The Cleveland restaurants worth your time and hard-earned money.
By Douglas Trattner
Photos via Facebook and the Cleveland Scene archives
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Superior Pho | Asiatown
Little known fact: When Superior Pho opened up nine or so years ago, most of us had never even heard of let alone sampled this Vietnamese staple. Sure, there were a few tepid versions buried on ethnic menus around town, but nobody had devoted an entire restaurant (and nest egg) to the noodle soup until Manh Nguyen opened shop. Lucky for us, he got things right. Had he not, a whole major new trend might never have gotten off the ground. Service is swift, prices are fair, and the bowls of heady beef broth, chewy noodles, random bits of meat, and vegetable accouterments are guaranteed to brighten even the darkest of days.
Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen | Broadview Heights
We'll spare you the tired "big city bistro in a sleepy suburban strip mall" anecdote and simply focus on the meaty bits. Cork & Cleaver is run by two of the most dedicated and passionate practitioners of the craft that we have in a city chock full of dedicated and passionate practitioners. Chef-partners Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick routinely push boundaries, but never at the expense of diner satisfaction. This is serious food and this is fun food. C&C's wheelhouse is American comfort with a twist, like chicken and waffles featuring meat that has been brined, confitted, stripped from the bones, molded into nuggets, breaded and deep fried. The roundly and rightly popular Reuben ribs are a delicious revelation.
Crop Bistro and Bar | Ohio City
Running a restaurant is hard work, which explains why so many chefs are somber, serious types. But when Steve Schimoler rode into town on his magic bus from never-never land, he instantaneously elevated the mood of the entire local food scene. He approaches his menu as a boy would approach an erector set but in place of beams, pulleys and motors, the chef employs seasonal veggies, meats and seafood. And the results are no less fun: playful, eye-catching and drop-dead delicious. Schimoler's boundless boyhood spirit proves that true artists don't have to be cheerless bastards.
Dante | Tremont
After years spent globetrotting through places like London, Milan, Hong Kong, San Francisco and New York, native Clevelander and nationally recognized chef Dante Boccuzzi came back to claim his spot as one Cleveland's most famous chefs. In the years that followed he has gone on to open multiple restaurants, including another one that made this list. But Dante always will be his signature, eponymous restaurant, one that showcases through fine-tuned food the chef's knack for blending Italian, American and Asian influences. He has a true gift when it comes to seafood and pasta, both of which get plenty of airtime at this stunning Tremont bistro.
The Black Pig | Ohio City
Black Pig, which moved, and improved from its spot on West 25th to the former Light Bistro location on Bridge, has an ever-growing cadre of fans who make frequent sojourns to enjoy French-inspired fare starring heirloom pork in all its pink, piggy glory. While lofty in pedigree and provenance, the fare is easygoing, approachable and otherworldly when it comes to taste.
Fahrenheit | Tremont
Cleveland doesn't often export its concepts; we're more of a borrower. But chef Rocco Whalen has seeded Charlotte, North Carolina, with some genuine Cleveland DNA with the recent opening of a Fahrenheit 21 floors above the clean city streets. North Carolinians are now discovering what we have known for years: Whalen has a knack for delivering explosive food that resonates with damn near every diner. His pizzas are more addictive than crack, and his Kobe beef short ribs on lo mein noodles have been known to invade people's dreams. But more than anything, this Tremont bistro buzzes with the sort of energy that convinces diners that they made reservations at the right spot. You want buyer's remorse? Eat somewhere else.
Flour Restaurant | Moreland Hills
Flour is one of the few restaurants that always manages to have a few surprises up its sleeves regardless how often one visits. On its surface, it's a contemporary Italian bistro, with familiar-sounding dishes like stuffed peppers, calamari, Neapolitan pizzas, and pasta galore. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that regardless how familiar a dish might sound, there's always more to the story. In place of linguini with clam sauce you get cockles with spaghetti and caviar. Short ribs are char-grilled before a slow braise in red wine and chocolate milk. Eggs Benny features fried mortadella in place of dry-ass Canadian bacon. When you have talent the likes of Paul Minnillo and Matt Mytro "Old School" and "New School" in the kitchen, it's best to keep gaps between visits as brief as possible.
Fire Food and Drink | Shaker Square
It's a challenge to keep the attention of diners in a culinary market as dynamic as ours. It's even harder to do so for years on end on the eastside of Cleveland, where dining at new restaurants is blood sport. Chef-owner Doug Katz has been doing that for more than a decade in a location that can be murder on restaurants: Shaker Square. The restaurant has thrived because it is one of the most consistently excellent options in town in terms of food, service and atmosphere. If Fire opened up tomorrow in Tremont looking just as it did 14 years back, it still would win Best New Restaurant: that's how timeless the place is. Katz owns the farm-to-table American bistro genre, where the season's best ingredients are coaxed into flavor-forward plates of perfection.
Ginko Restaurant | Tremont
It takes a master chef like Dante Boccuzzi to open a truly exceptional sushi restaurant like Ginko. Who else would invest all that dough in a world-class sushi chef and coolers stocked with the freshest fish flown in daily from the Tskiji Fish Market in Tokyo? Cleveland has been lucky enough in the sushi genre, with one or two really good places at any given time. But when Ginko opened up it instantly raised the bar, defined the category and presented locals with the kind of sushi bar typically found in big coastal cities. Take a seat at the counter and let the spot school you with his offerings of deftly cut fish. The funky subterranean setting adds to the entire experience, offering a cocoon-like setting where the focus lands squarely on the plate.
L'Albatros | University Circle
We could very easily have included most of Zack Bruell's restaurants on this list because the guy seems to hit a homerun every time he picks up a bat. But more than any other Bruell spot, L'Albatros manages to make diners feel special in ways that other restaurants do not. In short, it's a special-occasion restaurant that needn't be reserved for special occasions. We love the out-of-the-way locale, the history-dripping old carriage house, and that romance-inducing magic-garden patio. But without stellar food and service, all of the former would be mere window dressing. Grab the lengthy one-page menu, point your finger at some French words and phrases, and know that whatever the kitchen sends out will knock your socks off.