The Best Places to Eat in Cleveland
Cleveland definitely gets a wrap for being a sleepy town where not much happens. While no one is going to get it confused with New York City, Cleveland is a little spicier than one may think. People in Cleveland are friendly, the city is big enough that you have things to do and there are lots of people to meet. What you may find most surprising about Cleveland (I know I did), is that it is a true foodie town. After reading this list of the best places to eat in Cleveland you may want to book a trip to the North Coast.
As an English teacher I’m constantly asked by my students, “what is American food?”, it’s a tough question to answer because “American food” isn’t something that can be boiled down into just one category. America is the ultimate melting pot and experimenter and both of those characteristics are found in our food. A much easier question for me to answer is, what is Cleveland food? The answer is Cleveland food is delicious and diverse, as you will find out in these best places to eat in Cleveland.
American food, Cleveland style…
The Greenhouse Tavern– This is a local downtown favorite that is perfect for anyone who just loves meat in all its glorious forms. Don’t go here if you’re in a vegetarian phase. If you love meat and especially if you want to explore more than just the basics, this place is for you. This is a meat to tail restaurant, meaning they use all parts of the animal, which is a nice change from just a burger (although I love burgers and Greenhouse Tavern has some great ones). There is a fearlessness and an aggressive desire to force you to explore your palate, surprise your taste buds, and to just make your stomach plain happy about your decision to eat here. As someone who goes in and out of being a pescatarian, this place has the kind of food that just makes me want to sit down to a big hunk of meat. No wonder it’s one of the best places to eat in Cleveland.
Flying Fig– This is known as being a great place for brunch and sandwiches. Saturday and Sunday brunches at the Flying Fig are almost legendary. The chef Karen Small, was one of the originators of the farm to table movement in Cleveland. Here you’ll find creative fresh food along with classic American favorites, like seared salmon and short ribs. If you live nearby in Ohio City, you may want to visit The Market at the Fig, which provides creatively made sandwiches, pastries, fresh fruit, and more. It’s a great place to stop by for a quick delicious lunch on the go or a scrumptious snack. It’s not just one of the best places to eat in Cleveland, but it’s also one of the best places to get a foodie snack.
Momocho Mod Mex– If you know anything about Americans, we love Mexican food and we love to put our own spin on it. This place goes far beyond your basic beans, cheese, and tacos. Have you ever had goat cheese guacamole? Yum! And from the looks of it the Margaritas seem to be pretty good as well. What makes this place stand out as one of the best places to eat in Cleveland, is the food of course, but also the ……ATMOSPHERE. It’s fun and there’s a little bit of a Mexican wrestling twist. They have two locations, and as of the day this article was written are closed on Mondays and holidays, so make sure you check out their hours before you go.
Spice Kitchen and Bar– Food sourced from local farms brought straight to your plate. This is a theme that you’ll find in many of the best places to eat in Cleveland, and it holds especially true for Spice Kitchen. Much of the food is grown on their farm, creating creative delicious seasonal meals. Of the food that doesn’t come from their farm, 80% of of it comes from family owned farms within 150 miles of Cleveland. This means you get food that not only tastes good, but also food that is good for you and full of vitamins and nutrients. This restaurant is after my own heart, skipping breakfast and bypassing lunch, it simply serves brunch and dinner…. and happy hour. Those are the most important meals of the day. In typical American fashion we love a good brunch and everyone seems to love this one, but the dinner is pretty awesome too.
Edwins-If you are like me, a dedicated lover of French cuisine, you’ll love Edwins. It has all the French favorites mixed in with some of French born Chef Gilbert Brenot’s inventions. This is real French food and it’s real amazing. The food here, is so popular that they are opening the community’s first butcher shop. But at Edwins, it’s more than just about the food, it’s also about the community. Brandon Chrostowski, in the true sense of giving back to the community has chosen to fully train ex- convicts to work at every station of this fine dining French Bistro, with his six month second chance life skills program. It’s pretty amazing, and one of the Chef’s that creates this mouth watering food is a graduate of the program. It’s the food that will bring you back, but it’s always nice to know that you’re participating in a vision to make a city and people’s lives better. Between the food and the gift of a second chance this in undoubtedly one of the best places to eat in Cleveland.
Bar Cento– Pizza, pizza, pizza. That’s what everybody talks about when they mention Bar Cento. Or maybe that’s just all that I hear because I am a pizaaholic and I’m always looking for a good pie. I’m a pizza simpleton, and adding mushrooms on my pepperoni pizza was a big step, but for those of you who are adventurous and like trying new things, this is a great place to do it. They have something called Sunnyside pizza, which is eggs sunny side up on your pizza. Amazing. They have other stuff too, sides, scrumptious pasta, innovative sandwiches….oh but the pizza. Perhaps the best pizza in Cleveland, as well as one of the best places to eat in Cleveland
Red, the Steakhouse– Like I’ve mentioned, I’m mainly a pescatarian and I only have meat on rare occasions. Those occasions only occur when I think it’s going to be amazing. The steak at Red, the Steakhouse is incredible, which is why it’s one of the best places to eat in Cleveland. If you love steak or if you want to eat like an American, you’ve gotta know where a good steak house is. While this is obviously a steakhouse (duh, it’s in the name), you will find other delicious items on the menu. The fish and the veggies are amazing too, and they have a great selection of chops (lamb chops, pork chops). The city loves Red’s so much that they have two locations in Cleveland and you can also visit them in Miami.
Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen– Don’t be fooled by this unassuming restaurant. Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen, may be considered one of those great hole in the wall places. You know the one that’s located somewhere that you’d never naturally go to, or it’s located in a place that you think can’t possible feature great food. The location of this hole in the wall is a strip mall, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best places to eat in Cleveland. I’m not sure which food genre to put Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen in, so we’ll just put it in the really good American food category. They have everything from duck, to steak, to salmon, to chicken wings, to pasta. They have their own farm where they source much of their greens. No matter what you choose you’ll be surprised by the flavors and the twist that they are able to create.
Fire Food and Drink – This is absolutely a great American fine dining restaurant. They are constantly adding new innovations to the menu. On this exciting menu, you’ll find things like farmstead cheese and artisanal meats and woodfire meat and fish, which creates great flavor. They even have gourmet pizza! This is also another great place for brunch. But what I like most about Fire is that they serve you good food and wine and they also teach you about good food and wine. If you are interested in wine they have event classes that you can take to sharpen your skills (or can introduce you to the world of the wine snob). They have a class on Spanish wines that looks pretty interesting to me.
Fat Cats – I’m always trying to eat healthier and one of the things that I love about Fat Cats is how much people love the veggies. This place gets rave reviews about its brussel sprouts….if people are talking about the brussel sprouts you know it has to be one of the best places to eat in Cleveland. They have fun contemporary classics like fish tacos and a juicy burgers. And they also have a creative menu that changes seasonally ensuring you get the best and freshest food available. This is also a great place to soak in a view of the city. But most of all this place is fun. It has an exciting atmosphere and it will change your mind about whatever preconceived notions you had about Cleveland.
Superior Pho– Many would consider this to be the best Vietnamese food in Cleveland. If you like Pho, this is the place to go (sorry for the rhyme). This is the OG of Cleveland Vietnamese food. The founder, Manh Nguyen is the one that put this ethnic food on the map, and made the city realize how good authentic Vietnamese food can be. It’s an entire meal in a bowl. They take their time in creating this family recipe passed down through the generations. This is another hole in the wall restaurant, it may look like a place that you don’t want to enter, but like those before you, you’ll come out raving about the food and fully understanding why it’s one of the best places to eat in Cleveland.
Toast- This is another great restaurant serving yummy American food. One thing that makes this restaurant unique, is the simple fact that it’s open late. It’s open until 11 during the week and 1 on the weekends (that’s pretty good for Cleveland). This makes it an ideal place to go for drinks. The menu is short but delicious. The menu changes weekly based on food availability from farmers. The pasta is made in house and like many of the restaurants on this list, some of the food is sourced from their own farm, which in this case happens to be across the street. They also believe in supporting the community and are heavily involved with the other businesses around them. So if you’re new to town this may be a great place to get a pulse and a current list of what’s going on in the area.
Ginko Restaurant– Sushi! Sushi is definitely one of my top 4 favorite foods, and many think this is the best sushi Cleveland has to offer. Part of the reason why is that Chef Dante Boccuzzi, flies in his sushi daily from the Tskiji Fish Market in Tokyo. I feel like that’s all that needs to be said. Anyone who is willing to make that much of an effort takes the taste of their culinary creations extremely seriously. It’s edible art cooked ( and not cooked) to perfection. If you’ve never had sushi before this is the place to have your first experience, if you’re already a sushi lover, you will never be disappointed at Ginko. There’s another shout out that must be given to Chefe Dante. If you like this restaurant you should also check out Dante, (his other restaurant), which is a blend of Italian, Asian, and American food.
Tommy’s Restaurant – This is the only dineresque place on my list, and it’s really imperative to have one. We all need to know where the good dinner is. You’ll find gyros, sandwiches, meat pies, escarole, potato pies….and milkshakes!!! It’s perfect for lunch. This is the kind of place that you can go to a couple times a week. It’s a Cleveland staple and it’s pretty famous with the locals and with famous people. It’s one of those places that has a list and pictures of famous people stopping by for a bite. The menu is pretty massive, so you’ll easily be able to find a favorite or pick out a new sampling every time you visit. Oh yeah, and they have a whole toasted cheese section. Yessss! Toasted cheese alone makes this one of the best places to eat in Cleveland.
Sokolowski’s University Inn– This is the oldest operating family run restaurant in Cleveland and there’s something really special about that concept. This is also one of the most popular restaurants in Cleveland, so keep that in mind ( go early, like 5pm early). It’s classic German/Polish food brought over by the Sokolowski’s almost 100 years ago. It’s served cafeteria style and the later you get there, the longer the line will be. Bring your empty stomach, the portions are big, it will be full by the end. This is the old school meat and potatoes eating that most of this country was built on. Oh yea and if you can lift your head up from your plate, the view is great too.
Slyman’s Restaurant– It’s all about the corned beef, it’s the best in Cleveland. This is your classic deli. The meat on the sandwiches is a mile high and you’re going to have to open very wide to fit it all in your mouth, but you won’t be at all sorry. Corned beef is certainly what Slyman’s is known for, but their other sandwiches are of equal high quality. Everyone needs a good sammie, and this is where you find it. There’s really nothing left to say, it’s your classic sandwich place and the sammies are amazing. No wonder it makes everyone’s list as one of the best places to eat in Cleveland.
Tremont Tap House– This is a great neighborhood pub. I am not a beer drinker, but according to the beer nerds, the selection here is outstanding. If you make this place your home, you’ll see the same faces over and over again. Locals seem to pick this place and stick to it. That says a lot. It’s because of the relaxed friendly atmosphere, the great beer selections, the snacks to go with it, and the food selections for lunch or dinner. It’s your classic American pub… meathouse food. Food you can hold in your hand, pizza, and larger meat dishes, like rib eye and pan roasted chicken. This is where you go when you just want to sit down and relax, drink, watch some sports, and just be an American.
Blue Point Grille – Cleveland probably isn’t the place you’d expect to find great seafood, considering there isn’t an ocean nearby (but there’s a really big lake)….but Blue Point Grille proves you wrong. The seafood is big and fresh and succulent , and seasonal. Come for Happy Hour and get half priced appetizers and drinks. It’s a great time to take advantage of this upscale seafood restaurant. I also love that it’s one of the few fine dining restaurants open for lunch. That said, if you want to come for dinner make reservations. Blue Point Grille takes pride in providing the freshest seafood available and that creates amazing flavor that is recognized by locals all over the city.
Li Wah– Chinese food! I’m almost done with this list and I would be remiss to not add a good Chinese restaurant to it. The dim sum is what everyone raves about at Li Wah. The dim sum is served on white table clothes in the traditional way. They also have the more traditional American Chinese food items and those are delicious too. But the fun thing about dim sum is that you can try lots of different things. If something walks past your table that looks tasty, you eat it.
Bac Asian American Bistro and Bar– This is a neighborhood staple, as well as one of the best places to eat in Cleveland. Locals of the hood love it because it combines favorites from different Asian food traditions, such as Thai and Vietnamese and puts them on what could be considered an eclectic Asian menu. It creates a tasty menu in a family run place that the locals love to support. It’s one of those places where you go to all the time and everybody knows your name….or at least your face.
Pura Vida by Brandt- The menu at Pura Vida by Brandt is frequently updated. They have an actual box lunch, served in a lunchbox that changes daily ( I love that, it’s the best). That’s definitely worth trying. If you’re a wine loveryou have to come here on Wednesdays where you can get $15 bottles of wine and take home bottles for $25. Most places on this list have pretty good vegan or vegetarian options, but this place has some of the best in Cleveland. They have vegan burritos, vegan big macs, and even vegan hot chocolate. If you’re not so into meat, you’ll have plenty of options here. If you are a meat lover, don’t worry they have three different kinds of short ribs, you’ll be fine.
Lucky’s Cafe– Everyone raves about brunch at Lucky’s Cafe. It’s busy on the weekends so plan ahead. They have some incredibly creative food options, like pecan encrusted bacon. Not only is that a real thing, but it’s an award winning thing that any bacon lover should try. The waffles and the ruben are also a local favorite.
Umami Asian Kitchen- This place is tiny, but it’s good. The servers are often complimented for being friendly, and being well versed in the menu. It was voted one of the 25 sexiest restaurants in Cleveland and I agree, the food here is sexy. It’s creative and well plated, colorful, and full of flavor. I’d be pretty happy if someone took me here for a date night. There is a clear influence from major Asian culinary cultures, (Japanese, Chinese, and Thai). That means tofu, noodles, and grain based dishes with special attention paid to veggies.
Lago Restaurant and Wine Bar – This is your classic family Italian place. The atmosphere is relaxed, but the food is upscale in it’s taste and platting. It’s a nice place that you can enjoy with your friends or family any night of the week.The ambiance is fantastic, offering a view of Lake Erie. The food is great as well, featuring a blend of Northern Italian and Sicilian family traditions. Lago stays true to its roots in its beverage selection as well featuring, all European beers and many wines from the same Italian regions as its food. Delicious.