The Best Things We Ate in Cleveland in 2019

Spring Pea Toast at Michael's Genuine

There was no better expression of the season than the spring pea toast dished up at Michael's Genuine. Atop a shingle of hearty toast sat light-as-air layers of minty mashed peas and fluffy burrata. Strategically placed slivers of radish bring crunch to every bite, while a sifting of orange zest conjures warm Miami breezes. It's dishes like this that exemplify seasonal cooking.

Tinman Burger

The Ohio City Galley brought thrills and spills in its first year, but man-oh-man, that burger from Tinman. That stall's legendary burger is a ridiculously savory stack of two thin patties, American cheese, special sauce, and sweet and spicy pickles on a brioche bun. It's plush, beefy and incredibly rich. Here's hoping that there are more of them to come in 2020.

Sliders at Rood Food

Our assumptions were upended at this sexy Lakewood restaurant, where sliders and pie are the main events. The build-your-own experience starts with fresh-baked rolls that are split and topped with a choice of a dozen hot fillings and various zippy slaws. From vegan sauteed mushrooms to spicy pulled chicken and meaty braised beef brisket, the results will have you reconsidering the world of sliders.

Thai Yellow Curry at Chutney B

We can count on fast-casual spots for efficiency and affordability, but often surrender boldly flavored food in the bargain. That's not the case at Doug Katz's Chutney B, located in the Market Hall at Van Aken District. Sure, it's a "bowl," but this one is powered by a dynamic spice blend that enlivens a turmeric-hued stew of chicken, carrots and mushrooms atop a bed of fluffy rice. Kick it up with zhug, a spicy herb-based condiment.

Perch Platter at Brennen's Fish House

Brennen's has been in the fish business since 1973, and it's easy to taste why. In summer, they are on the receiving end of bushels of swimmingly fresh Lake Erie perch, which is lightly breaded in flour and cornmeal and fried to a pale copper hue. The hulking platter includes a mountain of hand-cut fries, creamy shredded coleslaw and housemade tartar sauce.

Lamb Mrouzia at the Standard

A new chef-owner at this 5-year-old Collinwood mainstay has ushered in a sea of changes. Dishes like paella, bouillabaisse and North African tagine reflect the owner's childhood in Casablanca. So too does this Moroccan stew with meltingly tender lamb in a complex sauce kissed with honey, fruit and ras el hanout. It's paired with impossibly fluffy couscous.

Pork and Pickled Cabbage at Sichuan Hot Pot

Part soup, part stir-fry, the shredded pork with pickled cabbage swaps the usual Sichuan kick in the teeth for the more subdued punch of preserved vegetables. A deep bowl of flat noodles in chicken broth is capped with a nest of slender pork strips and crunchy-sour pickled mustard greens that tickle the tongue in a completely different way.

Chicken Yassa at Choukouya

As one of Cleveland's only West African restaurants, Choukouya offers guests a dining experience unlike any other place in town. One such revelation is the chicken yassa, a stew-like dish with beguilingly complex flavors. Tender bone-in chicken is combined with heaps of tart green olive, sweet onions and bright citrus. It all comes together in a comforting, mildly spiced medley that goes great with rice.

Gyro at Mars Bar

It had been eons since I had the gyro at Mars Bar in Lakewood. That's on me, because it's one of the best versions in town: Warm, thick and plush pita is piled high with flavorful shaved lamb-and-beef meat, crisp red onion, thick-sliced tomato and creamy tzatziki sauce made by the owner's mother. Maybe it's the newly expanded dining room, but everything tastes fresher.

Lunch Buffet at Indian Flame

I'm a sucker for a great Indian buffet, and the one presented at the new location of this decade-old University Circle eatery is a delight. During one visit, I enjoyed dishes built around chickpeas, lentils and mixed vegetables in a creamy butter sauce. There was also crunchy veggie pakora, lipstick-red tandoori chicken and biryani studded with boneless chicken, not to mention two types of rice, salad, raita, chutneys and an endless supply of fresh-baked buttery naan.