The 40 Essential Cleveland Restaurants

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Blue Point Grille (Downtown)

There should be a place in all of our hearts for the Blue Point Grille. Along with Johnny's Downtown, Piccolo Mondo and Greek Isles, Blue Point was in on the ground floor of the Warehouse District dining boom. Today, it's one of the last bastions of the movement. It's hard not to be impressed when you cross the threshold of this 19th-century structure, with its soaring ceilings, sweeping brick arches and expansive front windows. Dining here still feels special thanks to the spectacular setting, high-quality fish and seafood, and never-say-no staffers. Oysters on the half shell, Copper River salmon, Nantucket bay scallops and fresh Alaskan king crab are just some of the seasonal treats to land on diners' plates.

What we recommend: Oysters Rockefeller and grouper with lobster mashers

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.

What we recommend: Hawaiian tuna tartare and linguini alla carbonara

Li Wah (Asiatown)

There aren't many things worth waking up for on a Sunday, but dim sum at this sprawling Asiatown restaurant is one of them. Round up a small posse, plant a flag in a huge round table, and proceed to load it up with every conceivable steamed and fried bun, dumpling and roll. The beauty of this process is that it's a point-and-shoot affair; simply keep your eyes peeled for things that look tasty and ask for one (or two). Portions are small and prices are too, so order a large variety of items whether you've tried them before or not. Be brave and sample the congee, a creamy rice porridge, and the chicken feet, which are fried and braised until melt-in-your-mouth tender. And drink tea, lots and lots of tea.

What we recommend: Turnip cakes, shumai and BBQ pork buns

Bac Asian American Bistro and Bar (Tremont)

This restaurant earned its way into our hearts and onto this list thanks to a winning concept that fuses a mom-and-pop ethnic shop with the friendly corner tavern. Bac and company pluck the most compelling dishes off Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian menus and then prepare and plate them in contemporary styles. Portions are generous, prices are more than fair, and service and seating are just what you'd expect from your pals at the corner. The lunchtime bento boxes have grown to become the sleeper hit of the neighborhood, and when happy hour rolls around, $5 apps and discounted cocktails attract a consistent base.

What we recommend: Pork steamed buns and Pad Thai

Pura Vida by Brandt (Downtown)

Hidden in plain sight, Pura Vida is located smack dab in the middle of Cleveland. Yet this Public Square bistro doesn't always sit top of mind when it's time to eat. That's too bad because chef-owner Brandt Evans is turning out some of the cleanest, sharpest plates around. Spotless salads, balanced bisques, brilliant sandwiches and globally inspired meat and fish entrees all are dished up in this gleaming-white jewel box. For a guy perhaps best known for the meat-tastic offerings at Blue Canyon, Evans surprisingly has become the go-to chef for fresh, thoughtfully prepared vegan and vegetarian fare. Go figure. Then go eat at Pura Vida.

What we recommend: African peanut stew and Korean fried chicken

Lucky's Cafe (Tremont)

Breakfast, we are so often told, is the most important meal of the day, even when eaten, as we so often do, after noon. Greasy-spoon diners are alright by us, but when we want to up our game and invest in a meal plucked fresh from the earth, made from scratch with skill, and served in place that doesn't reek of stale coffee, we make a pilgrimage to Lucky's. If you don't think farm-fresh eggs, local butter and milk, and happy-harvested meats make a difference — and thus, aren't worth the added expense — then find the nearest Denny's. That will free up a few more in-demand seats at our favorite neighborhood café.

What we recommend: Scones and sausage gravy and the Shipwreck

Umami Asian Kitchen (Chagrin Falls)

If you're looking for the 30 most-booked seats in town, you've come to the right place. Chef Matt Anderson packs diners in twice nightly at this petite suburban bistro thanks to a menu that is never static but always exceptional. Running such a small restaurant allows the chef to operate a little differently from those larger places. He gets his hands on a small cache of primo blue fin tuna belly and it's on diners' plates in minutes. Sushi and seafood shine, as do heartier entrees like bone-in pork chops and duck breast. Most dishes feature mindful nods to Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine, which also translates to delicious vegetarian-friendly entrees built around tofu, noodles and grains.

What we recommend: Crispy fried tofu and Massaman curry chicken

Ristorante Chinato (Downtown)

There is nothing more exhausting than suffering one's way through mediocre Italian food: mountains of starch, buckets of red sauce, dried-out balls o' beef. That's why Zack Bruell's elegant, light-handed touch on the topic was such a breath of fresh air when it opened four years back on East Fourth Street — and still is today. Bruell refines and redefines classic dishes in typical Bruellian fashion, concentrating the flavors, enhancing the textures, and eliminating anything that gets in the way. Like most of Bruell's bistros, Chinato is a stunning restaurant, designed from the ground up to make diners feel special. From the high-ceilinged dining room and open kitchen to the polished service and extravagant wine list, this is the type of restaurant it's easy to lose track of time in, and aren't those the very best kind?

What we recommend: Pappardelle with creamed cauliflower and Amarone-braised beef

The Standard (North Collinwood)

For the diner who requires two pounds of chow for supper, The Standard might not be for you. For those who prefer to sample more than a few creative dishes in one stimulating meal, beat feet to this sparkling N. Collinwood bistro. Few and far between are menus like this one, where every dish sounds like money in the bank. And thanks to rational portions and appropriate pricing, we don't have to settle on just one. Graze your way through 4-dollar small plates, 6-dollar salads, 10-dollar pastas and 12-dollar meat dishes. The treatments are American, the preparations are well executed, and the flavors are high-style comfort all the way.

What we recommend: Crispy arancini and shrimp and grits

Deagan's Kitchen and Bar (Lakewood)

Dan Deagan might not have invented the gastropub concept, nor even been the first operator to import it to Cleveland, but he succeeds where so many others fail that it's impossible not to heap praise. The only sane way to drink one's way through the latest crop of high-test IPAs is to pair those pours with food. Here, that's a breeze thanks to a solid selection of chef-tested snacks, small plates and mains. Sure there are wings, but there also are bacon-wrapped scallops, short rib-topped nachos and fried chicken and waffles. Always lively, well-staffed and neighborly, Deagan's is the kind of joint people buy houses just to be near.

What we recommend: Spicy shrimp tacos and fish and chips

Lago Restaurant and Wine Bar (Downtown)

For years, Lago survived in a crowded Tremont marketplace, a safe bet for diners who might have been shut out of their first choice. But that all changed when the Italian restaurant relocated to the Flats East Bank, where it found fresh energy and emerged as a new Cleveland powerhouse. The uber-urban setting is one of the sharpest in town, giving diners more than enough reason to head down to the river. Owner Fabio Salerno and outgoing chef Lanny Chin have cultivated a wide-ranging menu that covers a lot of ground and does so in fine form. Start with charcuterie, move on to meatballs, share some pizza, slurp some seafood pasta, sink a knife deep into a fat filet; meals here are like unplanned road trips, where it's not so much the destination but the course one takes.

What we recommend: Sautéed calamari and lobster gnocchi

About The Author

Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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