Pick a winner

Al Sultan 425 N. Inkster Rd., Garden City; 734-522-1500: We think this place is a contender for "Best Hidden Gem of Middle Eastern Food," given its generous servings, excellent quality and off-the-beaten-path location. Generous vegetarian plates (falafel, moujadara, and veggie gallaba) don't top $10, and the equally generous meat dishes pack on the portions, seldom breaching $13. 

Angelina 1565 Broadway, at Grand Circus Park, Detroit; 313-962-1355: Kudos to any new restaurant these days, especially if it serves sophisticated dishes at prices that aren't stratospheric. With a menu that's not meatball-and-red sauce Italian but far more imaginative, Angelina's chefs pay as much attention to the sides — and even the sides' accompaniments — as to the main courses. A house-smoked, delicate, velvety whitefish mousse starter, for example, comes with a pile of flaked Parmigiano-Reggiano; a mound of watercress in a superior lemony dressing; a cup of assorted olives; and a puddle of grainy mustard. Get the idea? This new venture by the former manager of the Traffic Jam deserves to make it through the recession and become a downtown mainstay.

Anita's Kitchen 22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680: Beloved by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, it's no wonder that Anita's Kitchen is consistently busy. There are few places where you can fill up on a chicken shawarma wrap for $5 or go upscale with a bottle of Lebanese wine and a braised lamb shank. It's easy to relax in the warm space while munching spicy pickled veggies or downing a pint of Michigan beer. The lemon lentil soup has been known to cure various colds and diseases. Try the mixed mezza platter for a large and tasty sampling of the eastern Mediterranean.

Antonio's in the Park 15117 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-821-2433: One east sider on staff singled out Antonio's for its warm, cozy charm, praising its chicken and veal, and its affordable, drinkable carafes of house wine. And that's not to mention the fresh bread, Parmesan and olive oil that accompany your meal. If you're feeling more formal, you'll want to dine in the main room, but the bar offers more neighborhood atmosphere, with TVs, conversation, and regulars having drinks and picking up carryout.

Arbor Brewing Company Pub & Eatery 114 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-213-1393: More than a beer-geek hangout, Arbor typifies everything you hope to find in a pub: a nice selection of well-prepared food that transcends pub grub, good local music, and — oh, yes — beer, most of it brewed on-premises. It varies season to season, but you can always find enough kick-ass brew to require a designated driver! And they're very much in line with the latest food trends, favoring local ingredients, assembling a healthy, vegetarian-friendly menu, even appealing to concerns about high fructose corn syrup by phasing it out completely. (How many bars around here have natural ketchup?) 

Avalon International Breads 422 W. Willis St., Detroit; 313-832-0008: What hasn't been said? They just announced made-to-order sandwiches. We're anxiously awaiting the return of the seasonal molasses cookies, but finding plenty of satisfaction with our favorite baguettes, beer bread and pumpernickel, along with changing selection of pastries, daily soups and focaccias. And you can expect warming pumpkin and almond lattes, chai apple cider and plenty of soups to hit the spot as things get chillier. Yum.

Bangkok Cafe 323 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-548-5373: Do an informal poll at Bangkok Cafe's carryout station and you'll find that most people have been coming here for years. It's all about the consistency that starts with their subtly tasty chicken and vegetable fresh rolls enhanced with mint leaves and a tangy dipping sauce and tom yum gai hot-and-sour soup. If a Thai restaurant is to be measured by its pad Thai, then we will vouch for this well-spiced but not dripping-in-sauce version. Even beyond the staples, we've yet to find a dish here that hasn't satisfied our Southeast Asian cravings. Our favorite? The garlicky dish called "Kiss Me."

Bangkok Crossing 620 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3861: When the Super Bowl came to downtown Detroit in 2006, the business district suddenly had a bevy of Thai restaurants. And not all have lasted through the economic shakeout. But this spot, tucked into a commercial block smack on Woodward, always has a wait at lunchtime. And with good reason, judging by the high praise. One colleague says it has the "best soup at any Thai restaurant ever." 

Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen 52 S. Main St., Clarkston; 248-620-6100: Amid the unusual setting of a former church, Clarkston Union has unique charm. Yes, it's noisy because of the communal seating, but it has surprisingly good acoustics for chatter with your co-diners. The menu's upscale comfort food has favorites to keep you coming back with inventive daily specials to keep things interesting, such as a pizza of the day, press of the day, and more. In addition to fabulous signature desserts, Clarkston Union stocks a selection of interesting, affordable beers and wines. Our hardworking staff writer, by no means a martini aficionado, swears by their St. Petersburg martini. Breakfast available 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543: Stepping into the newly restored art deco live jazz bar with an even more recently opened kitchen is to arrive in another era. Before the stage, the main area is separated into two spaces: One with round, candle-lit tables, the other, a stunning curved bar. All this sits below massive barrel-vaulted ceilings. All this ambience comes from pricey restoration work done in 2006 to make today's Cliff Bell's look like the Cliff Bell's of 1935. That and the way they mix a cocktail. Neither cheap nor fast, mixed drinks are crafted old-school, more for taste than ease of production. With everything from a standard fillet of beef tenderloin to cassoulet, the French-inspired eclectic food menu speaks for itself. 

El Barzón 3710 Junction Rd., Detroit; 313-894-2070: Mexican and Italian foods seem like an odd couple to share one roof, but don't be daunted by this assumption. El Barzón serves the best of both. Norberto Garitas learned to cook while growing up in Mexico, and became proficient in Italian cuisine while working at the recently shuttered Il Posto. The Mexican fare includes garlic shrimp and chicken pipian, which is cooked in a mole verde topped with pumpkin seeds, not the usual fare found in Mexicantown. The Italian side of the menu covers many of the staples of an Italian kitchen, all done well by this talented chef. The good wine list and quality drinks help send this one over the top.

The Fly Trap 22950 S Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150: You can get a burger and fries, or bacon and eggs, but after that the menu goes in all sorts of interesting directions, including sandwiches with such names as the Pea Patch or the charmoula chicken. And vegetarians have as interesting a selection as carnivores. Of the seven entrées, only one contains meat, another is fish, and one has a choice of chicken or tofu. Their swat sauce is good on every item you'll find on their menu, which is full of good stuff. Topping the list are the huevos rancheros. The daily baked goods, weekday specials and daily soups are killer. It's small and unpretentious, and they play dub, ska and reggae all day, every day.

Grand Trunk Pub 612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313 961-3043: There's been a buzz building about the newly renamed (formerly Foran's) pub on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit — and with good reason: The food is good, the ambience is one-of-a-kind and the beer selection kills. The seasonal 14 Michigan brews on-tap are awesome, and they include Arcadia's Jaw Jacker, Hop Rocket and Nut Brown, Dark Horse's Perkulator Coffee Doplebock and Scotty Karate, Bell's Winter White and New Holland's Icabod. Expect gourmet sandwiches, including the Finnigan: chicken breast topped with fresh mozzarella, spinach and a homemade tomato-basil aioli on grilled Avalon Greektown olive for $8.50. And though there isn't a specific fall menu, many of the regular selections are hearty, including shepherd's pie and Jameson meatloaf, as well as Friday's special, lobster bisque, and the irregularly appearing but worth-it pork chops with stuffing and applesauce. And don't forget the filling fish and chips and appealing weekend breakfasts.

Grecian Table 23700 Harper Ave., Saint Clair Shores; 586-778-7618: This classic Greek diner gets singled out for its Greek combo plate, which comes with half orders of moussaka (layers of eggplant and ground meat), pastitsio (a Greek casserole of pasta, ground meat, grated cheese, tomatoes and béchamel) and spinach pie, as well as grape leaves and rice. How much for what sounds like a good lunch (and maybe dinner)? It's yours for a measly $8.05.

J. Alexander's at Somerset Mall, 2800 W. Big Beaver Rd., P127, Troy; 248-816-8379: J. Alexander's is the kind of place where chicken fingers and coleslaw get all the attention that the usual fancy foods might get at some gourmet joint. The lime chicken with garlic-smashed potatoes looks like a meal that can't be finished. But you eat all of it and leave feeling uncommonly satisfied. The blue cheese coleslaw is simply wonderful. It may look like a swank establishment, but the food is hearty and unpretentious. Best of all? The carrot cake.

Janet's Lunch 15033 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-331-5776: A place doesn't stay open for 69 years by chance. Founded in 1938, Janet's still serves such diner mainstays as hot beef, hot pork, hot turkey, mashed potatoes, soups made from scratch and home-made pies, including banana cream, apple, cherry and blueberry. If the waterfront air whets your appetite, there's fish after five every day, all day on Fridays. With 27 stools to choose from, it's great for eating alone, especially when you don't want to share those raspberry pancakes.

Karas Restaurants 27414 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores; 586-774-1590: Long a fixture on the east side, with 30 years on Harper Avenue, Karas does breakfast right. Best of all is the "gyros and eggs" dish, with strips of savory lamb served with two eggs made to order, along with potatoes and toast for just $6.39 (plus tax).

La Dolce Vita 17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-865-0331: Tucked away behind a garden gate on Woodward Avenue just north of McNichols, La Dolce Vita has only a cryptic neon sign (reading LDV) to herald its presence. But those who slip behind the building, often for valet parking, can have one of the most romantic, secluded experiences in this urban oasis. Particularly popular is the Sunday brunch, which one co-worker calls "the best around, especially during the summer when you can sit on the patio." Add the friendly, accommodating waitstaff, a well-stocked bar and good food, and you can see why people come in their pajamas once a month.

Le Petit Zinc 1055 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-963-2805: Charles Sorel, raised in France but with the Caribbean personality of his native Martinique, is providing a splash of sunlight at his breakfast-and-lunch spot in Corktown. His small space has bright yellow walls and bright yellow napkins. It's accented in green and turquoise and is adorned with paintings in primary and other cheerful colors. Outdoors, a patio with raised beds for perennials has the beginnings of a greenhouse in which to raise tomatoes and herbs. Patrons may order crêpes, salads, sandwiches, cheese, ratatouille and coffee.

Loui's 23141 Dequindre Rd., Hazel Park; 248-547-1711; $: None of the glitterati treks to Loui's for its elegant decor or haute cuisine, and none of the regular patrons comes to see the occasional glitterati who wander in. This is a quintessential pizza joint — hundreds of straw-covered Chianti bottles signed by diners fill virtually every inch of wall space, the tables are covered with glass-protected red-checked cloths, the food is served on plain plastic tableware, and smoke hangs heavy, despite the ample non-smoking area amid the 47 tables and booths in the main dining room and the bar. Aficionados flock to Loui's for the uniquely charred, slightly salty, thick-crust, deep-dish pizza, as well as the colorful veteran servers ("Hi, hon!").

Northern Lakes Seafood Company 39495 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-646-7900: After a decade in business in the Radisson Kingsley Hotel, Northern Lakes continues to reign over all things nautical, including an interior design that features whimsical fish mobiles and menacing octopi chandeliers. Stick with the unusually diverse fresh-catch-of-the-day list that is reasonably priced and attractively prepared. One of the best of the Prentice operations, it features the very freshest seafood, prepared to your specifications in a variety of ways, with the always-special sourdough. Tipplers also have a wide selection of reasonable whites that'll help wash down the bounty of the sea.

Plaka Cafe 535 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-4687: Among the long-running fixtures in an ever-smaller Greektown, Plaka serves the sturdy diner fare you'd expect from an all-night stop. One co-worker offers special praise for the chicken strips, another, for the filling spinach pie.

Plaza Mexico Mexican Restaurant 18322 E. Nine Mile Rd., Eastpointe; 586-777-8144: Charming, small, railroad-style diner serves satisfying and affordable Mexican fare, including a great 24-hour breakfast dish — chorizo and eggs, which comes with refritos, rice and tortillas, as well as a habañero puree to kick your salsa up to atomic if you like. Also notable are the torta, steak Don Felipe, and huevos nopales, an eggs dish that adds cactus into the mix.

Polish Village Cafe 2990 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-874-5726: Even if you have to drive a bit to get there, the gut-busting meals they serve make your gas money a value. Not only do you step down into a long basement decked out with Hamtramck history, the meals here are literally made by Polish grandmas in the kitchen, who you can usually spy on the way to the bathroom. Get the "Polish plate" for $6.95, with a little of everything: kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi and mashed potatoes and gravy. 

Recipes 2919 Crooks Rd., Troy; 248-614-5390: This upscale Troy breakfast spot earns its honors thanks to its classic Eggs Benedict, featuring two poached eggs over a thick ham steak and English muffins, then drizzled with Hollandaise sauce and served with apples and potatoes. And that's just the "classic"; the seafood version puts the eggs on crabmeat or salmon, and the "huevos de paco" twist drops the poachers on chorizo and finishes it with salsa and melted pepperjack. 

Red Pepper Deli 116 W. Main St., Northville; 248-773-7672: Before she opened the Red Pepper Deli last September, Carolyn Simon had no idea there were so many raw food enthusiasts around. There are. They make up three-quarters of her clientele, and they instruct her on everything from recipes to the science of raw-foodism. But the way Simon does it, raw dishes are scrumptious. Your own cooking — excuse me, dish preparation — might be improved too if you distributed cashews as generously as she does, in everything from salads to pie crust.

Roast 1128 Washington Ave., 313-442-1600: After a $200 million renovation, the freshly scrubbed, historic facade of the Book-Cadillac contains this up-to-the-minute establishment. Unlike the 1920s flourishes on the hotel, Michael Symon's Roast is decked out in modern style. But it's a laid-back sort of elegance. The casual vibe extends to the service, with smartly dressed diners disarmed by the denim-and-dress-shirt servers who keep things down-to-earth. And that food? The kitchen does the meat right, aging everything at least 21 days, and lavishing just as much attention on the poultry. 

Smoke & Spice Southern Barbecue 1515 Ottawa St., Windsor, Ontario; 519-977-0112: French-cuisine-trained Ryan Odette moved from one concept of cool to another when he closed his tiny Bistro and opened a crowd-pleasing barbecue joint. No more roasted apricots and fig jus: Now it's ribs, wings and pulled pork, playing to a full, and much bigger, house. These ribs appear rather dry-looking, but in the mouth they are multifaceted chunks of meat, a combination of smoke, tenderness and earthy animal goodness. As for sauces, there's the slightly sweet, mostly tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce, the chipotle, and the runny mustard that's the most unusual and complex of the three. What's more, the wings are not an afterthought, luscious and meaty, smokier than most wings. 

Supino Pizzeria 2457 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-7879: There's not a pizza in Detroit that comes close to Supino, no matter what style of pie you're into, it stands alone. Ingredients couldn't be fresher; the roasted garlic is phenomenal, and even the salads (and house-made dressings) are right on the money. Speaking of which, it won't hack what's left of your wallet.

Sweet LoRraine's locations in Southfield, Livonia and beyond; see sweetlorraines.com: For more than a decade, metro Detroiters have been grateful to count on the moderately priced pleasure of Lorraine Platman's casual but sophisticated cuisine. And our readers have previously voted it the Best Restaurant to Dine For Under $50. Yes, it's not that dear, given the good wines, careful service and daily specials, which can range from delicate Portobello-and-cremini raviolis on crisped spinach to global dishes, such as coconut-curry Thai hotpots, paella and even jambalaya. Lorraine has covered the four corners of the earth and then some. Of course when it comes to dessert, Lorraine is no slouch. 

Thang Long 27641 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-547-6763: Thang Long, run for more than 15 years by Alexander Nguyen, serves the country's national soup with aplomb. Making pho is a time-consuming process, so you can understand why people wouldn't want to come home from a hard day at the nail salon or wherever and face a recipe filled with phrases like "overnight," "5 lbs. oxtails" and "four to five hours." The resulting cuisine, though, is authentic Vietnamese, simple yet profound food that transports you to Asia.

Tom's Oyster Bar 519 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-964-4010: The large, U-shaped bar is accented with brass railings and is surrounded by tables; there's plenty of room for socializing with friends and colleagues. The well-stocked bar offers an extensive wine list and a fine assortment of microbrews. Check the blackboard for a list of the daily specials. The oyster bar also serves several other hot and cold appetizers, from Maryland crab cakes to smoked whitefish to Tom's famous clam chowder; the main menu features a large selection of entrées with an emphasis on seafood.

Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701: Finally, Woodbridge gets its neighborhood hangout. Open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, the most popular items on the moderately priced menu are the burgers. They're a succulent half-pound of certified Angus, dressed up with white cheddar or goat cheese or caramelized bacon or portobellos, delivered rare if you ask for rare. What's more, it's very vegetarian friendly. Our staffer's recommendation? "The hipster crowd isn't nearly as overwhelming or as annoying as everything you read suggests." Sorry, latfh.com.

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