Even between sports dynasties, Cleveland's always been known as the City of Champions. It's a spirit that's pushed the town through ups and downs to become something extraordinary - a Midwest beacon of American splendor that doesn't just draw in the oddest, most adventurous minds in the country, but those from outside it too.
International influence has long dominated the city's culinary scene; especially Eastern European traditions. The pierogies, kielbasa and corned beef here rank amongst the best in the nation, and have long anchored the city's restaurant scene. But in the last decade, Cleveland's gone through a revolution on all levels (all over again) - revitalizing its arts and infrastructure while busting its food scene wide open to new inspirations. Central to its new identity is food trucks, which in some cases have taken lofty concepts out of the restaurants and into the streets, and in others have elevated casual street food to a whole new level. It's a melting pot of a city that's getting stirred more vigorously these days, to greater and greater returns.
Cocky's Bagels is a food truck that encapsulates the best of Cleveland's new food scene; packing several cultures onto one truck and making them all a whole lot easier to eat. From Italian meats to Mediterranean veggies, there's a wide spectrum of tastes to explore, and we do mean EXPLORE - these bagels are massive enough to get lost in. And needless to say, taste so good you won't wanna find your way out.
Cocky's signature offering features pastrami, turkey salami and a farm-fresh egg finished off with the truck's secret sauce, with simpler picks like a breakfast bagel you can eat for dinner and a pizza bagel you can eat for breakfast always available as well. All in all, Cocky's is a study in perfected simplicity and simple perfection alike, and it's just the boost in the arm the city's been craving.
Southern decadence has slowly been inching its way into menus around town for years, even colliding with Polish food to create a distinctly new kind of Midwest BBQ. One that involves a whole lotta coleslaw. Now that food trucks have taken over Cleveland's streets, this BBQ is spreading further than ever before, with new twists evolving the scene truck by truck and bite by bite.
The brainchild of a veteran, Southern-born and internationally-travelled chef (and descendant of rather infamous family), Hatfield's Goode Grub dishes out Southern fusion anchored in tradition but buoyed by bold risks. The menu's got room for classic staples like brisket and pulled pork, alongside mac and cheese burgers and bbq chicken quesadillas. There's even a Brunswick stew made to compliment even the heartiest offering. Altogether, it's a meal worth feuding over (though thankfully all you have to do is walk up).
Jones Bones BBQ is a lot more straightforward - no fancy flourishes. None needed. Just exquisitely smoked ribs and pulled pork, alongside Polish sausages that bring Eastern Europe flair to the kitchen. Okay, maybe that's a flourish, technically. But it's far more hearty than fancy. The Proper Pig Smokehouse streamlines things even further - offering pure, slow-cooked Texas taste, through and through. After collecting a slew of awards, it's launched several brick-and-mortar locations, but a $1000 truck bought from craigslist started it all, and it's delivering BBQ just as fresh today as it was when the enterprise began. And just in case you need another reason to visit - there's bacon on a stick.
Over the years, Cleveland has handily re-invented itself time and time again, with a focus on innovation that goes on to drive the whole country. It should be no surprise then that Cleveland's food trucks are also driving innovation, both inside the kitchen, and out on the street (all at the same time, naturally). These trucks focus on not just feeding you well, but improving the community around them in ways that become models for a better way of business.
Manna Food Truck is helping conquer hunger all over Cleveland, in more ways than one. Teaming up with both a local church and the workplace re-entry program of Cleveland's largest homeless shelter, Manna provides jobs to those in need, while cooking up first-rate sandwiches that span a wide range of cultures - from pork banh mi to lamb meatball gyro to Maine lobster roll, all of them delivered just as fresh as they'd be on their own home turf. It's a meal that'll help every part of you feel great. But initially your mouth, still.
Meanwhile, Chill Pop focuses its aim on wholesomeness, both for yourself and the world around you. Only whole foods and real fruit juice go into their world-class popsicles, ranging in flavor from black pepper plum to lemon ricotta and avocado mint chip. What's more, over 90% of their waste is compostable, making them one of the greenest mobile operations in town. Not to be outdone however, Get Stuffed Solar-Powered Eatery lives up to its name, with rotating sliders and chilled wraps (not to mention pierogis - this is still Cleveland, after all), all dispensed from a gas-free cart, along with compostable/recyclable containers and cutlery. It's food that leaves a tiny impression on the planet - and a huge one on your taste buds.
When her Brooklyn restaurant burned down four years ago, Lena Brown decided it was as good a time as ever to launch her dream project. After relocating, she launched Betty's Bomb-Ass Burgers, which grills up gourmet burgers both traditional and.....decidedly not (from peanut butter and bacon jam to tomato confit over a cheesy tot patty). Along with killer cheesy tots, the whole experience is burger bliss without equal in Cleveland.
The Orange Truk's also made a name for itself around town by serving diverse artisan fare. Most popular amongst its offerings are the truck's signature fried risotto balls, which go by the decidedly catchier name of "Truk Balls" and tend to disappear first wherever it rolls up. Finally, Donut Lab is a dessert truck dispensing Ohio's freshest mini-donuts: either sweet (organic banana with cinnamon whipped cream), savory (garlic butter), or something else entirely (Sierra Madre glaze with candied ginger). It treats the donut like a blank canvas, and the results are a whole lot of edible, irresistible art.
As always, check out the live Cleveland food truck map above or on the Roaming Hunger app to find the most accurate, up-to-the-minute location info for all trucks listed, alongside countless more options.
Walnut Wednesday occurs every summer in Perk Plaza, and it's consistently Cleveland's greatest collection of lunch time food trucks. Food Truck Friday (June through October) is in Willard Park and features a similarly star roster. Tuesdays are made for both Chomp (downtown at East 46th Street and Payne Avenue) and Truck Stop Tuesday (Westlake at Detroit & Crocker).
Truck stock gatherings occur all over town during non-winter months, but click HERE to book your favorite and deliver it straight to you, whenever it's needed. From bat mitzvahs to weddings to your own block party, there's no plan too ambitious to be tackled. This is Cleveland, after all. Ambition's what keeps re-inventing it.