Top New Restaurants to Try in 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland is going into the New Year with a serving of fresh restaurants and dining sites. Many are hoping to catch some heat from the 2016 Republican National Convention and from the much-predicted triumphant road to victory by one of the town's pro-sports franchises. Spoiler alert: Don't hold your breath about the latter.

What are the chances, however, that you might find yourself at the table next to Donald Trump at one of these cool-sounding new eateries? Again, don't hold your breath. But do open your mouth (and, occasionally, your mind) to try these especially intriguing new dining options for northeast Ohio.

1. Tabletop Café
1810 W.25th St., Cleveland

Here is one place where one might hear "checkers, please!" just as often as "check, please!" The concept of the Tabletop Cafe is a place with a library of vintage/modern/retro board games, available for play for a $5 rental fee in a casual cafe environment. The craze is beginning to catch on, with similar board-ing houses opening in Canada and even Dubai. One need go no further than Ohio City for Cleveland's independently owned/operated Tabletop Cafe, open evenings Monday through Thursday and during daytime/dining hours Friday through Sunday. The food is on the fun side too, with the "fancy" Avocado Pear a construct of sliced pear, guacamole, bleu cheese, pecans, cinnamon and honey that would be the envy of any game designer. Avocado and honey figure heavily also in the smattering of salads and sandwiches, and there are the no-distraction gamer standbys of potato chips and wings.We mourn, however, the lack of a Baked Mr. Potato Head, or a dessert called Candyland. Call and ask about special events scheduled (216) 512-3053.

2. Graffiti: A Social Kitchen 
1261 W. 76th St, Cleveland

Cleveland's evolving "Battery Park" neighborhood on the near-west lakeshore (wait a few months; another PR re-branding will occur with these gentrifying neighborhoods) has hosted a number of high-quality restaurants at this W.76th Street nook, a former industrial space with great fixtures and a wonderful patio view of the lake. The latest occupier is Graffiti, operated by brothers-in-law Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick, who last year opened this showcase for their eclectic dishes that includes "artisan" bologna and inventive variations on such old standbys as chicken livers and Shepherd's Pie. It's not all meat-based; rare and clever combinations of fruits, vegetables and grains are insinuated into the salads, desserts and breakfast/brunch specials. Call (216) 651-6969.

3. Tandul Fine Indian Cuisine
2505 Professor Ave., Cleveland

Nowadays, when someone talks about the Cleveland Indians, they may as well be talking more about the fine assortment of Indian restaurants around than about the baseball team. The latest in the lineup is Tandul, just opened in a Tremont storefront. Tandul has a selection of north- and south-India traditional dishes, plus tandoori-grilled delicacies in abundance. A number of dishes feature goat meat, a something-you-don't-see-every day distinction. Horrified vegetarians can take comfort in the meatless standbys of saag paneer, chana masala and vegetable korma. Like many Indian restaurants, a daily lunch buffet challenges the all—u-can-eat Raj imperialist in all of us for $9.99. Call (216) 465-2442.

4. Herb 'n Twine Sandwich Co.
4309 Lorain Ave., Cleveland

The address in the west 40s and Lorain, in a perpetually grungy area of Cleveland's west side, had an illustrious history as the former Speak in Tongues, a distinctly low-tech nightclub and alt-rock-cum-art performance space much remembered in the town's music underworld. Even if the garage-band days are over, the "tongues" part lives on, as the joint is now an upscale sandwich shop, Herb 'n Twine, cranking up the kitchen amps with either to-go or dine-in options, and putting gourmet spins on the classic grilled cheese and the chicken patty (the latter here done up Korean-style). There are also a variety of soup specials and vegetarian/vegan options. Call (216) 465-9600.

5. Sarita
14523 Madison Ave., Lakewood

Generations in Lakewood grew up with Players on Madison, a Lakewood dining institution for three decades. Players has now been succeeded by Sarita, with some of the carryover staff and cooks serving "new American" cuisine, with an emphasis on healthy ingredients. After extensive renovations the the 100-seat restaurant now accommodates group dining and sports a 12-foot chandelier fashioned from cast-off forks, spoons and other utensils, and a contemporary black-and-white color scheme. It will be open for dinner seven nights a week. A 25-seat patio is slated to open next spring. To see if Sarita has the staying power of Players, call (216) 226-5200.

Back when there were still newspapers in north-central Ohio, Charles Cassady Jr. wrote a pseudonymous restaurant-review column for one.