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What to order: Singe Chow Mei Fun ($3.99/lb)
One of the few Downtown Chinese buffets that isn't in Asiatown, Great Taste offers some of the heartiest, best-bang-for-your-buck lunch specials around, including dirt-cheap crab rangoon and traditional Chinese donuts. The Singe Chow Mei Fun's a great place to start off: Singapore-style thin yellow noodles with shrimp, carrots, and cabbage. “It’s been a family recipe for more than 55 years,” says co-owner Melissa Guo. “It’s one of our favorites. Though me, I’m not picky.”
What to order: Pork or veggie burrito ($5)
Aching for a Chipotle substitute? Opt for one of Pedro's Pedro’s chicken, pork, or veggie burritos, ably packed with enough corn salsa, verde sauce, and black/pinto beans to give any Mexi-American chain a run for its money. Spend a buck more to get steak or crab in your burrito, and add one of Pedro's Pedro’s mango lemonades -- all in all, a much cheaper venture than the alternative. “That was the goal since the beginning,” says owner Marion Smith. “To simply sell burritos that were good and, first of all, affordable.”
What to order: Tilapia curry ($5.50)
Founded by a former professor of botany in New Dehli, Narider Sitel, Indies is one of Downtown’s more health-conscious take-away options. Sitel's menu runs the whole culinary gamut, from Aloo Paratha (Indian bread with spicy potatoes) to chicken tikka masala, but newcomers should go for Sitel’s tilapia curry: tender cuts of fish in yellow curry sauce over basmati rice. Not only is it delicious, it's also pretty good for you. “My goal is to mainly give healthy food,” says Sitel behind the counter. “Everything here is balanced, from our spinach to our chicken."
What to order: New York-style pizza ($2.99/slice)
Of all the shops vying for the “Best Cleveland Pizza” title, Vincenza's may be the most “New York.” Downtown since 1979, the Fifth Street Arcade-based pizzeria is a continuation of its Brooklyn predecessor, where the Turchi family served classic Southern Italian style tortellini and chicken parmigiana since the 1950s. Lunch goers must stop in for a slice of Vincenza's thin-crust pie, topped with anything from bell peppers to bacon, adding a side salad and a drink for a few bucks more. “It’s all New York-style,” says owner Vincenza Turchi, cutting links of sausage with a chef knife in her kitchen, “meaning no sugar in the crust. That’s always how we’ve done it here.”
What to order: Kielbasa Reuben or salad ($5.50)
Nearly invisible to passersby on West 9th Street is Angelo Lisak’s minimalist lunch cart, equipped to whip-up “American-styled” lunch staples from homemade potato salad to grilled steak sandwiches. In true Cleveland spirit, Mel’s offers a range of kielbasa items, including Lisak’s kielbasa Caesar salad and his thin-cut kielbasa Reuben, all prepped with locally produced meats and veggies. Though Lisak’s Croatian-born, the humble chef isn’t claiming any cultural ties or culinary wizardry. “[The kielbasa] is just classic, traditional American,” he says. “People like comfort food, so that’s what I’m calling it.”
What to order: Boney Boy ($5.25)
Riding Cleveland’s recent, down-home barbecue trend is Boney Fingers, a quaint takeout joint hidden on the bottom level of Downtown’s most historic building. BBQ addicts should go for the Boney Boy: butterflied pork sausage topped with pulled pork, cole slaw, and a drizzle of Memphis and Cheddar cheese sauce. Not in the mood for sausage? Spend a bit more for Boney’s 18-hour smoked brisket, seasoned with its ultra-secret rub. “We have to get it sent all the way from South Africa,” co-owner Christian Huff says. “It takes three weeks to ship! But, hey, it’s a price you pay for flavor.”
What to order: Cooked Awesome grilled cheese sandwich ($7)
Though Downtown may seem overwhelmed with its traditional “meat and potatoes” joints, there are several alternatives for vegans and vegetarians. Take a break from Melt’s gargantuan sandwiches and taste Helio Terra’s Cooked Awesome grilled cheese: It's got sliced Daiya Cheddar, topped with Roma tomatoes, fig preserves, and a sprinkle of truffle salt, all on toasted sourdough. Vegans with a sweet tooth can add one -- or eight -- of Helio’s raw truffle balls for good measure.