If one were to rank the recommendations on this list, this might top it. Founded in 1945 by the wife of a gas station owner on the South Side (where the ice cream was originally sold), Handel’s Ice Cream has grown to gain national and international recognition over the years for its fresh, high-quality ingredients and silky smooth quality.
We want to thank Youngstown Nation for allowing us to share the content below. Over the course of the next five months, we’ll share a select few items from his original, “50 Things to do in Youngstown”. Because we love to dine in Northeast Ohio, Part 2 is dedicated to Food! Enjoy!
Rip’s is a throwback bar from the days when molten steel was still being poured along 42 miles of the Mahoning River. It was founded in 1933 by George Repasky, moved to its current location in 1958 and is currently run by George’s granddaughter Marilyn and her husband Don. Their signature dish is the ‘Hunky Platter’ which features homemade halushki, pierogies and stuffed cabbage. It’s one of the few places in the Valley where you can get a combo such as this year-round other than at a church or community festival. Order a draft with it and enjoy some ethnic comfort food at this 80-year-old tradition on Youngstown-Poland Road in Struthers.
The Royal Oaks is Youngstown’s oldest bar and perhaps its most interesting. Owned by the Kennedy brothers and located on the East Side near downtown, the Oaks looks like your typical non-descript dive bar from the outside. You may or may not see someone drinking, sleeping or playing morra upon entering (sometimes all of the above at one time). Inside, the decor can best be described as Rob Zombie-meets-Youngstown with an ode to President John F. Kennedy. The music selection often matches the crowd but don’t let any of this intimidate you. Everyone goes to the Oaks. Aside from its awesome uniqueness, another reason is their BBQ. Guaranteed, it’s some of best you’ll ever try. Anywhere. Their ribs are marinated for days, are smoked with cherry wood and the portions are huge. Their signature sauce is Hot Raspberry BBQ which is so good that you could probably put it on tree bark and it would still be one of the top meals of your life. You haven’t experienced Youngstown unless you’ve been to the Oaks, so put this one close to the top of your list.
There’s a few places in Youngstown that you can visit and still be immediately struck with a sense of Youngstown of yesteryear. The Golden Dawn is one of them. The non-descript restaurant tucked away on Logan Ave is a throwback to the industrial heyday neighborhood bar and diner. It’s a popular stop for locals as much as it is for national media or top politicos passing through town. Nothing about the Dawn has changed: the decor, the food options or the people. Owned and operated by the Naples family, the staff still wears classic white button-down shirts, black ties and black pants just like they did in 1934 when the joint first opened. The menu is mostly simple comfort food and there’s nothing on it that will change your life. But that’s not why you go to the Dawn. It’s affordable and the atmosphere is great. Their signature sandwich is the ‘Jumbo Chop Steak’ which is kind of like a Salisbury steak on two pieces of white bread. Their pizza is also very popular. Of course, no trip to the Dawn would be complete without a frosty schooner of beer. When in Youngstown, do as the Youngstown-Americans do. Go to the Golden Dawn. Bonus Recommendation: Saratoga Restaurant in nearby downtown Warren.
There are a few local food items that Youngstown can claim as its own. Brier Hill pizza is one of them. The pizza gets its name from the city’s Brier Hill neighborhood which was once considered the ‘Little Italy’ of Youngstown. Like many Rust Belt neighborhoods, Brier Hill has seen better days. However, two legacies that have survived the times include the annual Brier Hill Italian Festival and Brier Hill pizza. A simple recipe consisting of red sauce, red/green peppers and romano cheese, it was a pizza that many early southern Italian immigrants could make in their own backyards. Many years later, it has become a source of pride for a city that takes food very seriously. There’s lots of great places in Youngstown that hsell their own version of this style of pizza. However, for the real deal, you need to get a pie at St. Anthony’s church in the old neighborhood itself. It’s served every Friday but make sure to call no later than 11am to place an order. It’s that popular…and worth it.
Located on Belmont Ave just outside downtown proper, Charlie Staples BBQ is probably the most well known BBQ joint in the city. Staples’ ‘cup of love’ recipe has been sold on the same corner since the late 1930’s when Bill Robinson operated a stand there. Charlie bought the recipe off of Bill in 1974 and ran his own place in the same location for years. Eventually, he and his wife moved to Houston to pursue another business venture and turned over operations to his business partner Carl and his wife Emma. When Emma died, Staples closed for a brief period until Charlie moved back, bought a 1,500 square foot factory on the same corner and converted it to the beautiful restaurant it is today. Recommendations: ‘Firehouse’ chili, the ‘Big Bertha’ baked potato and, of course, some ribs and/or chicken. If you head to Staples on a weekend night, be sure to head across the street to Frieda’s afterwards for some of the best jazz you’ll find in the Valley.
In the heart of the lower South Side along the railroad tracks of Southern Boulevard sits one of Youngstown’s landmark restaurants: The Boulevard Tavern. Since 1937, ‘The Boulevard’ has served up popular Italian dishes and fish dinners in this former Catholic stronghold neighborhood. The spot served as a grocery store for about decade and later became a restaurant. So, when you enter, you’ll notice that the building is divided into two areas. The front half is a classic bar (complete with tin roofs) with a few booths for dining and drinks. On your way to the main dining area in the back, you’ll find some great Youngstown photos and memorabilia. If you have to wait to be seated (which you probably will if you go on weekend night), this is a great way to pass the time. As far a food goes, there’s two items that you should try for sure: 1. the fish with their special homemade coleslaw and 2. their homemade ravioli. The restaurant has experienced enough success that it could have moved out of the old neighborhood long ago but has chosen to stay. Yet another reason to support this great establishment (as if you needed another one). Bonus recommendation: check outScarsella’s (also on the South Side) which some believe has the best pasta sauce in the area.
Like wedding soup, the cookie table is a regional phenomenon with a strong tradition (and debatable origin) that borders on obsession for many folks in the Valley. In fact, entire weddings can be judged on the quality, variety and presentation of one’s cookie table. We’ll leave it to others to judge whether that’s healthy or not, however, the point is that Youngstown doesn’t mess around when it comes to this tasty tradition. To that end, the community hosts an annual event dedicated exclusively to the cookie table. Titled ‘Cookie Table & Cocktails’, it’s held around the first week in February at the Tyler History Museum in downtown Youngstown. Dozens of professional and amateur bakers submit thousands of cookies for attendees to sample. Award categories include fun and interesting titles such as ‘Best Unexpected Ingredient’ and ‘Best Twist On An Old Tradition’. It’s a great community event that you’ll only find in Youngstown and the proceeds go to the history center. So, put a few extra hours in at the gym that week and make plans to attend. It’s worth it. Bonus recommendations: Memorable Meals Of The Mahoning Valley (also at the Tyler) for a sample of some of the most notable restaurant dishes in the area as well as the Mahoning Valley Pizza Cook-Off (self-explanatory).
Located on Belmont Ave in Liberty Township, Kravitz Deli is the oldest deli in the Youngstown area and the only Jewish delicatessen between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Kravitz ranks right up there among local food legends. The deli was founded in 1939 on the North Side by Rose Kravitz and moved to its current location in 1970 at which point it also became a full-service restaurant and bakery. Their foods are baked fresh each day and it’s evident in anything you order – from soups to sandwiches or their famous kiffel pasties. However, what Kravitz is likely most well-known for is their corned beef. To that end, a dish you really must try is their corned beef hash. It’s arguably one of if not the single best breakfast dishes in the area. If you’re a vegetarian, try the South Side omelette (get it with munster cheese). Kravitz truly is a ‘must visit’ on this list.
Established in 1974 in a garage on West Federal Street, Jimmy’s Italian Specialities started out as Italian gift shop selling imported glassware and dishes. Over time, the store gradually added food. It has since grown into an award-winning specialty food retailer offering an expansive array of imported Italian groceries, homemade breads, cakes, cookies & pastries. It also has one of the largest selections of Italian deli meats and cheeses, all cut fresh to order. Jimmy’s is also one of the best places for lunch in the area. In fact, their lunch crowd is so busy that their relatively new location is adding a 7,400 square-foot addition for its 40th anniversary. Stop by Jimmy’s for a hot cup of coffee, a fresh sandwich and a homemade cannoli. It’s an Italian trifecta that won’t disappoint. Bonus: Lariccia’s and Tringheses’ Cornersburg Italian Specialities for more Italian goods; Santisi’s Wholesale Foods on Mahoning Ave for some of the best (and most reasonably priced) local deli selections in the city; and Ghossains Bakery for the absolute best in mediterranean food in area. Double bonus recommendation: be sure to pick up some DiRusso’s Hot Sausage at any local retailer in the area.
This recommendation is a sensitive one because pierogie quality – like pizza or the cookie table – is a subjective yet serious topic in Youngstown. So, making a specific recommendation comes with it the possibility of the threat of violence. That being said, most will agree that Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church and St. Stanislaw’s produce some of the best pierogies in the area. St. Stan’s serves their pierogies Friday’s between September and June while Holy Trinity serves year-round (also on Fridays).
This is a food recommendation that is somewhat lesser known in comparison to other restaurants in the area, however, it’s as Youngstown as it gets. Located on Steel Street, Dubic’s Palm Cafe is a true American/Rust Belt success story. George Dubic immigrated from Croatia to Youngstown at age 18 in search of work as a tool-and-dye maker. All was well until 1983 when, at age 30, he received a layoff notice. Seeing the situation as an opportunity rather than a setback, George took a chance and bought a bar on Steel Street which now features some of the best picnic-style spit-roasted lamb, chicken, ham and pork served each and every Saturday. Given that it’s first-come-first-serve, folks line up early at this West Side locale to secure a numbered blue ticket for a spot in line. Over 800lbs of meat is cooked each Saturday and it’s served in waves. First, it’s the whole chickens, then the coveted lamb followed shortly thereafter by the ham and pork. Orders are carved up on the spot with a table saw at the checkout counter (no exaggeration). George still manages the bar/restaurant along with other family members and is always up for a shot of Slivovitz and a laugh with a new or old friend. Dubic’s is a must-do on this list. Pick a Saturday and plan a lunch at this quintessential Youngstown spot. Bonus recommendation: if cooking your own meat is your thing, check out Roscoe’s Poultry across the street or Catullo Prime Meats in Boardman. Primo.
Before hibachi became all the rage in suburban strip mall outlets everywhere, Youngstown’sToyko House was pioneering in one of the most unusual places in the city. Located in a non-descript former gas station on South Ave near the I-680 interchange, the restaurant and its owner, Can Dao, has an unusual operation style but a very loyal following. The restaurant is only open between 4pm-7:30pm Monday through Friday (and closed in the summer); there is no website; and the phone number is disconnected. Yet, folks patiently wait upwards of two hours for a seat at one of the six tables in which Dao serves up a multitude of dishes with over-the-top humor and fiery culinary skill. People from all over the Valley come to the South Side for some of this tasty asian cuisine (and signature cheese sauce). So, if you’re lucky (and patient enough) to secure a table, you’ll experience an authentic/random Youngstown experience that’s guaranteed to leave you with a full sth and a smile on your face.
Located in Struthers, The Elmton began as a family-run, neighborhood bar and restuarnat in 1945 and has remained so ever since. The restaurant features two very popular food items which draws folks from all over the Valley: its pizza and broasted chicken. The pizza uses a green pepper-based sauce and a blend of cheeses (and lots of it) which gives it a delicious, greasy, dense texture. The dough is made fresh each morning at 4:30am. It’s definitely unique and some consider it the best pizza in the region. Broasted chicken involves pressure cooking chicken in oil from the inside out and was a novelty back in the 1950s. This dish also comes with broasted french fries. Very tasty. In addition to the pizza and chicken, The Elmton offers a full menu with lots of other popular items such as gyros and cheese ravioli dinners. 95% of the menu is $8 or less.
Like most All-American towns, Youngstown loves a good hot dog shop. Jib Jab (Girard), Jay’s Famous(Boardman) and the Warren Hot Dog Shoppe are three popular spots which opened shortly after World War II and serve up a simple menu of dogs, burgers, fries and the like. Jib Jab and Warren have more of a restaurant-type atmosphere while Jay’s is smaller but offers wall-to-wall decor of notable locals. There’s no frills here but that’s kind of the point and why each place draws huge crowds from across the region daily. Bonus recommendation: if you’re looking for a creative hot dog experience,try Suize’s Dogs & Drafts in downtown Youngstown which features nearly 50 different toppings in a vintage chic atmosphere. Also, just a few storefronts down in the Knox Building is Martini Brothers Burger Bar which features hand-crafted, award-winning hamburgers that are worth going out of your way to try.
Since 1953, Plaza Donuts has been the area’s staple when it comes to a good local donut and a bottomless cup coffee. Founded by brothers Berkeley and Irv Frumpkin in Akron, the headquarters and main bakery is now located on Belmont Ave in Liberty. Nearly 35 varieties are offered with their cream stick being the most popular option. Each Plaza venue is a coffee bar/diner-style layout reminisent of the era in which the franchise was founded. For less than $5, you’ll be fully satisfied. Take a break from the chains and give this local a try. Fun fact: Plaza Donuts opened the same weekend as the JFK assassination. Coincidence or conspiracy? Bonus recommendation: try the Yo. Doughnut Company on Rayen Ave for some additional fried goodness baked fresh daily in the downtown area (try the Maple Bacon).
Cassese’s MVR is arguably the most popular and well known restaurant in the Youngstown area. Located in the Smoky Hollow neighborhood just east of Youngstown State University, the MVR opened its doors in 1927 and hasn’t looked back since. The restaurant offers generous portions of Italian cuisine at an affordable price in a family-friendly environment. While busy any day of the week, it’s the place to go before or after a YSU sporting event. One of the more popular dishes is the Tressel Tortellini, named after former YSU and Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel (now YSU president). MVR is also known for its large outdoor bocce court area (which also features outdoor dining and a patio bar). During the summer, it’s a popular place for league games as well as casual group play. No trip to Youngstown would be complete without a stop at MVR so be sure to visit.
If one were to rank the recommendations on this list, this might top it. Founded in 1945 by the wife of a gas station owner on the South Side (where the ice cream was originally sold), Handel’s Ice Cream has grown to gain national and international recognition over the years for its fresh, high-quality ingredients and silky smooth quality. In fact, the Travel Channel named it one of the best ice creams in the nation and National Geographic named it the best ice cream in the world. Celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Bill Cosby agree. In fact, Cosby loves it so much that he has it shipped to him by mail with dry ice. You really can’t go wrong with any item or flavor at Handel’s. However, their most popular flavor is Chocolate Pecan. Start there. You won’t be disappointed. Bonus recommendation: get your scoop at the original stand near the intersection of Market Street & Midlothian Boulevard on the South Side.
Located on Salt Springs Road in the Steelton neighborhood, Molly’s is a popular place for West Siders to chow down on some super affordable food in a throwback atmosphere. Many items are homemade and quite tasty such as homemade hot sausage sandwiches (with Iorda Park cut french fries), wedding soup and pasta sauces. The wings are also popular but what really brings a crowd is Molly’s Friday fish dinners. Bonus recommendations: head to Landmark Restaurant on Meridian Road for a great breakfast and the Youngstown Maennerchor – established in 1863 and the second oldest German singing club in Ohio – for some excellent Friday fish.