Some people say Cleveland’s one of the most underrated cities in the US, but some people clearly haven’t spent much time around here (not yet anyway), or in any of the city’s most important restaurants -- not necessarily the best, the trendiest, or hippest, but the ones that’ve made Cleveland’s food scene what it is today. But here’s the good news: YOU can hit all 17 of ‘em once you check out the list below...
The 17 Most Important Restaurants in Cleveland
Michael Symon has become synonymous with Cleveland cuisine and it all started here. As his first restaurant, then named Lola before moving that concept to E 4th St, this ultra-chic affair helped Symon kickstart the neighborhood renaissance. Now raised to his Food Network acclaim, he’s also at the helm of the popular B Spot and forthcoming Mabel’s BBQ.
The mere mention of wieners in Cleveland and any local will point you straight to this beloved hot dog bar where you can choose from 50 toppings. It’s not just the sunny side-up fried eggs and Froot Loops piled up decadently that make it a beloved gem among locals and tourists alike. Walk into the dimly lit, vintage poster-filled corner watering hole and you’re just as likely to see breakout touring indie acts as you are to hear lectures from, say, local NASA stargazers. And did we mention 50 toppings?
It has pedigree, yes -- it was in this kitchen that plenty of Cleveland’s greatest chefs got their start -- but it also has an impressive seasonal, creative menu and one of the chicest ambiances on the East side. Plus, there’s much to love about this American bistro’s highly touted, meaty second venture Red, the Steakhouse.
It wasn’t that sustainability was a new concept when this restaurant opened its doors in 2009, but it completely changed the game in Cleveland with inventive ways of embracing greenness. One James Beard Award later, Chef Jonathon Sawyer and his team have helped catapult their E 4th St home base into the seen-and-be-seen nightlife epicenter it is today. The Sawyer crew has since spun their success into the wildly popular Downtown ramen joint Noodlecat, and the ambitious newcomer Trentina, but Greenhouse is still where it’s at for “Fred Flintstone” beef short ribs, and a full pig’s head, as well as punk rock rooftop shows and Wes Anderson-themed soirees.
Thank the Eastern European immigrants that made Cleveland home for our citywide obsession. For nearly a century, nowhere in the city has been quite as renowned for sautéing up our favorite pillowy dumplings like this charming homestyle staple. Just don’t forget the side of kielbasa.
The room with the view, the date-night old faithful. Call it what you will, but this sleek seafood favorite has been an elegant staple for 50 years. Known for its views of the lake, one step inside conjures up the fresh-from-the-source dedication of which Pier W was an early adopter and remains on the cutting edge.
Brandon Chrostowski had the visionary idea to open a culinary institute for those affected by the justice system. To date, it’s changed the lives of dozens of the students who’ve passed through its doors on their way to re-entry. It’s an ambitious project and one that doesn’t disappoint with sophisticated takes on French classics.
There’s a reason gluttons come far and wide for the Melt Challenge: 5lbs of cheese oozing from Texas toast, slaw, and fries. Sure, any normal sandwich on the menu may leave you in a dairy-induced food coma for the rest of the day, but only after indulging in concoctions like The Dude Abides, stuffed with meatballs, and the Wet Hot American Chicken, spiked with Buffalo sauce. It opened in 2006 with such a bang that it's since expanded to a string of outposts across the region and its cult-like following is enough to incite dozens of diners to tattoo their infamous grilled cheese-and-cross bones symbol all over their bodies.
Pho is crucial in all seasons, but especially bitter Cleveland winters. When the cold wind is whipping, there’s no better escape than sliding into this tucked away, unassuming gem for a brothy, fragrant bowl. Regulars have been coming back for both the more adventurous takes and traditional favorites.
Go big or go home is the mindset here, so don’t step through the doors expecting the quaint. Any seasoned Clevelander can tell you a Reuben from this diner, corned beef piled high in a way New York can only dream about, is the stuff of legends. Patrons pack the place daily in a frenzy to score the deli sensation of the city.
Chef Zack Bruell has an enduring place in our dining hearts as a pioneer with more than three decades in the business. His work spans the palate, from the Asian-inspired Parallax to the Italian cuisine of Chinato. This brasserie-style venture struck gold with its stylish and modern French offerings. Its artistic surroundings only add flair to its rustic charm that also makes for one of the best patios in town.
Chef Karen Small is what we call an early adopter on multiple levels. Not only did she also plant her cozy dining room on the brick-laid street along W 25 St in 1999, far before it was the buzzing district it is today, she was also at the forefront of Cleveland’s farm-to-table movement. You’ll still find the same stylish comfort food and creative fare, along with an all-star brunch.
It’s worth the trip alone to see how this vintage bank vault has been repurposed into one of the city’s most impressive spaces -- and restaurants. As the name might suggest, this bistro takes pride in its farm-fresh sourcing and changes with the harvest seasons, something that’s proven so popular, a more casual outpost, Crop Kitchen, recently sprouted up on the East side in the quickly growing Uptown neighborhood.
This "Mod-Mex" mainstay is lively in its close quarters. Seasonal offerings take center stage here, where Chef Eric Williams’ creations honor the tradition and made-from-scratch practices of classic Mexican cuisine. The multitude of guacamoles might be famous, but don’t skip the main course. Or do, and stay for an extra margarita.
We’ve never been afraid to get a little messy, and that’s a good thing, seeing as one of Cleveland’s greatest claims to fame is the Polish boy. This may technically be a food truck anchored at Dean’s Supply, but it doesn’t make it any less of a true-blue Cleveland destination. If you’ve never basked in the majesty of the greased-up kielbasa dish doused in hot sauce, coleslaw, and fries, then run, don’t walk, to this local legend.
A modern restaurant infused with Mediterranean flavor, the creativity of this ethnic fusion is set off by its slick surroundings. Chef Dante Boccuzzi’s creation is recognized for leading diners through his well-executed tasting menu. For an extra bit of adventure, right next door is his below-ground, swanky sushi haunt, Ginko.
The concept is simple: take classic American fare and craft it straight from local, organic farmers. Chef Doug Katz, an honored champion of sustainability and force behind the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Provenance Café and the Katz Club Diner, has perfected his sharp technique. It all comes together in a personable and warm ambiance, just one more reason Katz’s projects keep people coming back for more.
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1. Lolita900 Literary Rd, Cleveland
2. Happy Dog5801 Detroit Ave, Cleveland
3. Moxie3355 Richmond Rd, Cleveland
4. The Greenhouse Tavern2038 E 4th St, Cleveland
5. Sokolowski's University Inn1201 University Rd, Cleveland
6. Pier W12700 Lake Ave, Lakewood
7. Edwins13101 Shaker Square, Cleveland
8. Melt Bar & Grilled13463 Cedar Rd, Cleveland Hts
9. Superior Pho3030 Superior Ave, Cleveland
10. Slyman's Restaurant3106 Saint Clair Ave NE, Cleveland
11. L’Albatros11401 Bellflower Rd,, Cleveland
12. The Flying Fig2523 Market Ave, Cleveland
13. Crop Bistro & Bar2537 Lorain Ave, Cleveland
14. Momocho1835 Fulton Rd, Cleveland
15. Seti's Polish Boys3400 Woodland Ave., Cleveland
16. Dante2247 Professor Ave, Cleveland
17. Fire Food & Drink13220 Shaker Square, Cleveland
Lolita is a Cleveland classic that came from the mind of Food Network star Michael Symon. They do cured meats and cheeses, pizzas and pastas, as well as other crucial entrees like roasted chicken.
The Midwest takes its hot dogs very, very seriously, so it only makes sense that this North Coast legend contracted a James Beard semifinalist to design its crazy-ass menu, which rocks 1/4lb dogs topped with everything from mac & cheese to Andy Capp's Hot Fries, daikon, SpaghettiOs, Froot Loops, and nacho cheese.
This American bistro boasts an excellent seasonal menu that features such stars as pork belly carbonara, and norwegian salmon. The restaurant is also known for its wonderful ambiance.
This downtown gastropub is a tails-to-trotters kind of place: from barbecue-roasted pig’s head to pan-fried pork chop saltimbocca, there’s a meat-forward bent to this market-driven menu. Helmed by James Beard award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer, the vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options don’t disappoint (pro tip: get the yucca fries), and a full bar means an array of craft beers and seasonal libations for imbibing. If you can’t snag a table in the sleek, modern space (note the bicycles hung throughout and the lamps made from repurposed wheels), don’t worry: the outdoor patio makes for a perfectly delightful evening.
This Cleveland institution dishes up some seriously good Salisbury steak, as well as other meaty specials, accompanied by heaping portions of rotating sides, including not-to-be-missed pierogies. There’s a reason the line snakes out the door and around the corner on Friday and Saturday nights: sometimes a generous helping of comfort food simply can’t be beat. Sokolowski's has been serving up the best Polish and Eastern European cuisine in Cleveland since 1923, and we highly suggest checking out their award winning traditional menu.
Pier W has been serving up seafood in an elegant setting for 50 year. Great views make this a romantic spot.
Edwins is both a culinary institute devoted to second chances and a world-class French-inspired restaurant. Their menu features country pork terrine with apricots and rosemary, as well as Frog legs and fine cheeses.
There are hundreds of people in the Cleve with Melt-inspired tattoos because this sandwich shop is seriously OG. You shouldn't feel the need to emblazon your arm with an illustration of a stuffed hoagie, however, to profess your Melt love. Serving up dozens of hulking variations of the classic sandwich packed with everything from pulled pork to steak, pierogies, fish, and lasagna, Melt sandwiches leave your brown bagged in the dust.
Perfect for those cold Cleveland days, Superior Pho serves up, well, superior pho. Traditional favorites as well as creative takes grace the menu at this noodle staple.
Clevelanders crave the corned beef at the 50-year-old Slyman's, piled about half-a-foot high on rye with no accoutrements to distract from that homemade flavor. Roast beef and pastrami get the same treatment, but really, if you're not getting the corned beef, you're doing it wrong.
L’Albatros offers a modern take on French cuisine. This brasserie-style institution offers a chic interior and a beautiful patio.
Just as owner and chef Karen Small intended, The Flying Fig is all about farm to table. The ingredients for their ever-evolving menu (and their wine selection) are sourced locally, and for 15 years they have been serving up stylized comfort food to those who appreciate good, fresh grub. Dishes on both the brunch and dinner menus, such as the chilaquiles or the bolognese are served in small servings but are potent with flavor. These small dishes are hosted by a surprisingly laid-back atmosphere: With dim lighting and dark wooden surfaces feels less like a "small eatery" and more like a local hideaway bar.
The place used to be a bank, rather than a monolithic restaurant with 17,000ft of floorspace, most of which is usually packed with people flocking to one of the city's most-acclaimed restaurants. But despite all the grandeur -- marble columns, restored murals, etc. -- the menu remains moderately priced, especially considering the open kitchen's popping out huge slabs of rib eye, smoked/roasted chicken & waffles, and colossal veal chops.
Mexican food can be severely underrepresented in the Midwest, but Momocho -- under the carving knife of James Beard-nominated chef Eric Williams -- is not having any of that. His menu features both classic and off-kilter takes: guacamole comes traditional or loaded with fancy stuff like smoked salmon or white chocolate, taquitos pack carnitas and duck confit, and entrees range from pecan-crusted trout to tamales stuffed with lamb.
The Eastside's Seti's makes, perhaps, the city's best Polish Boy, a glorious mess of a mutant hot dog that packs a bun with a kielbasa, coleslaw, and fries, then dumps hot sauce all over the thing, and, in case all that other stuff loaded into a bun isn't ridiculous, this infamous truck will also pack that sucker with chili and cheese.
After dark, this Cleveland Italian restaurant goes Gremlin and mutates into a devilishly delicious noodle house.
Of course, anything that comes out of chef Doug Katz’s reputable kitchen is bound to be fantastic, but Fire’s signature wood-fired ovens help to take some dishes one step further than that. Don’t miss the tandoor ribeye, currently served with cauliflower fritters, braised leeks, Mackenzie goat cheese, tomato chutney, garlic aioli, and burgundy jus, for a twist on a classic steak dinner. The focus at Fire Food & Drink is on serving local and sustainable cuisine for brunch, dinner, and dessert along with an extensive list of wines.