It's like stepping into a 16-bit video game. Embracing the geek-chic vibe of the Uptown neighborhood, Ninja City sports larger-than-life comic book portraits and a multilevel dining room with enough exposed brick, ductwork and chain link to make you want to jump around in search of extra lives.
College students mingle with families, professors, doctors and artists who belly up to the bar or sprawl across four-tops to scribble orders on kraft paper notepads. It's an interactive, highly customizable system reminiscent of the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern just down the street.
"We wanted to do something that would have a fun conceptual appeal to the younger folks," says chef and co-owner Bac Nguyen. "It's kind of all the stuff that I liked growing up — comic books, video games."
Much like his more serious Bac Asian American Bistro and Bar in Tremont, the food here combines authentic, southeast Asian flavors with fun options like the bento box, a traditional Japanese serving tray. Fill it with a mix of what Nguyen calls Little Bites ($3.50 each or three for $9.95), slightly smaller-than-appetizer noshes (try the fun, fusion sweet potato tempura fries and chili garlic wings) that puzzle together for a varied dining experience.
Growing up watching his Vietnamese mother and grandmother in the kitchen of their Vietnamese restaurants inspired him to model some of his dishes after those familiar flavors. "Obviously my mom and grandma weren't making bacon guacamole and spicy shrimp quesadillas," he says of the popular items.
While he calls the menu "kind of a mishmash," intended to hold short attention spans, traditionalists shouldn't feel out of place here.
"You might think, Pho from this place, eh, it's probably some fusion pho," he admits. "But then you order it and it's as traditional as any in Cleveland. It's just served in a slick black bowl and you're listening to rap music while you're eating it." 11311 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-860-0510, ninjacity.com
Try This ⇨A Ninja City signature dish and by far the most popular item on the menu, the bacon and egg ramen ($9.95), made with pork miso broth, smoked pork belly and a fried egg, is umami goodness in a bowl.