August 08, 2018

The 29 Essential Cleveland Restaurants You Should Have Tried By Now

Every few years we take a step back to do a sort of heat-check on the Cleveland dining landscape. Our motivation is to survey the bounty that we have at our fingertips and call attention to the places that we're excited about at this particular moment in time. Some of these restaurants make the roster year after year, while others are brand new to the scene, bumping colleagues off the list by their arrival. Whatever label you choose to bestow upon them  Best, Essential, Top Toque, Golden Spoon, Primo Piattos  the meaning is the same. These are the restaurants that stand out in a very crowded field for a variety of reasons, many of them intangible. When it's time to answer that ubiquitous question of "Where should we eat?," the answer very likely can be found below.

Every few years we take a step back to do a sort of heat-check on the Cleveland dining landscape. Our motivation is to survey the bounty that we have at our fingertips and call attention to the places that we're excited about at this particular moment in time. Some of these restaurants make the roster year after year, while others are brand new to the scene, bumping colleagues off the list by their arrival.

Whatever label you choose to bestow upon them  Best, Essential, Top Toque, Golden Spoon, Primo Piattos  the meaning is the same. These are the restaurants that stand out in a very crowded field for a variety of reasons, many of them intangible. When it's time to answer that ubiquitous question of "Where should we eat?," the answer very likely can be found below.

By Douglas Trattner

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Momocho
1835 Fulton Rd., 216-694-2122
Since he opened this jumping bean of a bistro a dozen years ago, Eric Williams has been defining and refining his unique brand of modern Mexican food. Every move seems designed to inject more flavor, texture and visual interest into the kinds of dishes we thought we knew. We grew up on chips and salsa – but nothing like the nutty sikil pak salsa served here. Guacamole is heavenly just the way it was, but stir in some smoked trout and bacon and boom! Tacos filled with seasoned ground beef are pretty awesome, but how can we go back after trying the adobo-braised pork with chile chipotle mojo? For tequila fans like us, Momocho is the foggy Promised Land.
Photo via Momocho/Instagram

Momocho

1835 Fulton Rd., 216-694-2122

Since he opened this jumping bean of a bistro a dozen years ago, Eric Williams has been defining and refining his unique brand of modern Mexican food. Every move seems designed to inject more flavor, texture and visual interest into the kinds of dishes we thought we knew. We grew up on chips and salsa – but nothing like the nutty sikil pak salsa served here. Guacamole is heavenly just the way it was, but stir in some smoked trout and bacon and boom! Tacos filled with seasoned ground beef are pretty awesome, but how can we go back after trying the adobo-braised pork with chile chipotle mojo? For tequila fans like us, Momocho is the foggy Promised Land.

Photo via Momocho/Instagram
 Astoria Market and Café
5417 Detroit Ave., 216-266-0834
Astoria manages to put a smile on our faces morning, day or night. The retail market keeps our pantry flush with gourmet foods like imported cheeses, cured meats, olives and wine. The large bar is an ideal place to meet up with a friend over cocktails, glasses of wine and a fully loaded meat and cheese platter. The animated dining room is where we land for full meals of tender wine-poached octopus, veal and ricotta meatballs, pizzas, and grilled lamb chops. On the weekend, the brunches here draw reliably enthusiastic crowds.
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Astoria Market and Café

5417 Detroit Ave., 216-266-0834

Astoria manages to put a smile on our faces morning, day or night. The retail market keeps our pantry flush with gourmet foods like imported cheeses, cured meats, olives and wine. The large bar is an ideal place to meet up with a friend over cocktails, glasses of wine and a fully loaded meat and cheese platter. The animated dining room is where we land for full meals of tender wine-poached octopus, veal and ricotta meatballs, pizzas, and grilled lamb chops. On the weekend, the brunches here draw reliably enthusiastic crowds.

Photo by Emanuel Wallace
 The Black Pig
2801 Bridge Ave., 216-862-7551
The Black Pig seemed to really come alive following its move away from W. 25th Street. More neighborhood haunt than arbitrary destination, this is the rare type of place where you can visit once or twice a week and never grow bored. In-house butchers are all the rage, but this kitchen knows nose-to-tail better than most. Well-raised pigs come in the back door and enter the dining room as Old World charcuterie, crispy pork rinds, gently braised flanks and juicy grilled chops. But this tony brick-trimmed boîte also crushes the pasta, beef and seafood games, which is precisely what keeps us coming back for more.
Scene Archives Photo

The Black Pig

2801 Bridge Ave., 216-862-7551

The Black Pig seemed to really come alive following its move away from W. 25th Street. More neighborhood haunt than arbitrary destination, this is the rare type of place where you can visit once or twice a week and never grow bored. In-house butchers are all the rage, but this kitchen knows nose-to-tail better than most. Well-raised pigs come in the back door and enter the dining room as Old World charcuterie, crispy pork rinds, gently braised flanks and juicy grilled chops. But this tony brick-trimmed boîte also crushes the pasta, beef and seafood games, which is precisely what keeps us coming back for more.

Scene Archives Photo
Lee's Seafood Boil-Cleveland
2201 Lee Rd, Cleveland Hts., 216-459-7777
The seafood-in-a-bag trend rolled into town with a bang, with three spots devoted to the concept opening in a few short years. You don't have to explain why to the diners who crowd this small, boisterous storefront by the Cedar Lee Theatre. Digging your hands deep into a bag of spicy, saucy steamed seafood might be the most fun one can legally have in a restaurant. The aptly named Handful is a Santa-sized sack filled with shrimp, crawfish, clams, andouille sausage, corn and spuds, all lolling about in a mouthwatering gravy.
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Lee's Seafood Boil-Cleveland

2201 Lee Rd, Cleveland Hts., 216-459-7777

The seafood-in-a-bag trend rolled into town with a bang, with three spots devoted to the concept opening in a few short years. You don't have to explain why to the diners who crowd this small, boisterous storefront by the Cedar Lee Theatre. Digging your hands deep into a bag of spicy, saucy steamed seafood might be the most fun one can legally have in a restaurant. The aptly named Handful is a Santa-sized sack filled with shrimp, crawfish, clams, andouille sausage, corn and spuds, all lolling about in a mouthwatering gravy.

Photo by Emanuel Wallace
 L'Albatros
11401 Bellflower Rd., 216-791-7880
Given that University Circle is the epicenter of Cleveland culture, you'd think it wouldn't be so damned hard to find a great meal. Fortunately there's this French-themed gem, the crown jewel of the Zack Bruell kingdom. While we could happily live on the wine and cheese alone, it's nearly impossible to skip the garlicky snails, the mussels frites, and the textbook skate with browned butter. Do yourself a favor and order the pied de cochon, goosed with the silkiest béarnaise. What's left to say about the service and setting other than they serve as polestars for others to pursue.
Photo via @L’Albatros/Facebook

L'Albatros

11401 Bellflower Rd., 216-791-7880

Given that University Circle is the epicenter of Cleveland culture, you'd think it wouldn't be so damned hard to find a great meal. Fortunately there's this French-themed gem, the crown jewel of the Zack Bruell kingdom. While we could happily live on the wine and cheese alone, it's nearly impossible to skip the garlicky snails, the mussels frites, and the textbook skate with browned butter. Do yourself a favor and order the pied de cochon, goosed with the silkiest béarnaise. What's left to say about the service and setting other than they serve as polestars for others to pursue.

Photo via @L’Albatros/Facebook
Nora
2181 Murray Hill Rd., 216-231-5977
Nora upends the Little Italy stereotype of the spag-and-ball joint by applying classic French technique to Italian ingredients to come up with dishes that are in synch with the season, if not the surrounding restaurants. While you won't be dabbing red sauce off your shirt, you will be awash in the Old World charm that attracts us to the Hill in the first place. Beneath a pressed-tin ceiling and behind a wall of windows, diners dig into creamy burrata, crunchy polenta fries, wild mushroom stuffed agnolotti, and fettucine carbonara topped with crispy matchstick potatoes and a buttery poached egg.
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Nora

2181 Murray Hill Rd., 216-231-5977

Nora upends the Little Italy stereotype of the spag-and-ball joint by applying classic French technique to Italian ingredients to come up with dishes that are in synch with the season, if not the surrounding restaurants. While you won't be dabbing red sauce off your shirt, you will be awash in the Old World charm that attracts us to the Hill in the first place. Beneath a pressed-tin ceiling and behind a wall of windows, diners dig into creamy burrata, crunchy polenta fries, wild mushroom stuffed agnolotti, and fettucine carbonara topped with crispy matchstick potatoes and a buttery poached egg.

Photo by Emanuel Wallace
Ginko
2247 Professor Ave., 216-274-1202
A wise man once said, "If the sushi is cheap, run." That sounds like solid advice given the logistics of flying fresh fish around the globe. Since opening this edgy Asian den beneath his eponymous bistro, Dante Boccuzzi has avoided shortcuts and cost-cutting measures in the pursuit of crafting the city's best sushi experience. Grab seats at horseshoe-shaped bar and dig into spotless sashimi, sushi, and rolls. The kickass room makes everybody feel like a rock star and the astute staffers always help unearth the perfect bottle of sake.
Photo via Scene Archives

Ginko

2247 Professor Ave., 216-274-1202

A wise man once said, "If the sushi is cheap, run." That sounds like solid advice given the logistics of flying fresh fish around the globe. Since opening this edgy Asian den beneath his eponymous bistro, Dante Boccuzzi has avoided shortcuts and cost-cutting measures in the pursuit of crafting the city's best sushi experience. Grab seats at horseshoe-shaped bar and dig into spotless sashimi, sushi, and rolls. The kickass room makes everybody feel like a rock star and the astute staffers always help unearth the perfect bottle of sake.

Photo via Scene Archives
Il Rione Pizzeria
1303 W. 65th St., 216-282-1451
Il Rione might be "just a neighborhood pizza parlor," but it elevates the genre thanks to warm lighting, stylishly weathered interior, and a killer playlist from the golden age of rock. While the menu is spare, the New York/New Jersey style pizza exiting the open kitchen is amazing, with the clam pie taking the cake. Diners can choose from a half-dozen predesigned pies or can build their own from the crust up. Beer, wine, and cocktails round out the fun.
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Il Rione Pizzeria

1303 W. 65th St., 216-282-1451

Il Rione might be "just a neighborhood pizza parlor," but it elevates the genre thanks to warm lighting, stylishly weathered interior, and a killer playlist from the golden age of rock. While the menu is spare, the New York/New Jersey style pizza exiting the open kitchen is amazing, with the clam pie taking the cake. Diners can choose from a half-dozen predesigned pies or can build their own from the crust up. Beer, wine, and cocktails round out the fun.

Photo by Emanuel Wallace
Larder Delicatessen
1455 W. 29th St., 216-912-8203
At its heart, Larder is a Jewish deli, with matzo ball soup, thick pastrami sandwiches, and flaky fruit-filled rugelach. But there's so much more going on here than that. Chef-owner Jeremy Umansky utilizes techniques like koji (a Japanese mold) curing, foraging for wild edibles, cold and hot smoking, and fermentation and pickling to produce an ever-shifting roster of seasonal plates. On special might be a house-smoked whitefish salad sandwich, wild-cherry blintzes, or chicken of the woods mushroom "pastrami" sandwich. Neighbors already have worn a path to its door for house-baked loaves, chocolate-swirled babka, dark and chewy chocolate chip cookies, and flaky potato knishes.
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Larder Delicatessen

1455 W. 29th St., 216-912-8203

At its heart, Larder is a Jewish deli, with matzo ball soup, thick pastrami sandwiches, and flaky fruit-filled rugelach. But there's so much more going on here than that. Chef-owner Jeremy Umansky utilizes techniques like koji (a Japanese mold) curing, foraging for wild edibles, cold and hot smoking, and fermentation and pickling to produce an ever-shifting roster of seasonal plates. On special might be a house-smoked whitefish salad sandwich, wild-cherry blintzes, or chicken of the woods mushroom "pastrami" sandwich. Neighbors already have worn a path to its door for house-baked loaves, chocolate-swirled babka, dark and chewy chocolate chip cookies, and flaky potato knishes.

Photo by Emanuel Wallace
 Mabel's BBQ
2050 E. 4th St., 216-417-8823
There are restaurants that we enjoy and then there are restaurants that we can't stay away from. Mabel's is one of the few Michael Symon restaurants that succeeds largely independent of the star chef's renown. We go there not for the scene, but for the meat, amazingly savory, wood-kissed and consistent. Here, slow-smoked pork ribs, beef brisket, turkey and kielbasa act like siren songs to hungry carnivores. The logistics of feeding this many people this much great food aside, this bustling meat-and-bourbon hall always manages to exceed our lofty expectations.
Photo by Douglas Trattner

Mabel's BBQ

2050 E. 4th St., 216-417-8823

There are restaurants that we enjoy and then there are restaurants that we can't stay away from. Mabel's is one of the few Michael Symon restaurants that succeeds largely independent of the star chef's renown. We go there not for the scene, but for the meat, amazingly savory, wood-kissed and consistent. Here, slow-smoked pork ribs, beef brisket, turkey and kielbasa act like siren songs to hungry carnivores. The logistics of feeding this many people this much great food aside, this bustling meat-and-bourbon hall always manages to exceed our lofty expectations.

Photo by Douglas Trattner