When it comes to eating college-style, ambiance and craftsmanship take a backseat to fast, filling, and cheap — at least till the folks pay a visit. Whether you're a student hunkering down for a campus adventure or just a hungry civilian aiming to fill up, the Cleveland area offers a ton of great sandwich joints — and a few that are a notch above the rest. Read on, dig in, then get back to the books:
Back in 2008, Tuck "Tucky" Axelrod opened his hot dog shop in downtown Cleveland, a short stroll from the Cleveland State campus. Since then he has christened new outposts in Parma and Mayfield, with the far West Side in his sights. Peddled fresh and fast, Tucky's quality hot dogs ($3.50) make up the core of a slim menu, which also includes breakfast sandwiches and burgers. The best in the bunch are the Chicago and Coney Island. The former consists of a casing-free tube steak topped with mustard, onion, tomato, peppers, neon relish, pickle, and celery salt, all delivered in a soft poppy-seed bun. Crowned with thin chili, onion, and mustard, the Coney is an all-American classic.
1701 E. 12th St., 216-394-0256; tuckyshotdogs.com
Pedro's Pedro's Mexican Grill
Everybody and their madre is whipping up big-as-your-head burritos, and you can add Pedro's Pedro's to the ever-growing list. While others can rightly claim superior products (Lo siento, Pedro), few boast a more convenient location for Cleveland State students. Situated at the corner of East 18th and Euclid, the fast food-style Mexican eatery is practically in the CSU student union. Ignore the crunchy tacos, which evoke memories of middle school cafeteria food, and focus on the grande burrito ($5). No surprises here: A large flour tortilla is steamed and then crammed to bursting with meat, rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, and salsa. Options include chicken, beef, braised pork, and veggie. We were pleasantly surprised by the flavor and quality of some of the salsas, specifically the spiciest in the bunch. Meals include a free fountain drink.
1800 Euclid Ave., 216-325-501
Sharing a building with an auto repair shop, the Greek Village is anything but glam. Even inside, where the decor leans more to convenience store than cozy cafe, luxurious touches are scarce. But glance across the counter, and you'll spy the eatery's true reason for being: five vertical spits, each containing a different twirling beast. The specialty of the house is the gyro ($4.50), a savory fist-filler piled high with shaved lamb and beef, onions, and tzatziki (yogurt-cucumber) sauce. Other spits contain marinated pork and chicken. Lakewood may not have a university, but it's a schoolkid magnet anyway. And because Greek Village stays open until 4 a.m. on weekends, it's a hit with the post-pub-crawl crowd. Many opt for their pitas "dirty-style," an unholy hybrid of gyro and panini crowned with mustard and fries.
14019 Madison Ave., 216-228-4976; greekvillagegrille.com
Flaming Ice Cube
There is nothing speedy about the Flaming Cube, we're sorry to report. Stop here for lunch and you might as well write off your afternoon classes. But judging by the smiles in the dining room, vegans are a patient lot. Either that or there just aren't many options when it comes to truly compassionate cuisine. An offshoot of a popular Youngstown café, the Cube uses no meat, fish, fowl, eggs, or dairy in its soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers. The "chickenless" salad wrap ($5.99), for example, is made not with poultry but tempeh, a soy-based product. Though the chicken salad bears little resemblance to the real thing, it is surprisingly satisfying. Better yet, swap that wrap for a mushroom burger ($7.45), a "meaty" patty topped with fresh sautéed 'shrooms, onions, and soy cheese. Meals include a side of the day, such as Asian slaw or black beans. Call ahead if you're in a hurry.
140 Public Sq., 216-263-1111; flamingice.com
Big Daddy's Cheesesteaks
Improving upon a classic like the Philly cheesesteak is not only difficult, it's dicey. Toy too much with it and you risk alienating the diehards. Plus, how do you upgrade perfection? For starters, at least according to Big Daddy's owner Jason Noyes, you add sautéed onions, mushrooms, and peppers to the mix. Before filling the hoagie bun with beef — thin-shaved sirloin only — the bread gets slathered with creamy American cheese sauce. And because everything is better when wet, the two-fisted sub ($6.50) is accompanied by a tub of "Cuyahoga Brown" gravy for dipping. For those who enjoy gilding the proverbial lily, Noyes will double the beef and top it with a couple of fried eggs. Consider it the late-night grab-and-go version of steak and eggs. Correction: Make that early morning version — the joint serves until 3 a.m. on weekends.
16804 Lorain Ave., 216-251-1000; bigdaddyscheesesteaks.com
The Dog house
Coventry Road continues to attract more young professionals thanks to its gaggle of laid-back bars like Cave du Vin, Winking Lizard, and Panini's. But when the time comes to fuel up on solids, many imbibers ditch those dives in favor of the Dog House. As good as the Chicago-style hot dogs are here, it's the Italian beef sandwiches ($5.50) that will leave you breathless. Shaved beef, which has been swimming in au jus, is loaded into a bun, topped with hot or mild giardiniera, and showered with more juice. Order it "hot and wet," and you'll get hotter peppers and more gravy.
2767 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-0717
AsiaTown is centrally located between downtown and University Circle, making it within easy reach of two of the biggest employment and education centers in town. One of our absolute favorite lunches in Cleveland is the pho served at Superior Pho, an under-the-radar jewel. But pho requires an investment of time, something we don't always have at midday. For a little taste of Vietnam to go, try an irresistible bahn mi sandwich for the road. Piled into a mayo-slathered baguette are roasted pork, chicken liver pate, julienned veggies, herbs, and jalapenos. It is at once piggy, pickled, peppery, and perfect — and only $3 a pop. These, not sliders, should be sold by the sack.
3211 Payne Ave., Golden Plaza; 216-781-7462
Fast, cheap, tasty, and relatively healthy? Now that's a tall order. Since launching its first shop in Lakewood, Liquid Planet has adhered to the philosophy that fast food needn't be junk food. The latest outpost opened in Cleveland Heights, in the prime Cedar-Fairmount district, and it has become popular with students, yoga moms, and on-the-go commuters. The largest chunk of the menu is devoted to toasted pita sandwiches — whole wheat pitas stuffed, folded, and grilled in a hot press. The process results in toasty bundles that feature crispy exteriors and warm, melty insides. The Greek ($6.49), a chain fave, is a medley of grilled chicken, feta, and onions. Prices include a small side of chips and salsa, chips and hummus, or apples and peanut butter.
12413 Cedar Rd., 216-791-3700; liquid-planet.com
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