$5: Sushi rolls, Ginko happy hour
We often refer to Ginko as a modern sushi speakeasy, and that's architecturally kind of true. But it's so much more authentically Japanese than that descriptor implies. If you're into sushi, then you already know what's up. If you're new to the game, this is as fine a place to start as any in Northeast Ohio. And happy hour is the time to do it. From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, slide up to the bar and order from a cast of sushi rolls clocking in at just $5. Cocktails and glasses of wine are half-off too, along with deals on edamame and miso soup. This is one of the premier joints for Asian food in Cleveland, and their happy hour makes it the perfect after-work spot for a bottle of sake and a sushi roll.
2247 Professor Ave., 216-274-1202, ginko.danteboccuzzi.com.
$0: Bar Snacks at Fahrenheit and Barrio
Fahrenheit, in Tremont, is one classy-ass establishment, a white-tablecloth, anniversary-dinner-type joint. That's why it's extra satisfying to chill at the bar during happy hour, as the suits and the precocious yuppies begin their nightly procession, munching on some free bacon. You heard right, folks. Free, crispy, thick-cut slices of bacon are yours for the chewing as you sip on an early evening brew. As for Barrio down the street (and its other two locations), it's probably best to avoid Taco Tuesday, when the throngs descend, but happy hour at Barrio is a double whammy of goodness. Not only are the drafts $1 off (we recommend Phin & Mat's Extraordinary Ale from Southern Tier) but you get chips and salsa free of charge. The salsa's thin and cilantro-laden and the chips themselves are about as addictive as they come. (And look, if you're there at happy hour, all tacos are $1 off, so snag at least one).
806 Literary Rd., 216-999-7714, barrio-tacos.com.
2417 Professor Ave., 216-781-8858, chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-cleveland.
$2:Tacos, La Plaza Supermarket
There's no greater pleasure in life than watching a pharmacist — dutifully sorting pills behind the counter at La Plaza Supermarket on Lakewood Heights Boulevard — doff his white jacket and don a white apron and start grilling meat. At La Plaza, everyone's a chef. And the $2 tacos in the back are some of the best in the city. They're simple: double-stacked corn tortillas, meat. You have your choice of chicken, pork, beef, steak, chorizo, all cooked and prepared to perfection. If you want some cilantro, salsa and assorted hot sauces, you can help yourself at the console off to the side. You'll never have a better meal in a grocery store. Guaranteed.
13609 Lakewood Hts. Blvd., 216-476-8000.
Less than $4: Breakfast Special, 49er Diner
With so much fine breakfast dining round these parts — Eggs Benedict! Eggs Florentine! Eggs Wellington! — we can't be blamed for forgetting the value of a simple breakfast, trucker style: eggs, meat, hashbrowns and toast. Nick's on Lorain used to have the market cornered with its $1.99 special, but with a new interior and a freshly minted "SOLO" district, the prices have skyrocketed to the $3 range. If you want a truly dirt cheap breakfast, head over to the 49er Diner on Broadway in Slavic Village. Don't expect anyone to stand on ceremony. This isn't a "trendy" dive diner by any stretch. But you can build your own breakfast special and pay anywhere from ninety-nine cents to $3.99. Expect some weirdos and some low-lifes, but enjoy the automotive-themed decor and the off-the-beaten-path novelty. It's a pleasant reprieve from the Mimosas and cilantro we're all expected to enjoy these days.
5006 Broadway Ave., 216-641-1477.
$6 to $11: Food, Walnut Wednesdays
Cleveland is bursting at its seams with food trucks, and what better time to catch them all than summer? With Walnut Wednesdays taking over Perk Plaza from May through September, Edgewater Live to kick back up in June, and Wade Oval Wednesdays drawing crowds to University Circle all season long, there are plenty of chances to sample Cleveland's mobile culinary delights, which usually range in price from $6 to $11.
$10: Sandwich, Market at the Fig
Chef Karen Small's Ohio City shop is chock-full of locally sourced goodies such as meats, cheeses, nuts and fresh fruits perfect for summer picnics or gatherings. Want something pre-made? The shop also boasts mouth-watering sandwiches for under $10. It's a great place to grab a bite that you can carry on over to the nearby park or munch as you stroll around delightful Ohio City on a busy summer day.
2523 Market Ave., 216-241-4243, theflyingfig.com.
$5: Three-piece combo, V's Gourmet
When it comes to fried chicken, being told that there will be a wait is a very good thing. It usually means that the chicken will be fried to order. That's definitely the drill here, where even those wise enough to call ahead end up twiddling their thumbs. But the result is quite possibly the best fried chicken in the city. Diners get to choose among seven types of breading, from the subtly sweet Honey Crisp to the aggressively spiced Cajun. After what seems like forever, the owner of this 13-year-old secret hands over the goods: a breast, thigh and wing shellacked in an armor of flaky, fiercely crunchy batter. The meat, naturally, is screaming hot and dripping with juice. The menu at this wildly decorated take-out shop (there is anisland-themed mural with boats taped to the watery part) is huge, but all we can vouch for is the yardbird.
15418 Lakeshore Blvd., 216-738-7000.
$5: Ruby Burger, Payne Cafe
You probably have driven by the joint a million times and never considered it, but the next time you're in the neighborhood and need lunch, seek it out. Ruby, who's run the damn place by herself for three decades or so, will get you her namesake burger for $5, seared on the coal-black griddle. Used to be every bar had such a flattop, useful for everything from fried eggs and hash to seared beefsteak. Ruby cropdusts the meatblobs with some secret seasoning and presses it deep into the meat with a wood-handled rectangular patty press. The normal-size bun looks absolutely Lilliputian compared to the beef patty, its charred and flared perimeter escaping its bunny borders by a good three inches. There's lettuce, there's bacon, there's cheese, there's onion and, what's this, ham? And who uses good china in a dive bar?
3528 Payne Ave.
$5: Prime King, The Gorilla
The hotdogs are not earth-shattering, but the barbecue is more than worth the trip. Operating under the name BoBo's Smokin' BBQ, a separate menu offers sliders, sides and smoked meat by the pound. The Prime King ($5) should not be missed. Though it's called a slider, this messy and delicious sandwich boasts a good quarter-pound of thick-sliced Texas-style smoked beef brisket. The beef is fatty, juicy, smoky and peppery, and it's paired with Swiss cheese, pickled onions, horseradish cream sauce and BoBo's Groovy BBQ sauce, made with Kentucky Bourbon, peach puree and espresso.
12102 Madison Ave., 216-221-0195.
$8: Schniztel Sammie, Sterle's Country House
There are few better ways to spend $10 on dinner than Sterle's irresistible pork schnitzle sandwich (topped with kraut and served with fries for just $2 more). Authentic Slovenian and Eastern European fare has been coming out of the kitchen for decades, and Sterle's keeps growing, including the the newish beer garden out back (a perfect place for a pint to follow up the sandwich) and a new brewery in the works.
1401 East 55th St., 216-881-4181, sterlescountryhouse.com.
$20 or less: Dinner on the Grill, Farmers Markets
No matter which side of town you call home, there's a weekend farmers market near you (Crocker Park, Tremont, Ohio City, Shaker Heights), which means that for less than $20, you can grab at least enough grub to grill at home for you and a friend. And we're not simply talking about lettuce here. These days, you can find sustainable local pork, chicken, beef and other meaty deliciousness alongside specialty products like Cleveland Kraut and other favorites you might recognize from the Flea.
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