Sokolowski’s University Inn is to Cleveland what the Gumbo Shop is to New Orleans: a much-visited standard bearer for a beloved local cuisine. Chicken paprikash might not share national prominence with jambalaya, but with any justice, it’ll get there. Until then, we can take comfort in the fact that Sokolowski’s dishes up the city’s best comfort food in a setting that is classic Cleveland — with fantastic skyline views to boot. Here, the cooking tastes like it came straight from granny’s kitchen, with buttery pierogi, thick kielbasa, savory Salisbury steak, and rib-sticking stuffed cabbage. This joint is, as one Cleveland expat puts it, “a soul-warming institution” whose values are “strongly reflected in its food.”
1201 University Rd., 216-771-9236, sokolowskis.com.
If you'd like to experience a meal that will transport you to the other side of the world, look no further than this Ethiopian restaurant in one of Cleveland's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The interior is magical, with an assortment of chairs and tables grouped together under several hut-like canopies. Ethiopian meals are served family style, with diners grouped around platters of colorful, exotic foods. The meat, vegetable and grain based stews are served atop injera, spongy flatbread that is used to scoop up the food and deliver it to your eager mouth. Thanks to a wide assortment of options, Empress Taytu is ideal for both vegetarians and omnivores.
6125 St. Clair Ave., 216-391-9400, empresstayturestaurantcleveland.com.
It used to be that you'd have to hit the right coffee shop at just the right time to enjoy a fresh bagel and a shmear from Cleveland Bagel. Thanks to a little help from LeBron, that's no longer the case. After a starring role last year on King James' reality business show Cleveland Hustles, Cleveland Bagel walked away with a new production facility and retail bagel shop on the border of Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway. Now Clevelanders have a central location from which to grab a dozen of these far-from-uniform boiled-and-baked rings of joy. Do as the New Yorkers do and forego the toaster. Bagels this fresh don't need it. And the shmears? Go savory-sweet with the Bacon Date. Or if you believe that there's no room for sweet at a bagel shop, give the savory Thyme Black Pepper Horseradish a try. You'll never eat a chain bagel again.
4201 Detroit Ave., 216-600-5652, clebagelco.com.
Established by Tom Clark in 2009, Blackbird was one of the early entries into the craft bakery category. At this hip Lakewood shop, each rustic loaf is a one-of-a-kind creation, with loaves and loaves of focaccia, ciabatta, baguettes, challah and soda breads inhabiting the shelves. In the sweets department are airy delights like fruit tarts, sticky buns, cranberry scones, peanut butter cookies and coconut macaroons. The shop recently expanded operations to seven days a week and added a "happy hour," when products are offered at a discount during the last hour of operation to ensure that everything flies off the racks. You'll sing like a bird after pecking away at any of these delightful breads and pastries.
1391 Sloane Ave., Lakewood, 216-712-6599, blackbirdbaking.com.
Getting lucky at this Tremont gem means scoring a weekend table without much of a wait. Our pro tip? Hit this place up Monday through Friday when the same delicious food comes without the lineup. After all, there's no rule that says brunch can only happen on Saturday or Sunday. While the weekday menu is a tad smaller, it still offers housemade honey-coated granola, Chef Haviland's ridiculous cheddar-scallion biscuits with scrambled eggs and sausage gravy, and that glorious Shipwreck of eggs, hash browns, bacon and cheddar cheese. (Veggies can swap curried tofu for the eggs.) Long before it was de rigueur to do so, Haviland has been championing local farmers and producers, sourcing local milk, cheese, eggs, honey, vegetables and proteins, which makes every bite taste that much fresher.
777 Starkweather Ave., 216-622-7773, luckyscafe.com.
When it comes to Cleveland's burger joints, B Spot has completely changed the landscape. The Land is awash in imitators, venues pushing boozy milkshakes and "edgy" burgers slathered with peanut butter or served between a pair of doughnuts. Our advice? Accept no substitutes. At this Michael Symon establishment, which now has eight locations in four major cities (we had it first, Indianapolis), these burgers are the stuff of carnivorous hallucinations. Fire up the old Instagram machine and snap away because Cleveland's best burgers also happen to be Cleveland's most photogenic burgers, filled with meat so explosively flavorful that you'll be ruined for other burger joints. Go ahead and order the Lola Fries too. And put some damn kimchi on them; you'll thank us later.
Multiple locations, bspotburgers.com.
Reports of the death of the small neighborhood butcher shop have been greatly exaggerated. At West 32nd and Lorain, you'll find Ohio City Provisions, which happens to be the neighborhood grocer to a very hip and food-obsessed neighborhood. This meticulously run shop stocks meats that tick off all of the health-conscious requirements: locally reared animals raised without the use of hormones, antibiotics and GMO-laden feed. Which means, of course, that the meat is some of the finest protein in all the Land. Its preparation is great too, with display cases overflowing with cuts that are hand-carved the Old World way. You can order a whole smoked ham or a Frenched rack of lamb for the holidays, or just walk in any day and purchase grass-fed ground beef, three finger-thick Porterhouse, or bacon sliced as thick as you'd like. While you're there, grab some staples like farm-fresh milk, eggs and butter.
3208 Lorain Ave., 216-465-2762, ohiocityprovisions.com.
Lauren Bozich and Marianne Carroll have had their share of challenges since they became friends in seventh grade. Thankfully, most of those trials were as teammates competing on the Food Network, where their creativity was pushed to the limit. More than a decade ago, the pair opened White Flower Cake Shoppe and have been making hundreds of wedding and special event cakes ever since. Their simple French meringue buttercream frosting is a hit, which is why it is a feature of every cake they create. From their selection of grab-and-go sweets to designing the perfect three-tiered extravaganza, these gals can bake, decorate and deliver it all.
Multiple locations, whiteflowercake.com.
You have to give credit (and apparently you have) to a chef who can juggle as many lemons as Zack Bruell, Cleveland's most prolific restaurateur, without nary a fumble. Woody Allen has nothing on Bruell, who has averaged one new restaurant per year for more than a decade, each with its own unique style, setting and cuisine. Since opening Parallax in Tremont, this wiz of culinary multitasking has added spots all over town, from University Circle to Playhouse Square to the Flats, where his artistry will be on display at the brand new Collision Bend Brewery. Hats are off to Bruell, a true mega-chef.
Since its founding by real live rocket scientist Gary "Kim" Jenkins, Rising Star Roasters has gone from garage hobby to local coffee powerhouse. Their coffeehouses, particularly the Little Italy and Hingetown locations, are handsome, dark-wood shops. In summer, the Hingetown shop's casual patio is the place to be in the morning. The shops feature stripped-down menus that eschew flavored syrups to highlight the bold, clean flavors of the beans and roasts. Interesting tidbit: Rising Star coffee is featured in, at last count, three local porters and stouts. There's a new location in Lakewood and as of March, Rising Star's roasts are certified kosher. It's a great time to be caffeinated in Cleveland!
Multiple locations, risingstarcoffee.com.