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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)

                1. Thanks for the suggestions so far. I have a few more weeks to go, and I'll keep checking. Also, I promise to report (I always report, even though it is sometimes week after my trip)

                  1. As far as *uniquely Ann Arbor* (I am going to take that to mean uniquely Michigan as well) there are some possibiltiies:

                    1) Blimpy Burger. It is distinctly "Ann Arbor". Sure other places have sliders but no one makes them quite as "sliderly" as BB. Plus you will get abused by the help! How often does that happen, eh?

                    2) A Coney Island. Nowhere outside Michigan hardly even uses this expression. (or serves real Coneys) Nothing particularly in Ann Arbor ever really stood out that much to me so just pick a Coney Island and get some coneys! (for lunch I would presume)

                    3) Eve. Although Eve is very nominally "french" it really goes far beyond that. (In fact I can't actually think of any traditionally French dishes.....) I mention it because Eve Aronoff, besides being a James Beard chef, has a very serious commitment to Local grown food. So in that sense it is very "Ann Arbor". It is an exquisite restaurant in every way. The crown jewel of Ann Arbor, IMO.

                    4) Good ideas already mentioned about the ethnic choices, but I would add Godaiko to the list of Japanese. I have heard great things about the Copernicus Delicatessen as far as Polish food. (Have yet to try it)

                    5) Casey's. Very good solid midwestern Bar food. Not *unique* per se, but one of the best representatives of its class. It manages to combine a very "Ann Arbor" feeling with a general lack of pretension and excellent food. Also see Sidetrack in Ypsi. (great food too and similar feel, but larger and more bar-like. Also some of the best Burgers in the state, though Casey's are very good too....)

                    Hey, I am heading to Montreal in August.....anything leap out that *must* be tried????

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: RNemes

                      The coney dog is called a "Michigan" in Quebec.

                      Second on Godaiko and Casey's.

                      1. re: RNemes

                        Please do visit us in the Quebec board. There are lots of similar discussions, and if nothing sounds what you are looking for, inquire within :)

                        1. re: emerilcantcook

                          Really have not written on this board in a while, because not much to say about AA food. Sorry no Au Pied du Couchons here. Whenever I have guests in town, I usually cook , but if forced will take them for lunch at Monihan's in Kerrytown for Fish and Chips and fried calmari, also they will fry fresh sardines. I second/third the Roadhouse, good BBQ, fresh fish. You get what you pay for, high quality but pricy. I ate ate Blue Tractor on a charity dinner an was not impressed. Avoid all Asian food, except Hong Hua in Bloomington Hills. I used to be impressed with the ramen at Mathusen in Canton, but recent trip to NYC ruined it for me. I think a trip to the Common Grill, a bit of a dive would be a nice bithday dinner, always enjoyed it, nice setting. I think also lunch at Cafe Japon, very good sandwiches/bagettes might be different. She trained in France as a baker and makes wonderful pastries. Also Jerusulum Garden is always a solid lunch in AA. Eve is a resonable choice for dinner also, I have heard that Vinology has a new chef and seasonal menu, but have not been there. Good eating

                      2. I spent 20 years of my childhood in Ann Arbor, off and on. I would recommend some of the cheaper college student hang outs -

                        1) Dominick's. This place is not about the food, it is about the sangria. You buy it by the (large) mason jar. Sit on the back patio and enjoy. The students are gone now for the summer, so the patio will be much more enjoyable. Careful, though - a few glasses of this stuff really packs a punch. If you must eat here, I really only recommend the quesadilla or the nachos. And only eat them after consuming a decent amount of sangria. I've never understood why the food sucks so much here... if you get the munchies after Dominick's, take a quick walk down the street to Big Ten Burrito - burritos, nachos, etc. So popular it's now a chain. Open late.

                        2) Fleetwood Diner. I am probably not off to a strong start here, but this is food to eat after you've been drinking all night. Typical diner fare with a few interesting items thrown in (they have Tempeh something on the menu, though I can't remember what exactly). But the real reason to go here is to people-watch - kids with piercings and blue hair, yuppie PhD students, old-time hippies - you name it.

                        3) Red Hawk. Nice sandwiches/burgers/main dishes. Hard to describe, kind of the restaurant version of a deli? This usually attracts a slightly older (over 21) crowd.

                        4) Cottage Inn. Is for sure an Ann Arbor institution. The thick-crust pizza is the original. Don't waste your time on any of the pastas or other entrees. And I'd go for the thick crust, as opposed to some of the other crust options. Thick, chewy and crispy on the outside. Yum...

                        5) Angelo's. Now, I know you said you didn't want to waste your calories on breakfast, but this one could be brunch/lunch if you prefer. The challah french toast is great (comes in cinnamon raisin too), and the omlettes are generous. The spinach feta is pretty good. This place has a line out the door on weekends, so go early.

                        6) For your fancy birthday dinner, I'd recommend The Chop House. The steaks here are wet-aged for 28 days or something. All I know is they are pretty good. Large portions of meat = Midwest. The garlic mashed potatoes are good. Skip the rest of the vegetables and get a nice big glass of red wine instead.

                        For a good beer, go to Ashley's, Arbor Brewing Co or Grizzly Peak (the latter has excellent food as well - the kind you would expect from a brewpub).

                        For dessert, ice cream is the best thing here in the summer - Stucchi's is Ann Arbor's own. Washtenaw Dairy is good as well, though they outsource their ice cream now (Strohs - same as the beer company?). It's still welcome on a warm summer evening, though. Do NOT go to Ben & Jerry's - that would just be sacrelige.

                        I second the Le Dog recommenation (Lobster Bisque is a must), and Blimpy Burger is probably as Ann Arbor as it gets. Get a Fried Egg on top of your quadruple or quintuple, and try the fried zucchini/cauliflower.

                        Zingerman's is high-quality, with a high price to match - $12 for a half sandwich the last time I was there. I think you'd do better to wait and get real deli in NYC or something. And the Roadhouse is inventive for sure, but I never understood the need for chipotle triple cheese mac and cheese with truffle oil or whatever... they make comfort food too complicated, IMO (and trust me, I like fancy food, just not here). The one saving grace is their donut sundae - freshly made old-fashioned cake donut, vanilla gelato, bourbon caramel sauce and virginia peanuts. Never ceases to delight.

                        In short, go for the Ann Arbor 'Classics' - which means anywhere open since the 80's, at least. Aand all of the places noted above are walking distance to downtown.

                        1. I moved to Ann Arbor very recently from a major city in the US and there really isn't much here in the way of restaurants that compare to what was available there (even Zingerman's is a let down). The only restaurant that I would rate as "as good" or better is an Indian place called Madras Masala. But there are things that Ann Arbor does better than other cities, and some unique experiences. Beer! is one. Arbor is your best bet here, for the local stuff (Grizzly Peak is good too, but really a bit chain-y) Ashley's is also excellent. It is not a brew pub, but has one of the best beer lists I've encountered. Ann Arbor hasn't impressed me as a food city, but it has more than made up for it as a beer city. #2 Ann Arbor awesome food experience: Cuppycakes! Cake Nouveau is owned by a woman who is quite frequently featured on food network, and the cupcakes there are a unique experience. If you want cupcakes like mom makes, Jefferson Market is your best bet. Cake Nouveau is more famous and has that food network cache, but Jefferson Market is by far my fave. But hey, it is cupcakes, why not try both?! I'd skip Cupcake Station. Schakolad, a chocolate place right next to Arbor Brewing, is also good. Ice cream can be good here too. Kilwins is my fave, but Washtenaw Dairy is the local favorite. The other excellent culinary experience in Ann Arbor is the Farmer's Market. While you're there, pick up some Roos Roast coffee, some of the best coffee anywhere. Buy some goodies there and have a nice picnic in Argo Park!

                          So while I've yet to find a restaurant that I would really recommend here, I've had some great culinary experiences nonetheless.

                          I forgot one! I like the lunch counters at Sparrows. You can go up, point at a fish, and have it fried up for you on the spot!

                          1. Nice to see Zing's Roadhouse (and Slow's in Detroit) made the Top 10 newest BBQ joints in the US. I have yet to venture to the Roadhouse, but this is a good push for me. :)


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JanPrimus

                              I used to live in Tennessee and will travel miles for good barbecue--I think the Roadhouse does a really good job. If they have the Thursday night BBQ special it's a real bargain.

                            2. Finally back from my visit. I was somewhat bounded my host's decisions, so I didn't get to diversify as much as I could, but overall I had a very nice trip.

                              Cafe Comet: I stopped by this little shop every morning, sometimes twice. The owner is passionate and makes a mean cappuccino and a solid espresso. They use 49th Parallel beans, one of the top notch roasters in North America and also the supplier of my preferred hometown espresso bar (Cafe Myriade).

                              Cafe Zoma: I had a lovely brunch here. My friend ordered a ham and cheese crepe, which looked lovely. But coming from Frenchland, I didn't want to order crepes. Instead I chose an omelette with eggplant and feta. Richy and buttery, perfectly fluffy and not at all rubbery. Decent house coffee too.

                              Logan's: My friend (who is a little bit of an European/upscale food snob) insisted that Zingerman's Roadhouse is overrated and took me to Logans. In hindsight, I should have insisted on Zingerman's BBQ. There was nothing wrong with Logans, but for my money I can get much better examples of this fare (duck confit, creme brulee) in my hometown. Zingerman's BBQ on the other hand was a lost opportunity of eating things that I would never be able to eat in Quebec. At Logan, service was impeccable and food was pretty good. Seriously, there was no problems with it, but it wasn't too memorable either. Still I had a great time because I was with a good friend and got a chance to chat up with the passionate sommellier.

                              Casey's: Here I met world's most beautiful onion rings. Seriously, they were so pretty I couldn't touch them for a while. Other fried fare followed. We were happy. Somebody at the table was moaning while eating her burger, I was too busy rotating the appetizer selection and beers so never tried this beauty.

                              Ashley's: I had previously written somewhere in Chowhound that Bell's Two Hearted might be one of the greatest beers ever made on this planet. After two years of separation from my ale of choice, I must say I still agree. There were many many other selections, but like a lover fresh out of jail, I jumped on it and ordered again and again until I I lost count.

                              Madras Masala: I took a group of people there who turned out to be dining companions from hell (nope, the group didn't include my sweet but snobbish friend, these were really annoying peeps). Apparently, they don't like spicy food or "weird stuff" (they were pointing to my masala dosa). They could have told me this when I asked if they'd like to eat Indian food with me. I didn't even get to share food family style (my preferred way of eating Indian food), but my masala dosa was great, and a little bite I got from someone's nan was promising. Of course no-one thanked me for choosing this restaurant. (sigh)

                              Zingerman's: I almost didn't get a chance to stop here, but squeezed a late lunch of Reuben and pickles. Deserves every sort of hype it gets, though the price was a little bit shocking considering that a smoked meat sandwich at equally mouthwatering Schwartz is a mere 5.5 bucks (compared to 12).

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: emerilcantcook

                                < <
                                ordered again and again until I I lost count.
                                > >

                                LOL. I'm sure they appreciate your business! If your trip takes you to Kalamazoo or toward Chicago next time, check out the Bell's brewpub in downtown Kalamazoo.

                                Good picks largely different from what you can get in Montreal. Indian food in this area is above average, although not on Toronto's level.

                                1. re: Jim M

                                  If you like Two Hearted you may want to try Bell's Hop Slam. While I doubt I would want to drink it year round like I do Two Hearted....it is a treat!

                              2. Hey Hounds

                                I got a chance to try Blimpy Burger the other day and both Mrs. Sippi and I really loved it. Great little place with atmosphere, a geat bunch of guys working there. I didn't incur too much wrath but a girl behind us kept trying tell the condiment guy she wanted cheese on her burger.

                                Quad with American and bacon on an onion bun with onion rings on the side.

                                I'm on the road right now but when I get home I'll post a review on my blog.



                                1. BTW, I reco'ed Sabor Latino in this thread, but it has changed ownership and, I fear, gone downhill.

                                  I'm just amazed that nobody can get a decent Mexican place going in Ann Arbor. Have to try this new Puerto Rican burrito joint out on S. State.