Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
Jewish: Stage Deli
With the large Jewish population we have in metro Detroit, you would think that there would be an abundance of really awesome Jewish food. Sadly, there is not. The Stage Deli, however, has been a local favorite since it first opened its doors in 1962 and serves heaping piles of corned beef and pastrami on sandwiches as big as your head, along with Jewish comfort food favorites like matzo ball soup. It is not kosher though, so be warned.
Russian: Royal Eagle
It's one thing to eat borscht. It's another thing to eat borscht in an storybook environment that looks like the cottages and castles straight out of a Romanov-era Russian fairytale, a St. Petersburg-turned-Narnia. And that's what you get at the Royal Eagle in Harper Woods -- a secret land of magic and wonder hidden away in plain sight on the otherwise not-at-all wondrous or magical stretch of Kelly Rd just south of 8 Mile.
Polish: Polish Village Cafe
Ah, the age-old debate: Polish Village or Polonia? Bourdain might be behind Polonia, but we feel that Polish Village just has the slightest advantage over places like Polonia and the Polish Yacht Club, located in the basement of an old hotel with year-round Christmas lights. Sure, it might still be stubbornly cash only, but that's also part of its Old World charm.
German: The Dakota Inn Rathskeller
The Dakota Inn is the best of the worst (or WURST!) Teutonic restaurant in town. They have a fantastic German beer selection, and the place is usually a good time, especially during the holiday season (which begins in September with Oktoberfest, and ends when people get bored of drinking huge amounts of beer).
French: Le Petit Zinc
While it's not quite so easy to find the kind of high-end French dining in metro Detroit that dominated the (inter)national fine dining scene for decades, you can still find places to drop a few hundred bucks on cold seafood towers and decadent dessert courses that consist of cheese and chocolate. Le Petit Zinc is more everyday French food -- crepes both sweet and savory, two kinds of ratatouille, ham and brie sandwiches on crusty baguette bread. The space is the definition of "charming," and the food is fully French without being any kind of fussy.
Spanish: La Feria
"Tapas" is a word that gets abused. Yes, it means "small plates." It does not mean any kind of damn small plates ("A half-sized order of our jalapeno cheese poppers -- tapas!"). At La Feria, Spanish food and culture take center stage as the only thing more cheerful and colorful than the interior space is the food itself. Mussels, many kinds of pork, cured anchovies, grilled sardines, many kinds of mollusks, Spanish cheeses, marinated olives, and one of our favorite wine lists in the city -- this is a Spanish tapas restaurant as the gods of Spain intended.
Mexican: Taqueria El Rey
Of all the taco trucks and taquerias and Mexican restaurants and taco stands inside gas stations and convenience stores, it is nigh impossible to pick "the best one." Still, we tend to favor Taqueria El Rey for its wide selection of taco meats (pork stomach, beef tongue, beef head, etc.) and its excellent grilled chicken.
Salvadoran: Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño
Otherwise known as THE pupusa place, and famous long before Bourdain showed up to eat unlicensed pupusas out of someone's actual house, Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño is a mouthful to say... so it's best to just fill your mouth with pupusas instead.
Romanian: Bucharest Grill
Foxtown (& Other Locations)
It would be sportsmanlike to say we considered anything other than Bucharest Grill for the best Romanian food, but we didn't. Their chicken shawarma is one of Detroit's most iconic dishes, which is why the little back-of-the-bar food counter has since expanded to a location in Corktown and a third getting ready to open in Milwaukee Junction.
Puerto Rican: Angel's Place
All the tacos al pastor in the world won't cure a craving for pork pernil. For that Puerto Rican specialty, you need to hit up Angel's Place.
Venezuelan: El Rey de Las Arepas
What is an "arepa"? Delicious corn flatbread, here split and made into sandwiches in the Venezuelan style, serving as another kind of delivery mechanism for many kinds of pork including chicharrón (aka pork rinds). Trust us, you’ll love it.
Caribbean: The Jamaican Pot
Jerk chicken from a born and bred Jamaican. We know how you love your ethnic authenticity.
Ethiopian: Taste of Ethiopia
For a hot minute there it seemed like the Ethiopian buffet was really going to catch on. It didn't, but places like Taste of Ethiopia (and their buffet) are still popular, as it seems people really dig piling scoopfuls of spiced semi-solids onto injera bread.
Dominican: El Caribeño
Given their geographic proximity, Puerto Rican food and Dominican food have a lot in common, but one is a US colony territory and the other is not. As with most of the cuisines on this list, shades of difference almost imperceptible to most non-natives are what distinguish one from the other, but one thing is for sure: the food here is delicious.
Nigerian: Squindles Africa Restaurant
Efo riro served on Styrofoam plates through bulletproof glass right near Marygrove College. Fun fact: there are not many African restaurants (be it West or North or any other general continental direction) in Detroit, but those that do exist are mostly located on the west side, near the University District, or in Windsor or Ann Arbor, and while only one of those is an entirely different country the other might as well be. What we're saying is African food, Nigerian or otherwise, is pretty hard to come by. And that’s a shame, ‘cause it’s great.
Cuban: Vicente's Cuban Cuisine
Get the big big big paella with 18 different kinds of fish and meat (that's hyperbole, but not by much) and a bunch of mojitos, then salsa the night away. It's a bit of Havana right here in Detroit; all that's missing are the vintage Chevy Bel Airs and the pain-in-the-ass Visa process.
There are so many great Lebanese places, but Al-Ameer is the top go-to. Get all of your raw kibbeh and fried kibbeh and roasted baby lamb and shish tawook/kafta/kabob along with your hummus and falafel and ghallaba and baba ghanoush, AND your raw juices. Did you know most other cities have terrible Arabic food? Yeah, count yourselves lucky there, Detroit.
Iranian/Persian: Pars Restaurant
If you're down with saffron rice, you're down with Persian food. Pars Restaurant is a best-kept-secret out in Farmington Hills, much like everything else in Farmington Hills. It's definitely different than the predominantly Lebanese places you find all over metro Detroit, but not so much so that you won't love it just as much.
Italian: Bacco Ristorante
Luciano is The Man. Bacco is his restaurant. Any questions? No? Good, because you don’t earn accolades from Zagat, Gourmet, Wine Spectator, Hour, Freep, and the James Beard Foundation by NOT running the best Italian restaurant in town.
Iraqi: Sullaf Restaurant
"There's a Chaldean Town in Detroit?" Yes. "They have a Chaldean restaurant there?" Yes. "And it's good?" Yes. Order the beef shawarma and rice.
At Bibimbab you can get Korean barbecue like bulgogi, and, obviously, bibimbab (cooked and served in a hot stone bowl), as well as Japanese hot pot dishes cooked table-side. And it’s crazy tasty.
Japanese: Izakaya Sanpei
It is known that if one wants really excellent Asian food, one must travel far outside the city. For Vietnamese, you go to Madison Heights. For Japanese, you head west to Novi and Canton. Izakaya Saipei isn't just a "sushi restaurant." They are a full-on Japanese restaurant. Yes, there is sushi and sashimi, but there is also ramen, yakisoba, yakitori, tonkatsu, shabu shabu, soba noodles, and so on and so on. All of that is Japanese for beef and chicken and noodle soup, and all of it is delicious.
Chinese: Golden Harvest
Here's the thing: it's a buffet. The cleanliness of the place will always be in question by virtue of the fact that it is a buffet. But where else are you going to get a wide variety of dim sum served daily, with up to 60 items on the dim sum carts on weekends, with all dim sum items $2.95 on Saturdays? Answer: nowhere.
Thai: Lue Thai Cafe
All Thai places in metro Detroit are exactly the same. Every last one of them. And everyone always orders the same thing -- chicken pad Thai -- and everyone is always all, "OMG sooooooo good" all over their Instragram and everything is boring and terrible. Lue Thai Cafe is at least new, and trying to be more of an actual Thai restaurant than a place for people to order chicken pad Thai to-go while on their lunch break.
Vietnamese: Thang Long
All of the pho. All of it, please. All of the pho places in Madison Heights have a slightly different tinge to them -- some of them cater to more of an ethnic Japanese clientele, some to Filipino. Thang Long is Vietnamese with Thai sensibilities, which is great news for those who love basil and lime.
Filipino food in metro Detroit has historically been hit-and-miss, mostly miss. Kusina, while mostly a carry-out place, might be just what the area needed with noodle dishes and meat-and-rice entrees, house-made sweet and savory baked goods, and the very popular halo halo ice cream-ish dessert. And also, everything is STUPID cheap.
Indian: Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen
NAAN! NAAAAAAN!!!!!!!! (Get it? No?) Get your fix of samosas, fried paneer, biryani, chaat, tandoori chicken, and more at Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen, as well as a solid naan.
Syrian: Al Chabab Restaurant
It's just a bit bigger than a hole in the wall, with a sign predominantly in Arabic that might make you think, "I am not going to have any idea what's even on this menu," until you actually pick up the menu and realize it's basically a coney island, but with Syrian food. In addition to good ol' 'Murican burgers, there's also kebab helabi, lamb kofta, fatteh shamia, and Aleppo omelets.
Yemeni: Yemen Café
Fun fact: there are nearly as many people from Yemen living in Hamtramck as there are in actual Yemen. We're exaggerating (hence the qualifier “nearly”), but what we're saying is Yemen is a small country, and there is a disproportionately large number of Yemeni in Hamtramck. Anyway, if it's Yemeni food specifically that you seek, Yemen Café is where to find the best.
Greek: KouZina Greek Street Food
This was a hard one because we wanted so bad to make this Golden Fleece in Greektown, because we love the whole meat-from-the-spit-in-the-window thing and the plastic-grapes-on-a-trellis-on-the-ceiling-that-occasionally-get-lit-on-fire thing and the upstairs-nightclub thing, but if we're being honest about food and ONLY food here, it's KouZina all the way. Greektown restos really need to get it together. Or KouZina just needs to open a location with a liquor license there, whichever.
Bangladeshi: Aladdin Sweets & Cafe
Aladdin Sweets & Café is an Indo-Pakistani restaurant, but we're filing it as "Bangladeshi" because that is how they describe themselves on their website. Their menu is huge and covers a lot of territory, but you generally can't go wrong with a curry.
Irish: O'Connor's Public House
Most places drape themselves in green, white, and orange, put Guinness on tap, and call themselves an "Irish pub." And there's nothing wrong with these places -- Irish pubs are great, regardless of how deep that green blood actually runs. But at O'Connor's Public House you can actually get traditional Irish food and NOT just whatever half-assed effort at a corned-beef-something you'll get at most places. Bangers and boxties, beat THAT.
British: Commonwealth Club
It's a private club open to the public on Fridays with proper fish and chips and an oh-so-very British atmosphere. No, you've never heard of it. Yes, you should go. Please don't ruin it.