ultra-hip nightclub will feature food from Jimmy Gibson of Jeff Ruby restaurant group fame, whose adjacent restaurant will serve seasonal fare with a trendy twist on bar food that is "upscale, but not intimidating."
Signature Dish: Smoked caponata fondue with wood-grilled toast.
 
10. MEISTERHAUS GERMAN LODGE BAR
Opened in February
1555 Main St.
Hamilton, OH 45013
(513) 863-5999
The Scoop: The West Side's very own Beer Haus features traditional German-style beers and food, including pretzels, schnitzels, wurst and sauerkraut, served in a festive atmosphere often accompanied by bands, DJs and karaoke.
Signature Dish: Sauerbraten "” Traditional slow-roasted German pot roast served with red cabbage and two sides, $9.
 
11. MELLOW MUSHROOM
Opened in November
1014 Town Drive
Wilder, KY 41076
(859) 441-6600
The Scoop: The burgeoning national chain's first foray into Cincinnati brings calzones, hoagies and its star artisan pizza with a vast selection of beers (30 on tap) in a family-friendly dine-in atmosphere.
Signature Dish: House Special Pizza "” Red sauce, extra mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham, applewood smoked bacon, mushrooms, black olives, Roma tomatoes, green peppers, onions, 10-inch $13,14-inch $20, 16-inch $25.
 
12. MERITAGE
Opening summer
1140 Congress Ave.
Glendale, OH 45246
(513) 771-8658
No website
The Scoop: The new upscale-casual restaurant will add to tiny Glendale's big dining tradition by serving contemporary made-from-scratch American cuisine and by offering a unique small-suburban-town dining experience.
Signature Dish: Tristan lobster tails from South Africa, market priced.
 
13. NAKED PIZZA
Opened in March
3646 Edwards Road
Cincinnati, OH 45208
(513) 871-4400
The Scoop: The grassroots "healthy pizza" movement comes to town, offering its delivery-centered pies made of all-natural ingredients with no added sugar. The crust contains 10 grains and prebiotic fiber, and can be made gluten-free.
Signature Dish: Superbiotic Pizza "” All-natural tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichoke, spinach, bell pepper, mushroom, garlic, red onion and cilantro, 10-inch $13, 12-inch $15, 14-inch $17.
 
14. THE PATRIOT STEAKHOUSE & TAVERN
Opened in January
1525 Genntown Drive
Lebanon, OH 45036
(513) 228 "” 2500
The Scoop: This meat-lovers and patriotic-themed restaurant offers northern suburbanites every cut of prime steak imaginable, pork chops and tenderloin, seared prime rib, fresh seafood and pasta.
Signature Dish: James Madison Filet "” Beef tenderloin, 8 oz., market priced
 
15. PHO LANG THANG
Opened in November
114 W. Elder St.
Over the Rhine
(513) 376-9177
The Scoop: The buzz-generating authentic Vietnamese restaurant at Findlay Market offers soups, noodle dishes and its popular Banh Mi sandwiches.
Signature Dish: Banh Mi Thit Nuong "” A "Vietnamese Po Boy" with grilled lemongrass marinated beef, chicken or pork, do chua, garlic butter mayo, cucumber, cilantro, $6.
 
16. SMOQ
Opened in December
275 Pictoria Drive
Springdale, OH 45246
(513) 671-SMOQ (7667)
The Scoop: As its name implies, the smoker is the star at this new BBQ haven serving slow-cooked southern-style ribs, brisket, chicken and pork. The restaurant is run by Pete Zimmer of the former Burbank's Real Bar-B-Q, which inspired the sweet cornbread and three sweet, mild and mustardy barbecue sauces.
Signature Dish: St. Louis Dry Rub Ribs  "” A rack dry rubbed with a house blend, $15 half slab, $21 full slab.
 
17. SULTAN'S MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE
Opened last April
7305 Tyler's Corner Drive
West Chester, OH 45069
(513) 847-1535
The Scoop: Expect lots of authentic Turkish kebabs and a classy room stylized with folded napkins and white tablecloths.
Signature Dish: Iskender Kebab "” Layers of lamb and beef, diced pita bread, garlic yogurt, and fresh tomato sauce, $16.
 
18. TAQUERIA MERCADO MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Opened last April
100 E. Eighth St.
Downtown
(513) 381-0678
The Scoop: This truly authentic restaurant gives downtown visitors what Fairfield residents have known about for years: real Mexican dishes prepared in a fresh, no-nonsense and inexpensive way.
Signature Dish: Chicken Enchilada "” Green or red sauce, choice of meat (carne asada, steamed beef, chicken, carnitas, chorizo, tripe, suadero, tongue, shrimp), rice, beans, lettuce, tomato and sour cream, $9.
 
19. TONY'S
Opened last May
12110 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45249
(513) 677-1993
The Scoop: After 20 years as general manager of The Precinct, Tony Ricci opened this fine-dining restaurant, offering prime steaks, seafood and Mediterranean dishes in an upscale environment.
Signature Dish: Center Cut Filet Mignon "” Served with Greek salad or house salad and baked or Yukon gold mashed potatoes, 9 oz. $33, 12 oz. $37.
 
THE WALNUT STREET GRILL
Opened in March
631 Walnut St.
Downtown
(513) 241-0707
The Scoop: Jeff Ruby takes a break from steak with his newest restaurant that exudes a comfortable and relaxed environment with a focus on American comfort-food cuisine like your grandmother would have made, with an updated flair.
Signature Dish: Southern Fried Steak "” Pan-fried, butterflied New York Strip, country beans and gravy, $20.

CINCY CALLING : AMATEUR REVIEWERS

Send your pithy prose detailing your dining experience at one of our "20 to Try" new restaurants. Excerpts from the best two reviews will be published in September Cincy and the winners each will receive a $50 gift certificate to Trio Bistro in Kenwood.

Reviews must be received by August 1 to tcurtis@cincymagazine.com. You must include your full name, address, phone number and neighborhood of residence to be eligible to win a gift certificate.