Beyond the Visitors Guide: CLE's Best No-Frills Eateries
By Lexi Hotchkiss, Image by Janey Schafer
Sure, the city's a hotbed of celeb-chef eateries, sophisticated culinary innovators and a bounty of artisans creating everything from homemade sauerkraut to whiskey.
But, we'd be the first to admit that sometimes the most genuine showcase of a city's true character is in those little dives, watering holes and family-owned joints that have been serving stick-to-your-ribs, holy-cow-what-did-I-just-eat dishes for decades. Heck, in many parts of the country, these kinds of places are practically extinct.
These are the restaurants and bars that define our city - regardless of each location's less-than-award-winning esthetics that are often overlooked by typical passersby. These are the kinds of places where you meet real Clevelanders who are as genuine as the sizzling griddles and cold, frothy beer pouring generously from the taps.
Such is the case with a near west side gem known as Hoopple's. No doubt, finding this little spot can be slightly challenging. It's precariously parked on the far West Bank of the Flats just within the border of Ohio City.
While the bar's walls are plastered with vintage beer posters, it's the stunning panoramic view of Cleveland from behind the bar that's the showstopper. The menu ups the ante with some superb selections of mussels and lobster mac & cheese. But, personally, we think it's all about the Hoopple Burger.
Amidst the trendy eateries and thumping clubs along West Sixth Street is the easily overlooked Nauti Mermaid. Let us caution you now: You will fall in love with this place. Inside, you've got this retro, old-school maritime motif - complete with fishing nets and wooden ship wheels.
We don't know where to begin with Nauti's unexpectedly delish menu filled with seafood options like lobster nachos, surf & turf burger or the extensive raw bar. But, one thing is for sure, we're dead serious when we recommend that you not leave without an order of hush puppies.
Just around the corner in the alleyway (Frankfort Avenue) is a teeny-tiny place that's massive on good eats. It's the little brother to the upscale Johnny's Downtown and is known as Johnny's Little Bar. Consistently rated as having the best burgers in Cleveland, this place is legendary with discerning locals.
Saunter further east and you'll suddenly be immersed in Cleveland's AsiaTown. Many of these little eateries are serving up some of the best Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food in the country (in our humble opinion). But, many of these family-owned ethnic eateries don't have great visibility or clearly marked signage. So, make sure you give Cleveland's St. Clair/Superior's Asiatown website a visit for maps and directions.
But, if you're in Asiatown and Asian food isn't your thing, then we've got a treasure that'll cater just to you: Payne Café.
Payne Café is a tiny place where you can belly up to the bar and watch the owner casually press chunks of delicious ground beef onto a sizzling grill that will ultimately become one of her famous self-named Ruby Burgers. These change-your-life burgers are overflowing with hot meat, oozing with American cheese and liberally topped with all the fixings, as well as a thick slice of ham and lots of bacon.
And, finally, if you want that ultimate no frills escape, you cannot pass up the opportunity to break the fast at the one and only Big Al’s Diner in Larchmere. Locals rave about their really, really big portions of eggs benedict and strawberry-smothered pancakes, which, thankfully, are served all day. But, it’s the corned beef hash that takes the cake – even receiving national notoriety thanks to Chef Michael Symon’s appearance on the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
Yes! There's More
None of these lesser-known spots strike your fancy. Check out some of these equally delicious gems:
-Becky's Bar & Grill: Famous bar with great Cleveland favorites located just off of CSU's campus
-Big Egg: West side family-style restaurant serving breakfast 24 hours
-Danny's Deli: Near East Side deli known for huge deli sandwiches
-Now That's Class: West side bar, live music venue and great vegan fare
-Parkview Nite Club: West side bar with live music and food (fried asparagus and salmon BLT)
-Slyman's: Legendary corned beef sandwiches
Hey Clevelanders: Who did we miss? Let our visitors know your favorite undiscovered eatery in the comments section below.