Food & Drink
Best New Restaurant — Upscale
310 E. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-644-8800
The menu at Café Via is eclectic, and all details are well attended to, from the excellent sharp yellow olive oil that starts the meal to the look of each dish on the plate. The menu ranges from the hearty, such as lamb chops or tenderloin with green peppercorn cognac sauce, through lighter seafood and pasta dishes. Goat cheese ravioli, for example, remind the diner playfully of a fried egg while expertly combining the tart cheese with sweet squash and pine nuts. Shrimp and mussels are paired with house-made sausage and brought together with a simple sauce. Tiny rooms give an intimate feel, or there's a fine patio.
Best Discount Splurge
Atlas Global Bistro
3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-2241
This should come as no surprise to our readers: They once voted it the best affordable (but expensive) restaurant (meaning you can get out for less than $50 per diner). Why? Because Atlas has the vibe of a hip city eatery, thanks to its striking interiors, knowledgeable service and international cuisine. What's more, in Atlas' quirky kitchen, ingredients don't necessarily remain with their cuisine-of-origin, and the fusion fare can be at once exotic and down-home, mixing it up with lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, caviar and black-eyed peas. And Atlas simply oozes hip urban cachet, nestled in the Addison Building — a 1905 beaux arts structure that once flirted with the wrecking ball — where it sports high ceilings, polished floors and street views of Detroit's historic Brush Park.
Best Fine-Dining Value
22266 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-792-7500
Veteran chef Michael Chamas (LA Express, La Dolce Vita), who trained with Wolfgang Puck and Keith Famie, has put together a near-perfect bistro. Such a romantic setting and colorful and creative dishes usually come at a price. But not here where you can feast on risotto with diver scallops and shrimp or sautéed lake perch in a creamy caper sauce among entrées that hover around the $16 mark. The bistro became even more attractive after Chamas finally obtained a liquor license and filled his list with affordable interesting bottles.
Best Pre-Theater — Moderate
The Majestic Cafe
4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700
The Majestic recently changed its menu, shifting to mostly small plates, expanding to a global perspective, and lowering the cost of a pre-theater outing. The Zaineas, good citizens long committed to the development of the Woodward corridor, have retained only a few of their Middle Eastern dishes, such as tabbouleh. But you now can enjoy Greek pizza loaded with feta, Korean short ribs and a handful of mains that average around $13. With the big windows looking out on Woodward, changing art on the walls and a diversified urban clientele, the Majestic is an ideal perch to while away the time before a play, symphony or concert.
220 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-288-0220
Complementing the inventive fare and reasonable prices at this cozy trattoria are a splendid group of intelligent and graceful servers. Knowledgeable about the nature of such dishes as the pistachio-encrusted sea bass, Tuscan spare ribs, and complex and unique appetizers, they offer recommendations to suit each diner's tastes — if asked. Moreover, they are quite attentive to empty wine and water glasses, and are sensitive to individual patrons' approach to that tricky problem of plate clearing. It helps that the venue is so small that no one is ever a few feet away from the nearest server.
Best Return to Roots
424 N. Main St., Milford; 248-684-7455
Acclaimed chef Brian Polcyn needs no introduction around these parts. He's cooked at many of Detroit's most notable restaurants including the Golden Mushroom, the Lark and Pike Street to name a few. His Five Lakes Grill drew folks from all over to Milford, becoming a catalyst for many of the other dining venues in town. His latest venture, Cinco Lagos — Five Lakes — has taken him back to his Mexican heritage, thus honoring his Mexican mother. Most of the dishes will be familiar, but the fresh, quality ingredients are taken to a level well above much of our gringo-ized Mexican fare.
Best Recession Makeover
Big Beaver Tavern
645 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-0066
When the Larcos decided they could no longer sustain their venerable white-tablecloth ristorante, they briefly closed and then reopened last summer as the Big Beaver Tavern. Their extensive menu now offers what one would expect in a sports bar, but they retained Peter, their CIA-trained chef and son, in the kitchen, where he continues to turn out several old favorites such as baked penne palmina, calamari in a peppery sauce, and a chopped Italian salad, all of which transcend, by far, the genre. Among the new items is the huge burger whose $12.99 price tag comes with a T-shirt proclaiming that "I Ate the Big Beaver."
Best New Spinoff
4710-12 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-974-7669
After Chinatown in the Cass Corridor finally faded away more than a decade ago, there were few places there or anywhere in the city that featured decent Chinese food. Last year, however, Shangri-La opened a branch of its Farmington Hills restaurant in the old Twingo's near Wayne State with a less expensive and less extensive menu to meet the needs of its student clientele — including around 300 from China. Fortunately, it offers the dim sum that made the original famous, and it is served not just at lunch but during dinner hours, as well as Chinese tapas. An added attraction is legendary restaurateur Raymond Wong out front.
Best New Dining Destination
It was only a matter of time that the Pointes, once a legendary culinary wasteland, would become a destination suburb for foodies. As their demographic and class structures became increasingly diversified, so too did the restaurants. Thus, one now can eat well at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, Jumps, The Hill, Dylan's Raw Bar, City Kitchen and Café Nini, not to mention branches of solid local chains, Salvatore Scallopini, Da Eduoardo and Andiamo. If they only opened a multiplex theatre or two, the Pointes could become a more complete entertainment center.
Best Reason to Dine in Tecumseh
Evans St. Station
110 S. Evans St., Tecumseh; 517-424-5555
Sixty-three miles from downtown Detroit, small-town Tecumseh can hold its own, culinarily. Chef and co-owner Alan Merhar, a veteran of Tribute and Forté and a slow food devotee, works with local farmers to create a sophisticated and seasonally changing menu that includes such gems as butternut squash bisque with parsnips, duck breast with risotto and Brussels sprouts, and miso- and sesame-crusted pork tenderloin. Both the service and Evans Street’s big-windowed space are calm and relaxed, and there’s a patio. Bottles of wine are half off on Wednesdays — so it could be a destination even midweek.
Best Al Fresco in the Vicinity of Downtown Detroit
Le Petit Zinc Creperie & Café
1055 Trumbull St., Corktown; 313-963-2805
An oasis of calm just a block from the main P.O., Le Petit Zinc is already serving outside, among raised beds of herbs, hanging plants, and a few fanciful items that include a tin rooster and a child-sized picnic table. You can almost imagine the sun is Mediterranean as you slurp latte from a great big bowl and eat salade Niçoise or ratatouille. When it's reliably warm, hours will be 10 to 10. All that's lacking now is the beer and wine license owner Charles Sorel is seeking.
Best Ann Arbor Restaurant
Eve: The Restaurant
415 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-222-0711
When Eve Aronoff opened her namesake restaurant in Ann Arbor, it immediately joined the ranks of establishments that are known for truly fine dining. Eve's cuisine reflects her classic French training, using the finest ingredients from sustainable sources, cooking everything from scratch, bringing out the natural flavors of the food, hallmarks of the Slow Food movement. Wines by the glass are 20 percent off and there are seasonal appetizers and cocktail specials during happy hour on Tuesday through Friday. On Thursdays from 9:30 to 11 p.m., complimentary appetizers are served along with live music.
Inside MGM Detroit Grand, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1646
The menu was designed by San Francisco chef Michael Mina, and Frisco favorite cioppino — a shellfish stew in tomato broth — is one of the standouts on a menu that runs from fish and chips to an over-the-top lobster pot pie. High-quality fish are simply grilled; raw shellfish are as fresh as we can get them here. Preparation styles range from Maine to Baja to Vietnam and the U.S. South. The setting is elegant too — once you get past the slots. Management claims half the diners aren't gamblers, making a beeline directly to Saltwater.
18 S. Main St., Clarkston; 248-625-5660
Located on Main Street in downtown Clarkston, the upscale Union Woodshop has a look that is the antithesis of barbecue joints found on the dirt roads hidden from rural highways in the Carolinas and in Texas. The joint's food, however, shares the flavors that can usually only be derived from low-and-slow wood-smoking, which creates the pink smoke ring that is a sign of authentic country 'cue. From tender brisket and pulled pork to ribs and chicken, there are no disappointments here. The pizzas, cooked in a wood-burning oven, are as good as the barbecued meats. Do not miss the mac and cheese!
Best Sandwich Shop
Famous Izzy's Restaurant and Bakery
20733 13 Mile Rd., Roseville; 586-294-6750
This east side sandwich shop has earned a loyal following based on the size of its portions. It's the home of the 25-inch, half-pound hot dog, the 7-pound steak burger (which the menu describes as "not for wimps"), and sandwiches that aren't just double-deckers or triple-deckers — but four-deckers so tall they have to be served on skewers. In such an environment, you might expect the focus to be on quantity while the quality slides. Thankfully, Izzy's pays attention to the details. Their policy prohibits sharing sandwiches, but that's no problem, as we can confirm that the doggie bag from one of their $10 "Ex-Wife Specials" can last you three lunches at work. See also their "Mile High" cakes — cakes so big they are decorated with little cakes of their own. Truly, Izzy's is a land of the giants.
Best Sandwich Shop — Downtown Detroit
660 Woodward, First National Building, Detroit; 313-963-4871
The house rules — everything from scratch and made in-house — have created loyal customers for this spot's six soups a day plus salads, quiche, panini and regular sandwiches. The in-house baking operation produces focaccia, whole wheat and regular baguettes, rye and sourdough, plus scones, cookies and pain au chocolat. The breads enfold such inventive sandwiches as roasted sweet potato with pesto cream cheese and roasted red peppers, or "wild Reuben," with whole grain mustard and horseradish, or more pedestrian choices such as "Mom's Tuna." Nearly as quick as fast food but, as the owner says, you don't hate yourself afterward.
Best Sushi Lounge
22871 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-543-9500
Only in this era of globalization can the sushi lounge thrive in the Midwest. Iron your most stylish black outfit and head to Inyo for a night of downbeat and nu-disco tunes while sipping such cocktails as the Bonsai — an invigorating combination of gin, lemongrass syrup and cucumber. The raw fish is fresh and the plates look as good as they taste. Try a specialty makimono such as the Inyo roll, a marriage of king crab, strawberry, Japanese cucumber and mango sauce all topped with caviar.
Best Small Plates
2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543
Frankly, any food served at the recently restored Art Deco live jazz bar Cliff Bell's will taste a little finer in that atmosphere. But the fact is, they do small plates better than most restaurants that claim the title. With everything from simple oysters on-the-half-shell to coq au vin, the French-inspired, seasonally adjusted, utterly eclectic food menu is perfect for selecting a variety of dishes and sharing among a group of friends sipping on well-made classic cocktails.
Best Thin-Crust Pizza
2457 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-7879
Ask Dave Mancini if his pizza is New Haven or New York or Napoletana style. He'll tell that he calls it "thin crust," adding that the designations are subjective. Whatever the style, it's good. Damn good. Calling it "destination dining" might be gilding the lily, but people are heading to Eastern Market just for the 'za long after the daily market bustle has ended. And that's a good sign. All of the components are the result of research and trial and error. Dave even went to Phoenix to talk to Chris Bianco, who is considered the pizza guru. Experiment. Try two or three different slices, served only at lunch.
Best New Haven Pizza
29275 14 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-855-5355
24369 Halsted Rd., Farmington; 248-888-4888
Tomatoes Apizza — Sopranos-style pronunciation is ah-BEETZ — had one of the first wood-fired pizza ovens in the metroplex, and became a pioneer with the first charcoal-fired oven at the Farmlington Hills location. The pizzaiolo pazzo, that is, "crazy pizza maker," Mike Weinstein, is so fanatical about pizza pie that after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he went to New Haven, Conn., to learn art of pizza Napoletana — the ultra-thin, light on the toppings and cheese version — that is served at the legendary Sally's, Pepe's and Lou Abate's. The guy is obsessed and the resultant pie is the best.
Best Pizza and Wine
2595 Rochester Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-844-8899
8622 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Twp.; 248-855-5855
Crust's Neopolitan-style, thin, crisp and chewy individual pies with their fresh and creative fillings (try the obviously inauthentic but well-conceived barbecued chicken or the peanut-enhanced Thai) are the main attraction here. But the owners also care about providing wine at reasonable prices with a changing list of sometimes-obscure varietals, including a crisp vino verde from Portugal at only $22. The Telegraph Road location, catering to patrons who frequent the nearby Maple Theatre, has a slightly more expensive list than its Rochester Road cousin.
Modern Food & Spirits
1535 Cass Lake Rd., Keego Harbor; 248-681-4231
Co-owners and creative co-chefs Kim and Francis Stanton have created a neighborhood spot that puts out creative, reasonably priced food, in a comfortable, friendly environment. The menu reflects the years of experience that the Stantons have garnered in a number of diverse kitchens. Kim, who concocts them, should be known as the Soup Lady. Try the sampler: all three soups for only $3 bucks with an entrée, $5 without. Choices on any given day might include tom yum broth with Asian vegetable, Cuban black bean, sweet potato corn chowder with collards, and the real customer favorite: red lentil with apricots. Modern is an upscale neighborhood restaurant with affordable prices, and a nice, again reasonable wine selection.
Best Upscale Burger
888 Erie St. E., Windsor, Ontario; 519-252-8004
Formerly the well-heeled Noi, newcomer Motor Burger is now serving "the masses" — but it’s still aspirational in its reach. Burgers range from the classic, which can be gussied up with bacon, Gruyère or caramelized onions, to a $27 Kobe brisket double, adorned with a grilled portobello and truffle oil. The term "burger" is used loosely: there’s ground turkey with a hoisin glaze; ground shrimp with coconut milk, avocado and mango salsa; and an ahi tuna burger, spiced up with chile and chipotle and topped with sesame oil and arugula. Hand-cut fries and sweet onion rings are done just right. Though family-friendly in the early hours, with a kids’ menu, the place attracts a more sophisticated clientele later on for the "Lubricants": mixed drinks, mostly Canadian beers, and milkshakes spiked with liqueurs.
7325 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-626-0160
As far as we can tell, Yossi’s is the only Israeli restaurant in the area. Israelis are said to make the best falafel anywhere (although, perhaps by Israelis). Yossi’s falafel stands above the rest. It’s fried to perfection — crisp on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. The seasonings include abundant fresh herbs that make the difference. The Pita Pocket is filled with falafel, tahina, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and, by request, hummus and shug, a hot sauce they make in-house. Try it with the works: make sure that you have plenty of napkins.
Best Pommes Frites
419 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6250
In one of the more competitive categories, Bastone continues to score well, even considering the growing number of kitchens turning out sweet-potato fries. Twice-fried, the Bastone’s thin treats, which are accompanied by mayonnaise-based sauces enlivened with garlic, basil, horseradish or other flavors, transport one virtually to Brussels’ magnificent Grand Place. Needless to say, no such trip would be complete without onion soup, mussels, and brewed-in-house Belgian-style beer, all of which are handled well by the folks at Bastone.
27641 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-547-6763
What's not to like about a huge bowl of rich, slowly developed meat broth flavored with spices and filled with rice vermicelli noodles and beef? Add the garnishes of basil leaf, cilantro, bean sprouts, fresh hot peppers and lime and what you have is a restorative beyond measure. Thang Long's menu has all the variations: beef slices, beef tendon, beef meatballs, beef tripe, combinations of all the previous varieties of beef and finally chicken. And if you ever tire of soup, the menu is filled with fresh and tasty Vietnamese dishes.
1449 W. 14 Mile Rd., Madison Heights; 248-597-0800
With so many restaurants that previously served whole and half roasted duck retrogressing to duck breast and confit only, it is comforting to find a few that stick to the older tradition. And here we are talking about a really old Asian tradition with the bronzed crispy-skinned yet moist and tender duck, marinated in tamarind sauce, presented at Sabidee, a tiny family-run dining spot that specializes in Laotian home cooking. There are other items of interest on the menu, including larb, Laotian stew, papaya salad and basil steak, but the duck is one of the best reasons to trek to Madison Heights, which has become a center for modest Asian fare.
Best Place to Order a Calamari Appetizer and Bottle of Wine
3710 Junction St., Detroit; 313-894-2070
Just about every restaurant with a deep fryer offers a calamari appetizer. Most of them are good, though some are merely edible. What sets fritto misto El Barzón apart, besides its delicate tenderness, large size and the generous addition of hot peppers, is the accompanying wine list. Though there are several wines capable of pairing with it, we particularly enjoy a bottle of rustic, natural Gavi, which tastes something like plump cider and flowers and almost turns sweet in contrast.
Best Corned Beef Hash
2542 Market St., Detroit; 313-259-8230
When Eastern Market is full of local bounty it's a good idea that you fill your belly before shopping or chances are you're going to buy more than you can eat. A massive plate of Farmer's Restaurant corned beef hash should more than suffice. Hash browns, grilled onions and thinly sliced corned beef are piled high beneath two eggs cooked to order. It's fuel for the day. Not a fan of corned beef? Try their fat, juicy and finely ground breakfast sausage, reminiscent of a good German weisswurst.
Best Tacos al Pastor
7056 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-841-3109
A cousin to gyros, pork cooked al pastor is marinated in an adobo mixture, then slowly cooked on a vertical spit, then thinly shaved. Owner Adan Lopez won't reveal any of the secrets that make his meat so succulent, so porky, so intense, other than guajillo chilies, but he does brag that Los Altos' founder is from the town in Jalisco where tacos al pastor were invented. They're topped, as tradition demands, with heaps of chopped onion and cilantro, and stuffed very, very full — don't plan on carrying out and eating while you drive. Cost? One thin dollar.
Best Sweet Potato Fries
314 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111
Proof that frozen can be fabulous! Seva buys its gluten-free "yam fries" frozen — which, according to owner Maren Jackson, makes for consistent quality — then dunks them in hot canola oil. The result is a crowd-pleasing combination of the crunch and fat of French fries with the rich sweetness (but not too much) of sweet potatoes. What's not to like? The sweet-plus-hot dipping sauce, mayo mixed with Clancy's Fancy hot sauce, is surprisingly popular too. "If only we had trademarked it," Jackson says.
317 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-629-9391
The cute 22-seat crêperie is all angles and nooks, mismatched china and chairs. It serves substantial, well-stuffed crêpes, though not paper-thin; two are more than enough for a meal. The innards are fancy — real whipped cream, truffle oil — but well-thought-out: shiitakes with Gruyère; prosciutto, arugula and Parmesan; smoked salmon with red onion, avocado and crème fraiche. You can build your own from the long ingredients list. The best sweet crêpe is the simplest: just butter, sugar and lemon, so you can taste the delicate crêpe itself. Try anything with "truffle zip sauce."
Best Hot & Sour Soup
40816 Ryan Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-939-6323
Hot & sour soup is the new wonton, now included on every Chinese menu and considered a measure of a restaurant's kitchen by those who love it. Dong Sing leads the pack with a spicy, viscous broth laden with strips of chicken, chunks of tofu, tiger lily buds, wood ears and bamboo shoots. The heat comes from chili oil. The sweet comes from vinegar. A spoonful of sesame oil weaves through it all, leaving a subtle aftertaste, making you wish you'd either picked up more or lived closer to this inconspicuous little storefront carryout. Medium is hot. Hot is really hot. Buyer beware!
Best Soul Food Restaurant
Beans & Cornbread: A Soulful Bistro
29508 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-208-1680
The vibe at Beans & Cornbread hits you when you walk in the door, which is frequently held open by a host or a waitress who notices your approach, a hint of the friendly service that awaits. Think of it as gentrified soul food served in a setting that celebrates African-American history. The dining room exudes cosmopolitan comfort: Jazz wafts through a room highlighted by photos of such historic luminaries as Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson and our own Aretha Franklin. The food is comforting, including fried chicken, "Baby Sister's Backyard Ribs," killer salmon croquettes, pork chops, chicken (smothered or fried), catfish and the expected multitude of sides: greens, black-eyed peas, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, hoppin' john, candied sweet potatoes and many more of the usual suspects.
Best Italian Restaurant — Non-Chain
29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-356-6600
Chef Luciano Del Signore has established an extraordinary restaurant: make that a dining experience. The professional, gracious waiters are attentive without becoming intrusive, knowledgeable enough to describe every detail about the menu and to discuss the specials without referring to a note card. The outdoor patio is perfect for summertime dining. The prices are surprisingly reasonable. The insalata di rucola e finocchi — arugula and fennel with toasted walnuts and orange sections coated with lemon oil — is a perfect prelude to Strozzapreti Norcina: hand-rolled pasta, Italian sausage, black truffles, tomatoes and cream.
Best Greek Restaurant
579 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-961-1550
Over the years, Greektown has become a little .... less Greek? It may have suffered due to the ceaseless casino construction, which removed some parking and built a tubeway over the street, changing the flow of pedestrians. But all through it, the Avgoustis family held on, remaining the consummate hosts, greeting you warmly and suggesting dishes that will bring you back. Let them put together a mezza platter with perhaps a dozen or more preludes to a great meal. Don't miss the salmon stuffed with shrimp, feta and herbs all awash in a lemon sauce.
Best Middle Eastern Restaurant
22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680
Jennifer, Anita's daughter, and Joe Wegrzyn are the consummate hosts, the warmest, friendliest folks you'll find anywhere. One or both of them are always present, assuring an experience that must be similar to eating in their home. Start with an appetizer combo of hummous, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush and fattoush and a glass of Lebanese wine. Try a braised lamb shank or a piece of char-grilled swordfish. If you can't decide, go for the mixed mezza; for $30 you'll sample the shawarma — meat and chicken — tawook, grape leaves, salads, falafel. There's so much more that even four of you will leave with your next meal in a bag.
Best Authentic Mediterranean Restaurant
1600 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-526-1444
OK, the kitsch-laden walls and the desert murals are not especially authentic, but the kitchen is, as well as the Lebanese (only) wine list and the tabloid-style menu, which, along with the lengthy roster of selections, provides an accurate history and geography lesson about that tiny country. Go for the earthy traditional dishes that need to be italicized in a review such as ghallaba, borghul and mjadara. The gracious Charaf family also operates a Lebanese Grill in Shelby Township.
Best Local Innovation in Middle Eastern Cuisine
La Saj Lebanese Grill
13776 Southcove Drive, Sterling Heights; 586-566-6600
La Saj takes its name from the inverted wok oven in the kitchen on which dishes are prepared without an open flame. Rare in these parts, this ancient Syrian technique results in especially moist versions of the classic Middle Eastern kitchen. Somewhat more upscale than many of its competitors in terms of decorations, linens and tableware, the restaurant on the outer edge of Lakeside Mall does a bang-up job with its appetizer or mezze sampler, served in separate small plates rather than a large unwieldy platter. The garlic sauce that comes with the warm pita is also special.
Best Cheap Middle Eastern Restaurant
5827 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-841-2100
The Ahmad brothers serve fine versions of familiar favorites at prices well below Dearborn's, in a Mexicantown location that's been spruced up with care. The highest-priced entrée is $12, for three skewers of meat plus rice, pickles and salad. Most entrées are $6 or $7 — say kafta kabob, shish kabob or shish tawook, served with a perfect, sharp and creamy garlic sauce. Best bets are kibbi, mujadarah covered with fried onions, chicken lime rice soup and smoky, garlicky baba ghanoush, topped with pine nuts.
Best Ethnic Restaurant on a Budget
Aladdin Sweets & Café
11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050
If one measure of good ethnic cuisine is the percentage of fellow diners that speak with an accent, Aladdin easily passes that test. A steady stream of eat-in, carry-out and catering customers flow through this tiny Bangladeshi joint that serves slow-braised goat and other authentic-tasting meats and sweets. With the food being served on paper plates and the utensils plastic, the ambience isn't the best, but apparently this is enough to keep the prices on this quality fare low enough to compete with fast food franchises.
Best Ethiopian Restaurant
Taste of Ethiopia
29702F Southfield Rd., Southfield; 248-905-5560
2453 Russell St., Eastern Market, Detroit; 313-567-6000 (lunch only)
The all-you-can-eat, some-of-everything tradition is the way to go, because each serving of collards, lentils, peas, carrots, cabbage, lamb, beef and chicken is so intensely delicious that you wouldn't want to be limited. It's also worth considering the three-course dinner, though, to try the lentil-carrot-scallion soup, plantains or fresh fruit for dessert, and justly famous Ethiopian coffee. Omnivores and vegetarians are all happy here, where legumes and vegetables are far from an afterthought.
Best Indian Restaurant
Rangoli Indian Cuisine
3055 E. Walton Blvd., Auburn Hills; 248-377-3800
Numerous Indian friends have confirmed this year's choice of Rangoli. The space is attractive, not distracting. The service is efficient, performed by a knowledgeable, pleasant staff. But we're here to eat. Indian food is gaining in popularity all over the Detroit metropolitan area. Rangoli's extensive menu, though intimidating to anyone not familiar with the food, is a great place to start. Let your server be your guide. Just do not miss the tadka dal: split lentils, turmeric, ginger and tomatoes "tempered with mustard seed, garlic and onions, etc."
Best Indian Buffet
Royal Indian Cuisine
3877 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-743-0223
We chose Royal Indian Cuisine in part due to the spice level of many of the dishes, frequently geared to timid Americanized tastes. But it takes more than heat to sway us. The array of appetizers, lamb, chicken, rice, dals, chutneys, salads ands dessert includes a daily changing selection of numerous fragrant, delicious vegetable choices, a delight for noncarnivores. Naan, a puffy flatbread, is served at each table, hot, just out of the tandoor, a wood-burning clay oven. A tariff of $7.95 launches an exploration into this complex cuisine.
Best Indian Street Food
Neehee's Indian Vegetarian Street Food
45490 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-737-9777
35203 Grand River Ave., Farmington; 248-471-0604
Not familiar with Indian street food? Most of the customers are, and they're packing the place. The choices are from all over India, and if the immigrants miss the fun of buying from a street vendor, at least they're conveniently brought together under one (small) roof. The uninitiated can read the big posters that explain what's what: besides the familiar samosas and pakoras, there are stuffed and plain dosas, Indo-Chinese selections, stuffed pancakes, sandwiches that put potatoes in a garlic bun, 25 different chaats — snacks that mix potatoes, onions, peas, chickpeas, yogurt, chilies and a host of spices and chutneys in a myriad of combinations — and house-made ice cream.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant
1 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-577-5130
Replacing last year's winner in this category, the admirable Thang Long, Da Nang offers a more elegant setting and some new culinary twists, albeit from a significantly smaller repertoire. For example, a curried chicken stew with a baguette reflects Vietnam's tragic colonial heritage. Translucent bahn beo rice cakes with shrimp bits are another interesting treat, as are the shredded cabbage with chicken and spongy pork meatballs with lemongrass, while Da Nang's take on increasingly ubiquitous pho is first-rate.
Best Thai Restaurant
6175 Haggerty Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-926-1012
Sawasdee, which means hello in Thai, does a fine job with the standard fare and has some dishes that veer from the pack. Pad thai curry adds a sauce that transforms this popular dish. The never-changing daily specials are listed under the glass tabletop. An extensive lunch menu offers diners a choice of vegetarian, pork, seafood or chicken in each dish, most at a reasonable $7.95. Spice levels range from no spice to XX HOT, which is two levels above hot. Sounds dangerous!
Best Chinese Take-Out
31402 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores; 586-296-0070
St. Clair Shores' Chinese restaurant Gim Ling has as robust a carry-out business as we've witnessed. On any given Saturday night you might find a half dozen hungry east siders waiting on their orders, mainly because this is not the typical, starchy Chinese. The fantastic hot and sour soup is made to order and tastes like it. The gravies pack plenty of flavor without getting too heavy. And there is hardly any difference in price compared to lesser joints. Peruse their beautiful collection of Asian art while you wait.
Best Retro Experience
Mr. Paul's Chop House
29850 Groesbeck Hwy, Roseville; 586-777-7770
More than 40 years old, Mr. Paul's is stuck in time somewhere back in the early postwar era, when small towns like Roseville boasted one special roadhouse or supper club to which celebrants came on their birthdays or anniversaries. Here you can have one of the area's best Caesar salads, prepared with a theatrical flare 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 of where adults went to play during the legendary Happy Days.
Best Irish Pub Food
160 W. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-642-1135
With its artifacts from the Ould Sod including faded reproductions from the Book of Kells on the walls, Dick O'Dow's looks authentic. The dishes in the small Irish section of the menu are as well. The arterty-clogging, generally potatoey (what else?) fare includes bangers and mash, fish and chips and Irish stew, buttressed by soda bread, and all washed down with a Guinness is a close as one can get here to a local in Kilkenny. It seems even more atmospheric in the dimly lit rear room away from the boisterous crowds and TVs, with its huge fireplace and rustic wooden tables.
Best Friendly Neighborhood Bar and Grill
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700
Tucked away deep in the parking lot of the Traffic Jam, the Motor City Brewery's cozy taproom is a neighborhood hangout where everyone seems to know everyone's name. Along with its famous Ghettoblaster beer, they have expanded their limited food options a bit to now include a top-notch crusty and creamy pot of mac 'n' cheese and several thick and zesty Southwestern soups that could just as well be called variations on chili — if standard chili weren't offered in its traditional guise. Along with crisp individual pizzas and the company of Cass Corridor characters and Wayne State students and employees, it is a perfect place to toss back a few most any time of the day.
1015 Broadway, Ann Arbor; 734-995-0965
Long revered as the top contender for best diner, especially for breakfast, the Northside diner is a simple room, filled every morning with patrons who seem to enjoy the bustle nearly as much as the food. Egg dishes come in every possible style: from "Make It Your Way" omelets to specialty breakfast sandwiches and on to corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy and huevos rancheros. The real draw is the skillets, which are one-plate "eggstravaganzas" served in a skillet over hash browns. "The Big Easy" is a mix of vegetables and andouille and Cajun spice topped with cheese and eggs served with toast or biscuit. Top that!
Best Slow Food
Mind Body & Spirits
301 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-3663
Mind Body & Spirits proves that you can run an environmentally conscious restaurant without sacrificing quality. All the food is organic and local if possible. MBS has built relationships with local farmers to ensure a steady supply of seasonal produce — and they even help out, providing seedlings for the luxuriant greenhouse that faces Third Street. As the days grow warmer, follow the crowd to the rooftop patio above the greenhouse and dine among the potted tomatoes, herbs and hot peppers while the sweet perfume of smoldering hardwood from the flatbread oven fills the air.
The Fly Trap
22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150
Ask anyone waiting in line for a table on a Saturday afternoon why the Fly Trap consistently makes the Best Of issue. For a couple more bucks per plate, they give you diner food taken to glorious heights — macaroni and cheese goes gourmet with cheddar, smoked Gouda and blue cheeses; an over-the-top patty melt includes North African spiced chicken breast and garlic, lemon aioli; even mere hash gets the treatment with hot spiced beef brisket, beets and smashed-garlic fried potatoes.
Best Street Food Destination
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, which send wafts of mouthwatering smoke into the market. Inside the market you can find baked goods, soups, sandwiches, sometimes even crêpes being made. Explore the shops around the market for quick eats. Gabriel Import Co. always has a table full of spinach-and-cheese pastries. Order a pita sandwich stuffed with your choice of sausages at Eastern Market Seafood Co.
Best Restaurant for Cocktail Hour
1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-2500
Weekdays between 4:30 and 6:30, for a mere $3 you can purchase one of a half-dozen plates. And these aren't little portions. Try a regular-sized grilled hamburger on an English muffin and topped with cheese, bacon, pickled onions and a fried egg. If that doesn't fill you up, fried chicken livers with mushrooms and polenta or spicy hot peppers stuffed with sausage might. Pair this with a few bargain drink specials and an eclectic downtown crowd for a couple truly happy hours.
27475 Groesbeck Hwy., Roseville; 586-775-7427 (RIBS)
From his family's diner to an education in culinary arts and stints at the likes of the Golden Mushroom, chef Deni Smiljanovski has plenty of kitchen chops. Thankfully, somehow barbecue came into the mix. He traveled through the South, researching the best of Southern barbecue. Deni traveled throughout the nation's barbecue-rich regions, picking up pointers from the unheralded pit masters from the Carolinas to Texas, studying the art of smoked pork butt, tender brisket, spare ribs and chicken. This joint is a find for 'cue lovers, who can take a barbecue tour without leaving town. Save your bones by hitting Wednesday's all-you-can-carry-out lunch buffet, a bargain at less than $8.
Best Restaurant to Spot Anthony Bourdain
2934 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-873-8432
When food celebrity Anthony Bourdain of Food Network's No Reservations did his Rust Belt tour a while back, the Detroit stop was Hamtramck's Polonia, where he dined on "the heavy but wonderful, vodka-soaked charms of Detroit Polish food." He and the program's producers understood that these Eastern European, meat-and-potatoes dishes will fill the hungriest of diners for little cash. They serve the classics from duck blood soup to city chicken. It doesn't hurt that they stock a full bar either.
Best Restaurant to Mourn
Annam Restaurant Vietnamien
A victim of the Great Recession, Annam was a perennial winner in both Vietnamese and design categories. By far the most elegant (but affordable) of Vietnamese restaurants in the area, its owner, Phuong Nguyen, served sophisticated and delicate dishes with Far Eastern grace, in both the presentation and the surroundings. The serenity relaxed the loyal fans, but their numbers dwindled. Where will they now find lime dipping sauce, lotus stem salad topped with fresh mint, or soups made with tamarind or quail eggs — ingredients that made the diner feel virtuous as well as delighted?
Best Hospital Food
Hummous, Oakwood Hospital, Dearborn
Gone are the days of identical trays featuring Jell-O delivered off carts wheeled throughout the hospital at pre-determined times. Now, nourishment for the bed-ridden — assuming it’s not just intravenous — is more like hotel room service: Pick up the menu and then the phone and it comes fresh and hot throughout the day. At Oakwood, it’s actually good. Especially the hummous, served with fresh pita. Finish with the chocolate cheesecake and some coffee. Just don’t order too much for your guests.
Best Rationale for Naming a Restaurant
Parrot Cove Yacht Club
33475 Dequindre Ave., Troy; 248-585-6080
The Craigs, owners of this raffish Key West-themed bar and grill far away from the water in a deindustrialized section of Troy, planned to name their establishment Parrot Head. Their sign painter had finished the word "parrot" when they were informed that the term Parrot Head is exclusively owned by Jimmy Buffet. With space for four letters on the sign, Head was transformed into Cove. They have encountered no problem serving exemplary burgers and ribs without the Buffet connotation.
Best Mexican Sit-Down Lunch Counter
La Mexicana #4
2524 Dixie Hwy., Waterford; 248-673-9723
Don't be confused when you walk into a small market full of shelves stocked with bottled salsas, dried chiles, fresh tortillas and fresh produce. All the way at the end sits a lunch counter and a handful of booths, mostly filled with Latinos. The kitchen is a griddle behind the counter providing a cook with just enough space to prepare some serious grub — on the cheap. Tacos are filled generously with beef, pork, tongue, chicken or house-made chorizo sprinkled with onions and cilantro for just shy of $1.50. There: It's not a secret anymore.
Best Urban Poolside Dining
5440 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-5338
The Belcrest, that handsome art deco apartment building on Wayne State University's campus, boasts a lovely pool fronting on Cass. Denizens of Lefty's Lounge, which was founded by two southpaws who made it to the high minors, can enjoy their fine burgers and pizza on the patio outside the watering hole overlooking the pool. Alas, you'll need more than a pitcher to use the gated pool itself, which is off-limits except to residents and those who make arrangements for special parties. But on a warm day, the Lounge's poolside dining is still is a surprising oasis of calm amid the bustle of Midtown.
Best Restaurant Where You Can't Find a Seat
2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828
When Yogi Berra quipped "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded," he could have been talking about Slows. But when most folks dig into a plate of perfectly slow-smoked barbecue accompanied by one of several house-made sauces, they realize it's worth the wait. Though all the delicious meat and side dishes are reminiscent of Southern food culture, Slows has one of the best wine and beer selections around. Barbecue lovers may soon have less of a wait, as Slows Express & Catering is slated to offer carry-out service in Midtown.
Best Food Recommendation from an Olympic Gold Medalist
Buffalo Empañada at the Prickly Pear
328 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-930-0047
In his autobiography, the 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps reported that he was fond of the buffalo empañadas at Ann Arbor's Prickly Pear. Phelps, who trained in the city, enjoyed that hearty and marginally healthy dish as part of his 12,000-calories-a-day training diet when he wasn't on his bong. This is not a bad recommendation. The Prickly Pear, which bills itself as a Southwestern bistro, is really Tex-Mex plus. The sweet and tender buffalo meat empañada, the sweet-potato enchiladas and the jicama cole slaw are among the reasons the restaurant has been thriving in a tough market since 1991.
Best Ice Cream
Guernsey Farms Dairy
21300 Novi Rd., Northville; 248-349-1466
Owned and operated since 1940 by the McGuire family, Guernsey Farms Dairy is a fixture in the area. The family is proud of their use high-quality ingredients, none of which have added hormones. They love to let you sample the ice cream, knowing that a taste will make you want more. A tour of the dairy reveals a pristine, sanitary environment, reassuring in an era of concern over food contamination. An on-site restaurant and an ice cream parlor sell the 48 flavors, something to please every palate. Visit guernseyfarmsdairy.com to find numerous locations throughout the area where Guernsey products are sold.
Best Unusual Dairy
Erma's Original Frozen Custard
6451 Auburn Rd., Shelby Twp.; 586-254-7280
Travel back in time with a visit to Erma's, a roadside stand (established 1942), where they sell premium soft-serve ice cream that differs from plain old ice cream in its high butterfat content and plenty of egg yolks. A dirt-covered parking lot surrounds the flat-roofed shack and the patio, where you can slurp the frozen custard concoctions – sundaes, floats, malts and shakes and custard puffs. One suggestion is the "Coconut Cream Pie Cone" dipped in dark chocolate and pecans. Erma's list of weekly flavors is online to help you plan your summer visits: ermacustard.com/specials.html.
Best Neighborhood Bakery
4330 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-554-0001
You only need a small amount of cash to walk away with a big bag full of Mexicantown Bakery's sweet breads, pastries and cookies. You really can buy dessert for the whole family for the price of one plate of flan from most nearby restaurants. They also offer more refined cakes and tarts, tamales, freshly baked buns and loaves of bread sometimes still steaming from the oven. A small, well-stocked grocery with Central and South American, Mexican and Caribbean specialties packs the other half of the store.
300 River Place Dr., Detroit; 313-567-4400
When you think of the Rattlesnake Club, you often think of the rich interior, the padded tables, the water views, the fine-dining kitchen that turns out delectable entrées. But what about Rattlesnake's decadent house-made desserts? Perhaps our favorite is their artisan sorbet, three small scoops of flavor-packed sorbet, with flavors that rotate on a seasonal basis between passion fruit-cilantro, grapefruit-vanilla, wildberry and Amazonian rainforest-sourced cherry that's high in antioxidants. The scoops are perched atop a maple-leaf shaped tuille cookie, crisp and buttery, spiced with sesame seeds, poppy seeds and paprika and laid down atop a wildberry syrup. The whole thing gets sweetened with a dose of clear anise syrup. Then it's garnished with a mint leaf and adorned with a latticework of colorful spun sugar. Chef Jeffrey Lanctot says the $10 dessert has been on the menu since owner Jimmy Schmidt opened the club. It's that popular.