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Nov 20, 2007 12:11 PM

Columbus vs Cleveland, a stomach's point of view

Ok, while my stomach isn't exactly the biggest priority (if not the biggest part of my body) I am considering a new job that would relocate me back to my beloved roots in Ohio. I'm trying to choose between Columbus and Cleveland, and food and cooking are a big priority to me.

I'd love to hear arguments from Chowhounders in each city as to why I should move there. Are there great market places? Fresh farm produce? Ethnic diversity? Top Notch resturants? Culinary festivals? Please try to persuade me!

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  1. How timely! I just posted an answer in another thread (looking for good "2nd tier cities") that I am C&P here as I have your answer.

    Don't overlook Cleveland if you are compiling a list. Naturally, there has been increased attention to Michael Symon's two local restaurant, Lola and Lolita, since he recently won the Next Iron Chef America competition, but there is SO much more here food-wise, and on a much more affordable scale than just about any of the towns listed above.

    Having lived here most of my adult life (I also lived in LA for a time) and having done a fair amount of travel for work to cities large and HUGE, Cleveland represents the best in terms of variety of cusines available for a city it's size and at a variety of price points given our population. Outside of the big, big cities, I haven't found anywhere that offers the variety that we have here, and at such affordable price points.

    We have a huge ethnic mix of people in Cleveland thus are blessed with a variety of authentic/traditional cusines from just about every corner of the globe. Due to our size, there may only be 1 or 2 of a particular cuisine (or, to clarify, 1 or 2 very good ones) but living in Cleveland, I could get great food every night if I had the money to dine out that frequently, and there are new restaurants opening seemingly every week. We have wonderful ethnic and neighborhood festivals of many varieties throughout the summer months that provide a great opportunity to sample a variety of cuisines from local restaurants. Due to our extreme promixity to some of the best farming country around, we have great access to locally raised, locally processed, high quality meats (all year) and produce (most of the year) that others pay huge premiums for. We have places like the Sausage Shoppe, which makes sausages and hot dogs so lean and tasty you would never go back to another product again. Sausage where there is a much higher percentage of meat instead of just fat and by-products.

    We have unique dining gems like Carrie Cerino's, where the ambience is just the way your grandma remembered it and an unbelievable mix of traditional Italian for the long time "regulars" juxtaposed with unique and changing specials from Norcia lentils, "blue" egg ravioli, berkshire pork, organic chicken and meat balls made from an ohio beef producer, not Sysco. We even have several local wineries producing some excellent table wines, not just the overly sweet stuff often associated with Ohio wines. Firelands makes a great cab, Viking has two really strong reds, etc. And Great Lakes Brewery produces some very, very good beers. We have fantastic farmers markets and our state's maple syrup products are awesome.

    Hungarian, authentic Chinese, German, Italian, Irish, Ethiopian, great bar food, pizzas, some of the best corned beef I've ever had, the best steaks I've eaten, high end dining to great greasy bar cheeseburgers, you can get just about anything you want here in terms of cuisine and it's usually at a much lower price than what you'd pay in a larger city.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      Wow! that's what I'm talking about! I lived in North Royalton for two years many years ago in high School, and remember Carrie Cerinos. Thanks for the Cleveland "Vote"!

      1. re: rockandroller1

        I am only an occasional visitor to both cities, but I've found good food of many types, and good food neighborhoods, in both cities. However, I am not all *that* familiar with either city, and suggest that you rely on the locals for their opinions about their own city, in this topic as well as by perusing the many topics here about both cities.

        I wouldn't even be posting to this topic, except I want to mention one thing rockandroller1 omitted in his/her post about Cleveland, and that is the West Side Market, a terrific public market with stalls selling extremely fresh produce, meats, and other food products.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I absolutely love the WSM and would definitely recommend it to a foodie who is also a decent to excellent home cook, and/or someone who tries hard to buy fresh and local as often as possible. But nsxtasy has one thing wrong about it; their produce is about equal to and often a little bit worse (older) than that in the regular mega grocery stores in the area. The WSM and the stores all buy from the same "clearinghouse" and the groceries often get first pick. This is why you hear so many people complain that they bought a bag of X produce at the WSM and brought it home and a day later, half were bad. I do not buy any produce there unless there is no option for me to go elsewhere for it.

          That being said, I get nearly all my meats there, and my fresh bread, locally made pasta (and when in a cheating mood, sauce as well), locally raised and processed pork, beef, buffalo, locally roasted coffee (several organic and free trade varieties as well), authentic greek cheeses and olives, and myriad other things. A trip to the WSM is also a good companion to the Sausage Shoppe, which was featured on this year's "No Reservations" Cleveland episode (and, outside Lola, was about the only other place featured worth visiting). Norm and his family have been hand-making their sausages and other products by hand for a long time, and it is some of the leanest and tastiest you will find, whether it is little smokies to snack on, fresh bacon, very lean hot dogs, Italian sausage, specialty sausages/bratwurst, liverwurst, bologna, ham, etc. They are only about a 5-7 minute drive from each other and I usually shop at both weekly if not every other week. Diagonally across the street from the WSM is the Athens grocery, where I buy all our olive oils imported from Greece, as well as some decent greek wines, which aren't widely available.

          For the E siders, Miles Rd Market is a haven for foodies, and we have Trader Joe's on both the W and E side now, as well as a Whole Foods on the E side.

          There are a plethora of cuisines and restaurants I didn't name in the above post, and a similar number of Cleveland foodies willing to help you out with recommendations for their favorite locations. We have our own local slow food convivium which organizes dinners and visits to farms, we have a Viking store which does cooking classes, we just had a bar open up that is doing a specialty kids night where people can bring in their children to have them learn to make pizza along the chef (Jonathan Sawyer, at Bar Cento). We have a great bar scene - from the TONS of comfy, neighborhood watering holes to great wine bars to the piece de resistance of the Velvet Tango Room, we really have everything you could want as a foodie.

          What can I tell you. I've been back from LA for 10 years now and have gained as many pounds as years I've been back. We love to eat, and it shows!

      2. Isnt Columbus one big suburb? Don't they use it for market research for "typical americana" ie the newest Applebess offerings? Chain city.

        Cleveland has great Eastern European influence intertwined with Asian (great Chinese, Korean, Japanese,Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian), Middle Eastern, Latino (mostly
        Puerto Rican and Mexican) and of course Greek and Irish influences. We have a Turkish place that people drive from out of State to get to-Anatolia Cafe.The Westside Market (not actually a farmers market, but small stands of everything you would ever need), Asia Town (asian supplies and restuarants) the North Union Farmers Markets thoughout the area have organic and local foods. That are also multiple specialty food suppliers.

        Culinary Festivals: the best I have been to is a Greek one in Tremont neighborhood, and a Polish one in Slavic Village. Taste of Tremont (home to some of our best restos) is great. Truth be told, there are some lame ones though...might actually have chain food. I would say where we are lacking is BBQ, and Cuban (I lived in an region previously that had better options) and Sichuan Chinese.
        Searching these threads for specific interests in resturants is a good idea as I have tastes all over the place and don't know what you like. Cleveland supports indep. resturants more than many places I have been or lived. When I go to Columbus all I see are chains. That said the further you get from the city in Cleveland the worse it gets chain wise. Flee to the Cleve!

        10 Replies
        1. re: lyn

          No one has yet spoken for Columbus, and although I'm not a local, I am within a 90 minute drive and visit frequently. The 2nd best Thai restaurant I've ever eaten in is in a suburb of Cols, the Bangkok (for comparison, the best to me so far has been Lotus of Siam in LV). The downtown area called the Short North has the fabulous North Market, home of Jeni's Ice cream as well as numerous ethnic eats and great seafood, meat, and local produce. That same area has many great indie places, including Rigsby's, the Happy Greek, the Burgundy Room, and others. German Village has several really good indie places as well, including Schmidt's Sausage House. And of course, there's a brick-and-mortar Penzey's Spice store a bit northwest of town. On the northeast side is Carfagna's Italian Market; a regular road trip for their wonderful sausages, great raviolis, and the best Italian wine selection I've seen in the entire state (and I'm a wine geek, so I always look!)

          Now, that said, although I was born in Cleveland, I haven't spent much time there since my grandma passed away 10 years ago, and since it's a lot longer drive, we don't get there as often. My sense is that Cleveland probably does have it over Columbus if one's criteria is solely a vibrant foodie scene, but Columbus is not chain city by any means. I think we here in Dayton may be able to claim that title ;-)

          1. re: lyn

            While Columbus certainly has its share of chains (so does Cleveland, BTW), it's definitely a haven for foodies. As someone mentioned, we have the North Market, which has a bit of everything: artisan baked goods, chocolates, fresh produce, meat, poultry and fish, the best ice cream anywhere (Jeni's) and much more. I love the West Side Market in Cleveland too, but the North Market is much more accessible and easy to find parking for. We have every kind of food you could ask for, with the one exception that Cleveland is famous for - Polish and/or Slavic food. But you want Indian, Puerto Rican, German, Vietnamese, Ethiopian or any other kind of cuisine? We have it. There are several independent restaurants that really rock - you can see a partial list at

            And I don't know if this is something you're taking into consideration, but Columbus is a thriving city with plenty of employment available, where as Cleveland is experiencing a lot of people moving away after graduating, a "brain drain" if you will. And I think it just got named as 10th most dangerous city or something like that. Columbus is fairly safe (there are only a few real "bad" areas), and definitely pretty clean for the size city it is.

            We considered moving to Cleveland, but decided against it because of the reasons I mentioned above. Just about every reason people have given for Cleveland being better - we have an equivalent option here. I say you spend some time in both cities, as they both have an entirely different "feel" to them, and go with the one you're most comfortable in.

            1. re: columbusfoodie

              I know this is just a fun debate, so I'm glad I'm getting to hear opinions from both cities. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts. I've lived in Dayton, Cincy, and Cleveland at various times in my life, prior to being a devoted Foodie, and I know a few things about Columbus and Cleveland. Apart from my culinary interests, there are good and bad things about both cities that I'll obviously need to consider.......But I'm glad to know that I would enjoy exploring cuisine in both cities no matter which way I decide to go.

              1. re: columbusfoodie

                Niki and columbus have both posted about food in Columbus. (Thanks!) One thing they did not describe much is that Columbus has a thriving fine dining scene, which is what I tend to gravitate towards when visiting other cities. I've dined at L'Antibes in the Short North and several times at the Worthington Inn on the north side; both are excellent, comparable to the best places in Cleveland (and I know there are plenty of others in both cities). Columbus does not strike me as a "chain city" any more than any other city (but let's face it, you can find chain restaurants in *any* city, particularly in the newly developed outer suburbs).

                Every year, the Columbus Dispatch does an article on the top 20 restaurants in town; you can read this year's article at

                As a food-lover (aren't we all, here?), based on my visits to both, I would be very happy living in either city. If I had to choose one over the other, it would probably be based on non-food factors (i.e. whatever reasons I had for moving).

                1. re: columbusfoodie

                  I think comparing the North Market and the West Side Market is an apple-and-oranges kind of thing. The WSM is a much more old-school ethnic establishment, with its abundance of sausages, "variety" meats and such -- very much in line with Cleveland's general blue-collar vibe. The North Market, to me, has much more of a newfangled upscale feel to it, especially considering it's trendy surroundings, and the relatively young age of its building versus the WSM. That's not to say the WSM hasn't kept up with the times -- there's wonderful cheese, artisan bread, fantastic herbs and spices and of course that Ohio City Pasta to be had, but the whole FEEL between the two is just different.

                  And as for parking, I disagree with columbusfoodie entirely. There is a HUGE parking lot behind the WSM (though it does get crowded during peak Saturday hours), and unlike the one at the North Market, it's free. As far as his/her (?) contentions about accessibility, I'm not sure what the meaning is. Both markets are located close to freeway exits, and both are in equally busy, heavily-trafficked areas, though the Short North has more one-way streets. They seem even in that category.

                  1. re: LeslieB

                    Oh, I agree completely with you - both the WSM and the North Market each have a lot to offer their respective areas (which is why I hit the WSM any time that I have the opportunity to drive up to Cleveland), but I have had problems with parking in that area, on every day but the optional vendor days late in the afternoon - I've never had that problem at the North Market, even on peak Saturday hours. I don't mind paying for parking - it's affordable and a bit more convenient since there's not as long a walk from the parking lot/meters to the actual market. As far as accessibility, I meant from a handicapped perspective, with the availability of handicapped parking spaces/ways to get in the building. The last time I went to the WSM, I ended up parking far enough away that it was a bit of a hike to get there, which is murder on my knees. I'm not saying that the lack of parking in the downtown area isn't a problem in Columbus too (especially now, when half the meters aren't even available to be used), just that it seems to be a constant issue whenever I head to downtown Cleveland. On the other hand, I've never had a single problem parking in Lakewood - same as I've never had problems parking here in Columbus anywhere other than the downtown/campus/Easton areas.

                    There are tons of things to love about Cleveland - I love that you can get just about any ethnic food there - and I love the character of the houses in the urban areas, especially Lakewood and the areas west of 117th St. I love that there is more than one place that I can find bridies and Cornish pasties. I love that there are restaurants that appeal to both the blue-collar crowd and those that like fine dining. I was just pointing out that Columbus has these things too, and isn't the chain hell that people make it out to be. Just as you wouldn't want people to judge Cleveland by North Royalton, I don't want people to judge Columbus based on Easton or Polaris.

                    1. re: columbusfoodie

                      Sorry about your bad parking luck. And please don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not dissing Columbus at large nor the North Market itself. I like both. In fact, it bothers me that Cleveland doesn't have more of its good offerings concentrated centrally they way Columbus does along High Street from downtown all the way up to OSU. Everything here in Cleveland is scattered, which means you have to look harder/spend more on gas to find the cool stuff. And I certainly would never judge the city based on Easton or Polaris any more than I (a Lakewood native, incidentally) would want people to judge Cleveland by my parents' North Royalton surroundings.

                  2. re: columbusfoodie

                    OK, OK--after having lived in Columbus for 22 LONG years, I am happy to say that both my husband and I found gainful employment (and a 30% pay increase) in big, bad Cleveland.......And I have also gained 10 pounds after my first 2 years in Cleveland, because it has lots of good restaurants. I must admit that I NEVER found decent pizza, or a deli, in Cowtown. It's really like Disneyland, in terms of food--lots of chain restaurants and everything else theme-based owned by Cameron Mitchell. The two cities are very different--Columbus is very suburban and loaded with college-aged kids and openly gay residents, and Cleveland is gritty and old and has really cold winters, but really good ethnic food. Cleveland is very much an industrial-type sports-town.

                    So, Columbusfoodie, do not fear The Cleve. And as long as you are not working in the auto industry, there are probably plenty of jobs here for you in Cleveland, as well.

                  3. re: lyn

                    One big suburb? Puh-leeese! Why then, did the New York Times Style section just run an article calling Columbus the Midwest Capital of Style? And why Nat. Geographic Trvlr just run an article talking aout the lack of chain stores and restaurants? I challenge you to come to Columbus for a weekend or more (that's what it will take to check out the best places). Not suburbs -- neighborhoods. Sorry, I get a little defensive of my beloved town. An amazing foodie city. Getting LOTS of press lately for it. Check out German Village. Cool historic neighborhood with awesome shops (a 32-room bookstore!!) and great eats. Don't miss Barcelona (awesome patio, tappas, sangria, etc.) for dinner. Have lunch at Katzinger's Deli -- amazing sandiwches bigger than your head. My fave? #23 Mark's Chartbuster: hot, tender pastrami piled high on their amazing pumpernickel bread with scallion cream cheese and leaf lettuce. Also in GV, splurge on an upscale dinner at Handke's Cuisine. Hartmut Handke is the only American chef EVER to win Bocuse d'Or AND he holds more culinary Olympic medals than any US chef. He does amazing things with Midwest produce -- his corn risotto is divine. DO NOT miss Pistacia Vera in German Vil. Pastries made in the finest old-world by a brother-sister duo of darling hipsters. Day two: The Short North is a tres hip arts district with miles of galleries and ultra-funky shops. There you must have dinner at Rosendales. Rich Rosendale is easily one of America's best chefs -- a real rising star. It aint cheap, but oh-so-worth it. He's a technician like no other. Ask your waiter for a kitchen tour and to meet him -- they'll nearly always oblige and he's a charmer, in addition to being a master in the kitchen. Fab wine list, sommelier & tasting menu, though I'm partial to the fun of the reg menu. Have the spinich salad -- tender baby spinich with pine nuts & perfect vinaigrett topped with a dehydrated apple slice filled with a warm goat cheese ravioli and a tiny scoop of granny smith sorbet.Your mouth won't believe what's happening inside! Also in Short North Surly Girl Saloon and Betty's bar are a hoot with a funky twist on diner food. OF course you must have Jeni's Fresh Ice Cream. Wildly creative and wonderful flavors like wildberry lavender, Ashland OH honey & toaste almond, rose petals, etc. Good old chocolate too (Belgian, of course), but all are incredible. Be sure to venture east onto Mt. Vernon Ave. In Mt. Vernon Plaza there's an old guy from Layfayette, LA -- chef Henry Butcher -- he has a little hole-in-the-wall joint called Creole Cafe. GREAT breakfast! Eggs Basin St. is two poached served atop tiny rice cakes (with a just hint of cinnamon) over a bed of red beans and andoule sausage. Tops it with hollandaise spiked with vinegar for the most incredible b-fast. Great lunch & dinner too. Poboys, jambalaya -- you name it. Nothing on the menu over $6. The menu is hand written on the wall in sharpie & crayon. OK, I will stop now, but those are a few hightlights. I could go on for miles. Visit

                    1. re: boyomom

                      Oh, no....I lived in Columbus for 22 years and could never find good "ethnic" food. It is very much a chain restaurant city. The majority of the restaurants are owned by one person (Cameron Mitchell)--and each one has a Disney-like theme to it. Cleveland does not have one area with "everything" in it, like Columbus' Short North or the god-awful Easton, but overall I'd have to give the foodie award to The Cleve. I like Fat Cats in Tremont, Fire at Shaker Square, Maxi's in Little Italy, and some of the downtown restaurants. Sokolowski's is Total Cleveland--homemade pierogies, cabbage rolls, etc. served cafeteria-style. Can't find that kind of stuff in Cowtown.

                  4. Some Columbus highlights:

                    Columus' historic North Market, includes Jeni's Ice Creams
           and 35+ other vendors. Open 7 days.

                    Dining: Basi Italia, Rigsby's, G. Michael's, Burgundy Room, Alana's, Rosendale's, Refectory.

                    Casual Dining: North Star Cafe and the new Tasi

                    Ethnic: Cuco's Mexican, ad some taco trucks on the westside. Lac Viet, great Pho for breakfast lunch and dinner.

                    Great Columbus Food blogs for more information

                    CMH Gourmand
                    Columbus Foodie

                    Happy Deciding!

                    1. I love the social aspects of Columbus and the intellectual opportunities of the universities , but the food is is far too chain-oriented outside of a few small enclaves. Columbus has a great deli, decent BBQ (City BBQ) and Jeni's ice cream, plus the Short North area, and German village, but the majority of the city is overly homogeneous planned developments

                      I have worked in Cleveland and love the diversity that is has to offer, warts and all.

                      1. I never realized there was such bitterness between the two cities! It might be better for the tenor of the discussion if those living in each city could concentrate their posts on what they like (and don't like) about the food opportunities in their own city, rather than posting slams against the city where they don't live.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          I agree with this. Carrot, not (celery) stick. (trying to keep it food-related here, ha ha)

                          1. re: rockandroller1

                            Yeah, as an occasional visitor to both places, my impression is that they are different without one or the other being better. Columbus is a boomtown with vibrant inner-city neighborhoods where you can walk and pick from a big selection of new restaurants, aided by the presence of a huge university. Cleveland has the edge in ethnic cuisines, neighborhood places, and maybe the high end (I have limited experience with that).