It seems like there’s something new to see or do in Cleveland every day. This year, we’ve watched plenty of our new-favorite restaurants and events spring up -- some making comebacks, some by chefs we love, some where we least expected it. And while we love our old haunts -- we’ll sing karaoke at Tina’s Nite Club with you any day of the week -- we’ve had a helluva time taking these new joints for a spin. People say Cleveland is underrated; behold another year that proved them right.
The Thrillist Awards: Cleveland's Best Food & Drink of 2015
Best new event to eat your way through
Night Market Cleveland (address and info)
Open-air markets are typically associated with leisurely strolls on sunny Sunday afternoons. Not so, says Night Market Cleveland, the latest of the events that originated in Asia but are spreading like wildfire across the States. Completely taking over Rockwell Ave every last Friday of the month, vendors line up to sling street food like kimbap and shaved ice to the masses while stilt walkers and dragon dancers move through the crowd. The street fest picks back up in June.
Best new lunch
Café 55Address and Info
As part of the Hub 55 project bringing more culinary destinations to the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, Café 55 is a bright, crisp next step. All-day breakfast and quick-serve lunches make for a cozy-yet-modern place to escape with your laptop for some laid back afternoon work and Wi-Fi connectivity. Snatch up local food favorites in stock from CLE Juice Box and Cleveland Bagel Company.
Best new place to be board
Tabletop Board Game CaféAddress and Info
Need a change of pace from the West 25th strip? Tuck into Tabletop, where you can pluck one of hundreds of games from their shelves and challenge your partner to a duel. They’ve also got sandwiches, snacks, and, of course, beer (this is gaming for adults, anyway). Just don’t ask us what games like Dwarven Miner or Exploding Kittens exactly entail.
Best new dance night
'90s Night at Mahall’sAddress and Info
Cutting the rug at a bowling alley should already be enough of a reason to make it out to Mahall’s intermittent '90s revival nights. Dancing with wall-to-wall people to Garbage, Nirvana, and REM should be your other reason.
Best new pizza
Citizen PieAddress and Info
The masterpieces of Vytauras Sasnauskas had already amassed a cult following when he would serve up pies at the swanky, tapped-by-Esquire cocktail bar Velvet Tango Room. Taking root in the Waterloo Arts District directly across from the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, Citizen’s wood-oven Neapolitan pizzas are a welcome addition to a growing roster of food offerings in the neighborhood.
Best new nightlife
FM at Touch Supper ClubAddress and Info
There’s already plenty of intrigue surrounding Touch following its reopening after a year-long renovation. Amplifying the chatter is this new weekly Sunday speakeasy-type event, which caps off at an intimate 75 people. To enter, attendees must enter through the back alley and are then escorted by the doorman to the basement. DJs spin low-key house and techno until the early hours.
Best new bar event
Story Club ClevelandAddress and Info
Storytelling nights -- where featured readers and the audience take turns handing off the mic -- have drawn crowds to bar basements since 2014 thanks to Keep Talking at Happy Dog and Told at Market Garden Brewery. Story Club, founded by Mary Norris in Chicago, came to Cleveland Heights’ The BottleHouse Brewery in late 2015, and takes place every first Monday of the month. If you’re afraid to throw your name in the hat to tell your own story, throw back a few and you might change your tune.
Best specialty bar
Griffin Cider HouseAddress and Info
Blink and you might miss this pub on Lakewood’s Madison Ave corridor, but it’s worth seeking out the locally brewed ciders that Richard Read has been making since 2010. This year he opened the bar, which has a variety of Griffin’s own ciders on tap and other regional varieties on hand for a taste of Ohio apples.
Best triumphant return
Seoul Hot PotAddress and Info
For the past 30 years, if you were craving a fix of Korean barbecue, Seoul Hot Pot was the go-to. However, when they shut their doors a few years ago, it was uncertain if the AsiaTown staple would return. Longtime customers rejoiced as the restaurant swung back open this summer for plenty of sizzle-your-own fare on their tables built with grills. Plus, Cleveland loves a good comeback story.
Best new retail
Banter Beer and WineAddress and Info
Banter, you had us at “bottles, sausage, poutine.” The beer and wine shop has a fully stocked and carefully chosen selection ready to grab and go. In the fast-growing area of Ohio City, the team behind Banter made it into a stop for a bite (or two) as well. The small-but-mighty menu can be enjoyed over a boozy beverage or chilled wine pulled straight from the store.
Best reason to stay in and order delivery
Mod Meals (address and info)
How often have you sat down for some of your favorite Mexican food at Momocho and wished you could have chef Eric Williams’ cooking sent to your doorstep, like, every single day? Enter Mod Meals, the new meal delivery service. In addition to Momocho, restaurants such as Spice Kitchen and Bar, Flying Fig, Cork and Cleaver, and Graffiti have all signed on.
Best new expansion
CodaAddress and Info
Cleveland institution Cobra Verde ripped through a set at this new Tremont music venue when it was less than a month old, making it one of the first reasons to add it to the to-do list. The next is that it’s in the hands of all-star chef (and musician) Dante Bocuzzi, located directly under his Dante Next Door, offering a below-ground venue to steal away to for libations and late-night snacks.
Best new healthy restaurant
Café AvalaunAddress and Info
For those cutting gluten out of their diets, a new haven opened this year. Celebrated chef Brian Doyle and Maggie Downey, who both worked together on Doyle’s SOWFOOD catering company, opened the entirely gluten-free café offering salads, sandwiches, breakfast dishes, and crepes. They took that one step further with a creperrito, a crepe rolled like a burrito. Yes, a burrito crepe. The breakfast of your dreams.
Best new weekend variety show
The Super Duper Saturday Show at the Beachland Ballroom (address and info)
The Beachland’s brunch is already infamous and this year the music venue expanded its food offerings to lunch on Saturdays. Never a place to keep quiet, they enlisted comedic duo Tim Cornett and Michael Ivy to host their live podcast, The Super Duper Saturday Show, from the stage and local DJs to spin in between guests. Each week they invite folks around town to join in, hosting everything from Cavs commentary to local musicians.
Best new food trucks gone brick and mortar
Boca Loca Burrito Factory (address and info) and The Funky Truckeria (address and info)
Two street-slinging twists on Mexican food have graduated to their own storefronts. Boca Loca Burrito Factory opened in Berea this fall, and ups the ante on the popular (and legitimately good) idea of sourcing local ingredients. Further south, you can find the Funky Truckeria: a taco concept created by Wholly Frijoles and the Orange Truk -- the dynamic duo of food trucks. Now you can enjoy the habanero pork tenderloin and chorizo with goat cheese tacos under the comfort of a roof.
Best new pop-ups
Carabao (address and info) and Dick’s Kitchen (address and info)
In Cleveland, there’s no lack of kitchenless bars bringing in food trucks and caterers to fill the bellies of beer and cocktail drinkers. Carabao’s Filipino-Vietnamese pop-up hit the ground running, serving at the Spotted Owl and Graffiti Social Kitchen, and collaborating with the national Filipino food roadshow SALO. Much like Carabao, it’s hard to grab a drink anywhere these days without hearing the name Dick’s Kitchen, where tasting menus are paired perfectly -- and creatively -- with brews for one night only. You’ll find the pop-up anywhere from likely suspects such as Platform Brewery to Akron’s gorgeous indie theater The Nightlight.
Best new ethnic eats
BatuquiAddress and Info
It feels right that a family owned restaurant -- serving authentic Brazilian food from the couple’s native country, no less -- would set up shop in a Victorian home on the cozy strip of Larchmere. Feijoada stew, a signature Portuguese dish, is a specialty here. And don’t skimp on the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail served up traditionally with cachaça (a liquor distilled from sugar cane that dates back to the 1600s), sugar and lime.
Best destination restaurant
Great Scott TavernAddress and Info
You won’t find this building, home to an old Postal Service operation, in any trendy strip or hot “new” neighborhood. Instead, Great Scott is breathing new life into Euclid, where independent dining is harder to find. Great Scott’s tagline is “The Start of Something Great,” and it seems to certainly be true for the city.
Best new concept
Crop RocksAddress and Info
This was the year the east bank of the Flats came back -- we got the gleaming new Alley Cat Oyster Bar, Portside Distillery rum and beer watering hole, and much more. But of all the new nightlife spots, Crop Rocks has a few things the others don’t: Bone Thugs and Hominy. Hotel California Cobb. Friend of the Devil-ed Eggs. Dark Side of the Moon shots. This new joint of Steve Schimoler is lined floor to ceiling with more than 15,000 vinyl records, includes a full DJ booth -- with guest spinners -- and a 1977 VW Bug out front.
Best new life for an old favorite
Forest Hill Kitchen & BallroomAddress and Info
The city mourned the shuttering of Grovewood Tavern’s 16-year run. It seemed all was lost for those adored spicy sesame noodles. But then came Forest Hill Kitchen, and like that, the legacy of Grovewood lives. The newest venture of John Bausone, the beloved restaurant's last chef, has taken over the gorgeous space once owned by Rockefeller’s, and keeps busy with full-service catering and event hosting. And, of course, gives people the spicy noodles that they love.
1. Café 551361 E 55th St, Cleveland
2. Tabletop Board Game Cafe1810 W 25th St, Cleveland
3. Mahall's13200 Madison Ave, Lakewood
4. Citizen Pie15710 Waterloo Rd, Cleveland
5. Touch Supper Club2710 Lorain Ave, Cleveland
6. Griffin Cider House12401 Madison Ave, Lakewood
7. Seoul Hotpot3709 Payne Ave, Cleveland
8. Coda2247 Professor Ave, Cleveland
9. Café Avalaun4640 Richmond Rd, Warrensville Heights
10. The Beachland Ballroom & Tavern15711 Waterloo Rd, Cleveland
11. Boca Loca Burrito Factory1 Berea Commons, Berea
12. The Funky Truckeria3200 Greenwich Rd, Norton
13. Batuqui12706 Larchmere Blvd, Cleveland
14. Crop Bistro & Bar2537 Lorain Ave, Cleveland
15. Forest Hill Kitchen & Ballroom3099 Mayfield Rd, Cleveland
16. Great Scott Tavern21801 Lakeshore Blvd., Euclid
Mosey over to this cute CLE cafe for healthy eats made quick. Open for breakfast and lunch, the cafe has pre-made items, baked goods, and do-it-yourself rice bowls prepared in a variety of styles (get the Americas with chimichurri or the Coastline with avocado and roasted chickpeas).
This Ohio City cafe's got the monopoly (no pun intended) on fun with over 1,000 games to play inside their friendly, lively space. Pay $5 at the door for unlimited access to their library of games, or come for trivia night and engage in a battle of wits with your neighbors over tasty sandwiches, heart brews, and wine by the glass.
At this combination bowling alley, bar, restaurant and concert venue, food, music, beer and bowling become one in an unexpectedly harmonious matrimony. You can find your average bowling alley staples such as burgers, popcorn and pretzels, but this alley's selection of fried chicken and cornbread are what make it a strike. If that weren't enough, here, you can enjoy a cold one after perfecting your curveball while you watch any one of the indie bands on its live music roster.
Citizen Pie in Waterloo is a small cafe serving cheesy, meaty pizzas and calzones from a gigantic wood oven. Ultra high-quality ingredients grace the top of doughy, charred crust, creating some of the best Neapolitan-style pizzas you can find anywhere in town. Taking root in the Waterloo Arts District directly across from the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, Citizen is the perfect joint to grab a slice after a concert or shuffling from gallery to gallery in Collinwood’s buzzing art scene.
This trendy, upscale nightclub and supper spot hosts frequent live DJ sets, dance parties and events in the lounge, and their rotating menu (sushi on Fridays, featured local food trucks on Wednesdays) ensures there's something for everyone to enjoy.
Griffin Cider House serves, you guessed it, an impressive collection of English cider on tap (the first pub of its kind in Cleveland), alongside local and imported draft beer. Every cider selection from this spot is made from locally grown apples and varies in flavor (cherry, lemon, ginger) and strength. Griffin boasts ten cider taps, three craft beer taps and a wide variety of gin. Its traditional English cider is matched by its traditional English pub vibe: Its exterior is reminiscent of a coat of arms and its dark interior is lined with framed mementos and televisions for the sole purpose of watching whatever sport is on, just as the Brits intended.
This no-frills Korean home cooking joint recently reopened to great fanfare-- Kimchi BokUmBap (a.k.a kimchi fried rice with an over easy egg and hot sauce), where have you been all my life?!
Chef Dante Bocuzzi's newest entree onto the Cleveland scene bills itself as the city's premiere venue (Coda, like a passage of music-- get it?) . Come for the tunes (mostly rock and blues), stay for the great drinks and friendly atmosphere. You'll be jamming in no time.
This entirely gluten-free spot outside the CLE will please paleos and carnivores alike with its tasty creations. The menu extensive menu serves three square meals and features buckwheat crepes, sandwiches on housemade gluten-free bread, and delicious bistro salads.
Looking for good music and grub in the CLE? The Beachland in Collinwood has got you covered. Local and national indie rock acts are on the calendar most nights a week, and an in-house tavern serves several beers on tap and comfort food faves. Added bonus: Tickets are cheap, food and drinks are cheaper.
This food truck fave's all grown up with a new location in the Berea Commons. Stop by for tasty burritos stuffed to the gills with signature sides (grilled zucchini, housemade salsa verde, carnitas, white queso).
Tasty tacos and other Mexican eats await you at the Funky Truckeria, a Northeast Ohio food truck fave recently turned brick and mortar in Norton. Get ready to have your mind blown with the house chorizo and goat cheese balls, which are like arancini, only stuffed with poblano pepper creme and gooey queso cheese.
The fresh flavors of Brazil come to Cleveland in the form of Batuqui. This delicious cross-cultural fusion comes through not only in the menu, but in the restaurant itself, which is run out of a 120 year-old Victorian home on Larchmere Boulevard.
This trendy restaurant and bar in the Flats serves quintessential New American eats (picture flatbreads, burgers, and bistro salads) alongside great happy hour deals and live music.
The locally sourced menu at this Cleveland Heights spot changes seasonally, so spot by early and often to see what they're cooking up as part of their pop-up dinner events.