Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Where to eat in The CLE
I have another post that's been a few years in the making. Cleveland is a classic Midwest city. My trips there have reminded me of visits to other Midwest meccas such as Milwaukee and Detroit, even St. Louis in some ways like each of those cities respective Italian neighborhoods feeling similar. One thing that Chicago is lacking in compared to those cities I just mentioned is old school charm. Chicago looks and feels very different than it did when I was a kid in the 80's and 90's. I know this bc visits to places like Cleveland sometimes remind me of the old Chicago I grew up in. I'm not saying Cleveland is comparable to Chicago or that it's as bad as Joakim Noah said it was. I'm just saying it's an interesting place to me, a lifelong Midwesterner by way of Chicago. Surprisingly this is the first report I've posted on an area we get to for Thanksgiving due to some family on my wife's side that live out here. Though Ohio hasn't been covered as much as other Midwest states like Wisconsin and Indiana there's still been some interesting stuff I've done up including this 2018 post about the Eastern European food scene in NE Ohio or there was also this 2105 post featuring the burgers of Akron. There's been reports out of Cincinnati and Columbus too as well as random stops like spots along Lake Eerie for lake perch. Click 'Ohio' under tags to see all previous posts from the Buckeye State.
Sights from Cleveland
George's has been our Thanksgiving morning stop the last couple times we drove to Cleveland on Thanksgiving day. It's west of the city so it's a place you can stop at pretty easily on the drive in. Cleveland and the rest of the rust belt in general has a ton of options like this. The Greek owned diner type spots where you can score an assortment of different dishes. George's makes their corned beef hash in house and seeing how CBH is maybe my favorite breakfast it's the main reason why I decided to stop here. So I could try their version. It's a finely ground blend with about equal parts potato and hash. I've never met a housemade corned beef hash that I didn't like but there was better yet to come. On the other end of the spectrum of what brought me into George's Kitchen was the fact they also serve lake perch sandwiches, another popular regional treat in the area. I cant remember if she asked if I wanted cheese or not but you usually don't see cheese on a lake perch sandwich but I'm also not opposed to cheese on a more typical fried fish sandwich so this wasnt a problem for me.
Breakfast at George's Kitchen
Here's another good option for a meal on your way into Cleveland (provided you're coming from Chicago). Ferris Shawarma is one of the best shawarma spots in the States by my estimates. They had large spits of shawarma the size you usually see in other countries. They must sell a ton of shaved meat based off both the size of the spit and also the quality of it. Don't sleep on Cleveland!
Shawarma at Ferris Restaurant
Mazzone & Sons Bakery
I always have to stop at a spot like this wherever it is I am. The old Italian delis and bakeries and pizzerias of yesteryear are a dying breed here in the States. It's not that Italian spots aren't opening anymore but the older spots like Mazzone & Sons have a look and atmosphere all their own. You cant just create it overnight. This spot has been a part of the city since 1937. They make a variety of things but the bakery pizza is what keeps Clevelander's coming back. It's served at room temp and I tried a slice of sausage and it was pretty good. I'll always appreciate the unique spots like this place.
Pizza at Mazzone & Sons Bakery
Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue
It's not a complete trip to Cleveland without at least one Polish Boy. It's the city's signature regional snack and Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue is always mentioned when discussing where to find the city's best Polish Boy. It's a locally made smoked kielbasa that's put into a bun and topped with lots of coleslaw and fries and then slathered with barbecue sauce. A specialty the city calls it own and many residents will lead you here not just for a Polish Boy but bbq too. You have to indulge in at least one.
Polish Boy at Hot Sauce Williams
There seems to be a ton of spots like Mister Brisket in and around the Cleveland area. It's an old school business that sits in an old Cleveland building which they rehabbed for retail purposes. This is a common theme that gives the city that old school feel I mentioned above. Mister Brisket is a butcher shop / deli and it's the type of place I can tell you isn't in existence in Chicago anymore. Yet there's quite a few places like this in Cleveland. The corned beef sandwiches are sliced to order. Excellent.
Corned Beef Sandwich from Mister Brisket
There is no Chinatown in Cleveland, or Little Vietnam etc. But there is an Asiantown with quite a few interesting options including this spot pushing food from Shanghai. I decided to go with a couple Shanghainese classics in the scallion oil noodles and the made to order xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Both were much better than I was expecting but I probably sold the place short. It’s pretty cool seeing the American perception of Chinese food inching closer to the real thing. No way you could get XLB in the Rust Belt twenty some years ago. So what’s next? Donkey Burgers?
Noodles and Dumplings at LJ Shanghai
We went to Salt + in the Lakewood neighborhood on our first trip and made it a point to return on our visit a year later. I imagine we'll stop through next time we're in town too if we're staying a couple nights. It's a small plates chef driven spot that always has an interesting menu which is more than you can say for alot of other trendy places in town. It's location away from downtown assures this isn't a spot catering to folks going to a sporting event. The menu is broken down into vegetable, fish, meat and it changes by the seasons. So even though what you see below is likely long gone from the menu I can assure you that this is the type of spot I'd be happy to have in my neighborhood so consider it pretty good for Cleveland and really just a nice meal in general. Not a ton to choose from out here.
Small Plates at Salt +
Steve's Diner is alot like the coney shops that inhabit SE Michigan. It's a spot open around the clock where you can get anything from breakfast to hot dogs with chili fries and such. I stopped through in the after hours one night and the crowd was similar to those I've seen at the Detroit style coney diners. Chili dogs with mustard and onion or topped cole slaw have been the main draw since 1955.
Chili Dog and Slaw Dog at Steve's Diner
Big Al's Diner
Cleveland seems to be a great breakfast city. There's lots of spots for it's blue collar workers to fill up for the day. Big Al's Diner was a common result when I went searching online for the city's best corned beef hash. It's a popular breakfast dish in these parts as you can imagine. Big Al's sits in one those renovated buildings I mentioned upthread. It's a quaint sized spot and popular on the weekends. You already know what I was here for and it was some of the best corned beef hash I've come across. I tend to include green pepper / jalapeno in mine at home so this was right up my alley.
Corned Beef Hash at Big Al's Diner
Like seemingly every other major Midwestern city, they have an old public market in Cleveland. Save for Chicago you can find one of these in pretty much all urban cities in the Midwest. Historic buildings that have housed vendors of some sort for decades on end. The West Side Market is to Cleveland as Soulard Market is to St. Louis or the Eastern Market is to Detroit and so on. Frank's Bratwurst was the stall that I most wanted to try (they had some good looking butchers and stuff too). They've been selling fresh grilled brats here for 40 years and they make a terrific all pork brat. Wisconsin quality.
Bratwurst from Frank's Bratwurst
Nate's Deli & Restaurant
Like SE Michigan Cleveland and Northeast Ohio has a decent sized Lebanese and Syrian population and Nate's Deli caught my eye with it's menu featuring Cleveland favorites like corned beef and shawarma. Another item that caught my eye were the non-vegan grape leaves which you rarely see in Chicago though are a favorite of mine when in Dearborn Michigan outside of Detroit. They're rolled with a very small amount of ground beef on top of the standard rice and served warm as opposed to cold. I love this dish and try to order it whenever I see it offered somewhere. These hit the spot.
Grape Leaves at Nate's Deli
All due respect to Detroit and Milwaukee
but Cleveland is the Capitol of Corned Beef, USA. You need more than two
hands to count all the spots out here specializing in it. I haven't been able to get over to the more well known Slyman's Restaurant and Deli due to the fact when we visit they're always closed on both Thanksgiving and the following day which is always a Friday and then it's standard they're closed on the weekend. But there's plenty of other spots where you can get a corned beef sandwich that takes two hands to hold. Not just that but I feel like most of them serve a pretty similar product or at least it looks that way from pictures. I chose to check out Superior Restaurant due to good reviews and also just the looks of the place which from up above doesn't really look like a diner but it's a full fledged breakfast shack that feels from another era. It's reminiscent of similar eateries in Detroit as far as looks and menu goes. The corned beef sandwich was excellent. Will return for sure.
Corned Beef Sandwich at Superior Restaurant
Sabor Miami Cafe & Gallery
Regular readers probably know I'm picky when it comes to Cuban sandwiches. It's hard to find a great one outside of Florida. So I usually just make my own a couple times a year. Well my wife wanted a sandwich or something before we headed home on one of our visits and I found this cute little Cuban spot in a random part of town for her. The sandwich was pretty good, not great, but better than many.
Cuban Sandwich at Sabor Miami Cafe & Gallery
Old Fashion Hot Dogs
Sadly I just learned that our final stop here in Cleveland recently closed and that's too bad bc Old Fashion Hot Dogs was a classic stand that I enjoyed visiting on both of my visits. The type of place where the grease was forever embedded into the windows and the walls. They had the hotdogs on a roller in the front window just like so many other old time spots did and still do. The chili dogs were the big draw to this 24 hour diner that served folks from all walks of life. It opened in 1928 and was the type of place that most people who live in Cleveland had visited at least once. But like so many other spots it's going the way of condos. At a time you could find a spot like this in every Midwest town.
Chili Dog and Slaw Dog (with chili) at Old Fashion Hot Dogs