Cleveland's dining scene is like a jungle growing, shifting and devouring the landscape around it. As soon as you think you've conquered the terrain, a new spot opens, necessitating another expedition into Ohio City, Cleveland Heights or Lakewood.
Can Goma's downtown sushi play ball with sister restaurant Ginko? Is Acqua di Luca's revamped patio experience all show? Can Chatty’s Pizzeria really be as special as every single person in Bay Village swears it is?
But after two years of takeout, even stalwarts like Zack Bruell's L'Albatros, the epic Marble Room and funky Fat Cats needed reevaluation. Who emerged from the pandemic unscathed — or maybe even better off? We set out to answer those questions — and we haven't been alone.
“There’s been a resurgence,” says Tessa Rolleston of The Last Page, readers' pick for 2022's Best New Restaurant. “People are making up for the last two years.”
So if you haven’t joined us, what are you waiting for? Open your calendar and ditch the summer diet. It’s time to eat, Cleveland.
This year's Best New Restaurant is The Last Page, an exciting modern dining adventure in Pinecrest, but it's far from the only new spot that impressed us. Dig in to our 10 Best New Restaurants.
What are Cleveland's favorite restaurants? Find out at our list of reader-voted Silver Spoon Award Winners.
Acqua Di Luca
I thought I’d fallen in love with meals in Styrofoam and foil, with swiping up burger sauce off my car seat. But Acqua di Luca, a sleek downtown coliseum of seafood in a 147-year-old brick space, shocked me out of that pandemic-induced Stockholm syndrome. Damnit, I deserve a little elegance! I don’t go to the spa or drive a sports car. For me, pampering is chef Luca Sema’s opulent lemon-stuffed sole ($38), an afternoon on the bustling West Sixth Street corner patio, a pricey bottle of wine and a waiter who won’t let me pour it. “All we care about is that the people who come here to spend money have a great experience,” says co-owner Lola Sema. acquadiluca.com
Astoria Cafe and Market
Astoria didn’t set out to be one of Cleveland’s best restaurants, says chef Cory Kobrinski. When it opened in 2016 near Gordon Square, the5,000-square-foot space was more about the sprawling warehouse of specialty foods housed inside than it was the small cafe. But customers want what they want, and over time, they demanded more from Kobrinski’s Greek-influenced, market-driven eatery, which has grown from 70 to 240 seats. Day and night, Astoria burns with energy. But it's Astoria's brunch that's widely regarded as one of Cleveland’s best. The Croque Madame ($16) is like the market’s greatest hits with imported rosemary-infused Italian ham, Swiss gruyere, house-made bechamel, Dijon mustard and a sunny-side-up egg. “We’re really just utilizing what our market has to offer,” Kobrinski says. astoriacafemarket.com
Cleveland Bagel Co.
Cleveland could never have New York-quality bagels, right? We’re missing the key ingredient: New York City water. “That’s a load of horse shit,” says owner Dan Herbst. “I don’t know how they got away with pretending like the bagels are magic, but they’re not.” So it's no surprise that Herbst, who started the Detroit Shoreway bagel joint along with Geoff Hardman as part of the LeBron James-produced CNBC show Cleveland Hustles, has his own style, boiling hand-rolled bagels in a malt solution for a sweeter flavor profile. Herbst opts for an everything bagel with chorizo chipotle cream cheese ($4), but no matter what you order, you’ll find a level of care seen in very few places. “Most people don’t do it this way because you need a lot of people and you need a lot of time,” says Herbst. “But I believe we make bagels the right way.” clebagelco.com
Cloak and Dagger
With all the acclaim Tremont’s vegan cocktail bar has received for its literary-inspired menu and fresh syrups and house-made ingredients, it’s easy to overlook Cloak and Dagger's food — especially if you’re a carnivore. But chef Todd Kronika, who has been cooking vegan food for 20 years, deserves his own epic. While the menu changes frequently, recent standouts included the vegan cheeseboard ($10), entirely made in-house, and the birria tacos ($13) with morita chili-brasied enoki mushroom. Meanwhile, the barbecue skewers ($14) are a smoky blend of seitan and vegetables. On the current menu, the vegan deviled eggs ($7) will make you do a double take, while the mac ‘n’ cheese ($13), currently featuring white miso, lemon cheddar, broccolini, shallots and shiitake bacon, will make you ask for a double helping. “Everything is handmade here. There’s a lot of love and care in it,” says owner Casey Hughes. “Todd is constantly pushing the limits of vegan food.” cloakanddaggercle.com
Edwins Restaurant and Leadership Institute
Yes, we know Brandon Chrostowski is a good guy. His restaurant group gives former prisoners and recovering addicts a second chance. The dude even flew to Poland to cook meals for Ukrainian refugees. But none of that alone gets you nominated for the James Beard Awards’ Outstanding Restaurateur. “It’s about hospitality, man,” says the chef, who gained his appreciation for service in the kitchens of Paris, New York and Chicago. And there may be no better display of service than his Shaker Square French brasserie. More than 20 artisan cheeses, ranging from a fudgy, spicy dark blue to a mild cheddar with thick veins of black truffle, are served tableside on a rolling cart. Wine lists and plats principaux are navigated expertly. Suggestions land perfectly. My bread plate never sat empty, thankfully, as I ate about a loaf sopping up the braised rabbit’s ($36) luxurious mustard cream sauce and the shallot beurre blanc with the grilled seafood sausage ($15). Service is something you don’t notice unless it’s really good or really bad. As the maitre d helped my wife slip her coat on and urgently hailed the valet, we definitely noticed. edwinsrestaurant.org
For 20 years, chef Ricardo Sandoval hasn’t just been pushing trends forward — he’s been setting them. The Tremont spot defined patio eating with one of the city’s best skyline views, and the colorful bohemian bar and eatery has been a hub for local artists, whose work is on display and for sale in the restaurant. Its unpretentious fusion menu, which offered fresh, farm-to-table and sustainable bites before it was cool, finds inspiration in Sandoval’s Filipino roots, especially in dishes such as the Arroz Caldo ($16 with pork belly), a Calabrian chili-laden porridge. A wider Asian influence is found across the menu, including in the kimchi potatoes ($9.50), served with Brussels sprouts kimchi, a fried egg and Sriracha aioli. Sandoval even handles modern fads with ease, tackling the Popeyes-induced fried chicken craze of 2020 with a soy-tinged adobo fried chicken ($17). After all, when you’re the tastemaker, nothing you do goes out of style. fatcatstremont.com
Where have all the happy hours gone? Largely thanks to rising food costs, the practice is waning in popularity. So stumbling upon $5 sushi rolls and $4 Thirsty Dog Heaven and Helles Lager, brewed specifically for chef Dante Boccuzzi, from 4-6 p.m. at the hip basement sushi bar in Tremont felt like a steal. No matter what you pay, the 11-year-old restaurant's specialties like unagi and foie gras oishi sushi ($23.40), a pressed roll with barbecue eel and seared duck liver, or the Ginko roll ($16.90) with tuna, salmon, hamachi, avocado and veggies, are worth full cost — especially when you find out that Boccuzzi ships in fish twice weekly from markets in Japan for both Ginko and for his downtown spot, Goma. But if you can catch this lone-survivor happy hour, it offers an incredibly low-cost barrier for Cleveland’s best sushi. danteboccuzzi.com
Habesha Ethiopian and Eritrean
Despite owner Jamas Munsa’s soft-spoken demeanor, there might be no eatery more rebellious than his West Park African spot. After all, the refugee from Eritrea launched a menu based on shareable plates meant to be eaten by hand in the middle of a pandemic. Dishes such as the Doro Wat ($20) come out as a massive platter covered with sour, fermented bread and topped with stewed greens, lentils, fresh salads and spicy, slow-roasted chicken. Equally defiant, the bread, or injera, is a spongy mixture of teff flour and barley that ferments for days and then hits only a griddle before it’s served. “People enjoy sharing the food,” Munsa says. “Everybody who comes leaves Habesha happy.” habeshacle.com
Il Rione is the Frankenstein of restaurants. It’s built of all the best parts: a killer classic rock playlist, drinks that kick and, best of all, top-notch pizza. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, however, this experiment feels organic and unintentional. Buffalo Springfield bounces off the original plaster-and-brick walls and exposed beams of the 1917 building in Detroit Shoreway. This old-school elegance is juxtaposed by the snazzy subway-tiled open kitchen. Though the place is always bustling, a couple can typically snag a seat at the bar without too much trouble or on the 16-seat patio. Don’t fear the clam ($24-$32) with pecorino and garlic or the speck ($18-$23) with thinly sliced ham, pistachio, lemon ricotta and hot honey. Owners Brian Moss and Brian Holleran never utter the word artisan, though the approach to the wood-fired New York-style ‘za, which focuses on a concise list of traditional ingredients such as Calabrian chiles, prosciutto and arugula, certainly exceeds the ethos of restaurants that claim to be much more than that. ilrionepizzeria.com
L'Albatros Brasserie & Bar
Greatness is best displayed in moments of adversity. Zack Bruell’s obsessive pursuit of perfection passed the stress test during a recent visit with my pregnant wife. She craved the assiette de fromage ($12-$18) but could not eat unpasteurized cheese. The waiter consulted the chef and returned with an entire tray of safe, yet funky and delicious, cheeses. Then, a kitchen mishap stalled my cassoulet ($32) — a French classic of white beans, duck confit, pork belly and sausages — by just a few minutes. We didn’t even notice, but the mistake was remedied by a complimentary house-made raspberry sorbet. These moments, however small, speak to Bruell’s fanatical devotion to detail — which is likely why the Cleveland Clinic used his expertise to set pandemic guidelines for restaurants nationwide. And in a sea of “we’re understaffed” signs and have-it-our-way mentalities, Bruell has doubled down on old-school service that tailors his restaurant’s offerings to your desires — not the other way around. albatrosbrasserie.com
La Plaza Supermarket and Taqueria
The world gets more complicated every day. In times like these, La Plaza Supermarket and Taqueria's Adrian Ortega, educated in seminaries in Mexico as a child, turns to Jesus. When I’m feeling wayward and down, maybe because I couldn’t decide where to eat lunch, I find guidance in a paper tray of tacos at his west Cleveland taqueria. Sitting alone, eagerly waiting, the sizzle of the exposed grill soothes my soul. In 10 minutes, chorizo, carne asada and al pastor — cooked in the Michoacán style — are in hand. A little pickled onions, spicy salsa (Ortega’s specialty) and avocado crema from the serve-yourself topping bar, and I’m gone. Happy again, whole again, thanks to a meal steeped in love and tradition. Truly a religious experience. “Why I like tacos?” says Ortega. “They’re simple.” plazataqueria.com
Honorable Mention: Senors Mexican Restaurant at La Mexicana — East Siders don't have to cross the Cuyahoga River to find stellar tacos ($1.75). This supermarket stall in Painesville rivals any taco dealer north of the Rio Grande.
Larder Delicatessen and Bakery
The deli part of the Hingetown’s 1854-built brick firehouse gets most of the credit. And rightfully so, Jeremy Umansky’s newfound approach to Jewish cooking, which centers around a mold called koji that speeds up the curing process, earned a James Beard nomination on the back of its pastrami, fried chicken and matzo ball soup. But after my first visit in 2018, I couldn't stop talking about the bread pudding ($4). Divinely sweet with creamy custard elegantly adorning fluffy rye bread, it changed my perception of the old-school dessert. Baker and co-owner Allie La Valle-Umansky, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America's Baking and Pastry Arts program, is used to hearing similar revelations over desserts such as the soft black-and-white cookies ($3), babka ($9), cheesecake ($7) and even the pastrami's sour rye ($13), which gets a umami flavor from koji rice Amazake. "The idea," says Larder's quiet superstar, "is to bring back these traditional desserts and dishes and put a modern lens on them." larderdb.com
Dining at LJ Shanghai is a joyful experience — especially if you’re bringing someone along for the first time. Watching someone you love bite into the xiao long bao ($5), or soup dumplings, for the first time is like playing them your favorite song. But the more you get to know this 10-table eatery, which opened in 2017, the deeper the connection becomes. Owner LJ greets you at the door of the casual AsiaTown joint with a joke, a smile and your takeout order. The restaurant is an education on Shanghainese specialities such as crispy pig ears with chili sauce ($7) and exquisite, savory pan-fried noodles ($12). The experiences range from the refreshing garlic cucumber salad in a delicate vinaigrette dressing to the plump sesame-soy Shanghai meatball to the spicy chongqing noodle soup with slow-roasted beef brisket or pork belly ($15). There’s especially joy in scooping chile into that soup until scorching — a craving I seem to have around lunchtime on Cleveland’s hottest days when I’m wearing my lightest gray suit. A perverse, lip-numbing, sweaty joy that keeps me coming back for more. ljshanghaicle.com
Honorable Mention: Wonton Gourmet & BBQ — Bone in or our, the chili-topped wing dings ($14.95) at this AsiaTown spot destroy any notion of the chicken wing being an all-American delicacy. wontongourmetbbq.com
Just like with his now-defunct flagship Lola Bistro, Michael Symon created “Cleveland-style” barbecue to fill a hole he saw in our city's dining scene. “For us, opening Mabel’s was more about Can someone please make good f***ing barbecue?” says the celebrity chef. “Can someone source the right products, treat them with respect and then cook them with real natural wood and not in an oven?” Since Mabel’s opened in 2016, Northeast Ohio has seen a BBQ boom, but Symon’s East Fourth Street spot is still the prime choice. A la carte platters feature pulled pork ($15), hot collard greens ($6.50) and all the classics. Kielbasa ($13), instead of hot link sausage, and a barbecue sauce with a base of Cleveland-made Bertman Ballpark Mustard offer a Cleveland spin. Best of all, beef brisket ($17), perhaps BBQ's most divisive cut, is offered lean or fatty, the latter being our preference due to the buttery pocket of liquid gold between the tender, stringy meat and the dark, crusty bark. Symon’s Lola and B Spot may be gone, but with a new location in Eton Chagrin Boulevard, Mabel’s BBQ remains a delicious interaction with Cleveland’s culinary son. mabelsbbq.com
Honorable Mention — The Proper Pig Smokehouse: Shane Vidovic and Ted Dupaski have come a long way since their $1,000 food truck serving Texas-style barbecue. The friends took advantage of the pandemic to add a full bar with Texas-made beer to their Lakewood space. properpigsmokehouse.com
Marble Room Steaks & Raw BarSome restaurants want you to look down while you eat. Marble Room wants you to look up. The former bank on Euclid Avenue was built in 1893 by the sons of President James A. Garfield. The epic pillars, which swallow you into the days of Sixth City glory, aren't done justice in photos. But a bummer meal can pull you out of even the most transformative space. Luckily, chef Brandon Veres rises to the occasion with classics such as oysters Rockefeller ($19) and the juicy 16-ounce Delmonico ($65). It’s not the hippest meal I had this year, but it's perhaps the most memorable. So even if the truffle lobster mac ‘n’ cheese ($135) is a bit above your paygrade, this bucket-list spot is worth the splurge. marbleroomcle.com
An editor once told me to give readers moments of delight. Maybe then, we should hire Mason’s Creamery owners Jesse Mason and Helen Qin, who have been doing just that since 2013 when the couple moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland and opened their small-batch outdoor ice cream parlor in Ohio City. Nearly 10 years later, the corner of Bridge Avenue and West 44th Street defines Cleveland summers. There’s always a new whimsical flavor to cool you down thanks to a one-gallon-at-a-time approach, which produces eclectic, often-Asian-leaning flavors such as the sweet-and-nutty taro made from purple sweet potatoes or the swirled vegan black vanilla and pumpkin. Last summer, a cone of Ohio sweet corn offered one of my favorite bites of the year. And when the mosquitos turn to snowflakes and the shore freezes over, Mason's focus shifts to Korean corndogs and bowls of traditional ramen with more moment-of-delight touches such as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, pastrami and raclette. masonscreamery.com
In a world of food made to be Instagrammed, Mia Bella is an old-school hold out in Little Italy. It’s not that the food isn’t worthy of the post. The spicy cheese tortellini ($21.95) is gorgeous, piled up in a luxuriously rich sauce and adorned with green peas and fresh herbs. You are simply not allowed. Just ask my wife, who was eviscerated by owner Emigert Memeti for taking a Snapchat video of the dining room. Something about a hypothetical customer being there with a mistress. After cooling off with a hot plate of eggplant parmesan ($10.95), perhaps Mia Bella's most beloved dish with the thinly sliced veggie topped with ricotta and served in marinara, we laughed about how her grandfather would've reacted similarly to phones at the dinner table. Just like at grandpa’s, we’re happy to put our phones down and soak up the charm found along Mayfield Road. mblittleitaly.com
When chef Eric Williams’ Ohio City Mexican restaurant opened in 2006, it was radical. Many balked at a $15, $20 or $25 price tag on tacos — even ones piled sky high with fistfuls of hard work, such as the slow-braised citrus adobo pork ($17), or fine-dining technique, like the trout ($24) with pecan-crusted pickled jalapenos and pepita. Guacamole was still a foreign green gunk to many — even before Williams spiked it with smoked trout and pork belly ($9.50) or black pepper pecorino, roasted garlic and agave nectar ($9.50). Trios of margaritas ($15) introduced moms not only to blood orange or pomegranate margaritas ($10) but clasico lime ($9) with fresh-squeezed lime juice instead of a syrupy mix. With a mod Mex philosophy, Williams never set out to create a traditional, authentic experience, but his reverence for Mexican culture pushed forward Cleveland’s understanding of the cuisine. Fifteen years later, Momocho doesn’t seem quite as revolutionary as it once was, but it remains as vital to our dining scene as ever. momocho.com
The Pompadour Bar & Tapas
Chef Rusty James Phillips enjoys a dichotomy. His 44-seat Fairport Harbor restaurant is cooking some of the region’s most innovative food, miles away from far hipper dining scenes. “The majority of our support comes more from further west,” he says. He works massive flavor into small plates, which he calls tapas but have admittedly become not very Spanish. Savory dishes such as the pepper-crusted lamb rib chop ($16), braised short rib ($16) and seared margaret duck ($15) are served with sweet notes such as honey maple drizzle, rum-infused banana mash and wine-macerated strawberries. But Phillips says the Pompadour is best defined by a dish like the Humble Vegetable ($13), an exploration of temporal differences that tops a six-hour, low-roasted tomato with grilled mushroom, garlic green beans, pickled chayote, avocado vinaigrette and toasted sesame. “I love playing around with dishes,” says Phillips, “that have both hot and cold temperatures in your mouth at the same time.” thepompadourbar.com
Sabor Miami Cafe and Gallery
I don’t know what it is, but I found it at this Cuban eatery. Maybe it’s chef and artist Mariela Paz's painting and jewelry-covered walls in the Old Brooklyn space with a pink-and-aqua front. Maybe it’s the comforting tropichop ($10.50), a citrusy and savory Cuban classic with yellow rice and black beans; the warming empanadas ($3.50) or the stellar Cubano sandwich ($9.75), a grilled ham-and-cheese that brought me back to my South Beach honeymoon (Sabor’s was better). It even could be the pleasing realization that this exploration of Miami, where Paz lived for 13 years, is only a quick drive away. facebook.com/sabormiamicafe
Honorable Mention: Twisted Taino Frappe Bar & Grill: In 2020, chef Jose and Cristina Melendez's Caribbean and Latin menu graduated from food hall staple to a whimsical brick-and-mortar spot in Parma. twistedtaino.com
The third time was not the charm for chef Jill Vedaa, who didn’t make the final cut for a James Beard Award despite being nominated for best chef in the Great Lakes region once again. Lucky for us, the chef of Lakewood’s innovative small plates and cocktail restaurant doesn’t think like that. If she did, we might not have gotten the 28th installment of her modern American menus in April. Though we’re always happy to see menu favorites such as the white bean puree ($13), which is similar to hummus but chunkier with more garlic and citrus notes and topped with mashed olives, how can you not get excited about the future when Vedaa keeps coming up with dishes like oxtail tostada with pickled vegetables ($16), charred baby octopus with a duck fat cauliflower ($14) and mushroom fritters with charred poblano mojo ($12). So we’ll keep looking forward to what’s next from Vedaa — even if Mr. Beard doesn’t think it’s good enough for a gold medal. saltcleveland.com
Chris Nguyen has learned a lot from his father, Manh, who founded Superior Pho in 2002. A Vietnamese immigrant, Manh deeply appreciates the exacting techniques of French cooking, which he exposed to Nguyen through travel. The cuisines' overlaps are best experienced in the banh mi ($6.50), an explosion of spicy jalapenos, lush roast pork, super soft baguette, and house-made pate and mayo. Manh once set a benchmark for excellence by throwing away an entire 16-quart pot of beef bone broth — the result of a 24-hour simmering process — because one ingredient was off. At the time, that could feed two days' worth of customers. Finally, he taught Nguyen to treat each bowl ($12.50) like fine wine. The father encouraged his son to examine the pho's nose, body and finish and then smell each spice to examine slight flavor variations. Today, he credits that exploration of subtlety for Superior's superiority. “A lot of restaurants overwhelm you with cinnamon, cardamom and other spices,” Nguyen says. “For us, the trick has been to be very subtle. That’s where the sense of comfort comes in.” superiorpho.com
The mural on the front of chef and owner Mike Smith’s Westlake restaurant reads “Good things take Thyme.” Opening just before the pandemic will give you that kind of patience. In 2020, we named Thyme Table our Best New Restaurant. These days, lobster-topped tots ($14) offer a fun high-low appetizer, while the BBQ braised short ribs ($34) with creamy cheddar grits warmed me up on a January day. The seared lobster shrimp cakes ($27) arrived atop attractive jet-black noodles made from infused vegetable ash and a thick, tomato-based sauce. Still, the craft cocktail menu from barkeep Eric Scott steals the show with drinks like the Earl Boss ($13), which uses oleo, a margarine made in house by soaking spiced orange peels in sugar and extracting their oils. With time, Thyme Table has come into its own. thymextable.com
Even before the abstract paintings that dominate the 40-seat dining room or the sleek maple bar, you see it: the 6,000-pound Italian-imported, wood-burning oven with Vero tiled in navy above its mouth. Flames lick three pies at a time, as pizzaiolo Marc-Aurele Buholzer feeds the beast one by one at a pace of 100 a day. The dance looks like something from one of those food documentaries with slick, epic cinematography. If it were, the episode would focus on the dough, which spends just 90 seconds in the oven. The result is a stout crust that’s kissed by char, yet sweet and chewy — by far Cleveland’s best. The contemporary Napoletana menu is simple but stuns, especially the Margherita DOP ($20), which stars buffalo mozzarella imported weekly from Italy. Simplicity also reigns supreme in such appetizers as the 36-month-aged prosciutto with grated cured egg yolk and olive oil poured over buffalo mozzarella ($14). Yet, the Milk ‘n’ Honey ($20) with egg and hot honey shows the shop's willingness not to take itself too seriously. verocleveland.com
These days, I get a lot of requests for restaurant recommendations from friends and family. Lately, no matter what style of food or neighborhood they ask for, they’re all getting the same answer: Go to Zhug. Douglas Katz’s exploration of Middle Eastern cuisine just might be Cleveland’s most important dining experience right now. Still, not enough people have cozied up in its pillowed banquette seating, snapchatted envious friends pictures of their sumac-speckled nigella seed and burnt onion hummus ($13) or polished off the Yemenite curry fried chicken ($17) with harissa honey. The small plates menu features an exciting blend of influences from Katz’s travels and his 20-year run at Fire Food & Drink. I know parking is a hassle in Cleveland Heights. I don’t care if you’re picky. Don’t let the no-reservation policy's potential wait scare you. Get to Zhug now. zhugcle.com