Have You Been to the 7 Best Chain Restaurants in Northeast Ohio?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Chain restaurants get a bad rap, but I've never been one to hate on them - & I'm actually kiiiind of a fan, if I'm being honest. What I like better than T.G.I.Friday's & Olive Garden, though (like, wayyyy better) is local chains, which have the infrastructure to run like well-oiled machines but still qualifying as "eating local." They never have that corporate chain vibe, either, aside from some streamlined marketing - which I, for one, appreciate!

Here in Northeast Ohio, we're lucky to have more than a few top-notch local chains - ones I frequent with some regularity. Here are the ones I like best, what I recommend there, & why they're worth checking out if you're in the area - chains' reputations be damned.


I don't want to hear about In-N-Out or Shake Shack. When it comes to burgers, this Akron-based chain is the be-all, end-all - don't @ me. In fact, Swenson's was the first place I ever ate a hamburger... at age 25! Their not-so-secret ingredient is brown sugar, which gives their burger a bit of a sweet taste, & their eat-in-your-car, be-served-by-a-hot-college-student set-up is perfect for a low-key summer night "out" for dinner. Swenson's recently expanded north to Cleveland & now boasts nine locations. Don't forget a side of Potato Teezers!

Winking Lizard

If you love wings & beer, you'll love the Winking Lizard. In fact, I love it so much that Mike & I had our rehearsal dinner at one of their two downtown Cleveland locations. They serve more than 400 beers, bottled & on tap, & their BBQ is the best I've ever had, period. I don't usually even like steak fries, but I order theirs solely as a vehicle for that sauce - on the side of my boneless wings, smothered in the spicier version of the same sauce! The Lizard has 18 locations that now expand past Northeast Ohio & into the Columbus area.


When I lived outside Ohio, this was my go-to restaurant of choice any time I came home to visit. Sometimes I'd eat there three times in two days! My favorite "meal" is their mozzarella sticks; I can't help it, they're just better than everyone else's. They also make a mean burger, some incredible bacon-cheddar fries, & giant salads, among other delicious menu items. This is my family's favorite dinner meet-up locale - & those fries never last long at our table. Though Rockne's hasn't quite made it up to Cleveland, there's a location in Old Brooklyn that's close enough to keep me satiated.


Controversial statement: I don't love Barrio nearly as much as everyone else in Cleveland seems to. Their tacos are just so wet. I do still like it quite a lot, though, so of course it makes the list. It's become a Cleveland institution! They let you make your own tacos, but I prefer to go with one of their versions: The Curd Ferguson, a vegetarian taco with Thai chili tofu, queso fresco, jicama apple slaw, pineapple salsa, & salsa roja. And those blood orange margaritas! Barrio's original location is right here in my neighborhood, but they now have four additional locations across the area.

Yours Truly

You haven't lived until you've eaten a plate of Notso Fries, thick-cut cottage fries topped with melted cheese (none of that nacho crap) & chopped bacon. They're called that because they're notso common. GET IT? We went to the Hudson location all the time when I was a kidThis popular brunch spot also has a full lunch & dinner menu - including all-day breakfast! Yours Truly recently opened in downtown Cleveland, making for a total of nine locations.

Aladdin's Eatery

One of my friends worked at the Hudson location in college, & I went out there as often as I could to consume as much hummus as I could - with their specialty hot sauce mixed in, of course! Now, there's a location close to my mom's house, & it's my regular lunch spot whenever I'm back home. Their curry chicken pitza (it's a pizza on a pita) is, truly, a thing of delicious beauty, topped with crispy fried onions. Aladdin's originally opened in Lakewood, OH, & has 11 locations in Ohio; in total, they now have 30 locations in four states.

Burntwood Tavern

This local chain took over a building on the river in my hometown of Cuyahoga Falls that couldn't seem to stay in business - & it's flourishing. It's no surprise, given how great their rivers views are & how delicious their menu is. My mom & I frequently hit it up for their incredibly inexpensive happy hour, where I order the margherita flatbread (so thin & crispy!) & the Jack & Jill, a cocktail made with blueberry-infused vodka, muddled blueberries, & lemon juice. Burntwood Tavern has nine Ohio locations... & one in Naples, FL. Yeah, I don't know.

What's your favorite chain restaurant local to your area? And if you're local, what do you think of my picks? 

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