Food & Drink

The 19 Most Underrated Restaurants in Detroit

<strong>Motor City Brewing Works |</strong> <a href="http://bit.ly/1NhmEhm" target="_blank">Flickr/collectmoments</a>

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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