Our Favorite Cleveland Eats

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.

Jonathon Sawyer

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.

Michael Symon

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.

Beer

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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.

Mr. Hero

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.

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Greasy, fatty, salty, perfect Romanburger

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.

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Picking up some Ballpark Mustard…among other things

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.

Eating food not from the country you’re in

bunbohue

It should probably come as no surprise that I spend a lot of time surfing the Travel subreddit.  Whether it’s just to look at nice pictures of different places, get tips and ideas for traveling somewhere new, or trying to help others with my limited knowledge, it’s one of my favorite places on the internet.  And one of the threads that popped up there recently has had me thinking quite a bit.

Traveling abroad and eating food NOT FROM THE COUNTRY YOU ARE IN?

The basic gist is, if you’re looking for the best food to eat while you travel, and somewhere like Vietnam has the best Italian food, why not eat Italian in Vietnam?

I know there can be a lot of variables to what you eat while abroad—sensitive stomach issues, allergies, fear, palate fatigue—but I’m going to take this from the perspective of someone with none of these issues who just loves food.  And for me, this would be a huge no-no.  Have I done this before?  Of course.  Is this why I go to other countries? Not even close.

bratislavaWhen I go to a country, I want to experience their culture.  I want to know everything about their food and try it all.  I never have enough time, of course, but I try my damnedest.  For me, there’s no time to really try Italian food in Vietnam, because I just want to eat all the Vietnamese food.  And not just one time, either—I wanted to try pho in the north and in the south.  We went to small places, had it at our bed and breakfast, had it at a hotel, and had it at a chain.  And they were all different.

When we were in Bratislava, as well, I was researching restaurants and there was a great-sounding sushi place.  Highly rated, one of the best restaurants in the city. But I just couldn’t bring myself to eat sushi when I was in Slovakia.

It really comes down to what you’re traveling for.  If you just want the best of the best, you’ll go for it.  But personally, I want to try the best of the best of what the culture has been making, because I can tell you from experience I can get great, top-of-the-line Italian food in Philadelphia, but I’ve never had pho that matches what we ate in Vietnam.  I’ve never tracked down half of the food we had in Hue.  The stuffed cabbage in Hungary was next level.

My former wife would always mention opportunity cost vs opportunity lost, which is something I still keep in mind when planning trips.  The opportunity cost of going to a Chinese place in Germany—no matter how good—is the opportunity lost of trying another, different German dish or getting someplace else’s spin on a dish you’ve already had, both of which can give you deeper insight into the history and culture of a place.

I also realize this could have sparked something in me because the first comment mentioned Italian food which I find, by and large, to be incredibly boring.  Yes, I’ve had some amazing Italian food, but I would also feel the same way about Chinese or Vietnamese food, which is probably my favorite.  At home, I could eat it anytime or anywhere.  Just don’t expect me to eat it in Italy.

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Would you eat a “foreign” cuisine while traveling abroad?