Would you think about taking your family to Detroit for vacation? While that’s another story, since I often go there for business and always find time to explore, I took my family along on a recent trip to show my husband and kids the city as it reinvents itself–by a tour of some of the best family friendly restaurants in Detroit.
It’s worth a trip to Detroit just for the food. Here are the restaurants that we loved in three different areas of the city: Corktown, Downtown and Midtown, as well as a few worth mentioning in the suburbs.
Where to Eat in Corktown
Just south of downtown on Michigan Avenue is an old Irish neighborhood called Corktown. Still growing and developing a real “neighborhood” feel, it’s home to many early-adopting restaurants, including these, possibly three of Detroit’s best:
Ottava Via, 1400 Michigan Avenue: Artisan pizzas, pasta and Italian specialties. The pizza was beautifully hand-made and cooked in a wood burning stove. The dining room is spacious yet intimate with an ample bar and a kitchen that is open to the dining room. There is also an outdoor garden and the owners are building a bocce ball court. Parking is available in a guarded lot in the back or on the street (we parked on the street, but many places have tended lots so you and your car are completely safe in this still-rebounding-from-the-bottom city).
Slow’s Barbecue, Michigan Avenue. Detroit’s most famous barbecue and an anchor to Corktown, this is quickly becoming a hip destination. Slow’s features 56 craft beers on tap, its own house-cooked barbecue, fixin’s and sauces, and a fun, casual dining room and outdoor garden. Secure parking is available in the lot behind Mercury Burger Bar across the street and for $3 you pay the lot attendant and support Roosevelt Park, which is across the street. Rumor has it that more locations are in the works.
Mercury Burger Bar, Michigan Avenue: Across the street from Slow’s, this retro-feeling boîte is famous for its burgers. We stopped in for a milkshake, which the kids gave two thumbs up.
Green Dot Stables, West Lafayette. This restaurant is located in an industrial area in a nondescript building famous for its menu of $3 sliders and $5 cocktails. We sampled the ham and cheese, Korean barbecue with kimchee sauce, fried chicken with maple syrup, cheese burger, cuban sandwich, barbecue and bacon. The place is so popular that there’s usually a wait at both lunch and dinner, and the rumor is that there soon will be other locations. We were there at 4pm mid-week; the restaurant was busy and the bar was full.
Where to Eat in Downtown Detroit
Downtown Detroit is buzzing. It’s growing, businesses are vibrant, condos have wait lists, and the culinary community is responding. Here’s what we found:
Colors, East Grand River. This unique and special restaurant is among the city’s best. The owners only hire unemployed people and then train them to work in the restaurant business. To ensure the employees are hirable, the restaurant creates some of best food in town (and some of the most effusive Yelp reviews). We sampled from the lunch menu and every dish was delicious. We recommend them all: sweet potato wontons. beef and lamb meatballs, the shawarma pita, the hamburger and the veggie burger (open for lunch only).
Lafayette Coney Island, Michigan Avenue: This is where to eat the legendary Coney Island hot dog. Coney Island, in case you’re confused like I was the first time I heard about this, was popularized by Greek residents in Detroit’s early days. “Coney” refers to the sauce, a beanless chili that the dogs are topped with, not the famous amusement park in New York City. If you visit Lafayette Coney Island you’ll notice American Coney Island right next door. Lafayette was the original, owned by two brothers, but when they couldn’t resolve a disagreement, one of the brothers opened his own restaurant, American Coney Island, next door. Lafayette’s menu is written on a board on the wall and served nearly around the clock: Coney Island hot dogs, burgers, fries, chili cheese fries and sodas (and a few other Greek specialties).
HockeyTown, Woodward Avenue: Right across from the stadium (pick one: Comerica Park where the Tigers play or Ford Field where the Lions play), this is all fun, big plates of well done Americana, from burgers and fresh salads to homemade soups to pizza, with 50 beers on tap and wide screens everywhere for keeping an eye on all the games, not just the one across the street.
Next time we’ll try:
Roast from Top Chef winner Michael Symon, in the Westin Book Cadillac hotel
London Chop House, downtown a grand steakhouse
Cliff Bell’s restaurant and jazz club
Fountain Bistro at Campus Martius Park
Where to Eat in Midtown Detroit
Busy, hip, drivable, home to Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of the Arts and some of Detroit’s most exciting new neighborhoods and cultural districts, Midtown is quickly becoming the ‘it’ neighborhood in Detroit. Here are the restaurants we sampled:
Motor City Brewing Works, West Canfield: The hip Cass Corridor neighborhood is anchored by Shinola, which makes hand-crafted bicycles, watches and leather goods, Motor City Brewing is across the street at the back of a parking lot. You’ll easily spot it; the enormous stainless steel beer vats that anchor the building are a gleaming beacon. Inside the space is casual and intimate, with a circular bar in the center of the room and the kitchen and pizza oven at the back. The restaurant produces gorgeous pizzas as well as its own menu of yummy house-brewed beers.
Maccabee’s, Woodward Ave: Across from the Detroit Institute of Art and smack in the middle of the Wayne State University district, Maccabees’ Americana menu is filled with salads, sandwiches, burgers, steaks and more, all with an attention to top quality ingredients and artfully curated.
Eastern Market, 2934 Russell Street: Open Saturdays and Tuesdays, with special events on select other days. You can buy locally grown and produced foods, from vegetables to cheeses, baked goods and meats, or eat at one of the many food trucks. The day we were there we sampled Biegnets 2 Go (no explanation needed, and, yum) and Mac Shack, which features mac and cheese a whole variety of delicious ways.
Whole Foods, Mack Avenue at Woodward: OK, yes it’s a chain, but it’s also special and important: The opening of Whole Foods signals that the wave of progressive affluent foodies is significant enough to help give the city a lift and help keep it fed. We were there during lunchtime on a Wednesday, and it was packed with both professionals from nearby offices and locals doing their shopping.
Next Time We’ll Try:
Good Girls Go to Paris, which gets raves for crepes and brunch;
Le Petite Zinc has outdoor seating and is known for brunch;
Trinosophes is a modern art space with food, coffee, live music and a hipster scene.
Suburban Honorable Mentions
Suburban Detroit has long been a gem of its own; towns like Birmingham, Auburn Hills, Grosse Pointe, Bloomfield Hills are cute as can be, lined with charming shops and restaurants. Here are three we sampled and loved:
Buddy’s Pizza, multiple locations: In Detroit, pizza may be THE thing. It’s not just good food, it’s sport. Buddy’s led the popular opinion poll, voted Detroit’s best pizza, and that’s a heady competition. Buddy’ signature is a square pizza that has a super crispy yeast crust with a sauce that has a nice spice to it. With cheese and toppings, a single slice is ample and satisfying. Buddy’s sells pizzas by 4 square and 8 square; a 4 square is plenty for two people.
Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor: A budding empire of food, Zingermans has the farm and the table (and the kitchen, smokehouse, catering and food truck) and serves up local, seasonal and sensational, from the Georgia Waffles (grits, bacon, syrup, all on a waffle) to salads with fresh corn sprouts (yup, it’s a thing, and you can feel the sunshine of the corn field in your mouth). The Americana menu with Southern influences offers burgers, sandwiches, salads, sides, starters and more but the best might be the—OMG, we are going back for this again—8 different amazing types of macaroni and cheese: the fried chicken mac and cheese alone is worth the trip to Michigan. The rest is just gravy.
Red Coat Tavern, Royal Oak: A step back in time, but only to 1950’s fine dining. This place serves up a huge menu, which I’m sure is all good, but we came for their famous burger. Huge, hot and delicious, the Tavern has its own Tavern burger but then defers to customer tastes and will prepare your burger however you like. There are a number of sauces to compliment the burger (the zip sauce is a favorite and is delicious), including the ‘special’ sauce. Dishes devoured (and loved) at our table included burgers, onion rings, mac and cheese and French fries.