“I love Cleveland’s eccentrically screwy, strangely American splendor.” So said Anthony Bourdain at the end of his episode about Cleveland, a much-maligned city in America‘s Rust Belt. Having also been described as “The Mistake on the Lake,” you might wonder: what did Tony see in this city?
Anthony Bourdain visited Cleveland to film season 3 (episode 11) of No Reservations; it was his only visit to Cleveland, but not his only trip to the Buckeye State (Ohio). He also visited Columbus during an early book tour. In any case, Tony’s visit to Cleveland holds a special place in my heart: I currently call Cleveland home, and love to hear his thoughts on a place I know so well.
Whether you’re visiting “The Land” or you call it home too, you might want to eat at the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Cleveland. Below you’ll find a list of all of those spots as well as what he ate; several of them are now closed, so I’ve provided suggestions where necessary for substitute spots.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Erie, Kaskaskia, and Mississauga peoples, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
While Bourdain referred to it as “Ohio’s most recognizable gastronomic innovation” and “Ohio’s state dish,” his choice to drag Ruhlmann to Skyline Chili was controversial for another reason: Clevelanders are very quick to point out that this is a Cincinnati restaurant, not a Cleveland – or even an Ohio – one.
Nevertheless, Cleveland is home to one of the only Skyline Chili restaurants outside of Cincinnati, and the pair eat here; I have eaten here too! They order the “3 Way” (spaghetti, chili, and “suspiciously bright orange” cheddar cheese), as I did and recommend too.
Sokolowski’s University Inn (CLOSED)
Tony’s next stop is a place that decidedly represents both Cleveland and Ohio: Sokolowski’s University Inn is one of many great spots in Cleveland where you can get fantastic Polish food, brought to the region by the many Polish immigrants and their descendants that now call the region home.
While there, they dive into old-school Polish fare: chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage, pierogies, bratwurst, noodles, meat and mushroom barley soup, and specially-made head cheese, followed by perusing the buffet of desserts.
Unfortunately, Sokolowski’s closed at the beginning of the pandemic; it was originally supposed to be temporary but the restaurant never re-opened and the site was sold to new owners in mid-2023. There are lots of other great Polish restaurants in Cleveland though!
After touring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – one of Cleveland’s top attractions – with Marky Ramone (yes, of The Ramones), the pair head to Lola for a bite to eat. Lola was one of several restaurants by popular Cleveland chef Michael Symon; it focuses on the chef’s love of all things pork. (It also closed during the pandemic, sadly!)
Bourdain and Ramone dig into a series of courses featuring said pork and other Ohio ingredients: an amuse bouche of pickled walleye followed by sturgeon poached in smoked butter; beef cheek pierogi; foie gras bratwurst with homemade turnip kraut, stadium mustard, and Great Lakes Brewing Company stout and cheddar soup; and pork trio including truffle trotter and poached egg with crispy pigs ears.
Sausage Shoppe (CLOSED)
Tony always loves to see how the sausage is made – both literally and figuratively – so he seeks out one of Cleveland’s best sausage makers. At the Sausage Shoppe, he goes behind the scenes to learn the history and art of German-based sausage and cured meats, including mettwurst, house-cured ham, pate, and more.
While not a casualty of the pandemic, the Sausage Shoppe is now also closed; it shuttered in 2018 when the owners decided to retire.
Hot Sauce Williams (CLOSED)
Honoring the fact that Cleveland is majority Black, Bourdain and Symon seek out a meal that is both delicious and represents that part of the community.
They head to Hot Sauce Williams for great Southern food pretty far from the South. Tony digs into fried chicken, collard greens, blackeyed peas, beans, sweet potato, ribs, and mac and cheese, plus the ‘Polish boy’ (kielbasa in a bun with french fries on top, smothered in barbecue sauce and coleslaw) and a pulled pork sandwich – all with coleslaw; his favorites are the chicken, greens, and mac, if you’re not feeling that hungry.
In yet another blow to this guide, Hot Sauce Williams also closed back in 2018… sensing a theme?! Luckily, there are still lots of places to try the Polish Boy, which – while invented at Hot Sauce Williams – is considered a Cleveland culinary invention.
West Side Market
Tony and Ruhlman’s last stop in Cleveland is at what I consider to be a worthy first stop (especially if you’re not digging on Skyline Chili): West Side Market.
Located near downtown, West Side Market is a great “indoor farmer’s market,” as Bourdain describes it – though you can find lots of foods to enjoy during your visit. Some of my favorites include empanadas, kimchi, and gyros.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Cleveland, both closed and still open? Let me know in the comments below!