How do you know your food scene has arrived? When the nation raves about your fine dining and chefs — but also your grilled-cheese sandwiches. Welcome to America's new culinary epicenter.
Best Restaurant, Best Sandwich Shop, Best Taste of Cleveland & Best Local-Food Champ
Melt Bar & Grilled
Five years after its Lakewood founding, almost one year after the launch of its Cleveland Heights clone, and just moments after the announcement of a third location slated for Independence in the fall, Melt continues to be the focus of our cheesy love affair. For that, you can thank owner and entrepreneur Matt Fish, a relentless booster of his beloved city and creator of 20 or so varieties of gooey, delicious grilled-cheese sammies served up in towering portions. Add a vast selection of draft and bottled beers, and a pleasantly punky persona that somehow combines piercings, tats, and plastic snowmen, and what you have is the city's best culinary hangout.
14718 Detroit Ave., Lakewood; 216-226-3699
13463 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-965-0988
Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant & Best Milkshakes
This Coventry mainstay is not a vegetarian restaurant, popular perception to the contrary. But that doesn't mean proprietor Tom Fello doesn't know how to rock a meat-free meal, complete with everything from salads overflowing with raisins, sprouts, and sunflower seeds to thick 'n' creamy 20-ounce milkshakes, made with local Pierre's ice cream and milk from Hartzler's Family Dairy. Other homey, veg-friendly options include vegan toaster waffles, macrobiotic granola, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and falafel, just to name a few. Let the meatheads among you chow down on burgers and corned beef: Vegetarians at Tommy's will always feel the love.
1824 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-321-7757; tommyscoventry.com
Best Restaurant for Romance
A perennial fave for love and seafood, this cliff-side showpiece overlooking Lake Erie offers extraordinary food, elegant ambiance, and jaw-dropping views of the downtown skyline. Factor in candlelight, wine, and maybe a ginormous Seafood Tower (impeccably fresh oysters, crab legs, shrimp, mussels, and Maine lobster salad), and you've got the makings of true romance.
12700 Lake Ave., Lakewood; 216-228-2250; selectrestaurants.com/pier
Best New Restaurant
Deagan's Kitchen & Bar
Ambitious chef-driven cuisine, an awesome beer list, and a warm, relaxing atmosphere mark this Lakewood gastropub as the best new addition to the region's dining scene. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Deagan's caters to its broad constituency with kids' menus, booster seats, and popular Wednesday-night specials aimed at the meat-free crowd. (No banal veggie burgers here: Look for inspired fare like ponzu-marinated tofu with soba noodle salad and locally grown Killbuck Valley mushrooms.) It's that kind of intelligent hospitality that has made Deagan's a winner.
14810 Detroit Ave., Lakewood; 216-767-5775;
Best Coffee Shop
Seattle has nothing on Carl Jones' homegrown coffee company, which has been roasting, blending, grinding, and selling top-grade java to Clevelanders for more than 20 years. The company's current holdings include five "coffee sanctuaries," a commercial roastery, mail-order business, and wholesale accounts. But no amount of success will dilute the Phoenix mission: to champion the cause of great coffee and build culture and community in the process.
Various locations, including the flagship café at
2287 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-932-8227;
Best Bar & Best Happy Hour
The Nauti Mermaid
No surprise here: One of the Warehouse District's least pretentious bars is also the one that Clevelanders love the best. Then again, what's not to love about a Key West-style crab shack with a jukebox full of reggae, ten beers on draft, and a selection of top-shelf spirits? Then there's the Monday-through-Friday happy hour, featuring $1 pints of domestic drafts and similar bargains on sliders, shrimp, oysters, and crabcakes. Come summer, look for the patio bar to take it outside with the same great vibe and island-style beers and libations.
1378 West Sixth St.; 216-771-6175; thenautimermaid.com
Best Patio Dining
Pickwick & Frolic
It may be only one block long and two cars wide, but bustling East Fourth Street is downtown's premier spot for outdoor dining, drinking, and people watching. Closed to cars, hopping with foot traffic, and lined with flower baskets and twinkly lights, the location is a gem. And where better to soak it up than from the spacious patio in front of Pickwick & Frolic, the street's top entertainment destination and home to a comedy club, martini bar, and a restaurant serving a big menu of wood-grilled specialties and rustic American favorites.
2035 East Fourth St.; 216-241-7425;
Clevelanders have been waking up to Yours Truly's "anytime breakfasts" for thirty years: fluffy omelets, tender pancakes, zesty hash, and, for the bores who insist upon such things, oatmeal, granola, and freshly squeezed juices — reliably dished out by chipper servers, in a comfy setting, with endless cups of coffee on the side.
Various locations; ytr.com
Even if you've never set foot inside his restaurants, you know the Michael Symon legend: Hometown boy and former St. Ed's wrestler heads off to a prestigious New York culinary school; gets a great education and returns to his hometown, where he works hard and plans smart; opens a groundbreaking bistro in an up-and-coming neighborhood; and winds up as a Food Network star and an Iron Chef, with a James Beard Award on the side. Of course, none of this would add up to a hill of beans if Symon had gone all Hollywood on us. But no: The local boy with the goofy laugh has remained a Clevelander through and through. He's not only the city's Best Chef: He's also the best ambassador this gritty ol' town could ever have.
Best Upscale Restaurant
Michael and Liz Symon's flagship restaurant in downtown's lively East Fourth Street district is a smart, stunning confluence of sophistication, innovation, and a menu that turns heartland favorites — pierogi, fried bologna, bacon — into points of culinary inspiration. Consider: People actually travel to Cleveland from Chicago, New York, and San Francisco for no other reason than the pleasure of dining at this restaurant. So if you have to pay $10 for valet parking, Mr. or Ms. Rocky River, don't come crying to us.
2058 East Fourth St.; 216-621-5652; lolabistro.com
Hot Sauce Williams
Even before the notion of (medical) marijuana-laced 'que sauce was being bandied about for the Colorado market, this down-home BBQ spot in the pink-and-blue "cottage" near the Cleveland Clinic had us in its thrall. Sure, the Tony Bourdain-types all dig the soulful scene. But North Coasters were addicted to Hot Sauce's zesty ribs, juicy chicken, and overstuffed Polish boys — topped with fries, slaw, and that sweet-and-spicy sauce — long before the out-of-town talent ever heard of it.
7815 Carnegie Ave.; 216-391-2230
12310 Superior Ave.; 216-249-0710
3770 Lee Rd., 216-921-4704