The 17 Most Important Restaurants in Cleveland
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...
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.
Sign up here for our daily Cleveland email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.