The Best Restaurants In Cleveland

A city with mind-blowingly-good kielbasa, hot dogs topped with Froot Loops, and more.
The Best Restaurants In Cleveland image

photo credit: Dylan Palchesko

Cleveland used to be called “The Mistake on the Lake.” See: the tanking steel industry, a river so polluted it caught on fire, and terrible sports teams. But nowadays, the Browns are actually pretty good—and so are the city’s restaurants. The dining scene here is probably best known for Polish food, top-tier bar snacks, and a signature BBQ sauce made with the city’s favorite brown mustard. Yes, you’ll find some fantastic pierogi when you’re in town, but there are so many other excellent meals to be had. For example, you should ball out at a ritzy steakhouse inside a bank building from 1893, share some outstanding curried lamb and apricot hummus, and try the local legend: a hot dog covered in Froot Loops. 


photo credit: Dylan Palchesko



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Cordelia is upscale enough for a family dinner, but still has the comfort of heading to your grandmother’s tchotchke-filled house for an after-school snack. The owners call their food “Midwest nice,” which basically means fancied up ‘90s-era favorites. To see this in action, order the White Castle-inspired burger box—you‘ll get a gigantic smashburger that can be torn apart into four smaller sliders topped with smoked cheddar, pickles, and onion. If the adults at the table want something they can eat with a fork, go for the mushroom and squash cream gnocchi. Enjoy some live theater at the high tops in front of the kitchen as the chefs cheer “BIG BIRD!” every time a group orders an entire fried chicken.

Your budding situationship planned an elaborate scavenger hunt at the Cleveland Museum of Art. One-up them by making a reservation after at Zhug. The muhammara perfectly teeters between spicy and sweet, and you’ll dread going back to grocery store spreads after trying the curried lamb and apricot hummus. As for must-order mains, the curry fried chicken has a great harissa honey sauce, and the braised lamb’s saffron flavor is lined with a little fruitiness, thanks to some dates. Cheers with an arak-infused cocktail while brainstorming your next romantic rendezvous.  

Peanut butter, giardiniera, and blue cheese coleslaw. No, you’re not clearing out the back of your fridge—you’re reading the hot dog condiments list at this Cleveland dive bar. The menu lets everyone play weiner architect: you can build the frank of your dreams with more than 50 toppings. And if that’s too overwhelming, stick with an age-old combo. The Slider Dog, named for the Cleveland Guardians Muppet-like mascot, is an unholy mashup of pimento mac and cheese, bacon, and Froot Loops. It’s open until 2am on the weekends, and they have live music a couple nights during the week, where you might catch an unknown indie band, local celebrity DJ Kishka, or members of the Cleveland Orchestra.

photo credit: Marble Room



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Cleveland isn’t home to many high-roller restaurants, but Marble Room is an old-school legend—the kind of place your boss would go to land that Chicago client during a business dinner. It’s inside a 19th-century bank building with gorgeous marble columns and crystal chandeliers, and the menu matches that energy—there are 10 different cuts of prime beef (try the juicy 16-ounce delmonico with some garlic and chive butter), plus a raw bar and caviar service. You can also sit in one of the banquettes in the front lounge and nurse a martini while watching Gates Mills mansion owners check in for their reservations.

People in Cleveland might have different opinions on how to properly plow a driveway, but we can at least agree that Little Polish Diner has the city’s best pierogi and Polish boys. This is the kind of place that still thinks it’s 1997—they don’t have any social media, or even a website, for that matter. Their juicy kielbasa, served in a pillowy bun and topped with sweet barbecue sauce and creamy coleslaw, might be difficult to hold together, but it tastes incredible, and it’s easy to see why dads have been grieving Browns losses here for decades.

The city’s favorite son and Food Network regular Michael Symon has decided to go hard on two themes in his hometown restaurant: protein and Ohio. How do we know? The first thing you’ll see when you walk in is a neon sign that reads "EAT MORE MEAT." Mabel’s has perfected—in fact, invented—Cleveland-style BBQ: a thin, vinegary sauce made with Cleveland-born Bertman Original Ball Park Mustard. Pour it over some brisket, then top it all off with spicy sauerkraut and the Toledo-famous Tony Packo’s pickles—a spread fit for a bowling team celebrating a tournament win. Then, cut any lingering acidity with the slight sweetness of the Fat Head Brewery blueberry ale.

Il Rione is a tiny spot for grown-up pizza parties, where you can sip Negronis and eat fantastic pies under candle chandeliers. They roll out thin, crispy crusts, and are one of the few places in town that uses higher-quality toppings like lemon ricotta, fried sage leaves, and speck. The clam pie special is the best thing here, but like the cool substitute teacher who always puts on a movie, it’s not always around. Get here on the earlier side, since they don’t do reservations.

Fahrenheit has been around for two decades, and it’s a great place for a fancy meal paid by someone else’s money (i.e. your date, parents, or boss). The restaurant recently moved into a Public Square building with an indoor/outdoor rooftop space that has a rare 365-degree view of the city. The food skews swanky to match the crowd of sports jackets and sequin party dresses—start off with the sweet miso eggplant lettuce cups and go for the perfectly-seared wagyu short rib with wild mushrooms.

The worst-kept secret in town is that you’ll probably leave Salt+ hungry. But you’ll at least get to spend the night feeling like a judge on Top Chef, using words like “mouthfeel” to describe some of the most creative small plates in Cleveland. Don’t miss the white bean purée with mashed olives, which is one of the few dishes that’s permanently on the menu, or the calamari with coriander-coconut glaze when it’s available. Just plan to supplement with some snacks on the couch once you get home.

This Cleveland institution opens every day at 7am, and cooks up comfort food for third-shift steel mill workers and tourists visiting the famed A Christmas Story House and Museum across the street. The breakfast bangers include avocado toast, bacon-wrapped tater tots, and an omelet stuffed with pierogi and Hungarian kielbasa. There are great latkes (which also happen to be vegan), and the smokehouse mac with pulled pork and peach-bourbon BBQ might just be the highlight of your week. The dining area is small, and the kitchen is even smaller, so enjoy a movie-themed cocktail at the bar while you wait for a table.

Jaja is a dreamy steakhouse where vines hang from the ceiling and animal-shaped lamps lurk in every corner—think the lushness of Middle Earth meets the funk of Alice in Wonderland. You’ll be turning your head left and right watching colorful cocktails get dropped off at tables, like the pineapple and kiwi Starlight Swizzle. Once you’ve finished looking up at the skylight, split the smoked eggplant with labneh and the polenta with manchego and lemon zest. The steaks are also good, but go for the well-seasoned lamb albondigas or flavorful adobo pork belly.

Thai Thai’s owner wanted to serve food that her mom would cook at home, and she even has her mother’s help in the restaurant’s kitchen. The best things here are the potstickers, spicy green papaya salad, and lemongrass-barbecued chicken on a stick. They get creative with the bubble teas, especially flashy specials like the Thai tea-churro creation or the unicorn with a sprinkled donut halo. The space is on the smaller side, so forgo the group dinner and bring you don’t mind sharing a straw with to swap slurps of each other’s boba flavor. Afterward, wander over to Cleveland Curiosities or Souvenir to browse some antiques. 

This deli-bakery boosts their great sandwiches and pastries by using koji. The Japanese fungus can speed up the fermentation and curing process, fast-forwarding cuts into charcuterie fixings. The koji-fication of pastrami often adds another layer of umami flavor and salty sweetness, and each batch tastes a little different. Their menu is a daily surprise revealed on Instagram, which keeps fans on their toes. It’s a busy neighborhood spot that looks like an old general store, thanks to lots of wood paneling and jars of fermenting vegetables. The line often stretches down the block, so grab some caffeine next door at Rising Star Coffee Roasters while you wait.

For an evening of arepas and a reasonable amount of turning up, stop by Barroco. Anyone who walks in after 5pm on a Friday or Saturday is greeted with a free tequila shot served in half a lime. There’s a lot to take in after the boozy welcome: multicolor Christmas lights, fake flower bushes, and Sharpie doodles all over the walls. Grab a table and chill on the covered patio, where you can down caipirinhas and snack on sweet plantains with queso. All the meat fillings are tasty, but any menu items stuffed with chorizo are top-tier. They close at 10pm, so keep the party going at club “Eating Takeout Flan In Bed.”

This spot belongs in the city’s breakfast hall of fame for their fluffy biscuits loaded with eggs and cheese. The best sandwiches are the ones with either bacon or brisket, and the cinnamon biscuit with almond vanilla glaze is also stellar. Whatever path you choose, their buttery handhelds make for the perfect on-the-go bite before exploring modern art at Transformer Station or filling up after some Soul Yoga.

We always used to beg our mom for fast food breakfast sandwiches on our way to morning Little League practice. Martha On The Fly makes those, but fancier and tastier. Their square egg patties are the base for sandwiches named after women we’d find in nana’s pickleball league—like the Betty, loaded with bacon and cheese on a scotch roll, or the Shirley with baloney and tomato jam. Whatever sandwich you get, grab a side of cornmeal fries with yellow “sunshine sauce,” a combo of hollandaise and miso mayo. This place is basically a small food counter though, so pick up an order and go eat in Lincoln Park close by.

Is it a chill corner bar, or charming date-night spot to share sweets? Is it for feeding the parents, or some outside-of-the-office hanging with your coworkers? We say yes, to all. The pie options rotate, but the only stationary slice is the best: the salt and honey, a gooey hunk of wildflower honey custard accessorized with a tiny vial of bee pollen. If you assume that a place with killer pies wouldn’t put much effort into the rest of its menu, the lamb meatballs stuffed with truffled cow’s milk and citrus-charred octopus prove otherwise. Their marquee sign shines down a modern-day scripture: “Pie will never give you up or let you down, but it will dessert you.”

If a restaurant calls itself Superior Pho, they have some pretty high expectations to live up to. Turns out, this is indeed the best pho in town, plus they have some great appetizers and rice noodle dishes. Their bone broth is simmered for 24 hours and is a secret family recipe passed down between generations—the owner has even been known to throw out an entire vat if it doesn’t meet his standards. Come here for a quick lunch of noodles, then pack up a bánh mì for dinner. To find this place, enter through Golden Plaza, a nondescript mini-mall, where you can take advantage of free parking and grab a coconut cream bun at Koko Bakery for dessert.

Momocho loves to go stunt queen on classic Mexican dishes. Their guac is extra in every sense of the word, with add-ins like black pepper pecorino, roasted garlic, and agave, and the butternut squash-goat cheese flautas dipped in red chile and mole will win over even the most meat-and-potatoes Midwesterner. All the cocktails are great, and while you can certainly opt for a standard salt or sugar rim, consider trying the blend of dried ants and black lava salt. This loud, tight spot doesn’t take reservations, and the parking lot is tiny, but it’s worth the slight inconvenience for a fun dinner here.

Herb’n Twine’s sandwiches are so delicious and popular that they sell out and close early pretty much every day around 2pm. Their bread makes the perfect bookends for sandwiches like the smoked turkey club, which is packed with gouda, maple-smoked bacon, and sundried tomato mayo. It’s in a bit of a random area of the city and only does to-go orders, so call ahead and secure the bag (of your sandwiches and also the smooth tomato bisque).

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