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Jun 27, 2008 12:53 PM


im heading to cleveland for a weekend in august. have time for one nice dinner out with a buddy of mine. we will be coming from an indians game ending at 7, then i think our hotel is called the wynNford? anyway, where i am from (toronto) there is a lack of 1) good mexican and 2) southern style bbq. does cleveland have any great places like that? any other great suggestions would be appreciated as well. thanks

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  1. Nice? I assume you mean "good food." Neither or my Mexican/BBQ rec's will be "upscale." Also, my Mexican and BBQ recommendations will entail some travel. It would be 10 minutes if you're driving but more complicated otherwise.

    For Mexican, I would recommend El Tango. I specifically recommend the tacos and the green chile stew. Actually, the tomato soup may be even better and all four soups are great. Almost all of the other food is great, too. It's not all strictly Mexican. It's sort of pan-Latin, I guess. Another choice is Zocalo. Aaron Sanchez, who competed on Food Network's Next Iron Chef, was recently hired as their consulting chef. I've heard mixed reviews. Mostly poor but trending up. I'm going to wait before I try it but it is within walking distance from the Stadium.

    For BBQ I would recommend Hot Sauce Williams. I'm almost always happy with the food that I get from the one near me. (There are three or four.) But you'd probably want to go to the one on Carnegie. It's closer and they have tables for eating in the restaurant. A friend recently reported that the food there is also good but I've never tried it myself. Hot Sauce Williams was featured on Anthony Bourdain's TV show. Another restaurant was Angie's Soul Food. And Freddie's was recently mentioned in an Esquire feature on the country's best sandwich. The sandwich in question is "Polish boy" a kielbasa with cole slaw, pulled pork and french fries. Hot Sauce Williams makes a good Polish boy. I haven't ever been to Freddie's or Angie's but they're on the list.

    Incidentally, the Wyndham has a restaurant. It got a very good review in one of the local papers recently. I went and was generally pleased but not blown away. But you can't argue with the convenience and it's also certainly better than I would have expected from a hotel restaurant.

    If you don't want to, or can't, drive to El Tango or Hot Sauce Williams, then I would give up on Mexican and BBQ and go with Bar Cento. Bar Cento would be a short cab ride. Excellent food. I'm afraid to recommend anything because they change their menu so often. Still, the wild boar salami and shitake mushroom pizza is phenomenal. I've described Bar Cento and made other recommendations in previous Chow posts.

    Enjoy the game and please report back.

    3 Replies
    1. re: stuart

      thanks for the tips stuart. is bar centro near something called the bier market? i was looking it up on the web and read something along that line. we probably won't want to travel to far from hotel, so bar centro sounds good so far, and hopefully there will be some nice pubs/lounges for drinks after close by. that is why i was wondering what this bier market place is all about. how does bar centro rank to say that lola's restaurant? it seems to get a few good reviews from the board. thanks again!

      1. re: rafer madness

        Bar Cento and Bier Markt are separated by a thin interior wall. They share an entrance. I think that you can sit in the Bier Markt and order anything from the menu at Bar Cento. I don't think the Bier Markt has a menu of its own. I think they have separate wine and beer lists but I assume you could choose from both in either space. I'm not much of a beverage connoisseur but they certainly seem to take it seriously and to be well respected for it.

        I'm not sure many people would compare Bar Cento to Lola. Bar Cento's food is more plain and the atmosphere is more casual. If I were to compare Bar Cento to Lola purely in terms of the execution, I would say Bar Cento is much better. Of course, Lola has more creative cuisine, more variety, especially in terms of dessert, and a more upscale, slow paced dining experience. It would be more natural to compare Bar Cento to Michael Symon's other restaurant, Lolita. Obviously, each is unique but both try to offer simpler, more approachable food in a more casual atmosphere than Lola. Again, I would say that Bar Cento executes at a higher level with more consistency. You can compare their menus at their website. Normally I'm annoyed when a restaurant's website has an obsolete menu but if I can tolerate it at any restaurant, that restaurant would be Bar Cento. Their menu doesn't change on a regular schedule but it does seem to change almost every week.

        I'm as ignorant of the finer points of mixed drinks as I am of beer and wine but if you're looking for a nice lounge then I recommend the Velvet Tango Room. Everyone who goes there raves about it. They weigh ingredients on a digital scale and use fresh egg whites. I think, but am not sure, that they make their own bitters and ginger ale. They're very serious about their craft. It is reflected in their prices.

        Bar Cento
        1948 West 25th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113

        900 Literary Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113

        1. re: stuart

          The food in these pictures was all phenomenal. Like any restaurant, Bar Cento isn't perfect but these dishes certainly were.

          These pictures are:
          1)potato pizza with local bacon
          2)duck fat fried french fries
          3)wild boar salami and shitake mushroom pizza
          4)beef short ribs

    2. MOMOCHO and LOPEZ are other suggestions for mexican, especially if you want some drinks too. LUCHITAS is the old cleveland gringoized family friendly tex-mex standard. ha!

      for bbq i can't recommend anything. HOT SAUCE WILLIAMS is the local king of 'cue, but he pre-par-boils and its saucy. it's ok, but personally i just don't really care for that kc-style so much.

      16 Replies
      1. re: mrnyc

        I second mrnyc - Momocho would be my best recommendation for Mexican nearby to downtown cleveland, but would require a car. If you want to stay in downtown proper, give Zocalo a try - this is not an endorsement or recommendation as I haven't been there myself but recently Iron Chef America contestant Aaron Sanchez revamped their menu and supposedly it is a lot better than when they first opened.


        I also do not recommend Hot Sauce Williams. As to good, local BBQ in my opinion the best is down at the Brew Kettle but that really requires a car as well as it's in Strongsville, which is about 15 miles due south of downtown:

        Lastly as to how Bar Cento compares to Lola, well, it's all a matter of personal prefernence. Lola feels more upscale and the prices definitely match that (which are justified, it's fantastic food). I really like the atmosphere and decor at Bar Cento, it's very casual and comfortable and they often have great rock albums playing (yes, real vinyl). You can sit at the bar and see everything they're doing in the kitchen, which is also cool. Unfortunately I have been there twice now, once by myself and once with mr. rockandroller and the food has just not been as good as I wanted it to be. On my first visit I got a piece of fish which was not quite done in the middle, which was accompanied by some collard greens which had not been par-boiled at all first and instead were just stir-fried/sauteed so they were very, very tough and stringy. On my most recent visit with the mr., we got the fries and they were so overdone and hard we left many of them in the basket. I saw 2 other orders going out that looked just as dark as ours so maybe that's just the way they do them there. We also got a pizza, which had a great crust, but the toppings were really sparse and it just wasn't our style. I would definitely recommend it for a drink or two if you're in the area, but IMO every time I have eaten at Lola, and it's been many times, the food has been fantastic.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          Sorry, I don't think Cleveland is the place to fill your Mexican OR bbq fantasies. No. it just is not here. I mourn this fact myself esp the bbq. Momochos is "new" (meaning over priced) Mexican. It is great quality...but never flipped over it as I think the place kind of has a self important, "look at me" vibe that is the antithesis of cool Mexican joints IMO. Nevertheless you can get a good meal there. A cab from Down Town would be about $7. You can take the #25 bus for a lot less, but it only runs every hour (boo!) I have nothing good to say about Zocolo. Maybe with the new menu it is better, but I am not sure if I will ever be back based on prior bad meals. Lola gets the raves. I have never had a bad experience at Bar Cento or Lolita , neither of which is BBQ or Mexican but excellent and moderate in price. Bar Cento's menu is more limited than Lolita.

          Fancy drink: I agree, Velvet Tango Room ( Seriously any city would be lucky to have a place with drinks this good.

          If you want a hard core Cleveland working man's cafeteria lunch, go to Sokolowski's History on a plate

          1. re: lyn

            i just thought of a bbq place that gets some raves, but its out in the west burbs: former cleveland brown's hero AL 'BUBBA' BAKERS BBQ joint in avon lake. i haven't been, but i am looking forward to trying it out hopefully this summer.

            i do disagree that there is no good 'cue in the area or in ohio at all, there is. however, it is strictly ad hoc. and by that i mean it's nebulous hard to pin down stuff like people who set up in old parking lots. i've gotten some fantastic bbq that way, but since these come and go you are on your own for finding them. then again, isnt that hunt part of the mystique of good bbq & chowhounding? ha.

            1. re: mrnyc

              I must take issue with the characterization of Luchita's as gringo-ized tex-mex. While the menu certainly has some tex-mex items, I think Luchita's mole dishes stand up to the best moles I've had in any restaurant (including in Mexico, where I travel every year), and they have lots of interesting fish and pork dishes from various regions of Mexico, all at reasonable prices. It is, however, a 15 minute cab ride from downtown. While I like both Momocho and El Tango (for very different reasons), I think Luchita's trumps them both.

              And speaking of prices, Velvet Tango Room, while curiously fun, is laughably overpriced -- so completely out of whack with the value of the experience of being there.

              1. re: ClevelandRandy

                Randy - I must disagree with you about the Velvet Tango Room. VTR is a niche retail business. Yes, drinks at Velvet Tango Room average $14. And that seems like a lot. Until you look at what you are getting for that drink: all water and ice filtered by an in-house system, only premium liquors and other ingredients, most of the mixers are made in house from top ingredients, or sourced from artisanal vendors, house-made bitters, live music every night with no cover charge (and two different styles in two rooms on the weekend) - your $14 is buying more than just a "drink". It is an environment, complimentary entertainment and yes, a drink. But it is a drink you cannot get anywhere else, and that also has value.

                The last time I was there, Paulius (the owner) told us he had to discontinue passing out complimentary roses to the ladies because of the cost.

                As far as Luchita's - I ate there twice - first at their now-closed Shaker Square location, then at their original location. I was not impressed either time - I'll take Momocho's fresh food and original flavors any time.

                1. re: NancyH

                  If I was that concerned about the purity of the water, I wouldn't be drinking liquor, premium or otherwise! Haha! Clearly what impresses you and I are two vastly different sets of things. And I'm sure we are both OK with that.

                2. re: ClevelandRandy

                  cr maybe i wasnt clear, but i meant gringoized as in very familiar with families and non-mexicans, not so much the wide menu (although the wide menu is another feature of it what i meant). it's a cle favorite for a long time. i'm glad to hear they still do some things well -- i havent been in eons, but i always thought they did and that it was a consistent place over the years.

                3. re: mrnyc

                  I grew up in Cleveland, but haven't lived there for over 20 years, and what mrnyc says about good BBQ being "strictly ad hoc" was certainly true then. There used to be a good place for ribs and cornish hen with great duchess potatoes and garlic pita toasts called Harvey's in South Euclid on the East Side, but they changed hands long ago and went downhill, and are probably long gone by now.

                  Cleveland-style ribs that I remember were generally grilled slowly over charcoal in an old oil drum cut in half with some grates propped up on bricks, and were generally dry, not swimming in sauce, and they usually seemed to be available in some parking lot somewhere if you looked on the right day. Every year there would be a big competition of such purveyors at the Cleveland Rib Burn-off. I don't know if that still happens.

                  Not ribs, but is Mama Santo's still in Little Italy? Very distinctive pizza at Mama Santo's, at least there was 20-odd years ago.

                  1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                    Harveys' has returned in a new incarnation in the new shopping plaza in Solon (next to Miles Market). I have no idea how it is, but they claim to have the original recipes.

                    Yes - there is still a rib cook off (two of them, actually, over Labor Day weekend - one in Berea, one at Lakefront Airport).

                    Mama Santa's gets mixed reviews these days, again, I haven't been. For NY Style Pizza - Vincenza's or Marotta's, for Neapolitan, Lolita or Bar Cento. Tartine is also making some interesting pizza, as is Fahrenheit.

                    1. re: NancyH

                      You mean Memorial Day, right? And Time Warner Ampitheater instead of Lakefront Airport? But there's a third cook off on Labor Day, right? Of course, there's also a Strongsville cook off and I'm sure others, too.

                      Anyway, apparently the Great American Rib Cook Off, now held at the Ampitheater, was once a worthwhile event with quality contestants. I went a couple times a few years ago and can attest that the quality had fallen. I heard that the most recent year was an improvement but generally I haven't heard very many positive things.

                      In any case, it long ago stopped being a showcase for small fry local purveyors. That mantle may have been passed to the 3 year old Soul of Buckeye Festival which, regretfully, I just missed last weekend. I'm also curious about the Soul Food Festival on August 16. The Festival is part of a national tour but I think that many local BBQ'ers will in attendance.


                      1. re: stuart

                        Ah yes - it's Taste of Cleveland for Labor Day and Ribs for Memorial Day - thank you Stuart!

              2. re: rockandroller1

                what about lolita? what would you rather choose - bar centro or lolita? i would be coming straight from the indians game. both seem to have same kinda menu and vibe, just wondering if one stands out more than another.

                1. re: rafer madness

                  I would choose Lolita over Bar Cento if those were my choices.

              3. re: mrnyc

                I also can't recommend Hot Sauce Williams. Absolutely dreadful meat drowned in a gallon of horrible sauce, served with runny coleslaw and freezer-burned fries. If you want barbecue, drive out to Avon to Bubba's Q.

                1. re: Chicklet

                  I am not even a bubba fan either. it is better than HSW, but still not worth the drive

                  1. re: lyn

                    aww you guys are killin me! thats too bad. i'm coming home for a visit in a few weeks and i still may give BUBBA a try. we'll see.

              4. *Mexican*-Mexican, go to Lucita's on Shaker Square. Really really good "Tex-Mex" (really Cal-Mex) go to Lopez on Lee in Cleveland Heights.

                Within the context of "other reccomendations" -- Lola (and, by extention, I assume Lolita) is Cleveland's world-class celebrity-chef restaurant and, imo, is worth every bit of priase it recieves.

                1 Reply
                1. re: whiner

                  Luchita's no longer has a location at Shaker Square.

                2. Try Kim's Wings...they have the best BBQ wings and Polish Boys (don't ask - just eat) in the city. There are two locations - East 147 or so and Saint Clair Avenue and also Lakeshore Blvd. Call ahead as they are always busy...enjoy

                  1. You know it's funny how I always read that people want to know about Mexican Restaurants or BBQ, but I think if you are in Cleveland you should try food that you might not normally find in all cities unless you go to Chicago or New York. I think you can get some of the best Corned beef sandwichs you have ever had downtown at Slyman's. Or what about some great european sausage on fresh rolls down at the westside market. And if you have the opportunity I would go and eat some of the european restaurants in the area.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: kimocorb

                      Kimocorb: Your comment to the BBQ and mexican question, "if you have the opportunity I would go and eat some of the european restaurants in the area" struck a chord. I live in New York, and travel much of the world on business- always looking for the food (and places) that distinguish and define the place. We're out in Solon, but have a car and some time this evening. Which of the europeans would you reccomend? Thanks.

                      1. re: foevp12

                        Not European exactly - but tonight is Pig Roast night at Lolita and its great stuff!

                        Sokolowski's University Inn is probably the quintessential European experience in Cleveland.

                        1. re: NancyH

                          If you can get into the pig roast (reservations essential) that would truly be a great experience for you.