Best Sandwich Shop
Melt Bar & Grilled
You don't get where owner Matt Fish has gotten by being unpopular. And as evidenced by the spreading ooze of his melted cheese empire – which now reaches as far east as Mentor and as far south as Columbus – Fish knows what people want. By voting with their dollars – and their ballots, apparently – the people have announced unequivocally that they want great big sandwiches stuffed with crazy-good ingredients, served with amazing craft beer in a fun, sports- and memorabilia-themed bar. We can't quibble with that assessment of what it means to be a great – nay, the best – restaurant in Cleveland. Multiple locations, meltbarandgrilled.com
Best Up-and-Coming Chef
Chris Hodgson burst upon the Cleveland scene like an over-zealous firebrand. His star rose so far, so fast that before long he became more of a celebrity than a chef. A star turn on national television only served to propel the image and ego of the young chef, who seemingly spent more time charting his next move than cooking. But Hodgson, whether he likes it or not, is maturing before our eyes. Time spent cooking at Hodge's — and working alongside operating partner Scott Kuhn — has begun to sculpt the fresh cook into a leader, one who will help guide and shape a growing restaurant group. And when he gets there, we can all say that we knew him way back when.
Best New Restaurant
SOHO Kitchen & Bar
Since entering the crowded Ohio City dining scene, SOHO Kitchen & Bar has managed not only to contend but stand tall amongst some of this city's biggest and brightest names. Operated by chef Nolan Konkoski and partner Molly Smith, this cheery little Southern-inspired eatery makes fans fast thanks to its innovative twists on Southern classics like fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and catfish Po' Boys. The restaurant's new Wednesday-night fried chicken dinners alone are enough to make this relative newcomer one of the best new places to eat in the 216. 1889 W. 25th St.,
Most Romantic Restaurant
Pier W has a not-so-secret weapon in the romance department: It's called Lake Erie. Incorporating a lake view into a romantic evening is a no-brainer, but sadly few restaurants in town – despite being on a Great Lake! – can pull off such a ploy. The interior, too, is richly appointed, with subtle oceanic design elements playing off the scene beyond the glass. But Pier W in Lakewood is more than just a pretty face: It's got the seafood to match the watery view. Canoodling over some raw oysters while sipping a crisp Chablis will undoubtedly ignite the sparks of romance for any couple. 12700 Lake Ave., Lakewood, 216-228-2250, selectrestaurants.com
How lucky are we to have Michael Symon representing our city on the national stage? Pretty stinking lucky – lucky enough that we will overlook the fact that no, he doesn't often actually cook in Cleveland. But he sure as hell busts his tail to make sure his restaurants – and his city – are shining representations of the hard work he has invested to get to this point in his career. It is rare to find a person who is both talented and humble, famous but charitable, but that's just what he brings to the dinner table. Lola, Lolita, B Spot – these are some of the most popular restaurants in the region because of Symon's leadership and his ability to develop deep and broad culinary talent. The word chef means "chief," and Symon has proven himself to be a great leader and chief.
Often the first choice of visiting glitterati, Lola is the kind of place one takes his boss, his lover, his in-laws – anybody who needs convincing that we have great taste. This $2 million upgrade from the Tremont original has all the bells and whistles of a world-class destination. Glowing bar, wall of wine, open kitchen with chef's table... these elements and more conspire to deliver a first-rate setting worthy of the splurge. The food more than lives up to the room, with dishes built for both the adventurous carnivore and the timid vegetarian. Symon's signature beef cheek pierogies, beefy bone marrow, fresh-shucked oysters, and charcuterie all are great starters. Move on to smoked heritage pork chops, grilled veal heart or pristine fish. Whatever you do, save room for dessert – Symon is one of the few remaining operators willing to spring for a full-time pastry chef.
2058 E. 4th St., 216-621-5652,
Best Dinner Bargain
Best bar food
Best hot dog
Five bucks will still buy you plenty these days – if you have no problem eating factory farmed fast food in a dreary den. But for those of us who prefer real food, dished up in a fun, locally owned establishment, we are largely out of luck. Unless, of course, we hit the Happy Dog, where a single Lincoln is enough to secure a gourmet dog (meat or vegan). This Gordon Square haunt serves up Cadillac food for Kia prices, with some 50 chef-built toppings to gild your tube steaks. For an extra $3, tack on an order of tater tots or fries, topped or sided by additional gourmet accoutrements. Best. Bargain. Going. 5801 Detroit Ave.,