Cleveland has progressed from national culinary afterthought — blessed with world-class pierogis and not much more of renown — to darling of foodies and the food press. Among the reasons why: The city’s food scene now blends its no-fuss, old-world roots with cutting-edge creativity.
Try a dish or two at these must-eat Cleveland restaurants, where the spirit of the city infuses the experience.
Check out Lola Bistro’s bona fides.
The chef: Cleveland native Michael Symon, the most famous face (“Iron Chef,” “The Chew”) of the local food scene. The space: the flagship of Symon’s empire, a shimmering spot on lively East 4th Street whose launch in 1997 added rocket fuel to the chef’s rise. The menu: a hearty, meat-driven experience that Anthony Bourdain describes as a “dizzying, post-modern riff on traditional midwestern fare.” Think pork chops and potatoes and steaks.
And the desserts are as sublime as the entrees.
Believe that a city with a massive Polish and Eastern European population makes great Polish and Eastern European food. Nobody does it better than Sokolowski’s.
We’re talking chicken paprikash and smoked kielbasa and stuffed cabbage and, of course, those celebrated pierogis. The sauteed, doughy pillows of goodness are must-eats. Wash everything down with a Polish beer.
The Sokolowski family has run the restaurant since 1923. It isn’t a fine-dining experience. On the walls of the Tremont neighborhood mainstay you’ll find new and old photos of local and national celebrities.
Like the subjects of those photos, you’ll need to grab a tray; Sokolowski’s serves its food cafeteria-style. Oh, and go when you’re hungry. The portions will threaten to overflow your plate.
The dual draws at Pier W: Seafood and perhaps the best setting in The Land. The former is the restaurant’s specialty, with fresh fish and other seafood pulled from the Great Lakes or brought in fresh from other bodies of water. The latter is Pier W’s magical ingredient.
The restaurant sits on the edge of a cliff above Lake Erie. Large windows open up the sleek dining room to views of the lake and the downtown Cleveland skyline. Chef Regan Reik’s dishes and the setting combine to make Pier W one of Cleveland’s go-to special-occasion restaurants.
It hasn’t taken long for Masthead to make its hoppy, doughy mark on Cleveland. Opened in early 2017, the restaurant took over space that, in the 1920s, was an auto dealership and turned it into a sprawling, hopping pizza-and-beer joint downtown. Almost 20 types of Neapolitan pies come straight out of the wood-fired Marra Forni oven.
The brewery side of the operation turns out exemplary house beers, with more than 10 usually on tap. Sit at the 100-foot-long bar or at the beer-hall-style communal tables. Traveling with your dog? You can relax together on the dog-friendly patio with downtown views.
It’s breakfast and brunch only at this cozy Tremont hot spot. Start with the can’t-miss biscuits, flaky cheddar and scallion lovelies topped with pork sausage gravy and scrambled eggs.
Like the rest of the items on chef/owner Heather Haviland’s menu, which includes gingerbread waffles and pecan bacon, the ingredients come from local suppliers; some of them are even grown in Lucky’s on-site garden. Prepare to wait on weekends. During patio season you can eat outside.