We know what you are saying. Head to Detroit for food? Come on, you can certainly do better than that. But you would be wrong. Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and though it has been through some tough times in the last decade or two, it is on the upswing. The area has been home to Native tribes for generations and it was until the 17th century when the first Europeans settled the area. French fur traders and missionaries worked their way with the Iroquois tribes and named the city “Détroit du lac Érié” meaning “the strait of Lake Erie”, the strait is the link between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Detroit is without a doubt a unique town. It’s the historic home of the Motown sound, the car capital of the country, and home to hundreds of historic and ornately designed buildings and skyscrapers.
The city of Detroit from the early 1900s was one of the country’s biggest and fastest-growing cities. With lots of work opportunities available, the city brought in many immigrants from around the world along with people from elsewhere in the U.S, and with them came their own culinary traditions. And so Detroit is a mix of everything. Mexican and South American restaurants across the street from soul food and next to modern wine bars are not an uncommon sight so the choices in Detroit are abundant. So make sure to check out some of these best spots to eat in the MotorCity.
The Detroit Coney Dog (Various)
What Pizza is to New York, what pasta is to Italy, and what barbecue is to Texas, Detroit has the Coney dog. Without a doubt, there is no food rivalry in the entire Great Lakes region quite like the legend that is the Coney Dog. And while you can get one at a few notable hot spots in the city, no trip to Detroit is complete without getting one.
So what is it? At its simplest, the Coney dog is rudimentary. A beef hot dog, placed on top of a steamed bun, which is then topped with chili, chopped raw onions, and a little bit of mustard. And though basic in theory, there are some elements to it one must consider. The hot dog needs to be beef and have a natural casing, be grilled, and the chili needs to not be too thick in texture. Greek immigrants coming into Ellis Island (nearby Coney Island) would have likely experienced the hot dog there, then bringing it west into other cities where eventually the Coney dog would be made.
So where do you go to get one? While there are plenty of restaurants in the city that serve them, the two icons of the dog are American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. The story goes that brothers Bill and Gust Keros opened American Coney Island on Michigan Avenue in 1919. A few years later they had a falling out and Bill opened Lafayette Coney Island right next door in 1936. Who’s got the best Coney dog depends on who you ask and is a matter of (sometimes deeply) personal preference. Since both are located literally next to each other, try them both and decide for yourself.
Everyone loves pizza, but who’s got the best? New York? Chicago? Naples? Maybe it’s Detroit. While other more widely known pizzas like the Chicago deep dish and New York-style slice are where the bulk of the conversation is, Detroit has its own unique take. Buddy’s Pizza serves quintessential Detroit-style pie which is square in shape and rooted in more Sicilian baking traditions. The square pizzas offer a thick crust with a certain kind of crunch to them so every bite is an amalgamation of cheesy, saucy, savory, and crunchy textures all in one. Buddy’s has a few locations around the area but the original is on Conant & McNichols.
After a thick crust pizza and a hot dog covered in chili sauce, maybe you’ll be in the mood for something a little healthier. Apparatus Room is in the heart of downtown in the fabulous Detroit Foundation Hotel. Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Lents who is a local of the city, Apparatus Room was once the home of Detroit Fire headquarters before it was bought by the hotel and then converted to a restaurant. Original features are still found in the dining room such as the big bright red doors and three firepoles. Apparatus Room has won numerous local awards for its preparation of Michigan meats, veggies, and fish.
Tamaleria Nuevo León
A place that has no dining room, is cash-only, and serves few things sounds like the recipe for a restaurant that won’t last very long, but at Tamaleria Nuevo Leon, you’d be wrong. The carryout-only restaurant has been making handmade tamales since the 1950s and the reason why they’ve been able to stay open for so long is that they are just that good. The place keeps the menu small so everything gets the proper time and attention. The service is friendly and once in a while, you’ll get rotating specials like cheese-jalapeno. Regular fillings include staples like chicken or pork and make sure to call ahead of time for large orders because once they’re out, they’re out.
While there are tons of restaurants in Detroit that are long-standing traditional places that spanned generations, Takoi brings in the modern flair or fusion dining in a futuristic setting. Located in Corktown, walking by Takoi you’ll notice the 16-foot high walls and all-white structure that looks more like a secret government base rather than a restaurant, but once you walk in you’ll feel like you’re in a scene from Blade Runner. Neon pink, green, and blue lights adorn the interior along with futuristic lighting above the bar and tables. The menu consists of Thai-inspired dishes such as crispy spare ribs, sea scallop salad, and khao soi. But there are also no-so-Thai-inspired dishes like fried chicken and smoked duck ramen. Grab a cocktail that’s almost too pretty to drink and Takoi makes for a great night out.
Batch Brewing Company
Featuring New-Orleans influenced dishes, Batch Brewing is a fun spot for an afternoon pint with some friends or an after-work hang-out spot with good beer and even better food. The beer is made by Batch Brewing themselves and offers plenty of options for even the most discernible beer drinker while the food comes from locally made growers and producers so no matter what you’re eating or drinking here, you’ll be supporting someone local.
Sameer moved to the United States from Lebanon in the 1960s and since then he’s been working in restaurants and eventually opened an Italian spot in Detroit. His son Samy got into the restaurant game and together the father and son duo opened up Leila in homage to Samy’s mother. Leila brings a touch of sophistication to downtown Detroit with a focus on simple yet utterly delicious Lebanese classics. Think less shawarma and more focus on smaller shareable plates like kibbeh, grilled vegetables, sumac chicken, falafel, and cold or hot mezze plates.
From the turn of the century, Detroit has seen a large influx of Eastern European and Polish immigrants mostly concentrated in the Hamtramck area. So there is no shortage of amazing Polish bakeries and food and one of the best around is Pietrzyk Pierogi. Opened by Erica Pietrzyk, her pierogi shop is a local spot aimed at affordable and nutritious food and fair pay for the employees. Pietrzyk Pierogi started its humble life in a little food stall but word got around of Erica’s not-too-traditional-pierogies recipes and soon it became the go-to spot in Gratiot Central Market for the Polish delicacy. During the holidays Pietrzyk Pierogi offers some interesting specials such as turkey, potato, and stuffing pierogies, or go for the tried and true traditional ones like potato and bacon.
Detroit Vegan Soul
Soul food is a large component of the fabric of the food culture in Detroit and for the vegetarian crowd, there’s no place quite like Detroit Vegan Soul. Located on Grand River Avenue, Detroit Vegan Soul offers animal-free twists on classic soul food dishes such as macaroni and cheese, seitan pepper steak, curried potato salad, and “catfish” tofu filet. Not to mention the large choice of homemade drinks available as well.
The Jamaican Pot
Sometimes good things come in small packages and The Jamaican Pot is one of those places. For non-vegetarian soul food and Caribbean classics, The Jamaican Pot is one of the best places in town for a taste of the islands. The Jamaican Pot is take-out only with a counter in a nondescript strip mall of Eight Mile. Once you get close to the place you’ll know exactly where it is because chances are there might be a lineup. Indulge in the special jerk chicken, slow-roasted curry goat, pepper steak, and stewed oxtail. Might want to order ahead of time.
Amore de Roma
Originally known as the Roma Cafe, it is the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit. The Marazza family built the restaurant in 1880 serving food made from ingredients from the nearby Eastern Market. In 1918 it was purchased by Morris Sossi and since then it has stayed in the family until 2017. After over a hundred years Roma Cafe closed but its spirit lives on at Amore de Roma. Headed by the former executive chef of Roma Cafe, Guy Pelino, Amore de Roma brings all the flavors and dishes of the former iconic restaurant in the modern age. Amore de Roma might be the modern take on the classic Italian eatery, but traditionalism still reigns supreme. Classic Italian-American dishes from meatballs sandwiches to baked lasagna and parmigiana make the menu here along with a long list of wines on selection.
Pegasus Taverna Restaurant
Located in the heart of Detroit’s historic Greek neighborhood, Pegasus Taverna Restaurant is the go-to spot in Greektown for authentic Greek cuisine. The restaurant has been open for over 20 decades and has always been a family-run operation. Located near the casinos of the area, the restaurant is open until the late hours of the morning in case you need an emergency Gyro at 3 am. Classic dishes like moussaka, pastitsio, and savory lamb chops adorn the menu or try out the saganaki, a kasseri cheese dish set aflame right next to your table. Top it all off with flaky and sweet baklava for dessert.
In the 19th century, Detroit was a city of riches to be made. David Whitney Jr. was a lumber baron who became one of the state’s most wealthy individuals and in 1890 work began on the mega-mansion that would one day become The Whitney restaurant. With a whopping 52 rooms and 20 fireplaces, guests can dine in luxury in David Whitney Jr’s former mansion. The property has been restored, renovated, and cared for but still features a lot of original fixtures. Enjoy dining by the elaborate fireplaces, the glow of the crystal chandeliers, or on the patio surrounded by the gardens.
Our Final Word
When it comes to dining out and food culture, Detroit is no stranger to some pretty amazing options. Fusion, authenticity, fine dining, and vegetarian options are abundant and although Detroit might have seen its heyday some time ago, the food party has just begun. Next time you get a chance, check out one of the places we have recommended and let us know what you think. We think you will be pleasantly surprised.