Welcome to Detroit! Once you’ve settled, it’s time to think about where to get a bite to eat. You’re in for a treat. As a restaurant hotspot, Detroit is a foodies’ dream. Here are 5 restaurants you absolutely have to try on your first trip to The D:
A handcrafted experience in the heart of downtown
When you step through the doors of Cliff Bell’s, you step back in time to a period marked by opulence and depression, secret cocktails and Quaker-driven laws, burlesque and ankle-length skirts.
Cliff Bell opened the jazz club in 1935 after years of opening one speakeasy after another during the height of Prohibition. Detroit fell in love with the extravagant, air-conditioned club, making Cliff Bell’s one of the most popular night-out locales for 50 years.
When it reopened in 2005, Cliff Bell’s once again sprung to life. Bedecked in art deco, entertained by local and national jazz musicians, and marked by its signature handcrafted cocktails and dishes, Cliff Bell’s is a blast from the past in the best possible way.
Make a dinner reservation any Tuesday through Sunday, and plan to stay for at least two hours. (Trust me – you won’t want to leave any earlier!) Enjoy a decadent meal and a unique twist on any drink from a Sazerac to a Mai Tai while taking in live performances that harken a bygone era.
Lafayette Coney Island
May the best Coney win
If you’ve never visited Michigan, let alone Detroit, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there are Coney restaurants everywhere. Everywhere. Detroiters take their love of the classic hot dog so seriously, every one of them has taken a side in the century old debate: American or Lafayette.
In 1917, Gust Keros, a Greek immigrant, opened American Coney Island in downtown Detroit. As the urban legend goes, Keros and his brother, William, had an argument over who made the better coney. William retaliated by opening Lafayette Coney Island right next door, and the families have competed for the best coney in Detroit ever since.
When you first visit Detroit, you absolutely have to try a classic – hot dog with chili, mustard and onions – from each restaurant to decide which side you’re on. Maybe it’s the Louisiana in me, but I’m 100 percent a Lafayette girl.
Mercury Burger & Bar
American classics in the heart of Irishtown
Nearly a mile from downtown Detroit, in the foreground of the once-majestic Michigan Central Station, lie some of the best American classics in the city.
Mercury Burger & Bar in Corktown has perfected traditional casual dining dishes like burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes, while adding their own unique twist to each menu item. Founded by a retired Detroit cop and his partner, Mercury boasts a kitchen stocked with locally sourced ingredients. From the butter-fried buns to the gravy and cheese poutine, everything except the Kansas beef is 100 percent Michigan.
More than the show-stopping savory dishes, though, Mercury is known for its decadent, handcrafted milkshakes. With signature flavor combinations and Insta-worthy toppings, milkshakes at Mercury are mandatory for any trip to Detroit.
Perfect sips or nibs, any day of the week
Whether you’re in the mood for an end-of-the-day cocktail, quick bite post-shopping trip, or dinner and a movie, Public House is definitely your destination.
Nestled within walking distance of The Rust Belt Market, a weekend marketplace for local artisans to sell their wares — and for shoppers to buy truly unique Detroit gifts and souvenirs — Ferndale’s Public House prides itself on being “an American heritage bar of lost traditions from a simpler time … done our way.”
Aside from its plethora of delicious and unique menu items — toasts and sandwiches and boozy milkshakes abound — the hipster chic eatery stands apart from other restaurants with its heated outdoor patio, monthly specials, “Bring Your Own Vinyl” Sundays and classic film screenings every third Thursday.
A visit to Public House offers no shortage of delicious food and drinks, fun events and endless people watching.
The crème de la crème of Detroit’s hidden jewel
You’re presumably familiar with the thin-crusted pizzas of New York City and the deep-dish variety of Chicago. But, little known to outsiders, Detroit is home to these varieties’ much, much better tasting cousin.
Detroit-style pizza is characterized by a thick, deep-dish square crust often baked in a square industrial parts tray. (What else would you expect from the Motor City’s hallmark pizza?)
This writer’s favorite iteration of the classic, though, resides in Hazel Park, at Loui’s Pizza. Much less crowded on any given day, Loui’s Detroit-style pizza perfectly blends an extra buttery, crispy crust with well-balanced proportions of marinara to toppings, and the cheesiest, meltiest pizza topping in the city.
Which Detroit culinary favorite are you most excited to try?
Lauren C Brown is a Houston-based writer, blogger and storyteller who loves to write about culture, health and people. She delights in every opportunity she gets to visit her sister in Detroit, when they explore the burgeoning city together.
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