Food & Drink

The 19 Most Underrated Restaurants in Detroit

Published On 08/20/2015 Published On 08/20/2015
Motor City Brewing Works | Flickr/collectmoments

While there is every reason to rave about old favorites (we’re looking at you, Roma Café and... um, 16 other spots) and current talk-of-the-town places such as Bucharest Grill, the Pupuseria, and Republic (among countless more), we’ve compiled a list of some of the most underrated kitchens in town -- beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Flickr/Emiy Flores

PJ’s Lager House

Corktown
What you’re getting: The best jambalaya, mac ‘n’ cheese, and bánh mì  in town

The Lager House isn’t exactly a secret -- most people know how good the food is by now. What’s been a highly regarded music venue for decades, these days has a regular brunch, lunch, and dinner crowd thanks to a complete remodeling by then-new owner Paul “PJ” Ryder in 2007. Heavy on the Cajun influence but also serving a delicious variety of vegetarian and vegan items, the Lager House kitchen is consistent and delicious.

Jeff Waraniak/Thrillist

Motor City Soul Food

Bagley
What you’re getting: Mouthwatering fried pork chops and chicken with some of the best collard greens on the planet

This takeout joint looks more like a bank with its bullet-proof glass and a line that winds around lane dividers. The game here is good, no-nonsense soul food and Motor City Soul Food is winning.

Flickr/Ted Swedenburg

Motor City Brewing Works

Midtown
What you’re getting: Some of the best gourmet pizza in the city

Standing in the shadows, literally, of new developments in Midtown, it’s possible to overlook MCBW, which has been serving up creative and inspired thin-crust pizza for years. We will surely welcome new breweries and restaurants into town, but we won’t forget about MCBW.

Dangerously Delicious Pies

Dangerously Delicious Pies

Midtown
What you’re getting: Amazing pie cooked by country singers

Nestled within one of Midtown’s finest dive bars, this pie restaurant began as a pop-up some years ago, started by traveling musician Rodney Henry and carried on by Don “Doop” Duprie and others. Expect to find savory goodness such as gumbo, BBQ pork, and ratatouille varieties as well as Key lime and all your other sweet favorites.

Rock City Eatery

Rock City Eatery

Hamtramck
What you’re getting: The roasted Brussels sprouts AND the Korean bowl

As a newer restaurant in the 313, Rock City has garnered its fair share of attention. It’s on our “underrated” list because we can’t believe it hasn’t gotten more attention. Some of the servers may give the “What are you doing here? Oh yeah, you pay my bills” kind of vibe, but it works here -- and the food makes up for any shortcomings.

El Nacimiento

El Nacimiento

Southwest
What you’re getting: A torta ahogada that would make your abuela weep with joy -- for $5

Southwest Detroit is filled with delicious, brightly colored, and friendly Mexican restaurants. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re looking for the basics. One reason El Nacimiento rises above is that it’s open late (4am on Fridays and Saturdays) and the margaritas are extra boozy.

Flickr/Tomas Hawk

The Golden Fleece

Greektown
What you’re getting: Flaming cheese!

The Golden Fleece is home to freakishly good Greek food. The gyros and saganaki at this place are occasionally overlooked in favor of a few larger and more flashy restaurants, but this is the best bang for your buck in Greektown.

UFO Factory

UFO Factory

Corktown
What you’re getting: Delicious and inventive make-your-own hot dogs,  or grilled cheese, with toppings like kimchi, house-made ancho-mint jelly, and vegan chili

You may be too old to drink here, but you’re definitely not too old to grab some of this healthy and delicious pub fare served at UFO’s new kitchen, Laika Dog.

Vicente's Cuban Cuisine

Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine

Downtown
What you’re getting: Paella and super-minty mojitos

Get all the tastes of a romanticized Havana but minus the food rationing. Vicente’s does meat right -- with pork, beef, and chicken being the stars of the show here -- alongside the aforementioned paella which brims with choice seafood. Sides such as plantains, the ubiquitous rice & beans, and yucca bring forward the island’s sexy rhythm and flavors.

Goodwells Natural Foods Market

Goodwells Natural Foods Market

Midtown
What you’re getting: Agave gummy bears, vegan chili, crispy tostadas, and the best samosas in the city

Part grocery store, part deli, Goodwells has been offering health-conscious alternatives in Midtown since before the lofts went up. Hibiscus ginger tea, house-made hummus and grape leaves, the popular pita sandwich... the list goes on. It’s a small place, but the flavor and vibe here are huge.

Grand Trunk Pub

Foran’s Grand Trunk

Downtown
What you’re getting: Fried pickles, fish & chips, and the Reuben

Foran’s gets a nod because it’s been there forever. There’s no fuss, and you’re bound to get something that tastes very good for a very reasonable price. With a healthy beer and wine selection and a great location right Downtown, Foran’s is guaranteed to keep its regulars coming as long as their livers hold out.

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Honest ? John’s

Midtown
What you’re getting: Kicked-up pub fare... late night!

There will never be a good reason not to go to Honest ? John’s. It’s an old standby in Detroit if there ever was one. Its location makes it perfect for morning resuscitation after particularly raucous nights in the city, and its late-night options make sure you’ll never go hungry.

Red Hots Coney Island

Red Hots Coney Island

Highland Park
What you’re getting: Damn fine coney dogs featuring a special family recipe dating back to 1921

Slide up to the bar on the first Saturday of each month and watch live bluegrass along with the Highland Park Department. It’s about as close to “Mayberry” as Detroit gets.

Flickr/Mike_tn

Russell Street Deli

Eastern Market
What you’re getting: The best soup in Detroit, and sandwiches that no one can argue with

When it opened, Russell Street was the talk of the town. After 20 years, the deli is still offering quick and friendly service and farm-fresh, high-quality food.

Trinosophes

Trinosophes

Eastern Market
What you’re getting: The best-tasting and healthiest brunch in the city

Yeah, we said it. Trinosophes is probably the most under-recognized and under-applauded cafe in Detroit. The coffee and tea selections are absolutely divine; and soups, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods are made daily, locally sourced, and prepared to order in this unique space which typically draws a heady crowd.
 

International Mini Cafe

Midtown
What you’re getting: The best curry available within the city limits

This tiny oasis sits in the basement of the International Center. “Where?” Exactly. Unless you are a student at WSU, CCS, or a longtime Midtown hanger-on, you’ve probably never heard of this place or been to it. The Indian food is absurdly good and stands out, as it’s made from the owner’s family recipes, but the Middle Eastern food can hold its own as well.

Lynn's Cafe

Scotty Simpson’s Fish & Chips

Brightmoor
What you’re getting: All of the fried fish

You owe it to yourself to eat at Detroit’s finest specialty restaurant -- and its specialty is fried fish. No really -- stop reading this and go there right now.

Flickr/Michigan Municipal League

Kresge Court

Midtown
What you’re getting: Boatloads of ambience and the most beautiful charcuterie board in Detroit

Enjoy a gourmet lunch and be transported to another time and place within this classy gathering spot.

El Asador Steakhouse

El Asador Steakhouse

Southwest
What you’re getting: Incredible fish tacos, seafood dishes, and the city’s best steak for your money

Why El Asador isn’t getting the publicity that other “newly discovered” Latin eateries receive is beyond us. The space is simple, but the food packs the punch of a much finer establishment, minus the high prices. There is a distinctive Mexican flair to everything here, from the creamy poblano pepper sauces to the three-chili butter that top the entrees.

Sign up here for our daily Detroit email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Motor City has to offer.

Megan Frye is a Detroit freelance writer -- find her on Twitter at @fryechild, or possibly at UFO.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. PJ's Lager House 1254 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48226 (Corktown)

This longstanding Corktown joint is known for raucous rock shows, Cajun fried fare, and its rowdy vibes. Case in point: back in the 2000s', PJ's played host as a hangout for the likes of rowdy DET indie rockers The White Stripes and The Von Bondies. Come for the mosh pits, and stay for the gumbo and fried pickles!

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Motor City Soul Food 12700 W 7 Mile Rd, Detroit, MI 48235

Sure, the building housing Motor City Soul Food may not be the prettiest thing in Detroit, but let's face it, you aren't either. Put your hypothetical differences aside and venture inside -- because once you do, you'll realize you've been missing out on some beautifully delicious comfort food, like flavorful fried chicken, mac 'n cheese, pork chops, and more varieties of cheesecake than you ever thought you needed.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. Motor City Brewing Works Inc 470 W Canfield St, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

This is where Ghettoblaster was born and (arguably) where the golden age of Michigan microbrewing first started to take hold. True Detroiters will gather here to munch on brick oven pizzas and enjoy a pint on the rooftop terrace.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Dangerously Delicious Pies 4626 3rd St, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

This pie shop founded by musician Rodney "The Pie Man" Henry, whips up creations deserving of the title "Best Pie in Michigan." Every delectable batch of pies, both sweet and savory, are baked fresh and from scratch every day. This means the menu changes daily so you never know what you're getting yourself into when you walk through its doors and into its rustic, bar-like dining area. That is, except a flavor-packed punch: the best seller here is called the S.M.O.G. (that stands for steak, mushrooms, onions and gruyere).

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Rock City Eatery 11411 Joseph Campau St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Food, booze, and pies are the pillars upon which Rock City Eatery rests, and the industrial-chic eatery in Hamtramck has entertained a steady flock of regulars because of it. The breadth of the globally-inspired menu attests to the culinary skill of owner Nikita Santches, who proves that it's totally possible to excel at everything from duck fat-fried poutine to Spanish octopus. here's a big emphasis on local solidarity, ranging from regional microbrews behind the bar to the ingredients used in the kitchen, so don't be surprised if certain items on this focused, market-driven menu run out towards the end of the day.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. El Nacimiento 7400 W Vernor Hwy, Detroit, MI 48209 (Corktown)

Although there are many great Mexican restaurants in Southwest Detroit, El Nacimiento stands out because it's open late (4am on Fridays and Saturdays) and the margaritas are extra boozy.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. 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.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. UFO Factory 2110 Trumbull St, Detroit, MI 48216 (Corktown)

You may be too old to drink here, but you’re definitely not too old to grab some of this healthy and delicious pub fare served at UFO’s new kitchen, Laika Dog. Visit during weekend brunching hours for a bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys deal which also includes waffle-wrapped hot dogs. The cozy venue is primarily a DIY art and live music space, so don't leave without getting a little cultured.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Vicente's Cuban Cuisine 1250 Library St, Detroit, MI 48226

Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine brings a spicy, colorful slice of Havana to Detroit. Home to both a dining area and salsa-dancing space, Vicente’s buzzes with energy every night. The menu consists of colorful paellas, empanadas, sandwiches, salads, meats, seafood, and sides, the highlights of which include seafood paella and pan con lechon, with marinated roasted pork leg, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo on Cuban bread. Portions are generous, so be sure to ration out bites to leave room for dessert; the tres leches cake is heavenly, topped with sinfully sweet, fluffy vanilla meringue.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Goodwell's Natural Foods Market 418 W Willis St, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

This healthy spot is best know for its "Famous Pocket Sandwich," and it lives up to its rep: a vegetarian soy patty topped with baby spinach leaves, Romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, and Goodwells' super-secret sauce all stuffed into a whole wheat pita pocket for $4.25.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
11. Grand Trunk Pub 612 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

At Foran's, you're bound to get something that tastes very good for a very reasonable price. Plus, they've got a healthy beer and wine selection and a great location Downtown.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
12. Honest John's Bar & Grill 488 Selden St, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

Honest John's is open 7am-2am every day (save 9am-2am on Sunday's) to serve you delicious omelets, burgers, and Hoovers -- a combination of cranberry, orange, pineapple juice, and vodka.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
13. Red Hots Coney Island 12 Victor St, Highland Park, MI 48203

This Coney Island spot has some damn fine coney dogs featuring a special family recipe dating back to 1921, and if you come by the first Saturday of the month you'll hear some live bluegrass.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
14. Russell Street Deli 2465 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207 (Eastern Market)

That there’s a line out the door of this Eastern Market joint is telling: despite the lightning speed with which they sling artisanal sandwiches and omelets every Saturday morning, the popularity of Russell Street Deli doesn’t wane. The robust flavors and locally-sourced ingredients keep the masses coming back for more, especially for the vegetarian soups and standout Avocado Sandwich, served on whole wheat bread with Swiss cheese, organic sprouts, mixed greens, and house-made Ranch dressing. We suggest you grab and go, but you’ll likely make a new friend or two if you linger at one of the buzzy, communal tables.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
15. Trinosophes 1464 Gratiot, Detroit, MI 48207 (Eastern Market)

Serving coffee and tea against a backdrop of visual art and live music, Trinosophes lets you get your fill of caffeine and culture in one place. The Eastern Market coffeeshop serves its espresso shots in eclectic ceramic cups that looks like abstract oyster shells. Trinosophes also features beans from Detroit's Anthology, Ypsilanti's Hyperion, or San Francisco's Ritual. Besides the coffee, the food is superb and made completely from scratch in-house, and the neighboring Peoples Records is a must-stop.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
16. International Mini Cafe 111 E Kirby St, Detroit, MI 48202 (Midtown)

Chances are you've never even heard of this basement cafe under the International Center in Midtown. The Indian food is absurdly good and stands out, as it’s made from the owner’s family recipes, but the Middle Eastern food can hold its own as well.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
17. Scotty Simpson's Fish & Chips 22200 Fenkell St, Detroit, MI 48223

Scotty Simpson's fish and chips are made with cod that is flown in daily from Nova Scotia and hand-cut Idaho potatoes, so you know it's the real deal.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
18. Kresge Court 5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202 (Midtown)

Located in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Kresge Court offers gourmet lunch on a beautiful patio.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
19. El Asador Steakhouse 1312 Springwells St, Detroit, MI 48209

El Asador proves that you don't have to go south of the border to get authentic Mexican food -- in reality, It's as easy as heading to southwest Detroit. Food offerings range from traditional staples like flautas, quesadillas, and guacamole (mashed to order right at your table), but the immaculately cooked filet mignon with guajillo-ancho-chipotle butter sauce and New York steak à la rancheros prove that steaks reign supreme here. Just don't forget to bring along a 6-pack of your favorite cerveza, as this casual eatery is BYOB.

Clickbait