Eat Like a Local: Detroit

·Food Features Editor

For Yahoo Food’s travel summer series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.


Vegetarian tacos at Imperial. Photo credit: Imperial Mexican Restaurant, Facebook

Have you heard? Detroit is extra-foxy nowadays, with a booming food and drink scene, and particularly easy living in the summertime. Melody Baetens, features reporter for the Detroit News and a city native, reports on the restaurant and bar scene and owns her own bar, Small’s—so she’s well aware of just how good those famed Michigan craft brews are. Here are a few of her top picks in the Motor City (and yes, they include the beloved Coney dog). 

Best Suds: Atwater Brewery

Down by the Detroit River is a cheerful, good-looking (‘sup, slickly modern design?) bar and brewery called Atwater, where some of Michigan’s best brews are bottled. Baetens recommends the vanilla java porter—exactly how it sounds: sweet, strong, and robust—and tucking into a few pints at one of the long picnic tables. (237 Joseph Campau St.; 313-877-9205)

Best Tacos: Imperial Mexican Restaurant

Good tacos… in Detroit? Yep, there’s actually a sizable Mexican population in the southwest part of the city.  Buzzy, trendy, and bare-bones, this Ferndale neighborhood joint has “great drinks, a cool setting, amazing food, and I always run into people I know here,” says Baetens. So if you’re in the mood to meet locals, swing by for corn, margaritas, vegetarian tacos, and a “California surfer vibe.” (22828 Woodward Ave; 248-850-8060)

Best Pierogi: Polish Village Café


The sweet signage outside the Polish Village Café. Photo credit: Geodanny, Flickr

This “old world gem regularly pops up on best-of lists,” says Baetens, and while it’s “a favorite of the suburban and post-church Sunday crowd, the people who live in the area still visit as much as possible because of the heavily laden Polish plates and ice-cold boombas.” (Don’t know the term? We didn’t, either. Apparently that’s Detroit-speak for “glass chalice.”) That Polish plate comes with one of everything good: pierogi, sausage, stuffed cabbage, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread, and salad, all for seven bucks. (2040 Park Ave.; 313-965-3111)

Best Stained Glass with a Side of Shrub: St. CeCe’s Pub

“You can’t go wrong with a restaurant that has a biergarten outside and a fireplace inside,” laughs Baetens. This onetime Irish restaurant hosts pop-up dinners every Tuesday, but the regular menu is “fresh and delicious.” You can sit outside on the pretty patio if the weather’s fine, but the exposed-brick-lined watering hole features a gorgeous stretch of stained glass behind the bar, so you might sit there, as Baetens does, for a whiskey mingled with one of the locally made drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs. (She goes for rhubarb.) (1426 Bagley St,; 313-962-2121)

Best American Restaurant: Craftwork


Chef plating behind the scenes. Photo credit: Craftwork

Smartly designed and adorable—we’d sit at the bar, with comfy little stools sitting under a row of perfectly globular white lights—this is modern Americana done right, with super-fresh seafood (look for the popular fish ‘n chips). Baetens loves this place in part because it’s set in the city’s historic district, so it’s fun to walk around before or after your meal. (8047 Agnes St.; 313-469-0976)

Best Place for a Steak with Rhinestones and Skinny Ties: London Chop House

With its “Mad Men”–era, swank, retro vibe, this “historic, fabulous” spot is “a go-to for special-occasion dining,” says Baetens. Go for the steaks—the filet mignon is rich and buttery—and the chopped salad, which sounds dull but is spruced up with filet mignon, toasted brioche, Gruyère, and cured ham. And get dressed up! Bust out the big eyeliner and rhinestones, or skinny ties, if you’re a gent. (Because why not?) (155 W Congress St.; 313-962-0277)

Best Dive with a Burger: Motor City Sports Bar

“This dive bar may secretly have the best burger in Detroit,” says Baetens, although she says that statement is “hotly contested.” The “super casual” place features someone making a “huge, juicy” burger right behind bar. The scene is “extremely casual” and it draws all types, “although everyone’s a Tigers fan.” (9122 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck, MI; (313-875-4710)

Best Shawarma: Bucharest Grill


Cheese pie. Photo credit: Bucharest Grill

“You can’t talk about Motor City cuisine without mentioning Middle Eastern food,” says Baetens, referring to the “huge” Middle Eastern population in the city. “The chicken shawarma at Bucharest is beginning to rival the Coney dog as Detroit’s official food.”  The no-frills shop isn’t much to look at, but that chicken shwarma is the much-Instagrammed in-house celebrity. (2040 Park Ave.; 313-965-3111)

Best Coney(s): Lafayette and American Coney Islands

“There’s a longstanding argument among Metro Detroiters over which [of these Coney dog vendors] is better,” says Baetens. She can’t pick a favorite: “I like them both. I think Lafayette has a better late-night vibe, and American is good for during the day because you can people-watch through their big windows.” If you’re gonna go for a Coney—a hot dog with chili, yellow mustard, and chopped onions—here’s how you do it, according to Baetens: “Say ‘We gotta get a Coney,’ or ‘Let’s go to a Coney,’ (the latter of which entails a diner with hot dogs in addition to breakfasts). Both are casual, so hit both without settling in: Eat a Coney at each, enter the fray as to whose is superior, and feel oh-so-Detroit. (Lafayette Coney Island: 118 W Lafayette Blvd.; 313-964-8198; American Coney Island: 114 W. Lafayette; 313-961-7758)