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uniquely Ann Arbor and very special?

I'll be visiting your pretty town soon, and I am wondering if you can help me eat. I'll be doing the expected pilgrimage to Zingerman's, but rest is kind of fuzzy. I am wondering if there is anything else that is not available elsewhere, like the Poutine in QC, brats in WI, pizza in NYC, fish tacos in CA, and etc. I am an equal opportunity eater (both in terms of provenance and price), but mind you, where I live (the republic of Quebec) is pretty well stocked in terms of French, Vietnamese, some Middle Eastern (mostly Lebanese). I'll also be celebrating my birthday during my trip, so perhaps a special dinner is in the plans (if there are special people involved, which is a rare occasion on work related trips, eeek! weirdooos!).

So I am looking for:

Culinary experiences you might not be able to get elsewhere (akin to the pastrami at Zingerman's)
I really really don't want to eat French. I live in Montreal, and I am pretty well spoiled for that, borderlining boredom. I'd rather eat some range of food that is not well represented where I live (Laotian, Burmese, Ethiopian, Turkish, Japanese, Mexican, Scandinavian, German, British, basically most non French/ French colony cuisines)

I have about 3 lunches, and 3 dinners. One dinner could be devoted to a birthday splurge. Interesting breakfasts are welcome, but I can just do without muffins or bacon/eggs to save calories for upcoming meals. Dessert is always good, if it is not sheet cake.

Thanks in advance, and visit us sometime.

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  1. I've lived in Ann Arbor since 1979, and there isn't anything here you can't find elsewhere. The best bet for eats in AA is home cooking, because you can get good raw materials here.

    Having said that, if I was to recco a restaurant, I'd say La Fiesta Mexicana in Ypsilanti, or its sister Taqueria La Fiesta, obviously both Mexican. And real Mexican.

    1. For Seafood visit the Real Seafood Company. My husband always requests we go there for his birthday and if you go on your birthday you will get a discount on your dinner. Can't remember what it is exactly but it's a great deal. If you're in town on a Sunday they have a fabulous brunch at Gandy Dancer. Will you have a car? Does it need to be in Ann Arbor only?

      1 Reply
      1. re: tdmort

        I don't have a car. But it looks like my potential birthday date (and not so boring thank god!) will have a ride. Other meals have to be walk/public transit accessible though, since I am flying in.

      2. It's the American Midwest, so can't expect much. But check out Amadeus (Eastern European) downtown for good eats and plenty of atmosphere and Metzgers, an Ann Arbor tradition (German) for about 80 years. in 1999, they moved from downtown to a mall, but it's real Ann Arbor history. Have lunch at Zingerman's every day. They never disappoint. Bon Appetite!

        4 Replies
        1. re: valerieclarke

          "It's the American Midwest, so can't expect much"

          Totally disagree with that broad sweeping statement!
          There are a ton of great places and fantastic products in the midwest.
          Back to AA.
          I agree with Jims mention for BBQ but it is also noteworthy that Alex Young from
          Zingerman's roadhouse received a James Beard nomination.
          Lets not forget Blimpy Burger.

          1. re: Fritter

            Yes, Zingerman's Roadhouse does BBQ very well. That might be a good place for our visitor to try.

            1) Menu consists of American regional foods, some of which may be hard to find in Montreal.

            2) About 1.5 miles on foot from downtown; can reach by bus during the day or by cab easily.

            3) Generally excellent. They hype the burgers and the mac and cheese, neither of which IMO is that great. But I've had wonderful meals there. Oysters are generally very good. Thursday night BBQ special at $12.95 is a deal.

            1. re: Fritter

              We should explain: Zingerman's Deli and Zingerman's Roadhouse are two different restaurants--the roadhouse is a sit-down place with waitstaff, while at the deli you order at the counter and they bring you the food.

              1. re: Jim M

                They're in two different places too, a few miles apart.

          2. It's tough, because in my experience Montreal is one of the great restaurant cities in the world. However, something very characteristic of Ann Arbor is the collection of Korean lunch places near the U-M campus, and elsewhere in the city. I like Maru on William, but they're all pretty similar, and quite good indeed. For Asian fusion downtown, try Pacific Rim.

            Good choices corresponding to your list:

            Laotian: There used to be one in Ann Arbor, but it moved to the Detroit suburb of Madison Heights on the other side of the metro area. It was decent when it was here, but I haven't tried the new incarnation. It's called Sabidee.

            Burmese: Let us know if you find one!

            Ethiopian: Several choices. Blue Nile in downtown AA is pretty good, and there's a great cheap new place in Detroit's Eastern Market.

            Turkish: Ayse's on Plymouth Road. Call 662-1711 for directions; it's hard to find. Excellent Turkish cuisine. You could hoof it from downtown.

            Japanese: We're not L.A., but try Yamato in the Kerrytown shopping center (only Japanese-owned place) or Yotsuba on Hogback Rd. Good authentic Japanese food in the Detroit subub of Canton: Matsuchan (noodles), Ajishin.

            Mexican: See Chris W.'s comment above. Also try Sabor Latino on N. Main in Ann Arbor for pan-Caribbean and Mexican food.

            Scandinavian: From time to time people have opened Scandinavian places around Detroit, but they always seem to fail. No luck.

            German: A good choice here. Fifty years ago that was the predominant ethnicity here. Second on Metzger's (you have to drive there, though, and it'd be a long cab ride) and Amadeus (Polish food). You could try the Heidelberg downtown--hit or miss lately, but they can still turn out a good German dinner.

            British/Irish: A few bars, but probably nothing you can't get better north of the border.

            A classic Midwestern American steakhouse is Knight's on Dexter Rd. A stiff walk from the center of town, but after eating one of their steaks you may need one.

            A high-end Italian place downtown: the Bella Ciao. I haven't been there for awhile, though.

            Cheap pizza, authentic and organic both: Silvio's on North University.

            Many people like Logan for a fancy meal, but I haven't been there. Good lamb dishes across the street at Cafe Zola.

            Barbecue is something that I've found is consistently better in the U.S. The best in the area is at Slows in Detroit. In downtown AA there is a new place called the Blue Tractor--I haven't tried it yet.

            And, for lunch, a true Ann Arbor institution, Le Dog on Liberty St. Lunch only, no seating. The soup is the thing, rather than the hot dogs (although those are OK). Try to go Tuesday or Wednesday, when there are often specials. If he has anything central European, or pozole, those are especially good. Ignore proprietor's brusque attitude. Lobster bisque on Thursday and Friday.

            Bon appétit, et joyeux anniversaire! Et si je veux manger viande fumée quand je conduis à Vermont, ou est la meilleure maintaint?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Jim M

              For a birthday/special dinner I'd suggest Eve, Logan, or Cafe Zola. All have lovely atmospheres, good drinks/wine, and excellent food. Note that Zola is a different place at lunch--much more brunchy than dining.

              For stuff unique to Ann Arbor, I second the sugegstion of LeDog--the soups and specials are all good. There is a second location on Main Street. The same soups and the same chef, but depending where you are, it may be more convenient.

              Others to think about: Blimpy Burger with slider-style burgers and onion rings/fried veggies and "colorful" staff; Anthony's Gourmet Pizza--a little like Chicago-style, but really it's own thing. Kerrytown has some fun lunch options--a Korean dining counter or you can have Monhan's fish market make you something to eat right there--you know it will be fresh. Kerrytown would be fun people watching as well, if you are on your own.

              Knight's is very Midwestern and the meat is excellent. This is a bit of "old" Ann Arbor and more of a local's place.

              Enjoy your trip!

              Any of the Korean place mentioned above are great for lunch.

              Amadeus, mentioned above, has good desserts, in addition to its Middle European cuisine.

              1. re: dct

                Cafe Zola has a wonderful brunch atmosphere, IMHO although it gets hectic at peak hours on the weekend. The typical eggs and pastries but they also have a lovely turkish breakfast. You can view their menus online at http://www.cafezola.com .

                If you're craving Ethiopian, you'll enjoy Blue Nile, maybe with some ethiopian honey wine. I love the delicate spices, reminiscent of Indian meets Afghani food.

                Zingerman's also has great chopped liver and other Jewish deli delights. Take a look at the "salad" case while you're waiting for your sandwich.

                Also, Ann Arbor has some of the most authentic Chinese restaurants I've seen since leaving the San Francisco bay area. There are several threads on CH regarding people's favorites. I haven't been back in Michigan long enough to have tried them all but they are heads above what is available here in my neck of the woods. Just don't order the standard "made for westerners" dishes and expect anything special. Of course, this may be subpar to Montreal's Chinese dining options, and in that case, don't waste your time!

              2. re: Jim M

                BTW, I tried the Blue Tractor and wasn't too impressed. True, I didn't have the BBQ--I had fried chicken, but a barbecue place that does fried chicken ought to do it well.

                Let us know where you ended up!

              3. I am from Toronto and spend lots of time in A2...and go to Montreal some too...my suggestion is to keep to American classics and Mexican, and stay away from international cuisines...sadly most have been Americanized...Ethiopian has injera is made with white flour not teft at Blue Nile..and hardly any spice...if you want international stop in TO on the way. Otherwise La Fiesta Mexicana is great, Blue Tractor, Zola, Zingerman's. For breakfast and muffins, check out Afternoon Delight.
                Best advice from a fellow Canuck.....It is the Mid west, and you are from Montreal...for the love of god don't eat the cheese! (except from Zingerman's -kind of)