Food & Drink

Detroit’s Restaurant Bucket List

Published On 01/28/2016 Published On 01/28/2016
Jeff Waraniak/Thrillist

Detroit's dining scene has exploded recently, and this is news to no one reading this. And as much as we love to extol the virtues of the newest, hottest, hippest, trendiest (and, in most cases, already among the best) restaurants in Detroit, two years of buzz does not a time-tested institution make. So, with all due respect to Selden Standard, Chartreuse, Standby, Wright & Co, Rock City Eatery, Republic, and those newer still, for this "bucket list" we're focused on the classics, the institutions, the quintessential Detroit experiences, the places EVERY Detroiter MUST experience in their lives.

Slows BarBq

Corktown

It's cool to act like we're all so "over" Slows now, but the fact is, this place, more than anywhere else, is what truly kick-started Detroit's culinary renaissance, and also was the catalyst for the development of the Corktown you know today. Theirs is still one of the most famous mac & cheeses in the country thanks to loads of national press proclaiming it the best (rightfully so), and it's also one of the best beer bars in the city.

Flickr/Michigan Municipal League

Supino Pizzeria

Eastern Market

When Dave Mancini opened Supino in 2008, there was no guarantee it would be successful, much less appear on the Food Network and in the pages of GQ and Esquire with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Christina Hendricks. Flash forward to today, when Mancini just recently opened the much-anticipated La Rondinella in the space next to Supino (where the Italian-minded cocktails are as outstanding as the food, and all the prices are stupid-cheap), and Supino is still regarded among the best pizzas in the country.

The Whitney Restaurant - Detroit

The Whitney

Midtown

True, it might not currently have a young hotshot chef you know by name, or benefit from national buzz, or boast bars and tables made from reclaimed wood sourced from deconstructed Detroit homes built in the 1800s, but The Whitney was once the premiere restaurant in Detroit -- basically for all those years between the shuttering of the London Chop House and the emergence of Detroit 2.0 -- and it is literally from the 1800s. This 1894 mansion is truly an icon of Detroit, and there is no space more dramatic or impressive than it. Whether you're there for a special occasion dinner, a Death in the Afternoon brunch, drinks at the Ghostbar, live music in the gardens, a wedding, whatever: the Whitney is an experience like none other.

Flickr/Ian Freimuth

Lafayette Coney Island  

Downtown

This is Detroit, and we’re talking about food. Go. Eat. Be happy.

Buddy's Pizza

Buddy's Rendezvous Pizzeria

McNichols & Conant

Come for the pizza. Stay for the bocce. The first location of Detroit's original signature square deep dish pizza is still open and innovating new twists on a very old favorite. This is the birthplace of Detroit-style deep dish, which is superior in every conceivable way to Chicago's.

Roma Cafe

Roma Café

Eastern Market

Why party like a rock star when you could party like the Purple Gang? The Roma is Detroit's oldest restaurant and was once a favored haunt of the infamous Purple Gang. Need proof? There are photos of them hanging out in the dining room... in the very same dining room. The food is very old world Italian-American with massive portions served by tuxedoed waiters who provide just the right amount of fuss to round out Roma’s singular experience.

Flickr/Hungry Dudes

Roast

Downtown

Back in The Day, Detroit had a ton of steakhouses. Then they all closed. Time passed. The Book Cadillac building underwent a massive renovation, kickstarting Detroit's skyscraper renovation fever. And, finally, Michael Symon's Roast opened on the ground floor of the newly-christened Westin Book Cadillac in 2008 and was known almost immediately as the place to see and be seen, with the most popular happy hour in town. If Slows shepherded in the Corktown renaissance, Roast laid the groundwork for Downtown, and is still one of the best restaurants in town.

Courtesy of London Chop House

London Chop House

Downtown

And speaking of Detroit's old steakhouses, the London Chop House is the most famous. The Downtown stalwart was known as one of the top restaurants in the country from the time it opened in 1938 until it closed in 1991; in 2012 it reopened, meticulously restored to its former glory. It’s high-end, fussy, and expensive, and serves a menu that is the closest many of us will ever get to experiencing this part of Detroit's elegant history.

Flickr/Danielle Walquist Lynch

Polish Village Café

Hamtramck

No Detroit bucket list would be complete without a Polish restaurant, and our favorite is Polish Village, located in the basement of what was once a hotel for Polish immigrant workers when the city swelled with them. Hamtramck is much more ethnically diverse today, but this is a delicious longtime mainstay from earlier years. 

New Parthenon Restaurant

New Parthenon

Greektown

Much as we can't NOT have a Polish place in Hamtramck, we can't NOT have a Greek place in Greektown. While the "Greek" in Greektown isn't as prominent as it once was, there are still those old institutions that have held out. The exemplar of the stalwarts is New Parthenon, the interior of which is reminiscent of a '90s Vegas casino done in the theme of "Ancient Greece" and/or a strip club. Opa, bitches.

El Barzon

El Barzon

Southwest Detroit

There are many fine Mexican restaurants in Detroit, but it would be a stretch to pick one that "defines" Detroit -- except El Barzon. For years El Barzon has drawn customers from all over metro Detroit to its unassuming corner of Michigan and Junction for its half-Italian, half-Mexican fine dining menu. And THAT is certainly something you won't find in other cities. 

Flickr/Liza Lagman Sperl

Green Dot Stables

Corktown

With the simple pairing of cheap, fancy sliders, and cheap craft beer, Green Dot got national press from pretty much the start and quickly catapulted to the top of Detroit's must-eat restaurants, and started something of a restaurant empire for the Driscolls, who now also own Johnny Noodle King, the Huron Room, and a second Green Dot location in Malaysia. Yeah, THAT Malaysia.

Telway Hamburger System

Southwest Detroit

Telway is a classic diner, a tiny dive with counter service that's open 24-hours and has been serving Detroiters their early morning stomachaches since 1944. The move here are the down-home greasy gut-bomb sliders, the kind of burgers for which this style of bite-sized burger earned the name "slider" in the first place.

Iridescence

Iridescence

Corktown

Sitting on the 16th floor of Motor City Casino, the two-story restaurant features 40ft windows running along the full length of the dining room, offering a panoramic view of Detroit's skyline, including the Ambassador Bridge. Appropriately, the interior is just as eye-catching, looking more like a flashy Vegas casino than a Detroit restaurant. The traditional seafood and steakhouse fare comes with a tinge of Asian-fusion inspiration, and the spot also features a special seven-course "American kaiseki" tasting menu.

Mudgie's

Mudgie's Deli

Corktown

The popular Corktown deli just gets better and better every year, having added a liquor license with an impressive selection of beers and wines, a lovely patio, a retail wine shop, cozy bar, and a special dinner menu in recent years. Any sandwich made with their house-roasted Sy Ginsberg corned beef is still a classic and also part of your obligatory Detroit diet, but Mudgie's has now moved from simply being a sandwich shop and has become a anchor institution for this corner of Corktown, which now also includes Batch Brewing and Brew Detroit.

Baker's Keyboard Lounge

Avenue of Fashion

Open since 1933, Baker's Keyboard Lounge is billed as "world's oldest jazz club," and has seen many of the world's greatest jazz musicians -- Louis, Miles, Ella, Aretha, Nat, and Cab, to name a few -- come through its doors and play on its stage over the years. The wraparound keyboard bar is a decorative highlight, and obviously so is the live music (still a steal for a scant $5 cover on most nights), but, for the full experience, do also order up some classic soul food while you're there.

Flickr/John H

Cadieux Café

East Detroit

There are Mexican places and Italian places and Greek places and Polish places and Middle Eastern places and German places all over Detroit. But there is also a Belgian place, which maybe doesn't get the attention it deserves. Cadieux Café, tucked on the far east of the city in what is practically Grosse Pointe, serves Belgian specialties like mussels and frites with lots of Belgian beers AND you can play the Belgian sport of feather bowling, now to be confused with fowling. 

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Nicole Rupersburg fully expects there to be butt-hurt over the absence of places like Selden Standard and does not care. She is currently losing a war of attrition with social media, but you can still follow her IG at @eatsdrinksandleaves for when she finally admits defeat.  

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1. Slows Bar BQ 2138 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48216 (Corktown)

From the award-winning and rightfully TV-famous Yardbird sandwich to the 100+ beer selection, this pork-packed mainstay has thoroughly earned all the attention it gets. The Cooley’s (who own the place) have done almost as fine a job boosting other businesses in Corktown as they have boosting the average local waist size.

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2. Supino Pizzeria 2457 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207 (Eastern Market)

Supino bustling Pizzeria, located in Eastern Market, serves thin crust New York style pizza pies. This spot makes Detroit's most famous not-Buddy's pizzas, and while some people might come to blows championing the Bismarck as their Supino pie of choice, our money is on the Smoky, with smoked prosciutto, smoked Gouda, and the roasted garlic.

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3. The Whitney 4421 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

Situated within the mansion of David Whitney, a lumber scion during the late 19th century and one of Detroit's wealthiest citizens, the Whitney is an elegant fine dining restaurant inspired by the city's golden age of industry. The plates, refined takes on American classics (house specialities include the Beef Wellington and shrimp cocktail), are right at home in the glorious domestic setting, while a second-floor dessert parlor with larger, more elaborate items, like flaming desserts and $3 mini-desserts for nibbling, adds even more to the opulence.

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4. Lafayette Coney Island 118 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

While no one knows for sure where the Detroit coney dog originated, what's clear is that Lafayette is one of two establishments serving the premier version. Grab your own plate with a side of chili cheese fries, and ignore the sassy cooks and the dinginess of the space. You're here for the coney.

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5. Buddy's Pizza 17125 Conant St, Detroit, MI 48212

Lauded as one of the best pizza joints (and now, chain) in the nation, Buddy's Pizza is known for its iconic Detroit-style pies baked in cast iron pans. The celebrated joint has been perfecting its pizzas, salads, and soups since 1946, and now serves them alongside a beer and wine, and dessert menu. To help you make room for additional slices, the restaurant even offers a bocce court right next door.

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6. Roma Cafe 3401 Riopelle St, Detroit, MI 48207 (Eastern Market)

Opened in 1890, Roma Café is Detroit's oldest restaurant. The classic late-19th-century immigrant Italian eatery is every inch a taste of Detroit's history; it was even a favored haunt of Detroit's notorious Purple Gang, and for good reason: chicken parmesan served with ample doses of gooey cheese, pasta in perfectly bright tomato sauce, and veal marsalas all comfort the heart while exciting the taste buds. And because this is an old-school joint, you can rest assured your Manhattans and Old Fashioneds will be prepared in authentic, accurate fashion.

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7. Roast 1128 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226-1907

Headed by Iron Chef Michael Symon, Roast is a massive, highly decorated, 200-seat steakhouse. Its bar/lounge is also known for dishing out some of Detroit's best cocktails, each made with fresh ingredients. Located within the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit, the bar’s Renaissance-style ambiance will make your night out feel classy as can be.

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8. London Chop House 155 W. Congress, Detroit, MI 48226

Returning to its original location in the basement of the Murphy-Telegraph Building after a 20yr absence, London actually IS your grandfather's chop house (it first opened in 1938 as a power dining staple), so pay homage at the restored oak bar or polished classic red leather banquettes to devour meat and live jazz. Then, step into one of two working OG phone booths, and excitedly text everyone that you’re in a working phone booth. Seriously, the London Chop House is as old school as it gets, a throwback to a former era rich with sumptuous design and cuisine.

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9. Polish Village Café 2990 Yemans St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Everything about this Hamtramck restaurant is authentically Polish: the interior feels like a real Eastern European pub with an emphasis on dark mahogany fixtures and stained glass, while white Christmas lights hang overhead, intersecting strings of faux ivy. Whether stuffed with potato, cabbage, cheese, or beef, the pierogies here are absolutely amazing -- and the rest of the menu is just as solid, boasting traditional fare like kielbasa, golabki (stuffed cabbage), and the ever popular dill pickle soup. The family-owned eatery has a huge following, and even the most dedicated of regulars often have to wait for a table at this walk-ins and cash-only spot.

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10. New Parthenon 547 Monroe St, Detroit, MI 48226 (Greektown)

More than 40 years, New Parthenon has been serving up Greek home cooked favorites to the denizens of Detroit. Their extensive menu features mainstays like moussaka, baklava, hummus, and souvlaki, but they also have plenty of less-knower, authentic dishes available if you're in the adventurous mood.

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11. El Barzon 3710 Junction St, Detroit, MI 48210

Since its debut in 2007, this Southwest Detroit spot has garnered a loyal following of regulars and significant acclaim for its unique Mexican-Italian menu. Helmed by chef Norberto Garita (who cut his culinary teeth in New York's fine dining scene), the kitchen serves upscale renditions of classic dishes like chicken Milanese and mole poblano, staying true to the staples of each cuisine. El Barzon also boasts a solid cocktail menu of vibrantly colored margaritas, top shelf liquors and rare mezcal selections. Combined with an inviting outdoor patio (decked out with lush plants and Christmas light strung from the wooden rafters ahead), it's a popular spot for relaxed yet refined dinners.

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12. Green Dot Stables 2200 W Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48216 (Corktown)

With the simple pairing of cheap fancy sliders, and cheap craft beer, Green Dot got national press from pretty much the start and quickly catapulted to the top of Detroit's must-eat restaurants. Having taken over the old joint of the same name, the American restaurant enhanced most of the former venue's stable- and track-related decor, but fortunately revamped a delicious poutine- and booze-containing menu that's served until 5am.

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13. Telway Hamburger System 6820 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48210

The Telway Hamburger System is open 24 hours, serving you sliders, fries, and coneys for ridiculously cheap prices. This counter serve takeout joint is the type of place that sells burgers by the bag from it's unapologetic, squat home in the middle of a parking lot. Nothing about Telway is about fine presentation, especially its uniquely thin patties that pack a fat flavor wallop, but they still make one hell of an impression. While you're there, keep your motor running with some of their famously delicious and equally cheap coffee.

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14. Iridescence 2901 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 40201 (Corktown)

This fine-dining Downtown restaurant sits on the 16th floor of the MotorCity Casino Hotel, offering stunning views of the city beyond from a sleek, dimly lit space. The American menu includes Black Angus beef filet, New York Strip Steak, oysters on the half shell, and South African lobster tail, all of which have a match from the restaurants considerable wine list.

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15. Mudgie's 1300 Porter, Detroit, MI 48226 (Corktown)

This artisanal deli is a source of pride for Detroit natives, and it should be: nearly everything at Mudgie’s is house-made, be it the charcuterie, marinated deli meat, soups, salad dressings, and even ketchup. The old school approach ensures a freshness of flavor which, when combined with the formidable selection of craft beers -- ranging from local drafts to imported bottles from Italy, Belgium, and beyond -- and classic cocktails, make it a veritable Corktown hot spot for neighborhood locals and hipsters alike.

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16. Baker's Keyboard Lounge 20510 Livernois Ave, Detroit, MI 48221

What began as a humble sandwich joint in 1933 turned into a piano bar in the early 40s, at which point it became a pivotal venue in the history of American jazz. A frequent haunt for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis, Baker's is still thriving today, with touring musicians providing nightly jazz and weekly comedy shows in an authentic Art Deco space. Entertainment aside, the kitchen here is serious about soul food: succulent barbecue wings and ribs reign supreme, and regional tastes like grilled perch and whiting are equally as satisfying.

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17. Cadieux Cafe 4300 Cadieux Rd, Detroit, MI 48224

Flemish culture thrives at this Motor City staple, as evidenced by the robust collection of Belgian beers, the frequent crowd of “featherbowlers,” -- the equivalent of Belgian bocci, essentially -- and, like any self-respecting Belgian-themed bar, fresh steamed mussels, served daily. The Cadieux Café started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and it’s still kicking today, supported by community veterans who come for the culture and young folk who swing through to enjoy live entertainment until the wee hours of the morning.

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