I am not a connoisseur. I am not a gourmet. I am not a foodie. I am an Eaterarian. I like to find those out-of-the-way eateries with great food, an unassuming atmosphere, and where having a laugh with my friends isn’t considered inappropriate. I usually find these places by accident. Stumble upon them while on the road and think, “That place looks interesting. Let’s stop there.”
It would be great if I had a list, maybe even a map of places like that. A list of all the great diners, little local places, and stand-up eateries – all within a few minutes of each other. Places with those ‘best-ever’ breakfasts, works-of-art burgers, authentic throwbacks, and just plain, comfortable food.
Sound like you? The good news is you can find all of this in Marion County as you travel the Eaterarian Trail. Ten incredible, unique eateries that are truly local, totally comfortable, and memory making:
131 South Main Street, Marion
So often, a great local restaurant is as much about the owner as it is the food. Such is the case at Baires where Marcela Barrios is as likely to be sitting talking with customers as she is in the kitchen creating culinary adventures. Pay close attention though as Marcela’s Argentine accent and energy takes some effort to keep up with. Breakfast and lunch are the mainstays at Baires, delivered in traditional comfort food and an occasional Argentinian twist. All meals are prepared from scratch and with an eye toward the healthy without sacrificing taste and texture. Even the local favorite fresh sliced potato chips have a light, non-greasy flavor that makes you wish the generous pile on your plate had been just a little bigger. Open for dinner only on Friday evenings, Baires fills up quickly with eager diners anticipating Marcela’s menu that is a unique mix of her home country and America. M-F, 8:30 – 1:30. Fridays for dinner.
187 West Center Street, Marion
On the second floor of Charleston Place, The Candy Shack & Cafe offers a pleasant dining view overlooking the main floor boutiques while enjoying your lunch or dinner. With a healthy menu variety that’s made to order, owner, Jody, compliments her homemade chocolates and sweets with soups, salads, and sub sandwiches. The soup of the day is always a delightful dish any time of year.
1116 Mount Vernon Avenue
Small, but mighty describes this local favorite that recently moved from Richwood in northern Union County to its current home on the East side of Marion. No surprises here as your comfort food favorites on the menu will have you planning your next visit before you leave.
142 North Main Street, Marion
In the shadow of the County Courthouse, the Courtyard Grub & Pub is a prime example of what a bar and grille should be. However, it should more properly be called a grille and bar as the emphasis is on the food. You would expect burgers to dominate the menu at a place like this, but honestly, you may not expect such an incredible selection of unique, perfectly prepared beef on a bun. Consider their bacon cheese burger, listed as the Parole Burger on the Courthouse-themed menu. Topped with aged cheddar and two slices of thick cut bacon, the burger itself is partially made of ground bacon. Add the fresh cut fries and you have the quintessential bar and grille meal. The atmosphere is pleasantly light for a bar/grille and the owners encourage family dining. During the warm months, the outside dining area is the perfect spot to take in the historic downtown architecture.
103 North Marion Street, Waldo
Where’s Waldo? More importantly, where’s the G & R Tavern in Waldo? Famous for their bologna sandwich and mile-high pie, the G&R serves up the epitome of comfort food. People come from down the street and across the nation to order the first thing on their walled menu; the famous bologna sandwich. Fresh sweet pickles and onions lie atop a fried ¾ inch slice of the G&R’s homemade-recipe bologna. But leave some room for dessert. With your choice among 6 flavors, each slice of their homemade cream pie stands nearly five inches tall with whipped topping. It certainly is one dessert big enough to share!
With trophies, photos and signs lining the walls as its own eclectic wallpaper, the G&R Tavern has that “at home” feeling you won’t soon forget. You’re welcome to seat yourself in an occasional open table or at the bar during dinner time to reminisce of fond memories with friends or to make new memories for years to come. In our ever-changing world, the G&R’s loyalty to its 1962 origins is an example of how some things should stay the same.
1565 Marion-Waldo Road, Marion
When you think of a diner, you think of bacon and egg breakfasts, homemade soups and grilled sandwiches for lunch, and comfort food dinners. That is exactly what you get at the Marion Diner, plus a little more. The diner sits on the south edge of Marion, but locals travel from all over town for their traditional breakfast menu that includes 15 omelet selections – most notable the pizza omelet and the gyro omelet. The place fills up at lunch time as diners look forward to one of the many offerings from the Pit Smoked Sandwiches section of the menu. Ribs, chicken, and chops bring them in for dinner with large portions and steaming side dishes. If that isn’t enough, the Diner also produces Greek, Italian, and seafood menus. With a menu boasting almost 150 choices, you are sure to find something to enjoy at the Marion Diner.
734 East Center Street, Marion
Even after 80 years, the OK Cafe is livelier than ever! This casually upbeat bar and grill is chock full of good food and entertainment. Known for their pizza buffet during lunch and live bands on the weekends, the OK Cafe expands your experience with an outdoor patio for everyone to enjoy during the warmer seasons.
526 West Center Street, Marion
Some of the best food finds are in nondescript buildings. This is true of Marion’s Shovel Restaurant on the city’s west side. Just a few blocks past the historic downtown, the Shovel boasts a gravel parking lot, vintage sign out front and a low-key presence on the street. Inside, an atmosphere of casual comfort gives you a sense of what is to come – large portions, great combinations, and an efficient staff. A large appetizer menu includes chicken cordon bleu bites, an unusual, but tasty treat. Lunch choices include a large variety of sandwich choices, plus chili, vegetable beef, and ham and bean soups. But the stars of the menu are the burgers. Several versions of the Char can be had, as well as a Prime Rib burger that is taller than it is wide. Walleye, while available for lunch is one of the more popular dinner items on the menu. An all-you-can-eat option Fridays usually packs the place.
1036 North Main Street, Marion
Imagine an old-fashioned root beer stand. Ice cold root beer floats, cheese burgers, foot-long Coney’s, milk shakes and more all delivered to your window by car hops. Stop imagining and head to Stewart’s Root Beer Drive-in just north of downtown Marion on Main Street. Originating in Mansfield back in 1924, the Marion stand is the ultimate throwback experience. The menu includes 22 sandwiches choices, six of them burger variations. The root beer floats are made with the original recipe root beer and come in frosted mugs – the perfect cooler on a hot summer day. Open for lunch and dinner, Stewart’s Root Beer Drive-in is open seasonally from mid-spring to mid-September. On the run? Stewart’s can send you on your way with a variety of to-go containers of their famous root beer.
669 North Main Street, Marion
Feeling saucy? Next time you are in the mood for Mexican cuisine, you just have to try Victor’s Taco Shop in Marion, Ohio. This quaint little joint on the corner offers you an authentic meal as you walk up to the window. If the weather isn’t cooperating, don’t worry, Victor’s Taco Shop has two – yes, two – drive thru windows! Each meal is made to order which gives you just enough time to scroll through your newest stories on Facebook. Hopefully you’re in no hurry to go anywhere. Dining at their outdoor tables lets you enjoy the largest Chimichanga you have ever seen while listening to the cheers from the ball games coming from nearby Lincoln Park. Taking this cultural adventure is a must at any time … they even serve breakfast! To sum up my experience at Victor’s Taco Shop in two words would be: authentic and affordable. You won’t be disappointed.