You’ve been planning your visit to Detroit for months. Plane tickets purchased, hotel room booked or a friend’s couch reserved. You’ve been reading about the many changes, for better or worse, taking shape in the Motor City. Now it’s time to see for yourself.
The biggest question I get as a food writer, especially from folks visiting from out of town, where to eat? With different tastes, budgets, various sizes of dining parties and preferences over what part of town to eat, this question can be overwhelming to narrow down. For this reason, I’ve put together this city guide, breaking down a few of my favorite eateries by neighborhood. While I realize there are tons of hidden gems strewn about all corners of the city, I’ve identified eight neighborhoods that I consider dining destinations.
Whether you’re here for the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention, an auto show, Jazz Fest, Movement or any of the other major attractions, you’ll want to bookmark this page when you’re cruising around town.
Home to the largest concentration of Latinx in the state, Southwest Detroit has long been a dining destination for Detroiters looking for a taste of authentic tacos, pozole, Mexican pastries and Central American specialties. Now, with the threat of gentrification looming in neighborhoods throughout the city, SW remains grounded in its roots, with chefs and restaurateurs are not only maintaining a stronghold in Latinx-ownership, but finding ways to elevate it.
On hot summer days, lines are sure to be wrapped around these taco trucks and for good reason. El Parian’s tacos al pastor are arguably the best in the city. The delectable pork is marinated in a blend of chilies, spices, and pineapple. Slow-cooked on a trompo and an open flame until all the flavor is caramelized, the result is a tender meat full of flavor that’s both picoso and slightly sweet. Grab a taco (or three) or one of the mobile taqueria’s famous Hawaiian burger with a tall cup of horchata and you’ll all set.
We’ve long been fans of Flowers since its beginnings at a weekend-only pop-ups in the former Vernor Coney Island. SW native George Azar sought to bring culinary excellence, with an unpretentious touch, to his neighborhood. He and the Flowers crew achieve this with the eatery’s stellar offerings of creative Vietnamese cuisine, craft cocktails — all with a vibe that feels like family.
The mangonada, a whimsical concoction made with ripe mango chunks, sweet slushie and spicy/sour chamoy drizzle, is reason enough to stop by one of the two locations of Mangonadas del Barrio. But so too is the local chain’s Doriloco bar. New Mexicans have long been known for the Frito Pie, essentially a bag of Fritos cut open and smothered in chili con carne. Here, bags of Doritos are dressed in chilies, peanuts, bits of crisp jicama or cucumber, chamoy and other spicy and savory toppings. They’re a staple among street vendors in Mexico and other Latinx barrios in the USA. Our favorite here, the Dorielote, basically Doritos nacho cheese-flavored chips topped with the ingredients of a traditional elote: corn kernels, parmesan cheese, mayo and chile. This of it as a deconstructed Dorito on top of Doritos.
The paleteros are ever-present in Latinx communities all over, whether in a fixed ice cream shop or walking the sidewalks with a cart ringing that quintessential bell. The milk, sweet, fruity frozen pops are a simple way to treat yourself when the temperatures start to rise. In Southwest Detroit, Ice Cream Michoacana is the place to be to get your paleta fix. Grab one and then enjoy a walk around Clark Park across the street.
You’re looking for a place to eat with space enough to accommodate a large party. Well, PizzaPlex, situated next to Flowers of Vietnam will not only provide you with room for you and all your guests, but you’ll be treated to the city’s only certified Neopolitan pizza. The pies here, cooked in a traditional pizza oven, range from Italian classics like the original Margherita to adventurous like the sweet and savory Pera (a white pizza with arugula, sliced pear and Taleggio cheese). Plus, the menu keeps its price range reasonable, ideal for bigger groups who don’t wanna fuss over who picks up the tab.
If you want a good idea of the inspiration behind many of the taquerias that dot the city, you’ll want to know that a large number of the Mexican diaspora in Michigan hail from the highlands of Jalisco. That said, you’re likely to come across a number of Jalisciense eateries that specialize in birria, the Mexican state’s official dish, a spicy meat stew, typically prepared with goat. Los Altos features a spacious dining room, ideal for families for walks wanting to stretch out and enjoy a margarita and a plate of tacos de birria.
SW shares a border with Dearborn, home to the largest Arab American population in the USA. That said, there’s a growing interest in local eateries to cater to diners who adhere to consuming food that follows Islamic halal preparation in its production. El Asador is one of the early adopters in Mexican dining that offers an all-halal menu. Not only is this appreciated by Muslim-American eaters, it also results in a higher quality cut of meat. The fajitas here, along with an order of table-side prepared guacamole is plenty of reason to hit up this Mexican steakhouse.
If you ask a Detroiter about the region’s iconic dishes, many will point to the Coney dog, square pizza, or maybe Asian Corned Beef egg rolls. The truth is, however, that given the fact that more Arab Americans reside in the suburb of Dearborn than just about anywhere else in the country, we would argue that the food that best represents Metro Detroit are the countless Middle Eastern restaurants. Diners can find food inspired by Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and others — each boasting a unique flavor.
The birthplace of coffee is Yemen. While the fruit may have first been discovered in Ethiopia, it was Yemen where the first cup was brewed. Our society hasn’t been the same since. Coffeehouses have been the headquarters to gather, talk politics and organize revolutions for centuries. Qahwah House, the region’s only Yemeni cafe honors this tradition with its flavorful array of caffeinated drinks and traditional pastries.
You’ll find plenty of Yemeni favorites at Sheeba Restaurant, including the flavorful slow roasted lamb in the spot’s haneeth and fahsah, a shredded lamb and potatoes that comes out in a heated clay bowl. Make sure to order extra tannour, the enormous traditional Yemeni flatbread, to soak in all the juicy, meaty flavors.
Fresh fattoush salads, crispy falafel and plentiful plates of skewered meats provide a balanced spread, ideal for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Portions are typically large enough to share or take back to the Airbnb for a late-night snack. With locations in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.
The halal burger was arguably popularized in Dearborn. After all, generations of Arab and Muslim Americans have called the region home. With that, the craving for a good ol’ American burger that respects one’s religiously-held beliefs is a natural evolution in the local dining scene. Among the most creative offerings around is Taystee’s Burgers, a gas station eatery that’s nationally recognized for its outrageous flavor combos. The award-winning Ali’s Notch-Yo-Burger, for example, comes loaded with nacho cheese, jalapeño, American, Swiss, pepper jack, and nacho cheese Doritos.
There’s nothing quite like the aroma that comes out of an Arabic bakery. With the air filled with the scent of phyllo dough, honey and roasted nuts, it’s an experience for the senses. Shatila is one of Dearborn’s iconic such pastry shops, featuring its signature baklava made with layers of light phyllo, as well as a choice of pistachios, walnuts, cashews or almonds; Middle Eastern-style ice cream, fruit tarts and more. Be prepared to buy a whole box for you and your fellow visitors.
Halal meats are regarded as cleaner, more humane alternatives to big factory, industrially-processed proteins. With that in mind, Dearborn Meat Market has a variety of lean cuts, available for purchase to grill at home or to dine in-store. Shish tawook, kafta and kabob can all be grilled in the area toward the back and paired with a fresh serving of hummus, baba ghannouj, salads and roasted tomatoes and onions.
This spot is a total hidden gem. The quality rivals Dearborn Meat Market’s, but without the crowds. Plus, the selection ranges from traditional and kabob plates and tomato kibbeh to American-style, monstrous halal burgers and thick steak fries.
The immigrant experience in Metro Detroit often involves a stay in Hamtramck as a first place of residency. In the early 20th century, the small city surrounded by Detroit attracted tens of thousands of Polish immigrants drawn to work in the nearby Dodge Main plant. With that wave of migration, Hamtramck was once the most densely-populated cities in Michigan, if not one of the most jam-packed in the country. At one point, the city also boasted the most bar per-capita in the country. These days, the remnants of this influence remain, but these days the Eastern European diaspora has given way to more recent arrivals from Yemen, Bangladesh, as well as a sizeable African American population. This means a wide variety of cuisine from all over the world.
Once the home of the greasy spoon Clock diner, this longtime eatery was reimagined earlier this year as an ambitious Yemeni restaurant, Remas. Sleekly-designed and staffed with a friendly wait staff, you’ll find traditional favorites like the white bean fassolia, the popular Yemeni stew saltah the slow roasted chicken or lamb found in the haneeth.
While Yemeni-style eateries abound in Hamtramck, what makes Boostan Cafe stand out is its influence in Egyptian cuisine as well. The koshary, for example, is considered one of Egypt’s national dishes, composed of a hearty mixture of rice, lentils, pasta, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. One of the things that stands out about Boostan too is the fact that it delivers. Available both Grub Hub and the restaurant’s website, just in case sightseeing has you feeling ragged.
Yemeni-owned, but Lebanese style cuisine, the real secret behind Royal Kabob is in its smoothie and fresh juice menu. Made with whole fruits, milk and honey, it’s a big step above the mundane, syrupy smoothies typically available at cafes around town. A milk and banana smoothie or a Royal Powers juice with carrot, beets, orange, apple celery and parsley along with a shawarma sandwich will have you on the move in no time.
This charming Bosnian-owned cafe is a favorite destination for creatives looking for a quiet place to work or meet up. In addition to caffeinated espresso drinks, the shop/photo gallery space offers French-style baked goods like macarons, chocolate croissants and paninis.
A section around the Hamtramck-Detroit border on Conant is known honorarily as Bangladeshi Avenue, where you’ll find dozens of sari boutiques, live poultry butcher shops, ice wholesalers and restaurants. Among the standby eateries is Mouchack, which specializes in Bangladeshi/Indian-style cuisine, including a fiery goat karai, matar paneer, butter chicken, as well as a variety of naan breads. For the kiddos, there’s a menu of American entrees. Oh, and don’t forget the mango lassi.
Detroit gave birth to the deep dish square pizza back in the 1940s. But thanks to a steady flow of immigration from Bangladesh, at the border of the city’s north side and Hamtramck, the Bengali hybrid pies at Amar are a true testament to how cultures collide to make something completely original… And delicious. Featuring the chicken tandoori, naga, flaming ghost pepper and the pungent dried fish pizza, as well as traditional biryani, burgers and salads.
Avenue of Fashion
At the height of Detroit’s heyday, the Avenue of Fashion was the epicenter of the city’s shopping scene. Back in the 1950s, Detroiters flocked to this district for their couture needs. In recent years, efforts have been taken to recapture that vibe, and it’s happening in no small part, thanks to the growing number of eateries opening shop. If you’re in the neighborhood, you might check out a show at the historic Baker Keyboard Lounge. You’ll also want to scope out one of these local eateries.
The southern-inspired menu at this breakfast-dinner spot is cause for long lines, especially during the weekends. Red velvet waffles, succulent and crispy chicken, plus omelets, sandwiches, and nostalgia-inducing Kool-Aid are all reasons to get up early and vie for a seat.
Coffee, yes, that’s a given here. And the menu of caffeinated beverages are delicious. There’s also a variety of fresh-baked goods from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and Avalon, like the samosa strudels and spinach feta brioches, plus fruit smoothies, strawberry limeade and stress-free vibes.
In case you weren’t able to satisfy your sweet tooth at Kuzzo’s, head next door, where Good Cakes and Bakes offers up cupcakes, brownies, cheesecakes, cookies and more — all with an eye for organic and local ingredients. Vegan options are also available. And the dining area, the pastel color scheme will have you feeling like you’re in a storybook.
Rosedale Park, Grandmont Rosedale
Situated on the city’s northwest side, the neighborhood’s of Grandmont Rosedale and Rosedale Park are already brimming with the keys to a great neighborhood, including gorgeous housing and community pride. And in recent years, restaurateurs have tapped into this city gem to create an elevated dining scene for residents to enjoy. FoodLab Detroit and the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation have partnered up to build a forthcoming food hall that’ll be sure to attract residents young and old. For now, in addition to plenty of local favorites, two popular eateries have made the Rosedale Park and Grandmont Rosedale areas a promising dining destination for neighbors and visitors alike.
Chef to the Stars Maxcel Hardy is a native Detroiter who took a few detours, in Miami and New York, before returning to the Motor City to open River Bistro near his childhood home. Here, you’ll find a weekends-only brunch menu that blends Hardy’s Bahamian roots, “low country” comfort food and recipes from his grandma’s kitchen. Entrees like his honey-infused fried chicken, rock shrimp fritters and banana and white chocolate bread pudding all draw from different periods of his culinary upbringing.
A growing number of diners are demanding healthier alternatives to their favorite dishes, whether it be a leaner burger, a meat-free taco or a lighter version of mom’s mac ‘n cheese. Detroit Vegan Soul has mastered the recipes behind its menu by offering vegan renditions of several soul food classics. Starting with a location in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood, DVS has expanded to include the Grandmont Rosedale location. Among fan favorites, the signature “catfish.” It’s prepared with cornmeal-batter tofu and accompanied by a broccoli/corn medley, redskin potatoes and onions and hush puppies made with onion, cornmeal, unbleached/unbromated all-purpose flour and sea vegetables. The DVS Burger will convert even the most staunch carnivores. And to drink, an agua fresca in hibiscus punch flavor.
Midtown, Cass Corridor, whichever is your preference, this neighborhood in the city’s urban core has gone through a lot of changes over the years. Back in the day, Cass Avenue was notorious as a haven for druggies, pimps, ‘hos and hippies. The area was once home to the city’s Chinatown, where immigrant-owned restaurants and shops catered to the local Chinese community before many fled to the ‘burbs in response to urban decline, racism and economic conditions. In 2006 when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl, fake bars filled storefronts throughout Midtown to give visitors the illusion that all was on the up and up. More recently, the area has become known as the site of rapid gentrification. Out with the indie businesses like Goodwells Natural Food Market, to make way for tenants willing to pay higher but that are not exactly sensitive to the many communities that make up Detroit’s diverse culture. Despite some negative effects of some of these changes, there are some spots that we frequent every time we’re in the neighborhood.
June 14-17 only during the 20th anniversary Allied Media Conference, longtime eatery Cass Cafe will make way for the AMC Dream Cafe, where guests will be invited to dream of a world where food created by a mostly female cast of diverse chefs can be used as a means of resisting oppression and cultural erasure. A rotation of local and visiting chefs will be on hand each day. Examples include Brooklyn-based Anya Peters of the Kit & Kin Caribbean-inspired eatery; I-Collective’s network of indigenous chefs, activists and herbalists; and walk-in breakfasts, lunches and a market farm stand from members of FoodLab Detroit, the nonprofit network in support of the city’s good food movement. Oh, and top off the festivities with storytelling, music and a dance party, and this dreamscape gives us plenty of reason to celebrate.
When Go! Sy Thai founders Cedric and Gowhnou Lee set out to reimagine their family’s flagship suburban Sy Thai restaurant within the Detroit city limits, they decided fast, casual and healthy was the way to go. With locations in Midtown and Capitol Park, fans flock to the spot for veggie-rich hot and sour tom yum soup, refreshing spring rolls and sharable curry noodles accompanied by your choice of protein or tofu. Oh, and they’re halal-friendly, too.
When a thirst-quenching treat is in order, or when you’re searching for some of those authentic Asian ingredients to complete your recipe, Tou & Mai, founders of Go! Sy Thai, is your go-to convenience store in Midtown. Boba teas, fresh fruit smoothies and even mangonadas and its own rendition of the Filipino halo-halo dessert are all made to order. Situated next door to Go! Sy Thai for your convenience.
If you’re looking for an intimate place to listen to records, sip on cocktails and catch up with friends, the Griot Music Lounge is a chill place for just that. Open Wednesday-Thursday until midnight and 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, this is your late-night spot for easy listening and vibes.
Another option in the gourmet halal burger craze, Royale with Cheese is inspired in name only to the 90s cult classic Pulp Fiction. Pop culture references aside, the burgers here are on point, if not wild in topping combinations. The signature Royale burger’s patty comes topped with smoked brisket, Southwest corn relish, caramelized onions, avocado, smoked gouda cheese fondue, slaw and Royale Sauce. Veggie and chicken versions are also available. For dessert, try a shake with house-made custard ice cream and choice of cereal infusion like Fruity Pebbles.
The city’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown gets a lot of attention for its standing as a foodie destination. The number of farm-to-table eateries increases each year, thanks to the abundance of local produce, often made just around the corner from these restaurants. While there are plenty of places that have been hyped up around this neighborhood as of late, we have a few favorites that keep health, price and flavor on point.
One of the hardest things to accommodate for large parties is keeping vegetarians and vegans in mind, while not upsetting the folks who insist on a little meat-based protein in every meal. Whether you’re looking for a light bite (Goddess Greens salad), a fresh little crunch (the jicama shell tacos) a generous noodle bowl (Forest Udon) or a balanced dish of healthy grains and protein (the smoked salmon rice bowl with avocado, micro shiso and sesame yuzu sauce), this popular, casual Corktown spot, headed by Michael Ransom, is a crowd favorite among many of the city’s well-known chefs. Featuring long communal tables, this can be an ideal space for large parties.
Co-owners of The Farmers Hand and adjoining Folk Detroit, Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes, believe in the idea of providing fresh, locally-sourced ingredients in both their small market and recently-opened cafe. What makes them stand out from others is their approach to providing their vendors with equitable pay for their products. That their produce tastes fresher, their gourmet toasts are divine and their coffee and tea drinks are restorative is almost beside the point. You’ll feel better knowing that the local farmers and makers behind these charming little storefronts are earning more for their wares than in more conventional commercial settings. (Photos above by Serena Maria Daniels)
This is but a primer for visitors, there are far more places to explore. If there are some spots that you insist should be added, let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re open to suggestions!
(Cover photo via Creative Commons by Mike Boening Photography/Flicker)
This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.
Author: Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is the co-founder and head chingona of Tostada Magazine. She is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit and specializes on the intersection of food, identity, and culture.
Find her on Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!