Food & Drink

The 17 Most Important Restaurants in Detroit

Published On 03/24/2015 Published On 03/24/2015
Nicole Rupersburg/Thrillist

More so than perhaps any other major metropolitan, Detroit's restaurants are judged not just by subjective standards of quality, but also by their overall significance to the city. This isn't about the best restaurants or the oldest restaurants or the quirkiest or the trendiest or the most beloved; this is about the restaurants that make an impact beyond their food, and have become a part of the fabric of what it means to eat and live in Detroit.

Bucharest Grill

Bucharest Grill

Multiple locations
It is the shawarma that launched a thousand kissless first dates, and it is the stuff of local legend. What started as a little carry-out counter in the back of Park Bar, Bucharest Grill has grown into a bona fide empire, with a second location open in Corktown and a third in the works at Piquette and John R. And it's all because of that vampire-killing shawarma, named one of the "Best Late-Night Foods in the USA" by Esquire

Buddy's Pizza

Buddy's Pizza

Multiple locations
Detroit-style deep dish pizza was born here in 1946. This style of pizza, as we all know, is superior to all deep dish pizzas in existence. As far as indigenous cuisines go, the coney might have better brand recognition, but Detroit deep dish is our true legacy.

Colors Restaurant

COLORS

Paradise Valley
The COLORS' slogan is "Just. Good. Food." but it's more than just that -- it's good practices. Opened in 2011, COLORS is an outgrowth of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-Michigan), which seeks to improve wages and working conditions for Southeast Michigan's 134,000 restaurant workers. The COLORS mission is one of social justice: to support the community by providing jobs and employment training to students, the unemployed and underemployed, and returning citizens, while also supporting the local food system by working closely with Detroit growers and producers. The food is "healthy food," but not necessarily "health food" -- there is a good mix of vegetarian options along with "good fatty food," -- the kind that is locally and economically healthy, sourced from local growers and producers like D-Town Farms, Rising Pheasant, and Grown in Detroit. 

Detroit Vegan Soul (D.V.S)

Detroit Vegan Soul

West Village
A vegan soul food restaurant? In Detroit? Yes, and yes. A concept that sounded utterly at odds with itself ended up making it into the top four finalists of the 2012 Hatch Detroit competition and officially opened its doors in West Village in 2013. Not only is it Detroit's first and only vegan soul food restaurant, it's also (even still) the only completely vegan restaurant in the city -- places like Seva and Brooklyn Street Local are certainly vegan-friendly, but nowhere else is as committed to the plant-based diet as Detroit Vegan Soul. It marked a real shift in Detroit dietary perceptions (that we're all a bunch of fried-food fatsos too Midwestern to know what tofu is) and expanded Detroit's restaurant repertoire in a significant way.
 

Green Dot Stables

Corktown
It's hard to determine how much of the success of Green Dot Stables can be attributed to it being a development catalyst versus being the beneficiary of some extremely fortunate timing, but when Green Dot opened in 2012, the only time you had to wait for a seat in a restaurant in Detroit was during Detroit Restaurant Week, Roast's ridiculously wonderful weekday happy hour, and Slows on the weekend. Now, it is not uncommon to have to wait an hour for a table on a Tuesday everywhere you go, and that turning point happened with the opening of Green Dot, which was considered a Detroit dining destination by national media since day one, due to its cheap booze and inventive slider selections -- including organ meat specials.

El Barzon

El Barzon

Southwest Detroit
Chef Norberto Garita is originally from Puebla, Mexico. He also spent eight years working at the famed Il Posto Italian restaurant in Southfield. So when he opened up his own restaurant at the corner of Michigan and Junction in 2007, he fused together his two primary culinary backgrounds in one glorious place called El Barzon. It's not "fusion" food -- it is one half authentically Mexican and one half authentically Italian. And at the time, it was one of the most widely-hailed restaurants in the city of Detroit, drawing in the "suburbanite" crowd from the poshest of Metro Detroit zip codes (image: Mercedi and Lexi parked on the street on Junction – a real thing that happened) to dine at what was, for a couple of years at least, a hidden gem and best kept secret of Detroit.
 

The Golden Fleece

Greektown
The Golden Fleece is one of the last remaining vestiges of the Greektown that was. While Pegasus Tavernas and New Parthenon are much bigger and "fancier," the Golden Fleece is an unfussy Greek eatery where the gyro meat is carved off a spit in the front and in full view of the restaurant, with late-night hours on weekends for your post-bar appetite, and has remained wholly unchanged over the decades. It has the most "Greek" character of the few remaining Greektown restaurants, and the old-timers eager to share their memories of Greektown debauchery in the '70s to go with it. 

Joe Muer Seafood

Joe Muer Seafood

Downtown
It's not that Joe Muer is, in itself, a spectacular restaurant. It is spectacularly expensive, but let's not confuse one with the other. It is, however, important to Detroit's ever-evolving culinary scene in that it kick-started a restaurant revivalist movement, bringing back to life the storied restaurants of Detroit's golden days, which now also includes a resuscitated London Chop House and Top of the Pontch. While it is still open to debate whether mid-twentieth century food has a place at the twenty-first century table, Joe Muer made a massive impact in 2011 when it reopened in a splashy new space inside the Renaissance Center.

JEFF WARANIAK/Thrillist

Lafayette Coney Island/American Coney Island

Downtown
No two restaurants have been the cause of as much Detroit debate as Lafayette and American Coney Island, and that's saying something. While the differences between the two are totally arbitrary to everyone who thinks a coney dog is a coney dog is a coney dog, they are anything but arbitrary to their respective devotees who have kept the rivalry spirit strong since 1936 -- a rivalry that has inspired TV shows, national media features, radio programs, and even a book.

Polonia

Hamtramck
When Anthony Bourdain visited in 2009, Detroit was feeling a bit attention-starved. Also restaurant-starved. So seeing one of our restaurants -- ANY of our restaurants -- on national TV was kind of a huge deal. (Flash forward a few years and Detroiters would become a bit less enthusiastic about Bourdainian coverage.) Polonia is an old Polish restaurant among quite a few other old Polish restaurants in the once predominantly Polish Hamtramck, and while everyone has a favorite (with all respect to Polish Village Café and the Polish Yacht Club), Polonia is arguably the most famous.

The Rattlesnake

The Rattlesnake

Rivertown
This year, Detroit chefs Marc Djozlija of Wright & Co. and Andy Hollyday of Selden Standard are semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation's 2015 Best Chef: Great Lakes award. So when was the last time a Detroit chef even made it that far? 1993. That chef was Jimmy Schmidt, the restaurant was the Rattlesnake Club, and that year he won. The city of Detroit has not seen – has not even been in the running for – a James Beard award since.
 

Roast


Downtown
Roast's instant popularity signifies the moment in time when Detroit showed it was ready for a grown-up restaurant with contemporary sensibilities. That was late 2008, barely six years, yet an eternity ago. It kick-started the local careers of people like Andy Hollyday and Travis Fourmont, who were doing just fine before they set up in Detroit, but were a far cry from familiar names, especially since Detroit wasn't yet in the habit of buzzing about chefs and bartenders by name. It also got Detroiters eating bone marrow. Despite a slew of openings since then, many in the same modern-rustic vein, Roast continues to be a mainstay. 

Revolver

(revolver)

Hamtramck
The permanent pop-up that has since inspired its share of imitators, (revolver) gives aspiring chefs a chance to test out their recipes and build a fan base, while also giving established chefs an opportunity to play in the kitchen. 

Nicole Rupersburg/Thrillist

Roma Café

Eastern Market
Opened in 1890, Roma CafĂ© is Detroit's oldest restaurant. The fact that it is till a much-beloved icon after all of these years just goes to show that age ain't nothing but a number. 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. If you want to see the Sopranos side of Detroit's history, look no further than Roma. 

Nicole Rupersburg/Thrillist

Slows BAR BQ

Corktown
Obviously. It might be fun to laugh at Slows and snarkily refer to it as "the most important barbecue restaurant in America" but, looking at the development it has spurned along the Michigan Ave corridor in Corktown -- and, yes, we can absolutely attribute everything that has happened on Michigan Ave in the last decade to Slows, period, the end -- who's laughing now? Every national food magazine and blog has at some point written about Slows, serving as the obligatory "Detroit really isn't so bad" introduction for many outside the city. Corktown is now a bona fide travel destination, popping up in guides from national travel and lifestyle publications like Fodor's and Martha Stewart Living. And what was the catalyst for all of this? Slows. Slows, Slows, Slows. 

JEFF WARANIAK/Thrillist

Supino Pizzeria

Eastern Market
One pizza to rule them all, said Dave Sauron Mancini. Supino is hardly Detroit's only pizza game; it's not even Detroit's only significant pizza game. The popular pizzeria is a shift away from Detroit-style deep dish (which we love!) to a Neapolitan-style, utilizing locally sourced produce and proteins (which we also love!). It was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and made Mancini a late-'00s Detroit Restaurateur Hall of Famer, among the cohort that kick-started Detroit's current restaurant renaissance (including Slows). Mancini's La Rondinella, which will open in the space adjoining Supino, is one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in recent years. OPEN OPEN OPEN OPEN.
 

Vince's Italian Restaurant

Southwest Detroit
It started as a little pizza parlor opened by an immigrant Italian family in 1960 and grew into the restaurant it is today, featuring homemade food made from scratch with love in the Old-World Italian way. It is one of Detroit's oldest family-operated restaurants, and if it's good enough for Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali, it's good enough for you.

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1. Colors 311 E Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

Good eats and social justice are on the menu at COLORS, an outgrowth of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-Michigan), which seeks to improve wages and working conditions for Southeast Michigan's 134,000 restaurant workers. The restaurant also collaborates with local grocers and farmers to serve the community's best back to its citizens. You can't go wrong with a great meal and contributing to a worthy cause.

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2. Detroit Vegan Soul 8029 Agnes St, Detroit, MI 48214 (West Village)

Marrying vegan cuisine with soul food flair, this cozy West Village spot serves up some serious flavor. You’d think it’s impossible to create authentic Southern barbecue fare using 100% plant-based, organic ingredients devoid of trans-fat, but Detroit Vegan Soul executes it perfectly -- for example, take the signature “Catfish” tofu sandwich, a gluten-free option with cornmeal-battered tofu, broccoli-corn slaw, redskin potatoes, and onions. Combined with the cute, contemporary digs and friendly staff, it’s a neighborhood staple.

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3. 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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4. 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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5. Golden Fleece Restaurant 525 Monroe St, Detroit, MI 48226 (Greektown)

Despite the influx of changes in Greektown, The Golden Fleece remains an unfussy, family style Greek eatery where the gyro meat is carved off a spit in the front and in full view of the restaurant.

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6. Joe Muer Seafood 400 Renaissance Ctr, Detroit, MI 48243

At first glance at the prices, you may be dissuaded to visit Joe Muer Seafood. But you know lobster will always be costly, and at one of the top restaurants in Detroit, you're paying for lobster and specialty seafood dishes, while enjoying the dining experience in a business casual atmosphere.

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7. 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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8. American Coney Island 114 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

Located besides archrival Lafayette Coney Island, American Coney Island has been serving paper platefuls of the crispy fries-and-chili covered hot dog meal since 1917. The spot continues to be family-owned and -operated, and the only way you can get your hands on their secret Detroit chili sauce is by ordering your own dog, or a Coney Kit, which comes complete with 12 Dearborn Sausage brand special recipe hot dogs, buns, a sweet onion, American's famous family-owned Detroit chili sauce, instructions, and a hat.

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9. Polonia Restaurant 2934 Yemans St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Polonia is one among quite a few other old Polish restaurants in the once predominantly Polish Hamtramck. Its traditional dishes and old school atmosphere have made it iconic in Detroit.

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10. The Rattlesnake 300 River Place Dr, Detroit, MI 48207 (Rivertown)

This upscale riverfront resto serves up locally sourced eats whenever possible. When it warms up, have dinner out on the garden terrace and soak up the views.

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11. 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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12. (revolver) 9737 Joseph Campau St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

This permanent pop-up in Hamtramck (which has inspired its share of imitators) gives aspiring chefs a chance to test out their recipes and build a fan base, while also giving established chefs an opportunity to play in the kitchen.

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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. Vince's Ristorante Italiano 1341 Springwells, Detroit, MI 48209

It started as a little pizza parlor opened by an immigrant Italian family in 1960 and grew into the restaurant it is today, featuring homemade food made from scratch with love in the Old-World Italian way. It is one of Detroit's oldest family-operated restaurants, and if it's good enough for Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali, it's good enough for you.

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