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4718 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-226-3699,
13463 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-965-0988,
Italian food has always been the cornerstone of Little Italy. But we needed to wait until 2006 — when chef Michael Annandono opened this chic bistro on Murray Hill — to taste the cuisine anew. This Piedmont-trained chef has been delivering the rustic flavors of Northern Italy — the hearty sauces, lush pastas, and roasted game — to the taste buds of appreciative diners ever since. His deftness of hand and lightness of touch give these classic dishes a revelatory refinement not found in the neighboring spaghetti-and-meatball joints. Snails, rabbit, veal, guinea hen? They're all here. Only these days, diners are running toward them rather than away. Toss in a seductive setting, polished staff, and Italian-focused wine list, and there's no mystery in how Annandono has succeeded in raising the bar for Italian cuisine.
2198 Murray Hill Rd., 216-721-0300, mangelos.com
You wouldn't know it by picking up a menu these days, but there was a time when four out of five Clevelanders would have assumed "pho" was a cartoon character. But even then, Superior Pho (originally Pho Hoa) was dispensing the stuff in bathtub-sized bowls of comforting warmth. Though others have followed, none has bested this Asiatown pioneer. A recent expansion has eased the sometimes crushing crowds come lunch and dinner, when just $7 lands you a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup and all the accessories: lime, cilantro, Thai basil, hot peppers, et al. And while it's tough to deviate from the pho, there are other delights on the menu — most notably the addictive hoagies called bahn mi, a French-Vietnamese hybrid featuring roast pork, pickled veggies, fresh herbs, and dollops of mayo and pâté on a crispy baguette. It is due in no small part to such ethnic delights that a whole new demographic is discovering Cleveland's Asiatown.
3030 Superior Ave., 216-781-7462, superiorpho.com
Sokolowski's University Inn
We would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant more closely aligned with Cleveland's past, present, and (we hope) future than Sokolowski's. For more than 85 years, this hometown favorite has treated Clevelanders to hearty, rib-sticking Eastern European fare. What would be condemned at other establishments as kitsch continues to flourish here because it is the only way it has ever been done. Among other things, that means grabbing a tray and working your way down a cafeteria line of diet horrors, beginning with dessert and ending with dumplings. Along the way there are deliriously delicious stuffed cabbages, Salisbury steak, and smoked kielbasa. It isn't just locals who adore this paean to Polish fare: Notable guests have included President Clinton, Anthony Bourdain, and Kevin Bacon — who was less than six degrees removed from a delicious pierogi platter. "We're just proud to still be around," says owner Michael Sokolowski.
1201 University Rd., 216-771-9236, sokolowskis.com