Cleveland is one of America’s best cities for food snobs, where you’ll find dozens of Latin restaurants to satisfy finicky foodies. It just so happens that some of the most delicious dishes can be found within a stone’s throw of the area’s must-see tourist destinations. Whether you are among the 50,000 visitors attending July’s Republican National Convention, or are planning a trip, here are a week’s worth of spots you won’t want to miss.
Downtown – East 4th Street
A pioneer in Cleveland’s renaissance, Zócalo Mexican Grill & Tequilería was one of the first occupants in Downtown’s trendy East 4th Street district. The bar boasts the largest selection of tequilas available in the Midwest, and house-made infusions using organic teas, fruits, and jalapeno peppers. The original upscale Mexican menu was recently revamped under the guidance of Puerto Rican-born chef Yanira Llanos and now features a fusion of Latin flavors and more approachable street food. Portion sizes are plentiful, so be sure to save room for the Mexican chocolate pot de crème topped with tequila-spiked whipped cream, candied pepitas, and crispy fried flour strips.
Downtown – The Flats
With menu prices that defy its prime location neighboring the Cleveland Metroparks Water Taxi dock on the East bank of the Flats, Coastal Taco “Bar and Chill” is a perfect spot to do just that. The family-friendly open air dining room spills out onto a riverside patio and has a Southern-style shabby chic décor that seamlessly combines with the city’s industrial backdrop of illuminated bridges. Flights of salsa and gourmet tacos available in platters or a la carte cater equally to groups of friends and those dining al fresco solo. If chargrilled corn is synonymous with a Cleveland summer, Coastal Taco’s version, dressed with ancho chile butter, cojita cheese, lime zest, and lime aioli is like the 4th of July fireworks. An ample selection of craft cocktails is complemented by an equally impressive menu of non-alcoholic beverages including Vita Coco coconut water and and Steaz cactus water.
Rincon Criollo Puerto Rican restaurant was a cornerstone in the West 65th Street neighborhood long before it was coined the Gordon Square Arts District, and although surrounded by upscale eateries, this simple corner spot stays packed to the gills from open to close, with a line of carryout customers snaked from the register to the door. The house’s most popular dish, mofongo, is made by shaping a mashed seasoned plantain ball into a bowl and stuffing it with a soupy filling. We love the camarones al ajillo (shrimp and garlic): a cute little treat artfully molded into a tiny tower of crustaceans. It tows the line between sweet and savory, with a belly-filling richness that still feels light. Portioned for sharing with a festive presentation, it’s an indulgent date plate for even the most frugal of love birds. Make it a date with a stroll of the neighborhood and dessert at Sweet Moses.
A scenic drive along Lake Erie on the Detroit Shoreway leads to the Solstice Steps in Lakewood for a spectacular view of sunset and a postcard-worthy selfie with the downtown Cleveland skyline. Award-winning modern Mexican cuisine is just a five minute jaunt over to El Carnicero where you’ll find gussied-up guacamoles with goat cheese and crab, machaca – a slow-simmered, coffee-braised brisket, and flights of handcrafted top shelf margaritas.
Batuqui the Flavor of Brasil is a Victorian home turned bistro located in the artsy Larchmere neighborhood, a short drive from University Circle – the city’s cultural hub. There’s no better time than the summer to enjoy a sizzling salt-crusted picanha steak and a pitcher of caipirinha sugar cane rum cocktails, prepared tableside on the sprawling patio. Lush foliage, Bossa Nova beats floating on the breeze, and comfortable couches scattered amongst wrought iron tables create a backyard party vibe that will woo you to stay ‘til closing time.
The Food Network has showcaed Momocho in a few different features, but when owner Eric Williams has a chance to unwind in Ohio City, you may find him sipping margaritas on the patio at Orale on West 25th Street. “One of my favorite dishes is the agave nectar and chipotle glazed long bone pork chop. It’s a spin on puerco al carbon which has a touch of sweetness from the agave, some heat from the chipotle chile, and a delicious char from the grill – simply served with red rice and grilled vegetables,” says Williams. The restaurant opened in 2011, then expanded with a bar in 20013 at the encouragement of chef Roberto Rodriguez’s loyal clientele at the adjacent West Side Market. The market stand he opened in 1999 features more than 20 house-made salsas and traditional Mexican finger foods, while the restaurant offers contemporary cuisine influenced by his native Puebla and other cooking styles from throughout Mexico with a modern twist.
The 183-acre zoo in Old Brooklyn is the crown jewel of the Cleveland Metroparks system – the state’s oldest park district that spans more than 23,000 acres. Just two miles away, a hidden gem is located in an unassuming storefront on Pearl Road: a family-owned Guatemalan restaurant called El Rinconcito Chapin. Pupusas – thick, corn masa tortillas stuffed with gooey cheese and a generous portion of refried black beans or pork – served with a mild tomato sauce for dipping and a spicy cabbage slaw are a steal at $2. For a heartier appetite, the churrasco plate with grilled slices of steak and homemade chorizo sausage is a mammoth meal for just $13.