Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (2024)

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (1)

Cleveland's dining scene continues to grow and expand. After months of journeying through Cleveland's best, most exciting and newest restaurants, here is our 2024 list of Northeast Ohio's essential places to eat. Edited by Dillon Stewart

Cleveland’s top restaurants are redefining Midwest dining. At LJ Shanghai, it’s Shanghainese comfort food, and at Amba, it’s spicy Indian small plates. But spots like Slyman’s Restaurant and Deli, Salt and Fahrenheit keep us rooted in the dishes that made us a foodie city in the first place.

SUGGESTED: Check Out Cleveland's 10 Best New Restaurants

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (2)

Located:Ohio City’s Hingetown
Style of Cuisine:Live-Fire Mediterranean
Key Player:Chef-Owner Athan Zarnas

Have you heard of this Mediterranean small plate spot hidden away on Church Avenue yet? “We’ve been open for five years now, and people are still finding us all the time, which is great,” says chef-owner Athan Zarnas, who is likely lording over the open flames of the live fire. “Surprisingly, more out-of-towners dine with us than Clevelanders.” If you haven’t visited, you’re missing out on classics like the lamb ssam for two ($64), a build-your-own lettuce wrap dish with pulled meat, veggies, house sauces and ancient grains from the Mediterranean region. If you have stumbled upon the place, try a seasonal addition, like the spring menu’s pork chop milanese ($40), which diverts in the Thai direction for a butterflied, 12-ounce chop with a green curry sauce and accouterments like peppers, shallots and herbs. If you really want to taste the grill’s smoke, head for the rotating grilled or charred vegetables, which Zarnas says often absorb more flavor than meat. Right now, you’ll find grilled cabbage ($16) with yogurt, peanut dukkah and chili.2912 Church Ave., Cleveland,

Last Call:Every iteration of Alea’s seasonal menus feature a bright and buoyant panna cotta, which is light enough for the dessert-averse to enjoy.

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Located:Ohio City’s Hingetown
Style of Cuisine:Indian-inspired small plates
Key Players:Co-owners Douglas Katz and Todd Thompson

Don’t worry:The lights are up and the music is down — a bit. After a dramatic renovation of an old machine shop, a buzz engulfed the 6,000-square-foot restaurant. The industrial minimalist interior instantly became one of the city’s most transformative dining rooms. But dim lights and loud music, designed to starve the senses and heighten the smell of the spices, scared some. “We wanted to have this spirited, theme sort of feel,” says chef-owner Douglas Katz. “We wanted to create an adventure.” Luckily, small concessions didn’t stamp out an audacious soul. Shareable plates of soft clay bread ($6); beetroot raita yogurt ($11), a bright pink dip that’s sweet and tangy; and spicy sloppy Joe with keema venison-tomato curry ($19) work best in tandem by providing a dipping vessel and a creaminess that cuts the spice. Still, dishes such as the crispy puris ($13), a potato salad-stuffed wafer or the popcorn chicken ($16) flavored with barbecue sauce and serrano chilies stand alone. Any adventure benefits from a guide, so we suggest letting the chef-curated menus at least steer you in the right direction.1430 W. 28 St., Cleveland,

Dinner and Drinks:At Amba or its adjacent co*cktail lounge, order craft beverages such as the a5 ($14) with chai bourbon, mango puree, yogurt and orange liqueur or the tiki-adjacent a2 ($14).

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (4)

Located:Gordon Square
Seats:138, 100 outside
Style of Cuisine:Mediterranean with a heavy Greek influence
Key Player:Chef Cory Kobrinski

Astoria is known for its selection of cheese and charcuterie boards. But we start with the dolmades ($11), a rice-stuffed grape recipe passed down through a Greek associate’s family. The trio came dressed in a lemony ladolemono so tangy and bright that we almost forgot we weren’t in the sunny Greek Isles. Next, the lamb and ricotta meatballs ($29), served on pasta with a chunky tomato sauce, were designed by chef de cuisine Cory Kobrinski to be the antithesis of every overcooked “hockey puck” he’s ever eaten. “Taking out eggs and incorporating ricotta cheese creates this super-crispy outside, this light, fluffy inside,” he says. We end with the portokalopita ($8), a dense golden cake doused in candied-
orange syrup. The sweet citrus and warm tongue-tingle of cinnamon and clove made us expect to see the sun when we looked out the window.5417 Detroit Ave., Cleveland,

Get Schooled:Astoria’s cheesemonger Tom Leguard teaches a monthly chess school on wine and cheese pairings.

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Located:Larchmere Boulevard; Chagrin Falls
Seats: 32
Style of Cuisine:TraditionalBrazilian
Key Players:Owners Carla Batista and Gustavo Nogueira

Opened in 2015 in a 120-year-old Victorian on Larchmere Boulevard, Batuqui is more than a Brazilian steakhouse. Hailing from Bahia and Minas Gerais, regions renowned for their culinary prowess, Carla Batista and Gustavo Nogueira present traditional flavors like feijoada ($38), a quintessential black bean stew; pao de queijo ($11.50), cheese bread from Minas Gerais; and the national co*cktail, caipirinha ($11). “Cooking is a cherished family legacy,” says Batista.12706 Larchmere Blvd., Cleveland; 17 E Orange St., Chagrin Falls,

Bigger table:We’re sad to hear that Batuqui is leaving its cozy Larchmere home. Luckily, its new spot is the 1922-built former St. Paul’s Evangelical with stained glass windows and tall ceilings that will expand seating from 32 to 110. The project is set to be completed by the end of the year. Here is the co*cktail (and the steak) you must try during your visit.

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Seats: 200
Style of Cuisine:Midwest Comfort
Key Players:Owner Andrew Watts, Chef-owner Vinnie Cimino

It’s been a big year for the folks at Cordelia. Since being namedlast year’s Best New Restaurant, they've been doing anything but resting on their laurels. For one thing, the restaurant is still packed to the gills every night — and oh, yeah, chef-partner Vinnie Cimino was nominated fora James Beard Award. You could say things have been going well.2058 E. Fourth St., Cleveland,

All-time favorites:First-timers and indecisive visitors should opt for the Bellie Up, Cordelia’s tasting menu. The kitchen staff chooses six to seven dishes, including a few fan favorites. “We like to change and do different things,” Cimino says, “but the hits are hits for a reason.” Dig into crowd pleasers like the carrot muhummara, the corned lamb and the burger box, a splittable cheeseburger modeled after White Castle’s sliders. Here are a few more facts about the award-winning restaurant.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (7)

Located:Ohio City
Style of Cuisine:Modern Wood-Fired Pizza
Key Players:Owner Vincent Morelli

In a building you could almost miss off the beaten path, Ohio City’s ultra-cool, artfully branded pizza shop would be right at home in a bigger city like Los Angeles or New York, where chef and entrepreneur Vincent Morelli learned to make pizza. Thankfully, this wood fired pizzeria is all Cleveland’s.5010 Lorain Ave., Cleveland,

Try This:Sunday gravy ($18). Inspired by his grandparents’ Sunday pasta dinners, Morelli uses his grandmother’s meatball recipe. “This pizza is basically that Sunday pasta sauce but built onto a pizza,” he says. “The smell and taste are nostalgic for me.”

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (8)

Located:Shaker Square
Style of Cuisine:French
Key Players:Owner Brandon Chrostowski, Chef Juwati Jackson

In November,Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute hit its first double-digit birthday. But things go further back for founder Brandon Chrostowski. “Ten years of being open,” Chrostowski says. “It was 10 years before that, trying to get it off the ground.” The shop stands out in the city’s dining scene for both its stellar French cuisine and for its work training formerly incarcerated Clevelanders. Techniques here are bold and flavorful, noticeable in classically hoity-toity dishes like the garlicky escargots ($14) and down-to-earth entrees like the mushroomy le burger ($36), served with a side of crispy, fancified goose-fat fries. (Tip: pair this dish with a glass of Edwins own cabernet sauvignon/merlot ($11).) But the restaurant’s most popular dish — a highlight for customers and the classes of trainees that cycle through Edwins alike — resonates in its combination of technique and flavor: the paupiettes de merou ($35), a fine slice of grouper wound in a delicate, paper-thin potato wrap, served slathered in a buttery sauce. It’s a dish of pure skill — and it’s emblematic of this restaurant that’s thoughtfully centered in skill-sharing and community engagement.13101 Shaker Square, Cleveland,

“Eat Well, Do Good”:Edwins’ mission is emblazoned on its menus.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (9)

Opened:2002 (Moved Downtown in 2023)
Seats: 700
Style of Cuisine:Upscale American
Key Players:Chef Rocco Whalen

Since relocating from Tremont to Downtown in July, Rocco Whalen’s restaurant in the heart of Public Square has (re-)established itself asthesexy, chic spot to impress a date, land a client, celebrate a major life event or just treat yo’self. With rooftop season here, Whalen is dreaming up ways to one-up himself.55 Public Square, Cleveland,

Try This:Seafood towers ($60-$160). Lavish displays of fresh bounty like oysters, crab legs and Maine lobster tails are accentuated by citrus mignonette, horseradish remoulade or chimichurri. “Sauces are a really big deal to me,” he says, “and there just are so many layers to her flavors.”

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (10)

Seats: 45
Style of Cuisine:Sushi Bar
Key Players:Chef-owner Dante Boccuzzi

Cleveland star chef Dante Boccuzzi established his Tremont-basem*nt hotspot by committing to consistency and sourcing top-notch fish weekly from Japan. “We keep all these signature staple dishes, because that’s why people fight to get in,” Boccuzzi says.2247 Professor Ave. B, Cleveland,

Try This:Eye of the Tiger ($14). A tangy blend of pickled shiitake mushrooms, pickled burdock root and fresh-as-can-be oysters, with dollops of spicy mayo and eel sauce in the center, make up this edgy specialty roll. “When you make it, it looks like a pair of eyes staring at you,” Boccuzzi says. Here are a few more dishes to try.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (11)

Seats: About 30
Style of Cuisine:Sushi Bar
Key Players:Owner Johanes Jonathan,Executive chef Ryan Endrian

Greater Cleveland’s best ramen and, arguably, sushi lives in a strip mall 20 minutes east of Downtown. Inside, you’ll find a bar manned by sushi chefs ready to guide you through rare offerings and over-the-top rolls, while servers hustle out ramen with a range of complex flavors that range from sweet and savory to knock-your-pants-off spicy.Perfect for Cleveland weather is the spicy tonkotsu ramen ($16.99) with a soft-boiled egg, pork belly, kikurage mushrooms and a house blend of nine chilies (plus ghost pepper if you dare to surpass spice level 3). “I never go higher than two,” says owner Johanes Jonathansays.34302 Euclid Ave., Unit 1-2, Willoughby,

No stone unturned:Executive chef Ryan Endrian and his staff are students of sashimi, maki and nigiri. Fanatical about every detail, the team flies in fish from Tokyo and even tests the water quality to make sure it’s optimal for the sushi rice. “There are only a few ingredients in nigiri, so there’s nowhere to hide,” says Endrian. Learn more about Issho Ni's forthcoming Cleveland expansion.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (12)

Located:Chagrin Falls
Style of Cuisine:Italian
Key Players:Owner Rick Doody

Restaurateur Rick Doody and Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse proprietor Joe Saccone opened JoJo’s Bar with one goal: to establish a destination eatery in the former space of the beloved Gamekeeper’s Taverne — one that modernized the checkered-tablecloth, marinara-drenched steakhouse. The decor blends classic Italian and Hunting Valley-
inspired equestrian elements, while the menu reflects the knowledge of Italian cuisine Doody developed as owner of Bar Italia and the now-shuttered Bravo/Brio. The Saffron Shrimp Garganelli ($17 appetizer/$29 entree) is a painstaking recreation of sauteed shrimp in a subtly spiced saffron cream sauce over the dish’s namesake pasta that Doody and his wife first enjoyed in Florence. “After trying for a long time, we were able to perfect it,” Doody says. But the bite we’re still craving is the spicy vodka rigatoni ($14 appetizer/$26 entree). The thick sauce, which packs a respectable kick that company culinary director Patrick Granzier attributes to the Calabrian peppers, is so good that we scraped the bowl to get every drop.87 West St., Chagrin Falls,

Saucy Secret:A JoJo’s chef befriended a bartender at the Las Vegas outpost of renowned New York restaurant Carbone to learn the key ingredient in the eatery’s signature spicy vodka sauce: low-acid New Jersey tomatoes.

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Located:Ohio City
Seats: 35
Style of Cuisine:Farm-to-Table Brunch
Key Players:Chef-owner Karen Small

At thisOhio City brunch spot,Karen Smallemploys the farm-to-table practices that made hernow-shuttered Flying Figbeloved. Her spin on regional comfort staples is enough to coax even avowed morning-haters out of bed. If that’s you, don’t worry: Juneberry is adding dinner soon.3900 Lorain Ave., Cleveland,

Try This:Ohio spelt pancakes ($13). Small’s love of whole wheat in a pancake inspired the addition of spelt, a grain very much like whole wheat that “gives it kind of a warmth, kind of a heartiness without being heavy — they’re just light as a feather,” she says. Here are a few more dishes to try.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (14)

Style of Cuisine:Shanghainese
Key Players:Chef Edmond Tsui, Owner LJ

If LJ Shanghai is open, you’re likely to see — and hear — the restaurant’s namesake, LJ. And she’s likely to be very busy. At the tail end of a bustling Tuesday night shift, she sits for an eight-minute interview and shares the inspiration behind the shop: “I craved my hometown food,” she says. “It’s my comfort food.” Her soup dumplings ($8) became famous at neighborhood potlucks before she and her husband, Edmond Tsui, opened the restaurant in 2017. The dumplings are just a part of this restaurant’s offering of mouthwatering textures and flavors. There are also the light, crunchy cucumbers ($7), the flavorful, spicy (but not-too-spicy) chaoshou ($10), the meaty, chewy pan-fried beef noodles ($17) and the fall-off-the-bone, bite-sized sweet and sour ribs ($11). It’s a menu of uncompromising quality and careful selection, showcasing an authentic kind of Chinese food beyond the iterative fast-casual and takeout box spots of every neighborhood. It’s special beyond the flavors, too. “When I run this business, I’m trying not to just bring food to the people,” LJ explains, “also I want to bring our culture to the neighborhood.” 3142 Superior Ave., Cleveland,

150:The number of soup dumpling orders LJ makes on a busy day.

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Located:Cleveland Heights
Seats: 100
Style of Cuisine:French Brasserie
Key Player:Chef-Owner Zack Bruell

In a quaint carriage house on the campus of Case Western University, chef and restaurateur Zack Bruell’s quintessential French brasserie has stood out since opening in 2008 for its authentic approach, extensive wine list, tableside cheese cart and rich, complex flavors.11401 Bellflower Road, Cleveland,

Try This:Duck confit ($34). In Bruell’s version of the traditional dish, meat is cured; cooked slow; doused in duck fat and then seared until crispy before service, when it’s finished with a sherry vinegar gastrique and whole grain mustard sauce. The process takes three days. “Confit is old school cooking,” says Bruell. “We started this restaurant doing dishes that you see in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s or 100 years ago.” Here are a few more dishes to try.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (16)

Located:Ohio City
Style of Cuisine:Modern delicatessen
Key Players:Chef-owners Jeremy Umansky, Allie La Valle

The past inspires this Hingetown deli in an 1800s-era firehouse. Glass cases display fresh meat, pickles and pastries, and an open kitchen offers new takes on sandwiches, salads and desserts. Co-owner Jeremy Umansky’s biggest
inspiration, though, is helping Clevelanders discover food that is truly local. Dishes like the pastrami sandwich ($17) —
a fan-favorite evidenced by the 200 pounds of brisket the deli shreds through weekly — and the dill-powered matzo ball soup ($8) feature ingredients sourced from the West Side Market, Port Clinton, Medina County and more. Along with regional family recipes, Larder showcases the abundance of ingredients the Cleveland area has to offer. “Any story we want to tell of who was here, who is here, who will be here, we can tell through ingredients that we get locally,” he says. “We’re doubling down on who we are and the resources that we have here.”1455 W. 29th St., Cleveland,

Koji Pioneer:Despite looking back, Umansky literally wrote the James Beard-recognized book — Koji Alchemy — on
the mold-based fermentation process that drives the restaurant’s best bites.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (17)

Style of Cuisine:Modern American
Key Player:Chef Brad Race

A meal at The Last Page takes you around the world in one sitting. Your guide, interim executive chef Brad Race, has studied food in New York, Los Angeles, Europe, Asia and more. Your map is an impressively cohesive menu that streamlines similar flavors from different continents to create a melting pot of cuisines. Globetrot among courses, or even in the same meal, with the brulee French toast ($14) at brunch, New Orleans classic shrimp po-boy ($17) at lunch, or Australian lamb chops ($48) for dinner. “From Day One, we never really wanted to fit in,” Race says. “We wanted to stand out, to be somewhere that people can talk about.” 100 Park Ave., Orange,

Smoke and Mirrors:co*cktails like the flaming mai tai ($14) and The Last Manhattan ($17), served in applewood smoke, complete The Last Page’s experiential dining approach.

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Style of Cuisine:Cleveland BBQ
Key Player:Owner Michael Symon

Barbecue typically makes you think of Texas, the Carolinas or Kansas City. But since 2016, Michael Symon has worked to change that with his Mabel’s BBQ on East Fourth Street. Symon’s Cleveland-style barbecue hinges on Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard, a brown mustard that has been a staple at Cleveland’s baseball games since the 1920s and adds a tangy kick to the Cleveland BBQ sauce. Additionally, Texas-style sausage is replaced by Eastern European kielbasa, perhaps best on the “Polish Girl ($18),” where the sausage is topped with coleslaw and pulled pork. In the smoker, Ohio fruitwood injects flavor into the pork belly ($17), served with a maple mustard glaze, or the brisket ($19), which is served as a choice of fatty or lean (we like it fatty). Barbecue has boomed in recent years, but only Mabel’s has explored how Cleveland’s unique tastes and heritage can leave a mark on the cuisine.2050 E. Fourth St., Cleveland,

Whiskey Island:Mabel’s bourbon list features more than 200 bottles, including a full list of Symon’s own River Roots Barrel Co., which is bottled locally.

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Style of Cuisine:Steakhouse
Key Players:Owner Malisse Sinito, Chef Brandon Veres

A handful of restaurants vie for the honor of best steak in Cleveland, but only one pairs that hunk of beef with the most incredible atmosphere — and that’s Downtown’s Marble Room. Dining at Marble Room is truly about the full experience. The restaurant’s marble columns and vaulted ceilings make use of a former bank built in the late 1800s by the three sons of President James Garfield. “We wanted to turn people’s expectations upside down a little,” says Malisse Sinito, president of Savour Hospitality Group. “We wanted to re-imagine this opulent experience in a more modern way, or a more sexy way that’s different than what you would expect.” But executive chef Brandon Veres’ menu ensures a trip to Marble Room isn’t all flash. The 18-ounce Delmonico steak ($88) is cooked to a medium rare as is the 12-ounce filet ($59). Even better were the shareable side dishes, like potatoes au gratin ($14) or Brussel sprouts ($17), coated in bacon, goat cheese and balsamic reduction. “We’re here to offer an experience,” says Veres.623 Euclid Ave., Cleveland,

10:That’s how many different steaks are on the regular menu at Marble Room, although some might be added as specials.

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Located:Fairport Harbor
Style of Cuisine:Spanish-Inspired Tapas
Key Player:Chef Rusty James Phillips

Rusty James Phillips’intimate small plates restaurant is as far off the beaten path as the beach town, Fairport Harbor, that he calls home. Like that beach, its location makes it an underappreciated gem. Phillips elevates the familiar, like in Punk Rock Chicken ($16), a spicy thigh from Peninsula’s Heritage Farms served with potatoes and citrus habanero BBQ baked beans. The chef is often spicing things up, figuratively and literally. The mussels ($18), for example, sit in Mexican chorizo, white bean and a paprika-infused tomato broth rather than garlic and wine. “The idea is treating high end ingredients like the venison (a $25 tenderloin served with bok choy) with as much care as the humble chicken,” Phillips says. With 14 craft co*cktails, including the Stargazer ($14), a passionfruit Arnold Palmer-like tiki, the beverage program alone is worth the drive — and also be sure to hit the zero-proof Mambo No. 5 ($14), with Aperol, guava grapefruit cordial, pink peppercorn and lime.320 High St., Fairport Harbor,

New Possibilities:Phillips is readying a new concept directly next door to the Pompadour with a wine bar and tastings.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (21)

Style of Cuisine:Pie and Seasonal Midwestern
Key Player:OwnerBrian Ruthsatz,Executive chef Josh Erickson

Since 2018, Cleveland native Brian Ruthsatz has dished out a few exciting concepts on Lakewood’s Madison Avenue. He started with shareable, gourmet sliders and creative twists on pies. Today, however, Rood has shifted from sliders to hearty Midwest eats with seasonal ingredients. (Psst... the sliders are coming back, too!) With a camper serving station and an art deco reader board, the decor is Miami-inspired. “It’s fun,” says Ruthsatz. “You smile as you walk in.” 17001 Madison Ave., Lakewood,

Midwest Dreaming:Executive chef Josh Erickson wants to Midwest Americana on its head. When wunderkind chef Rachelle Murphy handed him the reigns eight months ago, razor clams were his first addition. “He loves Asian influences,” Ruthsatz says. “We love when people say ‘I’ve never heard of this.’”

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (22)

Seats:82, 20 outside
Style of Cuisine:Tapas
Key Players:Chef Jill Vedaa, Co-owner Jessica Parkison

For eight years,the powerhouse foodie duo of Jill Vedaa and Jessica Parkison have kept their Lakewood restaurant Salt running at top-notch levels. The mod small plates haven periodically launches new menus and currently offers a Northern Italian slate of dishes, organized in neat “meat,” “fish” and “vegetable” categories. But no matter the time of year, you’ll find Vedaa’s three favorite dishes (one per category): the calamari with a flavorful coconut coriander glaze ($15), creamy white bean puree ($15) and yummy chicken liver pate ($13). These are reliable, consistent dishes in this reliable, consistent restaurant — one that’s inspired other local chefs. “I think it’s created a little subculture of small plates across a lot of menus,” Vedaa says. “I love that, because the food scene isn’t gonna change unless people lean into it and start changing the way they do food, and I think that we’ve definitely had an impact on that.”17625 Detroit Ave., Lakewood,

Growing Up:The James Beard-recognized restaurateurs are expanding with the now-open Poppy in Cleveland’s Larchmere neighborhood (on our 10 Best New Restaurants list) and the on-hold Evelyn in Gordon Square, a Spanish tapas and paella approach.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (23)

Seats:About 30
Style of Cuisine:Old school deli
Key Players:Owner Freddie Slyman, chef Sam Slyman

Slyman’s isn’t just corned beef ($19.50). Of course, when the lunch rush brings an influx of families, laborers, office workers and cops, pink shrapnels of brisket — brined with a proprietary, garlic-heavy recipe from Grobbel Meats in Detroit — fly off the automatic slicer, as frantic workers pile fistfuls on rye bread. “The taste is unique to Cleveland,” says owner Freddie Slyman, son of the late founder Joe Slyman. But too many overlook the pastrami ($19.50), a gorgeous sandwich of thinly sliced, blushing-red beef and charred brown peppercorn. Grobbel Meats smokes navel brisket, from the underside of the cattle, for months before Slyman’s tosses it on the grill for a bacon-flavored crisp before plating. Order rye with mustard and a side of horseradish sauce. “It’s a family-run place, which adds to the ambiance and mystique and originality, but also we know exactly how to cook the corned beef. Exactly how to slice the pastrami,” Slyman says. “That consistency is key to having a traditional, memorable restaurant.”3106 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland,

Family Matters:The next generation of Slymans, Nadia and Meredith, are already working behind the slicer.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (24)

Located:Bay Village
Seats:52, 30 outside
Style of Cuisine:Upscale Americana
Key Players:Owners Mike and Tess Smith, Chef Julie Chimes

Since starting in the industry at 15 years old, Mike Smith has been dedicated to hospitality and food service. After years of catering, Smith and his wife opened their cozy, intimate Bay Village eatery just 10 months before COVID-19 changed the world. Since then, they’ve worked to create a space that’s spiffy but casual, fancy not stuffy. The BBQ beer braised short rib ($32), fork-tender and served over cheddar grits, is a menu constant. But the restaurant’s high-low dichotomy might be best exemplified in the famed loaded lobster tots ($14), which are topped with bacon, scallions, cheese sauce and chipotle aioli. “We turned something that shouldn’t really be fancy into something fancy,” says Smith. “That’s a lot of what we do. I think it shows who we really are.”583 Dover Center Road, Bay Village,

Outdoor Muse:The inspiration for the lobster tots hit Smith like a lightning bolt while sitting in his backyard one day.

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (25)

Located:Cleveland Heights
Seats: 100
Style of Cuisine:Neapolitan Pizza
Key Players:PizzaiolaMarc-Aurele Buholzer

Marc-Aurele Buholzer fell in love with making traditional, chewy, thin-crust Neapolitan pizza 15 years ago — and he’s been honing his skills ever since. He opened Vero in Cleveland Heights in 2012 butrecently expanded into the newly empty space next door, allowing him to add a full bar and double the pizzeria’s seating capacity.12421 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights,

Getting it right:For a decade, Buholzer was the only pizzamaker in the kitchen, meticulously hand-fashioning every pie himself. But Vero’s expansion meant growth behind the scenes, too. “I was still perfecting my craft before I wanted to bring other people into the fold and teach them what I was doing,” he says. He still rolls out every single dough ball, but others now work alongside him to top and bake the pizzas.Learn more about Buholzer's pizza mastery (and the name of his sourdough starter).

Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (26)

Located:Cleveland Heights
Style of Cuisine:Mediterranean Mezze
Key Players:Co-owners Douglas Katz and Todd Thompson

How do you maintain a buzz? If anyone knows, it’s owner-chef Douglas Katz, who operated Fire in Shaker Heights for 20 years. “After a few years, your staff can grow on their own, and you’re able to step away a little bit,” says Katz, who has since opened Amba, the dark sister to Zhug’s bright banquet-lined dining room. “Exploring other things keeps the juices flowing.” After five years (three outside the pandemic), the Cleveland Heights Mediterranean spot is as exciting as ever. Build-your-bite remains the best approach to a menu still centered around its namesake green, spicy chutney. Dip flatbread ($7) into hummuses topped with nigella seed and burnt onion ($13) or curried lamb and apricot ($16). Pair that with classics like the smoked octopus ($19) and purple potato in saffron aioli and the beef kofte ($18) with smoked feta, shaved fennel and radish. Cover a new addition like the Pacific lingcod cakes ($18) with horseradish, pickled shallots and frisee in creamy labneh ($7). After nearly three decades, Katz remains a symbol of new sensations and infinite possibilities.12413 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights,

Hiding in Plain Sight:After looking around the world for the best tahini, the cuisine’s essential sneaky ingredient, Katz found a company here in Ohio, SoCo (formerly named Seeds of Collaboration).

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Cleveland's 25 Best Restaurants (2024)
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