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Issue Date: November 2005 Issue


Cheap Eats

Drive-thru is dull. But what else can you find when you're looking to dine on a dime? How about great sushi, sandwiches minestrone, thai food and tacos - that's just the start. We serve up 49 delicious dishes - because 49 is cheaper than 50 - that'll each cost you less than $10.

Rocky River Brewing Co.

The Feel: A great first-date place, this brewery was designed to look like a tavern from the 1920s with lots of red oak and a 62-foot bar. The Food: Forget every preconception you have about nachos. Now imagine crispy wontons topped with Thai marinated chicken and mozzarella cheese. Add wasabi sour cream, shredded lettuce, carrots and red cabbage and you've got Asian nachos ($7.99). The Find: Five dollar burgers on Tuesdays. 21290 Center Ridge Road, Rocky River, (440) 895-2739, www.rockyriverbrewco.com

Rush Inn Bar & Grille

The Feel: There's something about the high-backed, roomy benches that makes this place feel so inviting. And while it is technically also a bar, you'll find a broader menu, tastier food and better prices here than you will at most dedicated restaurants. The Food: Try ordering this at most bars: mussels black-and-bleu style ($8.95), fresh mussels simmered with tomatoes, Cajun seasoning and Guinness stout, then topped with crumbled bleu cheese. The Find: Unlike most bars, Rush Inn has a chef. So expect hand-cut steaks and everything made from scratch ů ∑©thout the prices of a white-tablecloth place and with the pleasure of watching the game on a plasma TV. 17800 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, (216) 221-3224

Swenson's Drive In

The Feel: Did we mention you never even have to set foot out of your car? It doesn't matter what you look like or what you wear. The service is always fast and reliable. We have even dined in our pjs. The Food: Oh, where to begin? The beef patty on this "cheeseburg" ($1.65) is cooked just right with a toasted bun and superb cheese. There is always the right ratio of patty and cheese to condiments ("everything" means mustard, dill pickles and onions). At this price you can afford (at least money-wise) to eat more than just one. The Find: The greatest complement to a delectable burger isn't fries, but the potato teezers ($1.75) filled with cheese and jalapeos (just like tater tots with a kick) dipped in ranch sauce. 4466 Kent Road, Stow, (330) 678-7775 (and various other locations), www.swensonsdriveins.com

The Savannah Bar & Grille

The Feel: This is a restaurant, a tavern and a concert venue all rolled into one, featuring a mix of salads, sandwiches and burgers, pasta dishes and fish. The atmosphere's casual and happy hour lasts until 7 p.m. weeknights. The Food: They call it an appetizer. We say it's a party on a plate. The house platter ($9.95) gets you a finger food banquet with enough wings, chicken tenders, deep-fried dill pickles, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, onion rings and breaded broccoli "bites" made with bacon and cheese to feed two. The Find: There's almost never a cover, so a side of live music, starting at 9 p.m., six nights a week, is on the house. 30676 Detroit Road, Westlake, (440) 892-2266, www.thesavannah.com

Winking Lizard Tavern

The Feel: A fun, loud atmosphere with a patio, dining and bar areas. There are plenty of TVs to catch up on sports while you dine. The Food: Tired of wings and burgers? Try the Big House ($5.99), the Lizard's specialty house salad that loads on the corned beef and mozzarella cheese. (Besides, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, black olives and tomatoes up the nutrition content.) Add one of 13 varieties of dressing to top it off right (basil balsamic vinaigrette is our favorite). The Find: Downstairs is home to a mini bowling alley complete with extra seating, a bar and, of course, more TVs. You can rent the place for $450 for the first three hours and $100 for every additional hour. 14018 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, (216) 226-6693 (and various other locations), www.winkinglizard.com

Beer & Belly Deli

The Feel: This pub-style eatery is the perfect place to munch appetizers while sipping your favorite domestic draft. If you go for lunch, you will likely see local regulars popping in and out asking for their "usual" order. The Food: The Asiago stuffed olives ($5.95) are a large order of breaded green olives stuffed with Asiago cheese and deep-fried. Think mozzarella sticks with a tart, more flavorful kick. The Find: Each night the deli serves its $7.95 special dinners. Visit Thursday for the tequila lime chicken and get the full experience by ordering a margarita, which is also on special for $2.50. 158 E. Aurora Road, Northfield, (330) 467-1084

Moosehead Saloon

The Feel: With just 21 tables, this is arguably the coziest place on the West Side. This summer, it added a patio with a large fireplace and water cascading down glass walls that enclose the space. The Food: The bulk of the menu is made up of sandwiches, most of which cost less than $10 and all of which are spectacular (and served with hand-cut chips). Try the buffalo ($8.99), a chicken breast topped with hot or mild sauce, provolone cheese, fries and cabbage on a Kaiser roll. The Find: Moosehead doesn't take reservations, and there's nearly always a line. Call ahead and cut your wait in half. 694 Dover Center Road, Westlake, (440) 871-7742

Pickwick & Frolic

The Feel: While the cuisine at downtown's Pickwick & Frolic is "American rustic," the decor is anything but. The East Fourth Street entrance has a movie premiere feel: white lights strung between the buildings, the House of Blues shining in the background. Inside, the velvety red drapes and neon blue bar complete the aura. Many things enhance this evening: generous portions of rotisserie chicken, breads fired in the brick oven or a comedy or cabaret show at Hilarities Theatre in the same building. The Food: The rotisserie chicken blanco pizza ($8.95) made with artichoke hearts, mozzarella, garlic, spinach, goat cheese and olive oil is a white pie to remember, as the subtle smoothness of mozzarella mingles with the sharper taste of goat cheese. The Find: To avoid crowds, come at 7:45 p.m. just as people are heading to the comedy show. 2035 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, (216) 241-7425, www.pickwickandfrolic.com

Cafe 56 Express

The Feel: Folks from other big cities always seem to have a favorite little spot where everything's good and most of it's cheap. Cafe 56 is Northeast Ohio's answer. With locations in Shaker Heights, Beachwood and Mayfield Heights, the oddball salad shop that does indeed offer 56 options is confidently making its mark and gathering regulars. The Food: Picking a favorite salad is akin to picking out a new car: They all seem so fun and inviting, and every one has its own merits. But we chose the Mardi Gras ($7.56) when the menu encouraged adding Caesar dressing to the chicken, tortilla chip, red onion and red pepper mix. We were richly rewarded for our choice. The Caesar was the perfect minister for the union of ingredients. The Find: Caf» 56 Express in Shaker Heights shares a counter with Arabica, a coffee house with around 20 basic drinks. That's 1,120 combinations in one little storefront! 20630 North Park Blvd., Shaker Heights, (216) 371-5300

Corky & Lenny's

The Feel: If you can only dine once at this popular East Side deli, you want the corned beef. Lean and flavorful without being overly dry or salty, the freshly sliced brisket is piled inches thick in a number of sandwich combinations. The Food: We betrayed our hometown instincts and opted for the corned beef-coleslaw-1,000 island-on-rye marvel, the New Yorker sandwich ($7.15) rather than its turkey-talkin' counterpart, The Clevelander. A cup of coleslaw mysteriously replaced the side of potato salad when our sandwiches arrived, but the crisp, creamy slaw was nonetheless a fine counterpoint to that awe-inspiring corned beef. Add an East Coast classic chocolate phosphate ($1.65) and you just may have a Brooklyn accent by the time you head home. The Find: There's not a bad seat in the house for watching the eclectic clientele while you nosh on complimentary pickles, or for ogling the choices behind the deli counter if that's more your speed. 27091 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere, (216) 464-3838, www.corkyandlennys.com

The French Coffee Shop

The Feel: This out-of-the-way strip mall cafe serves up authentic, unpretentious Parisian sidewalk-caf» grub. Stark white walls and well-worn booths are perked up with a number of Eiffel Tower murals and replicas (we counted eight). The Food: We gave a long, smoldering look at the Camembert sandwich, served on a homemade baguette with a side of potato chips ($3.65), and sent two cheek-kisses toward the spinach quiche, offered with a crisp salad and more of that incredible bread ($5.65). But our one true love is the creamed chicken crepe gratine ($7.25), with the crepe-wrapped tender white meat nestled in a pool of b»£hamel sauce and capped with a crust of browned, bubbly Swiss cheese. Given the choice of soup or salad, we doubled our fromage fix with a crock of the French onion soup gratine, served with a lid of gooey melted cheese. The Find: Don't even think about leaving without ordering a yummy dessert crepe a la mode ($2.40-$5). 1911 Bailey Road, Cuyahoga Falls, (330) 923-3987

Dave's Tip Top

The Feel: Originally a 1950s hamburger drive-in, the family diner keeps the feeling alive with photos highlighting the transformation of the restaurant and historical Stow. The restaurant serves traditional family-style dishes and features dinner specials each night. From all-you-can-eat fried chicken to tender pork chops wrapped in bacon, the menu has something for everyone. The Food: The pot roast ($8.99) is a heaping plate of tender, juicy beef roasted with the perfect seasonings for a cold winter night. Complement your dinner by choosing the roasted garlic mashed potatoes and candied carrots. The Find: The $1.99 hamburger with fries special is served all day Tuesday. 3428 Darrow Road, Stow, (330) 688-3171

Flo Cafe

The Feel: You've never known a "Flo" cooler than this. There's a motorcycle in the window, techno music on the stereo and comfort food on the menu: mac & cheese, lasagna, meaty sandwiches on Texas toast. From one of the high, jagged-backed silver booths next to the window, you can watch the Warehouse District roll. The Food: TV Lunch ($7.99) gets you the same mix of foods you probably remember from the foil packages, just so much better. You get your choice of Aunt Esther's braised brisket, meatloaf smothered in gravy with bacon on top, roast turkey or herbed chicken with your choice of veggie (we recommend the light, fluffy sweet potato mash) and a dish of homemade cobbler. The Find: Flo's martini menu gets a lot of attention, as well it should given its mix of creativity, breadth and decadence. (It takes a special drink artist to make a tini taste like a Tootsie Roll.) But Flo's also makes its own salad dressings. Champagne vinaigrette, anyone? 1213 W. Sixth St., Cleveland, (216) 443-9080

The Juniper Grille

The Feel: Located on Carnegie Avenue a block from Jacobs Field and across from the Wolstein Center, Juniper Grille is a terrific lunch spot. Eggplant and sage walls with painted leaf patterns give this restaurant a calming, Zenlike aura. The menu ranges from gourmet dishes such as goat cheese and fig served with croutes to simple sandwiches with unique twists. The Food: The Southwestern chicken chorizo wrap ($7.95), made with chorizo sausage, spicy chicken, tomato relish, red beans, guacamole and cheddar cheese, is a new take on what would otherwise be your basic fajita wrap. The chorizo gives this sandwich a new, unexpected taste -- just the kick it needs. The Find: Substitute sweet potato fries for the chips and salsa or get them as a side. Either way, don't miss 'em. 1332 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland, (216) 771-1334

Max's Delicatessen & Restaurant

The Feel: Everything about this unpretentious eatery is easy: the atmosphere, the parking, getting a table on a Friday night. Plus in a display case taking up most of one wall, huger-than-huge frosted cookies beckon, as do multilayered cakes that would put wedding-cake bakers to shame and endless new varieties of cheesecakes. The Food: The barbecue mango chicken quesadilla ($8.75) tastes so good, so sweet, it could be dinner and dessert. The barbecue sauce doesn't overpower the mango; the grilled chicken is more fruity than tangy. Joining Monterey jack cheese, cilantro and green onions between crisp red tortillas, the quesadilla is one of Max's surprising creations unlike the signature potato pancakes, which are equally yummy but not unexpected at a restaurant named after a "Max." The Find: Enjoy big chunks of Reese's Cups and Oreos in the candy-inspired cheesecakes. 19337 Detroit Road, Rocky River, (440) 356-2226

Park City Diner

The Feel: Bright colors, comfy booths and an old-school dining counter set the mood for an onslaught of always-delicious comfort food. A deep menu stretching from the crack of dawn to that post-movie nightcap could make no two visits alike, but you'll quickly find favorites that lure you back time after time. The Food: Sourdough bread stacked with slices of meatloaf and a ladleful of gravy, the open-faced "Mmmm Meatloaf Sandwich Mmmm" ($8.75) lives up to its name. The side of lumpy-like-home mashed potatoes makes the dish even better. The Find: Though it's easy to breeze past on the menu, take a trip back to childhood with the crispy-on-top mac-and-cheese ($7.50). It's served with a side salad for the responsible adult part of you. 8111 Rockside Road, Valley View, (216) 328-0575, www.parkcitydiner.com

Century Restaurant and Bar

The Feel: Hello, gorgeous. Amid the quiet presence of a vast, well-groomed staff and the kind of crisp linens, cut crystal, contemporary lines and fresh flowers that remind you of where you are, you may be compelled to coordinate an afternoon rendezvous with someone special. The Food: Marinated portobello sandwich ($9). Sure, it's a standard vegetarian offering at many restaurants. But it doesn't normally come with a side salad this good: We're talking fresh mozzarella balls and a light vinaigrette dressing that sent us to veggie heaven. The burger possesses its own virtues: roasted tomatoes, crispy onions, Parmesan cheese and a mystery marinade giving it a succulent flavor missing in typical mushroom burgers. The Find: Century's bathrooms are so luxe that each hand towel occupies its own cubbyhole next to the sinks. Ahh, the good life. The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland, 1515 W. Third St., Cleveland, (216) 902-5255, www.ritzcarlton.com

Parallax Restaurant and Lounge

The Feel: See and be seen in the Parallax lounge, where neutral tones, sleek lines, glass designs and a bar-side sushi station form a chic modern backdrop. The Food: California roll ($10) is stuffed with ample amounts of snow crab, avocado and cucumber, with a smelt roe coating. Or try a couple orders of nigiri sushi ($4 to $7 for two pieces), made with varieties of fish so fresh they seemingly melt on your tongue. The Find: If you perch at the bar, you'll get a bowl of wasabi peas to nosh while you people-watch. Then ask for a drink with the restaurant's signature ginger-infused vodka, made in-house with fresh ginger. It's smooth enough to sip alone, but also mingles well with soda or in a cosmopolitan. 2179 W. 11th St., Cleveland, (216) 583-9999, www.parallaxtremont.com

Nemo Grille

The Feel: Four years ago, owners Denise and Bob Neimojewski spent a small fortune converting Avon's historic Alten House, built in 1850, into an upscale Italian restaurant. When the weather's nice, the wide front porch is the perch of choice. The Food: Stuffed banana peppers ($7). Filled with mild Italian sausage, smoked mozzarella and topped with a tomato basil sauce, this appetizer is hearty enough to hold its own as a meal. If you're dining with a friend, consider splitting the generous dish and ordering a couple of salads. Maybe the baby spinach salad ($6) with its strawberries, toasted almonds and goat cheese and the pear salad ($7) with its dried cranberries, crumbled bleu cheese and port wine vinaigrette. Total bill? $20. The Find: Sit at the bar Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. and get half off menu prices, plus $5 martinis and glasses of wine. 36976 Detroit Road, Avon, (440) 934-0061, www.nemogrille.com

Vivo

The Feel: With its basic-black look punctuated by spots of light and warm shades of gold, tan and burnt umber, Vivo is the perfect sophisticatedly hip complement to Fourth Street's burgeoning scene. The Food: With four huge shrimp on top and four succulent mussels on the side, it's easy to forget Vivo's mare insalate ($8 at lunch) is a salad until you bite into the crisp greens and flavorful mix of red onion, cucumber, yellow peppers and radishes. (Even then you're likely to find tender calamari rings or tentacles mixed in.) The Find: The downstairs V Lounge features electronic dance music on Thursdays and house music on Fridays with $2 beers and half-price cocktails until 11 p.m. both nights. 347 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, (216) 621-4678, www.vivo-cleveland.com

Pacific East

The Feel: The radiant blue walls, tinted windows and lacquered wood tables of this intimate establishment turn it into a calming, undersea oasis at the busy intersection of Mayfield and Coventry. The sushi counter at the back of the dining room shows the variety and freshness of the fish used in this most popular dish, although other standard Japanese entr»•s are available. The Food: Create an a la carte feast for one by ordering two maki sushi rolls may we suggest the tekka (raw tuna) roll ($4.25) and tempura sweet potato roll ($3.50), each cut into six bite-size pieces and adding a steaming bowl of savory miso soup ($1.75). And the more friends you bring, the more types of sushi you can order and share. The Find: Every meal ends with a tiny, complimentary glass of sweet plum wine kampai! (Bottoms up.) 1763 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 320-2302

Potpourri

The Feel: While it feels like a winery with autographed bottles (empty, of course) displayed along shelves and between the dark wood booths, the atmosphere turns romantic and cozy with the softly dimmed lights. The Food: If cheese is what you please, then the cheddar cheese fondue ($8.95) will do. Brought out in a well-worn fondue pot, mild cheddar is melted and then combined with draught beer and a variety of spices for a rich sauce that is creamy and robust. Chunks of pumpernickel and white bread along with slices of apples are the perfect dipping companions. The Find: The chocolate fondue ($8.50) is enough for two and comes with marshmallows, pound cake and fruit to dip. 8885 Mentor Ave., Mentor, (440) 255-4334

Saucy Bistro Restaurant & Wine Bar

The Feel: Owners Matthew and Shyla Barnes enchant customers with their American bistro with the passions of France and Italy. The dȣor and dim lighting marries Old World and contemporary to create a romantic vibe. The Food: This bistro's motto is "It's all in the sauce." And we reply, "You can say that again!" The blackened grouper sandwich ($9.50) has just the right amount of spiciness to complement the fall-apart moist fish. Served with house-made coleslaw and garlic aioli, this meal will definitely fill your stomach without emptying your wallet. The Find: Try one of Saucy's classic desserts. The scrumptious creme brie ($6) is flavored according to the chef's whim, so be sure to ask your waiter about the flavor of the day. 24481 Detroit Road, Westlake, (440) 835-3559, www.saucybistro.com

Giuseppe's Ristorante

The Feel: This genuine Neopolitan style Italian cafe is in a most unlikely, out-of-the-way location. Owner and chef Guiseppe Ripa offers the kind of white cloth ambience, attentive service and fine food you'd expect to find at a more expensive restaurant. The Food: A bowl of minestrone ($5.95), so thick that your spoon practically stands up on its own, is a meal in itself. More stew than soup, the rich chicken broth is flecked with big chunks of carrots and zucchini, along with beans and escarole. And it's always topped with a snowfall of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The Find: Everything is made from scratch, from sauces to salad dressings, and the recipes are family treasures. Lunch offers great bargains on many of the same dishes served at dinner, plus big sandwiches ($8 to $9) that include a side of pasta. 32 W. Aurora Road, Northfield Center Township, (330) 467-1108

Mama Roberto's

The Feel: This small, old pizza parlor doesn't offer much in the way of scenery, but that's easily disregarded once the gargantuan plates of steaming pasta hit the table. Everything from the garlic balls to the pizza sauce is made fresh daily. Bring the whole family, but don't plan on going out for lunch the next day. The Food: Split the huge portion of pasta Roberto ($9.95) with hot or mild sausage, banana peppers, onions and mushrooms over pasta marinara. There will be more than enough for two. The Find: Save room for Mama's breathtaking cannoli, a fried pastry shell stuffed with ricotta cheese, whipped cream, cherries, chocolate and almonds, then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon ($3). 8658 Mentor Ave., Mentor, (440) 205-8890

Tutto Giorno

The Feel: This romantic yet inexpensive spot at the quiet end of Little Italy, where Murray Hill Road meets Cornell Road, has only nine tables. Its tin ceiling and avant-garde chandeliers made of multicolored mini-lights contribute to a simple, sophisticated atmosphere. The Food: The thin-crust pizza nuevo ($7.50) is full of surprises. Clumps of Gorgonzola cheese mixed with the mozzarella make some bites sharp, roasted red peppers make others sweet and the balsamic reduction drizzled over the cheese not only makes the pizza look like none you've ever seen before, you can turn it over in your mouth for a full taste of its sourness. The Find: In warm weather, Tutto Giorno's sidewalk tables show off Little Italy at its prettiest: They're next to the brick-paved Murray Hill Road, across from the castlelike Baricelli Inn. 2181 Murray Hill Road, Cleveland, (216) 421-9172, www.tuttogiorno.com

Blasiole's Pizza

The Feel: This small, family-owned restaurant is well known in Streetsboro, but scarcely heard of elsewhere. While most of its business is carryout or delivery, the red, green and white dȣor and comfy booths (and the smell of pizza) will make you want to stay. The Food: We don't know if it's the pepperoni underneath the cheese or the spicy-yet-sweet sauce that makes our mouth water just thinking about the 12-cut pepperoni pizza ($9.35). Maybe it's a mixture of the two on the crispy and chewy crust and how the cheese just calls your name, begging for you to eat another slice. The Find: On Tuesday, you can get a large, one topping pizza for $7.50. 1703 state Route 303, Streetsboro, (330) 626-3358

Danny Boy's

The Feel: The Rat Pack, especially Frank, and Hollywood's interpretation of the mafia dominate the decor in this small restaurant. The huge menu offers an impressive range of subs, ribs, pierogies, pizzas and salads, including a smattering of "specialty pizzas" that start at around $11 except the cheeseless one, "The Wise Guy" ($10 for a small). The Food: Roma portofino pizza ($5.50 for lunch) seamlessly blends meat, vegetable, cheese and crust. Danny Boy's makes all of its pizza dough, and in this case, the crust is just a layer or so thicker than the toppings that cover it: fresh spinach and basil, banana peppers, small pepperoni pieces, garlic and a healthy sprinkling of Parmesan. The Find: When you're seated, immediately order the thick but unusually light breadsticks ($3.95), which are accompanied by a hearty cup o' sauce. 20251 Lake Road, Rocky River, (440) 333-9595, www.dannyboyspizza.com

Mamma Santa's

The Feel: Ahh, yes, that no-windows thing. The kitschy, bright, checkered tablecloth atmosphere combines with the lack of an outside view to remind you why you're there in the first place: to stuff your face with pizza. The Food: The medium pizza ($5.25, plus $1-$1.50 per topping) is enough to feed a hungry couple with leftovers. Oh mamma, your cheese could win a cheese-pulling contest, your crust finds the sublime harmony between thick and thin, your topping options pull no punches. If there were a pizza god, there would always be a Mamma Santa's pizza box in the fridge at 2 a.m. The Find: We got there at 6:30 on a Friday evening. Look, mamma! No line! 12305 Mayfield Road, Little Italy, (216) 231-9567

'Stino da Napoli

The Feel: Every available space is used for dining in this small, sparely decorated restaurant, including the nook in front of the door and one squeezed between a wall and a space divider. It's all good though, in the way too many people crowded around the dining room table was good when you were a child, the smells of food somebody really cares about wafting overhead. The Food: The penne alla'arrabbiata ($9.95) stars a fragrant tomato sauce with a nice bite, the result of some smart chemistry involving tomatoes, white wine, olive oil and pepper flakes, says Chef Agostino Iacullo. The Find: 'Stino's sauces, originated in Naples, Italy, and made in the restaurant, are now sold in some local grocery stores. 19070 Old Detroit Road, Rocky River, (440) 331-3944

#1 Pho

The Feel: Vietnamese food served in lovely surroundings without a hint of Asian kitsch in a handsomely restored old double storefront. The Food: Banh XEO ($6.50). The golden-yellow, pan-seared crispy crepe is so big it drapes over the edges of the plate and qualifies as an entr»• and a healthy one at that though it's listed on the menu as an appetizer. Stuffed with shrimp, pork and fresh bean sprouts, it's served with lettuce, slices of cucumbers and sticks of daikon radish and carrot, plus the house special sweet-spicy sauce to splash on top. The Find: Nothing they brew at Starbucks can hold a cup to C' ph' sua d? dark roasted drip coffee over ice with sweetened condensed milk. It's a drink and dessert all rolled into one. 3120 Superior Ave., Cleveland, (216) 781-1176

Anatolia Cafe

The Feel: Restaurant owner Yashar Yildirim is proud to be the only guy in town offering Turkish food, and the job keeps him very busy. His mother would like him to find a wife, but right now, he says, he's married to this year-old business. The Food: The lunch menu's chicken adana ($7.95, $10.95 at dinner) is amazing if you know how much work goes into preparing this entr»•. The uncooked meat is minced by hand, kneaded into a paste with spices, molded around skewers and grilled over an open flame. The result is an incredibly moist and flavorful kebab with a velvety smooth texture. It's served with rice and slices of roasted tomato and pepper. It's also available in a pita bread sandwich ($4.95) topped with yogurt cucumber sauce. The Find: There's a back room perfect for large groups or private parties. Call ahead to reserve the space at no extra charge. 13915 Cedar Road, South Euclid, (216) 321-4400

Empress Taytu Ethiopian Restaurant

The Feel: From the Ethiopian artwork to the bar and tables covered with bamboo huts, this restaurant transports customers to a whole other world. For the complete Ethiopian experience, request traditional seating, which consists of carved low-to-the-ground stools, a basketlike mesob table, and no utensils because food is eaten with injera, a moist, spongy flat bread. The Food: Vegetables are the main ingredients in Ethiopian food, so we tried misir ($9), spicy red lentils blended with chopped onion and berber» spices with a side of gomen, chopped collard greens cooked with onions, garlic and ginger blended with jalapenos. The Find: Continue the Ethiopian experience with the Ethiopian bunna (coffee) ceremony ($16), which starts by roasting green coffee beans and finishes with the coffee served from a clay coffee pot in a haze of incense. 6125 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland, (216) 391-9400

Aladdin's Eatery

The Feel: The new Crocker Park addition to the Aladdin's family follows the same close, cozy seating arrangement as the rest in the local chain, allowing you to see what your neighbor's feasting on. The Food: The vegetarian combo ($8.95) delivers all the classics we love on one huge plate. A large dollop of lemony hummos, the tabouli no one can get just right at home, a side of baba, two grape leaves stuffed with rice, chick peas, tomato and parsley (the pungent-tasting dawali), and four pieces of falafel. Our waitress was happy to refill the pita basket as we ripped and rolled the melange of Middle Eastern food to our heart's content. Luckily, we had some change left over for their phenomenal garlic sauce (50 cents). The Find: Their mint tea is the perfect rainy day drink, and it's less than a dollar. 151 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake, (440) 617-9005 (and various other locations), www.aladdinseatery.com

Johnny Mango

The Feel: Bright and funky, the world influence here is Thai, Mexican, Caribbean, anyplace hot. With plenty of vegetarian offerings, the healthy vibe resonates with its no smoking policy and juice bar, where there's plenty of liquefied fruits and veggies to choose. The Food: The veggie fried rice ($7.50) delivers a swift kick to your taste buds. Fried in a smokin' hot lime sauce (you get it on the side as well), it is topped with fresh cucumbers, mushrooms, scallions and tomatoes. Other notable meatless selections are the mouthwatering Caribbean french fries (fried plantains) and Happy Beans, which vary each day. (They're a good excuse to engage the young, hip wait staff in conversation.) The Find: Try the pelican kiss ($2.50 small, $3.95 large), a blend of apple, cranberry and ginger, for a frothy pick-me-up. For a fizzy one, try the mango-lime spritzer ($3.50). 3120 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, (216) 575-1919

Niko's on Detroit

The Feel: Underneath the bar at Niko's, blue lights illuminate the silver-painted, industrial-looking walls in the dining area. This modern-style restaurant seems like a place where you would find urban hipsters as regulars, but people from all walks of life come to join in the merriment of eating traditional Greek food. The Food: The spanikopites ($6), three spinach stuffed phyllo pies, may be an appetizer on Niko's menu, but we think it's enough to be considered a meal. The Find: Try the sagnaki ($7), Greek Kefalotyri cheese that is pan-fried in olive oil and lit on fire by your sever who yells, "Opa!" 15625 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, (216) 226-7050

Udupi Cafe

The Feel: The South Indian restaurant is nestled in a Parma Heights strip mall, but boasts a surprisingly expansive interior. Of course, the huge buffet gets all the attention. The Food: The lunch buffet ($6.95). Udupi doesn't mess around with meat. Instead, it fills the buffet with a range of vegetarian dishes that's unprecedented in these parts. We thrilled at the wealth of curries, including aloo baigan and a wonderful veggie korma, and salivated at the sight of tamarind rice and ultra-sweet carrot halwa. Then we staggered under enormous silver plates to our seats and discovered the very best part: They didn't de-spice for an American palate! The Find: This was the first Indian buffet to ever bring us complimentary masala dosai (humongous and hearty crepes, stuffed with potatoes, onions and peas) directly to our table. 6339 Olde York Road, Parma Heights, (440) 743-7154 (closed Tuesdays)

Lemon Grass

The Feel: This open and airy restaurant has customers so immersed in the Thai menu, no one would ever imagine it used to be the home of a McDonald's. It's a great place to grab some authentic Thai food before catching a flick next door at the Cedar Lee Theatre. The Food: The red curry chicken ($6.95) served with rice and loaded with red curry in coconut milk with eggplants, bamboo shoots, carrots and green peppers. The curry may have cleared our nasal passages and made our eyes water, but it was worth every minute of it. The Find: After a spicy meal, give your taste buds a cool down with a Thai iced coffee ($1.95) that tastes similar to a Kahlua mudslide, but not to worry, it's alcohol-free. 2179 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 321-0210

Pad Thai

The Feel: From the elephant fountain outside to the rich dȣor of gold-plated statues and fixtures, you will feel like you are eating in style, but will feel relaxed with the classical music floating through the dining area. The Food: The restaurant's namesake Pad Thai ($7.50 for lunch) is a unique combination of rice noodles stir-fried with egg and mixed with shrimp and tender chicken. Accompanied by bean sprouts and ground peanuts that provide a crunchy contrast to the soft noodles, it is not too spicy with just enough kick to give the mild-mannered looking dish a walk on the wild side. The Find: Shankaya ($3.25). The combination of sweet purple rice layered under vanilla custard and topped with coconut milk is an acquired taste, but one you should try. 5657 Hudson Drive, Hudson, (330) 650-9998

Que Tal?

The Feel: There's something refreshing about eating chicken you can trust at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint. Que Tal? (what's happenin'?) may not exactly be a dive taqueria, but its food tastes just as good as an authentic one in Cali or New Mexico. The Food: While everyone's raving about the burritos, we found that the chicken verde enchiladas ($5.95) with that juicy verde-sauced chicken (tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, etc.) and a side of rice and beans, are just the kind of thing you're always hoping to find when you discover your newest secret Mexican place. The Find: Que Tal? carries something a little more traditional than Corona: Negro Modela and, something we've never seen before, Modela Special. 1803 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 932-9800, www.quetalburritos.com

El Tango Taqueria

The Feel: We all know that the tango is the dance of love, but in this case, El Tango is the dance of poppin' flavor. From the smoked cinnamon chipotle salsa to the apple jalapeo pie to the vanilla lime lemonade, this restaurant will introduce your taste buds to a whole new way of eating. The Food: Since El Tango Taqueria boasts some of the town's best burritos, we tried the chicken burrito (5.75) overflowing with Spanish rice, beans, fresh salsa and cheese. The Find: The Southwestern d»£or at El Tango Taqueria will have you singing ž“°nte FeÓ ¶rom the musical ž’•nt,Ó °nd ironically enough, all the restaurant's ingredients come from New Mexico. But unlike New Mexico's wide-open spaces, there are only five tables, so be prepared to wait. 14224 Madison Ave., Lakewood, (216) 226-9999

Lozada's

The Feel: The nothing-fancy eatery has just enough frills, from multiple TVs to tropical posters and pics of local celebs on the walls. The Food: Our waitress recommended the homemade chicken tacos ($2.75), so while we could have been adventurous and tried the octopus canoes (sweet plantains filled with octopus and covered in cheese), we opted for a low-key Tuesday. Boy, were we glad we did! This unassuming little guy appeared in a bubbly, deep-fried flour tortilla shell filled with spiced chicken and the rest of the usual suspects: lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, salsa. Why so good? We're pretty sure the addictive shell had something to do with it. Order three and you'll still have enough left over for their richly flavored soupy beans ($1.25). The consistency makes it a great dipping sauce for almost anything on the menu. The Find: Lozada's throws a Browns tailgating party on Sundays, offering those groovy little Coronitas you can get a bucket of five for $6. 1909 W. 25th St., Ohio City, (216) 621-2954

Luchita's

The Feel: From the bar to the stucco dining room filled with mirrors and Mexican posters, guests will feel like they have been transplanted south of the border. The Food: We tried the small chimichanga ($5.50 for lunch) and to think there is an even bigger size makes our knees shake (the large costs $7.50 and could probably last for two additional meals). The smooth texture of the cheese mixed with the soft potatoes stuffed inside a perfect crispy shell had us shouting "Ole!" Delivered on a bed of shredded lettuce and topped with a dollop of guac and a drizzle of what can only be described as souped-up sour cream, this meal definitely satisfied our cravings. The Find: Try a cup of sopa azteca ($2), a chicken broth soup with shredded chicken, rice and avocado. 3456 W. 117th St., Cleveland, (216) 252-1169 (and various other locations)

Tequila Ranch

The Feel: Yeah, it's a trendy bar, but then we tried the food and discovered it might not be a passing craze. Whether you stop in after last call or a casual lunch meeting with friends, just don't ride the bull for at least half an hour after eating. The Food: One of its "signature burritos," The Outlaw ($6.95) is a gut-buster bullet straight from a Wild West shootout buffet (if there is such a thing): charro steak, rice and refried beans, roasted tomatillos, guac, jack cheese and ž‹©llerÓ ≥auce, along with whatever else catches your eye as they scoot your tortilla down to the firing squad (er, sorry the cashier). The Find: You are at a tequila bar, remember, so for the perfect capper (and to prove you're no dumb gringo) order the $30 shot of Grande Patron and take it like the Outlaw would: no lemon, straight up, staring off into the distance. 1229 W. Sixth St., Cleveland, (216) 566-TACO, www.liquidliving.com

J. Pistone

The Feel: This bright, bustling 'gathering place,' a combination market, sandwich spot, and prepared-food takeout counter, creates an impression of plenty. Rows of shelves and baskets overflow with salsas, wines and olive oils. A cosmopolitan crowd fills the tables, which look out the window at a busy street. The Food: The grilled garden panini ($5.99) on focaccia balances between the half-melted guilty pleasure of the Asiago cheese and the fresh spinach leaves, the bella mushrooms' dark accent and the olive tampenade's salty tang. The Find: You could stop by for takeout six nights a week and never order off the menu, just pointing to dishes in the glass displays. Poached salmon with dill farfalle, green beans with bleu cheese and walnuts and an eggplant torte, served by the pound, all caught our eye. 3245 Warrensville Center Road, Shaker Heights, (216) 283-3663

Just Like Mom's

The Feel: We all have those nights when we just don't have the energy to cook, yet have a hankering for home-cooked goodness soul food, as it's called at Just Like Mom's. This takeout staple east of downtown offers fried fish dinners, burgers, dogs, ribs, wings, steaks, pizza, pasta you name it. Fish dinners ($8.50) such as perch include four pieces of fish, fried brown, and expertly seasoned fries. If you want to dine out, there's seating, too but don't expect ambiance. The Food: Anything and everything fried is a good choice at Just Like Mom's. The hush puppies ($2 for four) deep-fried cornbread balls, right out of Momma's Southern kitchen are particularly great in all their greasiness. The Find: Call 15 minutes ahead and stop in the Golden Bakery at the back of the building to find a vast array of desserts. 3030 Superior Ave. E., Cleveland, (216) 685-5555

Octane Cafe

The Feel: An eatery that posts nutrition facts is a rare find, but downtown's Octane Caf» has nothing to hide. Offering fresh ingredients and grease-free 'Fuel 4 Life,' this deli-style breakfast and lunch bar is as functional and uncomplicated as the fare. The Food: The apple walnut turkey wrap ($6.59), which includes a low-carb spinach tortilla, mango chutney, raspberry vinaigrette and a generous amount of greens, is a power lunch to propel anyone through the afternoon. For a side, choose between baby carrots and granola. The Find: As if the food isn't inspiring enough, the chiseled physiques behind the cash register (co-owner Valerie Waugaman was figure champion of the 2005 Junior National Bodybuilding and Figure Competition) are another reminder of why it pays to eat right and exercise. 528 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, (216) 621-8282, www.octanecafe.com

Odessa Deli

The Feel: Tasty Russian comfort food with classic American sandwiches, salads and sides served fast-food style. But the chicken paprikash and potato pancakes make you think of grandma's house, not Micky D's. The Food: Stuffed cabbage with mushroom gravy and pierogies ($5.99). Two big cabbage rolls are filled with a mix of meat and rice in a creamy white sauce flecked with carrots and dill, while three pan-fried potato pierogies are accompanied with sauteed onions and a small side container of sour cream. The Find: The Old Arcade food court has become a very nice place to eat. Light pours in from the glass ceiling, spotlighting the new tables and chairs. The Superior end is outfitted with big comfy leather armchairs and couches. Lower level, The Old Arcade, Euclid and Superior at East Fourth, Cleveland, (216) 344-2403

Hot Sauce Williams

The Feel: Yowza! The Hot Sauce guys chose a riotous blue and pink palette for the exterior of their Carnegie Avenue restaurant. Inside it's a little more bare-bones; this place is all about the takeout lunch. The Food: We were torn between the succulent-looking fried chicken and the famous ribs, so we got both in the rib and chicken special ($9.50). The whole jobbie is layered into a Styrofoam to-go box: two giant, meaty ribs on the bottom, two pieces of chicken (we requested and were graciously given all white meat), two sides (anything from okra to fries to sweet corn), and the piece de resistance, a slice of sandwich bread on top. Like we said, yowza! The Find: Just ask and they graciously drizzle more of that sweet, sweet sauce over the meat. 7815 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland, (216) 391-2230


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