Food & Drink

The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor has deservedly earned a reputation as a gourmand’s paradise, with a thriving gastro scene of restaurants that run the gamut from cozy and low-key to hoity-toity and upscale. Oh, and if you like to drink? Tree Town has you covered with tons of great places to enjoy adult beverages of all kinds, from the cocktail lounge variety to the student hangouts when school's in session. Whether you're a lifer or just passing through: Here’s how to eat and drink around some of Ann Arbor’s best bars and restaurants like a true-blue Wolverine.

Best wings: Seoul Street

1771 Plymouth Road
In a town full of places to get great wings of all kinds -- grilled, smoked, breaded, slathered in sauce, you name it -- the upstart Seoul Street’s Korean style fried chicken stands out. Every batch – you can also request thighs, drums, or boneless tenders – is made to order and deep-fried to crispy, golden perfection. Get ’em plain or glazed with hot and spicy or soy garlic sauce (or some of each, if you can’t decide). And don’t neglect some seriously sumptuous sides like kimchee fries or mandoo dumplings. Just make sure you order at least a half-hour in advance, as this level of chicken artistry takes time.

Best beer bar: Ashley’s

338 S. State Street
These days, bars with massive draft lists are seemingly on every corner in this damned state. That said, the 74-tap Ashley’s near the University of Michigan’s Central Campus has been all about the brew for more than three decades, pouring tasty beers from around the world to thirsty students, professors, townies, and visitors alike since 1983. While the comfortable, laid-back atmosphere of exposed brick and dark wood has changed little over the years, some things have been updated, like a food menu that branches out beyond standard pub fare to include such delicious fare as a Greek-Style Lamb Burger, Short Rib Banh Mi, and the best roasted Brussels sprouts in town.

Best seafood: Monahan’s Seafood Market

407 N. Fifth Avenue
Michiganders know the Great Lakes are way better than the ocean, but there is one drawback to not living by the sea: lack of fresh seafood. In fact, that’s not been a problem for Ann Arborites since 1979, when Monahan’s Seafood Market opened. This Kerrytown gem has all the great Great Lakes fish but also flies in anything crusty or scaly from up and down America’s coasts. Maryland soft shell crabs? Narragansett squid? Gulf shrimp? Monahan's gets everything, and its lunch counter provides a perfect opportunity to savor ever-changing specials like the chowder of the day, Baja fish tacos, lobster rolls, and oh-so-much more.

 

Best vegan food: The Lunch Room Restaurant and Bar

407 N. Fifth Avenue
What started as a food truck in 2011 is now Ann Arbor’s favorite place to go for all things vegan with a brick-and-mortar location. Whether you’re a full-time adherent, want to dip your toe in this dietary lifestyle, or are just curious about how delicious food can be when it's prepared without animal products, there’s something for you at The Lunch Room (and don’t let the name fool you; it's open for dinner, too). Try the vegan take on mac & cheese, banh mi, and the most popular item, pad Thai, featuring bean thread noodles, marinated tofu, pepper, cucumber, cilantro, and lime, all topped with a delectable peanut sauce. There's also a good beer and wine list as well as an extensive cocktail menu. Also check out their second location, the Detroit Street Filling Station.

 

Best cocktail bar: Alley Bar

112 W. Liberty Street
The cocktailrenaissance of the past few years has been a beautiful thing to see, but it’s come with a hefty price tag: ponying up $13 for that hibiscus-infused Moscow Mule with egg white and lavender shrub is not always practical. It’s great, then, that Ann Arbor has the Alley Bar, a joint that not only artisans the hell out of artisanal cocktails, but also offers two wallet-friendly happy hour nights. On Mondays you'll pay just $5 for signature cocktails like the Cucumber Gimlet, Barrel Aged Negroni, and Bourbon Smash, while Tuesdays offer half off all Michigan-made spirits (and beers).

 

Best neighborhood joint: Fraser’s Pub

2045 Packard Street
There are many places to get a drink in Ann Arbor, and a fair number of them tend toward the fancy, the pricey, the pretentious, or some combination thereof. For those times when you want the proverbial place where everybody knows your name (or doesn’t, but serves a good burger and beer in comfy environs), Fraser’s is your joint. A mainstay on Ann Arbor’s south side since 1962, Fraser’s has in recent years wholeheartedly embraced the craft beer revolution. Sure, you can still get a BudMillerCoors to go with that heaping plate of Classic Nachos, but if you’re after something big, bold, and hoppy, don’t neglect the other 20+ taps. And don’t mind the old guys playing cards at the end of the bar, either.

 

Best place to get your oyster on: Mikette Bistro and Bar

1759 Plymouth Road
You either love them or hate them, and if you love them, you know what it’s like to get that craving -- only to faint from sticker shock when you find out how much a dozen raw oysters will cost you here in the Midwest. But fret not! Restaurateur Adam Baru’s third venture (after the excellent Mani Osteria and Isalita downtown), Mikette Bistro and Bar, stands ready to satisfy your hankering with a half-price raw bar happy hour at the northside eatery. Come for the oysters, and stay for the French-inspired dishes like Beef Bourguignon with root veggies or Roast Chicken Provencal with mashed potatoes.

 

Best brunch: Grange Kitchen and Bar

118 W. Liberty Street
In a town that loves its brunch -- and has many worthy places with which to satisfy this weekend craving -- Grange Kitchen and Bar’s farm-to-table approach delivers above and beyond. The restaurant’s entire menu emphasizes the seasonal and locally sourced, and the fresh ingredients shine through, especially with entrees like the GKB brunch burger featuring a fried egg, bacon jam, and roasted garlic mayo; or breakfast tacos with chorizo, cheddar, scrambled eggs, and salsa verde all stuffed inside locally made tortillas. You can also get sides like Grange’s legendary duck fat fries, or their outstanding ginger sage sausage patties. Wash it all down with a brunch cocktail like the Michigan Mary, made with bloody mix from Detroit and house-pickled veggies, or a classic mimosa made with fresh-squeezed OJ.

 

Best tacos: Taco King

2231 W. Liberty Street
Everyone's heard of Taco Tuesday, but when the tacos are as good as the ones at Taco King, you may just want to eat them multiple times a week. Adjoining a Mexican specialty grocery store, Taco King is the real deal. Stuff your gullet with everything from authentic street tacos featuring lengua (beef tongue) or tripa (intestines) to more Americanized offerings like the San Diego Burrito (stuffed with meat, cheese, guac, pico de gallo, and French fries) or the classic Gringo Taco of ground beef, shredded cheese, and lettuce. Dine in, or avoid the public shame of your ravenous taco-eating habits and order takeout or delivery.

 

Best brewery: Wolverine State Brewing Co.

2049 W. Stadium Boulevard
Ann Arbor has a glorious beer history, and today it’s a leader in Michigan’s burgeoning brewing renaissance. You can’t really go wrong at any of the city’s eight-and-counting breweries, but Wolverine State Brewing brings something very few microbreweries in America do: an all-lager lineup. From lager-fied versions of traditional ale styles (such as stout, saison, and India pale ale) to unique creations like wood-aged copper lager and black Pilsner, Wolverine’s delicious beers often push the envelope of what a lager can and should be. Judges at 2016’s Great American Beer Festival agreed when they awarded Wolverine’s Raucher smoked lager a gold medal. Pull up a stool in the former-warehouse-turned-taproom and prepare to have your mind blown.

 

Best vegetarian food: Seva

2541 Jackson Avenue
For decades, Seva was downtown Ann Arbor’s go-to place for, in the restaurant’s own words, “fresh imaginative vegetarian cuisine.” Since moving to the city’s west side (and even opening a Detroit location), Seva has only gotten bigger and better. The food lives up to its billing, with many dishes tasty enough to satisfy even confirmed carnivores, and there’s a great draft list as well as a menu of inventive cocktails. Of special note is how great (and not widely known) Seva’s happy hour is: half off all appetizers, draft beer, and wine (by the glass or bottle) from 3-7pm every weekday. Try snacks like Gouda Tots or General Tso’s Cauliflower, and entrees like Portabella Ravioli or Grilled Pesto Pizza Sandwich.

Best supermarket to drink in: Lucky’s Market

1919 S. Industrial Highway
Believe it or not, there are multiple supermarkets in Ann Arbor where you can go to enjoy an adult libation, but Lucky’s Market wins “best” honors due to their attention to detail: The carts all have drink-holders on them. And, believe me, once you’ve tried sip-and-shop, there’s no going back. Even better, after you’ve collected all your groceries (did I mention they have a great packaged beer selection?), you can belly up to the bar for a couple slices of greasy, gooey pizza and another glass of beer -- all for $5. Who needs some cheesy shopper rewards program when you can have actual cheese?

 

Best dive bar: 8 Ball Saloon

208 S. First Street
It’s hard to believe now, but the thoroughly yuppified Downtown Ann Arbor of today was home to a number of seedy watering holes only a generation ago. All but one are gone, but the one that remains, the 8 Ball Saloon, is a magnificent example of the specimen. The bar is located underneath Ann Arbor’s legendary concert hall, the Blind Pig, and attracts everyone from hipster show-goers, serious billiard and dart players, fresh-faced students, and crusty old townies. It’s neither clean nor well-lighted. The aesthetic is basic basement, the beer list is minimal, the cocktails aren’t particularly “hand-crafted,” it only accepts cash, and the jukebox is a never-ending battleground of cacophony. A great place, in other words.

Best lunch spot: Red Hawk Bar and Grill

316 S. State Street
There are tons of places to grab something good for lunch in Downtown Ann Arbor, but when you’re just looking for a great sandwich, you can never go wrong with Red Hawk. They offer a variety of solid eats, from the Teriyaki Salmon Pita with spinach and sweet and sour cucumber to the Parmesan Chicken Club with double-smoked bacon and caesar mayo to a damn fine Cubano. Vegetarian? Don’t miss the Whole Grilled Portabella Mushroom on focaccia with herbed goat cheese and roasted tomatoes, or the Black Bean Burger on brioche with jalapeno jack, chipotle mayo, salsa, and guac. Add a salad, the city’s best steak fries, coleslaw, or another side, and you’re good to go.

Best Chinese: TK Wu

510 E. Liberty Street
A cozy little Chinese spot situated near campus, the family-owned TK Wu has what you crave, whether it’s familiar Americanized dishes like Egg Drop Soup, Sesame Chicken, or Beef and Broccoli, or more authentic fare such as Taiwanese Rice Noodles, Pork Congee, or Roast Duck with Rice. Plus about another hundred or so mouthwatering options. The portions are large, the prices are reasonable, and the friendly servers speak Mandarin -- or you can, naturally, order takeout or delivery. What’s the TK for? They're the first initials of the owners’ two children.

Best burger: Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery

311 S. Main Street
It’s not the cheapest hamburger you’ll find in this town full of great burgers, but you won’t have any regrets when you sink your teeth into the JP Burger, a grass-fed beef patty stacked with creamy cambozola cheese, earthy cremini mushrooms, and savory applewood-smoked bacon. Put it all on a challah roll and you’ve got yourself an unbeatable burger experience. It doesn’t hurt that you can wash it down with one of Jolly Pumpkin’s nationally recognized sour beers, such as Oro de Calabaza golden ale or La Roja amber ale.

Best breakfast: Angelo’s

1100 Catherine Street
Literally celebrated in song, Angelo’s has been an Ann Arbor institution since 1956, and nobody does breakfast better. On any given Sunday (or most any other day of the week), expect to see a line of people out the door waiting to fill their bellies with loaded omelettes, waffles, and Angelo’s legendary raisin toast, baked fresh daily. In the mood for something a little different? Try decadent dishes like Crab Cakes Benedict or Raspberry Chocolate Chip Pancakes -- so filling you may not need to eat again for the rest of the day, which is fine because mom always said breakfast was the most important meal.

Best place for BBQ and beer: Blue Tractor BBQ and Brewery

207 E. Washington Street
Blue Tractor has undergone a number of iterations, renovations, and expansions since it opened in 2008, and now it’s safe to say this downtown brewery and eatery is firing on all cylinders. The well-known house beers -- including Bumper Crop IPA and Bearded Pig Cream Ale -- are still there, but the rotating tap (and cask) offerings have expanded, and brewer Pat is happy to serve up everything from classic styles (like the excellent Dry Line Pils) to the latest trendy styles (think Brut IPA). Pair your choice with something from the mouth-watering array of menu options, including Char-grilled Baby Back Ribs, Smoked Beef Brisket, and Carolina Pulled Pork -- or, for the indecisive, a plate with all of the above.

Best place for late-night pizza: Pizza House

618 Church Street
For those situations where it’s long past bedtime but you've just gotta have a pie, one Ann Arbor pizzeria (literally) answers the call: Pizza House. Since 1986, this beloved staple located deep in the student ghetto has served up Chicago deep-dish and other styles to not only the undergrad crowd, but a diverse array of townies with an insatiable desire for tasty pizza. If you’re out and stumbling around after last call, the dining room is open until 4am, but if you managed to make it home safely, they also deliver right up until close. If anything tastes better after a long night of tippling than a Pizza House Chicago Stuffed Pizza crammed with cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers, mankind has yet to discover it.

Best place to pre- or post-game: The Garage Bar

628 Church Street
OK, the real best place to party before a Michigan football game is at an actual tailgate near the Big House. But the next best place? It’s the relatively new Garage Bar, conveniently located next to (and owned by) Pizza House. This unique open-air venue offers 32 beers on tap, along with a full bar churning out cocktail specials (often aimed at the younger set), and it’s only a half-hour walk to the stadium. Raining? The entire area is covered. Cold? They have patio heaters. Oh, and you have full access to Pizza House’s excellent food menu, making it a great place to regroup and celebrate a Wolverine victory as well.

Best under-the-radar happy hour: Old German Bar and Bierkeller

117 S. Ashley Street
The Old German is not just an under-the-radar spot for good happy hour eats and drinks; it’s literally underground, located in the cellar of the Grizzly Peak brewpub. You'll find the “regular” happy hour Monday through Thursday from 3-7pm, during which time you can get dirt-cheap, Deutschland-inspired fare like Chicken Schnitzel Sliders, Bavarian Wings, or German Potato Cakes, as well as discounted cocktails and beer including Grizzly house staples like Victors Gold Kolsch or Urban Warbear IPA, or the rotating kellerbiers brewed just for the Old German. There’s also the $12 Monday through Wednesday specials, which pair a half-liter of beer with Endless Goulash, a Perch Fry, or a Stroganoff of the Week.

Best outside-the-box option: Everest Sherpa

2803 Oak Valley Drive
What began as the Everest Momo food truck in the late, lamented Mark’s Carts has recently blossomed into Everest Sherpa, a sit-down eatery located in the Oak Valley Center strip mall spot that once housed Lotus Thai. Owner Pem Sherpa, a Nepalese immigrant who has summited Everest twice, offers up a variety of authentic Himalayan comfort food enjoyed by South Asian mountaineers -- and now, by Ann Arborites. You have to try the Momos (steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with Nepalese spices and vegetables or chicken as you prefer), as well as the Buteyko, a traditional Sherpa dish of bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, and spices served over rice with paneer (South Asian cheese), chicken, lamb, or shrimp. No climbing gear required.

Best townie bar: Old Town Tavern

122 W. Liberty Street
The rustic space occupied by Old Town Tavern has been a saloon of one sort or another since 1898 (it was even rumored to have been a speakeasy during the dark days of Prohibition). Today, it sports the same wood bar, cabinets, tables, booths, and flooring built by Old Town’s original owner (father of the current owners) in 1972. As the name suggests, the clientele skews toward long-time Ann Arbor residents -- including anyone and everyone from local writers and barflies to Michigan governor Rick Snyder -- with the occasional professor or grad student wandering in. The townies know what’s up: a small-ish but well-curated draft list, classic and unfussy cocktails, and a delicious menu that belies the bar’s general lack of pretentiousness.

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David Bardallis lives in Ann Arbor and does not miss any meals – or beers. Follow him on Twitter at @allthebrews.