“I’m so bad, I vacation in Detroit!” was a popular graphic t-shirt in the 1970s—the joke being that Detroit was once so gritty that only the truly brazen would consider it an actual travel destination. For most of the last half-century, this was more or less true. Detroit’s neglected downtown infrastructure and high crime rates weren’t conducive to tourism. But in 2018, to this Detroit native’s astonishment, The D is finally becoming a place that outsiders should want to visit.
The dining scene in particular is in the midst of a growth spurt, with native chefs returning from cities like New York and Chicago to open their own restaurants on home turf. Combine that with the mini hotel boom attacking Detroit’s prime real estate — including the newly opened Shinola Hotel—and you’ve got a slew of new reasons to visit. If you find yourself around for a long weekend, you can’t go wrong by visiting any of these ten culinary gems.
Chef Kate Williams wants to invite you over for a dinner party, which is exactly the vibe at her cozy Lady of the House, right down to the mismatched china. Located in Detroit’s buzzy Corktown neighborhood, the restaurant has been lauded for its comforting American menu and waste-conscious ethos (the china is donated, the menu sources produce from local urban farms and sends waste to a compost). Kate is one of Detroit’s star chefs of the moment, with a recent James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant of 2018. Look out for her new restaurant, Karl’s, opening in the The Siren Hotel in 2019.
It’s a milestone for Detroit’s dining scene to have attracted a New York chef of Andrew Carmellini's caliber. His NoHo Hospitality Group (The Dutch, Leuca) will be running all the food and beverage at the new Shinola Hotel. The hotel repurposes three historic buildings along Michigan Avenue, including the old Singer sewing machine building. The ground floor restaurant, San Morello, will serve a menu focusing on seasonal ingredients and Southern Italian flavors (with plenty of seafood in the mix). Carmellini will also be running the room service menu too, if you feel so inclined to have dinner in bed within the large and stylish Shinola-designed rooms.
If you’re looking for a high-end tasting menu experience, head to the eight-seat Albena from Chef Garrett Lipar. Located inside the new Siren Hotel (which repurposes the space that previously housed the Wurlitzer building), you’ll have to buy tickets in advance for $130 a pop. But it’s worth it to get a taste of the innovative chef’s modernist interpretation of Great Lakes cuisine. It’s basically the Noma of the Motor City.
What began as a food truck eventually morphed into one of Detroit’s coolest and tastiest restaurants. If you went just for atmosphere alone, you’ll feel cool just hanging out underneath the neon lighting with a view of the bustling open kitchen. But the Northern Thai cuisine from Chef Brad Greenhill is truly spectacular. They serve one of the best khao sois you will ever eat, and Greenhill can turn something as simple as sautéed cucumbers into a dish unlike any other. Grab one of the Southeast-Asian inspired cocktails in the “Green Room” while you wait and listen to the chill live DJs. Also look for Greenhill’s next restaurant, Magnet, to open in early 2019.
Detroit’s historic (and often vacancy-laden) real estate landscape makes for some clever repurposing. Chef George Azar took a former Coney Island diner (in Detroit speak, that's a Greek diner hailing the city’s signature coney hot dogs) in Southwest Detroit to create this stylish homage to Vietnamese cooking. Retaining a bit of the retro vibe (the diner’s old neon sign still lights up in the window), you can slurp up pho at the counter on one of the original circular leather stools. Azar, who worked at Bouchon and had stints at both Alinea and Noma, has some impressive culinary chops, but he eschews high-end presentations and techniques to serve family-style plates of “shaky beef” and Bún thịt nướng (pork and rice noodles)—plus, the most addictive chicken wings you’ve ever tasted.
A Momofuku Milk Bar alum and multi-generation Detroit native, Lisa Ludwinski bakes from the heart, resulting in delicious items like the Toasted Marshmallow Butterscotch Pie and Fennel Seed Snickerdoodles (though you'll want to come back frequently as items change all the time). This nationally-acclaimed local pie shop just released its first-ever cookbook earlier this month as well, which you can pick up inside the shop.
Venture slightly out of Detroit city limits to nearby Ferndale for a taste of the sea from Chefs Justin Tootla and Jennifer Jackson. The menu is equal parts globetrotting as it is nostalgic—with takes on classics like tuna on toast to a chili crab spaghetti made with Szechuan peppercorns.
It’s always more fun to entering a bar from an alleyway, and this craft cocktail mecca—known for its use of centrifuges, liquid nitrogen and other hocus pocus—does not disappoint. The bulk of their drinks menu centers around gin, whiskey, rum and agave-based spirits, but also some cocktails made with various Amaros and brandys. Their neighboring sibling concept bar, The Skip, specializes in slush-ified classics like a French 75.
Dearborn, a neighborhood located just outside downtown Detroit, is home to the largest Middle Eastern population in America. Naturally, it's a must-visit for Lebanese, Yemeni, Iraqi, and Syrian food. Most of the top restaurants are located along Warren Avenue, including (and especially) Al Ameer, which gained national fame as the winner of a James Beard America’s Classics Award in 2016. Try the mujaddara (lentil and rice dish) as well as the shish tawook. Toum is a must on everything — the fluffy Lebanese garlic aioli is a Detroit specialty and makes everything insanely delicious.
This small-batch coffee roaster is obsessive about making the perfect cup of coffee, but also knows how to have fun—imagine a Cereal Milk latte garnished with Fruity Pebbles. If you’re into Instagramming your morning cup, this is the perfect place to begin your day.