O’Reilly’s has been a fixture in the Clintonville/North Campus for many years (just how many I can’t seem to find anywhere on the ‘net) and I’ve always loved the place just because it exists. I’ve been there a number of times in the last decade, but for some reason have never tried the food. It’s truly one of a kind, and the last of a dying breed of perfectly comfortable dive bars. They have a quaint sunken bar, a stacked jukebox, free Galaga, a lively patio, colorful regulars (including the guy I call “teach” cause he looks as if he did his first shot before the last school bell), and as far as I can tell it’s the closest thing to a Cincinnati Reds-friendly establishment as I can find (tell me if I’m wrong).
I’ve always wondered why the barkeeps push the menu on you even if you’re just having a cheap draft during happy hour. Now, after trying a handful of Pepper Burgers over the last few months, I know why. I’m not entirely sure what makes the Pepper Burger so good – maybe it’s the attention to the cheese, the pre-grill recipe, the bun, the just-right size of the patty – but it has quickly surpassed any other burger I’ve had in this city (yes, it’s heads and shoulders above the mighty Thurman). There are a lot of pub-style burgers that boast some kind of quirk (i.e. the Gahanna Grille's Beanie Burger includes slaw) and in most instances those quirks need to be perfected to make or break the burger. Hearing about the Pepper Burger, I'd always imagined that the pepper might just be too much -- but that's far from the truth. The "pepper" of the Pepper Burger adds a satisfying crispness to this sandwich, they use a modest amount of spice in the pre-grilling stages that will never overwhelm the taste of the quality beef used here. And the toppings on the Pepper are not used to mask any inadequacies, they are there to compliment an already formidable burger. There's the standard LTO dressing, pickle chips, both provolone and pepperjack cheese (perhaps this is what makes the burger?), and a small portion of bacon.
All told -- by reading here you'll find that that in the most unassuming locations, you'll likely find the best food. The Pepper Burger, which must have an origin story that needs to be told, is simple and common in it's creation, but a symphony of flavors when tried. Easily the best burger in this city. And though it doesn't rank as high as Crabill's or the Wagon, it sits high in the hierarchy of the Ohio burger.