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Jungle Jim's international grocery store--worth a visit? And what else should I eat in Cincy?

I'll be driving down from Michigan (where I'm really close to TJ's, Whole Foods, and several other excellent local grocers) to Cincinnati for a 9-day trip. Is a side trip to Jungle Jim's worth the 30-minute drive? Do tell!

Also, are there good vegetarian options in Cincinnati that are downtown near the convention center? I'll be able to drive, but it won't be as convenient of course.

Thanks!

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  1. Definitely worth a visit. They have an astonishing beer selection, including a large variety of Belgian ale. I also recall an enormous number of hot sauces. They organize their ethnic stuff by giving each country/region its own aisle. The place is mammoth so allow some time to take it all in. You should be able to find anything you want and you may want to bring a cooler.

    1. Jungle Jim's is on the short list of thigns to visit in Ohio, not just the Cincinnati area. The produce section alone is as big as a small chain grocery store. Lots of exotic/international produce. Large health food section, aisles and aisles of International groceries, specialty items, and priced very competitively, as well.
      It tends to get very, very busy on weekends.

      1. I went to college near Jungle Jim's. It is an incredible grocery store destination with endless aisles of munchy curing goods to explore and try as a college kid. As sammyo mentioned, the beer selection was another huge draw along with the hot sauces and long aisles of international foods. Plan on spending a good amount of time and definitely don't forget to bring your cooler.

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        Jungle Jim's Cafe
        1923 N Peoria Rd, Springfield, IL 62702

        1. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with good vegetarian options downtown. I've only dined at a couple steakhouses down there, and a Chinese restaurant called Wah Mee.

          1. Here's another perspective from someone who lives in a very large, urban, and multicultural city. It was interesting (like the first time you visit a Costco) but it didn't wow me. It's half warehouse, 1/2 kitshy amusement park. You can get many international gourmet items like cheese, butter, salami, as well as pantry items. The liquor section is very large. Interesting produce. But for me, there wasn't anything there that I couldn't easily source at home so I guess it depends on what's available in your home town. I on the other hand don't have a TJ's and would much prefer that.

            8 Replies
            1. re: tuttebene

              What do you mean "source at home"? Like order over the internet?

              I'm kind of curious if anyone has any downtown vegetarian suggestions.

              1. re: Fibber McGee

                I mean I don't live in Cincy so it's not special for me; stores that carry the same goods are plentiful in my town. And I was suggesting that unless the OP was from a small town in Michigan, they may not find products unfamiliar to them. They have a TJ that they referenced as a comparison. I know that there's nothing else like JJ for the area, but that's not the case in other states or larger cities, with respect to the products. I happen to love Cincy and spend time there every year but the last time I looked my friend, it's neither large nor multicultural (unless you include Covington?????). I may be the lone voice of dissention, but that was my honest impression and opinion of the place. The decor is pretty hoaky. What would you call a roller coaster ride in the parking lot? In my town, they are only found in amusement parks - but then again, it's urban.

                1. re: tuttebene

                  Hey now, it used to be the tram in King's Island wildlife park. They only have a few diorama's, it's not like the store is predicated on them. Most importantly, it's the only place you can get certain essentials. Cases in point: durians, Bundaberg Ginger beer, Tim Tam's, preserved lemons, linguica...well, you get the point. You may find some of these items by hunting high and low in specialty stores, but JJ's is the only "under one roof" store where you can find everything. Except Tastykake's and Drake's Cakes. But I can get those when I visit my mom in Philly.

                  1. re: tuttebene

                    Fair enough, tuttebene. Apologies if my comment seemed smarmy.
                    I think JohnE O did oint out some items you really can't find in too many places, urban or not. Durian, lamb's head, rattlesnake and Inca Cola are not something you find in one place regardless of area size, I would think.
                    Speaking of visiting family in Philly, the one thing they don't have is Yuengling.

                    1. re: Fibber McGee

                      Weird that you mentioned Yuengling's. I've got a friend over the next block and we have a deal. Whenever one of us is in an area that sells it (my family is from Philly) we have to bring back a case for the other. I'm down to my last 6 and he forgot to pack his cases when he was visiting his kids in SC.

                      1. re: Fibber McGee

                        OK, you got me on the Yuengling (what is it?) but we've got 3 Chinatowns and Durian is as common as apples. As I read about everyone's reverence for JJ, I feel even more fortunate living where I do because everything is so available. But I must admit, we've no really good Mexican food as scrumptioussouschef's post reminds me of that fact - I'd even settle for adequate. Closest good Mexican to me is Detroit. Road trip!!!

                        1. re: tuttebene

                          Yuengling is a beer that is brewed only in Pennsylvania and Florida and distributed pretty much only in East Coast states. It's like the anti-Coors (back when Coors didn't distribute East of the Rockies). High-end beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers probably think those of us who make such deals like John are nuts.
                          We can go back and forth all day, I'm sure. And you're right, tuttebene, I guess being in an area like SW Ohio, places like JJ's truly seem like an glowing Oasis when true ethnic choices are few, far-between or secrets. Which is why we appreciate it so much.

                          1. re: Fibber McGee

                            Good to know FM! I'll look for it in my travels to PA (or JJ's ).

                2. you most definitely have to check out Jungle Jim's! it is basically my second home, I am lucky enough that I only live about 5 minutes away. I am there at least twice a week. I would recommend that you avoid going on the weekend though if you can, it turns into an obnoxious zoo of people. if you do have to go on the weekend though, hit it up early in the morning or closer to close and you will be ok.

                  p.s. it isn't really a kitschy amusement park, don't let that comment discourage you from going!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: hollymayberry

                    Well, you're not in a very large, urban and multicultural city . . .

                      1. re: hollymayberry

                        Just a little joke based on the previous post from yours. We're all on the same page now.

                          1. re: hollymayberry

                            Ok, tuttebene and I are on the same page. Not enough to worry about, it is agreed Jungle Jim's is a treasure for the area.

                  2. I make the 30 minute drive to Jungle Jim's every Friday (except today. Stupid work appointment). It's a must for food lovers, but be prepared to spend a lot. Not because it's expensive, but because there is just so much to chose from.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: JohnE O

                      I agree it's hard to get out of the Jungle without picking up a cart full of goodies. One area the hubby and I never pass up is the reduced price section back behind the produce department. There's always a ton of still perfectly good produce and baked goods, some of which I pop into the freezer after every visit.

                      1. re: Emm

                        D'oh. Went there today and dropped $300, mostly on stuff I really didn't need, but really wanted. The reduced price section was a madhouse. I prefer Friday's to Saturday afternoons.

                      2. re: JohnE O

                        I live 5 minutes from Whole Food's flagship store in Austin[which covers a city block] and Jungle Jims beats em like a borrowed mule.

                        I only get to visit Cincy once a year but Jungle Jim's is at the top of the list of my must visits. Hundreds of cheeses, enormous beer selection, great produce, knowledgeable staff. It's a one of a kind destination shopping mecca and it's on Dixie Highway which has turned into a great source of authentic Mexican fare.

                        From an earlier post:

                        With little response to my corn tortilla query at Taqueria Mercado I decided to book a flight from Austin to Cincinnati and do a little investigative work.

                        Walking out of the "Cincinnati"[actually northern Kentucky]airport there was this weird stuff falling out of the sky.It took a moment to recognize rain[Travis county Texas is in an historic drought].That,coupled with the fact that it was noon and not 105 degrees really threw me off for a bit.

                        A half hour later we're rolling up Dixie Highway on the hunt for tortillas.Taqueria Mercado is in a small plaza in a part of town littered with every kind of franchise known to man.The epicenter of deliciousness in the area is nearby Jungle Jims,the eccentric and elaborate maze-like grocery store that I hit whenever I'm within a couple hundred miles of southern Ohio.

                        The taqueria is a nicely run down and filled with Mexican families tucking into big platters of some good looking chow. We bull our way up to the order counter,grab a menu and take a gander.

                        All the requisite offerings are here:Carne Asada,Al Pastor,Barbacoa[mysteriously billed as steamed beef]Pollo,Carnitas,Chorizo,Tripas,Suadero and Lengua.The tacos are pricey compared to my normal Austin haunts with all coming in at two dollars with the exception of carne asada at two twenty five.

                        The carne asada is good with a nice charcoal flavor but the corn tortilla is not homemade.It is a good quality commercial offering however.The barbacoa is ok but not of the freshest order.carnitas are the star of the show.Billed as fried pork,these have actually been braised and could've benefited from a little time on the flattop.The flavor however is spot on.We also grab a couple cheese quesadillas and they are fantastic.The flour tortillas have been griddled in copious cow's butter and are stuffed to the gills with good quality chewy white cheese.Both the red and the green salsas are top notch.The green a nice loose,tomatilla base.The red is just pureed chiles in a water base.Hot,simple and good.We wash everything down with some fine,housemade horchata before heading next door to the panaderia.

                        Good idea.I love to carb load at a Mexican bakery and the churros are delicious,clearly homemade and dusted with lots of cane sugar and cinnamon.

                        I walk next door to the fruiteria and am rewarded with some gorgeous big,fat Haas avocados at .75 cents apiece. I finish off the trip with a 30 pack of Chicago corn tortillas. Back at my friends manse I open the pack and this unearthly smell of horse stable wafts out of the pack.Earthy,slightly sweet and corny they're even better than the house offering.After griddling in some hot peanut oil they provide a fine wrapper for our fish tacos we fried up with Tilapia purchased from nearby Jungle Jims.

                        Taqueria Mercado is a good resource.Cincy hounds are fortunate to have a tienda this authentic

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                        Taqueria Mercado
                        6507 Dixie Hwy, Fairfield, OH 45014

                        1. re: scrumptiouschef

                          If you like Mercado check out Tacqueria Maya (I think) on Fields Ertel next to Play It Again Sports. Every bit as good. Also, the owner of Mercado opened up a downtown Cincy resto on 7th (I think).

                      3. This is all very helpful--thanks everyone!

                        What about Thai or Ethiopian food? Anything like that in the area that's good? We can drive, too.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: IndyGirl

                          I had an amazing Sri Lankan feast in Loveland a few years ago. Can't remember the name of the restaurant but perhaps a Loveland hound can point you in the right direction.

                          Also I believe there is an Uzbeki diner in the Loveland area as well.

                          On a different note: Has anyone eaten at Sleepy Hollow Inn?

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                          Sleepy Hollow Inn
                          378 Bridge St, Loveland, OH 45140

                          1. re: scrumptiouschef

                            I just posted a review of several recent visits. Click through the link that Chowhound put in your post. I recommend the Sleepy Hollow.

                            1. re: scrumptiouschef

                              Yes, hubby and I drive across town to Sleepy Hollow several times a year. Got to love the year-round Christmas lights, competently prepared food and friendly service. I didn't know about the fried chicken. I am so there now.

                          2. And what about Italian? Another friends wants to get to an Italian place.

                            OMG we went to Jungle Jim's last night! It was amazing! We didn't get there until 8 and closing time is 10 of course, so we didn't have much time. I want to go back and go through all the small country booths at the back of the store--french, scandinavian, etc. I also bought a bottle of mead and some really good wine. I bought some kentucky chipotle hot sauce as well.

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                            Jungle Jim's Cafe
                            1923 N Peoria Rd, Springfield, IL 62702

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: IndyGirl

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/472467

                              No trip to Cincy is complete without a visit to Slims in Northside. Sunday night is [or used to be] chef's night off so I'd skip it if that's your only availability. My friend, the vegetarian, got what he described as "the best plate of food ever" on one visit.

                            2. For vegetarian, go to Melt in Northside. It's 15 minutes from downtown.

                              And check this thread from a while back:

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/625994

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                              Northside Cafe
                              1697 N Stephenson Ave, Iron Mountain, MI 49801