The Thrillist Awards: Cleveland's Best Food & Drink of 2015
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.