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Here in Cleveland, we’ve got beef cheek in our pierogi, truffles on our hot dogs and beer in our donuts. Balance.
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Downtown Cleveland is a grade-A, choice-cut dining destination, serving up everything from Iron Chefs (Michael Symon) to farm-to-table cuisine (Urban Farmer). Venture just slightly off the beaten path into nearby neighborhoods, however, and you’ll find some of the area’s most unique restaurants, bars, and hotspots. Here’s a quick guide to the authentic, vibrant culinary scenes where locals mix, mingle, and of course, eat.
Located directly south of Downtown, Tremont is classic Cleveland. Ornate architecture, majestic brickwork, lush parks, gorgeous churches — it all adds up to why the housing- and restaurant-rich hood is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located in what used to be a bank, Dante — helmed by rock ‘n’ roll fanatic Dante Boccuzzi — is a Tremont stalwart serving up modern American cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Homemade pasta, succulent seafood, rich polenta and risotto, and veggie-based dishes abound. Pro tip: Be sure to leave room for a decadent dessert (or two).
If lighter fare is more your speed, you’re in luck: Zack Bruell’s sleek Parallax specializes in inventive, Japanese-inspired cuisine. Seafood is of course king here — try a nibble from the sushi menu or a heartier entrée — although apps such as the crispy pork belly are faves. The light-filled Tremont Tap House hosts one of the most popular brunches in the city (perhaps it’s the Belgian waffle with strawberries, whipped cream, and Nutella?), although its hearty dinner menu and extensive draft beer selection also help. And for a low-key nightcap, Prosperity Social Club is the place to be. The circa-1938 barroom space boasts a secluded patio, a well-curated beer list, and booze-absorbing comfort food such as pierogi, potato pancakes, and kielbasa.
Adjacent to Downtown from the southwest, Ohio City is an eclectic, diverse neighborhood in possession of as much old-school charm as Tremont. That’s because of anchors such as the West Side Market and Great Lakes Brewing Co., as well as well-maintained streets and houses, all of which exude a welcoming feel.
Farm-to-table pioneer The Flying Fig boasts a fresh, imaginative menu focusing on quality, locally sourced items — grass-fed burgers, braised spinach from a nearby farm, and Cleveland-baked bagels, to name a few. In just a few short years, TownHall has become one of Ohio City’s most popular bars/eateries. The secret is innovation: The health-conscious, veggie-lovin’ restaurant boasts a menu that’s completely free of GMO ingredients, while its vegan and gluten-free menu is one of the most extensive around. Bonus: TownHall’s also open late to satiate post-revelry cravings for avocado or truffle fries. Speaking of potatoes: Nearby Bar Cento is city-renowned for its rosemary- and garlic-kissed pommes frites, which come with tangy dipping sauces like curry and red pepper aioli. The Italian-leaning restaurant is also known for its pizzas — piled high with toppings such as house-made pepperoni, pancetta and eggs, and capicola — as well as creamy gelato.
Head west from Downtown, and you’ll land right in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. This enclave has a burgeoning entertainment district centered around the Capitol Theatre, funky boutiques and popular restaurants, as well as plenty of quiet residential neighborhoods.
The Happy Dog’s main attractions — hot dogs of the meat and vegetarian variety — are legendary, mainly because of their sidecars: Patrons can top ‘em with tasty vittles such as vodka sauerkraut, a fried egg, Korean BBQ sauce, and even Froot Loops. At night, the ‘Dog features indie-rock bands, discussions with local authors and even the occasional polka DJ. Across the street, Spice Kitchen and Bar serves up a menu driven by what’s in season, featuring ingredients grown at its own 13-acre farm or backyard mini-garden. The mushroom beignets are a must, as is a cocktail menu driven by intriguing liqueurs. The welcoming, homey wine bar Toast is also committed to fresh-and-local items and an ever-changing menu. Still, the establishment has become so popular thanks to its generous wine-by-the-glass menu and a daily, afternoon and late-night "Toasty Hour," which boasts bargains such as an extensive cheese board or eggplant frites.
Travel 20 minutes or so southwest of Downtown, and you’ll reach West Park. This mostly residential area is known for its tidy brick houses and no-frills, old-school bars and eateries.
Red Lantern Kitchen and Bar has a robust food menu (including tacos piled high with fixings and juicy burgers) and a crowd-pleasing array of daily specials. However, the joint shines during its popular weekend brunch, between build-your-own Bloody Mary and mimosa bars, heavenly dishes such as eggs Benedict, and frequent appearances from local blues fave Austin Walkin’ Cane. The Public House is a beloved anchor that reflects the neighborhood’s proud Irish heritage — try the fish and chips or Irish Egg Rolls stuffed with corned beef and cabbage. Most notably, the pub also serves up no-frills bar food perfect for washing down a beer (or three). The mood and theme is similar at Public House’s neighbor West Park Station, which also shows its Irish roots (homemade Shepherd’s Pie and a meaty burger stacked with corned beef) while taking a no-pretense, no-nonsense approach to comfort food.
St. Clair Superior/AsiaTown
Located mere minutes east of Downtown, the bustling, urban St. Clair Superior and AsiaTown neighborhoods represent (and reflect) Cleveland’s diverse population via restaurants, unique shops, and special events.
There’s always a line out the door at Slyman’s Restaurant, a legendary locale that’s been serving up towering, half-foot-high corned beef sammies — its specialty — for over 50 years. The eatery is so popular that even rock group Barenaked Ladies has sung the praises of the deli’s delights. On cold Cleveland winter days, Superior Pho is jammed with locals jonesing for a fix of piping-hot, restorative Vietnamese pho, a beloved, traditional rice-noodle soup. Of course, this delectable dish tastes just as great in the summer — as does the restaurant’s famous bánh mì sandwich and lighter fare such as summer rolls stuffed with shrimp or pork.
Keep going further east from St. Clair Superior/AsiaTown, and you’ll hit University Circle, the east side’s cultural hub. Museums, restaurants, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University make this hood a seamless collision of entertainment and intellect.
L’Albatros Brasserie and Bar is a first-class dining experience, from its greenery-festooned patio to a menu focused on authentic and adventurous French cuisine. Come for enticing openers such as escargots and pork rillettes; stay for heartier fare such as croque monsieur and root vegetable cassoulet. When visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art, make time to grab a bite to eat at Provenance, its fine dining establishment. Appropriately, the menu and concept is artful, tasteful, and driven by local sourcing and seasonally appropriate fare. That attention to detail is also on display at Trentina, the latest concept from James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer. The intimate, 35-seat restaurant specializes in northern Italian cuisine prepared with local flavors and/or imported delicacies — which translates to carrots glazed with local maple syrup, say, or wood-fired lasagna bursting with cheese and veggies.
For a more casual experience, bowl a game or two at Corner Alley Uptown: The 17-lane, two-story gaming emporium has an impressive array of upscale bar food — sliders, salads, and sandwiches, oh my! — themed cocktails (The Dude Abides!), and beer.
Adjacent to University Circle, Little Italy lives up to its name. The neighborhood’s narrow streets are crammed full of art galleries, Italian restaurants, and bakeries — making it feel like a little slice of Europe right in Cleveland’s backyard.
The award-winning, build-your-own pizza at authentic Sicilian eatery Mama Santa’s is the stuff of mouth-watering daydreams. Thick, chewy crust and red sauce — yes, both are homemade — provide a flavorful base for tastebud-tantalizing toppings: pepperoncini, sausage, pepperoni, and even anchovies. In 1914, a pharmacist named Dr. Anthony Caruso founded the Italian Drug Co. in Little Italy. Today that spot is the location of La Dolce Vita, a beloved local restaurant committed to Italian dishes and ambience. Try the pillowy, cheesy Ravioli Di Summer or one of the menu’s stacked-with-ingredients pizzas. Washington Place Bistro and Inn isn’t only a quaint bed-and-breakfast — it has a stand-alone restaurant with high-quality steak and seafood offerings, as well as one of the city’s most popular weekend brunches. The mighty menu boasts twists on standbys (a Salmon BLT with smoked salmon and dill-caper cream cheese) and filling eats such as shrimp and grits with chorizo.
Due south and east from University Circle is quaint retail area Shaker Square and nearby art- and antique-driven neighborhood Larchmere. Both spots boast a small-town feel while containing all the accoutrements of a hip urban center.
Bring your appetite to fire food and drink’s weekend brunch spectacular: You’ll want to devour every morsel of the lemon soufflé pancakes, BBQ pork crepes, or almond-stuffed French toast. The local-sourced dinner menu is just as colorful (and appetite-whetting), between the seafood entrées, crisp salads, and house-made pickles. Fellow Shaker Square establishment Balaton dishes out Hungarian specialties with incredible attention to detail. You can’t go wrong with the veal crepe, chicken schnitzel, or variations of paprikash and goulash — although patrons are best advised to try the weekends-only offering Tenderloins of Budapest, a filet mignon dish first prepared for visiting royalty. Larchmere fave Felice Urban Café, meanwhile, has a little something for everyone. Apps range from a vegan tasting plate to grilled whole sardines, while entrées are both veggie-friendly (creamy polenta) and carnivore-satisfying (venison osso bucco, lamb tacos). Whatever you fancy, just be sure to save room for one of the café’s meal-ending sweet treats.
Collinwood is a tight-knit enclave east and north of Downtown that stretches from the Lake Erie shore south to I-90. Accordingly, its cozy shops (especially the record stores and retail shops on Waterloo Road) and residents are fiercely proud of its neighborhood’s character and traditions.
Two-room concert venue The Beachland Ballroom serves up grub during shows; try the veggie burger made with sweet potato, white bean, and kale. However, the venue’s popular Sunday "Rockin’ Brunch" (and equally edgy Wednesday-Friday lunches and Saturday brunch) features soothing hangover cures in the guise of guest DJs, mega-loaded Bloody Marys, and scratch-made buttermilk biscuits. Right across the street is Waterloo Road’s new kid on the block, Citizen Pie, which specializes in wood-fired Neapolitan pizza pies and calzones. Get the “Collinwood Supreme,” loaded with salami, Italian sausage, and green chilies, or a white ‘za with pesto or pistachio cream. Just east of Waterloo Road on E. 185th Street is The Standard, a gastropub whose menu nods to Collinwood’s Slovenian roots (e.g., short rib stroganoff, chicken paprikash) but also makes room for healthier veggie fare. Chilled beets? Roasted cauliflower? Baby kale? The Standard has you covered.