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Food & Drink

Food

 

Published 9/17/2003

SEE ALSO
More from Metro Times staff

Metro Retro (10/6/2010)
Looking back on 30 years of MT coverage

Metro Retro (9/29/2010)
Looking back on 30 years of Metro Times

Metro Retro (9/22/2010)
Looking back on 30 years of Metro Times

Best weekday alternative to Eastern Market on Saturday

Detroit Wholesale Produce
2506 Market, Detroit
313-309-1000

Missed your Saturday shopping trip? You can still get a bit of that market-produce price vibe here through the week, which is to say avocados at $1 and a head of leaf lettuce for 75 cents when the going rates are twice that at your nearest supermarket. Of course, you don’t get the market people vibe, and no discounts (“take the box, $1!”) when it gets near closing time. For a good fruit selection, however, cross over to Russell Street for H&S Produce.

 

Best olive selection

Gabriel Import Co.
2534 Market, Detroit
313-567-2890

We brought some of the almond-stuffed olives back to the office and watched them just disappear. But that’s only one of about 20 olive varieties at this 92-year-old Eastern Market establishment, which also touts such Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern goodies as homemade tabbouleh, hummus and yogurt-garlic sauce. But it’s the olives that keep us coming back: pepper-stuffed, hot, green, black. Michael Sandros, who’s been running the shop for 16 years, assures us he’s tried them all and personally recommends the almond-stuffed, garlic-stuffed and Kalamatas.

 

Best grocer

Trader Joe’s
27880 Woodward, Royal Oak
248-582-9002

31221 W. 14 Mile, Farmington Hills,
248-737-4609

If you don’t live within striking distance of one of our two Trader Joe’s (no relation to Papa Joe or Trader Vic), you’re missing one of the year’s most exciting developments in foodie-land. Trader Joe sells upscale, practical, health-conscious and convenience food items under his own label. Grab a bowl of soup to rehydrate at work, or a frozen dinner of curried chicken Masala with brown rice. Other brands are sold when the price is right. A sign on a shelf earlier this month under Kashi’s “Good Friends” cereal said: “Same cereal sold elsewhere for $4.69. Who’s your good friend? $1.99 at the Trader’s.”

 

Best French toast

Club Bart
22726 Woodward, Ferndale
248-548-8746

Skip church Sunday morning and have a died-and-gone-to-heaven breakfast instead. Nicole Cass makes her own cinnamon rolls with a syrup of brown sugar, heavy cream and butter. Then she slices them in three, soaks them in more heavy cream, plus eggs — and the result is worth risking your immortal soul, not to mention your waistline. Club Bart’s other breakfast fare — omelets, eggs Benedict and Florentine, pancakes and waffles — draws crowds too, but there’s free coffee while you wait. French toast is a weekends-only item.

 

Best brunch

Recipes
2919 Crooks Road, Troy
248-614-5390

The morning sun streams in through the front windows. There’s a fresh flower on each table. You’ve found a good place to enjoy one of life’s little luxuries, Sunday brunch. The menu covers everything you might expect for breakfast, and then some. Eggs in every variation, pancakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, granola. If breakfast is stretching into lunch time, there are sandwiches, salads and
pasta.

 

Best avant-garde brunch

Detroit Art Space
101 E. Baltimore (between Woodward and John R) Detroit
313-664-0445

The gallery is an important part of the nighttime scene with all manner of cutting-edge musics. But the gallery crew absolutely rules Sunday mornings and early afternoon. Past performers have ranged from Frank Pahl to avant-jazz legend Faruq Z. Bey. The gallery has hosted flamenco (Alquimia Humana), folk (Audra Kubat), performances of the 88-string Armenian harp (Ara Topouzian) and free-form improvs aplenty. Oh, yeah, the music comes with a side of omelets.

 

Best downtown informal lunch meeting

Camillian Cafe
300 Monroe St., Detroit
313-964-4815

The cheerful spot plays jazz and soul amid a laidback, cosmopolitan atmosphere. The Camillian offers a delicious array of salads, sandwiches, coffees, teas, juices and desserts — its grilled salmon Caesar salad and cheesecake are to die for.

 

Best downtown salad bar

GreenRoom Salads
120 W. Congress St., Detroit
313-963-9565

Dried fruit, nuts, crisp lettuce and fresh chicken are just part of what makes the GreenRoom great. Fruity drinks and fresh-squeezed lemonade also are a delight. But if you want a more hearty meal, check out the soups and sandwiches. You won’t be disappointed. Be prepared to take your food to go — there are no tables.

 

Best inventive salad dressing

Starving Artist
212 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
248-545-5650

Since most dressings obliterate all taste of the salad itself — along with any claim a salad might have to being low-cal — it’s a relief to find a light, tangy dressing that complements the greens. Starving Artist’s orange-ginger-sesame contains OJ, grated ginger, sesame oil, olive oil and perhaps some other ingredients that are proprietary information. You can order it on the house salad, with spring greens, grape tomatoes and cucumbers, or on the tropical salad, with grilled chicken breast, pineapple chunks, crushed cashews and sweet red peppers. Best of all, you can enjoy it all for Sunday brunch out front on the Ferndale sidewalk or on the Starving Artist’s back patio.

 

Best classic salad dressing

La Cuisine
417 Pelissier, Windsor
519-253-6432

It’s clean, classic and elegant: simply extra virgin oil and red wine vinegar (“the best quality I can find in institutional-size containers”) plus herbes de Provence — herbs that grow in the Provence region of France. As chef Harvey Cross defines it, those are tarragon, chervil, parsley and basil. One trick: He keeps a mixture of salt and pepper in the right proportions on hand. One less thing to think about. La Cuisine also serves a Montmartroise salad with a Dijon and garlic dressing.

 

Best downtown coffee shop

Café de Troit
1260 Library St., Detroit
313-962-8050

The coffee bar opened in April to coincide with the arrival of 4,000 employees who moved into the new Compuware headquarters — and in anticipation of new foot traffic when the downtown library branch reopens this fall. Right away, the shop began to offer some of the creamiest, dreamiest coffee drinks around (especially the soy lattes — yum). The shop carries the standard coffee fare you’ve come to expect, plus exotic teas, as well as fancy salads and sandwiches. The back room has comfy chairs, tables and artwork — good for reading, talking, thinking, whatever.

 

Best suburban coffeehouse

Xhedos Café
240 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
248-399-3946

We have been living in the Starbucks epoch so long it’s hard to remember how an independent coffeehouse is supposed to look and feel. Xhedos Café in Ferndale effortlessly brings together so many classic components. It always seems dark and cozy on the inside, no matter how much summer sun is pouring through the windows. One patio is tree-shaded and secluded; the other patio is perfectly situated for afternoon people watching. The espresso is dense and creamy and their vegetarian/vegan sandwiches are hearty and never disappointing. There also are local and national acts from far-flung regions of the musical spectrum pretty much every night, art shows that are a cut above typical coffeehouse fare, and a Saturday-afternoon DJ. Xhedos makes all the squeaky-clean suburban coffeehouses disappear from your consciousness.

 

Best diverse coffeehouse

Urban Break Coffee House
10020 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck
313-872-1210

Hamtramck is an old urban neighborhood made up of immigrants, artists, young hipsters, Bosnian exiles, aspiring rock and rollers, Bangladeshis, Poles, Muslims, slam poets, and eccentric old people — and the Urban Break is their coffeehouse. This intimate little spot has held it’s ground on busy Jos. Campau against all odds and continues to fly the flag of multiracial, working-class bohemianism for all to see and smell. The brunch on Saturday and Sunday afternoons is a real treat and often features DJs spinning all kinds of brunch-friendly tunes. Let’s hope this place stays around a long time.

 

Best glut of coffee and ice cream shops

Downtown Birmingham

Java Hutt is on Old Woodward, next door to the Uptown 8 theater, Starbucks is about six storefronts north, Caribou across the street, and there’s a Coffee Beanery another half-block north. And if you’re not in the mood for coffee on a hot night, there’s plenty of ice cream to go around. Try the new Coldstone Creamery just south of Maple on Old Woodward, or Gelato Roma across the street, conveniently located next to Kilwin’s. Delicious, but, um, enough already?

 

Best dessert

City Cellar Wine Bar and Grill
201 Hamilton Row, Birmingham
248-642-2489

Kudos to pastry chef Mary Balagna. The desserts she creates remind us why we go out to eat — delicious, inventive food, way too complicated to make at home. The macadamia nut torte is served on a thin slice of fresh pineapple and dripped with caramel sauce. Can you imagine two more disparate flavors than pineapple and caramel? Yet they combine beautifully. Other winners: warm chocolate cake and apple galette with bourbon-caramel sauce.

 

Best romantic dessert

Little Italy Ristorante
227 Hutton,
Northville
248-348-0575

Raspberries and chocolate are a match made in taste-bud heaven, and therefore a perfect ending to a dinner for two. The star-shaped “Raspberry Star” takes raspberry sorbetto, pours milk chocolate over it and lets it harden, and then adds a house-made puree-of-raspberry sauce. Guaranteed to put anyone in the mood. Little Italy’s small rooms may help the affair along. Or put the chocolate on the inside: “Amore” is white chocolate gelato with a strawberry sorbetto center, dipped in white chocolate. It’s heart-shaped, of course.

 

Best dessert for dieters

Astoria Pastry Shop
541 Monroe St., Detroit
313-963-9603

Chocolate-peanut butter frozen yogurt at Astoria on Monroe. Oh, mon amour. Not only is this rich delight made from low-fat frozen yogurt, but it’s chock-full of thick peanut butter, a necessity for those on the new millennium low-carb fad. Of course, you have to stay away from the glistening array of mouthwatering cakes and pies and cookies and puddings that will undoubtedly tempt your tummy.

 

Best dessert if they don’t run out

Eph McNally’s
1300 Porter, Detroit
313-963-8833

It doesn’t seem fair that one of Detroit’s best desserts is available only for lunch or at the geezer dinner hour — McNally’s closes at 4 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on the day. On the other hand, bread pudding with whisky sauce could make your afternoon a lot mellower. Chef Rob McDonald has been making this egg-sugar extravaganza for 12 years, and the deli runs out nearly every day. His sauce uses Jameson’s Irish Whisky, butter and sugar in proportions he won’t reveal.

 

Best spumoni

Alinosi’s
at Sarah’s Sweets
20737 Mack Ave.,
Grosse Pointe Woods
313-881-2888

Everything at Alinosi’s is hand-made with specialized ingredients in heavy metal machinery that’s mostly no longer manufactured. One of the nation’s few remaining old-fashioned spumoni makers still has a factory on East McNichols — it’s been there since 1921. You can taste the old world charm — and butterfat — in every creamy bite of the store’s 30-plus ice cream flavors and its chocolate, pistachio and rum spumoni. Shoot the scale and sit down to a creamy dream. Alinosi products are also available at Italian and gourmet markets, including Holiday Market in Royal Oak.

 

Best crepes

The Original Pancake House
20273 Mack Ave.,
Grosse Pointe Woods,
313-884-4144

33703 Woodward Ave., Birmingham,
248-642-5775

19355 W. 10 Mile Road, Southfield,
248-357-3399

The clientele gives us pause, beckoning memories of an ill-fated stop at an Applebee’s-type chain in a farming town in southern Illinois where everyone was really big and really white. But the gouda cheese and spinach crepes are something to write home about. Every bite is a rich French dream. Accompanied by the famed breakfast nook’s excellent coffee, fresh orange juice and thick, fresh bacon, this is a meal for the gods.

 

Best bar lunch

Grissom’s Pub
27626 Harper
St. Clair Shores
586-778-1960

It’s a deal that can’t be beat. A burger, cooked to order, thick and juicy as a ripe peach. A pile of lettuce, tomato and pickles on the side, along with a mound of fries and an icy-cold draft, all for $2.75. The burgers are big enough to satisfy most appetites, but those drafts are a lot like Lay’s potato chips. Nobody can have just one.

 

Best after-softball bar

McCarthy’s Pub
1600 W. Fort,
Detroit
313-496-0626

Beer, burgers and bragging — summer Friday nights see the grizzled veterans of the People’s Softball League reliving their moments of glory on the ball field. Or licking their wounds. The half-pounders are $3, wing-dings $4.75, and the beer flows as freely as the hits in the league’s 17-16 nailbiters. Also popular with workers from the Main Post Office across the street and with union electricians, McCarthy’s was a meeting place for newspaper strike-support groups. A working-class, kid-friendly bar with a staff that’s always affable, hard-working and accommodating.

 

Best place to take friends from New York

Cass Cafe
4620 Cass Ave., Detroit
313-831-1400

Yes, the Cass Cafe, with its bohemian intellectual crowd and revolving art exhibits gracing the walls is the nearest thing to a Lower East Side hangout we’ve seen. It’s the only place in the city where you can drink beer or coffee and smoke and eat the most killer artichoke-cheese melt in the universe, or get dragon-laced garlic breath from the potent but scrumptious salad dressing.

 

Best Vietnamese — east side

Thang Long
27641 John R, Madison Heights
248-547-6763

One of the first Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Thang Long is still one of the best. Start with a summer roll — minced pork, rice vermicelli, with crisp, cold lettuce, cilantro and mint. The mixing of cooked foods with fresh greens characterizes Vietnamese cuisine. Canh chua tom is a hot and sour soup with shrimp and pineapple; chunks of tomato and plump bean sprouts are added at the last instant. An outstanding dinner entrée is a whole fried red snapper. Don’t forget to try one of the fascinating drinks; they look like lava lamps, and taste yummy.

 

Best Vietnamese — west side

Annam Restaurant Vietnamien
22053 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
313-565-8744

Both tasteful and tasty, Annam serves sophisticated and delicate dishes with Far Eastern grace. Where else will you find lime dipping sauce, lotus stem salad topped with fresh mint, soups made with tamarind and pineapple or with quail eggs? Annam uses lots of fish and shrimp, vermicelli, lemongrass, fresh herbs — ingredients that make you feel virtuous as well as delighted. They’re stir-fried in minimal oil and the result is delicate and refreshing, with an occasional flash of fire.

 

Best Korean

Mi Loc
23043 Beech Road, Southfield
248-356-2155

Most diners order barbecued meat, prepared on gas grills built into the tables. The thin slices of meat sizzle when laid on the hot grill, and the server returns to turn them again and again with a big pair of tongs. Finally, she holds the meat in midair with her tongs and cuts it into smaller pieces with an oversized pair of scissors. Eat with a dipping sauce and sticky rice, or wrap in a lettuce leaf with a bit of rice and one (or more) of the half-dozen condiments on the table. The process is labor-intensive, but convivial.

 

Best Russian

The Fiddler
6676 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield
248-851-8782

Appetizers include latkes (potato pancakes), chopped liver, gefilte fish, blini (thin Russian pancakes topped with caviar), and blintzes (blini filled with farmer’s cheese). The signature dish is Pozharski chicken cutlet, which dates from the days of the czar. Siberian pelimeni are delicate dumplings wrapped around a filling of lean ground beef. The strudel is made in-house and, like everything else, from scratch. It is superb.

 

Best Chinese

Hong Hua
27925 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
248-489-2280

Perhaps Hong Hua will never be displaced from this category. It is a lovely restaurant, with lots of white linen and ink drawings. Many of the dishes are elegant and elaborate, not to mention out of the ordinary. A favorite is spicy squid stuffed with shrimp mousse in which skewers of squid are wrapped around the filling and then fried. It’s served with coarse salt and flakes of hot pepper, great with a glass of cold white wine. There are also some wonderful vegetarian entrées with silky tofu. Salad-seafood rolls are wrapped in bean curd skin, a welcome change from egg or spring rolls. Menu descriptions are taciturn, so ask lots of questions.

 

Best Thai

Sy Thai
315 Hamilton Row, Birmingham
248-258-9830

Even the mild spice level at Sy Thai will prickle your taste buds; advance to medium and your tongue sears and your sinuses drain freely. Who knows what might happen if you order “top of the line”? Tom kha, a traditional soup with a coconut broth laced with lime juice (a sublime combination) can be ordered with chicken or shrimp. Entrées can be ordered with your choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, seafood or vegetarian.

 

Best Japanese

Cherry Blossom
43588 W. Oaks Drive, Novi
248-380-9160

Features an extensive menu, including a sushi bar and yakatori (grill) bar. All the standard Japanese entrées are here, and then some. A sunomono appetizer includes the usual cucumber and seaweed, but also slices of crab, octopus, shrimp, tuna, yellowtail and mackerel. Try kamonabe — sliced duck cooked in broth at your table with vegetables, tofu and noodles. Oyako cha is a fish broth served in a little iron cauldron with salmon roe, salmon, rice, egg and seaweed. Some unusual desserts, such as a rice cake filled with sweet red beans.

 

Best sushi — contemporary

Nami Sushi Bar
201 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
248-542-6458

Customer favorites at Nami include “Spiral X” (shrimp, crab, eel, avocado with a wasabi-sour cream sauce inside, topped with wasabi-infused flying fish roe); “Planet E” (tempura shrimp on the inside, pepper-seared tuna on top); “Volcano”: (California roll on the bottom, spicy cooked salmon on top); and “Scarface” (tempura shrimp and asparagus inside, eel and avocado on top). Chef-owner Simon Bennett says the roll form of sushi gives the most opportunity to get creative; he has a Rolodex full of five years of rolls and spends an ungodly amount of time thinking up new ones. Surprisingly enough, Americanized sushi is becoming popular in Japan.

 

Best sushi — traditional

OJ’s Sushi Bar
29429 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
248-553-5080

Chef-owner OJ Suzuki makes sushi only one way: traditional. “Traditional sushi bars focus on the quality of the food,” he says. “Not gimmicks.” Take one of the 12 seats at the sushi bar and watch the maestro at work. It’s a graceful show. Ingredients are gathered together, rolled and sliced, the long blade of the sushi knife dancing back and forth. Perfect little gems emerge. The menu is a bit confusing, but OJ is happiest if you leave the ordering to him. Trust him, and you’ll have a wonderful dinner.

 

Best Middle-Eastern — Dearborn

La Shish
12918 Michigan, Dearborn
313-584-4477

There’s a lot of competition in this category, but La Shish stands above the crowd. We keep returning for its reliable favorites, freshly made juices (what would it be without the piercing whine of the juicer?), not to mention reasonable prices. Wonderful lentil soup zinged with lemon; you’ll never tire of the stuffed grape leaves, also zinged with lemon. Plenty of char-grilled meat entrées, and great fresh salads with lots of parsley and, again, lemon. Irresistible pita bread made in house. Numerous area locations.

 

Best Middle-Eastern — east side

Steve’s Backroom
24935 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores
586-774-4545

Steve’s used to really be a backroom. Now it’s in much fancier digs on St. Clair Shores’ “Nautical Mile.” What’s good about the new Steve’s is where it has stayed the same as the old one. There’s not been too much tinkering with the food. It sparkles with the sprightly flavors of lemon, parsley and olive oil. Vegetables are used in imaginative ways; meat is a minor player. For carnivores, there’s shish kabob. Great desserts like fig tarts or apricots baked in liqueur.

 

Best unusual Middle-Eastern dishes

New Yasmeen
13900 W. Warren, Dearborn
313-582-6035

All by herself, Chef Souad Bazzi makes 20 different traditional recipes from southern Lebanon every day. They tend to be healthy as well as mouthwatering: baklet bandoura (cracked wheat, chickpeas, onions and tomatoes); shoumar (cracked wheat and dill); hendbe (dandelion greens with olive oil and onions); fateh (warm chick peas, yogurt, mint and pine nuts); artichoke salad with lemon and oregano. They’re not necessarily on the printed menu, so ask and/or point. After Bazzi’s creations, hummus and tabbouleh seem old hat.

 

Best Italian — east side

Maxine’s Italian Cuisine
20217 Mack, Grosse Pointe
313-882-1044

Take a seat at the counter that overlooks the open kitchen — it’s like watching the Food Channel. Chef Bujar Mamushlari, looking elegant in a white toque, oversees the open kitchen, where all is calm. Unlike many open kitchens, Maxine’s does not have another kitchen behind the scenes were cans are opened and chaos rules. Regulars will wait for a space at the counter, but the food is wonderful no matter where you sit.

 

Best Italian — Downriver

Moro’s
6535 Allen Road, Allen Park
313-382-7152

This is the kind of place where you take mom and dad to dinner to announce your engagement, where kids go before the prom, where we actually overheard a dad say to a well-behaved little boy, “Do not speak unless you’re spoken to.” It’s a time warp — one you’ll hope will always be there. The food is traditional, but top-notch. Veal is the specialty of the house, and Moro’s has its own meat locker in the basement. Servers dressed in tuxes make salad dressing tableside. The price of your entrée includes everything, from soup to nuts (literally).

 

Best Italian — Windsor

Ristorante Nico
851 Erie St. E., Windsor
519-255-7548

Discard all notions of meatball Italian. Nico’s seafood dishes alone would raise it above the stiff competition on Erie Street. The place is small, and every dish tastes as if the chef were wooing your daughter. Risotto al pescatore contains the freshest, most luscious mussels, scallops and calamari, whose essences infuse the winy red arborio rice with layer upon layer of flavor. Fettucine salmone includes not only salmon but salmon caviar. Provimi veal carries a four-mushroom cream sauce and truffle oil. Even the vegetables are a delight — say, radicchio browned in butter. Pasta prices are $14-$18, meat and seafood, $22-32. But that’s Canadian.

 

Best Italian — Windsor, two-story division

Cook’s Shop / Pasta Shop
683 Ouellette Ave., Windsor
519-254-3377

These twin eateries, upstairs and downstairs from each other, make their own egg and semolina pasta, and that explains why it tastes so good, even with a simple butter and garlic sauce. Angus beef is used exclusively, even in the lasagna. Excellent trout, excellent rack of lamb. Eat downstairs at the Cook’s Shop if you enjoy pyrotechnics — anything that can be flambéed, is. It’s fun to watch your server make cherries flambé for dessert, and you can’t pretend you don’t know what’s in it — tons of butter, a little sugar, tons of cognac, fresh lemon juice and tart cherries.

 

Best French — United States

The French Gourmet
23421 Woodward, Ferndale
248-541-1200

This quirky little place is one of the few where French food is available in the metro area. The food stars here, everything from scratch, plenty of butter and cream. The Paris market onion soup tasted just like the soup eaten long ago in the Paris market Les Halles. Sweetbreads, frog legs and escargot are on the menu. The bouillabaisse is elegant: shellfish in a salmon bisque. Duckling Monte Cristo is served in a sauce of pear liqueur. Order a Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert when you place your dinner order. Call first — hours are irregular.

 

Best French — Windsor

Elaine Bistro Français
5880 Wyandotte E., Windsor
519-948-0693

No freedom fries here. This is the real deal, serving dishes that have been traditional for centuries, from foie gras to crêpes suzettes. Since Elaine scaled back to dinner-only, chef Laurent Devin has more time to lavish on the nightly specials. Those would include dishes like quail stuffed with foie gras and venison with white boar bacon. A three-course dinner with coffee is $27.95 Canadian. On the monthly “special nights,” which fill up fast, Devin may show off a cassoulet or a Provençal dinner or a North African one. In November, diners will welcome the Beaujolais Nouveau with pâté, coq au vin, and poached pears.

 

Best Ethiopian — United States

Blue Nile
545 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
248-547-6699

221 E. Washington, Ann Arbor
734-998-4746

“No forks since 1983.” Or “Eat the tablecloth.” It’s fun to think up slogans for the Blue Nile, still serving authentic dishes from the country known as the roof of Africa. Owner Seifu Lessanework introduced the no-cutlery concept to the Detroit area in a Woodward storefront. His menu never varies: little mounds of split peas and lentils, greens and cabbage, plus chicken, lamb and beef for the meat option, all arranged on giant rounds of spongy injera. All you can eat $17.90 ($14.90 vegetarian). Drink sweet Ethiopian honey wine, or order from the bar. Next year, look for a new downtown location at Gratiot and Brush.

 

Best Ethiopian — Windsor

Marathon
60 University W., Windsor
519-253-2215

Those who like the grazing or tapas concept will sample a modest amount of 10 different meat and veggie dishes in a single combo meal. Perhaps the grazing notion is reinforced by the fact that no cutlery intervenes twixt you and platter. It’s a steal at $9.41 (United States) for a meat-plus-lentils/split peas/cabbage/spinach combination, an assortment of hot (thanks to red pepper sauce) and not. For veggies-only the meal is just $7.47 (United States). Ginger tea and Ethiopian espresso-type coffee enhance the intercultural encounter. It’s just at the other end of the tunnel, which adds only $5 per round trip to your bill.

 

Best Indian

Gandhi
11917 Conant, Hamtramck
313-366-7795

There are so many delicate and nuanced flavors at work in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent that it’s a wonder they all can be housed in one restaurant. Gandhi, located in always-immigrant-friendly Hamtramck, draws its influence from the traditional and new dishes of Bangladesh and northern India. The menu
isn’t expansive; it is focused and frequently changing. The buffet, an Indian restaurant staple, is the most eclectic and satisfying around. A number of Indian restaurants have sought to further endear themselves to our grease-centric tastes by accentuating the deep-fried aspects of their menus. Not so with Gandhi, which cooks most meals in traditional clay ovens. Whatever secrets used in slow-cooking the curried lamb and chicken entrées should be guarded and kept in the family. And for all its steadfast commitment to quality and hearty dishes, Gandhi remains a well-priced establishment.

 

Best Indian — vegetarian

Udipi
29210 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
248-626-6135

The food reflects the cuisine of Madras in southern India, the native state of owner-chef Thilagam Pandian. The food is so interesting and complex that vegetarians will run wild, and carnivores will not feel deprived. Dosa, a crepe made of rice flour that has been painted with a wide brush onto a well-seasoned griddle, overflows with tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Vegetable curry is cooked in coconut milk and yogurt. If you are an ambitious cook, Pandian sells a cookbook that includes everything you eat at the restaurant, and more.

 

Best Indian — north burbs

Rangoli Indian Cuisine
3055 E. Walton Blvd., Auburn Hills
248-377-3800

Lots of opportunities to sample: An appetizer assortment comes in vegetarian and carnivorous varieties and includes samosas (flaky pastry around a filling), pakora (batter-dipped vegetables), and dosa (a crisp lentil pancake used to scoop up a tasty filling). A thali plate (available with and without meat) includes 10 small dishes with items such as two tiny eggplants, no bigger than your thumb, in a rich yogurt-based sauce. The tikka masala is a traditional chicken dish with a luscious sauce. Chettinadu turns up the heat with fiery peppers cooked with chicken in a coconut curry.

 

Best old-school Indian

Peacock Tandoori Restaurant
4045 Maple, Dearborn
313-582-2344

Since 1982 — before Indian hit the mainstream — diners have been seeking out the Peacock on an obscure Dearborn street. If prices are higher than some, that’s because vegetable, rice and tandoori bread are included with the entrées, and because the chef does so much more with spices than simply adding fire. Each dish is complex and rich, starting with the fierce green sauce (chiles, cilantro) that comes with the pakoras and samosas. A lentil dish, dal makhni, could change your mind about that humble bean. Lamb lovers will like boti kebab masala, with its ginger and garlic curry sauce. And you might try Indian beers or a mango daiquiri from the full bar.

 

Best mango lassi

House of India
28841 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
248-553-7391

Perhaps this shimmering jewel of a drink, coral-colored and brilliant as an Indian wedding, is superior at House of India because the restaurant makes its own yogurt. The yogurt is mixed with mango concentrate imported from India, and the result is as sensuous, rich and deep as a beverage can be. Even a homemade version with fresh mango pulp is not as good. And the price is only $1.99, commensurate with the easy-on-the-pocket policy of the rest of the first-rate menu.

 

Best Nepalese

Everest Express
23331 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington
248-474-8024

Meet Nepal, the kingdom of the mountains, through authentic Nepali cuisine. Chef-owner Pradip Poudel, who calls himself Rocky, was raised in Kathmandu. It’s a cuisine with Indian and Asian influences, yet distinct. Cilantro, coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic and lemon juice prevail. Chef Rocky doesn’t start cutting until he gets your order, so everything is as fresh as can be. We admit, there’s no competition in this category, but isn’t it great to be one of the few cities in America with a Nepalese restaurant?

 

Best upscale Mexican

Agave
4265 Woodward, Detroit
313-833-1120

Is it the 51 brands of tequila or the high-toned fare that makes Agave a winner? Chef Marco Chavez proves that Mexican food is about a lot more than tacos. One of his best-selling dishes is duck breast with annato seed-orange sauce. Others are seafood rice with saffron and filet mignon with chipotle-tomatillo sauce. Customers may come for the margaritas with fresh lime juice or a shot of Rey Sol; more and more are shunning the enchiladas in favor of spicy versions of salmon, mahimahi and pollo borracho (drunken chicken). With prices under $20, they’d be crazy not to.

 

Best taco

Taqueria Lupita’s
3443 W. Bagley, Detroit
313-843-1105

Heaps of cilantro and a good sprinkle of sharp onions go a long way toward making a good taco, but it’s the meat that makes the difference. At Lupita’s, a buck will get you a rich, overstuffed taco al pastor, roasted pork made vivid red with seasonings. Nine other varieties include chorizo with eggs, three other varieties of pork, tripe and chicken. It’s all thoughtfully wrapped in two paper-thin tortillas. Best buy: the $2.95 lunchtime special of two tacos plus Lupita’s world-class rice and beans, cooked with onion, hot peppers, and bacon.

 

Best Tex-Mex jukebox

Taqueria Lupita’s
3443 W. Bagley, Detroit
313-843-1105

The Tex-Mex, norteña or conjunto style was born when musicians on the border learned the button accordion from German immigrants. The result had something to do with Mexican and Spanish dance music and something to do with a polka. The sound is essential for the neighborhood folks who frequent Taqueria Lupita’s: groups like Los Traileros (truck drivers), accordion queen Eva Ybarra, and lots of greatest-hits compilations like “Como Te Extraño” (“How I Miss You”) from the ’70s and ’80s. Gringos can push the button for Linda Ronstadt doing Canciones de Mi Padre.

 

Best Mexican seafood

El Rincon Taraxco
1414 Junction, Detroit
313-843-6595

It’s the first of several Mexican seafood restaurants in the neighborhood, yet still largely undiscovered by those not native to Jalisco. Those guys pack the place, ordering ceviche, mojarra and huachinango (tilapia and red snapper), filete al mojo de ajo and deviled shrimp. The “Back to Life” cocktail wakes you up with a blend of marinated shrimp, octopus, scallops and oysters. Highly recommended: Seven Seas Soup. If you can’t do without cheese, order it as a crisp mozzarella crust on the (cod) filete empanizado. A mariachi group plays on Wednesdays, and a singer belts Mexican tunes Friday-Sunday. All this plus a mural of Selena as a come-hither mermaid.

 

Best chiles rellenos

Señor López Taqueria
7146 Michigan, Detroit
313-551-0685

Many sins have been committed in the name of chiles rellenos, so when you find the right stuff, tell the world. The chiles (poblano peppers) should be only lightly dipped in batter, like the finest tempura, not buried in fat-soaked breading. They should be rellenos (stuffed) with a creamy cheese. This is what Sr. López does, with Muenster, after grilling and peeling the chiles, with musky, smoky results. With its side of whole beans, there’s no better $6.50 lunch in the city. The menu as a whole is steadfastly Mexican traditional, with barely a nod to Tex-Mex deviations.

 

Best Puerto Rican

Doña Lola
1312 Springwells, Detroit
313-843-4129

We ocean-challenged types think of island food as light and summery, but Doña Lola’s Puerto Rican comfort food sticks tenaciously to the ribs. Prices are rock-bottom for all manner of plantains — fried, sliced, mashed, formed into balls, stuffed with meat. Ask for mofongo (fried green plantains mashed with garlic and butter) or alcapurria (mashed calabaza). Gandules, or green pigeon peas, are served whole with rice. Puerto Rican food is actually a sideline: Doña Lola, who is from Ecuador, specializes in Latino seafood.

 

Best pizza, city

Third Street Saloon
701 W. Forest, Detroit
313-831-3434

Third Street is the time-tested neighborhood bar that offers great food too. The brains behind such sleeper hits as the Third Street Everything Burger and the undeniably habit-forming pizza is a very wise woman named Iris. In auto plant terms, Iris is in skilled trades with tons of seniority. And on Tuesday nights when her crispy, thick-crusted creations are sold in-house for half-price and the place is packed accordingly, true believers will wait however long it takes for a fresh pie from Iris’ workshop. These are heavy pizzas. They are doughy and substantial and at the same so crusty and crispy as to be nearly burnt. That is the crust dialectic. It goes without saying that these pies are righteous anytime, but you can’t beat half-price on Tuesday nights. Tuesday nights also feature rad DJs spinning post-punk and soul (first and third Tuesdays) and techno/electro (second and fourth Tuesdays).

 

Best pizza, suburbs

Goombah’s Pizzeria
316 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak
248-398-9500

Owner and chef Gary Ellis believes in food done right. He begins his day chopping mushrooms and mixes pizza dough from scratch three times a day. Some of the more unusual pizzas are sun devil (chicken breast, roasted garlic portobello mushrooms, onions, scallions and spinach) and santorini (artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, feta, balsamic vinaigrette). If you’re more traditional, try meat mania. Great salads, sandwiches and a different soup every day of the week, and fabulous chocolate chip cookies. Look for a second outlet opening soon in Birmingham.

 

Best soul food

Franklin Street Restaurant
1440 Franklin, Detroit
313-393-0018

Located in the warehouse district, this handsome restaurant used to be a machine shop. It is an exquisite setting with lots of wide open space. Note the brass doors that used to belong to a bank. The food is plain and delicious. Try the meat loaf, short ribs or fried catfish. But the secret to soul food is in the sides, and these are very good — candied yams, greens, macaroni and cheese, green beans. Peach cobbler for dessert. Always a line on Sundays.

 

Best vegetarian

Inn Season
500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak
248-547-7916

This vegetarian restaurant maintains its commitment to healthful eating with dishes inspired by Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian and other cuisines. Great salads, lively with sunflower seeds, walnuts, sprouts, baked red onion. Delicious pizzas on a Tuscan crust flavored with fennel and garlic. A dairy-free or wheat-free meal is easy here. The atmosphere is serene, lace curtains screen the view, mismatched but lovely antique tables, and a china cabinet displays pictures of favorite cats and dogs.

 

Best sandwiches — south of Eight Mile

Salvador Deli
2753 Yemans, Hamtramck
313-873-2700

Praise be to the funky little sandwich shop! Salavdor Deli might just be the most perfect out-of-the-way lunch destination south of Eight Mile. The decor features 1950s-style booths, stylish paintings, and a real sense of unselfconscious artiness. It plainly recalls the mom and pop delis of yore. The selection of sandwiches ranges from many kinds of vegetarian treats to all the deli classics featuring corned beef and pastrami. The diner-style breakfasts are downright huge and everything on the menu is downright cheap. When you’re tried of lunch at the same places, take I-75 to Caniff and check out the little deli that could dream.

 

Best sandwiches — north of Eight Mile

The Fern
205 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
248-542-6180

Named for the streets of Ferndale, the sandwiches at this little restaurant are deli-thick with multiple layers of cold cuts and condiments. Some can be a challenge unless you have a big mouth. For example, the Marshall features salami, ham, turkey, lettuce, tomato, pepper rings, provolone and Italian dressing on a Kaiser roll. Soups are a good bet, and sides are made fresh daily. The owners spent a year remodeling, leaving a stripped-down, techno-chic interior.

 

Best sandwiches — chain

Cosí
Six locations
248-538-9700

Bread makes the difference, and Cosí’s (“cozy”) crisp flat bread is a terrific backdrop for yuppie-type fillings like pesto and chicken, turkey and Brie, or eggplant and roasted red peppers. Here the BLT’s been replaced by the TBM: tomato, basil and mozzarella, with vinaigrette. Older-fashioned combos like a club or a tuna melt are available too, but the emphasis is on recipes that go well with the likes of hazelnut cappuccino. Some locations serve a house-baked square bagel for breakfast.

 

Best burger

Diamond Jim Brady’s Bistro
26053 Town Center, Novi
248-380-8460

Tom and Mary Brady are no relation to railroad tycoon Diamond Jim Brady, but Mary is a fine chef (check out the display of medals on the back wall) while Tom manages the front of the house. The menu starts with well-prepared bar food, and then goes off in many different and very interesting directions (try the sweet potato burritos, peppercorn-encrusted salmon or shepherd’s pie). But Chef Brady is proud to offer the best burgers around. Thick, juicy and cooked exactly as you order. Diamond Jim’s has been in the Brady family for almost 50 years, originally on the corner of Seven Mile and Greenfield.

 

Best buffalo burger

Union Street
4145 Woodward, Detroit
313-831-3965

Where’s the beef? At Union Street, the bison is running neck and neck with the steer. Unlike some buffalo burgers, which can be dry and bland, the Union Street patty is succulent, even though it has less fat than a turkey burger, and way less, of course, than a beef burger. That just means you’re tasting meat, not fat. “It’s beefier,” is Chef Eddie Hamilton’s paradoxical claim, and he’s been char-grilling ground buffalo meat for 11 years, using a special high-temperature charcoal. Union Street offers a full selection of cheeses to go with, so this buffalo burger’s available in dozens of permutations. Strap on the feed bag and get a taste of the really Old West.

 

Best coney

Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette, Detroit
313-964-8198

It’s hard to even know what makes a great coney island joint these days; there are just too damn many of them. You can probably name two dozen just on Woodward off the top of your head. Lafayette Coney Island is legendary because it is the matriarch of coneydom. It gave our community a modest yet visionary glimpse of the role chili dogs must play in our lives. And there she sits, restfully between Lafayette and Michigan Avenue downtown, a monument to all that will never change about this city. The dogs still snap at your first bite, the chili and freshly made fries still melt the cheese, and no chain diner will ever touch it.

 

Best fish

McCormick and Schmick’s
2850 Coolidge, Troy
248-637-6400

Fresh fish is flown in twice daily from around the world. The catch varies, so the menu is printed twice daily. The setting is clubby — hunter green, mahogany, brass, those curvy old-fashioned Coke bottles, full bar. Fish preparations vary from starkly simple (raw oysters) to outright fussy (cashew-crusted mahimahi with Jamaican rum butter and a salsa of mangos and sweet red peppers). Every detail has been considered. One server confided that the water glasses are small to servers have more opportunity to approach your table.

 

Best place to eat fish and watch fish

Lily’s Seafood
410 S. Washington, Royal Oak
248-591-5459

We go to Lily’s again and again. Is it the exquisite salt-water fish tanks? The beer brewed on the premises? The house-made root beer? The key lime pie that mom really does make at home and bring in daily? Who knows? Lily’s hits all the right notes. A stylish rehabbed interior with brick walls and exposed ductwork is toned down with framed family photos. Creole soup is crammed with seafood and andouille sausage. Old country seafood boil includes a wonderful house-made fish sausage. Full bar.

 

Best place to eat fish and buy fish

Third Wave Seafood and Chop House
19 S. Washington, Oxford
248-969-3600

It’s a restaurant, a bar, and a fish market. Come for sushi or a wide variety of shellfish, fresh and saltwater fish. Owner Morris Wortelvoer buys his fish “as close to the boat as possible,” so it’s as fresh as possible. The Asian-style sesame-ahi tuna is seared on the outside, red but warm on the inside. Malibu shrimp fettuccine features a lively tomato wine sauce tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, artichokes and shrimp. There are specials every weeknight, including a wine tasting every Thursday.

 

Best takeout, part I

Aunt Olive’s Good Food 2 Go
525 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham
248-593-0366

Artichoke-stuffed chicken breast, baked spinach and three-cheese macaroni at your own kitchen table. A weeknight dinner is exactly what owner-chef Kelli Lewton envisioned when she planned the menus at the tiny, tony takeout just north of Birmingham’s downtown. “It’s what you’d eat on a Tuesday night,” Lewton says. Yeah, right, if you got off work at 3 and came home to a well-stocked kitchen and felt a surge of energy. You can order what each person in your family likes, or get a prearranged family meal of roasted chicken, meatballs or meat loaf along with salad, sides and bread for about $20.

 

Best takeout, part II

Cucina Leone
755. E. Maple, Birmingham
248-901-1600

The subtitle of this new takeout is “carried away cuisine.” Who or what is carried away? The concept. Here you order a restaurant-style dinner, cooked to order, while you wait comfortably on a leather sofa browsing through the latest foodie magazines. Add a terrific salad to your entrée for $2.75. The crabcakes are the best ever, and the pies approach perfection. Grilled foods are prepared over oak fires, and pizzas are cooked in an oak-fired oven. Pick up a bottle of wine for sale on the premises and you’re set for a most elegant dinner.

 

Best takeout, part III

Dish
18441 Mack Ave., Detroit
313-886-2444

East-siders are loyal to quality, and they keep coming back, and back, to Dish for entrées like potato- and sweet potato-crusted salmon, soups like five-onion, gazpacho and vichyssoise, and salads like steak and Gorgonzola or the Martini, with pearl onions, olives, more Gorgonzola and capers in a vodka vinaigrette. The pink-and-green crowd can find plenty to like (a Maurice salad with iceberg), and so can the more adventurous. The three young east-siders who run the place know what their neighbors want, and that includes housemade cheesecake, bread pudding, triple nut chocolate flan and pistachio white chocolate blondies. You stop by their place, or they’ll bring it to yours, i.e. they cater.

 

Best kosher

Milk & Honey
6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield
248-661-2327

If it weren’t closed on Friday evenings and Saturdays, you might not notice that Milk & Honey is a kosher restaurant. (Well, it is inside the Jewish Community Center.) Supervised by the Council of Orthodox Rabbis, the menu features fish and vegetarian entrées. Pistachio-encrusted sea bass is served with a dip of passion fruit swirled with black currant “paint.” The selection of vegetarian entrées will rejuvenate the diet of the most bored vegetarians; try the wild mushroom linguine.

 

Best downtown restaurant design

Sweet Georgia Brown
1045 Brush St., Detroit
313-965-1245

Sweet Georgia Brown has it all: exciting food, sophisticated wine, attentive service, live music and a stunning setting. If all that were not enough, a river runs through it! The room is organized around a raised platform that is bisected by a meandering stream that flows silently over beautiful stones. On one side of the stream is a gleaming grand piano and on the other is the bar. Designed by Roxane Whitter Thomas of Whitter Interiors, the space is unbroken and feels both exhilarating and intimate. Great place if you need to impress somebody, featuring upscale Southern cooking.

 

Best restaurant to bite the dust

The Golden Mushroom
Plenty of Detroit-area chefs are proud to say that they learned in the kitchen of the Golden Mushroom under the tutelage of Chef Milos Cihelka. Chef Milos was the first certified master chef in the United States and started the apprenticeship program at the Golden Mushroom. Reid Ashton opened the restaurant on the corner of Southfield and 10 Mile in 1972, and Chef Milos joined him as a partner four years later. For 30 years, the restaurant, its owner, chefs and staff received more culinary awards and acclaim than any other Michigan restaurant. Sigh.

 

Best restaurant to be edged out by casino-mania

Fiona’s Tea House
945 Beech St., Detroit

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. The little teahouse, set in an 1879 brick cottage, surrounded by freeway ramps and high-rise office buildings, is no more. Fiona Palmer, the soothing spirit of the teahouse, says she hit a wall after her landlords sold the cottage to a casino. Palmer is a restaurateur no more. Detroit has lost one of its loveliest getaways — and gained a parking lot. Oh, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

 

Best can’t wait till it opens — suburbs

Blowfish
South Main Street, Royal Oak

The sign promised a spring opening and now we are careening into fall. But if you like to watch fish while eating fish, this new Royal Oak spot will boast the biggest aquarium in the area that’s not on Belle Isle. Blowfish — fugu to the Japanese, who see it as a delicacy (it’s prepared by specially licensed chefs; if it’s not done right, it can be lethal). Whether the proprietors will serve blowfish, or display blowfish, or neither, remains to be seen.

 

Best can’t wait till it opens — city

Oslo
1456 Woodward, Detroit
313-963-0300

Will downtown Detroiters adopt a sushi bar as their neighborhood restaurant? That’s the dream of Brook Campbell, who dropped out of architecture school to design the space at John R and Woodward. It’ll be an “American sushi bar” — not tied to Japanese traditions—with a short, fresh menu and a full bar. The lounge downstairs will play electronic music, but Campbell and partner Sameer Reddy are aiming for the “music appreciation crowd” more than for dancers. The 50-seat restaurant is scheduled to stay open till 2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday. As soon as the permits come through ...

 

Best deli

Steve’s
6646 Telegraph, Bloomfield Hills
248-932-0800

Talk deli, and Steve’s name will come up. Decorated with hanging salamis, and laid out like a railroad car, there’s a pleasant cacophony of china clattering, servers hustling down the central aisle, friends hugging, orders being called out. All the reasons you come to a deli are fulfilled here — the thick pastrami on rye sandwiches, the kosher pickles, the salamis — and then more, such as cheesecake imported from New York, gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup made from scratch, brisket, stuffed cabbage, and then more.

 

Best barbecue

Bert’s Jazz Club
2727 Russell, Detroit
313-567-2030

One of the nice things about Bert’s meat is that it is cooked outdoors on summer Saturdays. The smell lures many Eastern Market shoppers who line up for a snack or a take-home order. Bert Dearing says the secret is in the turning, constant turning, allowing the meat to cook long and slow. Beyond that, he won’t say, though his sauce is for sale.

 

Best steakhouse

Shiraz
30100 Telegraph, Bingham Farms
248-645-5289

It’s prime grade only at Matt Prentice’s newest, with prices to match. The well-aged cuts do what beef is supposed to do — satisfy the primal carnivore. A 20-ounce Porterhouse goes best with a hearty sauce of port wine veal essence. Filet mignon (a dainty 7-10 ounces) does well with béarnaise. New York strip, cowboy rib steak and “filet of the round” are the other choices, plus lots of lobster, short ribs, veal chops and not tuna, but tuna steak. You can almost taste the testosterone.

 

Best big splurge

The Whitney
4421 Woodward, Detroit
313-832-5700

The setting stars here, but the food is great too. Originally the home of baron David Whitney, construction was completed in 1894. After the Whitney family moved out in the 1920s, the house became home to the Wayne County Medical Society and then the Visiting Nurses Association. It was lovingly restored and reopened as The Whitney in 1986, when fine dining within the city limits was quite unusual. Great for before the theater, or any time you need to impress someone very special. Expect a sumptuous meal at a leisurely pace.

 

Best spot for opening night

Cuisine
670 Lothrop, Detroit
313-872-5110

Chef Paul Grosz’s French-American menu is ambitious and creative, sophisticated and memorable. Grosz opened his stylish restaurant across the street from the Fisher Theatre, making it an ideal spot for dinner before theater, but do not overlook Cuisine for other important occasions. There are only 10 entrées on the menu, each paired with its own perfect accompaniment. Roasted swordfish in a lemon-lime butter sauce is accompanied by a fabulous lobster risotto.

 

Best place if money is no object

Tribute
31425 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills
248-848-9393

Take your honey to Tribute and rest assured that you are paying as much as possible in metro Detroit. The food, the wine, the table settings, the dining room are all spectacular. Takashi Yagihashi is arguably the area’s most extraordinary chef; he trained at Cordon Bleu, but is equally influenced by his Asian heritage. Takashi thinks dining should be fun, not stuffy. Some of his dishes are as calm and beautiful as a Zen garden, while others hint at a charming sense of humor. The tasting menu is an extraordinary experience.

 

Best walk-down

Jumps
63 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe
313-882-9555

Inexpensive, unpretentious, great food. Located in the basement of a small office building, Jumps looks like a cutesy coffee shop. Chef-owner Chad Stewart calls the incongruity between the food and setting the “wow factor.” A popular spot for breakfast (including Sunday brunch) and lunch, Stewart’s talents really shine at dinner time. Check out the specials on the chalkboard. An example: pecan-crusted scallops topped with a dried cherry compote, served with acorn squash puree and a little tower of couscous studded with green peas and scallions.

 

Best walk-up

Motor City Pit Stop
2 John R, Detroit
313-962-2775

“The hardest part is getting people used to the idea there’s no door,” says Walter Green, one of three owners of Detroit’s only walk-up deli/coney. Part of downtown’s comeback, the idea was borrowed from New York City — 50 square feet of cooking space with just a window on the street, where customers place their orders and then walk away. Deli sandwiches, all-beef coneys and chili, breakfast-on-a-stick (turkey sausage wrapped in a pancake), soft pretzels with a pizza filling — it’s all designed for imminent portability. The Pit Stop opens early for downtown workers and stays up late for the club crowd across the street. Dancing is hungry work.

 

Best chain — west burbs

Bamboo Club
44375 W. 12 Mile Road, Novi
248-347-1006

Metro Detroit is the first cold-weather outpost for this upscale chain featuring food from the Pacific Rim reconfigured for the American palate. One of the showiest entrées is a whole red snapper, battered and fried, the flesh separately from the skeleton. The presentation features the eerie skeleton, dressed with fried batter, swimming upright on your plate, as if it might make its ghostly way to another plate at any moment. Try the Beijing duck, boned and roasted till the fat melts away and the skin becomes crackling crisp.

 

Best chain — north burbs

P.F. Chang’s
2801 W. Big Beaver Road, Somerset Mall South, Troy
248-816-8000

The menu offers a variation of Chinese meant to appeal to the American palate, and it does. It’s always crowded and there’s always a wait. Frank Sinatra may be on the sound system, but there’s an incredible mural, a reproduction of a Chinese screen depicting daily life in the 12th century. Lettuce-wrapped egg rolls appeal to the diet-conscious. Entrées are explained in terms Americans can grasp: pot-stickers are called Chinese ravioli. There is a full bar with lots of specialty drinks that span many cultures. Desserts are European-style cakes and tortes.

 

Best cheap eats — north burbs

Giorgio’s Restaurant
25920 Greenfield, Oak Park
248-968-4060

Giorgio’s is a scrappy, boxy little place, and plenty of people already know about Giorgio’s “counterside gourmet” menu. If you’re not there for grilled cheese, you must be there for the steak Diane or veal Marsala. Shrimp scampi is cooked in lemon, butter, garlic and vermouth. Take home or eat in. If you do eat in, order bananas Foster for dessert. They do it the right way here, flambéed before your eyes.

 

Best cheap eats — Downriver

Hungarian Kitchen
2923 Fort St., Wyandotte
734-281-9586

It’s easy to see why some customers eat at the Hungarian Kitchen every day: wholesome food at bargain prices. Dumplings are made daily. No machine could extrude these little fellows. Like snowflakes, no two are alike. They are served with a rich sour cream sauce tinted pink with paprika. On Sundays, loyal customers call ahead to reserve roasted chicken or duck — both are usually sold out by noon! Other Eastern European specialties include beef goulash, chicken paprikas and stuffed cabbage. For dessert, strudel made fresh every morning, or a three-layer torta ($2.50) with real whipped cream between the layers.

 

Best cheap eats — Detroit

Small World Café
111 E. Kirby, Detroit
313-874-2233

The international menu changes enough each day to keep the regulars from getting jaded, but stays the same enough to reassure. They keep coming back for the Indian combo (your choice of two curries, $6.50), the Mideast Feast ($4.75), the veggie quesadilla ($4.75), the rigatoni with eggplant marinara ($6.50), and the Greek salad ($3), and doubtless somebody orders the tuna sandwich. That’s six cuisines, right there, and owner Rita Ahluwalia does them all as if learned at her mother’s knee. So this is “Cheap Eats — Good Food/Real Meal Division,” not “Cheap Eats — Keeps Your Stomach from Growling.” Weekday lunch only, more’s the pity.

 

Best place to take kids — north burbs

Rainforest Café
4310 Baldwin Road, Auburn Hills
248-333-0280

If 1.2 million plastic leaves and an animated crocodile can turn an American mall into a rainforest in your head, enjoy! Elephants roar, butterflies flap their wings, and every 20 minutes or so, thunder and lightning interrupt the flow of conversation. But it never rains. The company is proud of educating diners about the rainforest, but it’s a Disney-style education. Children will have to be forgiven if they think that butterflies are the size of chimpanzees and mushrooms can grow as big as trees. As for the food, if you like things fried you’ll be in your element.

 

Best place to take kids — west burbs

Guernsey Farms Dairy Family Restaurant
21300 Novi Road, Northville
248-349-1466

You cannot imagine a spot more evocative of times gone by, and the great thing is, they’re not even trying. It’s totally without pretense, serving good old American food like meat loaf and broasted chicken. The milk tastes way better than what we buy in the supermarket, and the ice cream is what makes it worth the trip. There’s a 100-year-old burled oak outside with rocks arranged in a circle, which is an ideal spot to lick and drip. Buy milk and ice cream to take home at the little convenience store.

 

Best cooking school restaurant

American Harvest at Schoolcraft College
18600 Haggerty, Livonia
734-462-4417

The culinary arts program at Schoolcraft College is now better than ever, with its new $27 million state-of-the-art kitchen-classrooms. One oven, which is programmable and can be operated via modem, cost $38,000. The public is welcome as diners, and at bargain basement prices, while the food is — well, state-of-the-art. Call for times and reservations. Open for lunch and some dinners during the school term.

 

Best comfort food

Loving Spoonful
27925 Golf Pointe Blvd., Farmington Hills
248-489-9400

Chef Shawn Loving describes his menu as “upscale comfort food … Then I twist things to make them more elegant.” Terrific ribs, slowly smoked and basted with a honey-pineapple sauce. Sea bass is smoked and served hot with a tomato coulis. Great corn chowder with rock shrimp, dripped with basil-infused olive oil. OK, maybe it’s not the way mom cooks, but wouldn’t it be comforting if she did?

 

Best buzz

City Cellar Wine Bar and Grill
201 Hamilton Row, Birmingham
248-642-2489

Scenesters line up on the sidewalk waiting to get in. They’re beautiful people with money to burn, dressed to be seen. Inside they cluster at the wine bar, which is elevated and centered in the long dining room, happily imbibing and snacking on gourmet pizzas. Banquettes are arranged so all the seats face into the room — the better to see you with, my dear. A downstairs nightclub — the Blue Martini — completes the scene. Plenty of hard surfaces bounce noise around the room, creating an energetic undercurrent. Oh, did someone ask about the food? It’s great.

 

Best fast food

Baja Fresh
1357 Coolidge Highway, Troy
248-822-9000

Food can be fast, inexpensive and reasonably healthy. And fresh. (Are you listening, Ronald?) The slogan on the wall is your tip-off: “No microwave! No can openers! No freezers! No lard! No MSG!” Grilled steak or chicken is featured in most of these Tex-Mex entrées. Decide if you want it rolled up in a burrito, open-faced in a taco, or a roll-it-yourself burrito. All the salsas are made fresh daily and the baja, made of roasted tomatillos, is wonderful. Guacamole is made from real avocados, and you couldn’t make it yourself any better, or cheaper.

 

Best strip-mall gourmet

Europa Bistro
2076 Auburn Road, Rochester Hills
248-852-0077

“In Europe,” says chef Pascal Paviani, “you don’t have to go into the big-name restaurant to have good food.” He has created just such a restaurant in a part of Rochester Hills where fancy subdivisions are just beginning to elbow out modest homes. Paviani was raised in France and trained as a chef in Paris. Here, French and Italian classics are prepared perfectly, some will be familiar to Americans, others — such as chicken moscovil, a breast layered with spinach and Gruyere and wrapped in puff pastry — are more unusual. Wine is reasonably priced.

 

Best chain — Italian

Buca di Beppo
12575 Hall Road, Utica
586-803-WINE

270 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham
248-540-WINE

38888 Six Mile Road, Livonia
734-4MA-NGIA

Is it the ersatz “Joe’s restaurant in the basement in the ’50s” experience that keeps pulling them in, or is it the family-style platters that produce bargain prices for groups? Or maybe it’s just that the rigatoni, the Caesar salad, the marinara, the mussels miraculously taste fresher and more authentic than anything corporate has a right to? Each order of pasta ($10-$25) starts with two pounds of the dry stuff. Gather a crowd, check out the retro-style photos and ads that cover the walls, sip chilled Chianti in a basket, and for once enjoy a restaurant in a box. Reserve ahead for the Pope’s table.

 

Best duck confit

Porcino
3891 Dougall Road, Windsor
519-972-5699

Cardiologists, stop reading. You don’t want to know how Gino Parco gets his duck legs from Capitol Poultry in Eastern Market, marinates them overnight in kosher salt and then cooks them for three hours in rendered duck fat. They’re stored in the fat; when an expectant diner puts in an order, Parco sears the leg and crisps the skin, and the resulting dish is rich to Bill Gates levels. A side result is even more rendered duck fat, which can then be used for future iterations and more happy customers. A virtuous circle.

 

Best place to meet a Canadian TV star

Alan Manor
3203 Peter St., Windsor
519-253-9212

Alan Manor’s handsome Dhirendra Miyanger hadn’t been pursuing his acting career — but he was so perfect for the role of cosmopolitan investigative journalist Hakeem Jinnah that CBC has now starred him in two movies in two years. A murder mystery in the cerebral/funny Columbo tradition, “Jinnah on Crime: Pizza 911” was chosen by audiences to air in the CBC’s 50th anniversary celebration. If you visit Alan Manor, you’ll find the sophisticated food sublime (and a bargain); being plied with Miyanger’s professional charms and wine knowledge is a bonus. Look for the second “Jinnah on Crime” in October on CBC.

 

Best TLC

M&M Café
13714 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
313-581-5775

Struggling through a rough day with a battering boss? Step into a lunchtime oasis of gentle concern. For 2 years, Maurice and Elaine Ltief’s marketing trick has been to show genuine concern for their customers — and to have a great memory. Three-quarters of the diners are known by name (and preferences). Much evening business comes about because the lunch folks bring their spouses back for dinner. Nice will only get you so far, though — the garlicky lemon chicken and the vegetarian stir-fry with hummus are reason enough to visit. Hours are limited to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, so that Elaine and Maurice can always be there.

 

Best bread

Avalon International Breads
422 W. Willis, Detroit
313-832-0008

Atkins be damned — plenty of folks appreciate good bread and know where to get it. Avalon’s challah, which comes out of the oven at 10 a.m. Friday, has a cult following. Newest hot item is a 6-ounce baguette, available at markets this month. These are add-ons to the traditional wide range of sourdoughs, like the Motown Multigrain (now there’s an oxymoron), with flax seeds and rye berries and everything healthy. Avalon’s café facet is booming too: When you pick up your weekly loaf of the staff of life, grab a cappuccino and a sandwich of pistachio pesto on focaccia, or a piece of raspberry pie.

 

Best tapas

Three, A Tasting Bar
63 Pitt St. E., Windsor
519-258-3303

Not strictly tapas, because you’re not just whiling away the time till dinner. Your party constructs a meal from slightly-larger-than-tapas-sized odds and ends — or go chef’s choice and be surprised. Either way, wash it down with a “taste” ($2 Canadian) of a different wine for each course. This is more fun than you’ve had in a while. The diverse menu ranges from Filipino spring rolls to beef in brandy cream sauce, with stops in between at tempura eggplant and tapenade duck quesadillas. Save room for raspberry crème brûlée from the in-house dessert chef.

 

Best use of wild mushrooms

Boocoo
1824 W. 14 Mile Road, Royal Oak
248-655-5000

There’s nothing sexier than the flavor of a real mushroom — not the white, flavor-free supermarket sort, but an earthy, dark, woodsy variety. Boocoo puts creamed mushrooms on crostini for starters; uses morels (in season) in its rich malfatti dish; pairs mushrooms with scallions and chèvre atop pizza; sautés them with scallops or sole. The rest of Shawn Mac’s lengthy French and Italian, to-be-rich-is-glorious menu is top-drawer too.

 

Best funky atmosphere

Telway
6820 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Unlisted phone

Detroit’s low on all-night diners since we lost the factories and therefore the evening shifts and the graveyard shifts. But Telway sells a thousand Lilliputian burgers overnight on the weekends, four for $1.50, plus uncounted “double-doubles” and “triple-triples,” coffee with sugar and cream. The seven stools are almost in the kitchen; cooks, waitresses and customers blend seamlessly. Ongoing arguments can be entered or ignored at will. Become a regular; linger over your $1.59 tab. The air is thick with grease and tolerance.

 

Best good cause

Honest ? John’s Bar and No Grill
488 Selden, Detroit
313-832-JOHN

Every time you down a beer (including local microbrews) or scarf a sandwich, consider that John Thompson is using a percentage of your tab to fund his charity programs. The Honest John Shakedown Society has raised close to a million bucks in 15 years, with events like the “13th Annual Grin and Bare It So the Churches Can Share It”—”130 of the ugliest asses you’ve ever seen,” according to Thompson. Toys at Christmas, turkeys in January — his next project is an after-school program for kids. “Who would have thought a bunch of drunks could do so much?” Thompson marvels. It’s all done with low prices and chutzpah in the Cass Corridor.

 

Best educated coffee

Café de Troit
1260 Library St., Detroit
313-962-8050

This is where coffee is more than oral caffeine. At downtown new venture Café de Troit, the staff would like to educate the consumer that coffee plantations on different continents plant different beans under different growing conditions, and that makes a difference you can taste — in body, in balance, in sweetness. Once you’ve taste-tested, you might request a Kenyan over an Ethiopian. Different coffees are featured every day, and none of them are disguised with hazelnut-mocha-raspberry syrup. No heavy-handed proselytizing, though — owner Lee Padgett is as homey as urban can be.

 

Best design

Annam Restaurant Vietnamien
22053 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
313-565-8744

When your restaurant’s space is small and it’s serenity you seek, think minimal. Graceful shapes rather than hot colors. Drawings made up of a few brush strokes. One flower per table; wicker chairs and shades. Use simple white dishes and don’t play with the food: no squiggles or towers. At Annam, there’s no sensory overload. Each diner can take time to breathe and settle, slowly, on what to take in. The spare decor is the best backdrop for the vivid tastes and colors of the food. It may seem like the restaurant’s design is just getting out of your way, but less is more; it’s subtly nurturing.

 

Best place to take your parents

Traffic Jam
511 W. Canfield, Detroit
313-831-9470

It’s in the city, it’s just unusual enough to give the old folks a charge (all those farm implements on the ceiling), and it sports a wide variety of dishes, for all palates from yours to Dad’s. Mac-and-cheese or salmon in deep fried wontons, turkey Reuben or goat cheese and strawberries on your salad, ’70s-style quiches, portobello soup — everybody’s happy. Then there’s the house-brewed beers and the over-the-top desserts, guaranteed to soften them up for that little request.

 

Best summer treat

La Azteca
7231 W. Vernor, Detroit
313-841-9617

Nothing beats a mango con leche or guayana (guava) de agua on a scorching summer day. If you live on Detroit’s southwest side, you may have had the pleasure of tasting La Azteca’s frozen fruit bars and ice cream treats. What adds to the experience is that young bicyclists peddle the paletas (Spanish treats like Popsicles) throughout the hood. A bicycle bell alerts customers that they can have a delicious pino colada de leche or cocktel de frutas con chili for $1.10. La Azteca puts Good Humor gringos to shame.

 

Best place to eat and drink in the sun

Dominick’s
812 Monroe, Ann Arbor
734-662-5414

This informal oasis is famous for its selection of beers on tap (local favorites from Bell’s to Leopold Brothers), their house recipe sangria and special invention “constant buzz” (a fruity frozen drink) served in Mason jars. Dominick’s has ample outdoor seating, including porches, balconies and courtyards. A perfect spring and summer hangout, it’s closed December-February.

 

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