Page 2 of 7
The love affair continues between Cleveland and our hometown hero. Even if we were overrun with national celebrities (which we are not, so far), Michael Symon would be a standout: for his talent, his influence, and especially for the way he's maintained his Cleveland street cred in the face of fame and fortune. We all know the legend: A former St. Ed's wrestler heads off to a prestigious New York culinary school, then returns to his hometown where he works hard, plans smart, and ultimately launches a culinary revolution. Along the way, Symon racked up the top honors in his field, including a James Beard Award as the Midwest's best chef. He also gained a foothold on network TV and extended his brand with concepts ranging from gourmet burger joints to Lola, this city's flagship restaurant. In the process, Symon has done more to raise our self-esteem than all of Cleveland's sports stars, business wonks, and politicians combined. That's why he remains not only the city's Best Chef: He's Cleveland's best ambassador.
Staff Pick: Jonathon Sawyer
Best New Chef
Even before he opens the doors at his first bricks-and-mortar restaurant (downtown's Hodges, coming any minute now to 668 Euclid Avenue), Chris Hodgson was Cleveland's choice for the city's best new chef. Such is the power of food trucks: Hodgson's two-year-old Dim and Den Sum and one-year-old Hodge Podge have taken the city by storm, bringing fish tacos and fig burgers to the masses while launching a street-food revolution that isn't done yet. But like most overnight sensations, 26-year-old Hodgson is anything but an overnighter. He went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Arizona, then put in three years at award-winning kitchens throughout the country (including the seminal New York gastropub the Spotted Pig) before returning to his hometown. Last summer, Hodgson joined the ranks of fellow chefs like Michael Symon and Jonathon Sawyer as the city's flagbearer on national TV: He and his team finished a close second in the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. We can't wait to see what Hodgson accomplishes when he stays in one place.
Staff Pick: Chris Hodgson
Best Place to Eat on a Budget, Best Place for Cheap Beer & Best Hot Dog
Why kick around the shanty spooning beans out of a can when you can head over to Happy Dog? For a mere five bucks you can score a quarter-pound tube steak with a choice of 50 crazy toppings ranging from Bertman's Original Ballpark mustard to Korean kimchee. (Can't decide? Check in with the barkeep for a list of "suggestive wieners.") If you want tater tots — and yes, you do want tater tots — throw in an extra $3. Then lean back and dig the live entertainment: everything from top-shelf people-watching to polka happy hour. Wash it down with a grape pop or a Pabst, and you've got yourself a fine night on the town for hardly any money. Don't call us "cheap." Call us smart.
5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474,
Staff Picks: Best Place to Eat on a Budget: Sittoo's; Best Place for Cheap Beer: McCarthy's Ale House; Best Hot Dog: Happy Dog
Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant & Best Milkshakes
This longtime Coventry Village anchor is a friendly destination for anyone who eats — be they herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore. That said, you'll go a long way without finding more wholesome, delicious, meat-free fare than what comes out of this kitchen: everything from salad bowls brimming with sunflower seeds and sprouts in a macrobiotic dressing to boffo 20-ounce milkshakes made with local dairy products. (Fun fact: Rolling Stone named one of those cool, creamy concoctions the "Best Milkshake East of the Mississippi" waaay back in 1972!) Other meat-free options include tofu, tempeh, seitan, and spinach pies; plenty of the fare is vegan-friendly too.
1824 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-7757, tommyscoventry.com
Staff Picks: Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant: Udupi Café; Best Milkshake: Tommy's