The following are excerpts from Moon Handbooks' new Cleveland guide, written by Northeast Ohio native and Scene (and former Free Times) food writer Douglas Trattner. The book details restaurants and much more throughout Northeast Ohio. Trattner will speak and sign copies at Joseph Beth Booksellers (Legacy Village, 24519 Cedar Rd., Lyndhurst, 216.691.7000, josephbeth.com) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 21.
DIM SUM AND THEN SOME:
A GUIDE TO ASIATOWN
More than 30,000 Asians call Cuyahoga County home, making it one of the area's larger ethnic populations. Many reside in AsiaTown, an area just east of downtown that is loosely bordered by East 30th and 40th streets, and St. Clair and Payne avenues. This vibrant, diverse neighborhood is teeming with Asian-owned shops, restaurants and markets. A visit here is a must for ethnic food fans, adventurous home cooks and lovers of all things exotic.
The Chinese are Cleveland's oldest Asian immigrant group, dating all the way back to the 1860s, but the area that used to be called Chinatown is now referred to as AsiaTown to better reflect the residents who call the area home. Recent decades have welcomed arrivals from Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, and immigrants from each of these countries have established restaurants and markets in this area.
Pho has become an absolute food craze all over the country — and for good reason. This Vietnamese meal in a bowl features noodles, beef, broth and veggies in a plentiful, affordable and delicious package. Two of Cleveland's best versions can be found in AsiaTown. Many locals prefer to hit Superior Pho (3030 Superior Ave., 216.781.7462) for their bowl, despite the spare, modest setting. For those who prefer a little more flash, there is #1 Pho (3120 Superior Ave., 216.781.1176), an attractive Vietnamese restaurant less than a block away. Both menus travel well beyond noodle soup.
Dim sum is a popular weekend brunch activity in Cleveland, and not just for Asians. The practice of selecting food as it rolls by on carts is pretty much a universal pleasure. Some Chinese restaurants are designed specifically with dim sum in mind, with cavernous dining rooms capable of handling hundreds of guests at once. Two local dim sum institutions are Bo Loong (3922 St. Clair Ave., 216.391.3113) and Li Wah (2999 Payne Ave., 216.696.6556). Both have wonderful selections, efficient service and reasonable prices. Try the barbecue pork buns, turnip cakes, shrimp dumplings, crisp-skinned duck and, if you're brave, chicken feet.
One of the best Asian restaurants in all of Northeast Ohio is Siam Café (3951 St. Clair Ave., 216.361.2323), a large, relatively attractive space. The sprawling menu covers traditional and creative Chinese dishes (plus some Thai and Vietnamese), but this restaurant excels at seafood. Live lobster, crab, eel and shrimp are pulled from tanks and served in dishes like shrimp in black bean sauce, lobster in garlic sauce and salt-baked shrimp.
There are few greater culinary joys than grilling up garlicky beef bulgogi at a Korean restaurant. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but Seoul Hot Pot (3709 Payne Ave., 216.881.1221) is cute and comfy inside. This restaurant also has a few grill tables (ask for one when booking a reservation) that turn a bulgogi meal into a festive event. Korea House (3700 Superior Ave., 216.431.0462) is more spacious and modern, but bulgogi is cooked on a tabletop hot plate. Both restaurants put out respectable arrays of banchan, those pungent condiments like kimchi that accompany every meal.
AsiaTown is blessed with great ethnic markets that transform an everyday shopping trip into a culinary expedition. These bustling groceries stock exotic live seafood items like frogs and eels, hard-to-find herbs and spices, and even dirt-cheap cookware. One of Cleveland's oldest and best is Tink Holl (1735 E. 36th St., 216.881.6996), a large, bright space crammed with interesting stuff. For a treat, purchase half a roasted duck. Hacked into pieces, this bird blows away the Colonel's. One of the newest additions to the area is Koko Bakery (3710 Payne Ave., 216.881.7600), a contemporary shop that sells an amazing selection of Asian baked goods. Come here for sweet and savory buns, Chinese cakes, egg custards and bubble tea.
PUB CRAWL CALLOUT
Clevelanders love themselves a good pub crawl. Maybe it's the gray skies, chilly night air or the fact that their pro sports teams always find a way to blow it — locals here spend a lot of time in bars.
Cleveland is blessed with old-fashioned neighborhoods, the kind with a Main Street densely populated with pubs, taverns, saloons and corner bars. One of the best ways to experience the local color is by working one's way down the block, popping into every single drinking establishment along the way. Better yet, just pick a few that look inviting.
A great way to get to know Tremont is from the inside of a bar. People come from all over to soak up this district's café culture, hitting a procession of galleries, bistros and bars. Start your trek at Edison's Pub (2373 Professor Ave., 216.522.0006), a cozy den serving great imported beers. Friendly folks, knowledgeable bartenders and decent pizza make this place a must-crawl. Next up is the Flying Monkey Pub (819 Jefferson Ave., 216.861.6659), a handsome tavern filled with hand-crafted wood furnishings. The only gimmick here is the monkey mascot that pops out of his hidey-hole late-night. Dive bar fans will swoon over Hotz Café (2529 W. 10th St., 216.771.7004), an old-school Cleveland bar that's been around since 1919. One block west is Prosperity Social Club (1109 Starkweather Ave., 216.937.1938), a retro saloon popular with every demographic. Folks here take seats at the 1930s bar or, on cold nights, around the blazing wood-burning stove.
What's the sense in paying one's tab and heading to an identical bar down the block? Diversity is precisely what makes Ohio City the pinnacle of pub-crawl locales. Beer aficionados have the one-two punch of Great Lakes Brewing Co. (2516 Market Ave., 216.771.4404) and McNulty's Bier Markt (1948 W. 25th St., 216.344.9944). The former brews and serves matchless American suds in a woodsy pub setting. The latter specializes in Belgian and Belgian-style ales on tap and in bottles. Wine lovers are treated to Market Avenue Wine Bar (2521 Market Ave., 216.696.9463), a European-like jewel with an amazing by-the-glass and bottle selection of wine. If a contemporary Irish bar sounds tempting, pop into Old Angle (1848 W. 25th St., 216.861.5643). Set in a renovated hardware store, this pub is not your typical shamrock shack. One of the liveliest places to go for last call is Garage Bar (1859 W. 25th St., 216.696.7772), a high-energy bar with loud rock, interesting people and cheap shots.
Lee Road in Cleveland Heights is a pub-crawler's dream. Packed into a short 1,500-foot strip is a wide array of welcoming watering holes. Start near the intersection of Cedar and Lee roads, near the glowing movie marquee, and work your way south. Parnell's Pub (2167 Lee Rd., 216.321.3469) is an Irish-themed sports pub with Guinness on tap, darts in back and a map of Europe that conspicuously omits England. If it's Tuesday or Thursday, cross the street and head to Lopez (2196 Lee Rd., 216.932.9000), a trendy Southwestern restaurant. Thanks to half-price margaritas and tequila drinks, this place fills up fast. On the same side of the street a little farther south is Tavern Co. (2260 Lee Rd., 216.321.6001). This place changes from family-friendly tavern to locals-only bar as the night progresses. Cap off the night at Brennan's Colony (2299 Lee Rd., 216.371.1010), a neighborhood institution that has attracted crowds for decades. On warm nights, make sure to check out the secluded courtyard and bar.
Reprinted with permission. Moon Cleveland, first edition, by Douglas Trattner, from Avalon Travel, $17.95.