When Jackie Zabielski isn't preparing you for your local rush hour as traffic anchor on WEWS, she might be hanging out at her favorite place to unwind and grab a bite: local taco joint Barrio.
"In fact," says Zabielski, "when I moved from the east side to the west side, one of the benefits was I'd be closer! I love the guac and queso, but the endless combo of taco creations is what makes it my favorite."
What She Gets: It's hard to choose just one favorite – and in her defense, Barrio does have more than 30 choices of topping – but for Zabielski, regardless what's on the plate, it's a family affair.
"When my dad visits from New York he does so to come to Barrio – and to see me," she jokes. "My favorite taco is a combo he says he invented and I give him credit. It's braised beef with cheddar, red cabbage and cilantro lime aioli and chipotle honey sauce on a hard shell. It's delicious."
As the Curator of Public Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Deidre McPherson spends most of her days planning ways to connect the community to art in the middle of bustling Uptown. That doesn't mean she can't find time to steal away to the heart of University Circle for a little fine dining.
"My list of favorites is long, but my go-to when I'm feeling fancy is L'Albatros Brasserie," says McPherson. "The food, service and indoor/outdoor dining atmosphere make it one of Cleveland's best restaurants in my book. "
What She Gets: "I love the duck confit; it's an earthy and savory entree, great with a red wine – my favorite," she says. "The duck is crispy, but tender, and it's served with sweet potato puree. For an appetizer, I love the roasted artichoke with lemon aioli. If you're there for happy hour, get the L'Albatros burger with fries – oh, sorry, pomme frites – and a beer. For the cheese heads, the selection is amazing, so spend another $11 or so on the fromage experience. Someone comes to your table to tell you about cheeses from different regions of the world and the presentation is always impressive."
As you might expect, Steve Presser, the owner of Big Fun toy store, has made Coventry Village his home for the two decades he's been in business – and then some. So there's no surprise that you can find him at Tommy's for regular breakfast meetings or at Pacific East, where he nets "the best sushi in town."
But when he does venture off campus, you might find Presser putting himself up to what might be Cleveland's greatest food challenge.
"I can eat two Slyman's [corned beef sandwiches]," he says. "I tell anyone if they don't believe me: I will order two and if I consume two, you can pay for them. If I don't, I'll pay for them."
And when he's looking for something a little less meaty? Presser always makes time for a quick visit to hidden gem Szechuan Gourmet when making his regular shopping trips to the attached Asian grocery, Tink Holl.
What He Gets: "I love their garlic eggplant," says Presser. "They use the baby eggplants. It's so properly prepared from a flavor and sauce standpoint. It's so tender."
Between sketching, stitching and piecing together fabrics for some of Cleveland's hottest threads, Valerie Mayen, the designer behind the Yellowcake clothing line, loves to escape to a tucked away corner in Tremont.
"For me, it's Lava Lounge," the fashionista says of the equally stylish bar. "They're open late and they have some of the best cocktails in town. The food is a huge staple of Cleveland. Their bartenders and staff are fun people too. I've gotten to know each of them personally from going so often and they do a great job!"
What She Gets: "For savory, I prefer their pomme frites," says Mayen. "For sweets, I die over their bread pudding. It's the right amount of sweet and sugar and warm goodness. I love it so much that I call ahead just to make sure they have any left before I come."
You might hear Mark Nolan dish about the latest and greatest in Cleveland on morning radio at Majic 105.7 and as TV anchor on WKYC, but to him, some of the best parts of the city are right outside his doorstep. Since recently moving to W. 6th St., Nolan has been busy indulging in visits to all his new neighbors.
"So now it's down the step, across the street and 'Oh look, there's a beer!'" laughs Nolan. "If I decide I want to get adventurous, I just go an extra block away. If I decide to go high end – in my world – I'll go to Cleveland Chop and they have great steaks. If I just want pizza and beer, it's Map Room over on W. 9th."
What He Gets: "Barley House is my neighborhood bar," he says. "I spend so much time over there that I've worked my way through their menu. Since they started a new menu, they've bumped it up. I like the New Orleans Shrimp Bowl; it's a little spicy."
Long before he served as a producer and host at WCPN's Civic Commons, Andrew Samtoy has been living and breathing all things Cleveland. Then he fell in love with a girl in London, got a spousal visa to live in the UK and bought a one-way ticket from Cleveland to Heathrow.
"I quickly realized that I suddenly had two months – two short months – to enjoy Cleveland as much as I could before the move," says Samtoy. "I made a list and it consisted almost entirely of people I wanted to see and places I wanted to eat."
As he prepares for the move, Samtoy looks back fondly on the ways his memories of Cleveland will always be tied to food.
"I was apparently the first person to order Mia Bella's shrimp saganaki when they opened and I want it to be the last thing I eat in Cleveland," he says.
In a true test of human limits, he's always up for a good food challenge.
What He Gets: "I can eat three quarters of a large Mama Santa's sausage, hot pepper and mushroom pizza in a single sitting, and I want to work up to an entire pie by the time I leave," says Samtoy.
And as any burger aficionado will tell you, there's nothing quite like the quintessential Swenson's.
"I grew up with In-N-Out and Four-By-Four Fridays," he recounts. "And sorry, California, but the Galley Boy or the fried chicken sandwich beat a double-double any day of the week."
As a premiere food stylist, Heidi Robb spends plenty of time traveling, whether it's teaching a workshop in Denmark or working on a photoshoot a few hours south in Columbus. Whenever she does make it back to Cleveland, you can usually find her dining close to her Tremont home at Lolita or near two of her busiest studios in AsiaTown.
But lately, The Black Pig in Ohio City has been Robb's go-to.
"Everything tastes clean and local and beautifully sourced and it looks impeccable on the plate," say Robb, doling out high praise from someone who's made a career out of making food look dazzling. "I love the ambiance; it feels cozy and cottagey."
Though she's not a heavy meat-eater, it's the restaurant's fresh approach that captured Robb's affection.
"When I eat there, I feel like I went and shopped at the farmer's markets myself and handpicked everything that's on my plate," she says.
What She Gets: "There's a braised pork collar dish that I absolutely love, particularly because it utilizes a not very popular cut," says Robb. "I love the accompaniments, the little French lentils and roasted Tokyo turnips and braised greens."
And on a night out when she craves lighter fare, there's no lack of options.
"I love the vegetables just as much and I'll sometimes order just sides of vegetables because they're so lovely," she says. "And they have an amazing beet salad."