$=$5-$10; $$=$10-$25; $$$=$25-$50; $$$$=$50+
Al-Ameer 12710 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-8185; 27346 Ford Rd., Dearborn Heights; 313-565-9600; $: As at many Middle Eastern restaurants, there are far too many choices at Al-Ameer for any but the most faithful visitor to do justice to. Besides 20 "main entrées," there are 20 "house favorites" and 15 "special house favorites," plus 12 vegetarian salads, eight vegetarian plates and 11 appetizers. Some of these, to be sure, are platters, trays or combos of other dishes, so the actual number of foods on offer is a bit less than 86, until you factor in the sandwiches, soups and juices, which push you way past 100. And portions are gargantuan. Service is swift, friendly and helpful. And Al-Ameer shines as brightly in its side dishes as in its mains.
Barrio 203 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-593-6060; barriomi.com; $$: Chef Hammond Lawton has chosen to take a step in the direction of upscale Mexican fare, but not to go all the way there. Mostly he sticks with dishes whose names are oh-so-familiar: quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas and lots of tacos. The ingredients are upscale and generally the flavors are good to excellent. The emphasis, in truth, is on the tequilas: 12 margaritas, eight tequila cocktails, tasting samplers of three 1-ounce shots ranging from $19 to $48. The way to go is the chef's selection of tacos: five for $24, with three sides. They are correctly served on corn tortillas, rather than the blander flour. These tacos are elaborate: at least three salsas or slaws or cremas or quesos top the meat in each one. We loved our mahi-mahi with crisp cabbage slaw — a contrast of temperatures and textures that is the essence of a good taco. Same for tiger shrimp with chile-jicama slaw, and a beef brisket with mole verde.
Bella Piatti 167 Townsend St., Birmingham; 248-494-7110; bellapiattirestaurant.com; $$$$: One of Birmingham's newest hot spots, Bella Piatti has thoroughly and successfully adopted the trend toward shareable dishes and upbeat social dining rooms. The dining area, with cocktail bar, antipasti bar and lots of open space, oozes energy, and the food is excellent. Starters range from such charcuterie as soppressata, capicolla and even wild boar cacciatorini to a trio of sweet shrimp tossed with a horseradish and set atop thinly sliced pickled green tomato. Main plates start at $24 for half a richly seasoned chicken and rise from there to $70 for a 1-kilogram porterhouse. Kobe beef makes an appearance on the menu here in the form of the rib cap ($42), a heavily marbled cut that isn't common to many menus in town. The porchetta — a boneless pork roast sliced paper thin — is remarkably tender, piled atop a piece of toast, and served with onion and lightly dressed arugula for a nice contrast between fatty and bitter.
El Rincon Taraxco 1414 Junction St., Detroit; 313-843-6595; $$: A Mexican restaurant with no beans? Rincon Taraxco, which bills itself as "the First Mexican Seafood Restaurant in Detroit," opened in 2000. It features oysters and octopus rather than chimichangas or chicharrones; there's just one taco on the menu, and that's fish. Rincon ("corner") sits in the heart of the barrio but off the beaten tourist track, and most customers' first language is Spanish, as is the menu's (it includes English translations). Decor is basic, but Rincon Taraxco's price is very right, the drinks menu is out of the ordinary and live musicians often take requests on Sunday nights. The fish soup is spicy enough to make you cough but not enough to make you send it back, with big chunks of tilapia and carrots, potatoes and cabbage. There's a shrimp soup too, and a more expensive "Seven Seas" with shrimp, tilapia, octopus, clams, oysters, scallops and real crab legs in the shell. Don't miss the $1 horchata (a rice drink; here the flavor is more vanilla than cinnamon).
Frank Street Bakery 420 E. Frank St., Birmingham; 248-792-5192; frankstreetbakery.com; $: This tiny soup-and-sandwich joint just off Old Woodward on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham features, somewhat unexpectedly, a pressed Cuban sandwich as its house specialty. Ham, roasted pork and salami with Swiss, mayo, mustard and pickles are smashed into submission, transforming the zesty components into something almost delicate — a thin and crunchy wafer of a sandwich that nevertheless packs a lot of flavor. Vegetarians also have choices, including a Caprese panino (fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, pepper and salt) and a "Hummer" (hummus, taboulleh, cucumbers, lettuce and tomato wrapped in lavash). Many of the sandwiches are available in a half or whole portion, leaving room for soup or dessert (or both).
Green Zone Pizza 17008 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe; 313-332-0559; greenzonepizza.com; $: Owner Markus Wierderkehr has a background in recycling, and his countertop, where patrons place their orders, is made from recycled glass bottles and his floors from recycled tiles. He uses organic mozzarella, organic shrimp from an Okemos farmer, organic flour from Avalon and organic cherry juice in his barbecue sauce. The results are tasty, with pizzas and sandwiches that are both planet-friendly and palate-friendly, Nine white-flour or whole-wheat pizza options (plus infinite build-your-owns) include some familiar titles: pepperoni, vegetarian, Greek, California, Hawaiian. But there's also a shrimp and a "cherry BBQ chicken." Also of note is Green Zone's wine dispenser, a serving system that is operated by card, with eight bottles, four cold and four room temp, kept fresh with argon gas, offering out tastes, half-glasses or full pours.
Hot Taco 2233 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-963-4545; hottacodetroit.com; $: The tacos are bent toward American tastes, coming with cheese (mostly Muenster) with a choice of either flour tortillas or corn. They use plenty of cilantro and red onion on all (check and check) and a variety of salsas, depending on the meat: salsa verde for chicken, mango for pork, pico de gallo for steak. Burritos are of the kitchen-sink variety, with all the taco stuff plus rice, beans, avocado and sour cream, rolled in an unwarmed wrap. Owner Sean Harrington says he's not trying to reinvent the taco trucks of southwest Detroit — rather the taco shacks of the Baja peninsula. At the same time, he won't be bound by convention. Drinks at Hot Taco are cheaper than most, a dollar for pop from the fountain or $1.50 for Jarritos or Mexican Coke in a bottle.
Hudson Café 1241 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-237-1000; hudson-cafe.com; $$: Opened last fall in the space that formerly housed Frank Taylor's Detroit Breakfast House, Hudson Café fills a void for upscale breakfasters. The menus has several Benedicts, a satisfying club sandwich, challah French toast, and chicken and waffle. The fine corned beef hash is clearly made on-site, with a nice crust and lots of scallions. The café is open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, but it stays open later for special events downtown.
Joe Muer Seafood 400 Renaissance Center, Suite 1404, Detroit; 313-567-6837; joemuerseafood.com; $$$: Everything about the new Joe Muer Seafood is big. Obviously, it's a big name: While this restaurant is new, the Muer brand, which goes back to 1929, is well-known throughout southeast Michigan. But the relaunched institution also has a big staff, big menu and big dessert cart. And it has a really big dining room. The decor likewise looms large. Some will undoubtedly find this eclectic, vast space opulent and beautiful, the blend of old and new a metaphor for the resurrected restaurant itself, and Muer's menu is also large, providing plenty to choose from. There are a number of offerings from a fairly classic raw bar selection, including oysters, a poached shrimp cocktail, Mediterranean-inspired steamed mussels, or a comprehensive platter for $24 per person. Muer also prepares several designer sushi rolls, each very attractively plated. And recipes from the previous incarnation of the Muer brand are available along with the more contemporary choices.
Korea Palace 34744 Dequindre, Sterling Heights; 586-978-0500; $$: The wood-trimmed, simple, warm decor is similar to plenty of Asian restaurants around town, though specific menu items and prices are affixed to the walls in hangul, the written characters that represent the Korean language. The staff promptly greets all of the customers, most of whom are Korean, and presents them with the exhaustive, four-page menus. There are about 50 main dishes from which to choose, each generous with regard to portion size. Indeed, all but the heartiest diners will assuredly leave with at least one small takeout container of leftovers. Broths and noodles encompass a significant portion of the menu. For those not in the mood to slurp noodles or spoon up bowls of broth, there are plenty of other entrée choices. They're a bit pricier, but the quantity of food and focus on fish justifies the heftier cost.
Mani Osteria & Bar 341 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-769-6700; maniosteria.com; $$$: This Italian restaurant has embraced the national trends toward comfortable dining and shareable plates, adding energy and buzz to the area between State and Main streets. Inside, the bar and several high tables occupy the front area, and a few stairs lead to the main floor. An open kitchen overlooks everything, and the glow of wood-fired ovens set into the tiled cooking space is visible across the spacious, contemporary dining room. Meeting the growing demand for better drinks even at casual establishments, Mani offers some creative cocktails. Most are thematically on point, featuring ingredients of Italian provenance: Carpano Antica vermouth, prosecco, Campari, and so on. When ordering, one will find a long, thoroughly appetizing list of small, shareable antipasti plates. Try as many as you can. They feature a nice selection of charcuterie and cheese, house-made pastas, and thin, 12-inch pizzas, cooked at high temperatures in those wood-fired ovens.
Mazza Indian Cuisine 3354 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-543-6299; mazzaindiancuisine.com; $: Co-owner Razur Rahman, a pharmacist, is the son of the man who opened Passage to India in the same space in 1986. Lessees ran it after 1989, and Rahman reclaimed the space 20 years later and gave it a new name and a facelift. The space is comfortable and visually appealing, with padded chairs and paisley placemats. Entrées are served in pretty hammered-copper bowls; the walls feature Taj Mahal-shaped cut-outs inlaid with colorful history scenes depicting the Mughal Empire. The menu ranges widely, from the dosas of south India to a dansak from Persia. There are 68 entrées, mostly from northern India.
Northern Lights 660 W. Baltimore St., Detroit; 313-873-1739; $: Though many MT readers may be familiar with New Center's Northern Lights Lounge as a stylish bar and performance venue, for several years the nightspot has kept its kitchen open Monday through Friday in a bid for Detroit's weekday lunch and dinner crowds. There's a full bar that can mix up classics and offbeat, eye-catching concoctions, and the menu's appetizer section has several strong choices, the larger ones averaging about $8. The fried calamari appetizer is especially good, and the chili con carne is more meat than bean. Sandwiches average around $7, and include a turkey burger, a club with turkey, ham and bacon, and even a Philly cheese-steak. Even if bar food isn't especially vegetarian-friendly fare, veg-heads are accommodated with a nachos appetizer, a grilled veggie pita, a veggie burger, hummus with pita triangles, and the small tossed salad. Kitchen open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 21 and older only.
One-Eyed Betty's Beer Bar & Kitchen 175 W. Troy St., Ferndale; 248-808-6633; $$: Owner Beth Hussey got serious about beer, putting together an impressive collection of 45 drafts and 85 bottled beers. Betty's food to soak up the beer with is luscious, filling, fattening and inexpensive. A gargantuan burger is gilded with garlic aioli, melting cheddar and lots of applewood-smoked bacon, gently charred without, tender and yielding within. Equally fine is a pork belly sandwich; the chewy pork is crisp and soft in layers, and its juices soak into the bread. Other sandwiches are brats, grilled cheese with tomato jam and, of course, a BLT. Note: This restaurant also serves "Bacon with a Side of Bacon." The most-ordered appetizer is a fresh-baked pretzel with three cheesy sauces. Hussey also sells cheese and charcuterie boards, mussels, three kinds of oysters and fire-roasted wings — three big meaty ones with a shiny red-black sambal-sriracha glaze, for $7.
The Root 340 Town Center Blvd., White Lake; 248-698-2400; therootrestaurant.com; $$$: Chef James Rigato wants you to know how much of a locavore he is. He lists his regional purveyors on the Root's website, up to and including his recycler and his glass guy (Libbey in Toledo). The tasting menu lists Michigan sources from Kalamazoo to Detroit (though coffee isn't grown in K'zoo — and R. Hirt Jr. didn't make those cheeses himself). If you order shrimp linguine, the server will tell you the critters spent their early days in salt-water tanks in Okemos. Rigato's imaginative food is hands-down splendid. There are only seven entrées (roast chicken, trout, pork shoulder, gnocchi, shrimp, beef and pumpkin pot pie), but you'll find 11 starters and seven $4 sides, including cheese grits and corn on the cob. All those entrées are first-class, or you could just dine on an assortment of starters: pork pasties, crab cakes, baked Michigan Brie, scallops, three salads. Wine is where Rigato declines to stick close to home, choosing mostly from terroirs way west or south of here.
Seva 66 E. Forest Ave., Detroit; 313-974-6661; sevarestaurant.com; $: More than most major cities, perhaps, Detroit has long lacked a core of restaurants with robust vegetarian and vegan menus. It's thus unsurprising that news of Seva, the decades-old Ann Arbor stalwart, setting up shop in Midtown generated a great deal of fervor and some sizable crowds. Appetizers include General Tso's cauliflower ($7), nachos, mac and cheese, yam fries and hummus among them — each with a vegetarian or vegan twist. Sandwiches include pesto pizza (on slices of Avalon bread) a red-pepper hummus wrap, a veggie Reuben and grilled tofurkey with Daiya vegan cheese. Naturally, there are also plenty of salads, including some well-made classics. Consider also the heartier butternut squash enchiladas, or such inventive specials as beet gnocchi. Drink options abound, including milkshakes, mango lassis, coffee, tea, wine, cocktails, beer and raw juice.
Shogun Chinese & Japanese Bistro 23195 Marter Rd., St. Clair Shores; 586-350-0927; $$: The Chinese menu repeats all the familiar, American-friendly dishes: chop suey, chow mein, fried rice, etc. But the restaurant has two separate sections based on menu, with a bar and a sushi bar in between. The Japanese side promises a teppanyaki show: 10 giant griddles with chairs on three sides to watch a chef theatrically prepare a meal. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Two other locations (Japanese menu only) are at 18411 Hall Rd., Macomb Township, 586-228-9186, and 37750 Van Dyke, Sterling Heights, 586-268-4882.
Smokin' BBQ 37310 Gratiot Ave., Clinton Twp.; 586-469-3000; smokinbarbq.com; $$: Smokin' BBQ is a smallish standalone restaurant that starts the strip of storefronts lining Gratiot just north of 16 Mile Road. Food ordered at the counter takes fewer than five minutes to arrive. All meals for dining-in are served on trays, in some cases quite literally. A full slab of ribs is placed uncut, for example, on a plastic platter, and combo platters, sandwiches and sides often get their own containers, a mix of sturdy reusable plastic trays and disposable take-out containers. The sandwiches include a burger, catfish or any of the smoked meats between bread. From the gentle application of breading atop the mac 'n' cheese to the chunks of shredded meat in the collard greens, the sides show a much appreciated hand-made touch. Smokin' BBQ offers both St. Louis-style spare ribs and baby backs in quantities of 3, 6 and 12. For a broad sampling of their offerings, try a Combo. Still, the food is up quick, and the meat has the undeniable flavor of real hardwood smoke.
Sterling's Bistro 13905 Lakeside Circle, Sterling Heights; 586-566-0627; $$: Opened in March 2011, the restaurant's goal was to offer fresh food, reasonable prices and a friendly, "neighborhood" feel, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The menu is "upscale American," with a few attempts at incorporating various world cuisines. In addition to steaks, seafood and a couple of token lamb and pork entrées, there is also a comfort food section with meatloaf, pot pie, mac 'n' cheese and the like. A variety of flatbread "pizzas" (the crust is more akin to a cracker) can be ordered as a starter or a light meal. The wine list carries several familiar names with nothing too exciting, but we did appreciate the choice of 3-, 6- or 9-ounce pours, allowing a lot of flexibility if you like to switch wines at each course. Beer drinkers can choose from the usual suspects — plus Bell's and Magic Hat.
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