Best of Cleveland 2012

Food & Drink

Best Food Truck

Umami Moto

Prowling the curbs of Cleveland, Umami Moto has quickly built a following for its tasty Thai, Vietnamese, and Asian-fusion fare, including pad Thai, massaman curry on rice, and a Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich made with pulled pork. Partners Jae Stulock and Sandy Madachik launched the rig in 2010; they recently added the bricks-and-mortar Hipp, at the Agora, to their empire as well. But the mobile feast rolls on all over town. Keep tabs on the city's favorite gourmet food truck on their website and via Facebook and Twitter.

umamimototruck.com,

Facebook.com/umamimoto,

twitter.com/umamimoto

Staff Pick: Umami Moto


Best New Restaurant & Best Happy Hour

Noodlecat

Since the day it opened in July 2011, clever Noodlecat has tickled palates with a slurpalicious blend of Japanese flavors and contemporary American style. Drawing equal inspiration from Tokyo shops and local, seasonal ingredients, chef-owner Jonathon Sawyer wouldn't have it any other way. While Noodlecat's prices are always moderate, daily happy-hour offerings seal the deal: bargain wings, noodle bowls, and steamed buns go down easy with deals on sake, cocktails, and those $1 cans of Black Label beer.

234 Euclid Ave., 216-589-0007,

noodlecat.com

Staff Picks: Best New Restaurant: Orale; Best Happy Hour: Flying Fig


Best Upscale Restaurant

Lola

The crown jewel in Cleveland's dining scene continues to draw a crowd of national foodies to downtown's East Fourth Street. Some are attracted by the ever-growing celebrity of chef-owner Michael Symon. Others seek the bragging rights that come with dining at an Iron Chef's restaurant. But the smart ones are drawn by the promise of sophistication, innovation, and culinary legerdemain: an approach that turns heartland faves like bologna, bacon, and pierogi into points of inspiration.

2058 East Fourth St., 216-621-5652, lolabistro.com

Staff Pick: Crop Bistro


Best Beer, Best Brewery, & Best Single Taste of Cleveland

Great Lakes Brewing Company

Sit down with an out-of-towner, and you'll find they generally know three things about C-Town: It has a lake, it has the Rock Hall, and it has Great Lakes beer. In our book, that moves Pat and Dan Conway's 24-year-old brewery from the realm of mere "attraction" and into the realm of icon. And why not? This sudsy ambassador is now quenching parched palates in more than 13 states and the nation's capital. Meanwhile, the brewery produces more than 100,000 barrels of lager and ale annually. As for which of them is the best — the ubiquitous Dortmunder Gold? The legendary Christmas Ale? Or seasonal specialties like Blackout Stout? — that stays between you, your god, and your liver.

2516 Market Ave., 216-771-4404,

greatlakesbrewing.com

Staff Picks:Best Beer: Commodore Perry IPA (Great Lakes Brewing Company); Best Brewery: Buckeye Beer Engine; Best Single Taste of Cleveland: Slovenian Sausage from Raddell's Sausage Shop


Best Restaurant for Romance & Best Seafood

Pier W

If Pier W's perennial place at the top of our "Most Romantic" list is any measure, at least half of all Clevelanders must have gotten involved, engaged or, at the very least lucky following a visit to this cliffside showpiece. No wonder, really, with a menu of extraordinary seafood from executive chef Regan Reik, filled with treats like cedar-planked salmon, seared diver scallops, and raw oysters on the half shell. Even the Grand Sunday Brunch buffet is a heartthrob. Enjoyed in combo with the sophisticated vibe, well-stocked bar, and eye-popping view of the downtown skyline, it's no surprise that a million romances have been launched at this ship-shaped star.

12700 Lake Ave.,

Lakewood, 216-228-2250,

selectrestaurants.com

Staff Picks: Best Restaurant for Romance: L'Albatros; Best Seafood: Pier W


Best Chef

Michael Symon

The love affair continues between Cleveland and our hometown hero. Even if we were overrun with national celebrities (which we are not, so far), Michael Symon would be a standout: for his talent, his influence, and especially for the way he's maintained his Cleveland street cred in the face of fame and fortune. We all know the legend: A former St. Ed's wrestler heads off to a prestigious New York culinary school, then returns to his hometown where he works hard, plans smart, and ultimately launches a culinary revolution. Along the way, Symon racked up the top honors in his field, including a James Beard Award as the Midwest's best chef. He also gained a foothold on network TV and extended his brand with concepts ranging from gourmet burger joints to Lola, this city's flagship restaurant. In the process, Symon has done more to raise our self-esteem than all of Cleveland's sports stars, business wonks, and politicians combined. That's why he remains not only the city's Best Chef: He's Cleveland's best ambassador.

Staff Pick: Jonathon Sawyer


Best New Chef

Chris Hodgson

Even before he opens the doors at his first bricks-and-mortar restaurant (downtown's Hodges, coming any minute now to 668 Euclid Avenue), Chris Hodgson was Cleveland's choice for the city's best new chef. Such is the power of food trucks: Hodgson's two-year-old Dim and Den Sum and one-year-old Hodge Podge have taken the city by storm, bringing fish tacos and fig burgers to the masses while launching a street-food revolution that isn't done yet. But like most overnight sensations, 26-year-old Hodgson is anything but an overnighter. He went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Arizona, then put in three years at award-winning kitchens throughout the country (including the seminal New York gastropub the Spotted Pig) before returning to his hometown. Last summer, Hodgson joined the ranks of fellow chefs like Michael Symon and Jonathon Sawyer as the city's flagbearer on national TV: He and his team finished a close second in the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. We can't wait to see what Hodgson accomplishes when he stays in one place.

Staff Pick: Chris Hodgson


Best Place to Eat on a Budget, Best Place for Cheap Beer & Best Hot Dog

Happy Dog

Why kick around the shanty spooning beans out of a can when you can head over to Happy Dog? For a mere five bucks you can score a quarter-pound tube steak with a choice of 50 crazy toppings ranging from Bertman's Original Ballpark mustard to Korean kimchee. (Can't decide? Check in with the barkeep for a list of "suggestive wieners.") If you want tater tots — and yes, you do want tater tots — throw in an extra $3. Then lean back and dig the live entertainment: everything from top-shelf people-watching to polka happy hour. Wash it down with a grape pop or a Pabst, and you've got yourself a fine night on the town for hardly any money. Don't call us "cheap." Call us smart.

5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474,

happydogcleveland.com

Staff Picks: Best Place to Eat on a Budget: Sittoo's; Best Place for Cheap Beer: McCarthy's Ale House; Best Hot Dog: Happy Dog


Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant & Best Milkshakes

Tommy's

This longtime Coventry Village anchor is a friendly destination for anyone who eats — be they herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore. That said, you'll go a long way without finding more wholesome, delicious, meat-free fare than what comes out of this kitchen: everything from salad bowls brimming with sunflower seeds and sprouts in a macrobiotic dressing to boffo 20-ounce milkshakes made with local dairy products. (Fun fact: Rolling Stone named one of those cool, creamy concoctions the "Best Milkshake East of the Mississippi" waaay back in 1972!) Other meat-free options include tofu, tempeh, seitan, and spinach pies; plenty of the fare is vegan-friendly too.

1824 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-7757, tommyscoventry.com

Staff Picks: Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant: Udupi Café; Best Milkshake: Tommy's


Best Buffet

Brasa Grill

"Abundance" is the key word at Brasa Grill, Cleveland's first (and so far, only) Brazilian-style churrascaria. Even before the gauchos start swooping in with 16 types of skewered meats, you will be tempted by a vast lineup of impeccably presented and impressively fresh starters: marinated green beans, hearts of palm, plush composed salads, pastas, shrimp, mussels, olives, cheeses, and even sushi. It's such a treat that some diners come for the salad bar and skip the meat entirely. If that doesn't earn Best Of cred, what will?

1300 West Ninth St., 216-575-0699, brasagrillsteakhouse.com

Staff Pick: Kan Zaman


Best Coffee Shop & Best Tasting Coffee

Phoenix Coffee

Phoenix has been keeping Clevelanders caffeinated for more than 20 years, relying on great quality, personalized service, and quirky promotions to maintain its standing as the top java provider. These days, the magic comes pouring out of four "coffee sanctuaries" around town: organically evolving retail locations where well-trained baristas turn freshly roasted beans into rich, silky drinks. Phoenix's empire also includes a commercial roastery, a mail-order business, and a growing list of wholesale accounts: All are part of what CEO Sarah Wilson-Jones calls a mission of championing great coffee and making culture and community in the process.

Various locations including the flagship café at 2287 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-932-8227,

phoenixcoffee.com

Staff Picks: Best Coffee Shop: Gypsy Beans & Baking Co.; Best Tasting Coffee: Phoenix Coffee


Best Breakfast

Lucky's

At this Tremont anchor, chef-owner Heather Haviland serves up the day's most important meal in style. How about a sandwich on housemade bread, loaded up with farm-fresh eggs and melty cheese? For lighter appetites, maybe a blueberry corn muffin with a steamy cuppa joe? On weekends, the offerings go grand: everything from housemade granola to waffles, pancakes, omelets, and curried tofu. That it's all served up in a space as cozy as your favorite bathrobe just adds to the joy.

777 Starkweather, 216-622-7773,

luckyscafe.com

Staff Pick: Carnegie Kitchen


Best Brunch

The Beachland

You'll find more than great music at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern — and we're not just talking about Saturday-morning punk yoga. The kitchen composes a mighty Sunday brunch, full of homemade dishes crafted from fresh, locally sourced ingredients. That includes buttermilk biscuits made from scratch and smothered in homemade sausage gravy, buckwheat pancakes served with Ohio maple syrup and locally smoked bacon, and smoked salmon and latkes topped with a local poached egg from a free-range flock of happy chickens.

15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124, beachlandballroom.com

Staff Pick: The Beachland


Best Patio Drinking

Reddstone

Long before the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood was cool, there was a delightful little patio on West 76th Street, tucked behind a red brick space formerly known as Snickers. Today, that space is Reddstone. And while Reddstone and its environs have become major hotspots, the little patio behind it remains as delightful as ever. That goes double when you have a refreshing beverage in your hand: a crisp wine, a sturdy craft beer, or something from co-owner Tommy Kneeland's excellent list of handcrafted cocktails. The blueberry-basil lemonade is a case in point: Sipped beneath the tall trees and twinkly lights on a warm spring evening, it's as fun and festive a getaway as you'll find in the 216.

1261 West 76th St., 216-651-6969, reddstonecleveland.com

Staff Pick: The South Side


Best Ice Cream Parlor

Sweet Moses

Jeffrey Moreau's 1920s-style ice cream parlor at Gordon Square is as sweet as they come, sprinkled with vintage furnishings, historic Cleveland prints, and cheerful soda jerks in crisp white shirts and ties. But it's the edibles that matter, and this place is wall-to-wall with ice cream, shakes, sodas, and malts — with crunchy popcorn and gourmet chocolates tossed in for good measure. And everything from the ice cream to the marble-slab fudge is made in house.

6800 Detroit Ave., 216-651-6800,

sweetmosestreats.com

Staff Pick: Sweet Moses


Best Winery

Chalet Debonne Vineyards

Debonne was founded as a winery in 1972 with the construction of a winemaking facility and a charming chalet; but the Debevc family had been making wine in Madison long before that. Today, third-generation Tony Debevc and his crews carefully tend more than 170 acres of vines and produce more than 85,000 gallons of wine each year, including a variety of award winners. Winery tours, a tasting room, and an ambitious schedule of monthly events never fail to draw a crowd.

7840 Doty Rd., Madison,

440-466-3485, debonne.com

Staff Pick: St. Joseph Vineyards


Best Wine Bar

Wine Bar Rocky River

Comfortable, cozy, and relaxed, John Owen's wine bar is a year-round crowd pleaser, with a fireplace for cold-weather cuddling and a pretty patio for sipping in the sun. The encyclopedic wine list includes something for everyone. Beyond the bottles, there's a fine selection of by-the-glass options, dispensed from the Enomatic: a wine-preservation and serving system. To go with, the food choices range far beyond the usual cheese plates to burgers, scallops, and vegetable lasagna. No wonder fans call it the toast of the town.

1313 Linda Ave., Rocky River,

440-799-4300, rockyriverwinebar.com

Staff Pick: Market Avenue Wine Bar


Best Wine List

La Cave du Vin

A dimly lit basement may seem like an odd setting for a wine bar, but that hasn't stopped Clevelanders from declaring the wine list at this Coventry Village anchor the best in town. Maybe that's because it contains more than 70 by-the-glass offerings — many priced below $6. Combine that with flickering candlelight and the glow of the beer coolers, and this cave's many charms are clear to see.

2785 Euclid Heights Blvd.,

Cleveland Heights, 216-932-6411,

lacaveduvin.com

Staff Pick: Beach Club Bistro


Best Beer Selection

The Winking Lizard

There are spots with more snob appeal than this chain of noisy, rollicking, family-friendly sports bars. But we dare you to find one with a vaster selection of brewskis: more than 300 choices at last count, by the bottle or on draft, from amber ales to weizenbocks and wheat beers. Adventurous sorts can work their way through the list as part of the annual World Tour of Beer. Win swell prizes for guzzling suds, you say? Count us in.

Various locations including 25380 Miles Rd., Bedford, 216-831-3488,

winkinglizard.com

Staff Pick: Tremont Tap House


Best Bar Food

ABC Tavern

It was a red-letter day in Ohio City when restaurant pros Randy Kelly and Linda Syrek opened ABC Tavern: a former old-man bar spiffed up for a brand-new day. A tight little menu of pub grub comes complete with hamburgers, "atomic" hot dogs, and even roasted red pepper hummus. Homey kitchen specials like chicken noodle soup and meatloaf sammies expand the daily offerings. Together with the high-octane vibe, well-stocked bar, and late-night hours, this joint has you covered from A to Z.

1872 West 25th St., 216-861-3857,

abcthetavern.com

Staff Pick: Deagan's Kitchen + Bar


Best Place to Get a Classy Drink

Velvet Tango Room

For years, this elegant cocktail lounge was scarcely more than a legend, it's location a carefully guarded secret among the food-and-drink elite. For proof those times are over, just try snagging a nearby parking spot at 8 on a Saturday night! Owner Paulius Nasvytis continues to hold high the torch of spirituous tradition: in the expansive menu of classic cocktails, the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into every Lime Fizz and Manhattan, and the staff of crack mixologists who want nothing more than to rock your world with drink.

2095 Columbus Rd., 216-241-8869,

velvettangoroom.com

Staff Pick: Velvet Tango Room


Best Vegan

Flaming Ice Cube

The downtown outpost of a Boardman café, the Flaming Ice Cube serves up a big menu of vegan-friendly foods in a tidy space across from Public Square. Anchoring the all-day menu are whole fruit smoothies, freshly squeezed veggie juices, salads, soups, and a half-dozen versions of a homemade vegan burger. For dessert, the made-from-scratch sweeties (Molten Lava Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake, maybe?) are wildly popular among vegans and omnivores alike.

140 Public Square, 216-263-1111,

flamingice.com

Staff Pick: Flaming Ice Cube


Best Steak

Red the Steakhouse

Even as many of us rethink our diets, Cleveland still goes gaga for a great steak. As it happens, this is exactly what restaurateur Brad Friedlander serves up: dry-aged beef (both Certified Angus and U.S.D.A. Prime), cut thick and marbled to perfection. Seasoned with kosher salt and Tellicherry pepper, seared to order over unimaginably high heat, and served sizzling hot on a plain white plate for maximum impact, this is one big slab of juicy savor.

3355 Richmond Rd., Beachwood,

216-831-2252, redthesteakhouse.com

Staff Pick: Red the Steakhouse


Best BBQ

Bubba's Q

Former Browns player Al "Bubba" Baker has found life beyond the gridiron, and it's slathered in barbecue sauce. At Bubba's Avon restaurant, the pork, smoked turkey, and signature ribs are bad to the bone, but in a very good way. Dry-rubbed, marinated overnight, then slow-smoked over Ohio-grown applewood, the meats arrive at the table smoky, saucy, and laced with savory char. Pair 'em with freshly baked cornmeal muffins, dense mac 'n' cheese, and sweet iced tea, and dig into what can only be called a "dawg-gone good" feast.

820 Center Rd., Avon,

440-937-7859, bubbasq.com

Staff Pick: Bubba's Q


Best Patio Dining

Luxe Kitchen & Lounge

Tucked into secluded space behind the restaurant, the landscaped patio at Luxe Kitchen is a shaded, urbane oasis within the bustle of Gordon Square. Umbrella-topped tables make the perfect perch for imbibing seasonal cocktails, well-chosen wines, and craft beers; or share crab cakes, mussels, and a gourmet pizza with a group of friends. Speaking of friends: The patio is also pooch-friendly, the ultimate sign of a great outdoor space.

6605 Detroit Ave., 216-920-0600,

luxecleveland.com

Staff Pick: Flying Cranes Café


Best Burger

B Spot

With B Spots in Woodmere, Strongsville, Crocker Park, and the Q (and another slated for downtown's new casino), this irreverent gourmet burger joint from Michael "Iron Chef" Symon has foodies and fans awash in naturally raised beef. Of course, it's what Symon does with that meat that has found B Spot snagging Best Burger in America awards from the SoBe Wine & Food Fest for three consecutive years.

Multiple locations including

28699 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere,

216-292-5567, bspotburgers.com

Staff Pick: Johnny's Little Bar


Best Fries

Bar Cento

The legend continues at Bar Cento, where the Belgian-style pommes frites once again dominate the competition. Made by a classically painstaking process that includes frying, chilling, and frying again in ultra-luscious duck fat, these little golden batons are crisp outside, creamy within, and perfectly seasoned with rosemary and garlic. Served up in the Belgian tradition with four flavored mayos for dipping, these are truly fries to die for.

1948 West 25th St., 216-274-1010,

barcento.com

Staff Pick: Heck's Café


Best Pizza

Angelo's Pizza

Angelo's of Lakewood has been the region's go-to pizza for nearly three decades. And why not? Crafted from homemade dough, fresh sauces, and scores of toppings, with combinations and specialties ranging from Stouffer's macaroni and cheese to fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella, Angelo's pies have earned their place in Cleveland's heart.

13715 Madison Ave., Lakewood,

216-221-0440, angelosonline.com

Staff Pick: Vincenza's


Best Pierogi & Best Polish

Sokolowski's University Inn

Oh, Sokolowski's! Do we love you because of your plump and buttery pierogi? Do we love you because, like mother's milk, your bratwurst and stuffed cabbage are part of our communal DNA? Or do we love you for the fact that nearly everything waiting in your giant steam tables goes great with beer? Yes, yes, and yes again.

1201 University Rd., 216-771-9236,

sokolowskis.com

Staff Picks: Best Pierogi: Stan's Northfield Bakery Best Polish: Sokolowski's University Inn


Best Greek

Greek Village Grille

Tommy Karakostas' ethnic pride runs as deep as the menu of traditional Greek fare he cooks up daily at his gyro shop in Lakewood. Among the homemade dishes, you can dig into rich moussaka, crunchy spanokopita, or charcoal-grilled pork souvlaki. But the stars of the show are the gyros — not least of all the authentic Greek version made with thinly sliced pork.

14019 Madison Ave.,

Lakewood, 216-228-4976,

greekvillagegrille.com

Staff Pick: Greek Village Grille


Best Sushi & Best Japanese

Pacific East

When Clevelanders want a raw deal, they know where to go: this Coventry Road restaurant has been dishing it out for more than a decade. Pacific East's sushi is a hit for many reasons, including its freshness and outstanding variety. But it's attention to the details that sets this sushi apart, including the use of premium short-grain rice, top-grade wasabi, and flavorful blue-fin or fatty tuna that's never been frozen. The same care comes through in kitchen faves like tempura, tonkatsu, and teriyaki.

Various locations including

1763 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-320-2302,

pacificeastcoventry.com

Staff Picks: Best Sushi: Ginko; Best Japanese: Sasa


Best Vietnamese

Superior Pho

You can read it in the name: Cleveland's opinion of this tiny restaurant tucked inside Golden Plaza remains without peer. That includes the rice paper rolls, the stir-fried vermicelli, and the French-inflected bahn mi, a Vietnamese sandwich of pâté, roasted pork, cucumbers, herbs, and mayonnaise on a chewy French bun. And then there's the namesake pho: more than a dozen varieties of meat-and-noodle soups (plus one vegetarian), boosted tableside with a host of zesty garnishes. Can you say "pho-king awesome"?

3030 Superior Ave. East,

216-781-7462, superiorpho.com

Staff Pick: Superior Pho


Best Indian

India Garden

Ramesh and Sanjeev Sharma have been dishing out the goods at this West Side restaurant since 2006 — and the line still sometimes stretches out the door! Must be because of the freshness, flavor, and attention to detail: things like roasting aromatic spices daily, so they are always at their peak. The variety doesn't hurt either: The large menu of Northern Indian cuisine caters to vegetarians and carnivores alike, with plenty of faves like samosas, tandoori chicken, and luscious meat-free saag paneer.

18405 Detroit Ave., Lakewood,

216-221-0676,

indiagardencleveland.com

Staff Pick: India Garden


Best Italian

Chinato

There was a time, dear Cleveland, when Olive Garden would have found a place on your list of top Italian restaurants. My, how your palate has matured — thanks in no small part to Chinato on happenin' East Fourth Street. Chef-restaurateur Zack Bruell's menu is awash with contemporary flavors, of-the-moment ingredients, and deft preparations that respect and enhance classic dishes like Venetian-style calves' liver with dried figs or burrata with cold tomato-basil soup. Try getting that in a strip-mall parking lot restaurant.

2079 East Fourth St., 216-298-9080,

chinatocleveland.com

Staff Pick: Chinato


Best Restaurant & Best Sandwich Shop

Melt Bar & Grilled

It's been six years since Matt Fish opened his first Melt Bar & Grilled in Lakewood. Two more locations have followed since. Yet the charms of Melt's ginormous grilled-cheese sammies — 20 or so varieties — haven't dimmed a bit. Sure, the constant barrage of national media attention hasn't hurt. And the friendly, kitschy, rock & roll vibe is nothing but a plus. But at its heart, Melt wins Clevelanders over in tried and true fashion: one towering, gooey sandwich at a time.

14718 Detroit Ave., Lakewood,

216-226-3699;

13463 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-965-0988;

6700 Rockside Rd., Independence, 216-520-1415; and

meltbarandgrilled.com

Staff Picks: Best Restaurant: Dante; Best Sandwich Shop: Dave's Cosmic Subs


Best Chinese

Li Wah

Having a robust Asian community bestows upon a town certain benefits, not least of which is the delightful experience of Li Wah. Although the 300-seat restaurant sits in the heart of Cleveland's Asiatown, its appeal extends to seemingly all cultures. As for dim sum, Li Wah feels like the epicenter of Cleveland come Sunday noon, when families of every demographic sip tea and snack on Asian delicacies: spring rolls, barbecue pork buns, and turnip cakes, among countless others. If there is a more enjoyable, diverse, or affordable way to spend a Sunday, we have yet to find it.

2999 Payne Ave., 216-696-6556,

liwahrestaurant.com

Staff Pick: Li Wah


Best Irish

The Harp

Homey, stylish, and with an impressive view of Lake Erie, the Harp is beloved among C-Towners for its vast collection of Irish beers and spirits, and for a kitchen that treats its Irish-themed menu with the deepest respect. That includes everything from the signature soda bread and superlative boxty to the Guinness ice cream sundae. Factor in frequent live music, a delightful patio, and a gracious vibe, and you've got yourself a winner.

4408 Detroit Ave.,

216-939-0200, the-harp.com

Staff Pick: Sullivan's Irish Pub & Restaurant


Best German

Der Braumeister

There's been a German restaurant in Der Braumeister's space since 1929: That's got to be part of what makes this West Side fave seem so authentically European. The remaining credit goes to the menu of sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, and smoked sausage; an on-site market and deli stocked with traditional meats, cheeses, and condiments; and in warm weather, the sidewalk biergarten — the spot to work your way through the 140-label collection of cool, imported brews.

13046 Lorain Ave., 216-671-6220,

derbraumeister.com

Staff Pick: Der Braumeister


Best Middle Eastern

Aladdin's Eatery

When Fady Chamoun came up with the idea for combining wholesome foods with the fast-casual concept, Cleveland stood up and cheered. Fast-forward 18 years, and huzzahs still haven't stopped. Aladdin's continues to dish up well-prepared Middle Eastern standards with a sharp focus on health and nutrition, making its many fans feel both well fed and well loved.

Various locations including

14536 Detroit Ave., Lakewood,

216-521-4005, aladdinseatery.com

Staff Pick: Aladdin's Eatery


Best Mexican

La Fiesta

Family owned and operated since 1952, La Fiesta specializes in dishes made from scratch with a variety of locally sourced ingredients. That includes crowd-pleasers like guacamole and tacos, as well as less common dishes like posole (spicy pork and hominy soup) and chicharrones (fried-to-order pork-skin cracklins). Wash it down with a Tecate or a mucho macho Margarita from the well-stocked bar: Your own personal fiesta is just beginning.

5115 Wilson Mills Rd., Richmond Heights, 440-565-4422,

lafiestacleveland.com

Staff Pick: Momocho


Best Latin

Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar

Who knew that the bold flavors of Latin America dwelt inside an East Side mall? Paladar is your clear choice for dishes like ceviche, guacamole, feijoada, Jamaican curry, and pork Cubano. Then, of course, there is the Rum Bar portion of the equation, whence flow magnificently muddled mojitos and more than 50 varieties of rum.

28601 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere,

216-896-9020,

paladarlatinkitchen.com

Staff Pick: Barroco Grill


Best Caterer

Spice of Life

"Upscale catering with a down-to-earth twist" is the tagline for Spice of Life Catering, chef Ben Bebenroth's company that pledges allegiance to all things regional, seasonal, and sustainable. That includes not only purchasing 95 percent of ingredients from farms within a 100-mile radius, but going so far as to grow foods specifically for your special event.

5800 Detroit Ave., 216-432-9090,

spiceoflifecaters.com

Staff Pick: Spice of Life


Best Dessert Menu

Chocolate Bar

If it's true that everything's better with chocolate, then no wonder this downtown destination is the sweetest place around. Part eatery, part cocktail lounge, Chocolate Bar wins over C-Town with an array of temptations — everything from chocolate mousse, chocolate fondue, and chocolate-marbled cheesecake to hot chocolate, frozen chocolate, and chocolate-mint martinis.

347 Euclid Ave., 216-622-2626,

originalchocolatebar.com

Staff Pick: Sweet Melissa


Best Local Foods Champ

Jonathon Sawyer

Whether he's foraging for ramps with his kids or fermenting his own vinegars, Jonathon Sawyer stands as a champion for locally sourced, locally raised, made-from-scratch goodness. As owner and chef of the estimable Greenhouse Tavern and the crowd-pleasing Noodlecat, the bouncy, bearded Sawyer puts his farm-to-plate beliefs on the line daily.

238 East Fourth St., 216-443-0511,

thegreenhousetavern.com

Staff Pick: Parker Bosley


Best Spanish

Mallorca

As beloved for its cadre of tuxedoed servers as for its authentic Mediterranean menu of gazpacho, paella, fish, and seafood, this Warehouse District bastion of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine remains refined and fun.

1390 West Ninth St., 216-687-9494,

clevelandmallorca.com

Staff Pick: Mallorca


Best French

L'Albatros

Zack Bruell scores again with this contemporary brasserie and bar tucked inside a University Circle carriage house. Must be L'Albatros' perfect combination of historic vibe, polished service, and a big, enticing menu of French classics. With an extensive wine list, the city's best cheese service, and a stunning, secluded patio, this is where Cleveland heads for a French twist.

11401 Bellflower Rd., 216-791-7880, albatrosbrasserie.com

Staff Pick: L'Albatros


Best Thai

Ty Fun

Great Thai food and a fun time continue to draw Clevelanders to this Tremont restaurant, where they find artfully plated dishes like chicken massaman curry, classic pad Thai, and the signature deep-fried red snapper served with a choice of zesty sauces. No surprise this intimate eatery continues to earn the Thai title.

815 Jefferson Ave., 216-664-1000,

tyfunthaibistro.com

Staff Pick: Banana Blossom

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