Founded by the French in 1701, overtaken by the British in 1760, and a true melting pot of nationalities due to the explosive growth of the automotive industry in the early 20th century, Detroit’s past is a telling indicator of the variety of cuisines that can be found in the present. Familiar and exotic choices abound! The MLA | SLA ‘23 Dining Guide is coming soon and will be integrated this year into the final conference program! Be sure to check it out as it’s organized by how close the eateries are to the Marriott at the Renaissance Center and Huntington Place.
Two Local Assistance Committee (LAC) members who live and work in the area - John Sterbenz and Jill Turner - present our dining recommendations in this latest Detroit’s Greatest Hits post! Conditions remain fluid in the dining industry post-pandemic and while many establishments have generally returned to pre-COVID operations, sometimes last-minute adjustments need to be made. Contacting any restaurant to confirm hours continues to be a best practice at this time. We hope you enjoy the conference—and cuisine— here in the Motor City!
Left: The rival Coney Islands of Detroit: Lafayette and American Coney Islands by Benlmoyer, Wikipedia, public domain
Right: Detroit-style pizza from Buddy’s, Yelp's Michigan Made Hands-on Tour of Buddy's Pizza, Detroit by Yelp, Inc, Flickr, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island ($, 114 and 118 W. Lafayette Blvd., take the People Mover: Michigan Station or QLINE: Campus Martius. No reservations). These two establishments, both firmly entrenched in the classic “American Diner” theme, have been battling for the hearts and minds of Detroiters and its visitors for 100 years, with many swearing undying allegiance to one over the other! Originally owned by separate members of the same family, they’ve continued the rivalry between them through prosperity and depression and have been featured nationally in shows such as Man vs. Food and Food Wars. Hot dogs topped with chili, mustard, and onions (the Coney Dog) and fries are standard fare but both also pay homage to their Greek roots with a small number of additional dishes.
Andiamo Italia ($$$$, 400 Renaissance Center A-403, People Mover: Renaissance Center. Reservations via OpenTable). Inside the conference hotel, this upscale Italian eatery includes views of the Detroit River and our neighbors-to-the-north-except-for-here (Canada). Meat and pasta dishes form the core of the menu and rotating seasonal specials are also available. Full-service bar. Save room for dessert—all are homemade in their own pastry shop.
Astoria Pastry Shop ($, 541 Monroe St., People Mover: Greektown. No reservations). A visit to Monroe Street and Greektown is not complete without a visit to the venerable Astoria Pastry Shop, established in 1971 and considered to be the preeminent bakery in the Metro Detroit area. Tortes, cakes, cheesecake, cookies, and more await your sweet tooth. Plan on getting your delicacies to go—seating area is very small (if not non-existent). Consider stopping by, especially if visiting the nearby Fishbones Café.
Buddy’s Pizza ($$, 1565 Broadway St., People Mover: Grand Circus Park; QLINE: Grand Circus. Reservations via OpenTable). Yes, Detroit-style pizza is really “a thing”, and it got its start at Buddy’s in 1946. This downtown location in The Madison spares you the trials of getting to “the original” location in the northern reaches of the city. How did Detroit-style get its start? With the use of square forged-steel pans commonly used to hold parts in local automotive plants—pans which gave the crust its light and crispy crust. The trendsetting doesn’t stop there, as the toppings are also layered from top to bottom—toppings directly on the crust, followed by cheese and then a topping of sauce.
Fishbones Café ($$$, 400 Monroe St., People Mover: Greektown. Reservations via OpenTable). New Orleans fare in Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood? You bet—and it’s popular, too! Staples of Cajun cuisine join a variety of seafood and chop options in this buzzy eatery. Full bar available. Fishbones is a good choice if your evening involves continuing with dessert from the Astoria Pastry Shop or a desire to try your luck at the nearby Hollywood Casino Detroit (formerly Greektown Casino).
Hockeytown Café ($$, 2301 Woodward Ave., QLINE: Montcalm St. No reservations). Venture to the northern edge of the downtown core with a visit to this large, long-time sports-themed restaurant in the heart of the Foxtown neighborhood which celebrates the Detroit Red Wings. Sandwiches and pizza are predominant but other options are available, along with a full-service bar. Immediately adjacent to the Fox Theater and Comerica Park (Tigers (MLB)), and a very short walk beyond to Ford Field (Lions (NFL)) and Little Caesars Arena (Red Wings (NHL) and Pistons (NBA)), this is a good place to begin an evening. Note: VERY POPULAR before and during sporting events for any team playing at home.
Mario’s ($$$$, 4222 2nd Ave., QLINE: Canfield (plus <½ mile walk) or cab/rideshare. Reservations by phone—(313) 832-1616). Dress in your best for a visit to this, the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit (others may make the claim but have changed ownership over time). Leave your expense account behind and allow yourself the extra time to enjoy the entirety of the experience that hearkens back to a time when supper clubs were the norm and tuxedoed waitstaff do their best to ensure a premium experience from start to end. Veal and pasta dominate the menu though all manner of entrees are available, with house specialties and flaming desserts, some prepared tableside, a popular (if extravagant) option.
Slows Bar BQ ($$, 2138 Michigan Ave., cab/rideshare. Reservations via Resy). Called “the best barbecue in Detroit” by Michael Symon, Slows has been winning awards and the praise of locals and visitors alike since 2005. It’s been featured on Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich, Food Paradise, and others. Expect standard barbecue options and have several selections in mind when you order in the event your first choice has sold out for the day. Considered the start of the Corktown neighborhood’s renaissance, you’re close to the former site of Tiger Stadium and “The Corner” of Michigan and Trumbull as well as the Michigan Central Depot, a towering building featured in endless ruin porn posts but now nearing the end of a multi-year, $740M renovation and the heart of Ford Motor Company’s mobility innovation district.
Sweetwater Tavern ($$, 400 E. Congress St., People Mover: Bricktown (recommended), Renaissance Center, or Millender Center. No reservations). This no-fuss eatery with a very laid back vibe, housed in a building built in the 19th century, has been a long-time favorite of Detroiters. Expect a tavern menu and full bar—Sweetwater excels at both—but the real draw are the chicken wings.
– John Sterbenz, Executive Director at DALNET (Detroit Area Library Network)
My husband and I love dining out. We spend a good chunk of our entertainment dollars trying out new (to us) restaurants in and around the city of Detroit, working our way through “best of” lists, Eater Detroit recommendations, and award-winning cuisine. The dining guide provides many dining options with a variety of price points, but here are a few of my favorites:
DIME Store ($$) is a fantastic breakfast / brunch / lunch restaurant within walking distance of the conference center (.4 mile). It has won “Best of” awards from multiple sources and is listed as a “Travelers’ Choice” on TripAdvisor. Those accolades are well deserved. We recommend with two thumbs way, way up the cold-smoked salmon benny and the house-made sausage hash.
Apparatus Room ($$$) is a short 3-minute (.1 mile) walk from Huntington Place; it’s literally across the street in the Detroit Foundation Hotel. Located in what was formerly the Detroit Fire Headquarters, the space is open and airy and the décor unique. Indicative of its origins, there are three original firepoles, wooden floors, and exposed brick walls. The chef has two Michelin stars to his credit awarded to his establishment in Chicago.
Joe Muer Seafood, conveniently located in the Renaissance Center (Ren Cen), it is surrounded by windows and boasts fantastic views of the Detroit River and Canada. This restaurant has been the location of many family celebrations for us: graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries. The entrees are on the pricey side ($$$$) but soups, salads, and sushi are options as well. Of course, seafood is the name of the game here, and they do it up right. I can highly recommend the lobster bisque and the black truffle mac n cheese side. They are superb, but also quite rich.
Standby ($$). It is a very small hole-in-the wall place located in The Belt Alley. Primarily a cocktail bar, it also serves a limited menu of small plates. If you are a cocktail connoisseur, this might be the place for you; the cocktail menu is large. The place is cozy if somewhat dark, and their burger (a menu staple) is delicious. The food menu changes frequently, so a recommendation today might not be available next month.
Downtown Louie’s ($$) is another of our go-to places when in town for a baseball game or concert. The food is unpretentious and delicious. In a way, it reminds me of a Detroit version of Cheers. I highly recommend the burger, Michigan cherry salad, and watermelon salad. Diners can reach the establishment using the QLINE or the People Mover.
Central Kitchen & Bar ($$) is just under a half mile (3 minute) walk from Huntington Place, on the edge of Campus Martius Park. On the smaller side inside, outdoor seating is available. However, it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I love this place. The Bahn Mi turkey burger, the fig flatbread, the ahi tuna salad, the tacos (both shrimp and vegetarian) … I can’t stop listing excellent options. Anything I have ever ordered has been so good.
Another small but excellent dining option is Grey Ghost ($$$). The restaurant is named after an infamous Prohibition-era, rum-running pirate who operated on the Detroit River. Grey Ghost’s fried bologna is a popular choice among diners, and their cocktails are excellent. It is a little further afield at 1.5 miles from Huntington Place but is accessible using the QLINE.
For those that want to venture further out and experience other sections of the city, Corktown has some excellent dining options, too. Due to the distance, many of these locations are not part of the dining guide; however, the restaurants located here are just a short car ride or ride share away.
Mudgie’s Deli and Wine Shop ($$) is deservedly listed as one of Detroit’s 38 essential restaurants by Eater Detroit. They have consistently won a multitude of awards over the last decade including Best Sandwich Shop (Hour Detroit), Food Network’s Best Sandwiches in America, and BuzzFeed’s 21 Sandwiches to Try Before you Die. Mudgie’s is well worth the drive over, but be aware, it closes at 3 pm.
Takoi ($$) is another Corktown restaurant serving Thai-influenced and Pan-Asian cuisine in a décor that’s funky with neon lighting. It has garnered multiple accolades: restaurant of the year and James Beard best new restaurant national semi-finalist. Takoi is small with limited seating, so it is a crush on the weekends. It is closed on Mondays, but open the rest of the week. The shaved root salad and the green curry are two of my favorites. Yum.
Mercury Burger Bar ($$) will hit the spot if you’re craving a burger and milkshake. The Mercury, with its retro decor, has the vibe of both Lou’s Café from Back to the Future and The Peach Pit from Beverly Hills 90210. “Adult” milkshakes are an option here as well non-alcoholic versions. Furthermore, if you want to try poutine without actually going across the border into Canada, Mercury is a great place to do that. They offer both poutine fries and poutine tots.
The food scene in Detroit, like many other larger cities, has exploded so reservations are highly recommended for locations that take them. Unfortunately, for some locations, they can be hard to come by, so, if you know you want to try a specific restaurant, I highly recommend making reservations as early as possible. Check the dining guide for additional options.
– Jill Turner, Library Professor, University of Detroit Mercy
Stay tuned for our next post that will highlight the recommended drinks and desserts of Detroit!