The Best Restaurants in Ohio
The food scene in Ohio is continuing its meteoric rise to a place of prominence in our national culinary landscape, and it’s not just because chrome-domed, Cleveland-based super-chef Michael Symon is laughing his way across daytime TV (although, yeah, that helps). It’s more because our chefs have unapologetically tapped into the bounty of the region, and their own deep well of creativity, to whip up unexpected and scrumptious food in nearly every city in Ohio. Here are the restaurants doing it best:
America’s very first cuisine was fueled by fire, and Metropole head chef Jared Bennett lustily continues that tradition by cooking the bulk of his seasonally affected menu in a custom-built fireplace. Coals and crackling flames lend their character to mains like grilled duck breast with saffron-almond sauce, a perfectly charred NY strip steak, or black grouper with Weisenberger grits, charred fennel & chorizo jam. But before you tuck into any of the deeper cuts of the ever-changing menu, hit the homemade charcuterie for options like mortadella to die for.
Food talk aside for a sec: let’s acknowledge that Orchids purchases 55gal barrels of a Four Roses bourbon special-blend (being across the river from Kentucky is not without its perks). OK, now let’s talk about accolade-collecting chef Todd Kelly’s worldly, upscale menu: lose yourself in a coursed-out meal that carries you from crispy pork belly with smoked chicken hearts, shimeji mushrooms, and pomegranate jus, to sweet potato soup deliciously tricked out with king crab, to roasted Cervena venison with local chestnuts, and into the depths of a dessert menu from Top Chef contestant Megan Ketover. Pistachio streusel tart anyone? Yes, please. And more bourbon.
Ohio is a long way from Oaxaca, Mexico (coincidentally, another state you can have fun spelling with your arms. Seriously, try it.). That said, the flavor of the region pumps in the veins of chef Josh Wamsley and pervades the menu of his taco shop, Mazunte. Birthed from an intensive journey through the traditional foods of Southern and Central Mexico, you’ll find authentic handmade tortillas stuffed with deliciousness like sangria-marinated skirt steak (paired with pico de gallo and goat cheese), or turned into crave-worthy pork enchiladas. Or you can prop yourself up in the rustic, colorfully art-decked dining room and slurp up a perfect chicken pozole with chicken, hominy, red radish, onions, avocado, cilantro, and lime.
Craft beer with a meal is fine, but craft beer in your meal is better. Thanks to a chef with a background in California fusion, WRB applies the idea of fresh, seasonal food to a menu built from locally sourced ingredients tricked out with flavors from the brewery. So while you might find it overtly in a brunch option like Oktoberfest-glazed donuts, WRB brews will also be hiding in extraordinarily plated items like pickled herring paired with an IPA mustard, or outstanding braised Chilean sea bass. And all in a dining room that puts an emphasis on clean wood and stone.
You can find some of the best food in Ohio in some of the most unassuming places. Consider the strip-mall Japanese gem in Dublin called Kihachi. This is not a wasabi-paste sushi joint, it’s a traditional tatami mat, floor-seating Japanese restaurant that has been building a deep fanbase for years. Order omakase (chef’s choice) and let Chef Mike guide you through the flavorful landscape of Japan, which might include perfect fatty tuna fermented in soy beans, soba noodles with duck, or if you time it just right, locally grown maitake mushrooms.
While the premise of biodynamic cuisine might be a esoteric for some, it makes a helluva menu at Till. Just know that as you taste your way through in-house-ground burgers (from locally sourced lamb or “rare-breed” beef), East Coast-style veggie pizza, and tofu mac and cheese (don’t worry, meat-eaters, you’ll love it too), you’re supporting craft farming methods meant to nurture and heal the local environment. Neat trick.
Toledo might be one of the last places you’d expect to find one of the top steakhouses in America, but you can’t deny the meaty truth that is Mancy’s. Steaks are cut and aged in-house and seared at precisely 1,500 degrees (no more, no less) to create one of the best bone-in ribeyes or filets you’ll have anywhere, much less Ohio. Whether you pair your meat with a 1lb baked potato or start the whole thing off with Long Island Blue Point oysters, you’ll easily understand why Mancy’s has been in operation for nearly 100 years.
This Toledo favorite will rock your face off with fresh-ground, expertly stacked burgers that are full of unique flavor and texture combos. Yes there's a basic, and that’s a great way to start, but let yourself go wild with options like the Crunchy Buffalo, with hot sauce, blue cheese, bacon & hand-cut chips, or the Three Little Pigs, sporting ground pork, smoked cheddar, BBQ pork shoulder, bacon, and sweet & tangy slaw.
Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Erika Rapp helms this seasonal, upscale Americana spot in the heart of Toledo's entertainment district. French doors with Juliet balconies in the dining room provide a touch of romance as you eat your way through offerings like coconut-steamed Prince Edward mussels with chorizo or a Midwest meatloaf burger with bacon jam.
It’s not the fanciest or most expensive restaurant in Akron, but it fits the community perfectly with zero pretension and tons of flavor. Some of the best options are located squarely in the sandwich selection: pork schnitzel is paired with killer house beer kraut on pumpernickel, a BLT is classed up by making the “L” stand for lobster. If you’re really trying to go big, order up the sous-vide hanger steak.
It might look like a dive bar, but the Lockview has a grilled-cheese menu that takes the humble sandwich to a whole new level. Of the 13 options on the menu, look for standouts like the havarti dill cheese, topped with artichoke hearts on rustic Italian bread, the oomphed-up American cheese-style sammie with garlic mashed potatoes on Texas toast, or the smoked Gouda, fresh basil, and tomato on cheddar cheese sourdough.
Located in a strange strip mall in the furthest east suburb of Cleveland is this monument to rustic food and killer cocktails. With a cocktail menu that would feel quite at home in a NYC speakeasy, the food menu is no less ambitious. A wood-fired oven cranks out amazing pizzas like the mortadella, with its eponymous meat paired with black olives and pistachio oil, while the open kitchen rocks favorites like the brat burger with manchego cheese and an egg or the bar steak with whiskey mustard.
A “best of Ohio” list would not be complete without a Michael Symon joint, and Lola fits the bill. His dark and bustling E 4th St resto in the heart of Cleveland shows the star's extraordinary talents with specialties like beef cheek pierogi, smoked pork chop with chilies and polenta, or the killer Lola burger on an English muffin with bacon, raw milk cheddar, and special sauce.
Momocho -- under the carving knife of James Beard-nominated chef Eric Williams -- features both classic and off-kilter takes on Mexican food: 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 nine different margaritas also don't hurt.
Despite this restaurant's grandeur -- marble columns, restored murals, etc. -- the menu remains moderately priced, especially considering the open kitchen's popping out huge slabs of ribeye, smoked/roasted chicken & waffles, and colossal veal chops. Meanwhile, you can also book a party in the old-school vault, which still sports its gigantic iron door, now used to prevent Rick from stealing your food.
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Patrick Alan Coleman is a currently a voracious eater and explorer of Ohio. He previously served as food editor for the Portland Mercury. Find him on Twitter: @PatrickAColeman.