Courtesy Scene Archives
Let's all agree to stop calling Superior Pho a "hidden gem" and start calling it what it is: one of the best and most popular restaurants in Cleveland that only fools have ignored. Sure, its location — tucked inside in a nondescript commercial building — is anything but conventional. But that doesn't stop the hoards of daily visitors who come for the amazing banh mi sandwiches, delightful cabbage salads, and the city's best bowls of pho. And then there's the owner, Manh Nguyen, who would be genuinely crestfallen if any one of his customers had anything short of a wonderful meal. Fortunately for him, that doesn't happen very often.
Photo via Yelp user Kyle R.
Since nabbing the "Best New Restaurant" award back in 2009, this contemporary French bistro tucked into a University Circle carriage house has only managed to improve with age. Chef-owner Zachary Bruell has an uncanny knack for delivering magical, memorable dining experiences with near-clockwork precision. And if there is a cuisine and menu that is more indulgent and pleasurable, we haven't found it. From the garlicky escargot to the porcine perfection that is pied de cochon, to the last course of deliciously stinky cheese, meals here can lull diners into a dreamlike stupor. When you combine that exquisite food and service with fine weather, crisp white wine and a drop-dead gorgeous patio, you end up with the kind of experience that leaves an indelible mark. L'Albatros is not only one of Cleveland's best French restaurants; it is one of Cleveland's best restaurants, period.
Photo via Yelp user Kris P.
No surprise here: Schnitzel is king at Das Schnitzel Haus. But there's much more to the menu at this rib-sticking German powerhaus than thinly pounded, breaded and fried cutlets of pork and veal. For starters, there are the genre-busting sauerkraut balls, the size of plums and served with kicky horseradish sauce. Thin pan-fried potato pancakes are the perfect accompaniment to a stout German brew. Hungarian goulash, with chewy spatzel and tender beef swimming in a rich gravy, is the pinnacle of cold-weather comfort food. And when the weather does warm, an elevated front patio manages to capture the convivial spirit of a bona fide German bier garten.
Photo via Yelp user Jason W.
We adore Greek food because it's bright, fresh and flavorful, but let's face it: Many of the places that hold themselves out as Greek restaurants are little more than quasi-hygienic gyro delivery systems. Not GVG, which has been keeping Lakewood (and now Broadview Heights) residents awash in delicious Mediterranean comfort food. Sure, there are the best lamb/beef gyros in a three-county territory, but also pita sandwiches built around pork souvlaki, fried fish and Greek sausage (what?!). GVG's dips, and starters like spanakopita and stuffed grape leaves, are textbook. And who doesn't love a place that has the stones to offer a seven-pound, $20 mammoth gyro called Mount Olympus? Toss in cut-rate pricing, fast service, crazy-late hours on Friday and Saturday nights and speedy delivery and you end up with the city's best Greek restaurant by a mile.
Photo via Yelp user JP S.
Long gone are the days that India Garden was dubbed a "hidden gem," an unassuming 50-seat Bengali hideaway set back from the road. Today, of course, it simply is called "that amazing Indian restaurant on Detroit." When it opened eight years ago, it ended a long and depressing string of failed restaurants in that spot, proving that quality, consistency and value will always trump so-called "cursed locations." All the classics are here — chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, aloo gobi, all done right and with a surprising level of heat. But don't stop with the menu; regulars know that just because it isn't listed, doesn't mean the kitchen won't make it. Swing by for lunch and you'll be treated to one of the best lunch deals in town, a 10-buck, all-you-can-eat Indian smorgasbord where hunger is replaced by pure satisfaction.
Photo via Yelp user Cara L.
Dublin or Detroit Avenue? It's hard to tell when you're at the Harp, especially at one of the Traditional Irish Sessions. That's where live musicians entertain with fiddles, bagpipes and guitars just about every week. The Harp is equally loved for music, its menu and scenery. The patio overlooks the shore of Lake Erie, which is the perfect setup for a glass of the bar's freshly pulled Guinness. The fish and chips are favorites and the corned beef also keeps visitors raving. Gayot named The Harp one of the top 10 Irish pubs in the country a year ago, just before Scene readers crowned it king of Cleveland. Even Fox News gave The Harp consecutive top-10-in-America nods, and that's saying something considering the folks there seem to like nothing.
Photo via Yelp user Unmiserable C.
For the frequent diner, it's easy to get jaded about dining in Little Italy. For every five-star gem there seems to be two one-star duds. But fortunately, the tide appears to be shifting thanks to the arrival of newer spots like Mia Bella, which hit the sweet spot between authentic and just plain enjoyable. Commanding a prominent corner perch in the heart of the Hill, Mia Bella could not be any cuter if it tried. Snuggle into some lush pastas, fresh seafood, Italian-American chestnuts and a few creative originals. Like any self-respecting bistro, this one treats guests like family by keeping the wine glasses full and mouths stuffed with the kind of food one would expect to find in a neighborhood called Little Italy.
Photo via Yelp user Mark L.
The success of this Cleveland-based eatery has spawned a mini Latin empire, with a half dozen outposts scattered about the eastern half of the country. This concept was made for duplication thanks to its splashy interior, festive atmosphere, kicky adult bevies and food that is creative and unique while eminently approachable. While we have difficulty moving beyond the mojitos — arguably the best in town — the menu is loaded with amazing textures and flavors. From fresh and creamy guacamole to crispy fried empanadas in the starters section to the fall-apart tender shredded brisket in the ropa viejo and the world-class Feijoada stew in the mains, Paladar is like a vacation from the mundane. You don't get to multi-unit status by doing things wrong, as these guys have been proving day in and day out for years now.
Photo via Yelp user Cheryl P.
Cleveland is lousy with conventional Mexican eateries — the kind where brilliance and creativity take a back seat to familiarity and contentment. And that's just fine, because we love those kinds of meals. But Momocho taught diners to look at Mexican cuisine through a different lens, a lens focused by chef-owner Eric Williams. His "mod Mex" might not be the world's most authentic representation of south-of-the-border fare, but it is the most unique, exciting and delicious adaptation that we can find in the region. In place of cheese-covered plates of bland burritos with refried beans and rice, diners are treated to creamy smoked trout guacamole, flavorful duck confit tacos, beer braised lamb tamales and jalapeno bread pudding. It doesn't hurt, either, that this sweet split-level restaurant is in Ohio City but off the (increasingly touristy) beaten path.
Photo via Yelp user Tina L.
For a restaurant group that specializes in so-called "foreign" food, Aladdin's Eatery is remarkably user friendly. In fact, when you think about, it was quite the coup for founders Fady and Sally Chamoun to convince a townful of Midwesterners to put down the corned beef sandwiches and pick up pitas stuffed with falafel, shish tawook and shawarma in their place. That sort of Lebanese voodoo has lead to an explosion of locations, with two dozen sites in multiple cities and states. You accomplish that feat, of course, by serving up a steady diet of fresh, healthy, delicious and affordable cuisine. And as more and more people adopt vegan and vegetarian diets, Aladdin's stands to benefit even more thanks to numerous meat-free options.
Photo via Yelp user Katie S.
Year in and year out, Sokolowski's nabs the top honors in this category — and not for a lack of competition. Cleveland's Eastern European roots have sprouted more than our fair share of tasty, rib-sticking Polish restaurants. But this joint, with its non-assuming cafeteria-style approach, just seems to tickle the fancy of most residents. Lucky for us Clevelanders, there's no shortage of amazing, historic places to order up a platter of Old World classics like periogies, kielbasa, schnitzel, stuffed cabbages and Salisbury steak, but for more than 90 years, Sokolowski's has been the first place that comes to mind.
Photo via Yelp user Bob L.
In a town like Cleveland, where top-notch, chef-owned bistros appear to grow on trees, it's increasingly difficult for a diner to be truly blown away by a dining experience. But that's precisely what (still) happens at this Warehouse District institution. The setting is smart, cosmopolitan and befitting a special occasion — as is the service, overseen by a battalion of be-tuxed servers. While expertly prepared fish and seafood is Mallorca's sweet spot, a lengthy list of nightly specials covers pretty much everything else, with Spanish and Portuguese dishes built around beef, chicken, pork and rabbit. Chances are good that if it swims, flies or hops, it's a special. The family-style entrees are served with Spanish rice, a large plate of crisp seasonal vegetables and some very addictive house-fried potato chips.