Cork Wine Pub
23810 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-544-2675; corkwinepub.com
Let wine flow freely — or at least cheaply — and people will come running. The early, explosive success of Cork Wine Pub proves as much. Opened just before Thanksgiving, the first-ever recipient of a liquor license in Pleasant Ridge has a delightfully kitschy interior, a variety of comforting small plates, and a wide variety of wines — often with exceptionally low mark-ups.
Slows Bar BQ
2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828; slowsbarbq.com
The atmosphere of this Corktown base of home-style cuisine is pristine, ripe for vibrant conversation and hearty laughs; the drink list is wide-ranging, boasting the driest of whites, the boldest of reds, and the foamiest of brews; and the food has justifiably attracted national attention, with special spotlights belonging to the Carolina-style pulled pork, the crusty-and-creamy mac-n-cheese, and the flaky catfish. As for Slows having the Best Slow Food, we'll accept the answer — with a wink.
4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-5700; thewhitney.com
Elegance is everything at the Whitney; with its 52 rooms, 10 bathrooms and 20 fireplaces, the three-story pink-granite edifice built for a lumber baron in 1894 has been one of Detroit's most celebrated restaurants since 1986. The building is unquestionably a work of ornamental majesty, with stained glass windows and fine-carved wood walls really setting off the mood. And then there's that beautiful garden.
The Melting Pot
888 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-362-2221
26425 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-347-6358
309 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-622-0055; meltingpot.com
A new way of dining mixed with an old favorite, the Melting Pot exists to fulfill all of your fondue fantasies. Dipping an assortment of breads, vegetables and fruits in your choice of cheese or chocolate fondue allows you to dictate your desired taste. Plus, there are plenty of experienced servers on hand to ensure everything goes smoothly, even for beginners.
7096 E. 14 Mile Rd. Warren; 586-268-3224
42705 Grand River Ave., Novi; 248-348-3838
See andiamoitalia.com for more locations
Andiamo serves up reliable, old-line classic Italian food in a setting conducive to both family and romantic nights out. Some of the more creative menu items are the vitello con insalata di portabella (a free-raised veal rib-eye steak smothered in portabella mushroom slaw served atop a bed of balsamic braised Swiss chard) and the involtini di melanzine (grilled eggplant slices rolled with roasted veggies and fat-free ricotta cheese in a herb-sprinkled tomato sauce).
121 W. Washington, Ann Arbor; 734-994-0211; theearle.com
Illuminated with candlelight, the Earle is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner for two. The menu includes French- and Italian-inspired entrées that will satisfy whatever you are craving, as will an award-winning, 1,000-options-strong wine list. On the weekends, you can even enjoy live music during your meal.
GM Global Renaissance Center, Floors 71 and 72, Detroit; 313-567-2622; mattprenticerg.com
The "crown jewel" of the Matt Prentice Restaurant group, the second-highest restaurant in the country offers a view that is the perennial winner of our Best View honors. And it earns it: It's head, shoulders and skyline above all other restaurants in town, perched spectacularly on the upper floors of the Renaissance Center's central tower.
Inside the Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3111; bucharestgrill.com
Bucharest Grill, a small counter set up in back of the Park Bar, is where, for just a fistful of singles, you can have affordable shawarma sandwiches and creative hot dogs. Warning: Take your meal out to a seat in the Park and the bottles and taps of their formidable bar are sure to call your name.
The Fly Trap
22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150; theflytrapferndale.com
This is certainly a premier bang-for-your-buck spot. The Fly Trap's setting is like one big cozy booth, and the menu is loaded with originals. There is, for instance, the "Veggie Rumble," a mix of roasted veggies, provolone and spinach, with a choice of eggs or tofu. Or sample their fantastic "Three-Cheese and Mac," distinguished by its smoked gouda and caramelized onions. Be sure to ask about the "Fire-Breathing Dragon."
5709 E. 12 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-619-7551; oasiscuisine.com
When it comes to an inexpensive place to fill up on Middle Eastern food, Oasis got the nod for Macomb. It may have to do with the relatively meat-intensive menu, filled with chicken, beef and lamb preparations, though rice-and-lentils mujadara will appeal to veg-heads. A variety of booths can accommodate small groups of diners, or tables can seat groups as large as 20.
12 N. Washington St., Ypsilanti; 734-485-9625; beezyscafe.com
Simple, honest food: That's what the sign promises at Beezy's in Ypsilanti. Oddly, a simple but delicious sandwich seems almost novel in a world populated with both an abundance of chain restaurants and expensive foodie hotspots. But when someone at Beezy's calls you to the counter to pick up your plate, that's exactly what you'll get — simple and honest. What's more, the staff couldn't be friendlier, a quality that serves as the center of the café's singular charm.
419 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6250; bastone.net
The concept is Belgian brewpub and the atmosphere is totally unpretentious, quirky and interesting. Belgian food is heavily influenced by Germany and France, and some of Bastone's menu items are quintessentially Belgian, such as moule (mussels), and twice-fried Belgian frites served with mayonnaise. Desserts are spectacular.
422 Detroit St., Ann Arbor; 888-636-8162; zingermans.com
Perhaps it's the name-recognition of the Zingerman's empire, which includes the deli, the bakehouse and more. But what likely put it over the edge for Washtenaw readers is Zingerman's Roadhouse. The roadhouse presents "unusually good American food" in a setting that harks back to the day when weary travelers could recharge with a comforting meal by the roadside; and it's a sprawling place with a semi-open kitchen, full bar, two dining rooms and —in good weather — outdoor seating.
3401 Riopelle St., Detroit; 313-831-5940; romacafe.com
Roma is a treasured Eastern Market hideaway. The lighting is low, conveying an atmosphere of intimacy. And the food is overflowing with rich and rare flavor, particularly the seafood, such as the sizable frog legs and the shrimp and scallops sautée (its overall flavor is augmented by a white wine sauce). All of the pastas come complete with especially savory and attention-demanding sauces. And it's all served by formally attired staff.
326 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-6387; gratzirestaurant.com
At the almost-25-year-old Gratzi, they've established a crowd-pleasing bastion of (mostly) northern Italian cuisine. Housed inside the old Orpheum Theatre, a Depression-era movie palace, it's a fittingly rich setting for the rich Italian delights on offer here, as well as the lengthy wine list and ethereal desserts.
Le Petit Zinc
1055 Trumbull Ave., Detroit, 313-963-2805; lepetitzincdetroit.com
Named after the French slang term for a local bar, Le Petit Zinc distinguishes itself by being Detroit's local Parisian cafe. And Paris-like it is: To cite just a few examples, there is an outdoor eating section in the back that is great for days made sublime by a glowing sun and gentle breeze, and the water is served in large untagged glass bottles. The coffee is aesthetically marvelous and the food is fresh and delicious (especially the crêpe specials).
558 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-964-6800; pegasustavernas.com
Serving authentic Greek recipes prepared with the freshest ingredients, the dishes have a unique flavor and romance. Classic Greek country cooking blends such simple ingredients as vegetables, grains and cheeses with fragrant herbs and spices to create wholesome, delectable meals that are as healthy as they are delicious. And Pegasus is particularly adept at cooking their meats. One can tell that the lamb has been slow-cooked for hours on end by the ease with which it falls from the bone; your knife may go completely unused.
Polish Village Cafe
2990 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-874-5726; polishvillagecafe.com
Digging into a big plate at Hamtramck's Polish Village Café might have you suppose you're eating food prepared by somebody's Polish mother. That's because, essentially, you are. During peak dining hours there's a steady flow of waiting customers first lining up at the bar and sometimes winding up the stairs and out the door. Most entrées run around a trifling $8. Don't forget to order Poland's famous beer Zywiec along with your meal to truly enhance your Polish experience. Cash only.
3409 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-843-0179
When it comes to Wayne County Mexican fare, our readers spoke loud and clear: Xochimilco's is the place to go. Apparently, however, our readers just can't get the name right. (We fielded Xochilmoco, Xochimikos, Xochimillico's, Xochimillo, Xocomilcos, Xomilco's, Xomochillos, Xoxomilco and Zochimilko's, to name a few.) But, no matter how you spell it, our readers agreed it was the right answer.
175 W. Troy St., Ferndale; 248-808-6633; cantinadiablos.com
Last year, Cantina Diablo's opened in the former Rosie O'Grady's on the street just south of Nine Mile Road. And our readers went for this purveyor of Tex-Mex cuisine in a big way. In addition to the stick-to-your-ribs fare, Diablo's seems a good place to get your Drinko de Mayo on, with a host of frosty drinks at your beck and call.
With the motto "Experience the essence of Mexico," El Charro has been bringing Mexican flavor to Macomb County for more than 30 years, and has even expanded into a drive-through in Saint Clair Shores. The prices are reasonable for their large dinners, but you can always order a la carte if you must. The expected margarita and tequila choices abound.
Prickly Pear Southwest Cafe
328 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-930-0047; pricklypearcafe.com
In the competitive Ann Arbor restaurant business, the fact that the Prickly Pear has been around for 20 years under the same management out front and in the kitchen is a tribute to its faithful as well as innovative renditions of the Southwestern fare. Although the Prickly Pear bills itself as a Southwestern bistro, it's really Tex-Mex plus. Try the sweet and tender buffalo meat empañada, the sweet-potato enchiladas and the jicama cole slaw.
539 E. Big Beaver, Troy; 248-528-1674
See bahamabreeze.com for more locations
From the people who brought you Red Lobster and Olive Garden comes this trade winds-themed, alcohol-oriented crowd-pleaser. That said, it's not always a jerk move to shoot for the accessible good time. If that means forgoing more authentic island delights and going for the gaudy pleasures of tropical decor, where you can nosh on American-friendly fare and wash it down with selections from the sun-splashed beverage menu (think Bahamian Sunsets, BahamaTinis and Bahamaritas) so be it. In a frostbitten Michigan winter, it could just be that taste of paradise that helps you hang on.
The Blue Nile
545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-547-6699
221 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-998-4746; bluenilemi.com
The Blue Nile has been given awards year after year for a reason. First, its menu offers Ethiopian dishes that are both great for the taste buds and, in many cases, overall health. The veggie dish menu, for instance, offers the wonderful Yemisir Kik Wat, a concoction of split red lentils, barbere sauce, onions, and spices. Second, the eating arrangement — you and your friends huddled around a small table — is quite conducive to friendly dining. Third, you get to roll your sleeves up and allow your bread to do the food-scooping. And, thankfully, there's a full bar.
4710 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-974-7669
A great low-key Wayne State-area hangout, Shangri-La has a menu notable for the diversity of its Asian fare, ranging from sushi to dim sum to Americanized staples like Almond Boneless Chicken. There are also plenty of vegetarian options. Shangri-La also deserves praise for offering Wayne State-area folk things to do on weeknights, such as their Monday night Twin Peaks fests, at which patrons huddle around the restaurant's big-screen TV. Full bar.
Mon Jin Lau
1515 E. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-689-2332; monjinlau.com
One only needs to visit Mon Jin Lau on a Saturday night — when it is invariably bustling with vitality — to catch a glimpse of the widespread love it has garnered. This is no doubt due in part to the exhaustive "Nu Asian" menu. Try the ginger garlic eggplant (eggplant rolled with wood ear mushrooms, pesto, pine nuts, red pepper and rice noodles) or the Thai lemongrass chicken (cooked with peapods, asparagus, straw and shitake mushrooms, onion, red pepper and baby corn) or the Mongolian beef or the Maine lobster or ... you get the idea.
28747 Hoover Rd., Warren; 586-751-4020
When it comes to Chinese for our Macomb County readers, they chose Lotus Pond, naming it as an exceptional choice for classic American-friendly fare. What's more, given the restaurant's generous portions, you'll have plenty of leftovers to warm up the next day — or perhaps an hour later.
116 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-1786; kaigarden.com
332 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-6638; annarbormiddlekingdom.net
Our Ann Arbor-area readers straddled an interesting divide this year. Middle Kingdom serves up quite a lot of the classic, Americanized fare that's like a national comfort food to diners of a certain generation. Kai Garden, on the other hand, also offers plenty of authentic Chinese fare, such as Hong Kong and Taiwanese delicacies, including jellyfish, spicy pig's ear and beef tendon. In Treetown, you really can have the best of both worlds!
3400 Russell St., Detroit; 313-831-1302
2751 E. 14 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-939-5456; salathai.us
A highlight of not only the Eastern Market area, but of southeast Michigan in general, Sala Thai's pad Thai has just the right levels of succulence in juice — not too dry, not too slimy. Their gaeng phanaeng has the perfect levels of coconut milk and green curry, so that the two flavors strengthen each other's clarity. And they have a pad see-ew that is drenched in the sweetest of brown sauces and a pad prik king that is a flat-out spicy wonder.
29838 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-545-4305
This isn't the first year Oakland County readers went with Siam Spicy. This friendly joint specializes in providing a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere where entrées are stir-fried or prepared in coconut milk with plenty of pepper. Curries are red or green and very flavorful. The pad Thai should be enough for two, maybe three meals. It has won Best Thai honors on and off since 1996.
Bangkok Cuisine Express
43237 Garfield Rd., Clinton Twp.; 586-226-8000
2149 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-977-0130; bangkokcuisineexpress.com
Wresting the laurels away from last year's winner, Sy Thai Shore Restaurant, this Thai joint has been in business since 1983, long before Thai food became so popular in the 1990s. They have an extensive list of Thai specialties to please every palate, with the usual protein options that range from tofu to beef.
Tuptim Thai Cuisine
4896 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-528-5588; tuptim.com
Since 2002 Tup Tim has built a reputation for using fresh ingredients to create authentic Thai food, including hard-to-find dishes for advanced diners. The kitchen is happy to dial down the hotness, and every other facet of the experience — atmosphere, service, prices — is designed to leave you hungry for more.
Aladdin Sweets & Café
11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-875-9999; aladdincafe.com
Last year, this was just a small neighborhood place, lacking cloth doilies and polished steel cutlery, serving food on plastic plates and beverages in polystyrene cups. But what Aladdin lacked in china and stainless steel it more than makes up for in flavor and authenticity. And now, after an expansion last year that doubled the dining area and added an outdoor patio, it's bigger and better than ever.
72 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-269-0100; priyarestuarant.com
Virtually every dish served at Priya — from those offered on the main menu or on the extensive South Indian menu — pops, and that is likely why Priya has been the primary stronghold of delicious Indian cuisine in Oakland County for such a long while. And the portion sizes are huge: Whether one is ordering the creamy vegetable biryani or the intensely spicy and delicious chicken tikka masala, one is guaranteed an enlarged belly and lasting grin.
307 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-1500; shalimarrestaurant.com
This year, Ann Arbor-area voters edged out the buffet-licious Raja Rani for Shalimar, where you get the fare of northern India, which includes Mughlai creations, vegetarian choices, plenty of meat-based fare, and grand "mixed grill" plates — all with a full bar to wash it down.
22681 Newman St., Dearborn; 313-563-7482; lapitadearborn.com
This lively little Dearborn spot offers a juice bar, a large selection of appetizers, sandwiches and combination dinners. And it just gets fancier from there, including char-broiled swordfish and lamb, with the usual assortment of vegetarian-friendly Middle Eastern fare, such as vegetarian stuffed cabbage.
22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680; anitaskitchenonline.com
Anita's Kitchen serves food made up of only the freshest of ingredients. Highlights on the menu include the roasted red pepper hummus, the out-of-this-world mujadara (topped with the most perfect caramelized onions: perfectly crispy, perfectly sweet), and their falafel, which comes baked or fried depending on your preference. Don't miss out on the lentil soup, which is imbued with a light burst of lemon, or any of their Mediterranean pizzas. Also, a surprising and welcome choice of Michigan beers available.
Sahara Mediterranean Grill
45199 Market St., Shelby Twp; 586-566-9777
3625 E. 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-264-0400
See saharagrill.com for more locations
Established in 1982, Sahara has grown to several locations with its unusual blend of cuisines: They serve a mix of Lebanese and Chaldean fare. How is a Chaldean restaurant different from the more familiar Lebanese? Many dishes are the same, but expect such rarities as purshee (pickled cabbage), plus some tomato-based stews, and such Iraqi faves as burgul (bulgur wheat) or pacha.
307 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-995-5060; jerusalemgarden.net
Treetown abounds with options for penny-pinching students, but Jerusalem Garden beat them all out for cheap, quality honors. The brick garden patio is the perfect environment to enjoy a meal from what's billed as Ann Arbor's oldest Middle Eastern restaurant. It covers the basics for less than $5 or $6: falafel with baba ghanoush and hummous options, shawarma, kebabs. It's fast, but not fast food as we know it. Splurge and have a cup of lentil soup.
15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 313-638-1272; wasabidetroit.com
Wasabi has a smart, smooth, refined interior, and it serves a commendable variety of Asian cuisine, offering not just one menu, but several, including ones for Korean fare, for Japanese fare, and for sushi. The joint also happens to be located in the fashionable Park Shelton, so you can saunter happily out of Wasabi with a stomach full of gyoza and bibimbap, and into, say, Leopold's Books for some satisfactory book browsing.
326 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-546-0888; roninsushi.com
In a stylish setting, bandana-clad sushi chefs vigorously chop and slice at the sushi bar turning out first-rate sushi and sashimi, but entrées include fish, fowl and beef for those unaccustomed to the bite-sized Japanese delicacies. Adding to the dining experience, six beers are on tap, including Kirin Ichiban, and there's also a well-stocked sake bar.
New Center Eatery
3100 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; 313-875-0088; newcentereatery.com
Specializing in breakfast and lunch for white-collar workers who toil in the office buildings along West Grand Boulevard, this neat little place feels like a trendy little art gallery. The menu is extensive enough to provide variety even if you're a regular — salmon fillet on top of rice or grits, pasta marinara, and more common breakfast fare — but our readers clamor for New Center's fried chicken wings atop a plate of waffles.
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198
Quality is what makes Lafayette's plain coney dogs dependable: the thick, meaty chili sauce, fresh onion and mustard, and only all-meat franks — not the filler-laden "hot dogs" on the menu at lesser eateries. But perhaps what makes Lafayette one of the best hot dog spots in town is the character: the rattling plates, the shouted food orders and a bevy of cool characters around 2:30 a.m.
National Coney Island
1812 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-398-6111
More locations at nationalconeyisland.com
Here's another coney island that serves its full duty: it works as both a midday getaway and as a prime-time locale for quelling late-night stomach rumblings. The Royal Oak National is especially good on the latter point, as it is open 24 hours and is located just across the street from Luna.
Abe's Coney Island
402 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-448-5200
This popular after-bar stop has a kind of self-deprecating humor, billing itself as "Ypsilanti's finest four-star coney dog, steak-and-egg joint." Whether you're stopping in for eggs over easy with hash browns "burned" in the morning, or sopping up booze and making ironic jukebox selections at 3 a.m., Abe's will hit the spot.
See whitecastle.com for dozens of locations
Leave it to the white-enamel-steel-clad mini-burger chain to practically sweep our slider category! Their website's helpful Find-a-Castle function will help you when you have your next craving.
35075 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-646-7121; hunterhousehamburgers.com
Founded in the 1950s, Hunter's patties mostly derive their flavor from the onions, pressed into the patty while it's still on the grill. In fact, if there's a single ingredient that sums up the burger, it's onions. The burgers are served on moist hot buns, with a glistening sheen on them. And even seldom-ordered items show some attention to detail.
5458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-554-3076
Duly's is a tiny coney island with counter stools and a few tables in the back. They have a whole legion of followers raving about things like their chili cheeseburgers and atmosphere of controlled chaos. They've got breakfasts and coney dogs and they serve it all up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Cash only.
The Pantry Restaurant
34220 Van Dyke Ave., Sterling Heights; 586-939-1370
44945 Morley Dr., Clinton Twp.; 586-465-5514
58884 Van Dyke Rd., Washington; 586-677-4135; thepantryrestaurant.com
Travis Coffee Shop
23500 Greater Mack, St. Clair Shores; 586-778-0101
An interesting split: The Pantry is a successful mini-chain that's been catering to locals with the usual eggs, waffles and pancakes, but there are also surprises, including crêpes, "pantry-style" fried chicken and even a prime-rib steak Caesar salad. And it locked it up with Travis, the quirky corner diner in the heart of St. Clair Shores, open 24 hours every day (except 10 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday). Travis has it all, and breakfast all day, whether it's bright and early or you're there at 3 a.m. with the night owls of the Nautical Mile's bar scene.
300 S. Ashley St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-5502
Though it's mostly known as the only Ann Arbor joint that's open 24 hours a day, it's also often crowded for breakfast. You can get a mysterious-sounding dish called "Hippie Hash" — hash browns grilled with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, broccoli and feta cheese — with eggs and toast for a little more than $6. Adding meat costs extra, but they make their own corned beef, gyros and chicken gyros.
Atlas Global Bistro
3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-2241; atlasglobalbistro.com
At Atlas, you'll find Carolina catfish, pork taquitos, short ribs, ravioli and polenta, Hawaiian shrimp and Moroccan beef. Ingredients — which don't necessarily remain with their cuisine-of-origin — include lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, wasabi, coconut, pancetta, caviar and black-eyed peas — and all in a historic building that was saved from the wrecking ball. Brunch is served until 3 p.m. on the weekend.
23144 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-398-0444
203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278; eatattoast.com
In Ferndale, it's difficult to make a poor choice when ordering at Toast. The Grand Marnier French toast pairs vanilla-soaked challa bread with toasted almonds and other ingredients perfectly, and the more-than-filling granola banana cakes are made to delight. And the Birmingham spinoff serves great food and wine "with humor in a fun, casual environment." The hostess station is an old white Detroit Liner stove, a 1940s model with legs and drawers. Serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week, with a menu almost like Ferndale's served till 4 p.m.
Winners of Macomb County's Best Cheap Breakfast award (see above), they edged out Travis for the brekky-and-brunch honors.
1100 E. Catherine St., Ann Arbor, 734-761-8996; angelosa2.com
12 N. Washington St., Ypsilanti, 734-485-9625; beezyscafe.com
Hardly a surprising tie here. Beezy's, winner of our Best Restaurant to Spend Less Than $15 in Washtenaw category, pours on the quality, serving excellent breakfasts. And Angelo's takes egg-centric breakfasts to the nth degree, with eggs Benedict, Florentine, lox Benedict and omelets that include the lox omelet, the farmer's, Mexican, Greek, broccoli-and-cheddar, and Western (green pepper, onion and ham). There are also plenty of extras to add on, and no standard omelet costs more than $9.25.
Assembly Line Buffet
Inside the MotorCity Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-237-7711
The food is all-you-can-eat fare, meat being the main attraction. Of course, everything is done to excess in casino-land, so nobody should walk away unfulfilled. And be sure to leave room for the desserts, which are all above average or better, including many varieties of cheesecakes, pies, tortes, cookies and tartlets with surprisingly noble crusts.
Steve's Soul Food Restaurant
1440 E. Franklin St., Detroit; 313-393-0018
8447 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-894-3464
It's been a frequent winner for Best Soul Food since 1987. But have you seen its spacious digs near downtown on Franklin Street? Have you stopped in for their peerless $5 lunch deal, which gives you a choice of main, two sides, a hunk of fresh cornbread and more? It's one of the best deals going in downtown lunches.
Beans & Cornbread
29508 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-208-1680; beanscornbread.com
A busy, colorful dining spot which features bright artwork and a bustling open kitchen, and another frequent winner in this category. This is the place for upscale soul food with a fresh twist, including excellent meat loaf, barbecue-style chicken and a dreamy sweet potato cheesecake. Arrive early and plan to stand in line for this perpetually full house.
45 E. 14 Mile Rd., Clawson; 248-585-2314; noblefish.com
The insular Japanese keep things intensely focused, whether it be decor or food customs or table manners, which is what makes Noble Fish an experience. Out front are isles of packaged foodstuffs. But in back is a magnificently serene sushi bar, staffed by iron chefs of the first order: a no-nonsense, inexpensive, delicious alternative to too-Westernized sushi madness.
Inn Season Café
500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-547-7916; theinnseasoncafe.com
As we keep saying, Inn Season Café — a rare provider of vegetarian cuisine in metro Detroit — has gotten better as it has gotten older. Fine, organic ingredients have always been its hallmark, but it's so much more than "health food." With great effort, they comb farmers' markets and community supported farms to ensure only the freshest, best and most local food makes it to your plate. Very open to diners with dietary restrictions.
4160 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-778-9774; therawcafe.com
Vegan food prepared without cooking? It's true, and it's a newcomer to Detroit's mid-city area, occupying the former CPOP Gallery. They change up their menus seasonally, and even offer classes for those who'd like to learn more about raw food's health benefits. If you love natural food or are simply curious to learn more, drop in.
Jacques' Tacos is the brainchild of Wes Holton, a skilled chef whose focus is now on selling tacos from his catering truck. The selection is limited to tacos filled with braised short ribs, grilled chicken, slow-roasted pork or marinated avocado, all a bargain at $2.50 each. There are also a few sides. The flavors are decidedly Mexican, but a bit different from standard taqueria fare. See the website for his schedule.
202 E. Third St., Royal Oak; 248-584-4227; lockhartsbbq.com
Named after a town reputed to be the barbecue capital of Texas, opened last year in Royal Oak opposite City Hall. Handsomely retrofitted on the high-ceilinged first floor of an old bank building, the kitchen turns out reasonably priced, hefty portions, with appetizers averaging around $8, sandwiches with one side around $9 and barbecue plates with two sides around $13. Wash it all down with an excellent selection of Michigan beer on tap.
27475 Groesbeck Hwy., Roseville; 586-775-7427; lazybonessmokehouse.net
This east side joint has sandwiches starting around $7, and $17.99 for a slab of ribs. Lazybones boasts Black Angus beef, Grade-A fresh pork, and Amish country chickens, done broasted, pit-smoked or grill-ready for pick-up. And for those who want to throw a home party without running the grill, Lazybones caters with party pans for 100 ribs.
205 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-4095; bluetractor.net
The menu aims for a down-home feel, but the beers are pure contemporary craft. This place, which has a quirky interior and inventive specials year-round, has earned its good word of mouth, and now top honors for Washtenaw County 'cue for the second year in a row.
Mitchell's Fish Market
17600 Haggerty Rd., Livonia; 734-464-3663; mitchellsfishmarket.com
At this upscale chain, you get to watch the executive chef cut freshly caught fish by hand. Choices run from lobster to tilapia, all fresh enough to carry the lingering scent of the sea, with more than 80 items on the menu and 12 different species of fish on their "Fresh Catch" shortlist.
410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-591-5459; lilysseafood.com
Lily's Seafood is a hot spot that offers not only a stunning interior and friendly service, but most importantly a kitchen that believes homemade is best. Even the beverage menu includes house-made root beer, cream soda and four varieties of house-made beer. Both the entrées and desserts are special, full of mixtures of both flavor and texture. Mondays offer an "all-you-can-eat fish fry," while Saturdays and Sundays cater to a "build your own Bloody Mary bar."
25901 Hoover Rd., Warren; 586-759-0010; redlobster.com
Who can master the mysterious minds of Macombers. Nautical Mile? Check. Right on the water? Check. Restaurants serving seafood from Beach Grill out to Harbor House on Groesbeck? Check. So ... what's with Red Lobster? Must be those biscuits.
Real Seafood Co.
341 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 888-456-3463; realseafoodcorestaurant.com
Located in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Real Seafood Co. provides locals with the freshest selections of seafood from the East Coast and a raw oyster bar, all in an atmosphere that's comfortable, open and lively.
1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-2500; roastdetroit.com
The "beast masters" at this hip downtown restaurant — inside the renovated showpiece that is the Book-Cadillac Hotel — have earned their honors. It's no ordinary steakhouse: They offer several cuts, all naturally raised and dry-aged a minimum of 21 days. But from the biggest roast to the most modest sandwich, everything is done with care. Add an attractive setting (restrained lighting, white linens and floor-to-ceiling windows), competent but casual waitstaff and high-toned classic cocktail service, and you have Wayne County's winner.
Ruth's Chris Steak House
755 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-269-8424; ruthschris.com
What's it going to take to outdo a Ruth's Chris steak? With more than 100 locations worldwide, this isn't the first time they've topped a readers' steakhouse poll.
Mr. Paul's Chop House
29850 Groesbeck Hwy, Roseville; 586-777-7770; mrpaulschophouse.com
More than 40 years old, Mr. Paul's is a charmed place lost in time somewhere back in the early postwar era. Here you can have one of the area's best Caesar salads, prepared with a theatrical flair at tableside, often by the owner himself. The chateaubriand steak for two and the cherries jubilee for dessert also involve a tableside show. The skilled, liveried waitstaff and the impressive French red-dominated wine list complete the picture.
The Chop House
322 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 888-456-3463; thechophouserestaurant.com
This isn't your run-of-the-mill neighborhood steakhouse. Expect luxurious comfort, plush trimmings, billed as "an elite American dining experience." You'll find prime beef, grain-fed meats and a substantial wine list. Right next door are the gourmet pastries of La Dolce Vita.
23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-565-2577; millersbar.com
Metro Times readers consistently rate Miller's Bar's burger the best in Wayne County. Don't let the spartan setting and limited menu options fool you, the choices are few, but they're finely tuned classics. Table service has been paperless for years — all on the honor system. Unless you want to be known as an outsider, don't ask for a menu or a tab. Just order the burger and a beer. When you're done, tell the bartender what you got. Done and done.
Red Coat Tavern
31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300
6745 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-865-0500
In our annual readers' poll for Best Burger in Oakland County, the Red Coat comes out on top year after year, with 20 add-ons, from burnt onions to olives to smoked Gouda, and five breads, including grilled rye or pumpernickel. The thick, juicy succulent two-handers require lots of extra napkins. This place is crowded every day at lunch, dinner and usually in between.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Seven locations in metro Detroit, including Macomb County; see fiveguys.com for info
The Five Guys empire has grown from one shop in Arlington, Va., to more than 500 locations in dozens of states. Their appealing gimmick allows customers to custom-order a burger, and they say there are more than a quarter-million possible combinations.
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger
551 S. Division St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-4590; blimpyburger.com
Where Packard meets South Division lies arguably one of the best burger houses in the country, where they're made on the grill right in front of you. And it's an Ann Arbor institution spanning six decades, right down to its R. Crumb-influenced menu. And the prices are so reasonable, it makes sense that their slogan is "Cheaper than food." Remember: Read the "instructions" before ordering.
Buffalo Wild Wings
More than a dozen locations in metro Detroit; see buffalowildwings.com for info
Ah, B-dubs. When you're surrounded by beers the size of your forearm, an army of high-def TVs, and buckets upon buckets of chicken wings (and a host of other deep-fired thingies) you're probably sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings. The bar's mid-day and late-night happy hours show that it's recession friendly, and it flies flags of local pro and college sports teams so that when you're too broke for game tickets, the next best place to be is inside one of these joints.
2457 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-7879; supinopizza.com
Serving brilliant thin-crust pizza with imaginative fresh ingredients — even an egg — with a delectable thin crust that's not too chewy. They serve five red pizzas and six white, meaning no tomato sauce; almost all are made with traditional ingredients. The red sauce is supremely simple, nothing much besides some fresh-tasting though canned crushed tomatoes. The Primavera, a white, is topped with fresh tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, red onion, mozzarella and spinach — lots of flavors.
Nine locations in metro Detroit, including four in Oakland County; see buddyspizza.com for info
Before we broke up our pizza by county, Buddy's was the clear, perennial winner of our best neighborhood pizza category. After a full life as a neighborhood speakeasy, Buddy's original location on Conant only started pumping out pizza in 1946. And though it has expanded to nine locations all over southeastern Michigan, it has clearly retained the neighborhood cred.
Dozens of locations in metro Detroit; more than 20 locations in Macomb County; see jetspizza.com for info
Jets' deep-dish, square, Detroit-style pizza is a regular crowd-pleaser. But it's not just a Macomb County thing; with locations all over the metroplex — as well as Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee. How do they do it? It's right on the box: The pizzaiolo wears a jetpack!
See cottageinn.com for dozens of metro Detroit locations
It's Michigan pizza with a history. The first Cottage Inn occupied 512 E. William St., Ann Arbor, in 1948, and they lay claim to being the first restaurant in Ann Arbor to serve pizza. What's more, they've expanded into a mini-metro Detroit pizza empire. You can't argue with that.
1300 Porter St., Detroit; 313-961-2000
This Corktown spot used to be the old Eph's, and they carry on the sandwich tradition with a slew of options including the award-winning "Madill." Composed of turkey, apple-wood-smoked bacon, avocado, tomato, romaine lettuce and melted pepper jack cheese layered on an 8-inch-sub spread with Mudgie-made garlic mayo, you'll understand the award-winning part when you chomp on this open-faced sub.
6646 Telegraph Rd., in Bloomfield Plaza, Bloomfield Hills; 248-932-0800; stevesdeli.com
Everyone has their own yardstick for measuring the quality of a deli. For many it is a pastrami sandwich. Like corned beef, pastrami starts as a brisket pickled in brine, but then the two meats part company. Pastrami is coated with cracked peppercorns, garlic and other spices, then smoked. Steve's makes a great pastrami sandwich on hand-cut rye bread with a crunchy crust. It's piled high with meat, but not so high that you can't get your mouth around it.
New York Deli
2715 E. 14 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-826-9330; three more locations in Macomb County
At New York, you get your deli classics — subs, burgers, any and all concoctions created with cold cuts — all served in a family-style environment with friendly service.
422 Detroit St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-3354; zingermans.com
Zingerman's is more than a deli, with its huge selection of olive oils, vinegars, cheeses and sausages, many from the far corners of the world. Crusty European breads come from the Zingerman's Bakehouse. This place is truly a gourmand's delight. Lest we forget the deli staples, you will not find better corned beef and pastrami anywhere. The sandwiches, in numerous combinations, are expensive and worth it. They are available in "nosher size" for the "small eater," and "fresser" for the "big eater," sharable for all but a young, growing college student.
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700; motorcitybeer.com
This brewpub has a quirky tiled interior, with its concrete bar, its Wednesday-night art shows, and its sturdy menu of pizzas and small plates. For less than $10, you can get a pizza made with ingredients from as local as possible. The beers are excellent, and they include classics (Ghettoblaster) and a rotating cast of summer brews, meads and more. Their Wednesday night art shows are a tightwad's dream, and the bar's new "green alley" connects it conveniently with Second Avenue.
Woodward Avenue Brewers
22646 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696; thewabsite.com
Dubbed, "a neighborhood bar with lots of style," the top floor has huge windows overlooking Woodward. Downstairs has a sidewalk café and lounge with a view of the brewhouse. WAB serves a selection of its own award-winning microbrewed beer and root beer. You won't find your typical bar food here, but gourmet sandwiches, quesadillas, bruschetta, huge salads and more.
Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.
5919 Chicago Rd., Warren; 586-979-8361; kbrewery.com
Prizing away the Macomb County honors from Dragonmead this year, Kuhnhenn offers the very fullest in flavor with its knock-you-in-the-teeth sours, but there are also many a mild brew to please the less-extreme beer crowd. Knowledgeable, chatty staff, free popcorn (watch the salt!) and an entire brew supply house across the parking lot make this a must-see for anybody interested in beer in Macomb County.
311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-913-2730: jollypumpkin.com
While pub-like in atmosphere, the food is a bit more up-to-date. Expect tofu cracklings, French fries flavored with rosemary and truffle salt, and a butcher's snack board of cured meats and more. Diners not yet familiar with Jolly Pumpkin beers might want to ease into the experience with something slightly tamer, like a North Peak Amber Ale. But hardcore fans will likely find the cask ale to be the liquid they want in their glass. Along with a few Michigan wines and spirits, and a list of non-alcoholic cocktails, there's a drink for everyone.
Naturally, you expect an Italian restaurant to know their wines, and to offer pours that complement everything from rich southern Italian veal dishes to spare risottos. Not only does Andiamo do it right, their status as metro Detroit's undefeated Italian chain gives them the means to keep a somewhat more comprehensive cellar than the usual candlelit room.
417 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6256; vinotecca.com
The delish wine list, the stainless-steel-and-slate decor, that it's in Royal Oak ... no wonder Vinotecca's a prime nesting ground for the upwardly oenophilic. Keep eyes peeled for nasal tittering and discussions on tannins, and you'll be privy to mating habits of the prematurely wealthy. If you're out Washtenaw way, check out Vinotecca's sister business, Vinology.
Good Girls Go to Paris
15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 877-727-4727; goodgirlsgotopariscrepes.com
The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment at this stylish Midtown eatery. Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to when it is handed to the customer. Some come savory, and some come sweet, but given the wide variety of choices, nobody will walk away unsatisfied. You can even design your own.
La Dolce Vita
17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-865-0331; ldvrestaurant.net
La Dolce Vita is one of those hidden gems Detroit offers to those in the know, as it's nearly invisible, marked only by the neon letters LDV on a building just north of McNichols Road. Park in back, then walk through a courtyard that, in summertime, will transport you magically to a delightfully romantic, shady, treed oasis. Sunday brunch is especially popular, punctuated with jazz that accompanies the mimosas and Bloody Marys, a prelude to a short menu of eggs Benedict, Mascarpone-stuffed French toast and similarly delectable treats.
22812 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-5005
Whether it's pizza, pasta, or anything that can conceivably be breaded and deep-fried, this fixture on the corner of Nine Mile and Woodward has been serving it up since 1961. Rain or shine, Como's sheltered outdoor dining area offers a place for al fresco eating and open-air boozing, with heating elements for added comfort on chilly days.
24420 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores; 586-771-4455; beachgrillrestaurantandresort.com
36863 Van Dyke Ave., Sterling Heights; 586-983-3700; gatorjakes.net
Macombers got tied up on this one. As for Beach Grill, "deck space" doesn't begin to cover it: 5,000 square feet of it, with 32 tables and a full tiki bar, along with a dance floor and a spectacular view indoors or out. But enough people enjoyed Gator Jake's varied menu and its less spectacular but still-pleasing outdoor options.
812 Monroe St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-5414
Located south of U-M's Ann Arbor campus, Dominick's serves up pizza, pasta, apps and sammiches. A favorite is the chicken quesadilla (which you can never go wrong with) and tomato bruschetta on a toasted baguette. Michigan microbrews are also on tap. And then there are the sprawling outdoor options, as seating is available in three spots: the balcony, the front or the back yard — your choice!
Avalon International Breads
422 W. Willis St., Detroit; 313-832-0008; avalonbreads.net
Sure, Avalon's breads are among the best, regularly featured at restaurants far beyond their Cass Corridor location. But if you like your sandwiches made for you, show up at lunchtime as the focaccia comes out of the oven. It might be topped with organic roasted zucchini, tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. Avalon has branched out from the baguettes and crusty peasant loaves of yore. Now brioche, scones and cinnamon rolls expand the meaning of "bread."
220 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-398-8018; pinwheelbakery.com
This tiny little Ferndale bakery turns out some big-tasting treats. Their scones are among the best we've had, crisp on the outside, moist and soft on the inside, coming in a variety of flavors. Our favorite is cinnamon cherry, but the ginger toffee and cranberry orange come a close second. We love to pick up a variety of tiny little cookies by the pound boxed up with a ribbon. The vanilla bean buttons are garnished with a sparkly pink sugar rim and the cardamom walnut rounds are just plain delicious.
36578 Moravian Dr., Clinton Twp.; 586-791-0360; vitosbakery.net
In the same family for almost 40 years, Vito's does it all: cakes, breads, candies, cookies, pizza dough to go, and so much more than just loaves. In fact, more than a bakery, Vito's qualifies as a pasticceria, a genuine pastry shop. If you're not convinced, try a cannoli; you'll be back!
3711 Plaza Dr., Ann Arbor; 734-761-7255; zingermansbakehouse.com
Sure, you can pick up these terrific breads at Zingerman's Deli, but you can also check out the offerings of the bakehouse, which rotate monthly specials. For April, it's paesano bread, carrot cake, with upcoming "bakes" of cranberry-pecan bread and scallion-walnut bread. Sound enticing? It should: Washtenaw readers put it over the top.
541 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-963-9603
320 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-582-9220; astoriapastryshop.com
Astoria has logged 40 years in its Greektown location. How do they do it? By serving the kinds of desserts that make you want to snap a photo before they go down the hatch. And it's quite a sight: a glistening array of mouthwatering cakes and pies and cookies and puddings. Then there's the chocolate-peanut butter frozen yogurt, a rich delight made from low-fat frozen yogurt, but chock-full of thick peanut butter, a necessity for low-carbers. They'll happily box them up for a gift or to go.
2287 Holbrook, Hamtramck; 313-319-8766; cafe1923.com
Built in 1923, this former corner store has been lovingly restored with the period details that now make it such an appealing coffeehouse. However, the way Café 1923 differs from most coffeehouses is the price. Coffees and other specialties are affordably priced; nothing on the menu is more than $5. Art exhibits are showcased along the walls featuring local artists. In fair weather, their back yard is a sun-splashed delight. In foul weather, enjoy the street views in the front or retreat to the book-filled lounge in the rear. It's a great place to get some work done peacefully, since Café 1923 offers free wireless Internet.
515 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-515-2551; five15.net
It's more than the good java, friendly folks, gift-shop-lite atmo, free Wifi, appetizing snacks and other goodies that make Five15 a fun destination. It's also the fun events that lend a surreal quality to your cup of coffe, such as their Saturday night Drag Queen Bingo. Yup, see their website for a video of the fun, honey.
90 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens; 586-954-2677
Quirky little joint in downtown Mount Clemens has snacks, coffee, couches and a friendly vibe. Plus, if you want to grab some coffee to go, you can walk right over to the Clinton River and take it easy. Just goes to show that, even in seven-lane-heaven Macomb County, location still means something.
Ugly Mug Café & Roastery
317 W. Cross Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-484-4684; uglymugcafeandroastery.com
This attractive, quality little shop isn't ugly, it just has a little bit of 'tude in the names. Drop in for a "paralyzer" espresso or a "killer" bagel sandwich. (We presume you will emerge agile and restored from the experience!)
Inside the MGM Detroit Grand, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1646
This up-market seafood spot offers plenty of opportunities for big winners at the casino to show off, such as caviar, Australian A-5 beef at $26 per ounce and Champagne at $1,996 by the magnum. But it offers luscious treats for the less-lucky as well, with some entrées in the low 20s and oysters on the half shell for $2 apiece during happy hour. Whatever the order, it will be prepared sublimely, whether a $16 appetizer of ahi tartare, prepared tableside by your server for a fine show, or a $23 cioppino, the San Francisco shellfish stew in tomato broth. Mid-week partiers can take advantage of the Wednesday wine special: half off bottles costing more than $100.
1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-2500; roastdetroit.com
Hit the bar at Roast during happy hour and you can fill up on a few excellent small plates for next to nothing. Try the 5-ounce grilled hamburger on an English muffin topped with cheese, bacon, pickled onions and a fried egg. Our favorite is fried chicken livers with mushrooms and polenta. Spicy hot peppers stuffed with sausage and the rosemary fries are good too. Since all the items on the happy hour menu are only $3, you'll have a couple extra bucks to splurge on something from their excellent drinks program.
The Metropolitan Café
52969 Van Dyke Ave., Shelby Twp.; 586-991-6104; themetroshelby.com
Creativity is the watchword at the east side's newest treasure: The menu at Metropolitan Café defies categorization — except to say that it's universally delicious. Chef Alexis Henslee seems to have a knack for turning common ingredients into something entirely uncommon. Be it local perch transformed into a clever Mediterranean dish or a nuanced braised lamb served atop pappardelle, nothing here is expected or obvious. Henslee has established relationships with local farmers and features their ingredients regularly on the menu, which changes seasonally. One might think that such an interesting approach to the cuisine would be accompanied by pretentiousness, but the Metropolitan Café aims for friendliness over fanciness — an exceptional neighborhood restaurant, nothing more and nothing less.
Eve: The Restaurant
Many metro area food lovers may only know Eve Aronoff because of her unceremonious exit from TV's Top Chef, but Ann Arborites had been packing her restaurant, Eve, long before that. With a thoughtful menu full of local ingredients, a wide selection of wines, and well-made cocktails it was, to many, Ann Arbor's best restaurant. Though the approach was decidedly French, the menu always featured bright flavors, often via delicious Asian or African spicing. While Aronoff politely notes that she needed a break anyhow, an unforeseen rent hike is ultimately what saw the Kerrytown favorite close its doors after about five years. All good things must come to an end; but no one expected Eve's end to come so soon.
117 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-2882; fritabatidos.com
With various upscale restaurants making the transformation from extravagant to easygoing (think Milford's Five Lakes Grill becoming Cinco Lagos, or Troy's Larco's becoming Big Beaver Tavern), savvy restaurateurs are taking note. Leave it to Eve Aronoff of the now-shuttered restaurant Eve to find a niche that caters to the comfort food crowd. Frita Batidos serves fritas (Cuban burgers made from spicy chorizo), and batidos (tropical milkshakes), opening early for the breakfast crowd. The interior is elegant but not austere, with communal seating at large picnic tables, as if to bring street food indoors. With excellent presentation, a short, affordable (it tops out at $12), burger-heavy menu, boutique ingredients, and plenty of pulled pork, grilled cheese and sloppy joes, Aronoff's gamble that her Latin vision of American comfort food would pay off would seem a winning bet.
Kitchen Sync at Wine Sync
122 W. Main St., Northville; 248-374-9463; winesync.com
Experienced wine hand Alan Verstraete says he always starts building his Saturday night prix fixe menus by choosing the wines; the menu evolves from there. Makes sense, since the restaurant is inside a retail wine store. A first-course salad is perfectly matched with its tipple — say a watercress and pink grapefruit salad with a zippy sauvignon blanc that has a grapefruit tang. Cheese and charcuterie will be complemented with a red, of course, or the second course might be pasta. Entrées (two choices) could be smoked pork riblets or duck breast or pork shank mole — actually, whatever will go with the wine of the day. You can read what's coming up at winesync.com, and it's only $30 for a four-course meal. Reservations required.
Let's be clear: There has always been good barbecue in Detroit, whether it's the ribs at Vicki's or the barbecue served at such places as Milt's, Uptown Bar-B-Q, Parks, Aunt Bessie's and many other old-style joints. But in 2005, Slows took low-and-slow barbecue and added stylish sit-down dining and the biggest beer menu in town. Six years on and the formula has been re-created throughout metro Detroit, in places such as Lockhart's, Bad Brad's, Penny Black, Hoggers, Rub, Red Smoke and Union Woodshop. Driven by demand for casual dining, renewed interest in craft beer, and a fresh look at low-and-slow 'cue, it's also a reaction against anything that smacks of hoity-toityness. The verdict is clear: Barbecue is the best way to combine the decadent and the down-home in one package.
3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906
Vicki's is a small storefront shrimp and ribs joint. The sides are perfunctory, but the ribs are spectacular. They serve their slabs hot or mild, cleaving each rib, leaving a fringe of meat to hold it all together. Then they dunk them in their special sauce — hot slabs get a dusting of spices on the top and bottom, as well as one more generous pour of hot sauce for good measure. The sauce and ribs create a nearly perfect package. The meat is perfectly cooked, not too fatty, not too crispy; the sauce imparts a sweetness, but doesn't overwhelm the meat's smoky flavors. They're a bit pricey, costing $19.62 a slab, but with quality like this, who'd argue over pennies?
202 E. Third St., Royal Oak; 248-584-4227; lockhartsbbq.com
Giving a nod to Lockhart, Texas, considered by some to be the barbecue capital of the Lone Star State, this Royal Oak joint is drawing crowds for top-notch 'cue. Start with a plate of the burnt ends, double-rubbed and double-smoked chunks of brisket, then move on to the usual suspects: ribs, chicken, pulled pork and house-made sausage, hot or mild. Go for the hot. The full bar has a selection of cold beer, perfect with barbecue. A side of collards, unlike the usual smothered style, is crisp and tender. A slice of chocolate Dr. Pepper cake is a fitting finish.
Red Pepper Deli
116 W. Main St., Northville; 248-773-7672; redpepperdeli.org
She has more competitors than in the past, but Carolyn Simon is still serving the best raw-vegan-organic around; she can convince even omnivorous skeptics that it's possible for a restaurant to eschew cooking. So for a Greenwich sandwich, she'll food-process seeds into "cheese," add spinach, cucumber, avocado and sprouts, and put it on thin crunchy "bread" also made of seeds. It's funny that she keeps the titles — pizza, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs — for dishes that don't resemble their namesakes — they're delicious in ways that are surprising and inventive. They have to be.
Detroit is hardly the best city to find street food, but you wouldn't know it walking around Eastern Market on a Saturday. Follow the enticing aroma of Bert's outdoor grills as they send wafts of mouthwatering smoke into the market. Inside the market you can find baked goods, soups, sandwiches, and other hot eats from Russell Street Deli, People's Pierogi Collective, Good Girls go to Paris Crêpes and J & M Farms. You can also explore the shops around the market for quick eats. Eastern Market is a living, evolving thing. Even regular patrons are surprised on a weekly basis.
Gourmet Hot Dogs
2 E. John R, Detroit; 313-646-8055
This downtown hot dog stand is self-dubbed as the "Home of the Cleveland-Style Polish Boy" — that's a pre-grilled Polish sausage that's dunked into a deep-fryer for crisping, then topped with a heaping layer of cole slaw and fries, and finished with a barbecue-based sauce ($4). They also serve Italian sausage with grilled green peppers and onions, the "Detroit Dog of Champions" with cole slaw, cheese and chili, a turkey Polish dog, a "Hot and Spicy Dog," a slaw dog, a New York dog, a veggie dog, and an "All-American Hot Dog" with onions, relish, mustard and ketchup. One of their biggest sellers is the "Big Lew," an all-beef, quarter-pound hot dog with add-ons to order. All dogs come in an easy-to carry plastic case, wrapped inside tin foil. Be sure to ask for extra napkins. You'll need them.
24060 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-548-5288; maesdetroit.com
Mae's is clean and decent and suggestive of a fairy-tale land where young love is measured in baseball euphemisms and cigarettes aren't yet bad for your health. Natural light washes across the white counter and the vibrant aqua vinyl stools and chairs. Vintage wooden soda crates and a milkshake mixer lie among the shelves of kitchen tools and foodstuffs. Though the menu is more eclectic than what you might have eaten in a real 1950s diner, the vibe is all old-fashioned neighborhood wholesomeness with plenty of good food.
Le Chef Restaurant
32621 Northwestern Hwy., Farmington Hills; 248-932-1300; lechefmi.com
Hidden from view in a small strip center lies a culinary oasis. The contemporary decor, the white tablecloths, and the welcoming staff all give you a sense of the food that follows. The flavors exhibit a refinement, subtly seasoned, with emphasis on the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Begin with the ubiquitous mixed appetizer. The tabbouleh is pristinely fresh and crisp; the hummus creamy and the baba ghanoush smoky, both with just the right proportions of lemon, garlic and tahini. There's also lamb shank stewed with okra, eggplant stuffed with meat and rice, and a variety of seafood dishes in addition to the shawarmas and kebabs, as well as numerous vegetarian dishes.
Mazza Indian Cuisine
3354 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-543-6299; mazzaindiancuisine.com
There's no dearth of Indian food in these parts anymore. Located in the former digs of Passage to India, Mazza Indian Cuisine is a recent addition to the pack. The front is now glass, eliminating the cave-like atmosphere. The food, too, has been transformed. The meat and poultry dishes are assertively seasoned, although some are not spicy enough unless you request them so. The chicken tikka masala is first cooked in a tandoor, adding an extra layer of flavor to the sauce that it is finished in. Several of the vegetarian entrées are available as sides. Do not pass on the mulligatawny soup.
11917 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-893-9902
While it's more widely known throughout the metro region for its Polish heritage, Hamtramck is blessed with a dizzying array of cultures and cuisines. Among the culinary newcomers is ZamZam, located on Conant and serving up Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian food from lunch until late in the evenings. Just about everything on the menu is worth a try — we're particularly fond of the heaping portions of aloo gobi, the Indian-Pakistani cauliflower and potato dish, and the spicy, tender lamb karahi — but it's the exceedingly low prices that have many of their diners salivating.
Royal Indian Cuisine
3877 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-743-0223; myroyalindiancuisine.com
A pass or two at the lunch buffet at Royal Indian Cuisine yields an abundant array of north and south Indian dishes, all for less than $10, about the cost of a burger. And it's not just tandoori chicken: daily changing choices of indigenous meat and poultry dishes that will satisfy critter-eaters, as well as many vegetarian-friendly choices. Fresh naan is delivered to the table. The spice levels are geared toward the Indian palate — spicy, but not searing. Cool the burn with soothing raita before a sweet for dessert. It's a feast.
The Fly Trap
22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150; theflytrapferndale.com
Ask anyone waiting in line for a table on a Saturday afternoon why the Fly Trap consistently makes our Best of Detroit issue. Much of their success is in attention to the details. While just about every diner offers pre-packaged, fruit-flavored corn syrup jelly, the Fly Trap serves a fresh, house-made jam that makes munching on a crunchy piece of light rye as enjoyable as the rest of the meal. We've had strawberry, blueberry and raspberry, and the fruit is usually paired with some complementary herb. Whatever the flavor, we always seem to be able to finish it all.
22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680; anitaskitchenonline.com
The popular Anita's Kitchen in Ferndale has been serving up quality Lebanese dishes for a few years now. Healthy salads and vegetable-intense appetizers fill a good portion of the menu, but if your taste buds are itching for something a bit meatier, try Joe's not-so-Buffalo chicken wings. Doused in a house made zip sauce with just the right amount of heat, and served with a side of crisp vegetables and a creamy feta dressing for dipping, these wings rival any in town for sheer appeal. And they pair splendidly with the Michigan craft beers served on draft.
Ajishin Sushi & Noodles
42270 Grand River Ave., Novi; 248-380-9850
Ajishin's udon soup is extraordinary. The base broth is developed from seaweed and fish and has so much umami flavor going on it's like a black hole for hangovers or the common cold. The namesake of the soup, the udon noodle, is a thick, wheat-based noodle; along with a bit of briny seaweed, imitation crab and green onion, it makes up the basic, or plain $5 soup. You can add all sorts of other tasty stuff for a heartier bowl. If that doesn't fill you up, the sushi is just as good. The nigiri is well constructed with mildly sweet rice, prime-quality seafood and the wasabi paste already incorporated into a bite.
27641 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-547-6763
Thang Long makes a great pho. And what's not to like about a massive bowl of rich, slow-developed meat broth flavored with spices and filled with rice vermicelli noodles and beef? But we are truly into their combo vermicelli. It's a bowl of those same rice noodles with the addition of cucumber, fresh cabbage, daikon, pickle, carrot, fried garlic and mint. Instead of broth, you'll get a small bowl of garlic fish sauce dressing to pour over the works. There are several toppings to choose from. Our favorite is the shrimp crabmeat crispy roll. An uncomplicated dish is seldom so deeply satisfying.
2542 Market St., Detroit; 313-259-8230
When you wake Saturday morning with a head full of screaming kittens, a massive plate of Farmer's Restaurant's corned beef hash and eight cups of coffee should get you right. Hash browns, grilled onions and thinly sliced corned beef are piled high beneath two eggs. Or try their fat, juicy and finely ground breakfast sausage that's cooked so a crisp and caramelized outer shell is the first thing to meet your teeth. Of course, they serve all the other omelets and sandwiches that any decent diner has on the menu. Get there early in the peak of the market season to avoid the line.
As proprietor of Supino Pizzeria, Dave Mancini crafts a scandalously tasty thin-crust pizza. Not only does he source local products, such as Porktown sausage for the San Gennaro, or filled-to-order Katie's Cannoli for dessert, he opens his kitchen for all sorts of neighborhood food projects. One Monday night a month, Neighborhood Noodle is operating there. We have even heard of folks coming in to make gelato or using a burner to warm mulled wine for a nearby charity event. Mancini is unassuming about his role in the food community. He just likes good food and drink and does what he can to support his neighbors.
Duck Confit Poutine at the Grange
118 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-2107; grangekitchenandbar.com
There's a lot to love at Ann Arbor's Grange Kitchen & Bar — creative cocktails, a focus on local ingredients, delicious homemade pickles — but one of the standouts is their poutine. When the heaping portion of duck fat fries, duck confit, duck and sage gravy, and local cheese curds is set down, you may wonder how any human has ever actually consumed that many fries (let alone that much duck fat). Ten minutes later, when you're licking the plate, worry not about the resulting minor myocardial infarction: Your taste buds will be thanking you for days.
Cork Wine Pub
23810 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-544-2675; corkwinepub.com
It took a couple of years for Cork to acquire Pleasant Ridge's first-ever liquor license, but that seems like a distant memory today. Even mid-week, the restaurant is abuzz and the wine is flowing. Despite opening only about six months ago, Cork's beverage director, Jeffrey Mar, has already rotated wines on and off the extensive lists a few times, keeping the selection interesting for customers. The focus on affordable wines (and cocktails) encourages having fun and taking chances; and Jeffrey is seemingly omnipresent, ready to answer the questions of connoisseurs and neophytes alike.
Chorizo Frita at Frita Batidos
Cuban burgers, or fritas, are traditionally made with chorizo instead of beef. At chef Eve Aronoff's Cuban-inspired joint (discussed above), your chorizo is sandwiched between two halves of a delicious, spongy brioche bun and topped with fries and a spicy mayonnaise. An all-American, all-beef patty is a wonderful thing, but one bite of a chorizo burger at Frita Batidos ought to be enough to get any U.S. president to seriously reconsider our stance on relations with Cuba.
735 Forest Ave., Birmingham; 248-258-9400; theforestgrill.com
Executive chef David Gilbert, a 2011 semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region, has become known for his upscale bistro fare — veal cheeks, root vegetable agnolotti, heritage pork, and so on. But owner-chef Brian Polcyn literally has written the book on charcuterie, and the rotating assortment of meats that Polcyn, Gilbert, and their staff put together is superb. Always a part of the selection is the "Prosciutto Birmingham," which is house-made. And the other items, ranging from cured lomo to various salumi, never disappoint. The platter is accompanied by a choice of tiny salads, olives, cornichons and house-made mustard. Grab a glass of wine from their lengthy list and savor every paper-thin slice.
Inside Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3111; bucharestgrill.com
It's 11 p.m. You're starving. And possibly drunk. Wisely deciding to grab a bite before bellying up to the Park Bar for a pint, you stride up to the counter at Bucharest Grill with laser-like focus: You need a shawarma. A few minutes later, it arrives, dripping not with grease (well, maybe a little) but with garlic sauce. Lots and lots of garlic sauce. And though you're eying that special someone across the room, you care not a lick that your breath is about to reek to high heaven. It's Bucharest Grill, and it's shawarma. They'll understand.
117 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-541-5252; goldfishtea.com
Tea, like any other food or drink, is an expression of a culture and a place. No retail outlet or restaurant understands that better than Royal Oak's Goldfish Tea. With a menu emphasizing hand-selected, high quality teas directly imported to Michigan from China, Goldfish offers the most authentic, delicious teas both in the cup and to brew at home. With selections that range from delicate, grassy greens like Buddha's Eyebrow to earthy, robust aged Pu-erh, you'll be drinking well no matter your tastes. Not sure what new tea to try? Ask the well-trained staff for their opinions. And if you want our opinion, head straight for Scarlet Robe, a complex, malty, full-flavored oolong. You'll become a tea snob before you finish the first cup.
Great Lakes Coffee's Kenya Peaberry Kariru
Labeling any one coffee as "the best" is a bit like calling a particular wine "the best." There are endless flavors, hundreds of styles, and infinite personal preferences to consider. That said, any coffee lover would be hard-pressed to find anything to dislike with this locally roasted brew. While it certainly has a big earthy flavor, it's the finish that's so memorable — bright with a potent, delicious citric punch. Some say that peaberries — the small percentage of coffee beans that form as a small, single pod instead of two half ovals — have a more concentrated flavor. Others say they're the runts of the proverbial litter. Anyone who's taken a sip of this would have a hard time accepting the latter.
Half-Off Bottles on Thursdays at Wolfgang Puck Grille
Inside the MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1648
Chef Marc Djozlija's consistently excellent fare is reason enough to visit the Wolfgang Puck Grille in downtown's MGM Grand Casino. The prix fixe menu available three nights a week is too. But visit the restaurant on a Thursday, and you'll experience possibly the best dining deal in town: half off all bottles of wine. The extensive wine list covers all the expected New World regions, grape varieties and big names, but aficionados will be pleased to discover some cult favorites, Old World bottles with a few years on them, and some true values. Oh, and did we mention they're half-off?
Toasted Oak Grill and Market
27790 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-277-6000; toastedoak.com
What sets Toasted Oak apart is chef Steven Grostick's charcuterie, including terrines, pâtés and rillettes. He'll offer a plate of nearly transparent speck, chorizo and salami slices with grainy mustard and ultra-fresh pickles, a pâté of chicken livers and foie gras, smoked trout steamed in Riesling, and a terrine of the day with ginger marmalade. There's also a market cheese board, favoring American products, and a house-made kielbasa. Put them together with a flight of three red wines from Spain.
Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño
3149 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-899-4020
A thick, handmade corn tortilla is night-and-day different from the thin floppy kind from the factory: The dough is slapped from hand to hand to pat it into shape before frying. With black beans and crema, you've got a meal, but here they're stuffed with queso (the simplest and best), beans, ground pork, squash or loroco (a flower) to make pupusas, the Salvadoran national dish. If we had a Best Horchata category, the pupusería would win that one too, using morro seeds from El Salvador to produce a mild-chocolate, nutty effect.
6880 E. 12 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-751-5288; goldenharvestmi.com
A 16-year favorite of those seeking the real deal, Golden Harvest specializes in seafood. The Hong Kong-born chef keeps live crabs, lobsters and tilapia — and, depending on the season, eel, sea bass, clams, oysters and scallops. "Assorted seafood with spicy salt (hot)" and soft-shell crabs both sport thin, pepper-flecked crusts and a satisfying crunch. Clams can be cooked in XO sauce (made from dried seafood, garlic and chilies), invented in Hong Kong. A hot pot, kept warm at your table, is a good way to enjoy an assortment of sea critters. If you can stand to order a fish that's frozen, the incomparable sole is on the menu too.
13823 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-584-1890; amanilebaneserestaurant.com
Amani's cooks these little sausages in an oily and delicious sauce of tomatoes, parsley, garlic and a few slices of pickle, which add a marvelous piquancy. The halal meat — lamb and beef — is already delicious from its plethora of spices, which might be anything from mustard and cumin to coriander and cloves, plus pine nuts. Sojouk is the hotter and redder version; makaneck is pronounced "mechanic." It's called an appetizer, but add a salad and pita and you have a meal.
7040 Schaefer Rd., Dearborn; 313-581-9800
No chorizo, no lomo, no menudo, no Dos Equis — it's neither truly traditional down-home Mexican nor an Americanized cheese-fest. Fuego Grill attracts both Muslims and others with a menu that's all made in-house, using a chicken-based chorizo in cheese-stuffed mushrooms, drizzled with balsamic; outstanding tortilla chips dusted with chipotle and ancho chili powders; braised beef tips; fish tacos dressed with long shreds of cabbage and plenty of lime. Skip the lard-less beans and enjoy the slightly upscale and contemporary feel — no sombreros, but some welcome surprises.
Luxe Bar & Grill
525 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-792-6051
These stratified inventions are not mixed, shaken or stirred. The gorgeous bands of jewel-like colors rest gently atop one another, allowing the sipper to taste different flavors consecutively. A Pousse Café, for example, contains five liqueurs — clear Curaçao, Blue Curaçao, clear Maraschino, green crème de menthe and caramel-colored crème de cacao — plus cognac and reddish grenadine. It's lovely to look at as well as tasty, and a decent amount of booze. Death at Dusk puts blue violette on the bottom, followed by absinthe — which turns into a dramatic cloud of white when touched by the top layer of cold Prosecco. Not on the menu but popular for birthday shots is the three-color Shooting Star, which includes pineapple Midori and Cointreau.
273 N. Main St., Plymouth; 734-414-9935; addisababaplymouth.com
Doro wat and zilzil alecha in 12-ounce polystyrene containers, instead of beautifully laid out on a huge round of injera? For those uninterested in the rituals of Ethiopian dining, seeking only the intense traditional flavors that owner Bekele Lessanework creates so well — collards squared and split peas to the nth — Addis Ababa offers a way to enjoy the vibrancy of Ethiopian dishes behind your own closed doors. At only $3.75 for mild or spicy beef and chicken dishes and $2.95 for vegetables, with free injera, Addis Ababa is a lot more fun than stopping by KFC on your way home.
PJ's Lager House
1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668; pjslagerhouse.com
The music side of the Lager House is well known, but does everyone appreciate that you can eat a remarkably house-made version of bar food there too? Burgers, onion rings, fries — the names are familiar but the results are not. Corned beef is corned in-house for a fine Reuben made with fresh cole slaw and house-made Thousand Island. A burger is grilled with blackening spices on one side and blue cheese on the other. There's a portobello sandwich, and soup, and onion rings vie with sweet potato fries for best side. At this music joint, food is not just the B side.
Fresco Wood Oven Pizzeria
1218 Walton Blvd., Rochester Hills; 248-841-1606; frescowoodoven.com
If a glance at the pie pictured on Fresco's home page doesn't lure you to their strip center digs, you've been eating too much mass-produced cheesy, sweetly sauced, commissary-fed pizza. The Neapolitan-style variety that you'll find here bears little resemblance to that. The dough comes out with a crunchy exterior, chewy within. The toppings are fresh, the sauce homemade, the cheese sparse, not gooey and greasy. The fennel salad, served warm, is roasted in the wood-fired oven, lightly dressed and topped with walnuts. Don't miss the meatball sandwich, which is finished in the same oven on a roll made from the pizza dough.
220 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-398-8018; pinwheelbakery.com
Ann St. Peter believes the French macaroon, a sandwich of baked almond meringue around a butter cream filling, is the new cupcake. Not to be confused with the dense, North American coconut version, her macaroons are simultaneously crunchy and chewy and flavored with things like pistachios, apricots and blackberries. We were particularly enamored with a rose-flavored version made for Valentine's Day. One of these tasty morsels is just enough to satisfy a gourmet sweet tooth while admiring Pinwheel's creative seasonal window display.
22965 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3440; treatdreams.com
Metro Detroit's Willy Wonka of ice cream, Scott Moloney, is dreaming up ice cream flavors that will curl your tongue. Selections like lemon-basil, spicy jalapeño, dark chocolate peanut butter curry, salty caramel, avocado-lime, bananas Foster, pistachio-wasabi, and a mixture of maple ice cream with bacon and waffles called Sunday Breakfast have folks lining up to taste something wild and new. For the most daring eaters he infuses ice cream with savory flavors such as chicken and waffles or garlic. Treat Dreams isn't just a gimmick. The plain chocolate is as good as any in the area.