Clark Fulton and Stockyards are located just south of Cleveland's "destination" near-westside neighborhoods, Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway. Stretching from West 25th to West 82nd, these pockmarked, train-tracked residential neighborhoods are bordered roughly by 1-90 to the north and I-71 to the south. Clark Fulton, named for the intersection of two prominent roads, is home to the city's densest concentration of Latinos. Stockyards is named for the old Cleveland Union livestock yards located there back in the early 20th century, once one of the nation's largest slaughterhouse and meatpacking operations. Though these blue-collar areas haven't been known for luring much economic development, they are rich in culture, and boast some of the best mom-and-pop cuisine in the city.
The neon sign for Johnny's Bar (3164 Fulton Rd.) is like a North Star along a stretch of Fulton Road hardly known for its fine dining. Johnny's is a Cleveland institution, having been around since the 1920s (though it was known as Louise's Garden until 1952). Featuring upscale Italian dishes — the sea bass is the best we've ever had — an impressive wine list, and smooth jazz on the weekends, you can't help feeling that you've stumbled onto the set of some Italian mob movie, or maybe just New York City. That said, this restaurant is as Cleveland as it gets.
If we were hosting our Bavarian friends or relatives, the first place we'd take them would be Sachsenheim Hall (7001 Denison Ave.), situated, as we eloquently put it years ago, "on the warning track of Stockyards' outfield." With big German beers served in big German glasses — including, yes, boots — not to mention a panoply of decadent fried goodies and one of the best taco Tuesdays in Cleveland, this place is a no-frills gem on Denison. Like many other Stockyards drinking establishments, Sachsenheim feels like it was conjured up from an earlier time, when beer and conversation were all you needed to pleasantly pass an evening.
The St. Rocco's Festival (3205 Fulton Rd.), held every summer, seems almost humdrum in a city with other long-standing cultural festivals, — including Little Italy's Feast of the Assumption Festival, and the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festival in Detroit-Shoreway. But St. Rocco's, which this year will hold its 103rd annual celebration Aug. 30 through Sept. 3, has a unique local tradition: the Greasy Pole Climb. If you haven't seen this messy, glorious competition — or, better yet, participated in it — it's a must. Teams of four try to reach the top of an old utility pole coated top to bottom in axle grease. It's a weird Italian-American tradition, and St. Rocco's is keeping it alive.
Caribe Bake Shop (2906 Fulton Rd.), an unassuming cafeteria-style restaurant that began as a bakery and now serves up the best Cuban sandwiches and Puerto Rican cuisine in town, shouldn't be missed. It's beloved by the neighborhood Puerto Rican community, but should be embraced by all lovers of bread and meat. Low-cost, low-stress, delicious eats — what more could you ask for? Stand in line, be sure to get an order of the blood sausage, and otherwise pick and choose from succulent Latin-American dishes.
EatOne thing you’ll get used to in Clark-Fulton and Stockyards -- restaurants that don’t look like anything special but serve amazing food. At Quisqueya La Bella, which takes its name from the Island of Hispaniola (composed of Dominican Republic and Haiti), specializes in Puerto Rican and Dominican dishes like sancocho, mondongo, empanadillas, alcapurrias, fried pork with plantains, camarones con mofongo, and beef stew with rice and beans. Make a special trip.
EatOperating in the former home of a fish shack and grill, La Morenita is a cozy Dominican spot that offers amazing deals on island favorites. Aside from the empandillas ($2.50), tostones (8/$3.50), and salt-gilded fried plantains, we’d recommend the Dominican Breakfast -- Los Tres Golpes -- served with fried eggs, fried cheese, fried salami and mangu (plantains seasoned in olive oil.) Hungry yet?
DrinkAny place that offers $1 drafts during happy hour Scene will wholeheartedly get behind. Benny’s does, along with an array of both traditional American pub grub and Puerto Rican cuisine. (Half-price apps on Thursday and Friday!) The best thing about Benny’s may be the gorgeously renovated wooden interior. But there’s much to love: With TVs, a pool table, and dancing on the weekends, this may be your new substitute for BW3..
EatNot to be confused with La Fiesta in Richmond Heights, the Stockyards La Fiesta is a recent addition to the Denison dining scene and a scrumptious option for seekers of authentic Mexican street food: The simple tacos ($2.50) topped generously with onion and cilantro, are the way to go. It’s a Taqueria, after all. (But feel free to engorge on a carne asada burrito or any of the other meaty options.) According to one recent dining companion, La Fiesta served the best salsa, if not the best chips, available in Cleveland.
EatIf you’re from Cleveland, you’ve likely had Bruno’s catering at some party or another, but the restaurant is worth a visit. The staff, steeped in Italian culinary tradition, will treat you like family. Enjoy the sauces, the pasta, the fish, the wine -- the full Italian dining experience. It’s a Cleveland classic.