Lolita, photo © Joe Glick Photography
2058 E. 4th St.; 216-621-5652 or lolabistro.com. Lolita, 900 Literary Rd.; 216-771-5652.
F&W Best New Chef 1998 Michael Symon has been busy. He recently moved his flagship restaurant, Lola, to a larger space in downtown Cleveland where he continues to prepare the ambitious, playful food that made his name, tucking meat from tender beef cheeks into pierogi and using foie gras as a filling for bratwurst. He also turned Lola’s former location into the more casual Lolita, serving excellent European-inspired comfort food like house-smoked seafood and gnocchi Bolognese.
1835 Fulton Rd.; 216-694-2122 or momocho.com.
Locals come to Momocho’s kitschy dining room and big garden for cucumber margaritas with rims coated with chile-lime salt and Eric Williams’s modern Mexican food. His tweaks on traditional recipes include six different kinds of guacamole (including one made with goat cheese and poblano chiles) and a version of the iconic tortilla dish chilaquiles decked out with smoked trout, crab and a fried egg.
Light Bistro, photo © Joe Jarrett
3) Light Bistro
2801 Bridge Ave.; 216-771-7130 or lightbistro.com.
This March, chef Matthew Mathlage opened Light Bistro in the space that once housed Parker’s New American Bistro, the acclaimed restaurant of local trailblazer Parker Bosley. Mathlage’s menu of small plates and larger dishes meant for sharing encompass everything from pickled shrimp with chile and lemongrass to the strange-sounding but tasty grilled ostrich with rhubarb risotto and braised peanuts.
4) Babushka’s Kitchen
9199 Olde Eight Rd.; 330-468-0402 or babushkafoods.com.
Cleveland has plenty of restaurants that reflect Ohio’s Eastern European heritage, but this tiny place, about 20 minutes outside the city, stands out for its perfect pierogi and sauerkraut. No one should leave without downing a plate of those delicate half-moons, a heap of buttery cabbage-laden noodles and half a dozen loglike cookies with fruit-filling called kolachky.
13220 Shaker Sq.; 216-921-3473 or firefoodanddrink.com.
Fire serves a standout brunch, including an eggy crêpe filled with braised pork in a zippy chimichurri, airy lemon pancakes and flat bread topped with house-made pancetta. And dinner is just as good, with dishes like Great Lakes–caught walleye with mustard greens and saffron aioli. Credit goes to local and seasonal food-devotee Douglas Katz, who gets much of his larder from the North Union Farmers Market.
6) Flying Fig
2523 Market Ave.; 216-241-4243 or theflyingfig.com.
Chef Karen Small’s Flying Fig isn’t on the tourist trail—which pleases her regulars, who like keeping the place for themselves. The reason: fun, seasonal dishes like her crunchy tempura-battered green beans with curried yogurt and pineapple caramel.
7) Phnom Penh
13124 Lorain Ave., 216-251-1230 or ohiorestaurant.com; 1929 W. 25th St., 216-357-2951.
It got a bit easier to nab a table at this Cambodian restaurant (beloved by local foodies like Laura Taxel, author of Cleveland Ethnic Eats) when it sprouted a downtown location in 2006. Both spots keep the decor simple and focus on the revelatory food, such as samlaw machou phnom penh (a tangy stew laced with tamarind and pineapple) and stir-fries based on a pungent paste of lime leaves, galangal, and lemongrass.
2221 Professor Ave.; 216-344-0547 or lagotremont.com.
This polished Tremont restaurant, which opened less than a year ago, specializes in Northern Italian cooking. Gnocchi gets tossed with sweet corn, lobster and truffles; still more lobster is tucked into ravioli and served with a saffron-Champagne broth. But the food is not all haute: There are four pizzas, including one with smoked mozzarella, coppa and roasted tomato.
9) The Baricelli Inn
2203 Cornell Rd.; 216-791-6500 or baricelli.com.
Third-generation chef-restaurateur Paul Minnillo has been practicing seasonal simplicity at this 19th-century Little Italy brownstone for more than 20 years. This June, he transformed his menu, taking his cooking in a more casual direction. That means small or large portions of pappardelle with morels and asparagus or spaghetti tossed with crab. Minnillo is serious about affinage (the art of aging cheese), so be sure to order his cheese plate at the restaurant or at the inn.
12405 Mayfield Rd.; 216-707-1055.
Husband-and-wife owners Mark and Giovanna Daverio have impressive pedigrees—he has worked at Paul Bertolli’s Oliveto in Oakland, California, she at San Francisco’s Zuni Café?. They show off their talent and training in a minimalist dining room in Little Italy, where they serve everything from a classic bucatini all’amatriciana to a creative chitarra pasta with smoked trout and leek cream.
Markets, Snack Stops and Bars
1) Sweet Mosaic
777 Starkweather Ave.; 216-622-7773.
Heather Haviland worked in the pastry kitchen at Fire and Parker’s New American Bistro before launching Sweet Mosaic bakery in 2004. She now sells her sweets both at the Shaker Square location of the North Union Farmers Market and Lucky’s Café?, a funky coffee shop in Tremont.
2) North Union Farmers Market
several locations; northunionfarmersmarket.org.
You can see why Cleveland’s best chefs love this producers-only market: heirloom grains, peas, lettuces, chickens and ducks. A few local restaurants have stands here, including one run by Koko Bakery, which makes a tasty curried beef–filled bun.
3) McNulty’s Bier Markt
1948 W. 25th St.; 216-344-9944 or bier-markt.com.
Scantily clad waitresses aside, this two-year-old joint stands out for its seemingly endless list of primarily Belgian beers. In the fall, it will start serving Belgian-inspired bar food.
1515 W. 3rd St.; doubles from $229; 216-623-1300 or ritzcarlton.com.
Cleveland’s most luxurious hotel, with gorgeous views of Lake Erie, is close to the Warehouse District and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2) Glidden House
1901 Ford Dr.; doubles from $139; 800-759-8358 or gliddenhouse.com.
A cozier alternative to the Ritz, this 97-year-old mansion gives guests a choice between modern and vintage rooms and provides a free breakfast.