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Note: This travel article is a work in progress.
Cleveland in the last few decades has evolved into a regional foodie destination. See the National Culinary Review article, "Cleveland Comes of Age," here:
As befits Cleveland's history as one of the nation's great ethnic melting pots, and its location in one of the nation's most cornucopian agriculture regions, Cleveland's main culinary themes could be described as ethnic, mod ethnic, and locavore, often with some combination of all three. Visitors also can find everything from classical steak houses to excellent vegan offerings. Beer, ethnic pastries and ice cream not surprisingly also are beloved in Cleveland.
Cleveland's TA restaurant ratings are fairly accurate, with the caveat that the top-rated restaurants by TA reviewers cover the gamut from expensive, special-event restaurants to popular delis, to a food stand in the West Side Market. Note that the TA restaurant ratings also allow users to search by cuisine type, expected price range, and by dining option, such as "romance," all based on the reviews of TA members.
The TA restaurant ratngs can be used in conjunction the Cleveland Plain Dealer's A-list of their annual selection of the 100 best traditional restaurants in Greater Cleveland. This web page also has a useful locator map. Keep in mind that many of the A-list restaurants are located outside of Cleveland.
Here are the Open Table reviewer ratings:
Reservations are recommended especially for higher rated restaurants and especially for dinner on evenings and weekends.
If you want to find even more exotic food specialities in Cleveland than the roasted bone marrow at one of Michael Symon's restaurants, or roasted pig's head at the Greenhouse Tavern, here's where to find edible candles or portable cheesecake:
If interested in experiencing Cleveland's food trucks, special lunch events with live music take place during warm weather months. See EVENTS below.
East 4th St. & Gateway District
East 4th St. is short pedestrian alley connecting Euclid Ave., Cleveland's main street, with Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field. It also has evolved in recent decades from a grungy shortcut into a dining/entertainment mecca in downtown Cleveland. It's located a short distance from both Progressive Field, Quicken Loans Arena and the Horseshoe Casino, as well as many downtown hotels. In warmer months, East 4th becomes a pedestrian mall, with restaurant patios lining the street.
It contains some of the top restaurants in the Midwest, namely Lola Bistro, the flagship restaurant of TV personality ("The Chew" on ABC afternoons), Iron Chef, author, and Cleveland food ambassador, Michael Symon; Jonathan Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern; and Ristorante Chinato, offering a mod Italian cuisine and another gem of Cleveland restaurant impresario Zack Bruell.
Flannery's Pub on East 4th serves up Irish favorite dishes in a sports bar theme.
Hodges and Noodlecat are other well rated restaurants in the vicinity.
East 4th St. is part of the larger Gateway District that features Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena.
Gateway District restaurants also include The Flaming Ice Cube, on Public Square and Cleveland's top-rated vegan restaurant and one of the highest overall rated restaurants by TA reviewers. Pura Vida is another highly-rated Public Square restaurant with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menu items. Both are located between East 4th St. and the Horseshoe Casino.
On Prospect Ave., just east of East 4th St. in the Gateway District are two other generally well-reviewed restaurants. Sushi 86 serves a Japanese cuisine, while Stonetown offers a Southern influenced menu. Vincenza's Pizza & Pasta on Prospect serves thick Sicilian pizza and is a downtown favorite, but it closes in the early evening.
On Carnegie Ave., about a five-minute walk east from Progressive Field is Aladdin's Bakery & Market. Call for hours on weekends, but on weekdays for breakfast and lunch, Aladdin's is a haven for reasonably priced and very good Lebanese food in downtown Cleveland. Aladdin's also offers a market for Middle Eastern foods, including its own superb pita bread.
Casual restaurants include three small Cleveland-based chains, the Winking Lizard on Huron, the Harry Buffalo on East 4th St., and Panini's on Huron. All are good family restaurants even though they feature sports bar themes, much like a Buffalo Wild Wings. Tower City also offers a Hard Rock Cafe and a Houlihan's, which kids often enjoy, as well as a fast-food Food Court located near the enclosed walkway to Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field.
Wilbert's on Huron is Cleveland's top dive bar with live entertainment most nights and very above average dive bar food. It's a popular pre- and post-game destination for Indians and Cavs fans. The House of Blues on Euclid Ave. at East 4th St. also is popular as both a food and performance venue.
East 4th St. and Public Square both are easily accessed using the 24/7 Healthline bus rapid, with several stations in the area, and also by using stops on Cleveland's free downtown bus trolley lines, with the C-line operating on evenings and weekends until 11 p.m. Wilbert's and the Winking Lizard are closer to East 9th St., Cleveland's main north/south downtown street, which has a Healthline station and trolley stops at its intersection with Euclid Ave.
Little Italy & University Circle
Cleveland's Little Italy is a small, but charming neighborhood within a 10- to 15-minute walk of University Circle up the Mayfield Road hill on the far northeast side of Cleveland. The Cornell Road station of the 24/7 Healthline bus rapid is a short distance west of Mayfield Road, for those who want to reach Little Italy from downtown.
Early residents of Little Italy included the families of Italian stone-cutters, many occupied in creating the monuments of nearby Lake View Cemetery, one of the nation's most impressive Victorian cemeteries. Top highlights there include the James A. Garfield Monument, the largest of all presidential monuments; Wade Memorial Chapel, featuring perhaps the best Tiffany interior extant; and the gravesite of John D. Rockefeller.
Highly-rated Italian restaurants by TA reviewers in Little Italy include Mia Bella, Michaelangelo's and Etna. Washington Place offers a more eclectic menu.
Presti's Bakery & Cafe is the top-rated cafe in Cleveland by TA reviewers. It's especially a great place for lunch, perhaps after visiting Lake View Cemetery, or for enjoying dessert after a meal at one of the nearby restaurants.
Algebra Tea House on Murray Hill Road is a funky favorite of locals in Little Italy, even though it features Middle Eastern cuisine.
Parking is at a premium in Little Italy. Most restaurants offer valet service. Trattoria has a large, free parking lot. However, be advised, that when busy, Trattoria doesn't check keys, but insteads requests guests to leave their keys in their cars if their cars are to be double-parked during peak periods, so don't leave valuables in the car if using the Trattoria parking lot.
University Circle, adjacent to Little Italy, is one of the nation's great cultural and medical centers, featuring the world-class Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall and the Cleveland Museum of Art. It's also the home of Case Western Reserve University, one of the nation's top-rated universities, and the world-class Cleveland Clinic and also the highly-rated University Hospitals.
Located in the heart of University Circle is L'Albatros, a French bistro and Cleveland's highest-rated restaurant by TA reviewers. It is a short walk from all University Circle cultural attractions including the Cleveland Museum of Art and Severance Hall.
All University Circle visitors can avail themselves of the excellent dining options at the Cleveland Museum of Art as the CMA has no admission charge. The CMA offers both Provenance, a full-service restaurant, and Provenance Cafe, where customers carry trays to their tables. Seating for the Provenance Cafe also is available in the museum's mammoth atrium.
While Little Italy largely serves as the dining district for University Circle, there are other dining options in University Circle, including at the new Uptown District, immediately adjacent to Little Italy.
The following web page lists restaurants and other food options both for Little Italy and University Circle, as well as some nearby areas.
Nightttown, Cleveland's foremost jazz dinner club, is located just above University Circle on Cedar Road hill.
Market District & Ohio City
Ohio City is located across the Cuyahoga River Valley (the "Flats") from downtown Cleveland. Some history is in order before detailing the culinary delights of this emerging Cleveland neighborhood, partially because the history is so interesting, but also because it explains the name attached to the Ohio City landmark that is the focal point of Cleveland's burgeoning foodie reputation.
Ohio City once was a separate city, and an economic rival of Cleveland, before being annexed by Cleveland before the Civil War. The rivalry once was so intense that it resulted in a short-lived "Bridge War." The Bridge War often is pointed to as part of the origin of the social schism between "East Siders" and "West Siders" in Greater Cleveland.
(The Bridge War actually was more bloody than the potentially more explosive "Toledo War"
of the immediately same period, a conflict which first pitted Ohio against
Michigan. While the Bridge War has passed into history, the Toledo War
actually is refought annually on the gridiron in "The Game," between The
Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.)
With the revitalization of downtown and University Circle in recent decades, and, more recently, the gentrification of the Ohio City and Tremont west side neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, and the very recent modernization of Cuyahoga County government with an elected County Executive (much like a mayor) and Council, all of Greater Cleveland is more focused on the center of the metropolis than in past decades, perhaps muting the East/West divide.
One legacy of the East/West Cleveland divide is the West Side Market, perhaps the most grand of surviving public food markets in the U.S. It's called the West Side Market even though it sits just across the Hope Memorial Bridge from downtown Cleveland.
In a period when almost all public food markets across the country were being shuttered due to the supermarket onslaught, the West Side Market survived, for perhaps three reasons: 1) a relatively ample amount of free parking; 2) family-run businesses that passed their "old world" knowledge and skills on to future generations who manned the Market's scores of booths; and 3) a large cadre of suburbanites who would, partly out of cherished memory, partly out of the fact that were few other places to find many of the goods offered at the market, would follow in the footsteps of their ethnic immigrant parents and grandparents and make the journey back to the West Side Market with some frequency.
The continued existence of the West Side Market helped spur the gentrification of Ohio City beginning about four decades ago. As more wealthy residents moved into Ohio City, the demand for restaurants increased. Then, 25 years ago, Great Lakes Brewing Company was founded on Market Ave., a very short walk from the West Side Market. As the first modern brewpub and microbrewery in Ohio, Great Lakes, now among the 20 largest craft brewers in the U.S., increasingly attracted visitors to Ohio City even when the West Side Market was closed. Visitors often used the market's free parking lots after hours.
As the foodie movement gained strength across the country, the West Side Market was popularized on cable food networks, making the market a tourist destination. New Cleveland restaurants also used the market as a source of food. Restaurants were opened near the market both to serve visitors to the market and to capitalize on the market's and Ohio City's cachet.
Within the last decade, the "Market District" was proclaimed as a separate part of Ohio City and gained a critical mass. The Market Garden Brewery and Distillery was opened adjacent to the market, featuring a small beer garden. Crop Bistro, one of Cleveland's most innovative and highest-ranked restaurants, moved from the Warehouse District to the Market District. The Black Pig, which specializes in pork, was opened a block north of the market, adjacent to the new Nano Brew Cleveland.
Flying Fig, a top-rated locavore restaurant and very popular for weekend brunches, now is on Market Avenue across from Great Lakes.
Ethnic restaurants were opened in the Market District, including Nate's Deli and Restaurant, which serves among the city's best Middle Eastern food, but also a great Reuben, and Pnom Penh, a Cambodian/Asian Fusion restaurant.
SOHO Kitchen & Bar bills itself as the first upscale bistro in Northeast Ohio to focus on the flavors, ingredients, and recipes of the American South. "SOHO" is an acronym for "Southern Hospitality" at the highly rated restaurant. Orale is a highly rated Mexican restaurant.
Bar Cento, directly across West 25th St. from the market, is a favorite late-night destination in Cleveland, famous for its gourmet pizza and French fries.
Ohio City features other top-rated Cleveland restaurants, including Momocho, a "Mod Mex" restaurant popular on cable food networks, le Petit Triangle, Bon Bon Pastry & Cafe, and Johnny Mango Juice Bar & World Cafe, popular for its vegetarian offerings.
The West Side Market has several prepared food stands, including Steve's Gyros, with Cleveland's highest-rated gyros and popular on cable food networks, but often with long lines, more so on the Saturday market day and during lunch hours on other market days. Maha's Falafil serves among Cleveland's highest-rated falafil. The market features several bakeries. Purchasers of prepared food at the market can eat it on the small balcony above the market, or in the Market Square Park across West 25th St. from the market.
The West Side Market Cafe is a popular legacy food destination, featuring food sourced in the market, and open even on days when the market is closed with a separate restaurant off Lorain Blvd.
Some popular vendors in the market have opened establishments outside the market, such as Campbell's Sweets Factory, which features gourmet popcorn and cupcakes. These stores enable the vendors to serve customers on days when the market is closed.
Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream, a top hand-crafted ice cream chain in Cleveland, soon will open a new store, production facility and headquarters just north of the market.
The West Side Market would be a scenic, 20-minute walk from Public Square across the north side of the Hope Memorial Bridge. The RTA Red Line rail rapid connects the Tower City rail hub downtown with the West 25th St. station, diagonally across Lorain Blvd. from the market.
See the "DINING" discussion in the following travel article.
Built as a linchpin to one of the largest real estate projects in American history by the Vans -- reclusive brothers Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen, Shaker Square today features four very diverse restaurants, including several well rated by TA reviewers and on the Plain Dealer's A-list of Greater Cleveland's 100 best restaurants.
The Vans originally were focused on developing the planned community of Shaker Heights. In order to secure a rail right-of-way to connect Shaker Heights with downtown Cleveland, they entered the railroad business, eventually controlling 30,000 miles of U.S. rail lines. This led to the development of the Cleveland Union Terminal (now Tower City, Landmark Office Towers and the Post Office Plaza) complex in downtown, featuring a train terminal larger than Grand Central Station in New York City and the Terminal Tower, the tallest building in the world outside New York City. See Terminal Tower observation deck in the following travel article.
Shaker Square restaurants today include the Balaton, on the PD A-list and one of Cleveland's surviving legacy ethnic restaurants. The Balaton was relocated to a charming corner location on Shaker Square from the Buckeye "Little Hungary" neighborhood just north of Shaker Square, which once housed the largest Hungarian community outside of Hungary. The Balaton offers Hungarian specialties ranging from Wienershnitzel to chicken paprikash, spaetzle, Lake Balaton wines, and, of course, desserts of palacsinta, strudel and tortes.
Fire Food & Drink is a nationally recognized locavore restaurant offering a highly innovative American cuisine. Chef Doug Katz's menus are highly seasonal given the heavy emphasis on the local sourcing of ingredients. Fire is solidly entrenched as top ten Cleveland restaurant by TA reviewers as well as being a mainstay on the PD A-list.
SASA Japanese Izakaya Asian Bistro offers tapas style Asian food, including sushi, in a friendly pub atmosphere.
Zanzibar Soul Fusion, another PD A-list member, raises southern cuisine, modified in some cases to fit northern Ohio food sources, to the level of fine dining at reasonable prices. For example, Zanzibar features walleye cakes.
Visitors to Cleveland that would like to appreciate the genius and daring of the Vans, or who are interested in urban design, should thoroughly explore what was once the Cleveland Union Terminal, including the underground tunnels linking other buildings in the complex to Tower City. Then purchase RTA day passes for $5 (cheaper for kids and seniors) and take the rapid from the Tower City RTA rail hub to the Shaker Square station. After dining on the Square, consider taking the Green line east along Shaker Boulevard to appreciate the housing stock of Shaker Heights. If you like to walk after dining, consider getting off at a station just east of Shaker Square and head north to explore the Shaker Lakes and the often magnificent mansions and estates on North and South Park Boulevards, as well as some of the Shaker culture that preceded the Vans' development of their "garden suburb." The South Park Station provides access to the very nice Shaker Lakes Nature Center with its boardwalk paths through a wild area.
RTA bus routes connect the University Circle area to Shaker Square, and taxi service also is available from both University Circle and downtown to Shaker Square.
Shaker Square also offers free parking for those who would like to drive there. The northeast quadrant parking lot often is less full due to a theater located in the southwest quadrant.
Once the home of immigrant steelworkers, Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood now houses an impressive number of Cleveland's favorite restaurants as it is a hotbed of gentrification efforts in Cleveland. Tremont is located south of Ohio City and Ohio City's Market District, just southwest of downtown Cleveland across the Cuyahoga River.
Visitors to Tremont are advised to have a good map (back of AAA "Northeast Ohio" map), or, better yet, a good GPS, as Tremont has a number of one-way streets. Call ahead and ask about parking for any given restaurant, as it often is on-street parking.
Many Tremont restaurants, as elsewhere in Cleveland, offer magnificent Happy Hours.
For old Tremont, no restaurant tops Sokolowski's University Inn, a Polish-American cafeteria little changed in decades, and one of Cleveland's last legacy ethnic restaurants. It's where descendants of Cleveland's Eastern European ethnic generations go to find pierogies and other family favorites "like grandma used to make." It remains highly-rated among TA reviewers.
Dante, by contrast, is the signature restaurant of Chef Dante Boccuzzi, often considered among the best chefs in the U.S. Dante, ranked among the 10 best restaurants in Cleveland by TA reviewers, features modern American cuisine, and, in Cleveland, that means a more than fair representation of Italian entrees. Dante also features seasonal and locavore creations.
Lolita is another of Michael Symon's mod ethnic restaurants, and a TA favorite. E.g., for appetizers, try crispy pig ears & tails, or roasted bone marrow. The menu also offers several pizzas and pastas.
Zach Bruell also has a TA-top 20 restaurant in Tremont. Parallax is largely an Asian fusion establishment for ginger lovers, and sits comfortably among the TA top 20.
Two ethnic favorites in Tremont are Barrio, for taco lvoers, and Ty Fun Thai Bistro, the highest rated of Cleveland's several Thai restaurants. In the basement under Dante, Chef Boccuzzi operates Ginko, a sushi restaurant on the Plain Dealer's A-list, along with the majority of the other Tremont restaurants already mentioned, including Ty Fun.
Fahrenheit, where favorites include chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon as an appetizer and Kobe beef short ribs, ranks in the TA top 30 and also makes the PD A-list.
Other PD A-list restaurants in Tremont include Bac Asian American Bistro & Bar (Asian fusion), and Fat Cats (fusion with great views of the downtown skyline).
Tremont Tap House and Lucky's Cafe are other Tremont restaurants in TA top 50. The latter was featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," and is a locavore cafe famous for its pecan bacon. The Tremont Tap House is a popular gastropub. Both are popular brunch destinations.
This downtown residential, entertainment, and dining district, features both some of Cleveland's best clubs and some of its best restaurants.
Highest rated by TA reviewers is the Blue Point Grille, Cleveland's best downtown seafood restaurant and perhaps also the most charming restaurant in all of Cleveland. Osteria di Valerio and Al, Taza, a Lebanese restaurant, and Mallorca are other highly rated restaurants in the Warehouse District. Johnny's Little Bar is popular for its burgers and late-night menu.
The Warehouse District is located just northwest of Public Square and is within walking distance of most Cleveland hotels, and the Healthline Public Square bus rapid stations. It's also served by downtown bus trolley lines, including the C-line.
Das Schnitzel Haus is among the top 20 highest ranked Cleveland restaurants by TA reviewers. It's located just south of Cleveland and I-480 in Parma. It's a favorite for schnitze, spaetzle, strudel, and other German favorites.
Der Braumeister near W. 130th and Lorain Ave. has a large selection of German beers.
The Balaton is located on Shaker Square (see above), offers Hungarian favorites from Wienerschnitzel to chicken paprikash as well as Lake Balaton wines.
Sokolowki's University Inn is in the Tremont District (see above), just southwest of downtown across the Cuyahoga River. It's a Polish American cafeteria famed for its pierogies and other Polish American fare.
Frank Sterle's Slovenian Country House is located on East 55th St., just south of the East 55th St. exit of route 2/I-90, about 10 minutes from both downtown and University Circle. Sterle's offers schnitzel, Slovenian sausage, and roast pork, and live polka music for its dance floor on Friday and Saturday nights. In warm weather, Sterle's offers an outdoor bier garden with grilled sausages and other grilled favorites.
The Downtown Cleveland Alliance sponsors several events, including food truck lunches with live music.
Walnut Wednesday takes place May through September on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Walnut Ave. and East 12th St., just south of Superior Ave.
Lunch by the Lake takes place June through September on Thursdays from noon to 2 p.m. on the East 9th St. Pier, located just north of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Dowtown Cleveland Restaurant Week features $30 3-course meals and $15 lunches at leading Cleveland restaurants.
BREAKFAST & WEEKEND BRUNCH
Downtown visitors looking for a reasonably priced family restaurant experience might check out P. J.'s Luncheonette in the Colonial Arcade on Euclid Ave. across from East 6th St. P.J's is closed on Sundays.
The Huron Square Deli in the PlayhouseSquare district is open for breakfast seven days a week.
Lucky's Cafe in Tremont and the Flying Fig in the Market District often are mentioned as premier weekend brunch destinations in Cleveland. Lucky's can have long lines on weekends and reservations are advisable for the Flying Fig.
Other weekend brunch destinations include the Beachland Ballroom, better known as a music venue, located not far from both downtown and University Circle on Waterloo Road north of Route 2/I-90 on Cleveland's east side; XYZ Tavern in the Gordon Square Art District; Pier W in Lakewood, Greater Cleveland's premier restaurant with Lake Erie (and downtown) views; the Inn on Coventry, not far from University Circle; and Li Wah in Cleveland's Asia Plaza at East 30th and Payne, often considered to have Cleveland's best dim sum. Reservations are recommended at most of these restaurants for brunch.
Grumpy's Cafe in Tremont and the West Side Market Cafe in the Market District offer great breakfasts seven days a week. Bon Bon Pastry & Cafe in the Market District is open daily in the morning, with both traditional and vegan and gluten-free options, as well as an assortment of pastries from a Food Network Cupcake Wars' winner, French press coffee, espresso, etc. The Market District's Town Hall also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
For those would like to try Slyman's Deli, Cleveland's favorite destination for corned beef and very highly rated by TA reviewers, it opens at 6 a.m. on weekdays and is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. It's closed on Sundays. Slyman's is located just east of downtown on St. Clair Ave.
Tommy's, a famed restaurant on Coventry not far from University Circle, opens at 9:00 a.m. daily, but at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The Flaming Ice Cube on Public Square, Cleveland's highest rated vegan restaurant and a TA reviewer top ten, opens at 7:30 a.m. weekdays, 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, and is closed on Sunday.
Washington Place Bistro in Little Italy, a top ten rated restaurant by TA reviewers, offers brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Presti's Bakery & Cafe in Little Italy, another TA reviewer top ten restaurant, opens at 6 a.m. daily.
HAPPY HOUR GUIDE
This guide covers Greater Cleveland, but includes many of the restaurants described in the above dining districts.
Here are articles detailing the favorite dining destinations of Cleveland's chefs and foodies.
Momocho chef/owner Eric Williams: