Ann Arbor - An Updated Survey of the best it has to offer
Just moved to town and am looking for the best Ann Arbor (and surrounding areas within a 30-45 minute drive) have to offer as far as food is concerned. Elegant vs simple, foreign vs familiar -- all types of cuisines and categories apply. Where are the best places to eat (and by best I mean best food) all the different kinds of food that people on this message board love to consume???
I've never found a good mole' like those I had in Oaxaca and the satay in Denpassar beats anything I've found around here BUT we're in MICHIGAN! Bagels be damned, summer sweet corn will never taste so sweet, tomatoes in August beat anything around, apples and cider from one of the local orchards is heads and shoulders above any you'll find in Queens, and for the best -and I mean BEST- pie you've ever tasted, black raspberries abound and are free picking in just about every field and woodlot around town. If you can get your hands on some Lake Erie Walleye, you are in for a treat and I would put the eggs from the chickens in my own back yard up against any, ANY in San Fran, Seattle, or the entire state of New York!
The Food Co-op and Farmers Market are the places to shop. You can hit 'em both up on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the market season (the Co-op 7 days a week, year-round). The bulk herbs and spices alone are worth the trip to the Co-op for any cook. Their Cafe serves 100% Fair Trade coffee, which is a big plus in my book. I was just there last weekend and counted (yes, I counted) 26 local produce items -and its JANUARY in Michigan! Very cool place. Its always popular to poo-poo the local institutions, but pass on Whole Foods for the real deal.
For out of town exploration: ZouZou's Cafe in Chelsea is small and funky and fun. Its quite the destination for the local weekend bike tours during the warmer months. For a small-town they really have it going on. The pastries give Zingerman's a run for their money for half the price (maybe less). For breakfast, and this is maybe one of the area's best kept secrets, check out Melissa's on M-52 near Manchester (south of I-94 but a couple miles north of Manchester proper and only 20 minutes from A2). Melissa's is a very nondescript place in the front of a livestock exchange, of all things. I couldn't make this up. Its THE hang-out for the farm folks in the area. Breakfasts are huge and cheap. We're not talking gourmet, no truffle oil in them omelets, we're talking huge, cheap breakfasts that stick to the ribs of even the hardiest of Germanic farm souls. The pancakes (served only till 11am) are a foot across, 3/4" thick and only something like two bucks each. Seriously, the place should be considered a national treasure for the pancakes alone (I smuggled in some real maple syrup once -they thought it was a bottle of whiskey!) Speaking of real maple syrup, how many sugar maples they got in Queens???
There are two: Saigon Garden on Forest near South U and MisSaigon on Stone School south of Ellsworth. There's also Dalat in downtown Ypsi. I've been satisfied at all three, but people who know Vietnamese food from SoCal tend to be disappointed by them. For a noodle fix, try one of AA's Korean restaurants, or hit Matsuchan in Canton for Japanese-style noodles--it's great.
One produce store I have not seen mentioned is ZiZi's. On Packard east of Carpenter. It's an amazing looking place and you have to carefully pick through the stuff, but they have things in there I've never, or at least rarely, seen anywhere else in town, including lots of Asian and Mexican items.
I'll second (or third?) Cafe Zola for both breakfast/brunch and dinner. Their dinners are consistently terrific - fresh ingredients, care taken with the cooking and presentation, a nice bistro-type atmosphere, and the food just tastes good. This is always my go-to place with guests.
Zingerman's Roadhouse can be really good (ie. fried chicken), but also misfires on a lot of their specials and can be overpriced. I've discovered that it's better to stick with the simpler-sounding entrees. Fun atmosphere with a group.
Common Grill (Chelsea) is definitely worth the drive for dinner or for Sunday brunch. One weekend a month they have live jazz at brunch, too. They do a nice job with steaks and have the best crab cakes and other seafood specials in town.
Yotsuba is quite good for Japanese. Cherry Blossom isn't bad, but the original location in Novi is better.
Gourmet Garden is my pick for Chinese.
Casey's and Red Hawk are both nonsmoking and have good burgers, draft beer, and other pub food. Prickly Pear is fun for casual southwest (awesome fajitas).
Other than that, though, most places are pretty disappointing, especially given their price points. I'm lucky enough to have family and friends in Chicago where I can go to really good neighborhood ethnic restaurants that charge less than the places in Ann Arbor. If you want Cuban, go to Cafe LaGuardia in Chicago (Cafe Habana is awful). If you want Italian, go to Cafe Spiaggia on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for absolutely terrific food (they share the kitchen with super-high-end Spiaggia) for prices comparable to what Gratzi charges to be mediocre. (I did have a fabulous Italian meal at Il Posto on Northwestern Highway in Southfield a few years ago, but they've changed owners and I haven't been back to see if the quality has stayed the same.)
I'll also agree with various posters on these boards about the fact that Ann Arbor is a great place to be if you like to cook. There are plenty of places to buy good ingredients. Zingerman's Deli is rightfully famous for a lot of interesting products, but check around town at Plum Market and other spots for lower prices on some of the same stuff.
Welcome to town and good luck exploring!
I agree with you cookbookgeek, Cafe Habana is awful.
I've tried it twice and thought the food was terrible both times- their cuban sandwich was made on some sort of a brown & serve bread & was inedible, the plantains were hard as rocks- we complained & never received any response.
The mojito was tiny & watery.
It's odd - isn't it's the same owner as Grizzly Peak ? which I've found is usually pretty good.
Knights has really upscaled their menu from what it was a few years ago- they now use fresh vegetables & fish so it's much better for the non meat eaters and the mixed drinks are excellent.
Don't forget Ypsi/ Pittsfield for ingredients & interesting ethnic restaurants- the giant Asian Market on Washtenaw is amazing.
And Thai-Thai is very good too (across from Pita-Pita & near the former Putt-Putt)
re: Michigan Mishuganer
Odd, MM, your experience at Cafe Habana. Wife-enstein and I have had nothing but good experiences there, including the Cuban Sandwich, which I enjoyed immensely. Their mojitos have inspired me to make my own at home. Tiny? Nah. I'm not going to say go back and try again, because maybe it's just not your kind of place. And, I'm not aware of a connection to Grizzly Peak. Maybe some 'hounder can clarify.
re: Michigan Mishuganer
Cafe Habana is part of a chain of restaurants that specialize in serving dishes comprised of Gordon Food Service and Sysco. Processed foods and prepared ingredients define these restaurants.
I try not to go to any of these restaurants as I am consistently disappointed.
"Chain"? I thought there were just two- The original in Royal Oak and now Ann Arbor. They share owners with Bastone next door in Royal Oak and Grizzly Peak AFAIK.
I thought the owners subscribed to the Slow Food movement? Having been to Bastone, Grizzly Peak and Cafe Habana several times, I find them very good for what Michigan has to offer (although the Cuban flavors seem tamed down). I have no beef with their quality. Their kids offerings are especially high quality and diverse considering what most places offer, so that's a big plus in my book and may be tainting my opinion. :-)
adding: Just looked at the link-- I wasn't aware of all the Traverse City locations. Interesting...
First time at Cafe Habana we liked it but the second time was awful. Everything was cold, my wife's salad was a big bowl full of iceberg lettuce and a few paltry other ingredients (this being one of the dinner salads). In general there just was not much taste to anything. We were pretty shocked seeing how much we had liked it the first time.
I have to strongly disagree that there is no good Italian around Ann Arbor. Paesano's is consistently wonderful and not at all expensive. Bella Ciao has gotten quite nice as well. (though it is pricier) Besides, how is telling people to go to Chicago to eat part of the Midwest board? If I recall there is a dedicated Chicago board for people that are interested in the cuisine there. Also it's obvious that a city of millions will have superlative representations of most types of cuisine. I am sure that one could go on about it all day long----just not here, please.
I have to say the food scene in Ann Arbor is quite lame, esp. if you're coming from someplace that is a food mecca like queens etc.
I'm on a tight student budget so I have not been going to restaurants much...and most that i've been to left me thinking my own cooking is better!
Great Lakes chinese on carpenter rd is one of the only interesting places i've found. I think it's called the tofu, vegetable soup w/ shrimp. the broth is sublime, it's a light and very tasty soup (although it doesn't sound it i know). i highly rec this. their hong kong tea (hot/cold) is also good and reminds me a little of the burmese tea at the now sadly closed burmese cafe (jackson hts, queens). so this place has some stuff worth trying.
madras masala near the university has a pretty good indian buffet (nice dal selection if you're a vegetarian). they change up their items, but i'm usually happy w/ this place.
zingermans has enough written about it so i won't go there. it's ann arbor in a nutshell--very yuppy and way overpriced, but the sandwiches are good (just not worth the price). the servers are very nice.
bagels- coming from ny, i realize i completely took good bagels for granted. lenders frozen beat ann arbor's bagels.
za's custom pastas near campus- i tried this for a quick lunch and suprisingly it was pretty good. i got pesto, penne and artichoke pasta. nice for a quick lunch, but i can only speak for the pesto since that's all i've eaten there so far.
in all, it's a very sad town for food:( i'm looking to explore the detroit area for better eats and possibly moving there to get out of this town!
still have not found great brkfst (sorry angelo's and and northside grill, while cute, are not great for breakfast. decent, but nothing to rave about at all!)
i've visited madison, wi recently and it puts ann arbor to shame! some fantastic restaurants. so make sure to eat out if you're ever there!
ann arbor is such a sad place to live for a food lover.
also- for cooking ingredients. again, not a great place unless you're well off. i pay more for many items in the grocery stores here than i did in manhattan. I went to a few groceries and they didn't even have bunches of dill! hard to find fresh basil that is not ridiculously over-priced. ppl here rave about the farmers market. also nothing outstanding there and again over-priced. if someone can rec'd a place w/ good produce for a decent price please post! indian grocery--i often go there but once again double, often triple what i paid in ny.
zingermans, plum market, whole foods--in general. all very expensive ($7+ for a loaf of bread at whole foods or plum market!).
I moved to Ann Arbor from San Francisco, so yeah, I definitely know what you mean about groceries being pricey here. Everyone is shocked when I say that apart from rent, the cost of living is actually higher for me in Ann Arbor than it was in San Francisco. Groceries, car, and heating result in some ferocious bills. And I miss my little Asian noodles houses! Of course, you do get much more for your rent check...I definitely don't miss paying through the nose for California rat holes.
Anyway, a few secrets:
1) Try going to Plum Market after 8 p.m. Head to the bakery. You'll thank me.
2) The farmers market is still the best deal in town for produce. If it's something in season, it will undoubtedly be less expensive there than at a grocery store. I've just learned to plan my meals based on what's available on Saturday. Also, see if any vendors have seconds; I've gotten huge supplies of slightly bruised tomatoes for cheap, and made some lovely sauces.
3) Sunshine and Aladdin's Markets on Packard are cheap, but don't expect your produce to last more than 4-5 days.
4) By the Pound in South Main Market is a good place to go to get bulk foods and spices. As long as you stay away from the packaged foods the prices are quite good. Check out the Polish and Brazilian shops in the same area.
The bottom line, though, is that specialty ingredients (unless they're Middle Eastern...) are going to cost more out here. Nope, Ann Arbor's not a food mecca, but it tries, and at least we're not dealing with chains and big boxes in our downtown.
If all else fails, try growing your own herbs. It's nice to have something green in your house during the long, cold winter.
I'll have to try your Great Lakes restaurant....sounds delish! As far as other restaurants on a grad school budget, if you're looking for a nicer but still affordable night out, Vinology's small plates are quite reasonable and generally interesting. Silvio's pizza is good for lunch around campus, Totoro has good bento box lunch specials, and the Korean lunch counters around are generally pretty dependable. While I was initially a little uncomfortable with the idea of going to a 'Christian' restaurant, Rich JC (seriously!) on South U (near Village Corner and the dreaded No Thai) has become a favorite solo lunch spot for me.
Good luck, hang in there, and take advantage of as much as you can at the university, in Ann Arbor, and in the surrounding area. There's more to this town than I initially realized, but I had to stop griping about it not being San Francisco before I appreciated its other charms.
A few other suggestions on the ingredients: 1) If you are headed toward Detroit for any reason, try one of the Randazzo's produce marts--huge, good, dirt cheap. The nearest is in Westland at Warren and Newburgh. If they'd open up in Ann Arbor they'd make a killing. 2) There are a lot of Koreans here. The Korean restaurants are uniformly good, and the groceries are decent, too. There's one at the foot of Broadway called Manna. Also try the Chinese groceries in Plymouth Road Mall (the one that says "Experience different food culture here!" on the windows) and Hua Xing (the biggest) on Washtenaw. Both of those have ingredients from various Asian cuisines. Live frogs and eels, among other things, at Hua Xing.. No, it's not San Francisco, but in the words of the Austin Lounge Lizards, cable cars and leather bars have superficial glamor.
I think the best bagels in town are Zingermans - dense, not like airy rolls.
The sesame & everything bagels are close to Montreal bagels,
there's nothing in Michigan as good as the bagels on Main St in Flushing.
you can get a half dozen free on your birthday from Zingermans.
here's a list of free birthday stuff:
You have my sincere condolences, Daniellacazar, having moved to the barren and hungry midwest from Queens!
Sparrow produce in Kerrytown has very reasonable prices on some items like bananas, tomatoes & avocadoes.
for Indian groceries, try Shakti Bazaar on Carpenter near Packard.
re:grocery store produce- Kroger is the worst,
Meijer usually has pretty good prices & local Michigan produce.
Arbor Farms also has local produce too.
re: Michigan Mishuganer
I don't think you'll find anything even close to a Montreal bagel in Ann Arbor or anywhere in Michigan, for that matter. Zingerman's bagels are quite dense and heavy, and while Montreal bagels can be described as dense, they are not heavy. They're about 1/3 the size and on the sweet/bland side. I'd say the bagels at Zingerman's are closer to New York style bagels, but I'm sure New Yorkers will heartily disagree.
If there's any chance for some good bagel action, my recommendation would be to head to West Bloomfield, where you'll find a significant Jewish community residing. There are a few kosher restaurants there and surely there will be Jewish bakeries selling bagels, though whether or not they'll bear any resemblance to a Montreal style bagel, I can't say.
re: Michigan Mishuganer
It always seemed like making bagels was a good fit for a pizza place. Bagel and pizza customers have completely different hours, and they already have a lot of the infrastructure (ovens, mixers) that a bagel place would need.
I hadn't heard of Jerusalem Pizza (http://www.jpizza.com/). Sounds good, except for the 'vegetarian Canadian bacon' - WFT!
re: Michigan Mishuganer
I've tried the zingermans bagels, but they are so hard! i found them tough to eat! I'll try the sesame and everything though.
I'll also check out sparrow since i'm often looking for reasonably priced tomatoes after they stop selling them at the farmers market.
I usually go to Bombay Grocers on Packard for Indian...is Shakti better?
Yes, I've definitely found Kroger produce to be bad!
Several years ago I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (So danielleaczar, I feel for you.) There were two "camps" of bagel lovers: one camp was devoted to the big, soft, bready bagel at the bagel shop at the east end of the slope; the other was devoted to the hard, chewy, dense bagel on the west end of the slope. The distinction was explained to me at one time --it wasn't the Montreal vs New York style bagel, but maybe where in eastern europe the bagels hailed from? -- but I don't quite remember the details. What I do know is that Zingerman's bagels are adhering to one of the traditions I remember from my Park Slope days.
As for me, I'm a fan of the soft, bready style of bagel. Elaine's bagels are the best approximation here in Ann Arbor; you can get them at Sparrow Market. The Jefferson Market used to carry them, but I don't think the new owners carry them.
I think Madras Masala is great too the off the menu beats the buffet too and the prices are very reasonable. The space needs some investment as the floor/carpet is older than I am. The bathrooms used to scare me but the completely redid those. The service is great. I had a new son recently and all the waiters stop to make him laugh/smile. I've been to Indian a few places recommended here and I still like Madras Masala the most.
How are the portion sizes for off the menu items? I usually stick to the buffets at most Indian places because the menu items are small portions for the price.
It's the only Indian place I've tried beside the Earthen Jar, which I had high hopes for but didn't think was very good.
I agree that the service is great. They're very friendly and attentive and I never feel rushed or anything if I happen to do some reading after I eat.
I'm happy that Ann Arbor has a place like this...and it's very conveniently located for students.
moved & is now:
1449 W. 14 Mile Rd.
Madison Hgts., MI 48071
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Directions: Located a half mile west of I-75 at Cambell and 14 Mile in the Value Center Plaza
re: Michigan Mishuganer
Interesting story about my wife's birthday at Palio (which is also a part of Main Street Ventures) some years ago. We had a pleasant meal, just the two of us, which meant that we were to get 50% off the price of her meal. After dinner, we were joined by her good friend, who had a celebratory drink with us and then left. When the bill came, my wife's meal was discounted by, get this, 33% because of visit by her friend for just a drink. This struck us as an incredibly cheap, low-down thing to do. We argued our case for 1/2 off my wife's meal (it was like talking to a brick wall), we lost, paid our bill, and have never ever been back.
I've always refrained from posting about this since I feel like my opinions never match the boards, but since I am moving I am going to throw in my two cents. Also, I've found a ton of help off of this site (not for Ann Arbor, but for other cities).
After living here for 6 years my assessment is that Ann Arbor is always going to be pretty disappointing for anything high-end or upscale. I think you have to travel to other cities in Michigan to really make that happen (like Detroit or Farmington Hills) but I don't know for sure. For example, people like Eve and Logan, but I think they are both mediocre at best, particularly for the price. Eve is perhaps the most overrated restaurant I have ever experienced. But for some reason, people around here love it. Maybe it's me. Logan is better, but for the money, I feel like you can get a better meal elsewhere (like another city). Also, there is no good Thai, no good Indian but there is some good Korean, and almost decent Vietnamese. What Ann Arbor does best is the more casual American dining, and there is some good stuff to be had. Also, it's a good place for the at home cook, lots of good little markets with good ingredients. So here is my list. My best advice is to cultivate your at home cooking skills:
Sushi: Saica (reasonable but consistently good) and Yotsuba (pricier but very good)
Chinese: Great Lake (particularly if you're willing to order some of the less common dishes they serve. Their soups are great, good dimsum)
Steak: Knights (such a great place! best burgers in town in my opinion with Old Town a close second (they use Knight's meat I think too)
Indian: Don't bother anymore.
Vietnamese: The place in Ypsi is fine, and Siagon Garden is passable if you're dying for it. Nothing stellar though.
Thai: Don't bother (I am very picky about Thai food though so perhaps you should listen to other posters, I happen to come from a part of the country that has an unusual concentration of AMAZING Thai.) The least worst place in my opinion is Old Siam.
Lunch: Kosmo's and Monihan's in Kerrytown Market are excellent. Also, Sparrow has a great butcher. The co-op's salad bar and hot bar are really good. Everday cook was great, but its closed now. The chef who ran that seriously needs to open up a restaurant in this town and show some of these other folks how its done.
Korean: Arirang (this place is great. the dumplings are homemade)
Upscale: If you must, if you need a good dinner out, then the best options are Zingerman's Roadhouse and Zola. Pacific Rim is okay too if you like that kind of thing. Everything else I've tried in the Main Street area has just been really disappointing. The Earle is fun for drinks, especially in the winter, but the food isn't so good. I like Common Grille in Chelsea, but weirdly the restaurant is better when its really crowded. They tend to run out of things too.
Mexican: La Fiesta Mexicana in Ypsi
Pizza: NYPD or Anthony's
Breakfast/Brunch: Northside beats Angelo's any day of the week in my opinion. Again though you're going to hear a lot of people recommending Angelo's.
a few ideas...
Weirdest place to eat in Ann Arbor- (if still open) Asian/ American coffee shop inside the courthouse, open 7:30 -5 i think 994-1140.
Cafe Zola for crepes, breakfast.
Knights on Dexter near Maple is very 1950-1960ish for burgers in town
Yossi's on Orchard Lake Rd near Northwestern in Farmington has the best and only Israeli felafel in the area.
Taqueria La Fiesta
4060 Packard (near Carpenter)
Dalat in Ypsi for Vietnamese food
Kang's Korean Restaurant (The Coffee Break)
1327 South University for Bi Bim Bop
1220 South University (entrance on S. Forest) for Pho
I really liked Bahn Na & miss their food.
I figure I'd give my two cents in as well when it came to Ann Arbor restaurants. I agree with most of the things listed.
Cafe Zola - great place for brunch, esp. outside on a warm sunny day
Everyday Lunch (above Hollandar's in Kerrytown Market) - different menu each day using fresh local ingredients, chef's do an amazing job at creating unique and delectable dishes
Silvio's Organic Pizza - thoroughly Italian pizza, not the greasy stuff that passes for pizza these days
Bella Ciao - good seasonal Italian, cozy setting and excellent atmosphere
Chia Shang - excellent Chinese and Malaysian dishes
Cafe du Jour - some of the best soup around in my opinion
Exotic Bakeries and Cuisine - low key no frills Syrian food, one of the best around
Some places in Ypsilanti that I've come to really enjoy
Red Sea - Ethiopian at its best
Bahn Na - Northern Thai and Laotian but I've heard rumours about it closing?
Dalat - family owned vietnamese
All the Indian restaurants in Ann Arbor that used to be great are gone. I'm not sure if I agree that Shalimar is one of the best though. They aren't consistent, overpriced and just trying to be far to European for my liking. A new Indian restaurant is opening up, and hopefully it'll be better than what is currently around.
Dominick's, Prickly Pear, Paesano's are all great places and I'd highly recommend them. I am yet to try Logan but have heard great things. Seva is worth a shot, as is Zingerman's Deli. Zingerman's Roadhouse if you like the Deli, but I prefer it for drinks.
And yes, the hippie hash at fleetwood is excellent, and even better at 3am on Friday/Saturday night.
Best burger in Ann Arbor area right now happens to be at Dan's Tavern in Saline. They get their meat from Knight's Market. Good onion rings too. Caveat: smokey. Dan needs to see how Casey's Tavern is doing with smoke free.
Tomatoes in Farmington Hills (just at the upper limit of your driving minutes interval) has fairly authentic New Haven style pizza.
May I suggest searching the midwest board first, there are a lot of entries for Ann Arbor...
But for starters, I'll list a few:
Logan - upscale fun
Earle - french/italian upscale, fantastic happy hour
Old Town - fun "locals" pub
Shalimar - good indian
Jerusalem Garden - terrific middle eastern
Knights - old school steaks
Paesanos - nice Italian
Gandy Dancer - upscale seafood, Chuck Muer resto
Prickly Pear - funky southwest
Casey's tavern - good pub food
Cottage Inn - Ann Arbor institution
Dominicks - students paradise/outdoor patio watering hole
I'm tired of recommending the same old restaurants, so I'll mention Fleetwood, where the purpose is not so much to eat but to people watch, but the hippie hash is great.
I was thinking of my complaint of listing the same old Ann Arbor restaurants, so I decided to list a few in the surrounding area (but again, these are probably listed in older posts concerning Ann Arbor-area restos):
Haab's - old school restaurant, try the "chicken in the rough"
Chick-Inn - 1950s style drive-in, try pineapple shakes
Bill's - 3 things on the menu: coneys, homemade root beer, and potato chips
Sidetrack - up and down lately on the service, but terrific happy hour and good burgers, loads of outdoor seating
Aubrees - GREAT pizza/calzones
Common Grill - upscale seafood, etc. Wonderful spot
Chinese Tonite - standard Chinese fare, but very good crab rangoon
Seitz's Tavern - OLD SCHOOL bar, possible local celebrity sighting spot
maybe someone else can chime in on Dexter, cause I know there's some good spots now...
Canton is more diverse than its white-bread appearance would suggest. Short drive from Ann Arbor's east side, with several options not easily available in Ann Arbor itself.
Irie, on Cherry Hill just west of Canton Center Rd.--home-cooked Jamaican dishes, and sometimes on special they have the elusive escovitched fish, the delicious vinegar-marinated fried fish that is called escabeche in Latin America. I don't know where Jamaicans live in western Wayne County, but the place gets a steady stream of Jamaican customers. Sweet little spot.
Thai Bistro, Ford west of Canton Center--consistently good Thai standards.
Matsuchan, Sheldon on strip just north of Ford, on E side--delightful and authentic Japanese noodle restaurant.
There are also a lot of Indians in Canton, and several Indian restaurants. I don't know what the best is at this point, but it's worth experimenting. Ann Arbor has plenty of these, though. Do try Middle Eastern food anywhere in SE Michigan--it's almost always good. Welcome to the Deuce!