"Where do we eat?"
That's a very simple question that often warrants a very complicated answer. Well, that depends on who we're with, what part of town we find ourselves in, how much cash we feel like burning through, and maybe even how hungover we happen to feel. But more often than not, we will end up sitting at a table in one of the following restaurants.
And that's precisely how we approached the compilation of this list. Living in a city blessed with talented chefs and exceptional restaurants, we diners have no shortage of places to spend our dough. But when compelled to choose — as diners are every night they elect to leave the cooking to somebody else — we gravitate to the places that make us feel special, the places that consistently execute on food, service and setting, the places that we never regret choosing. In short, our favorite restaurants.
The Greenhouse Tavern (Downtown)
A whole roasted pig face might sound like a dish designed to shock more than satisfy, but that's where chef Jonathon Sawyer differs from the pack. The genesis of this immensely satisfying — and, yes, shocking — dish was not spectacle, but rather practicality. In a nose-to-tail restaurant like Greenhouse, no part of the animal is wasted. The trick is figuring out how to make your customers hand over their hard-earned cash for the wrong end of a pig. The answer: Make it fucking awesome. When you combine fearlessness with culinary brilliance, you end up with a restaurant that routinely destroys boundaries, births trends and brings everybody along for the gut-pleasing ride.
What we recommend: Foie gras-steamed clams and properly butchered rib steak
Lola Bistro (Downtown)
Every god needs a temple, even the culinary ones. Cleveland is Michael Symon's parish, and when those parishioners want to worship the man who brings heaps of praise onto our city's food scene, they do so here, at Lola, the unofficial shrine to the "Rust Belt Revival." Food tourists book tables here months out, locals grab seats at the bar last minute, high-rollers set up shop at the chef's table near the open kitchen — and all of them leave a little lighter in the wallet, heavier in the belly, and happier for the opportunity to brush with greatness. Whether he's in the house or not, Symon's direction can be felt in every course.
What we recommend: Beef cheek pierogies and grilled calves heart
The Flying Fig (Ohio City)
Long before "farm-to-table" was a trite catchphrase, and the local farmers network still was in its infancy, chef Karen Small endeavored to fill her dinner plates with food from area farms instead of national trucks. It wasn't easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. In so doing, she — along with a small handful of other progressive chefs — helped transform Cleveland from a lackluster Midwestern flyover food town to what it is today: a shining example of how farms, chefs and restaurants can work together to help save the planet while turning out delicious, contemporary fare.
What we recommend: Local beet salad and grass-fed Ohio beef shoulder
Momocho Mod Mex (Ohio City)
Eric Williams didn't invent modern Mexican cuisine, but he certainly introduced a large number of Clevelanders to the concept. His fine form, honed from years spent in top kitchens, provides the chef with the skills and confidence to bend cuisines into something new, exciting and delicious. Sure, considerable exposure has placed Momocho squarely on the see-and-be-seen list of restaurants. But when the crowds thin, and the tourists head back from whence they came, this hip Ohio City tavern always reverts back to its roots as a warm, convivial neighborhood tavern.
What we recommend: Guacamole sampler and smoked trout and crab chilaquiles
Spice Kitchen and Bar (Gordon Square)
Chef-owner Ben Bebenroth was doing just fine with his high-end catering company Spice of Life, hosting day-dreamy Plated Landscape feasts in bucolic settings around Northeast Ohio, when he decided to take a chance on a cursed corner location in Gordon Square. That was more than two years ago, and in that time Spice has grown into a neighborhood fixture, a restaurant that so seamlessly fits with the residents' eco-friendly sensibilities that you wonder how they got along without it all these years. More so than almost any chef in town, Bebenroth takes local, sustainable, and seasonal to heart — and makes abiding by the land a pain-free proposition.
What we recommend: Polenta chickpea fries and rabbit gnocchi
Anatolia Cafe (Cleveland Heights)
Before Yashar Yildirim opened Anatolia Cafe — first at Cedar Center, then later on Lee Road — most of us knew precious little about Turkish cuisine. Now, thanks to this restaurant and the half dozen that followed in its footsteps, we're practically döner pros. Yildirim was a pioneer in more ways than one; his sparkling renovation of 5,000 square feet at the southern end of the Cedar Lee District was by no means a safe bet. But thanks to the satisfying simplicity of Turkish cuisine, with its refreshing dips, flavorful grilled meats and fish, and aromatic stews, Clevelanders became supporters of the man, the restaurant, and the cuisine in general.
What we recommend: Sautéed calf's liver and iskender
Crop Bistro and Bar (Ohio City)
Running a restaurant is hard work, which explains why so many chefs are somber, serious types. But when Steve Schimoler rode into town on his magic bus from never-never land, he instantaneously elevated the mood of the entire local food scene. He approaches his menu as a boy would approach an erector set — but in place of beams, pulleys and motors, the chef employs seasonal veggies, meats and seafood. And the results are no less fun: playful, eye-catching and drop-dead delicious. Schimoler's boundless boyhood spirit proves that true artists don't have to be cheerless bastards.
What we recommend: Crispy pork belly and a big pile of crop pasta
Pier W (Lakewood)
If you, like many people, haven't been to Pier W in a while, you're missing out on a pretty special experience. It's not often that a so-called "special occasion" restaurant manages to succeed as a great neighborhood bistro, too. The contemporary bar and lounge is one of the best places on the West Side to spend happy hour, where delicious small plates and bar snacks merge with creative craft cocktails. For a more graceful meal, plant roots in the tiered dining room, where every seat boasts jaw-dropping views of the water and distant skyline. But unlike most "menus with a view," this place offers both form and function. Executive chef Regan Reik sources some of the freshest fish in town, and treats it with the respect it deserves.
What we recommend: Lobster bisque and Georges Bank diver scallops
The Black Pig (Ohio City)
It's never easy to be the following act for a rising star chef like Jonathon Sawyer, as Mike Nowak was at Bar Cento after Sawyer's departure. But it wasn't long at all before diners forgot all about that "other chef" and simply enjoyed the tremendous food exiting the kitchen. Nowak himself moved on, to this brick-walled bistro down the block, where his ever-growing cadre of fans make frequent sojourns to enjoy French-inspired fare starring heirloom pork in all its pink, piggy glory. While lofty in pedigree and provenance, the fare is easy-going, approachable and otherworldly when it comes to taste
What we recommend: Meat board and pork schnitzel
Edwins (Shaker Square)
It's one thing to train ex-cons to work in a fast food restaurant, but it's another to place them in all stations of a fine French bistro. That's precisely what Brandon Chrostowski is doing at this genre-busting, feel-good hit of the restaurant circuit. Far from a stuffy French bistro, Edwins keeps spirits as high as the ceilings thanks to a breezy interior, refreshingly unceremonious service and a magnanimously priced wine list. But the food, overseen by French-born chef Gilbert Brenot, is what lures diners back time and again, for garlicky frogs' legs, escargot, steak au poivre and ripe, funky cheese.
What we recommend: Rabbit pie, horseradish-crusted salmon and cheese
Bar Cento (Ohio City)
A revolving-door kitchen is murder on a restaurant, unless that restaurant is Bar Cento, which has developed into a finishing school of sorts for chefs. In just about six years' time, this Ohio City hotspot has "graduated" three high-profile chefs who have — or are about to — open their own food ops. Bar Cento pulls off the improbable by maintaining a core set of beliefs and standards, while giving their top toques the room to play within them. While one can always expect to find fly pies and locally sourced mains, the toppings and treatments are ever evolving. After all, why go back to a place that offers no surprises?
What we recommend: Beer-steamed mussels and lardo pizza
Because we're nostalgic, that's why. Because some of us remember when we had Michael Symon all to ourselves, when his personality still fit within the walls of this epic Tremont bistro. Plenty has changed since the chef opened the original Lola here, but not so much within the space. Fans of "the good old days" appreciate Lolita, which replaced Lola when it moved downtown, for its neighborhood sensibilities. Intimate, personal, comfortable and convivial, Lolita reminds us through food and mood what it was like when the Cleveland food revolution started in earnest.
What we recommend: Crispy pig tails and ears and roasted chicken
SoHo Kitchen and Bar (Ohio City)
Just when you think Ohio City had published some sort of secret manual that restaurant operators had to adhere to just to open their doors, along come Nolan and Molly with designs of their own. SoHo doesn't really fit the mold established by its brethren, and for that we couldn't be more pleased. No farm-to-table American bistro this, SoHo instead heads south to Low Country land and returns with lip-smacking, finger-licking, toe-tapping feasts of creamy shrimp and grits, mahogany fried chicken and aromatic, seafood-rich boils. Not much larger than the parlor of a quaint Victorian, this restaurant is agreeably intimate and hospitable — just like the folks who run it. A top-notch American whiskey selection is the gravy on the country-fried steak.
What we recommend: Pimento cheese dip and shrimp and grits
Moxie The Restaurant (Beachwood)
More of Cleveland's top chefs have made their way through this Beachwood kitchen than almost any other. Moxie debuted way back in 1997, just a few months after Lola opened in Tremont. Opening chef Doug Katz and his sous chef, Tim Bando, worked from a theatrical open kitchen in a high-ceilinged dining room that seemed plucked from a much hipper 'burg than Beachwood. Together, they showed how cool and current American food could be when crafted from high-quality ingredients and prepared with classic French technique. That Moxie is every bit as relevant today as it was 17 years ago is proof that talent trumps trends any day of the week.
What we recommend: Raw oysters and citrus-crusted cod
Red, the Steakhouse (Beachwood, Downtown)
Steaks are like burgers; everybody thinks they can cook them at home. Red shows us that while you might indeed be able to cook a steak at home, it will have about as much in common with what's served here as a Chihuahua does with a Great Dane. There's a bit of alchemy that goes on behind those swinging doors that transforms a fine ol' flank o' beef into one of life's greatest joys. The char, the fat, the salt, the blood: A great steak served on white china is what separates man from beast. Be a man.
What we recommend: Brad's stuffed hot peppers and USDA Prime ribeye
L'Albatros (University Circle)
We could very easily have included most of Zack Bruell's restaurants on this list because the guy seems to hit a homerun every time he picks up a bat. But more than any other Bruell spot, L'Albatros manages to make diners feel special in ways that other restaurants do not. In short, it's a special-occasion restaurant that needn't be reserved for special occasions. We love the out-of-the-way locale, the history-dripping old carriage house, and that romance-inducing magic-garden patio. But without stellar food and service, all of the former would be mere window dressing. Grab the lengthy one-page menu, point your finger at some French words and phrases, and know that whatever the kitchen sends out will knock your socks off.
What we recommend: Pork rillettes, duck confit and various cheeses
Flour Restaurant (Moreland Hills)
Flour is one of the few restaurants that always manages to have a few surprises up its sleeves regardless how often one visits. On its surface, it's a contemporary Italian bistro, with familiar-sounding dishes like stuffed peppers, calamari, Neapolitan pizzas, and pasta galore. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that regardless how familiar a dish might sound, there's always more to the story. In place of linguini with clam sauce you get cockles with spaghetti and caviar. Short ribs are char-grilled before a slow braise in red wine and chocolate milk. Eggs Benny features fried mortadella in place of dry-ass Canadian bacon. When you have talent the likes of Paul Minnillo and Matt Mytro — "Old School" and "New School" — in the kitchen, it's best to keep gaps between visits as brief as possible.
What we recommend: Chorizo-stuffed dates and porchetta alla Romana
Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen (Broadview Heights)
We'll spare you the tired "big city bistro in a sleepy suburban strip mall" anecdote and simply focus on the meaty bits. Cork and Cleaver is run by two of the most dedicated and passionate practitioners of the craft that we have in a city chock full of dedicated and passionate practitioners. Chef-partners Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick routinely push boundaries, but never at the expense of diner satisfaction. This is serious food — and this is fun food. C&C's wheelhouse is American comfort with a twist, like chicken and waffles featuring meat that has been brined, confitted, stripped from the bones, molded into nuggets, breaded and deep fried. The roundly and rightly popular Rueben ribs are a delicious revelation.
What we recommend: The Board and Rueben ribs
Fire Food and Drink (Shaker Square)
It's a challenge to keep the attention of diners in a culinary market as dynamic as ours. It's even harder to do so for years on end on the east side of Cleveland, where dining at new restaurants is blood sport. Chef-owner Doug Katz has been doing that for more than a decade in a location that can be murder on restaurants: Shaker Square. The restaurant has thrived because it is one of the most consistently excellent options in town in terms of food, service and atmosphere. If Fire opened up tomorrow in Tremont looking just as it did 13 years back, it still would win Best New Restaurant: that's how timeless the place is. Katz owns the farm-to-table America bistro genre, where the season's best ingredients are coaxed into flavor-forward plates of perfection.
What we recommend: Crispy chicken livers and tandoor roasted pork chop
Szechuan Gourmet (Asiatown)
If you let it, dining out still can be an adventure. Most of us go through our days ordering the same dishes at the same restaurants because we know what comes next. Dine at Szechuan Gourmet and it's all a delicious crapshoot. The menu is long and obtuse, lacking anything resembling a description. Categories like "soup" and "entrée" are more suggestion than actual grouping. But that's all part of the charm of this Asian eatery inside the Tink Holl market, where dishes are foreign, exotic and earth-shatteringly delicious. Dishes hum with the energy of 10,000 Sichuan peppercorns, which produce a tongue-tingling buzz that you never want to end.
What we recommend: Cucumbers with chile and vinegar and dried pot beef
Cleveland doesn't often export its concepts; we're more of a borrower. But Chef Rocco Whalen has seeded Charlotte, N.C. with some genuine Cleveland DNA with the recent opening of a Fahrenheit 21 floors above the clean city streets. North Carolinians are now discovering what we have known for years: that Whalen has a knack for delivering explosive food that resonates with damn near every diner. His pizzas are more addictive than crack, and his Kobe beef short ribs on lo mein noodles have been known to invade people's dreams. But more than anything, this Tremont bistro buzzes with the sort of energy that convinces diners that they made reservations at the right spot. You want buyer's remorse? Eat somewhere else.
What we recommend: Vietnamese chicken spring rolls and Kobe beef short ribs
Fat Cats (Tremont)
Have you forgotten about Fat Cats, the Tremont bistro that opened one month after Lola? This joint helped place the neighborhood on the map, and along with Lola kick-started a culinary revolution that later spread throughout the city. Who didn't walk into that 100-year-old house on the end of a dog-eared block in a scrappy urban enclave and get blown away by the entire vibe? It's still there, and it's still one of the sweetest perches in town to enjoy creative small plates, Southern Italian classics and Asian-fusion mash-ups. We adore Fat Cats for its intimate charm, warm-hearted service and unpretentious food. This is what a true Cleveland legend looks like.
What we recommend: Sweet potato fried shrimp and duck breast
Superior Pho (Asiatown)
Little known fact: When Superior Pho opened up eight or so years ago, most of us had never even heard of let alone sampled this Vietnamese staple. Sure, there were a few tepid versions buried on ethnic menus around town, but nobody had devoted an entire restaurant (and nest egg) to the noodle soup until Manh Nguyen opened shop. Lucky for us, he got things right. Had he not, a whole major new trend might never have gotten off the ground. Service is swift, prices are fair, and the bowls of heady beef broth, chewy noodles, random bits of meat, and vegetal accoutrements are guaranteed to brighten even the darkest of days.
What we recommend: Chicken cabbage salad and large-size #2
Toast (Gordon Square)
Toast isn't much like other restaurants. It's the unique creation of its owner, Jillian Davis, and thus is a one-off in terms of concept, décor and menu. That's just fine with us because she's got great taste when it comes to picking wine, picking cocktails and picking chefs. Soon-to-be-wed partners Jennifer Plank and Joe Horvath bring a little bit of the country farmhouse vibe into the heart of Gordon Square, where adorable little plates change with the weather. The toast trio is a nifty starter, perfect with a glass of wine or a signature cocktail. The rustic housemade charcuterie is required eating, as is pretty much anything else exiting the tiny kitchen.
What we recommend: Deviled eggs and ramp carbonara
Ginko Restaurant (Tremont)
It takes a master chef like Dante Boccuzzi to open a truly exceptional sushi restaurant like Ginko. Who else would invest all that dough in a world-class sushi chef and coolers stocked with the freshest fish flown in daily from the Tskiji Fish Market in Tokyo? Cleveland has been lucky enough in the sushi genre, with one or two really good places at any given time. But when Ginko opened up it instantly raised the bar, defined the category and presented locals with the kind of sushi bar typically found in big coastal cities. Take a seat at the counter and let chef Noma-San school you with his offerings of deftly cut fish. The funky subterranean setting adds to the entire experience, offering a cocoon-like setting where the focus lands squarely on the plate.
What we recommend: Omakase tasting menu
Tommy's Restaurant (Coventry)
Some joints get grandfathered into lists like this one, and if you haven't eaten at Tommy's in recent years, you might think this one has too. But in a city lousy with copycat concepts and mimeographed menus, Tommy's remains a true original, a place where picking up the monster menu feels both warmly familiar and refreshingly unique. I mean, who the hell else sells dozens of various meat pies, escarole and potato pies and toasted cheese sandwiches? One of the few establishments where vegetarians and carnivores (if not Republicans) can peaceably coexist, Tommy's is a holdover from another generation. This timeless gem earns its place on this list every single day it flips the sign on the door from "closed" to "open."
What we recommend: Aunt Gay sandwich and chocolate-banana milkshake
Sokolowski's University Inn (Tremont)
It took the James Beard Foundation 91 years to figure out what Clevelanders have known for generations: that Sokolowski's is an American Classic. The restaurant was the recipient of that precious Beard award earlier this month, confirming that hearty Polish comfort foods are every bit as deserving of dangling metal pendants as foo-foo foodie fare. We love Sokolowski's because it's an honest reflection of our roots, dished up with zero pretention in a rustic tavern setting. This is food you don't have to contemplate; this is food that isn't deconstructed; this is food that is so familiar it feels like the meals Mom would make us. That's because it is.
What we recommend: Stuffed cabbage and rice pudding
Slyman's Restaurant (St. Clair/Superior)
These days, every corner store and pub claims to serve "Cleveland's Best Corned Beef." That's bullshit, of course, because Slyman's has been the reigning champ for decades. Unhinge your jaw and sink your enamels deep into a fresh-sliced Slyman's corned beef sammie and you're enjoying one of the finest food experiences in town. Butter-soft and sweet, with whiffs of rye and mustard, these beef bombs seem to melt on contact. But there's more to Slyman's than pink meats; there's the hot turkey with fries and gravy, the egg salad sandwiches and the Reubens, to name a few. Like Sokolowski's, the crowds here so accurately represent a demographic cross-section of our populace that you could knock out a census sampling with one quick visit.
What we recommend: Corned beef sandwich with a Coke
Tremont Tap House (Tremont)
The Tremont Tap House gets so many of the little things right that they make it all look so damn easy. To prove how easy it ain't, simply walk into any just about any other "gastropub" and start taking notes. The craft beer selection is excellent, with more than enough crowd-pleasers for both the beer geeks and the hop-challenged. Equally important is the draft-dispensing system and its upkeep, both of which deserve props. An ideal mate for the brew, the menu is jam packed with lively, agreeable fare, priced for the everyday budget. It's never a challenge designing the perfect meal here thanks to the delicate ratio of sharable snacky foods to two-fisted sandwiches and larger bistro-style mains. The vibe is West Coast, the service East Coast, and the ownership 100-percent North Coast.
What we recommend: Pork belly nachos and lamb burger
Blue Point Grille (Downtown)
There should be a place in all of our hearts for the Blue Point Grille. Along with Johnny's Downtown, Piccolo Mondo and Greek Isles, Blue Point was in on the ground floor of the Warehouse District dining boom. Today, it's one of the last bastions of the movement. It's hard not to be impressed when you cross the threshold of this 19th-century structure, with its soaring ceilings, sweeping brick arches and expansive front windows. Dining here still feels special thanks to the spectacular setting, high-quality fish and seafood, and never-say-no staffers. Oysters on the half shell, Copper River salmon, Nantucket bay scallops and fresh Alaskan king crab are just some of the seasonal treats to land on diners' plates.
What we recommend: Oysters Rockefeller and grouper with lobster mashers
After years spent globetrotting through places like London, Milan, Hong Kong, San Francisco and New York, native Clevelander and nationally recognized chef Dante Boccuzzi came back to claim his spot as one Cleveland's most famous chefs. In the years that followed he has gone on to open multiple restaurants, including another one that made this list. But Dante always will be his signature, eponymous restaurant, one that showcases through fine-tuned food the chef's knack for blending Italian, American and Asian influences. He has a true gift when it comes to seafood and pasta, both of which get plenty of airtime at this stunning Tremont bistro.
What we recommend: Hawaiian tuna tartare and linguini alla carbonara
Li Wah (Asiatown)
There aren't many things worth waking up for on a Sunday, but dim sum at this sprawling Asiatown restaurant is one of them. Round up a small posse, plant a flag in a huge round table, and proceed to load it up with every conceivable steamed and fried bun, dumpling and roll. The beauty of this process is that it's a point-and-shoot affair; simply keep your eyes peeled for things that look tasty and ask for one (or two). Portions are small and prices are too, so order a large variety of items whether you've tried them before or not. Be brave and sample the congee, a creamy rice porridge, and the chicken feet, which are fried and braised until melt-in-your-mouth tender. And drink tea, lots and lots of tea.
What we recommend: Turnip cakes, shumai and BBQ pork buns
Bac Asian American Bistro and Bar (Tremont)
This restaurant earned its way into our hearts and onto this list thanks to a winning concept that fuses a mom-and-pop ethnic shop with the friendly corner tavern. Bac and company pluck the most compelling dishes off Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian menus and then prepare and plate them in contemporary styles. Portions are generous, prices are more than fair, and service and seating are just what you'd expect from your pals at the corner. The lunchtime bento boxes have grown to become the sleeper hit of the neighborhood, and when happy hour rolls around, $5 apps and discounted cocktails attract a consistent base.
What we recommend: Pork steamed buns and Pad Thai
Pura Vida by Brandt (Downtown)
Hidden in plain sight, Pura Vida is located smack dab in the middle of Cleveland. Yet this Public Square bistro doesn't always sit top of mind when it's time to eat. That's too bad because chef-owner Brandt Evans is turning out some of the cleanest, sharpest plates around. Spotless salads, balanced bisques, brilliant sandwiches and globally inspired meat and fish entrees all are dished up in this gleaming-white jewel box. For a guy perhaps best known for the meat-tastic offerings at Blue Canyon, Evans surprisingly has become the go-to chef for fresh, thoughtfully prepared vegan and vegetarian fare. Go figure. Then go eat at Pura Vida.
What we recommend: African peanut stew and Korean fried chicken
Lucky's Cafe (Tremont)
Breakfast, we are so often told, is the most important meal of the day, even when eaten, as we so often do, after noon. Greasy-spoon diners are alright by us, but when we want to up our game and invest in a meal plucked fresh from the earth, made from scratch with skill, and served in place that doesn't reek of stale coffee, we make a pilgrimage to Lucky's. If you don't think farm-fresh eggs, local butter and milk, and happy-harvested meats make a difference — and thus, aren't worth the added expense — then find the nearest Denny's. That will free up a few more in-demand seats at our favorite neighborhood café.
What we recommend: Scones and sausage gravy and the Shipwreck
Umami Asian Kitchen (Chagrin Falls)
If you're looking for the 30 most-booked seats in town, you've come to the right place. Chef Matt Anderson packs diners in twice nightly at this petite suburban bistro thanks to a menu that is never static but always exceptional. Running such a small restaurant allows the chef to operate a little differently from those larger places. He gets his hands on a small cache of primo blue fin tuna belly and it's on diners' plates in minutes. Sushi and seafood shine, as do heartier entrees like bone-in pork chops and duck breast. Most dishes feature mindful nods to Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine, which also translates to delicious vegetarian-friendly entrees built around tofu, noodles and grains.
What we recommend: Crispy fried tofu and Massaman curry chicken
Ristorante Chinato (Downtown)
There is nothing more exhausting than suffering one's way through mediocre Italian food: mountains of starch, buckets of red sauce, dried-out balls o' beef. That's why Zack Bruell's elegant, light-handed touch on the topic was such a breath of fresh air when it opened four years back on East Fourth Street — and still is today. Bruell refines and redefines classic dishes in typical Bruellian fashion, concentrating the flavors, enhancing the textures, and eliminating anything that gets in the way. Like most of Bruell's bistros, Chinato is a stunning restaurant, designed from the ground up to make diners feel special. From the high-ceilinged dining room and open kitchen to the polished service and extravagant wine list, this is the type of restaurant it's easy to lose track of time in, and aren't those the very best kind?
What we recommend: Pappardelle with creamed cauliflower and Amarone-braised beef
The Standard (North Collinwood)
For the diner who requires two pounds of chow for supper, The Standard might not be for you. For those who prefer to sample more than a few creative dishes in one stimulating meal, beat feet to this sparkling N. Collinwood bistro. Few and far between are menus like this one, where every dish sounds like money in the bank. And thanks to rational portions and appropriate pricing, we don't have to settle on just one. Graze your way through 4-dollar small plates, 6-dollar salads, 10-dollar pastas and 12-dollar meat dishes. The treatments are American, the preparations are well executed, and the flavors are high-style comfort all the way.
What we recommend: Crispy arancini and shrimp and grits
Deagan's Kitchen and Bar (Lakewood)
Dan Deagan might not have invented the gastropub concept, nor even been the first operator to import it to Cleveland, but he succeeds where so many others fail that it's impossible not to heap praise. The only sane way to drink one's way through the latest crop of high-test IPAs is to pair those pours with food. Here, that's a breeze thanks to a solid selection of chef-tested snacks, small plates and mains. Sure there are wings, but there also are bacon-wrapped scallops, short rib-topped nachos and fried chicken and waffles. Always lively, well-staffed and neighborly, Deagan's is the kind of joint people buy houses just to be near.
What we recommend: Spicy shrimp tacos and fish and chips
Lago Restaurant and Wine Bar (Downtown)
For years, Lago survived in a crowded Tremont marketplace, a safe bet for diners who might have been shut out of their first choice. But that all changed when the Italian restaurant relocated to the Flats East Bank, where it found fresh energy and emerged as a new Cleveland powerhouse. The uber-urban setting is one of the sharpest in town, giving diners more than enough reason to head down to the river. Owner Fabio Salerno and outgoing chef Lanny Chin have cultivated a wide-ranging menu that covers a lot of ground and does so in fine form. Start with charcuterie, move on to meatballs, share some pizza, slurp some seafood pasta, sink a knife deep into a fat filet; meals here are like unplanned road trips, where it's not so much the destination but the course one takes.
What we recommend: Sautéed calamari and lobster gnocchi