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Ann Arbor Restaurants

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Hi everyone, I'm a Chicago Chowhound and will be spending a weekend in Ann Arbor beginning 11/21. I'm looking for a couple reasonably priced restaurants, one being Italian. Oriental(preferably anything that might resemble a Chicago Chinatown place, for those of you who have been there) is another possibility. I've seen websites for Gratzi, Paesano's, and Real Seafood. Any thoughts on those places? Also, it's Ohio State weekend-will that present a huge problem getting in? Thanks for your help.

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  1. Gratzi and Real Seafood are both part of Mainstreet Ventures (equivalent to Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You). So is one of the other downtown Italian restaurants, Palio. They serve fairly uninspired food that tends to be a little overpriced for what it is.

    But as you say, it's an Ohio State weekend, so we shouldn't be talking about downtown at all, unless you like waiting for your dinner!

    I haven't been to Paesano in years, but I've heard pretty good things about it, and if you like wine, they seem to have a pretty ambitious wine program. It's not right downtown, so will likely be somewhat easier to get into.

    Whatever you do, don't go to Argiero's. Blech, blech, blech.

    For oriental - I haven't been to Chicago's Chinatown, so I can't tell you if we have anything equivalent. My favorite two Chinese places also happen to be not-downtown, and thus good choices for a football weekend. Great Lakes Chinese Seafood Restaurant serves Hong Kong style cooking. The key when going there is no to order hot dishes - that's not their specialty. But the seafood is, and they do it well. They also do a beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce that's out of this world (and spicy in a black pepper way). I also quite adore their Singapore noodles and their honey walnut shrimp.

    If you want hot, then you have to go to my other favorite Chinese restaurant, Szechuan West. It's got the strangest decor of any restaurant in town, and some of the best food. You can't go wrong with the General's Chicken, or really anything on the menu there (although I don't like their pan fried dumplings anymore - the wrappers are too thick - too bad, because they used to be excellent).

    There's good Vietnamese and Thai next door in Ypsilanti, if you want to branch out, and they will be even less busy on a football weekend. Thai: Siam Square (best curries) or Tuptim (best pad thai). For Vietnamese, there's Dalat. Get the chicken with lemongrass and chili oil.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Tammy Coxen

      A few tips on the whole asian thing.....
      TK Wu (no I have no clue how you pronounce that) is just opened on Liberty between State and 5th I suppose but it is much closer to State. Delicious and brand new so not that crowded. The trick here is to order off of their menu that says something to the effect of Authentic Chinese specialties.....honestly THE best Chinese I have ever had in Ann Arbor, Great Lake included. Beef noodle soup was very tasty as were the singapore noodles, and more bubble tea than you can shake a stick at.

      Other places: Near Kerrytown (4th and Detroit) there is a little street called Brun Ct. on this street there is a tasty and affordable Thai place that I think beats the crap out of Tuptim. The Thai place is next to Aut Bar. On the same little court (not a street, no cars allowed) there is a fun little Japanese place, there is also some sort of strange little gourmet take out/breakfast place that is fairly decent, but I wouldn't go all over town for.

      As for Italian....ummmm can I say just don't? is that legal? Paesano's is snobby crowded, and not as good as it should be with that attitude....honestly it's a snazzy olive garden with more attitude. I have no recomendations on this front having been spoiled by being exposed to Little Italy in Windsor...that's yummy, but in another country.

      1. re: ELH

        I haven't been to the Thai place in Braun Court for many years, but that would be because when we last went it was really, really awful. My favorite Thai in town is Siam Square.

        We like Fiji (the Japanese place in Braun Court) quite a bit - that's my husband's preferred place to go for sushi.

        I'll have to check out TK Wu. What did it used to be called before this most recent renaming? I can't remember. In any case, it was owned by the same people as Great Lake, not sure if it still is, though.

        1. re: Tammy Coxen

          I was called Daika Lok and was AWFUL (the people who owned it at least last were from Hong Kong, not the same people as Great Lake) and also sort of filthy. I think the Thai place got new owners last year, because you are right it was really really bad a while ago, but is much much better now, try it again.
          TK Wu is honestly very good, however I have noticed that lately it has been way way too crowded to even move, so perhaps trying a more off time would be advisable for a first experience, but the Chinese Specialties section has some weird and wonderful very Chinese but not so typical American-Chinese food.

          1. re: Tammy Coxen

            fuji, actually. unless they underwent a name change recently.

            daika lok was a foul, foul place. i remember how excited i was when they opened in such an ideal location: bubble tea and the michigan theatre within ten feet of each other! i can't believe it never got shut down by the health department. at any rate, anybody know how the bubble tea under the new name/owners rates compared to bubble island? i was actually in a2 yesterday for a school of info thing and hit bubble island on my way out of town. still better than anything i've found in detroit, but nothing compared to my gold standard of ten ren in nyc/toronto.

            (i had a charburger at red hot lovers for lunch; not as good as usual, but still great. sabor on the way home for al pastor and carnitas. it never ceases to amaze me how crappy the service is there and how good the tacos are.)

            1. re: erin p.

              I've never noticed particularly bad service at Sabor Latino. Frequently harried and rushed, absolutely, but it's never seemed that bad to me. And the tacos are good enough to make up for any number of flaws, of course.

              My "favorites" for bad service have to be Cafe Felix (but damn I love their tapas) and La Dolce Vita (utterly pretentious, but they still have to have a food auction to figure out who gets what...).

              1. re: Tammy Coxen

                Sabor Latino on Main actually has much better service than the one (which is not called fully Sabor Lation but is the same thing) on State street. As for TKWu Bubble Tea, more tea like and more variety than Bubble Island, but the bubbles are a lot starchier (yes, I understand not a word) and bigger so they tend to get stuck in the straw and kind of give you a bit of a dry taste. But the tea is not as sweet so a bit more pleasant for me at least.

      2. I second Dalat as a good Asian choice. Have heard great things about Tuptim.

        For Italian, you may want to consider the Bella Ciao. It is, however downtown, so you may want to reconsider. It's small, romantic, sometimes a bit stiff, but the pasta, veal and beef dishes are very good.

        The Earle (downtown again) has some Italian dishes and more French. It is very good.

        Argerios is Italian-American. I have had some decent pasta and some hideous. The price is right, however. Some people love it. I feel "bleh" over all.

        Eating out on game night is usually scary--especially when its a big game like OSU. Gratzi and Palio will be packed to the rafters and incredibly loud and rushed. The food isn't worth it. Do the Asian thing on Saturday. Do the Italian the other night. Even then, if its Friday, try to get a reservation. Lots of people come in early for the game.

        1. You picked a good weekend to come (rolling of the eyes). As previously noted, downtown will be, er, heck. I think that Bella Ciao is approaching a downhill alert. I'd try Paesano's out on Washtenaw Ave. I've been there a half dozen times over the last year and it's been good and consistent. My Chinese friends love Great Lake Seafood, but the caveat is that they'll eat anything. I've been there once and it was okay except for the rubbery squid. One of the worst Thai meals (or any meal, for that matter) I've ever had in my life was from Tuptim. But, people are raving about it. It's neither Italian nor Chinese, but Mediterrano is very good and it's away from downtown. So...good luck.

          1. Always looking to help out a fellow Chicago Hound. There's a lot of pretty reliable info about Ann Arbor restaurants at the Ann Arbor Observer's website. It's also a good way to get maps to your various possibilities. Happy eating.

            Link: http://www.arborweb.com/restindex.html

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ann Fisher

              My big problem with their reviews and restaurant listings is that many of them are horribly out of date. The reviews in particular don't tend to have a date associated with them and when you do figure it out, are often several years old. They've still got listings for Kerrytown Bistro, and it's been closed for years...

              But apparently the Arborfood website (which is where they link you to for reviews, etc) is undergoing a revision, and I'm hoping they're going to clean up all that old stuff and maybe add some new content...

            2. I'm going to be in Ann Arbor this weekend too. What's a foodie to do to get some good cheap food and local culture? Pabst and hot dogs in the parking lot?

              Where's the best dive?

              7 Replies
              1. re: tdzurilla

                (great) cheap food, local culture = Jerusalem Gardens at 5th & Liberty
                dive (diner) = Fleetwood at Ashley & Liberty (try the hippie hash)
                locals' favorite bar = Old Town at Ashley & Liberty

                there are sooooo many others. Maybe elaborate on what you want, besides the Pabst and hot dogs, which can be found at the 8ball in the basement of the Blind Pig on 1st and Washington.

                also, please note that some of this posting is waay out of date. But they are absolutely dead-on on one thing. Traffic will be the worst nightmare you've ever had.

                1. re: charlesbois

                  Love the resurrected posting! Some things don't change. However, I'll be back in AA for my yearly trip. I saw mention of a place called Eve near Kerrytown. Any feeling about it? Anything else along the lines of 'seasonal California-style cuisine'? Most of what we've had is too heavy and un-inspired.

                  1. re: JojoSF

                    Eve is considered one of the best in Ann Arbor now, but I think the main complaint is they are not afraid of spice. You'll find lots of posts about Eve on the boards. Unfortunately, I haven't been there yet.

                    I dunno about California-style, but Logan does seasonal with an innovative approach. It's really a great place to eat, I've always enjoyed.
                    http://www.logan-restaurant.com/

                    (note that they have NOT updated their website, and it's still the summer menu, but it will give you an idea)

                    1. re: charlesbois

                      Eve and Logan are both good choices. I'd also recommend Melange (http://melangebistro.com/). It has a nice, kind of clubby atmosphere with great food.

                    2. re: JojoSF

                      ate at eve on my birthday. food was excellent. but reservations may be tough to get. i have heard since from a friend they had to give them 2 nights and only managed the second choice for reservations. so expect crowd if you are able to get in. however food is really good. can be spicy but i love spicy food so doesnt bother me.
                      happy chowing !

                  2. re: tdzurilla

                    It's probably too late to catch Tdzurilla, but if you're tailgating, you should hit one foodie tailgate in particular...Mel Lester & Ira Jaffee have been hosting a tailgate party for the last 31 years of home games. They usually have enough goods to feed ~1,000 people for big games. They park right outside of the East entrance between the Big House and Crisler Arena...just show up, put on a nametag and act like you belong (oh...and don't wear Maroon & Gray)

                    http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ar...

                    1. re: g rote

                      *WOW*. g rote, you're my friend. I had never heard of this until tonight, after the very disappointing trip to Ann Arbor today (my first *ever* U of M vs. OSU game!). I mean, had I known about this wonderful thing, I would have taken my brother to it with me, and I know it would have been a good time.

                      Instead, I saw a post on another foodie forum about Number Nine Burgers on East Hoover St. We went there and were happy we did, but I now know where we'll be going when we return to the Big House next year. I mean, dang: we missed beef tenderloin sandwiches today! That's...that's just wrong.

                      Thanks so much for pointing this tailgate party out. I can't wait for next year already, just for this alone! Woo-hoo!

                  3. There's really nothing here that comes close to Chicago's Chinatown. Great Lakes is decent but if you go there, I wouldn't get your hopes up. Their dim sum is not nearly as fresh or varied as Phoenix in Chicago.

                    As a Viet, my palate is perhaps a bit more discerning towards my own cuisine. Thus, I have to disagree on Da Lat. I've been there at least 5 times now. Each time has been one disappointment after another. I keep coming back trying to disprove myself but that hasn't happened. They don't offer the essential herbal accompaniments, for example. If you go, look around - do you see other Viets dining there? Probably not (I never have), because their dishes are not authentic or even good, for that matter.

                    If you've *never* had good quality, authentic Viet cuisine, then you might find it palatable.

                    On to the other topic - Zingerman's Roadhouse is a good option that won't be as over-crowded as the Main St. shops that weekend. Their sandwiches are really great as well as their desserts. Slightly pricey but not much more than those on Main St.

                    Good luck!
                    http://www.holybasil.wordpress.com

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: cafemonamie

                      So give us the dish! Where do you go for Vietnamese food? Do you like either of Ann Arbor's Vietnamese places? Or do you go to Dogbone? Madison Heights (some people on this board swear by some little places that feature Vietnamese sandwiches)? Windsor? Toronto?

                      1. re: Jim M

                        So here's the dealio...
                        There's NO good Viet restaurant in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti (ducking for cover, as I write this). Ask any reliable Viet cook you know in the area, they'll probably tell you the same thing - believe me - as a Michigan transplant, I've asked.

                        If I'm in the area, I might consider dropping by some of the places in Madison Heights. Pho Hang, next to Kim Nhung Superfoods on 13 Mile and Dequindre is decent. Their pho bo (Viet Beef Noodle Soup) is much better (& they provide the correct herbs such as culantro, cilantro, asian basil, etc) than any you'll find in Ann Arbor/Ypsi (but if you read my comment above, that's not saying much). Their Bun Thit Nuong is the other fairly reliable dish I've found there. The biggest plus for going to this restaurant is that it is right next to Kim Nhung, which is the largest Viet grocery store in the area. They carry the most variety when it comes to Viet and SE Asian (Thai/Lao/Cambodian) products.

                        There's also Pho Khanh, off of Dequindre and 12 Mile (in front of the Universal Mall strip). Their pho bo was decent, but I believe they've changed ownership recently, and I've yet to visit them since.

                        Vy Nga - off of John R Rd (also in Madison Heights) - haven't been there for a long time. Their Viet sandwich (Banh Mi) is the most decent one you'll find in SE Michigan. Their Hu Tieu was also not bad. The next closest place I've found decent Banh Mi is Toronto. There's probably a huge thread for that on the Toronto board.

                        One thing you'll notice if you go to any of the above is a lot of other Viet patrons - always a good sign. Still, they sometimes get stingy with herbs and other accompaniements (bean sprouts, tuong, ot hiem, etc) - (especially if they believe you're not a native Viet) so be sure to speak up if you'd like more.

                        As for Windsor, the Viet restaurants are not much better than in Madison Heights and therefore, not worth driving through the bridge/tunnel for. The dim sum, however, is another story. Jade Palace is actually pretty good, especially on Saturday (late breakfast/early lunchtime). Perhaps not as good as Phoenix in Chicago, but still good enough for me to make the drive from Ann Arbor every once in a while.

                        I know not everyone's had the chance to try authentic Viet cuisine in Viet Nam or Southern California (Little Saigon). However, if you do get that chance, I believe you might have yourself a culinary epiphany - no joke. It's that much better. Viet restaurants there are highly competitive and have access to the best, local produce. Here, there's not nearly the same level of competition and so places get lazy, in my opinion. There's this awful consensus among many of them that Caucasians and other non-Viets don't know any better so there's not need to offer the real thing. They've told me this themselves.

                        So what to do? Be smart customers and don't settle for mediocrity. I hope eventually, they might get the picture.

                        1. re: cafemonamie

                          What do you think of Annam in Dearborn?

                          1. re: cafemonamie

                            Fascinating. Native Thais have told me the same thing about Thai food here. And I guess I can believe it--when I go to other cities, where there are three Middle Eastern restaurants instead of 30, I'm often disappointed with the hommous. Thanks for the detailed answer. I think SoCal is going to be on the list for my late winter vacation/culinary tour.

                            1. re: Jim M

                              Momskitchen-
                              I have only been to Annam once. I think I ordered the lemongrass chicken or something like that. It was rather unremarkable, as I recall. I may be wrong, but my feeling is that their aim is to offer a modern, hip interpretation of Viet dishes rather than authentic, homestyle cuisine. In that regard though, my impression is that they come up a bit short. It's a nice place for a date or an evening out - with its simple and fairly elegant decor. The food, however, lacks the inventiveness, quality and attention to detail that a slightly upscale restaurant like this should possess, in my opinion.

                              Jim M-
                              Indeed, my Thai friends share the same sentiments. I certainly agree with them. Of course, since I'm not Thai, I can dine at Thai establishments here with a bit less offense. I hope you do make it out to SoCal this winter. It's farther than Florida, but worth the trip! If you need Viet food recs, please let me know via my blog or email at holybasil(at)mail(dot)com

                              http://www.holybasil.wordpress.com