It should be obvious that, being one of my favorite places in the world, Cleveland would have some excellent food. From cafeteria-style Polish food to haute cuisine, there’s a little something for everyone. Hell, even if you like shitty fast food (and who doesn’t?) there is a wonderful local option. Be sure to check out some of these spots when you head in to the Best Location in the Nation.
While Michael Symon put Cleveland on the culinary map, while he’s off in Hollywood being a celebrity chef, Jonathon Sawyer is holding down the position of best chef in Cleveland. He has the Greenhouse Tavern on the pedestrian-friendly East 4th Street downtown, where you can order a whole pig’s head (and Symon name-checked their gravy frites on The Best Thing I Ever Ate). Among his other restaurants is personal favorite Noodlecat, a fast-casual ramen spot that originated in the West Side Market, moved downtown, and has finally (and unfortunately) ended up in the suburb of Westlake. This seems to be poised to be franchised, though, so there may be more in the near future. The ramen is great, but awesome sides like their grilled ramen and cheese and fried kimchi balls are must-orders.
Symon does still loom large in the city, with plenty of outposts around town. Near Noodlecat is his B-Spot (burgers, brats, and beers), which features the Fat Doug—a burger with coleslaw, pastrami, stadium mustard (more on this later) and Swiss cheese, and is well worth the trip to any of the Cleveland suburb locations. There are also some awesome shakes; the vanilla bean apple pie and bacon shake with the added shot of bourbon is just what you need after a stomach-busting burger. On the aforementioned East 4th Street, you’ll also find Lola Bistro and Mabel’s BBQ, Symon’s “Cleveland-style” barbecue joint.
West Side Market
While the market is packed with butchers, cheese sellers, pierogi makers, and other take away and make at home style places, there are a few great stops for food. Steve’s Gyros is probably chief among them, and always has a line. This is a line you’ll want to wait in, and it goes pretty quickly because you can either order a gyro, or a gyro with extra meat—though, after eating the regular one, I’m not sure how extra meat is physically possible. Though, if you want, you can cut to the front of the line to just buy a bag of pita. There is also Maha’s Falafil, which has a pretty extensive menu for a small falafel stand, though the falafel is still the best. I take umbrage with their “Philly” sandwiches, but I can ignore that for their other delicious food. Finally, don’t pass a stop at Czuchraj Meats, which has all manner of cured meats for you to snack on, chief among them their variety of house-made jerky. It’s thick, chewy, and slathered with sauce—definitely a requirement if you stop by the market.
There is a lot of great beer in Cleveland, and if you’re in Ohio City (where West Side Market is), you’re in a good stop. Directly across from the market are Cleveland’s craft beer kings, Great Lakes Brewing Co. Swing in and get some swag, have some beer, and taste some of their ice cream creations they’ve partnered with local Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream to create (like the Edmund Fitzgerald porter chocolate chunk). Right next to the market is Market Garden Brewery, another local favorite with an extensive taplist. On our last visit, their Nano OG Lager became a quick favorite, and Kaitie fell for their Hella Mango. Do pop in for some refreshments after a long day of wandering the market. Also, if you’re downtown, head over to Noble Beast, the open, garage-like brewpub with excellent beer and good food. It’s a few blocks from the middle of downtown, but a great way to get away from the traffic if the Browns are playing, and a nice stop if you enjoy drinking quality beer.
Yes, of all the places on the list, the shitty fast food joint gets its own heading. This is because everywhere in Cleveland is optional when I visit except Mr. Hero. And the crazy thing is, I’ve only ever had one item there. My entire life has been spent either living in the city, the suburbs, or visiting regularly, and the one constant has always been the Mr. Hero Romanburger. It doesn’t look like much—and my description won’t improve upon that—but I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t one of my favorite sandwiches in the world. Greyish hamburger patties with fried salami, onions, mayo, cheese, tomato, and lettuce that is wilted and soggy from the sheer amount of grease in the sandwich, it is a fatty, salty overload of joy. Since I don’t get there as often as I would like, I can usually justify the gut-busting 14” version, but it also comes in 10” and, for the faint of heart, 7”. Throw on an order of waffle fries with warm cheese sauce, and my trip is complete.
Odds & Ends
Sokolowski’s University Inn is a Polish cafeteria-style mecca for all your pierogi and stuffed cabbage needs, among other things. Hot Sauce Williams, which has two locations, is the place for barbecue in Cleveland. Big Al’s Diner is great for breakfast, and their corned beef hash is unrivaled. If you want to get out of the city a bit Corky and Lenny’s is a great Jewish deli with massive sandwiches and pickles on the table. Finally, if you want to take home some souvenirs, swing by the local Malley’s Chocolates to grab some sweets, or any grocery store to get the famous Bertman’s Original Ballpark Mustard served at Indians games.
As you may have noticed, I can go on and on about Cleveland, whether it’s things to do, places to eat, or just dumb facts about the city. I love it there with my entire being, and am already looking forward to going back—as I always do, just after I leave.
While you’re eating in Cleveland, you might as well check out some things to do. Here are a few of our favorites.