Restaurant Review: Ringside Cafe in Columbus Ohio

When I was in college, I landed an engineering internship in Columbus--and during our first team outing, the first thing that my boss said to us was that she and her husband loved Columbus. It was a great place to raise a family because there were so many things to do and a never-ending supply of restaurants. We have lived in/around the city for nearly 20 years now--and we are still discovering restaurants and hidden gems at every opportunity. This weekend--we took a trip "downtown" for a Saturday night dinner as a family (which is becoming harder and harder to schedule with teenagers). Ringside Cafe was on our must-visit list. What did we think of this downtown Columbus find?

Before we dive into the details of our outing--let me tell you about Ringside Cafe

Ringside Cafe & Its History. I LOVE. LOVE. LOVE going to any establishment keeping bits of local history alive, and Ringside Cafe is keeping up quite the legacy in serving from its doors in downtown Columbus. Ringside Cafe has been a part of downtown Columbus since 1897. Its back-alley location in the middle of Pearl Alley makes it a bit hard to find--but adds well to its 1897 character. Once known as The Rathskeller Cafe (with the name still etched over the doorway)--this space has long been a gathering place for locals, downtown workers, politicians, and those venturing to the local theaters and downtown activities.

Given the location--steps from the Statehouse in a city with city, county, and state government mingling in the downtown area--it is easy to see how the establishment would see its share of political influencers dining. My favorite aspect of the building is its stained glass windows (one depicting a donkey and another an elephant.) The story says that in those days past--the restaurant would light a candle for visitors to know which political party was taking up residence for the evening to hash out politics over some dinner and drinks! They would place a candle behind the appropriate window to "warn" others of the political party of the evening. Since the early '90s, however, the place has shifted slightly from the political front and has opted to appeal to the boxing fans (or the prizefighter fans as my Grandpa would have preferred).

Today, visitors to the Ringside Cafe will still find those stained glass windows and The Rathskeller Cafe etched over the door with some original details--but will also be treated to a historical boxing lesson as well. From the murals outside to the boxing decor and the black and white replayed matches shown on the television over the bar to the aptly named burgers on the restaurant's menu--the ringside cafe has transitioned from the political ring to the boxing ring.

Okay--So, What did we think of the Ringside Cafe in Columbus, Ohio?

Getting There and Parking. This place was probably excellent in the early 1900s--with most of the patrons walking in for dinner or drinks. Today--its location may present some challenges. If you know where Pearl Alley is (maybe you go for the farmer's markets...or you spend time downtown.)--you probably have a plan for parking. If you don't--your GPS is going to drag you down a couple of narrow one-way streets (currently construction ridden) and say "You Are Here"....and you can't park...and you may not know where you are...or if you are THERE because the Ringside Cafe isn't so easy to see in the dark!

SO. Do some quick mapping, a little research, and plan your parking. We lucked out and parked just around the corner on Gay Street in front of Pub Mahone--but, this followed a couple of minutes of "This isn't it--did you see it?" and "It's here--we just have to park and walk and find it." In the rain. And the Dark.

Walking Into Ringside Cafe. I love walking into historical buildings and seeing the remnants of floors and ceilings and fixtures from a time gone by. We were greeted immediately and shown to a table--though I expect that there may be a wait at times during lunch and dinner rush hours. The dining area is small (though I understand there is a private area available for those wishing to reserve a party or larger group outing)--and the booths could be a bit snug-fitting for larger diners. There are a few tables for larger parties--but those may be at a premium during busier times.

How was the Food?

Okay-in reality--we all go out to eat for the food. The Ringside Cafe claims to have fantastic burgers. What did we think of the food at The Ringside Cafe?

The The “Duran” Cajun Bleu Burger

The Duran was a ½ lb beef patty with Bleu Cheese Crumbles, Grilled Red Onions & Smoked Bacon. I ordered it cooked medium-well, and it was cooked mostly though without any charring. I subbed onion rings for the house chips. The portions are pretty big--and without a knife and fork--it took a minute or two to figure out how to eat this burger "gracefully". I finally forgot grace and took a bite! I really liked it. It wasn't saucy and messy--just a burger loaded with bacon strips onion and bleu cheese. The onion rings were good--but I did find myself stealing some of the house chips from my daughters' plates throughout the meal!

The Haymaker Jalapeno Burger

My husband was undecided between this burger and the one that I chose--but picked this one. He ordered his "medium"--and it was pretty rare. I think he was expecting it to be medium-well. He generally orders medium rare for steaks--so it was okay for him--but, I would verify with the server to make sure you get what you want in the done-ness. He opted for fries--and we all stole those from his plate. I would definitely order fries next time.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

This one was a little messy--and was in keeping with the size of the burgers. Our youngest ordered it with the house chips and could only eat half the sandwich. We helped with her house chips!

The Club Sandwich

Our middle one ordered the Club Sandwich with just lettuce and house chips--and it was a hit for her. She ate the whole sandwich--but did share the house chips!

While we did have some drinks (I had a Rhinegeist Swizzle)--I failed to make a note of my husband's IPA draft. He liked it--and had two--but--beyond Fury in the title...we were at a loss later in the evening for either the brewer or the IPA's name!

No dessert options on the menu--but we were all too stuffed to think about that anyway.

Would I Recommend Ringside Cafe in Columbus, Ohio? I really liked it. I loved the history and architecture of the building, I loved the themed elements, I loved the small space, and I enjoyed the food. The server was friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed--and I will definitely look to return when we are out and about in the neighborhood. Parking can be a little tough--but it is not impossible. You may have a bit of walk--but, map it out and look for parking in the block surrounding the cafe. If you are already downtown and parked for a show at one of the local theaters, I would definitely stop in for dinner before or after the show--and it would be the perfect spot for lunch after visiting the Pearl Alley farmer's market or a tour of the State House.

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We were not compensated in any way for this review--we just wanted to share our experiences with a local restaurant!  If you have a favorite restaurant or activity that you think we should know about in Columbus or in your corner of the world--email us

Ringside Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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