FIRST - Ray's Place
Ray’s Place, a local restaurant and bar, has been a Kent staple since 1937. Known for its sweet potato fries, wings and draft beer, owner Charlie Thomas attributes their success to the friendly environment, employees and diverse menu.
“We sell great products and drinks, and our customers know that,” Thomas said. “We just really connect with our guests and they feel comfortable.”
Thomas said the diversity of the restaurant makes it stand apart from other Kent favorites.
Ray’s Place gets a wide variety of customers ranging from daytime families and business people to college students at night.
After changing the menu last year, Thomas saw positive reactions. He added new sandwiches, appetizers, salads and entrees to the menu, but never took away customer favorites.
“We are proud to serve the Kent community with comfort food in a relaxed atmosphere," Thomas said.
SECOND (tie) – Bricco
A privately owned restaurant with three other locations in Ohio, Bricco opened in Kent in 2013.
“We look like we are a classy restaurant, but we come across more low-key,” manager Brad Brewer said. “It’s geared more toward college students.”
The menu changes seasonally and is currently in the process of changing in the next few weeks.
“We try to accommodate to our customers' needs during holidays and various occasions,” Brewer said.
Brewer also said Bricco's success comes from the teamwork of its employees and the vast selection of entrees it offers.
“Our new bar menu has brought in a lot of new business,” Brewer said. “It offers specialty items and more affordable prices you can only get in the bar.”
SECOND (tie) – Mike’s Place
Twenty-nine years ago, Mike Kostensky walked through the doors of what is known today as Mik…
Tobin Rogers, manager and owner of Mike’s Place for the last 20 years, likes to keep customers happy with consistent food and comfort.
“Students love our diverse menu with big portions for relatively inexpensive prices,” Rogers said.
The addition of a few new sandwiches this year gave customers some more options (not that they needed it), while never forgetting their favorites.
When commenting on the lively crowd that fills the restaurant on a daily basis, Rogers said, “We get pretty busy here.”
FIRST - Fork in the Road Food Truck
Fork in the Road, Kent State University’s new food truck operated by staff from dining servi…
Among 13 unique dining options on campus, the number one place to eat goes to the Fork in the Road food truck.
The most notable food options at this traveling truck are the Summit Street Burger, Chef Christian's creation and Chef Joel's homemade ketchup.
With more than just burgers and fries on the go, Fork in the Road offers a pit stop for students to grab food right outside their class between busy schedules.
"I like that the food is hot and fresh," Anna Mika, a junior anthropology major, said. "The mac and cheese they have never failed to make my day a thousand times better."
Fork in the Road travels between different on-campus locations, so no matter where students' classes are, they are able to catch the truck at least once.
"Last semester I had a class in the math building and then walked all the way to Lowry Hall," Mika said. "I would see the truck along the way most days."
SECOND - Quaker Steak & Lube
Quaker Steak was the Best of Kent winner in this category last year and a long-time favorite of students on campus.
With the flair of a sit-down restaurant style of dining, Quaker Steak is favored for more than just its well-known wings. The menu includes salads and quesadillas, and it gives students an opportunity to experience diverse dining options.
"Honestly, I love everything they serve there," Sommer Al-Azom, a freshman art education major, said. "The skillet cookie is something I have to get every time I come. I have a huge sweet tooth."
The establishment also offers events such as karaoke every Friday at 8 p.m.
"It's like the perfect balance between good food and entertainment," Al-Azom said.
THIRD - Eastway Cafe
With a cafeteria-like style of food service, this eatery has plenty of options for those who don't know exactly what food they want to eat.
Eastway serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features an omelet bar in the mornings, a student favorite.
"It's nice to have a place that tastes fresh," Eva Zemper, a sophomore English major, said.
They have a fruit and salad bar, plus daily specials to give students new choices.
"My favorite part about Eastway is that I know I won't get bored with eating the same things," Zemper said. "One day there's a taco bar, the next there is orange chicken — it's great."
FIRST - Ray's Place
"Ray's Place is absolutely family-oriented," manager at Ray's Place Jake Benner said.
SECOND - Bricco
"It has a more polished look than other restaurants in Kent," manager at Bricco David Kaminski said.
THIRD - Mike's Place
"There’s enough stuff on the walls to distract the parents of what their children have done in college," owner of Mike's Place Mike Kostensky said.
FIRST - Wild Goats Cafe
The most praise you'll hear about Wild Goats Cafe will be about its breakfast options.
“We try to serve something you can’t get anywhere else,” Charlie Ciborek, owner of the diner, said. “We offer classic breakfasts, but we also try to do a unique take on it.”
Unique perfectly describes the breakfast at Wild Goats, located just across the river by the Kent Free Library.
From a full page of options, you can choose from the “Southwest Benedict,” which includes chorizo, salsa, an English muffin and hollandaise sauce thrown together into a delicious and unique take on the classic eggs benedict.
Or you could order the “Somethin’ Somethin’,” which is two pancakes layered together with peanut butter, blueberries and granola, topped with powdered sugar.
But don’t just come for the food; if you want more of a family experience free from loud music, then this place is perfect for you.
On Monday evenings, Wild Goats contributes a portion of its sales to the Warren Majengo Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing help and other services to the orphaned children of Tanzania in Africa.
SECOND - Tree City Coffee & Pastry
If you’re looking for breakfast, but don’t have time to sit down, or if you want something with a “cool kid” atmosphere, then Tree City, a coffee shop located in the heart of downtown Kent, has you covered.
“People will come before class and we can get them their food in minutes,” Devon Sherpita, a Tree City employee, said. “(That) sets us apart because it’s not a sit-down restaurant, but you get the same — and sometimes even better — quality here.”
You can have your pick of breakfast sandwiches, pastries (baked on location), coffee or the crowd favorite, “Overnight Oats,” which sell out just as quick as they can make them.
THIRD - Mike's Place
Serving an all-day breakfast because it doesn't know "when your lazy butts get out of bed,” the restaurant has an entire page of the menu dedicated to breakfast, each item served in giant portions.
You won’t have an easy time picking out what you want to eat though, because the options are all creative, from “Crabby Benny” to “Joe Mama’s Extreme Waffle." Part of the fun is finally convincing yourself on what you're going to order.
Constantly itching for some caffeine? Look around you — you’re not alone.
FIRST - Tree City Coffee & Pastry
Returning champion Tree City Coffee & Pastry offers a variety of coffee beverages, pastries and sandwiches. Every unique coffee drink starts with locally roasted coffee grounds.
“Our espresso is the best in Kent for sure. So, our lattes are really popular,” Andreas Vitone, a Tree City employee, said. “We make our own chocolate sauce, so our mocha is very popular. Our special drinks that we have seasonally are always really fun and delicious.”
Vitone believes the convenience of being able to order food and coffee in one place attracts students. Available beverages range from lattes and espressos to teas, fountain drinks and frozen drinks, like frappes.
Vitone also said attention to detail and the ability to handle large volumes of customers is what sets Tree City apart from surrounding local coffee shops.
Fan favorites include the cheesecake, overnight oats and pastries. Customers can sit and enjoy a fresh slice of cheesecake next to the fireplace while surrounded by modern, yet rustic, charm and friendly employees.
SECOND - Bent Tree Coffee Roasters
Established in 2011, this local coffee shop greets customers with an alluring coffee smell and knowledgeable employees.
Bent Tree Coffee Roasters is located just outside downtown Kent and is within walking distance from shops and restaurants. All the coffee sold at this location is roasted within the store.
Management and community involvement sets Bent Tree apart from surrounding local coffee shops.
“We spend a lot of time educating each of our employees,” Leila Hallenbeck, Bent Tree manager, said. “Every employee is very well-educated on what they are serving and how to serve it best.”
The Bent Tree best-seller is the Black Squirrel Blend, specifically for the coffee beans which offer a chocolate, nutty taste.
THIRD - Scribbles Coffee Co.
Kent’s oldest coffee shop, opened in 2002, is located within walking distance from downtown and offers a variety of specialized authentic beverages served by a friendly staff.
Upon entering, you’re greeted by smiling faces and surrounded by shelves filled with books and soothing jazz music. Scribble Coffee Co. is a family-run coffee shop that offers unique drinks using organic, fair-trade coffee grounds.
Scribbles has been in the same location for the last 10 years and is co-owned by Jenn Richards and her best friend.
“We work really hard to craft drinks that you can’t get at other places,” Richards said. “Additionally, everyone who works for us is just really kind. They are working hard to get to know people and build a relationship.”
Scribbles strives to make community ties and works directly with organizations and professors on campus. Scribbles' coffee is served in the Business Administration Building on campus.
The best-seller is the junior shots, which are 8-ounce beverages served with two shots of espresso and half-and-half.
FIRST - Lucci's Place
SECOND - Pizza Fire
THIRD - Guy's Pizza
FIRST - Ray's Place
SECOND - Five Guys
THIRD - Bar 145
The scent of grilled cheese wafts in the air as the blue, glass door is opened from Acorn Al…
FIRST - Twisted Meltz
SECOND - Franklin Square Deli
THIRD - Jimmy John's
FIRST - Jimmy John's
Speedy delivery, fresh food and a fun atmosphere helped Jimmy John’s become the winner. The downtown location of the sandwich chains offers convenience in the late hours. Open until 4 a.m., the restaurant attracts party-goers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Speed is what sets it apart from other delivery options in the Kent area.
“It’s convenient,” said Evan Park, the Kent location manager. “With most pizza places, delivery is going to be 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. Generally, we can have your food out to you in 20 minutes to a half-hour.”
Jimmy John’s offers a variety of all-natural, fresh-cut deli meat sandwiches. It offers plain meat and cheese sandwiches like the “Slim 1,” which is just ham and provolone, or more complex sandwiches like the original “Turkey Tom” and “Beach Club.” Customers can pair their sandwiches with a bag of chips, a cookie or a pickle.
SECOND - Euro Gyro
The hidden gem of downtown Kent is located in a dark basement, but is filled with nothing but fun times, loud rock music and great food. Euro Gyro offers a diverse variety of bar food, alcoholic beverages and people. The location sports a full bar but is open to everyone, especially those who are hungry.
Euro Gyro’s menu is jam-packed with greasy food perfect to enjoy sitting down in the restaurant or delivered right to your doorstep.
“It’s a good location, it’s open late and it’s one of the few locations you can pick up food after 3 a.m.,” William King, an employee, said. “It’s been here forever, so it’s sort of people’s go-to.”
THIRD - Hungry Howie's
Hungry Howie’s is Kent’s go-to for late-night pizza delivery. Delivering until 4 a.m., students can have fresh pizza delivered right to their dorm or apartment.
Customers can add a side of "Howie Bread," or customize their pizza to have a buttery garlic crust, all while having it conveniently delivered in the late hours.
“Hungry Howie’s never disappoints,” Rachel Anthony, a sophomore middle childhood education major, said. “They have many options, good prices and always good service.”
FIRST - Taco Tontos
Taco Tontos prides itself on branching out and offering innovative, international cuisine with various offerings, including Mexican, Vietnamese, Jamaican, Greek, Korean and Indian burritos.
Owner Kevin Yohn said Taco Tontos has been in Kent since 1972, and he began getting involved in the business after working there for 15 years, finally buying the restaurant five years ago.
Manager Laura Prusinski and Yohn went to Kent State for their undergraduate degrees, so they have always been very close with the community.
“I have lived here for 20 years now, so now I just consider myself a resident,” Yohn said.
College students often make their way to Franklin Avenue on Wednesdays and Thursdays for a Vietnamese Bahn Mi burrito with homemade pickled carrots and kimchi, or for an Indian Samosa burrito with house-made mango chutney.
“We’re filling in some holes that no one else here does,” Yohn said. “The closest Indian restaurant is probably 20 minutes away.”
Taco Tontos has also branched out into vegetarian options, including the use of tofu in some of its burritos.
“We’re starting to make a lot more stuff with tofu,” Prusinski said. “We do a Jamaican jerk and Greek burrito and also have tofu options.”
The most popular item with college students on Taco Tontos’ regular menu is the two-layer chorizo burrito and the pork nachos, Prusinski said.
“We take a lot of pride in making our international specials, so it’s nice to be recognized for that, especially when it comes to trickier dishes like that,” Yohn said.
SECOND - Laziza
Co-owner Norman Shaffer said Laziza has branched out into offering a lot more than just typical Mediterranean food.
“Our specialty is the chicken shawarma wrap,” Shaffer said. “Lamb chops and lamb kabobs are also very popular because it’s hard to find good lamb around here.”
For those who are nervous about trying different spices, Shaffer shared how he is always open to letting people have samples and see what they prefer.
“Traditionally the chicken shawarma is done in a cone, but we use all breast meat, so it’s all white meat chicken,” he said. “We work very hard to make everybody happy and please our customers.”
THIRD - Newdle Bar
Newdle Bar is popular for its Asian, Japanese and Korean offerings, as well as the half-off sushi that attracts college students every Tuesday.
Employee Sari Bateman said she thinks Newdle Bar is one of the most popular restaurants among students.
“We have a pretty wide variety of vegetarian options and we also offer the half-off sushi on Tuesdays for our small rolls, which brings a lot of college students in,” Bateman said.
Since working at Newdle Bar, Bateman said that "Bi Bim Bap" — a Korean-style rice bowl with a top layer of lettuce, grilled veggies, a fried egg and the customer’s choice of meat — is the most popular dish.
Twice-cooked fried rice, Philadelphia rolls and spicy tuna rolls are also among the top favorites.
“Twice-cooked fried rice is very traditional dish,” Bateman said. “It’s very popular for those who don’t want to get too crazy.”
Since switching to a vegan lifestyle in March 2016, Kylie Orrenmaa has seen a positive impac…
FIRST - Fresco Mexican Grill & Salsa Bar
Fresco is not like other standard Mexican restaurants. From the fresh ingredients to the vegetarian and gluten-free options, Fresco emphasizes a wide variety of dietary options.
“All of the chips are done gluten-free, even if people order them that way or not,” T.J. Ingersoll, the owner of Fresco, said.
Ingersoll said the complimentary salsa bar is a distinguishing trait of Fresco. The salsa bar is included for every customer, no matter what entrée they order.
“We have nine fresh, homemade salsa(s); we do a seasonal, rotating salsa,” Ingersoll said. “That is what separates us the most.”
Vegetarian options usually do not play a significant role at Mexican-oriented restaurants. This is where Fresco differs though, as it provides vegetarian and vegan options for its customers.
Ingersoll said instead of meat, they substitute rice or beans. For the refried beans, they use a vegetable base instead of pork.
“A lot of people don’t think we have vegan and vegetarian options,” Ingersoll said. “Everything on the menu can be prepared vegetarian or vegan, except for the tortilla soup because it has chicken in it.”
SECOND - GRAZERS
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story contained inaccurate information.
For Stacey Lasher, co-owner of GRAZERS, serving her customers with a variety of healthy and affordable food options is the defining mission of her restaurant. In fact, it's where the establishment get its name from — 'grazing' is one of the healthiest ways to eat, she said.
“I don’t think people realize that good, healthy food has its own great flavor, so that’s what we are trying to do here,” Lasher said.
Co-owner Carl Bauer said the concept of Grazers is to be a place where all types of eaters can come — vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
"Let's say your friend is a hardcore carnivore — they eat meat all the time — and you're a vegan. And when you go to your average restaurant, the focus is meat ... and then they just figure someone who's vegan can just have a salad. And that's not fair," he said. "So I really like the idea that the carnivore and the vegan friend can eat at the same place. You don't have to make three or four stops along the way for everyone to have something to eat."
A peanut-free establishment, GRAZERS offers vegetarian and vegan options made with a wide selection of fresh vegetables, as well as grass-fed steak, free range and cage-free chicken. Lasher and Bauer specialize in ensuring those with unique dietary restrictions — gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, peanut allergies — are able to choose meals both healthy and delicious.
Lasher said eating healthy does not always involve making sacrifices, which is a common problem many people run into while trying to watch their diet.
“Some people think, ‘I’m going to eat healthier, so I have to make sacrifices,’ but here, you don’t have to,” Lasher said. “You can come here and you can get a rice bowl full of fresh veggies and healthy meat proteins, and you can be full and not feel sick.”
THIRD - Erie Street Kitchen
Erie Street Kitchen was created to bring a taste of the South to downtown Kent. Chef and owner Jeff Crowe said his reliance on local vendors and secret southern-inspired recipes help set the standard for Erie Street Kitchen.
Crowe said the ability to adapt to customers' needs and desires is an integral part of the restaurant, as well.
“There is enough on the menu that it is for everybody,” Crowe said. “I had a lady the other day that wanted vegetarian gravy. We have pans and we have fire — we can make anything.”
Some of the dietary options on the menu include fresh, all-natural chicken, soups, numerous salads and appetizers that are gluten-free. Additionally, Crowe offers vegetarian options as well, such as the fried green tomato-avocado-tofu sandwich.
Using his mother’s Atlanta fried chicken recipe, Crowe said he primarily dodges foods with beef, such as tacos and burgers. Beef is a food that most restaurants have in abundance, and Crowe wants to be separated from that category.
“We built the menu to dodge what a lot of folks are doing,” Crowe said. “We don’t do burgers, we don’t do tacos and we don’t do falafel. There are enough people doing those things anyway. I am a tour of the South.”
FIRST - Insomnia Cookies
Fresh cookies delivered to your doorstep in the middle of the night sounds like a dream come true, and Insomnia Cookies makes that dream possible for the Kent community.
Offering 12 different types if cookies, Insomnia delivers cookies fresh out of the oven to your dorm or apartment until 2:45 a.m. They also offer ice cream, cookie sandwiches and cookie cakes.
If the night is still young, customers are more than welcome to stop and smell the cookies within the store until 3 a.m.
“Most of our deliveries go over to campus, especially late at night after the bars start closing,” Summer Gilmore, an Insomnia employee, said. “That’s when all of our deliveries start picking up.”
Kent State favorites include the s'mores and peanut butter cup cookies, but the classic chocolate chunk always remains a staple.
SECOND - Popped!
A Kent original, Popped! offers gourmet popcorn by the gallon. Located in Acorn Alley, the popcorn store offers non-GMO products, local Ohio butter, locally roasted nuts and “honey from our own backyard.”
Popped! is a charming local business that offers dessert alternatives to the typical ice cream cone.
Popped! has original popcorn like cheddar and a signature caramel recipe.
“Popped! is so good,” Alyson Musat, a sophomore early childhood education major, said. “It’s very cute inside and it’s affordable. It’s nice because it’s something different to have.”
THIRD - Peace, Love and Little Donuts
Peace, Love and Little Donuts, a psychedelic, ‘70s-themed donut shop, opened the doors to it…
Psychedelic decor and the smell of fresh baked donuts greet customers who walk into one of Kent’s newest dessert locations, Peace, Love and Little Donuts.
Tye-dyed walls and peace signs surround the dozens of mini donuts, each with their own individual flavor.
“We’re unique; we’re really cute,” Danielle Antonucci, an employee, said. “It’s always a good vibe in here and we really have not gotten any complaints.”
Best-sellers include birthday cake and snickerdoodle, but customers can keep it simple with chocolate and strawberry. There are three categories of donuts: groovy, far-out and "funkadelic." Groovy donuts keep it simple as can be, far-outs get a little crazier and “funkadelic” items come with the works.