Cleveland is Not One of the 30 Most Exciting Food Cities in America, According to Zagat


  • Erik Drost, Flickr CC

It’s that time of year, kiddos!

No, we’re not referring to the annual gathering of family and friends in celebration of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Festivus. We’re referring to the venerated year-end tradition called Listicus, practiced by media pros since time immemorial. This annual tradition is marked not by the lighting of candles or the carving of the Christmas goose, but rather by the compilation of lists.

The folks over at Zagat just posted theirs, titled “30 Most Exciting Food Cities in America 2017,” and Cleveland was somehow overlooked. We get it, Zagat, you have a lot of ground to cover and likely very few warm bodies to do it. This is, after all, the guidebook company that made millions off the backs of everyday diners when crafting their idiosyncratic slender red pamphlets.

Well, they’re still at it, as evidenced by this latest listicle, which gives the old Rolodex a workout. To find out which cities are the most culinarily titillating, they checked in with editors and writers across the nation.

“It was an incredible year for dining across the U.S. in 2017. With chefs from New York, Chicago and San Francisco moving to smaller markets like Denver, Raleigh, Seattle and Charleston (among others), culinary innovation is booming in cities big and small,” the staffers state. “For one final look back, we've asked editors around the country to make a case for the city they believe had the biggest year in food by assessing the number of exciting new openings, award recognition and national media attention. Then we let some of the top food media brass weigh in on which locales were most exciting.”

I knew that I should have answered the phone that day, but I assumed it was just another offer for a free Disney vacation (in exchange for attending a quick eight-hour timeshare presentation).

If we were to be completely honest with ourselves, what’s going on in cities like Ashville, Lexington, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh, Denver, Austin and Portland, Maine, all included in the list, is tough to match. With respect to the guide’s stated condition: “Which food town had the biggest growth spurt this year?” I would agree that Cleveland is not one of them.

After five to eight years of unabated growth, Cleveland's frothy restaurant scene appears to be reducing to a simmer, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A spate of recent closings can be an indication that we have reached a point of restaurant saturation. But we also are simply not opening the types of places that snag accolades and attention from the likes of Beard, Zagat and whomever. This is not to say that we are not flush with talented chefs and exceptional restaurants, it’s that with a few exceptions our dining scene has been merely chasing trends: think barbecue, tacos, ramen, wood-fired pizza, seafood in a bag, donuts, breweries…

Don’t get us wrong, we love all of those things, but they should be complemented by truly ambitious offerings that demand broader attention. Apart from places like the Plum, Astoria, Ushabu, Salt and a very few others, the past couple years have felt a bit like a lateral move, culinarily speaking.

My hope for the New Year as a diner, not a critic, is to see the opening of a few restaurants that are truly exciting enough to land on lists like this one. I know we have the stomachs to support them.

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