The Incomprehensive Guide to Cleveland: 5 Cafés to visit

About 4 years ago I packed up and drove all my stuff from Buffalo to Cleveland to start my first year at Case Western Reserve University.

I have to say I was not expecting much. My understanding was that Cleveland was basically Buffalo but on a different part of Lake Erie. The reason I chose CWRU could be an entire post in itself, but the main reason I first decided to visit CWRU was 100% because there was a Chic-Fil-A on the way.

Since 2013 I’ve been in many other spots: New Jersey, NYC, San Francisco (#Futureforce heck yeah), Buffalo again, Atlanta, Long Island, Arizona, Florida, Texas, and now I’m living in some random city in Eastern France. Abroad, I’ve visited Amsterdam, Berlin, Basel and Paris. And all these other places are great- but when I’m traveling I always find myself missing Cleveland. I’m itching to get back.

Cleveland is such a random city to be crushing on, but it’s one of those places you don’t expect to fall in love with until you do. The point of this post (series of posts?) is to walk you through some of the places that turn you into a local. In this post I’m covering Cleveland cafés because on a hot summer day 21 years ago I crawled out of some remote third-wave coffee shop You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.

But before we start with the guide, some overall Cleveland tips:

1. We don’t talk about Cleveland in the winter.

After November it turns into a barren wasteland. Visit Cleveland in the Summer or Fall. Spring is OK if you get there after everything stops being dead.

Spring (Meghan rockin’ some spring vibes) +Summer + Fall = ALL YES

Not. The winter.

RIP Teresa (née Texas) (1995 - First Cleveland Snow 2013)

2. It rains. A lot.

If you like rain, like me, this is a good thing. If you do not like rain, like most people who move here from California, this is a bad thing.

3. Getting around

The redline is what we call the train that takes you from campus to the city (or airport) (or wherever else). It is the quickest and most convenient way to get around.

The healthline is the main bus that takes you into the city. It is very unique. I think it’s called the healthline because Cleveland has a lot of hospitals, and it goes by most of them.

Take the redline. Or better yet, have a car.

Under tower city waiting for the redline (left), view of Euclid from a healthline stop (right)

Great. Now that we had the mandatory weather discussion, we can move on to the good stuff: the cafés!

Cleveland cafés (All walking distance from CWRU campus):

1. The Coffee House

$ | University Circle (by the freshman dorms)

Opened many years ago by that same friend you have who named his cat “Cat,” The Coffee House operated as my home-away-from-dorm during my time in Cleveland.

Lying beneath this unassuming building is a bakery where all their amazing pastries (including croissants) are made from scratch each morning. They offer several roasts daily, all of which get rotated, so you’ll always get to try something new. All the roasts available for bulk purchase. Their iced drinks are made with pressurized cold brew espresso, which is a syrupy liquid of the gods.

My go-to order: Chocolate Cheesecake muffin + iced latte. Enjoy on the patio during a sunny summer day for maximum enjoyment. During the fall, sit inside, enjoy the cool art, and try any of their organic/fair trade roasts.

2. Algebra Tea House

$ | Little Italy

Tragically, I didn’t learn about Algebra until my second year at Case. The food is delicious and authentic, the atmosphere organic and creative; since discovering it, there’s been a nonstop stream of hummus into my mouth.

Go-to order: House smoothie & hummus. Perfect on a hot day.

The owner, Ayman Alkayali, immigrated to Cleveland from Libya. He attended CWRU for a while before falling in love with painting and ceramics. He attended business school and eventually opened Algebra (you can read more about his story here).

In addition to the food, it’s a great spot to spend time with friends. Here, you’re encouraged to talk about anything- art, politics, religion. Just spending a few hours in Algebra will make you see the world a bit differently.

3. Rising Star

$$ | “technically” Little Italy, but closer to Southside

The Rising Star on campus opened up my second year in Cleveland and single-handedly wiped any money I had saved the previous summer. The place WILL turn you into a third-wave coffee disciple.

The aesthetic is industrial-chic and you will be served by someone with a tattoo and/or a cool haircut. Hands down the best place to get a properly-steamed cappuccino (or any other hot espresso beverage) in University Circle. Be prepared to tell the barista which espresso roast you want your drink made with. Yeah, it’s one of those places.

Bonus: every month or so, there’s a pop-up brunch catered by another local eatery. Follow them on Facebook for info.

4. Coquette Patisserie

$$$ | Euclid / Northside

Coquette is where you go after you’ve completed a few internships and are still pretending you don’t have student loans. You brush off your finest gray tunic, spend too much time on your hair and makeup (so it looks like you spent no time on your hair and makeup), and head over to literally be served food on a silver platter. When you take your food-nihilist friend with you (the one that says an eight dollar pastry tastes no different than one you get from Costco), they will leave with a sudden and secret belief in capitalism.

Mainly known for their macarons(~$2) and champagne(~$13), try any of their fresh-baked desserts and be guaranteed to leave feeling Slightly More French. Their tea selection is fire and their hot chocolate is spicy (really). They have IPAs on tap and also serve artisan cocktails. They’ve recently begun branching out and with some petit-déjeuner/brunch thing, which I have yet to try. Oh, and they have oysters if you’re into that.

While I was in school, the macarons were my go-to pick-me-up presents for friends who were struggling with schoolwork, relationships, sick, or just otherwise having a rough day.

Finally, their Instagram is probably my favorite thing and should definitely be followed regardless of whether you ever intend on visiting or not.

Be careful not to drop any to-go orders from La Coquette when returning to The Jolly Scholar and your friends punch you in the face.

5. Luna’s Bakery & Cafe

$$ | Cleveland Heights

Again, a spot I didn’t discover until I actually lived in Cleveland Heights.

BEST croissants walking distance from campus (so long as On The Rise doesn’t open up a UC location anytime soon- then there might be some competition). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to catch a photo because it’s usually half-gone by the time my phone is out.

Pictured below: their delicious crêpes, both sweet and savory. In addition to baked goods and delicious coffee, they serve lunch!

Crepes & Croissants #savage

Honorable Croissant Mention:

Zoss, the Swiss Baker

$ | Cleveland Heights

Finally, if you’re as into croissants as I am, swing by Zoss for a delicious half-moon shaped manifestation of butter and flour. Additionally, they bake all sorts of breads and pastries- one is usually featured for the day if you’d like to sample. Be careful- they’re closed on Mondays!