The essential restaurants that illuminate the city's dining scene

Wolf's Ridge Brewing, lying in wait since it opened five years ago like its carnivore namesake, claims our No. 1 spot for the first time. With a brick-walled space filled with ambient light, award-winning beers like Clear Sky Cream Ale, attentive, down-to-earth service and an excellent menu that balances accessibility with invention, Wolf's Ridge was where I really wanted to be dining this year. It's a restaurant that keeps gaining confidence, and we're the lucky beneficiaries.

In the beginning, father-and-son owners Alan and Bob Szuter had very different ideas about what Wolf's Ridge should be. Alan wanted a brewery, but his son wanted a restaurant as well. Alan wasn't excited about leaping into the restaurant business until he toured Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, California, where he saw how dynamic a brewpub can be.

Luckily, Bob didn't have to search hard for the right chef; he'd known executive chef Seth Lassak since they were friends at Dublin Scioto High School. Szuter recalls Lassak being a meticulous sort even back then, an attribute that's served him well at Wolf's Ridge. The chef says the kitchen thrives largely because the Szuters have allowed him and his team ample freedom to push the boundaries. “I can't imagine working anywhere else,” he says. “It's the perfect job.”

Highlights of the dinner menu (there are also fine brunch, lunch and taproom menus) usually include any duck dish that Lassak offers, like a perfectly cooked duck breast with a parsnip and cashew purée that provides sweetness, married with a sour cherry gastrique that cuts the richness of the dish.

“Columbus, Ohio—they like their steakhouses,” Lassak says, so a well-prepared beef tenderloin, rib-eye or lamb is always on the menu. But maybe most surprising—and refreshing—is the attention Wolf's Ridge gives to vegetarian options, like a curried-yogurt cruciferous vegetable salad that will make you forget you're eating broccoli. Whereas Lassak used to always build a plate around the protein, he's transformed his thinking, noting that vegetables provide much more of a “playground” for creativity.

Finally, despite the kitchen's lack of a dedicated pastry chef, the desserts here continue to challenge for best in the city from a restaurant. Recent standouts include a sweet potato doughnut with boozy house-made ice cream that was both on-trend and not cloying. But the best dessert I had all year was the brewpub's Chartreuse panna cotta with guava sorbet—the herbal panna cotta jiggling spiritedly next to an orb of bright guava sorbet. Chartreuse and guava, really? Call me a believer.

  Read about our other Best Restaurants of 2018: 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #2 Veritas 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #3 Watershed Kitchen & Bar 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #4 Refectory Restaurant & Wine Shop 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #5 Service Bar  10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #6 The Guild House  10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #7 G. Michael’s Bistro & Bar 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #8 La Tavola 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #9 Rockmill Tavern 10 Best Restaurants of 2018: #10 Gallerie Bar & Bistro