November 11, 2021

25 Essential Old-School Italian Restaurants in Cleveland

These days it seems every chef and restaurant is always trying to one up each other to see who can serve the most bold dish. But sometimes we don't want fusion ... or even the chicest decor. We just wan't old-school, get-right-to-it spaghetti and meatballs and red-checker tablecloths.  These Italian joints offer the best old-school meals around Cleveland.

These days it seems every chef and restaurant is always trying to one up each other to see who can serve the boldest dish or the newest fusion of flavors. That's great, but sometimes we just want old-school, get-right-to-it spaghetti and meatballs and red-checker tablecloths.  These Italian joints offer the best old-school meals around Cleveland.

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 Johnny’s Bar
3164 Fulton Rd., Cleveland
This timelessly elegant, little jewel box of a restaurant is the sort of place you suggest when you want to impress the boss, wow a date, or just remind yourself why you work so damn hard. The menu is crammed with upscale Italian specialties, including some stunning risottos and one of the city's finest long-boned veal chops; at lunch, though — pssst — the char-grilled burger is out of this world.
Photo via Johnny’s Bar on Fulton/Facebook

Johnny’s Bar

3164 Fulton Rd., Cleveland

This timelessly elegant, little jewel box of a restaurant is the sort of place you suggest when you want to impress the boss, wow a date, or just remind yourself why you work so damn hard. The menu is crammed with upscale Italian specialties, including some stunning risottos and one of the city's finest long-boned veal chops; at lunch, though — pssst — the char-grilled burger is out of this world.

Photo via Johnny’s Bar on Fulton/Facebook
 Stino da Napoli
19070 Old Detroit Rd., Rocky River
"Delicate," "precise," and "beautifully balanced" are just a few of the terms that spring to mind when we recall the preparations at this little gem of an Italian restaurant. While nearly every dish is as close to perfection as any kitchen is likely to come, the ephemeral gnocchi, the fork-tender veal, and the homemade desserts are so exactly right, they nearly make us weep.
Photo via Stino Da Napoli/Facebook

Stino da Napoli

19070 Old Detroit Rd., Rocky River

"Delicate," "precise," and "beautifully balanced" are just a few of the terms that spring to mind when we recall the preparations at this little gem of an Italian restaurant. While nearly every dish is as close to perfection as any kitchen is likely to come, the ephemeral gnocchi, the fork-tender veal, and the homemade desserts are so exactly right, they nearly make us weep.

Photo via Stino Da Napoli/Facebook
 Pepper’s 
12401 Detroit Ave., Lakewood
This Lakewood joint is known for a flavorful, home-style menu, with favorites like chicken piccata, eggplant parmesan, broccolini (fettucine with a broccoli sauce) and specialty pizzas. Pepper’s is the quintessential neighborhood Italian joint.
Photo via Scene Archives

Pepper’s

12401 Detroit Ave., Lakewood

This Lakewood joint is known for a flavorful, home-style menu, with favorites like chicken piccata, eggplant parmesan, broccolini (fettucine with a broccoli sauce) and specialty pizzas. Pepper’s is the quintessential neighborhood Italian joint.

Photo via Scene Archives
 Maxi’s
12113 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland
Like an old friend, Maxi's is always there when you need her. For 15 years, this romantic Little Italy gem has been keeping neighbors and visitors happy the easy way: by dishing up consistently delicious plates of soul satisfying Italian foods, namely pastas, pizza and veal-based entrees, but the appetizers are the way to go here -- get a bunch for the table and you’ll only need a couple orders of cavatelli or farfalle pasta and you’re good to go. 
Photo via Maxi’s In Little Italy/Facebook

Maxi’s

12113 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland

Like an old friend, Maxi's is always there when you need her. For 15 years, this romantic Little Italy gem has been keeping neighbors and visitors happy the easy way: by dishing up consistently delicious plates of soul satisfying Italian foods, namely pastas, pizza and veal-based entrees, but the appetizers are the way to go here -- get a bunch for the table and you’ll only need a couple orders of cavatelli or farfalle pasta and you’re good to go.

Photo via Maxi’s In Little Italy/Facebook
 Mama Santa’s
12301 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland
Mama Santa’s has been serving up pies at the same Little Italy location since 1961. With its retro vibe, cheap wine, and stunningly inexpensive Italian eats, there’s no need to change much. Thin, greaseless, crisp-crusted pizza is the specialty of the casa; when you and the gang can score a 15-incher for less than 10 bucks, who cares if there's a wait for a table?
Photo via Mama Santa’s Pizzeria/Facebook

Mama Santa’s

12301 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland

Mama Santa’s has been serving up pies at the same Little Italy location since 1961. With its retro vibe, cheap wine, and stunningly inexpensive Italian eats, there’s no need to change much. Thin, greaseless, crisp-crusted pizza is the specialty of the casa; when you and the gang can score a 15-incher for less than 10 bucks, who cares if there's a wait for a table?

Photo via Mama Santa’s Pizzeria/Facebook
 Johnny’s Bar
3164 Fulton Rd., Cleveland
Dark, intimate, and timelessly elegant, this manly little jewel box of a restaurant is the sort of place you suggest when you want to impress the boss, wow a date, or just remind yourself why you work so damn hard. The menu is crammed with upscale Italian specialties, including some stunning risottos and one of the city's finest long-boned veal chops; at lunch, though — pssst — the char-grilled burger is out of this world.
Photo via Johnny’s Bar on Fulton/Facebook

Johnny’s Bar

3164 Fulton Rd., Cleveland

Dark, intimate, and timelessly elegant, this manly little jewel box of a restaurant is the sort of place you suggest when you want to impress the boss, wow a date, or just remind yourself why you work so damn hard. The menu is crammed with upscale Italian specialties, including some stunning risottos and one of the city's finest long-boned veal chops; at lunch, though — pssst — the char-grilled burger is out of this world.

Photo via Johnny’s Bar on Fulton/Facebook
 Jo Jo Carloni’s 
627 West Bagley Rd., Berea 
Despite its zip code, the snug space had all the Old World charm of our favorite spag-and-ball joints in Little Italy, where descriptors like "gourmet" and "trendy" are replaced by "hearty" and "comforting" and "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." This spot is definitely worth the drive. 
Photo via Jo Jo Carloni’s/Facebook

Jo Jo Carloni’s

627 West Bagley Rd., Berea

Despite its zip code, the snug space had all the Old World charm of our favorite spag-and-ball joints in Little Italy, where descriptors like "gourmet" and "trendy" are replaced by "hearty" and "comforting" and "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." This spot is definitely worth the drive.

Photo via Jo Jo Carloni’s/Facebook
 Guarino’s
12309 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland
Established in 1918, Guarino's in Little Italy is Cleveland's oldest restaurants and is still a family operation. While the decor tends toward Victoriana, the kitchen's pasta, veal and seafood dishes are all Italian.
Photo via Guarino’s/Facebook

Guarino’s

12309 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland

Established in 1918, Guarino's in Little Italy is Cleveland's oldest restaurants and is still a family operation. While the decor tends toward Victoriana, the kitchen's pasta, veal and seafood dishes are all Italian.

Photo via Guarino’s/Facebook
 Geraci’s
2266 Warrensville Center Rd., University Heights
For more than 60 years, Geraci’s, which has been owned by just one family throughout its storied history, has been serving up delicious pizzas and other Italian staples to University Heights residents. This Summer, they’ll expand further east to Pepper Pike, but the pizza will stay the same. The thick-cut pepperoni on the pizza is the star of the show here.
Photo via Scene Archives

Geraci’s

2266 Warrensville Center Rd., University Heights

For more than 60 years, Geraci’s, which has been owned by just one family throughout its storied history, has been serving up delicious pizzas and other Italian staples to University Heights residents. This Summer, they’ll expand further east to Pepper Pike, but the pizza will stay the same. The thick-cut pepperoni on the pizza is the star of the show here.

Photo via Scene Archives
 Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino
7305 Broadview Rd., Seven Hills
Too often, Italian joints go heavy on the comfort and light on the quality. Not so here where owner Eddie Cerino approaches traditional Italian food less like a grandmother and more like a chef. And thanks to half orders of salad and pasta, diners have control over portion size and price. The same goes for Cerino's Lakewood outpost, which is cozy, busy, and slings a perfect menu of Italian favorites that don't skimp on quality. 
Photo via Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino/Facebook

Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino

7305 Broadview Rd., Seven Hills

Too often, Italian joints go heavy on the comfort and light on the quality. Not so here where owner Eddie Cerino approaches traditional Italian food less like a grandmother and more like a chef. And thanks to half orders of salad and pasta, diners have control over portion size and price. The same goes for Cerino's Lakewood outpost, which is cozy, busy, and slings a perfect menu of Italian favorites that don't skimp on quality.

Photo via Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino/Facebook