The Diner on 55th

You can’t miss the Diner on 55th. Just look for the shiny, old-timey diner car at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair (pro tip: enter from E. 55th once you cross St. Clair – the driveway on St. Clair is exit only). It’s right off the E. 55th exit on I-90. If the sun is shining you may need sunglasses, but you definitely can’t miss it!

Since it opened in 2001, the Diner on 55th has been the epitome of a “classic small town diner,” but in the big city. If you’re a fan of old-school dining and comfort food, you’re sure to fall in love with this classically-inspired 1950s-style diner with checkerboard tablecloths. They specialize in all-American comforts like breakfast foods, chili, burgers, and onion rings. The Diner on 55th is open 6 days a week from 6 am to 3 pm (Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm). It is closed on Mondays and holidays.

The diner car is surprisingly roomy inside. Booths line the windows and walls, and tables are lined up down the middle to be fit together as needed. There is a counter down the middle with comfortable-looking stools as well. The clientele was a mix of regulars and first-timers. I don’t know our local athletes, but one particularly tall gentleman may or may not play for the Cavs. He had to duck his head when he left. Being 5’2″ I didn’t have that problem. Whether they were regulars or a newbie like me, everyone was cheerfully greeted and treated well. The servers were very friendly and accommodating.

As for the food, it was by far one of the best breakfasts I have enjoyed in a long time!!! I ordered the Full Belly Breakfast, which comes with two eggs, two pancakes or two slices of French toast, and home fries or grits (or half and half). You can also order it with your choice of bacon, sausage, ham steak, or “ranch steak”, so I ordered bacon. When the server put the plate in front of me I was taken aback by how good it smelled. Well, it tasted even better. I don’t know what they put in the pancakes, but they were delicious. I think I only left a couple bites behind. As good as the pancakes were, the star of the show were the scrambled eggs. They were firm yet fluffy and every bite was a buttery delight. I savored every single eggy bite. The bacon was perfectly crisp. I walked out of here happy and looking forward to my next visit.

An omelet hit the spot one early Saturday morning. I decided to give it a chance even though it was 11 o’clock, and I was surprised that there were still a few tables available as well as the counter. People used the counter to sit until a table could be cleared. Once I sat down I ordered coffee and the Lorraine omelet, a three-egg omelet made with bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. I chose the home fries instead of grits and rye toast. There was a big table that had spun the kitchen into the weeds, but I was in no hurry. I had a book on my phone and was happy to chill and drink some coffee.

Since I have really enjoyed the breakfasts I ordered another Full Belly Breakfast, but this time I was in the mood for French toast. I figured I would be taking half home with me, but it was so good I cleaned the plate. The French toast was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They are generous with the butter. The scrambled eggs were once again delicious, the home fries featured some crispy bits and soft potato bits, and the bacon was perfectly crisp. I ordered coffee and two orange juices because I was thirsty. Since I know how to deal with the sugar dispenser now, the coffee was perfect.

Once it came out and I managed to wrangle up some jelly, ketchup, and an ice water, my breakfast was complete. I savored every bite of my breakfast – from the buttery omelet with chunks of bacon and mushroom and a pillow of Swiss and home fries with a liberal dousing of ketchup to the jelly-slathered and generously buttered rye toast. I walked out of there full and happy, which is how you want to be when you leave a diner.

Both breakfast and lunch are served all day. I saw stuffed cabbage on special one day and headed out (after digging my car out from a snowstorm). I got there shortly after one and they had unfortunately run out. When I asked the waitress when they usually start running out of things she suggested I get there a little before noon next time. So keep that in mind. I ordered the Roast Beef and Cheddar on a Bun off the Specials Board. She explained that they make the roast beef there, shave it and top it with cheddar cheese. In fact, from listening to the talk between the servers and the regulars at the counter they make just about everything (including the salad dressings) there.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the sandwich itself. Once I removed a couple pieces with gristle I enjoyed it more, but I was blown away by the onion rings. The special sandwich came with my choice of side, and when I asked her she recommended the onion rings. Talk about a great choice! They are definitely made there. The breading is light and crisp, and the entire thing is just tasty. One of the best orders of onion rings I’ve ever enjoyed. They don’t serve a lot of them, but it’s definitely quality over quantity. If you want more, order a second side.

The Lunch Specials also come with a complimentary soup. The soup of the day that day was Manhattan Clam Chowder (see above). I did notice a few clams in it, but honestly, it was more of a tasty tomato-based vegetable soup. I really didn’t miss the clams at all. On another visit, the soup of the day was cream of asparagus. I loved it. It was a lighter soup with not much cream and had some rice to give it some bulk. The soup was also brightened up by lemon juice. It was definitely a Greek take on asparagus soup combined with avgolemono soup (Greek chicken soup prepared with eggs and lemon and a bit of rice).

I ordered a Patty Melt with onion rings during a recent visit. The waitress, unfortunately, wrote it down wrong, but immediately rectified it by returning the plate to the kitchen and asking for onion rings. She then brought the burger back to me, and I enjoyed the perfectly medium rare burger while waiting for the onion rings, which were once again absolute perfection. The waitresses have also started greeting me like a regular.

Club sandwiches are also a great way to judge a diner. I also ordered the Diner Club sandwich to go. It was also perfection – a triple layer of white bread layered with ham, turkey (that are seasoned with what may be caraway?), bacon, cheese lettuce, and tomato. I asked for a side of 1000 Island dressing to slather on it. My perfect addition. I learned of this hack when I worked at Bakers Square. It was a bit difficult to eat, because it is so tall and fell apart pretty easily. But it sure was tasty! I ate the second half the next day, and it stayed together much better because it had all chilled together overnight.

The owner (a cute little older Greek guy named “Jimmy”) was either at the register or sitting/standing at the counter (the guy in the plaid shirt in the photo with the counter) the whole time I was there. He warmly cashes people out and thanks them for coming. On my first visit, I wondered how soon is too soon to return. Turns out every couple of days is just fine.

Contact info:

The Diner on 55th
1328 East 55th Street (at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair Ave.)
Cleveland, Ohio
(216) 417-8001

Charlie’s Dog House Diner

I have been fascinated with Charlie’s Dog House Diner my entire life. The building sparked my imagination for years. To my young eyes, it looked like a little fairy tale diner guarded by two snoopy dogs. My grandparents lived on W. Schaaf off Broadview in Old Brooklyn, so we would frequently pass the diner, which marks the border between Cleveland and Parma. The kitschy roadside attraction has been in the exact same spot since 1952, when it began life as the Dog House, part of a national chain of shops that offered walk-up service to customers who ordered hot dogs and hamburgers through a window. When my father heard I ate here he made fun of me. Apparently, it was never quite taken seriously by him and his friends. Their loss.

The menu was expanded to include breakfast and lunch when a new owner took over 10 years ago, but they “updated” it during the pandemic (June 2020). It still contains all of the breakfast and lunch favorites. There is not a lot of seating. If you time it right, you can walk right in and grab a seat at one of the twelve red-topped stools at the L-shaped counter. It is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which means I have to get motivated to make it there.

The building features a doghouse-like façade and two painted hound dogs that look out in either direction from the front door, just beneath a classic Coca-Cola sign, neon lights promising Chicago-style Vienna hot dogs and Charlie’s original waffles, and a marquee that reads “Charlie’s Restaurant.” It can seat 12 people. Obviously, I can’t say how busy it is in the morning. I would imagine it is busy enough that it is still in business all these years later.

These days, the clientele is still solidly working class, the burgers and pancakes still sizzle on the flat top and, though heavily remodeled throughout the decades, the space still features numerous retro throwbacks. Children’s artwork, a Specials board, lotto scratch-off dispensers, and photos of Liam Neeson (see below) decorate the area behind the counter. The operation still runs much like it would have back in the 1950s, with the owner on the grill and one of the employees tending the counter. Everything is made to order. You can still get full for less than $10.

The eggs Benedicts and breakfast burritos are well-loved. A list of skillets and omelets, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches, and, of course, those famous hot dogs are also on the menu; however, most people here are regulars and just ask for “the usual.” Since I am not a regular, I chose to go with one of their “specialty omelets” – the Dog House Omelet – along with hash browns and rye toast. The Dog House Omelet is stuffed with bacon, sausage, onions, mushrooms, and cheese. It was almost too much. A good omelet has two or three ingredients. This one seemed like it was trying too hard. As you can see by the photo it was more mix-in than egg.

also wanted to try their waffle but knew it was a lot of food. The waitress suggested I order half a waffle (yes, it’s possible!), so I splurged and added strawberry and blueberry toppings to it. The waffle was light and crispy and luscious inside. Adding the fruit toppings was an inspired choice. I really enjoyed the fruit with the carby goodness of the waffle. I ate half of everything and then took the leftovers home. I made the day of a guy begging at the side of the exit ramp onto Carnegie when I gave him my leftovers.

I heard the Ashlee Burrito is not to be missed, so I ordered that the next time I was there. Talk about filling! The tortilla wrap is stuffed with eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and cheddar cheese and topped with sausage gravy. They also drop a bottle of hot sauce, so you can spice it up. It is a little bland, so the hot sauce was a nice added bonus. I obviously could only eat half, and saved half for the next day’s breakfast. I know I already said it, but “Talk about filling!”

I ordered a breakfast bagel sandwich to go just to see what it was like. For $3.99 I got a deliciously soft bagel filled with bacon, a well-fried egg (no yolk splooge on me this time), cheese and hash browns. It was a decent breakfast sandwich and was a total bargain. I can’t wait to try the croissant sandwiches, but I would definitely get this one again too.

They have several hot dogs on the menu. Since we aren’t in Chicago I decided not to order the Chicago Dog. I just can’t picture any place in Cleveland doing it right. Instead, I ordered the Cleveland Dog, because that is the way God intended hot dogs to be served 🙂 . It is a delicious Vienna hot dog, so it had some heft to it. They topped it with chopped onions and Stadium mustard. Absolutely divine. Someone ordered a trio of dogs the other day when I was there. It looked amazing.

I’ve tried to order a Patty Melt from every diner I have eaten at recently to compare them. This was definitely a decent Patty Melt. First off, they used rye bread, so bonus points. The burger was cooked medium and the cheese was perfectly melted to hold in the grilled onions. A squirt of yellow mustard made it complete. The onion rings were also decent. The onion stayed inside the batter when I bit into it. They stood up nicely to the ketchup.

I look forward to continuing to explore the menu. Maybe I’ll have a Monte Cristo, Charlie’s Mess or one of the benedicts next. This place definitely deserves our love. Did you know it was featured in a recent movie with Liam Neeson called The Marksman? Apparently, Charlie’s is a steakhouse in Arizona. 🙂

Photo of Charlie's Restaurant - Cleveland, OH, United States
How could a kid not be fascinated by this? Photo from Yelp user Chas M.

Contact info:

Charlie’s Dog House Diner
2102 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, OH 44134
216-661-4873

The Rowley Inn

Open since 1906, The Rowley Inn is a neighborhood pub with great food, craft beers, reasonably priced drinks, and good service. Whenever I am here I picture my grandfather eating and drinking here way back then (my dad grew up in Tremont). It has a casual neighborhood vibe and a Cleveland-focused menu of comfort food and drinks. After all, it is located across the street from the Christmas Story House, so it gets a lot of tourists as well as locals. The Rowley also serves a great brunch. I just wish it were bigger because getting a table can sometimes be difficult.

The first time I came here I had seen a video of the grilled cheese pull on social media and decided I needed one asap. I was hooked from the moment I walked inside. I grabbed a little table to myself and ordered Cleveland’s Best Grilled Cheese with fries and a hard orange soda. It was a grown-up version of a beloved childhood meal. The grilled cheese features smoked gouda, mozzarella and provolone with a touch of mayo on grilled sourdough. I had never had mayo on grilled cheese before, but I am now a fan. The fries may not have looked like much, but they were some of the tastiest fries I have had in a while. I don’t know what kind of seasoning salt they use, but it makes the fries delectable. The hard orange soda made me chuckle. I felt like I was being so decadent.

The second visit I decided to try something completely different and ordered the Loco Moski. I loved the Loco Moco in Hawaii, and this is a decidedly Cleveland take on the Hawaiian rice, burger patty, gravy, and fried egg. It features pierogi instead of rice that are topped with a burger patty, fried onions, eggs and pepper gravy. It was a lot of food piled up, and I struggled to finish it. It was definitely a very unique choice – and quite a delicious one. I paired it with a Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine, which is made with Pinnacle whipped cream vodka, Kahlua, cream and ovaltine. I very much enjoyed the creamy drink, which was reminiscent of a mudslide and/or White Russian.

I was with my dining out group on the second visit, so we were able to try a few things and share them. We ordered the fried pickle spears, the pretzel bites, the kielbasa corndogs (no longer on the menu). Everyone really enjoyed them. Most everyone went with a burger.

Obviously, on my next solo visit I had to try the Rowley’s version of a Patty Melt. The Rowley Melt features a burger (it came out a perfect medium rare) topped with Swiss, sautĂ©ed onions and mushrooms, and an egg on grilled rye. I ordered mine without an egg, because I need to limit my egg intake and I had overdone it the day before. It came with it anyway, but I just removed it. No big deal. The fries were once again a highlight. I ordered a Paloma (Espolon, lime, simple syrup, and sparkling grapefruit) to go with it. Refreshing!

I was lucky to get a seat at the bar one Taco Tuesday. I ordered a couple tacos, which were actually pretty good (I’m not the biggest taco fan), and a margarita, and then a Meatloaf Sandwich (one of these days I will order Randy’s Meatloaf Dinner and try eating it Randy-style for a free t-shirt. But I will have to have a designated driver in order to loosen up enough to do it.) The meatloaf sandwich was really, really good. I loved the glaze on it. The tomato slices were a little weird, but I got over it. When I make a meatloaf sandwich it is usually just a slab of meatloaf and ketchup – no tomatoes, no lettuce, no fried onions.

Finally, brunch at the Rowley is amazing. One of my friends made a reservation for our large group – and it was a good thing he did. People were enjoying Bloody Marys and coffee. I ordered a mimosa and the Everything But The Bagel Breakfast, which features 3 pierogi, kielbasa, cheddar cheese, Everything Bagel seasoning and is topped with sausage gravy & 2 over easy eggs. It was quite tasty and very filling. What’s not to like about pierogi and kielbasa?

My neighbor ordered the Corned Beef Hash and enjoyed it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals as well, which ranged from a caesar salad, avocado toast to a breakfast burger. We split an order of beignets. Since the kitchen is small they brought the food out as it was finished, which meant that everything was fresh and piping hot. One thing to note is that a 20% gratuity is added to the checks for parties of 5 or more. I have no problem with this practice at all. I only wish our waitress had reminded us of it when we cashed out. She got a 43% gratuity out of me. It was her lucky day.

Contact info:

The Rowley Inn
1104 Rowley Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 795-5345

Big Al’s Diner

Big Al’s is about as “greasy spoon diner” as it gets. The 25-year-old diner is not flashy, it’s not fancy, it’s not big, it’s just a small diner. The staff is friendly, hard-working, and attentive. You walk in, sit where you want, and one of the servers will come ask you if you want coffee and take your order. The bill is dropped with your meal, and when you are done they cash you out or you pay the bill at the register. The diner is open Wednesday thru Sunday from 7:00 am to 1:30 pm, and breakfast is served the entire time.

It’s not a place to come if you are watching calories. The portions are big, and the food is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, you will be taking food home with you. The home fries are available with pepper and onions, and the prices are affordable. It has all the comforting favorites, like fluffy eggs, large, buttery pancakes and waffles, several kinds of sausage, sausage gravy to die for, thick, steaming soups, homemade mashed potatoes with gravy, burgers, and layer cake for dessert. But the corned beef hash is the star of the show – it was featured on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate by Michael Symon.

Obviously, I had to order breakfast the first time I visited. Since I am not a fan of corned beef I left the hash for the fans. I chose #8 – “On the Lighter Side Combo” – 2 eggs, 1 pancake or 1/2 a French toast, and bacon, ham or sausage. I added fresh blueberries to the pancake for an additional 50 cents. It was the perfect amount of food. The eggs were scrambled just as I like it and I could add cheese to them, the bacon was crisp and the blueberry pancake hit the spot. And best of all, my coffee cup was never empty for long.

I usually visit diners during the week to avoid crowds and waitings for a table. However, craving diner food on a recent rainy Sunday morning I headed to Big Al’s for a waffle. I had to wait about 5-10 minutes for a table at 12:45 (they close at 1:30). The two tables in front of me got seated right away, so it was just bad timing on my part. They seated one table after me and took the phone off the hook to cut off to-go orders. The #10 hit the spot – a waffle, 2 eggs, and choice of bacon, ham or sausage. I opted for scrambled and sausage (patties or links? turkey or pork?) patties. I ordered a large orange juice ($3.25) that was worth every penny because the serving was large. Most of the time you order a large orange juice and you are lucky to get a medium juice glass as the “large.” I wasn’t quite able to finish it, but I didn’t have enough to warrant a box. I left sated and happy at 1:35 pm.

Another visit had me trying the sausage gravy. Since I didn’t want a huge portion of sausage gravy I chose the country fried steak combo (#13) with two eggs, home fries, country fried steak, and toast. I chose over easy eggs so that I could mix the yolks in with the loaded home fries (always get them loaded with grilled onions and green peppers) and rye toast. Everything was very tasty, but the sausage gravy-covered country fried steak was exceptional. Screw the corned beef hash – get the sausage gravy! It was a filling breakfast, and I ended up taking half the home fries and steak home with me for a light supper. I ordered cranberry juice and coffee this time around, and the medium cranberry juice was perfect in addition to ice water.

I, of course, had to try their lunch items as well and decided on the Patty Melt. This was a great Patty Melt. The cheese was melty, the onions were nicely grilled and caramelized, and the burger was cooked to my specification (medium rare). The hand cut fries were delicious.

They are doing a booming carry-out business in the time of COVID, but they also clean and sterilize the tables before seating diners, the booths and tables in the middle of the room are separated by plastic partitions, and there is a bottle of hand sanitizer on each table. Silverware is rolled and sealed with a band.

Contact info:

Big Al’s Diner
12600 Larchmere Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 791-8550

Mama D’s Diner

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and one of my greatest pleasures is enjoying it in a small diner. I’ve discovered Mama D’s Diner in the past year. I noticed it in a small strip mall on Mayfield Road. I asked my Facebook food forum about it, but no one could tell me anything about it, so I decided to check it out for myself. I am so glad I did! It’s a definite find!

It’s a small space with four booths, one booth in the front window, and a couple chairs along the counter. Once COVID hit they hung plastic panels between the booths and discourage sitting at the counter. Silverware comes served in an envelope. There have been two people working whenever I have been there – Ms. V and the kitchen cook. They greet and joke with their regulars. They were teasing a retiree because he arrived after 3 the last time I was there, and I got into a nice discussion with a fellow diner about the weather and my car as she was leaving. I usually bring a book to entertain myself, but an occasional brief conversation is always welcome.

My first visit was after noon, but they serve breakfast all day. I had had enough coffee by then, so I ordered a Mountain Dew instead. I decided to order Rob’s Famous Breakfast Bowl, which was featured on the chalkboard. It features loaded homefries topped with two eggs, 2 bacon strips, 2 sausage patties, and a slice of Texas toast. I chose scrambled eggs, and the loaded homefries were an absolute home run! They contained grilled onions and peppers. It was really tasty.

The second time I came in Ms. V. recognized me and asked if I wanted a Mountain Dew. I was stunned she remembered me. I felt so welcomed. Since it was earlier in the day I instead chose coffee and a sweet breakfast. I was intrigued by the Chunky Monkey French Toast. Chunky Monkey is a great Ben & Jerry’s flavor, and this French toast also does the name justice. It features three slices of French toast topped with maple syrup bananas and chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, and vanilla whipped topping. It was a work of art and delicious as well!

Another breakfast favorite I ordered Mama D’s Philly Egg Sandwich, which features shaved prime rib with peppers & onions, two eggs, and cheese on a toasted hoagie. It was a little too much bread, but the prime rib, egg and cheese combo was great. I tore off the excess bread and gave it a good shake of A1 sauce. A side of thick-cut bacon was the perfect accompaniment.

Now I love Eat at Joe’s, but I haven’t been as enthused by the lunch options as I am about the breakfasts there. I can’t say that here. The soups here are great. I ordered a cup of chili with the Philly Egg Sandwich. I know it’s a weird dichotomy, but I had a craving. It’s a good chili. It has a bit of heat to it, but it also has a nice balance of meat and tomatoes with just a few kidney beans (I’m not the biggest fan of kidney beans, so I appreciated it). I’ve also enjoyed the clam chowder and beef noodle soup. The clam chowder had a nice flavor to it and lots of good bites of clam and potato. The noodles in the beef noodle soup were intact, which isn’t always the case in noodle soups that sit. I can tell they add the noodles just before serving. A nice detail that is appreciated.

I decided to switch it up and try Lou’s Patty Melt. Mama D’s serves an excellent Patty Melt. I need to keep trying new things, but the Patty Melt keeps calling to me. I’ve enjoyed it with the housemade potato chips and dip as well as house-cut fries. And you can tell they are cut in-house because I have never, ever seen fries cut like this before.

The Sloppy Joe was on special the last time I was there. It is probably one of the best sloppy joes I have ever eaten. It didn’t have any discernible peppers or onions, but it was a great tasting sandwich all the same. I knew better than to eat it with my hands. I would have ended up wearing it. If you see it on the menu, order it. I’m wondering if the specials are the same every day. I’ll have to stop by again next Thursday and see. But then again I may order the Beef Stew, which also sounded good.

There are plenty of other things on the menu that I want to try, like the various breakfast sandwiches and one of the smashburgers. It’s a small menu, so the goal of trying everything is definitely a doable one. And I will continue to be a regular there – although I try to go during off-hours when they aren’t as busy. Mama D’s is open Wednesday to Sunday from 8 am to 4 pm.

Contact info:

Mama D’s Diner
5416 Mayfield Road
Lyndhurst, OH 44124
440-421-9500

Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant Bar and Grill

I never would have thought a great little gem of a Mexican restaurant would be hidden in a strip mall on Green Road. Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant Bar and Grill was recommended to me by my massage therapist. He told me many of his clients enjoyed eating there.

Authentic Mexican is hard to find, and I’m certainly not someone who can tell. However, one southern California transplant is a fan and that’s enough for me. She recommends the cheese enchiladas (and several people suggest getting the verde sauce) and fish tacos. And they have tacos and gorditos de lengua (tongue) on special on Saturdays (click on the Specials on the website). You don’t see too many restaurants here that serve tongue. They also serve pozole on Saturdays and menudo on Sundays as well as cheap street tacos (hard shelled for $1, soft shelled for $2) on Taco Tuesday.

I met a girlfriend there for lunch after her massage for our first foray there. I ordered what is probably the most Instagrammable item on the menu, but it is as delicious as it is beautiful. I ordered the pineapple fajitas. I love fajitas because they are hard to screw up, but these fajitas come in a pineapple half on top of the searing hot plate. The chips are fresh and warm, and I enjoyed the salsa. The margarita was great. I ordered a frozen peach margarita the first time, but over time I have determined that I love the fresh margarita the best.

This became my go to place to order from during the coronavirus crisis, because they starting serving their margaritas to go. I got a little emotional when I had a sip of margarita for the first time in months. They serve peach, raspberry, blue raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, mango, pineapple and lime on the rocks or frozen. They are available in glasses, jumbo glasses, half pitchers, and pitchers. I love the raspberry, watermelon and – when I really want to splurge – fresh lime margaritas. They are $14.99 ($18.99 for top shelf). They also have a nice happy hour every day.

My go to order here is the Pollo Adobo. It features grilled, seasoned and marinated chicken strips with grilled mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions covered in queso. It comes served with rice, beans and tortillas. This is my favorite thing in a Mexican restaurant. It isn’t available at every restaurant, so when it is I order it. I love the cheesy dip mixed with the savory chicken and veggies.

My dad likes chile rellenos, so I like to try them when I see them on the menu. I was able to order it in a combination with a spinach enchilada and bean burrito (Vegetarian Combo #7). I thought it was a little bland, and I loved the spinach enchilada the most out of the three. The best thing about it was the cost – $9.99. You can’t beat that when you are pinching pennies during a pandemic.

Growing up we had Chi-Chis, and everyone ordered their fried ice cream. The fried ice cream here actually comes kind of close to the Chi-Chis fried ice cream. My photo doesn’t look very appealing, because it was in a to go container during COVID (and on Cinco de Mayo to boot). They got overwhelmed with orders and I was afraid my ice cream would melt, but it came out perfect and was still cold when I got it home. I highly recommend it if you like the combination of cinnamon and ice cream.

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Left to right: Taco salad, Carne asade taco, Burrito

Contact info:

Los Arcos
2175 S Green Road
University Hts, OH 44121
(216) 862-6623

Congin’s

Photo from Yelper Laura S.

I had never heard of Congin’s until I attended a Bordeaux wine dinner by myself at Le Petit Triangle. I was sat at a larger table of strangers, and we were trading favorite food tips (as foodies tend to do). One of the women, who I recognized as a writer for the Cleveland Heights Observer, recommended the pizza at Congin’s. Congin’s Pizza is a family-owned restaurant that has been in business for over 27 years. Apparently there are two locations – Congin’s Pizza in Chardon and Congin’s Italian in Cleveland on Nottingham Road & St. Clair near the Euclid/South Collinwood border). I drove past the Nottingham location, and it took me a second to recognize it. It looks like an unassuming auto body repair shop. One Yelper describes it as “a very unassuming, bare bones building lacking in even a modicum of charm.” I made a point to stop for a pizza (making the mistake of not calling it in – I sat and waited in the austere waiting area for a while). It was worth the wait, and I’ve been frequenting Congin’s Italian ever since. It is a quick drive from Cleveland Heights once I learned the back roads, and it serves what I think is the best old-school, American-style pizza in Cleveland. The crust is delicious, the red sauce is not too sweet and not too acidic, and they are generous with the toppings. I especially like the generous clumps of sausage. I am hooked. In fact, I was driving for Lyft on Valentine’s Day and decided to call it a night when I was near Bedford. I called in a pizza order to Congin’s and drove all the way there to get my pie just before they closed at 10 pm. Driving 271 to 90, I got off at E. 185th, and it was a quick trip until I was there on Nottingham. They have a drive-thru window if you’re lazy and don’t want to get out of car. I can’t usually wait until I get home and dig into the pizza as soon as I can. The melty cheese stretch brings so much satisfaction, and I rush to get the slice in my mouth before the warm toppings slide off. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding it so it all stays together. I order the same pizza every time – the Deluxe, which features pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, green pepper, black olive, and onion. I think about switching it up every once in a while, but why mess with perfection.

I’ve also tried several other things off the menu. I ordered the Congin’s sub on my second visit, because ordering the sub named for the restaurant seemed like a no-brainer. I enjoyed the sub a lot. The Congin features turkey, ham, roast beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mustard, & Miracle Whip. Even though I prefer mayonnaise I didn’t hate the Miracle Whip. I think it gave it a more unique flavor. The tomato was surprisingly fresh and perfect for a tomato in January. It was a nice surprise. I loved the fact that the lettuce they used was a spring mix featuring arugula. They have a meatball sub, Italian sausage sub, chicken and eggplant parmagiana subs, and hot buttered steak sub that sound good – as well as something called a Bundo Burger, which is apparently very similar to a Romanburger. Ah, Cleveland, never change!

Their pasta dinners come with a dinner salad and a bread roll. You can order a half order, but it doesn’t come with the salad or roll. I ordered the spaghetti with meat sauce my first time around. I always order spaghetti at a new place, but have learned not to order meatballs because I tend to be disappointed. The spaghetti was good and the meat sauce was quite generous. I will be trying other pastas off the menu in the future.

The wings were weird. People raved about them on Yelp. I was not expecting to receive breaded wings with the sauce on the side. They were large, meaty wings, but I prefer unbreaded wings. Breading makes the sauce soak in and is just unnecessary in my opinion.

Contact info:

Congin’s Italian
18812 Nottingham Rd
Cleveland, OH 44110
(216) 481-4585

Congin’s Pizza
104 South Street
Chardon, OH
(440) 286-1260

The Crispy Chick

The Crispy Chick opened on Woodland Avenue near the intersection with E. 55th in October 2019 in an old Church’s Chicken building. I had watched the renovations, so was happy once it finally opened. The Crispy Chick is a minority female owned business (the owner is from Eritrea but has lived in Cleveland for 20 years), which I like to support. The Crispy Chick serves chicken raised without hormones or antibiotics at affordable prices. The chicken is real whole chicken tenderloin with no gristle or fatty filler pieces. The sauces and seasonings are made from scratch.

The menu is quite limited. It only has four chicken tender meal choices – a strip sandwich, a three-piece, a four-piece (“Original Meal”), and a six-piece “Mega Meal.” The four piece comes with garlic toast, slaw and one sauce; the mega meal supposedly comes with garlic toast, slaw and two sauces. They also have a Kids Meal with two tenders, fries and sauce. There are also two chicken wing dinners – with three wings and ten wings. The sauce flavors are BBQ, Buffalo, Habanero, Honey Mustard, House Sauce, and Sriracha. The House Sauce is a zingy, creamy sauce. I liked it a lot, but I’m at heart a honey mustard girl. The two sauces go well together when both ordered. The drink choices are limited too – and not listed. They are (if I remember correctly) Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Fruit Punch, and Orange. They also have fresh brewed tea and lemonade for $2.39 and $2.99. When I asked to mix the two she said it would be extra (??), but I think there might have been a communication problem with the intercom. They also have milkshakes for $3.95.

The first time I stopped I ordered a three-piece meal for $7.38. The tenders were delicious, the fries were decent enough, and the garlic bread toast was phenomenal. The three-tender meal comes with one sauce, but I wanted to try another sauce as well so I ordered a second sauce for another $0.75 (ordered BBQ and Honey Mustard). The second time I ordered a Mega Meal (6 tenders) and an extra garlic bread toast. The food itself is great. The size of the tenders vary, but they are juicy and perfect.

Despite the limited menu the service is pretty slow. The first time I wasn’t even sure it was open because I sat at the drive-thru ordering sign for a while without being greeted. A couple minutes later someone greeted me. I thought it was an anomaly until my second visit when I was asked to wait three times while sitting at the drive-thru ordering sign, she rang up the car in front of me that had drive up to the drive-thru window (because I could see their order being rung up on the sign), and then I was finally greeted. Once I got to the window I was handed my drink, eventually asked for my payment, and then after another minute asked to pull around, where I sat waiting for at least 15 minutes. I’m not quite sure what the hold up was, because nothing was blazing hot as if right out of the fryer. I was then told they were out of House sauce (they had one, which was in my bag, but I had asked for a House sauce and Honey Mustard so it was okay – she had just forgotten that). When I then checked my order in the car and went in to ask about the missing cole slaw I was told they were out of cole slaw. Out of House sauce and cole slaw at 5 PM on a Wednesday. Okay, I didn’t have my heart that set on the cole slaw any way…

While I was waiting two people went inside and came out with preordered meals, so that seems like the way to go. You can order on GrubHub, DoorDash or UberEats, but I’d rather go there in person and make sure they get the entire cost of my meal. The food is good and affordable, so preorder your meal or do not be in a rush if you stop here.

Contact info:

The Crispy Chick
5618 Woodland Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44104
(216) 331-4700

 

Gunselman’s Tavern

I’m lucky I don’t live closer to Gunselman’s Tavern or I would be eating here all the time. The restaurants in Cleveland would go under, because I would be eating at Gunselman’s once a week and not exploring all of Cleveland’s restaurants. They are open every day from 11:00 to 2:30 a.m. The menu has a lot to offer, with lots of interesting appetizers, salads, entrees and burgers. They have a rotating daily soup, happy hour is 11-6 p.m. everyday of the week, and they offer Sunday brunch from 11-2 p.m. Gunselman’s has been open as a neighborhood bar since 1920. Opened as the Past Time Cafe in the 1920’s and has a shady history during prohibition. Legend has it that Henry Gunselman was a whiskey salesman that went to collect a bill in 1936. They couldn’t pay so he took over the bar. Gunselman’s had a great neighborhood kitchen until 1956. The new owners re-opened the comfort food kitchen in 2016 with a lot of old school recipes and a great burger. The walls have lots of old-time photos. The bar side is homier than the side room, but if you park in the parking lot you can enter through the side room.

The place is not that large, so during dinner hours it can get quite packed. That particular night had a large party in the side room, and the bar was packed with people. We had to wait for a while for a table to open up, but luckily her son and his girlfriend were running late.

I first heard about Gunselman’s when a friend posted a photo of the December burger of the month – the Christmas Dinner featuring 1/2 lb. burger, shaved prime rib (shaved here meaning nice slabs), house recipe horseradish aioli, rosemary au jus, Muenster cheese, arugula and tomato on a Weck (salted) bun. Every single ingredient was perfectly balanced to complement the others. The horseradish aioli was divine and the rosemary au jus was inspiring. That prime rib was also absolutely perfect. Despite it being fairly chunky it came apart easily

and melted together with the beef. I took a photo of the cross-section because it is a sight to behold. My friend and I split it (and ordered onion rings instead of fries) in addition to ordering a few appetizers for the table to share.

The tabletopper sign said the burger paired well with GLBC Christmas ale, but I ordered a Black & Tan because I could. Anytime Guiness is on draft I order it. Black & Tan is one of my favorite Irish beer or ders – half Guinness and half Harp or other Irish lager. It always hits the spot.

My friend and I also split a dozen chicken wings. Gunselman’s was in the middle of a wing sauce competition, so we ordered some wings with one of the sauces. The wings were well-fried and crisp and the sauce was very flavorful. I’m not a hot/spicy loving person, so it was very sweet BBQ sauce-like, which is my jam. The wings were quite tasty. I went home with a couple of them, and they made a nice lunch the next day.

The kid at the table decided to order chicken tenders after the waitress told him he could get them doused in sauce. Unfortunately for him he chose a sauce that was a little spicier than he was ready for. He should have gotten the sauce on the side like on the menu. He enjoyed the tenders anyway.

I ordered the Reilly’s Corned Beef Pasties, which Reilly’s Irish Bakery makes for them. They are empanada-like meat pies (the Brits call them pasties) filled with corned beef & Swiss, sauerkraut and 1000 Island. This was the surprise hit of the night. We all loved them, and I could see myself ordering them again.

My friend’s son ordered the Ohio City pierogi but I seem to remember that there was something special to them. The normal pierogi are Ohio City Pasta cheddar & red potato pierogi with grilled onions and sour cream. They were a little tougher than I like, but it was a solid pierogi if you like pierogi.

I enjoyed this burger of the month so much that I went back a week later for lunch on my own. It was a big burger. I would have been too full if I had ordered anything else. It was the middle of a snowy day and I felt like spoiling myself, so I ordered an Irish coffee. It did a good job warming me up, and the burger was just as good as I remembered. I went with the hand cut fries, which I enjoyed dunking into the accompanying side of cheese sauce. I’m not usually a cheese sauce girl and prefer ketchup with my fries, but there is something about this pairing of cheese sauce and fries that is a match made in heaven. If I am not mistaken it is the Bertman beer cheese dip featuring cheddar cheese + beer + Bertman’s original ball park mustard and served with pretzel rods as an appetizer. Good stuff! It is without a doubt the best burger I have ever eaten. I was sad to see it go off the menu.

I ordered the chicken paprikash to go for dinner that night. Advertised as “Irish Kevin’s recipe” it was a little overpowering and heavy on actual peppers for me. Not a flavor profile I prefer. I’ll stick with Sokolowski’s or Balaton’s, so give me the ones made with Hungarian paprika. Other people adore it. It’s just not my taste and I’ll happily try more things on the menu instead.

The Burger of the Month in January was some health-conscious one wrapped in lettuce, so I skipped it. However, February’s Burger of the Month, Coldwater Lobster Love, featured a half pound burger of ground brisket, chuck and short rib (for one damn tender burger patty), smoked bacon, coldwater lobster meat poached in Cajun butter, Muenster cheese, tomato and arugula on your basic burger bun. This burger was decadent AF. I ordered it medium rare and it practically melted in my mouth. It was once again perfectly cooked. I paired it with an El Dudearino, which is Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Kahlua and cream. When I finished that I switched to iced tea because the snow was starting to fly and I wanted to have my wits about me for the drive home.

I can’t wait to see what this place does next.

Contact info:

Gunselman’s Tavern
21490 Lorain Road
Fairview Park, OH 44126
(440) 331-5719

Byte Cafe

Two years ago during Lent I joined a fun little thing called “40 Days of Sandwiches.” I was introduced to it by my friend Nina whose friend Mitch started it. They are still doing it this year if you want to join them. Just post your photo to Instagram and use the hashtag #40daysofsandwiches. I’m toying with the idea of doing it again, but it is really hard to eat some kind of sandwich every day. Maybe every other day. It was a fun way to explore new restaurants and sandwiches.

When planning my sandwich schedule, I stumbled on a Thrillist list of the best sandwiches in Cleveland, which included the Green Goddess by Byte Cafe. I live close to the Byte Cafe and had no idea it was even there. You probably aren’t even aware of it. It is a little coffee and sandwich counter on the ground floor of the Tyler Building on Superior Avenue. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

The Byte Cafe is an unassuming little place at the end of the ground floor hallway with a fun little eating area with leaded glass windows. It gets crowded during the lunch rush when all of the business people in the building head down for lunch. I go after lunch rush hours and before they close. And get it to go.

The first time I went there was for the Green Goddess. It features fresh avocado, goat cheese, basil pesto, arugula, balsamic reduction, roasted walnuts, and salt&pepper on multigrain bread. It was by far the favorite and most unique sandwich I ate during the 40 Days of Sandwiches. It was refreshingly light yet super creamy and flavorful.

Another sandwich that is highly recommended here is the Desperado, which is a turkey sandwich that is topped with has bacon, avocado, arugula, tomato and apricot honey mustard. I really enjoyed the apricot honey mustard. It gave it a nice little flavor kick.

All of their soups are homemade and change every week. So far I have enjoyed their cream of potato, clam chowder and French onion. The soups taste homemade with sizable chunks of ingredients, which makes it filling. The soup comes served with a nice hunk of bread as well. The French onion soup had the croutons and cheese in separate containers to add at home/in the office.

I haven’t ordered any salads, but the Ancient Grains and Green Goddess ones sound amazing. They also offer the option to order a half sandwich if you have a smaller appetite.

My most recent lunch featured the aforementioned French onion soup and The Alaskan. The Alaskan features smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, red onions and a vinaigrette on a ciabatta bun. I’m not the biggest fan of ciabatta, so I would probably order a different bread choice next time. I always try the default before switching it up.

 

I usually get here after the lunch rush and don’t drink coffee after 2:30 or 3:00, so I have not ordered a coffee here yet. It’s next on the list!

Contact info:

Byte Cafe
3615 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 835-7073