The Detroit Guide
Detroit is not unfamiliar with change and reinvention, and yet for all its complexity, the Motor City is often primarily thought of as the land of automobiles. While this is undeniably a piece of Detroit’s fascinating narrative, the city has a great deal more to offer, particularly in the creative arts, which have long played a prominent role in Detroit’s past (from original urban murals to an iconic record label), and in continuing to shape the ever-changing city today. Museums like MOCAD share the work of brilliant Detroit artists with natives and visitors alike, while also making the case that Detroit is a destination for a diverse, international range of art. Throughout the city, there are extraordinary examples of storied architecture. In rare record shops, music from earlier decades lives on, while contemporary indie bands play in a mix of new venues and old (outrageously awesome) dive bars. Neighborhoods like Midtown (museum district, home to DIA and a transformed retail experience), Downtown (encompasses all of the city’s major stages from economic to operatic and athletic), and Corktown (a hipster dream) have seen waves of new chefs and restaurants come onto the scene. Several new boutique hotels are promised to debut in the next year or two. So, while what in part makes Detroit cool is that it doesn’t have all the familiar amenities and trends of frequently touristed cities, it is undeniably a city of reinvention, and we expect this guide to evolve with it.
Mercury Burger & Bar2163 Michigan Ave., Corktown | 313.964.5000
Located on the same stretch of Michigan Avenue as Slows BBQ, Gold Cash Gold, and Astro Coffee, this cozy diner is a big part of historic Corktown’s renaissance. It’s not your average burger joint, though: patty choices range from beef topped with Corktown’s own “Topors” Hungarian hot peppers, to salmon filet seasoned with ginger, to a mushroom cap option. Sandwiches, hot dogs, hand-cut fries, and salads round out a menu that also includes a selection of tater tots. There’s also a full bar, where you can snag a rum-spiked milkshake.
Mudgie’s Deli & Wine Shop1413 Brooklyn St., Corktown | 313.961.2000
Just down the block from Batch Brewery, Mudgie's looks like a residential house at first glance. (You enter around the corner through the white gate on Brooklyn Street.) The first room is a wine shop, which leads into the bar, and then the casual dining room. The move here is sandwiches—they have a big line-up of specialty combos, and then a build-your-own option. The Puglini (chicken with pesto, roasted red pepper, artichoke, and Asiago cheese, served on a warm ciabatta) is a solid choice.
Craft Work8047 Agnes St., West Village | 313.469.0976
This newish restaurant is nestled in between Belle Isle and Indian Village, on the first floor of an apartment building. Like a lot of the food in Detroit, everything on the menu is refreshingly affordable, starting with the $6 cocktails and $3 beers (there's nothing on the menu over $20). It's a favorite for happy hour.
Parks & Rec Diner1942 Grand River Ave., Downtown | 313.446.8370
This spot gets its name from its castle-like residence, the Grand Army of the Republic Building, which was home to the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department for 40 years. The all-day, every day breakfast menu is full of elevated classics, like cornbread waffles served with Detroit-style chili and cider-donut French toast. The giant house-made cinnamon roll—filled with walnuts and doused in an orange chevre icing—is legend enough to deserve its own category on the menu. Parks & Rec shares executive chef Sarah Welch with the adjacent (and equally wonderful) Republic Tavern.
Katoi2520 Michigan Ave., Corktown | 313-855-2864
It feels like everyone in Detroit is talking about Katoi, which opened in Corktown in early 2016 after running the food truck/pop-up circuit. And it starts to become clear why as soon as you get past the solid block door. It's inarguably scene-y: there's a DJ post, the bar is bathed in a blue neon light, the seating area (which looks into a completely open kitchen) is neon green, and the exposed brick wall (the building is an old garage) in the dining room is a hot pink. That said, the strong food menu—Thai-inspired dishes—is not overshadowed by the vibes.
Wright & Company1500 Woodward Ave., Downtown | 313.962.7711
Wright & Company occupies the second floor of one of Detroit's oldest buildings, Wright-Kay, at Woodward Ave. and John R. Street—brought to you by the same team behind other popular Detroit spots like Sugar House (the cocktails at Wright & Co. are excellent, too), and Chinese-inspired Peterboro. The Wright & Company space is brilliant: exposed industrial piping, tin ceiling, vintage light fixtures, long marble bar with steel chairs, curved booths, and light flooding in from the surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows. It's generally busy and they don't take dinner reservations (although you need one for Sunday brunch), so come early or plan to hang at the bar (no arm twisting required) while you wait for a table.
Townhouse500 Woodward Ave., Downtown | 313.723.1000
Unlike its smaller original outpost in Birmingham, Townhouse’s 314-seat downtown location is an expansive, beautiful space with an all-glass atrium, wraparound patio, and a huge open kitchen. The classic American menu takes comfort food to the next level with creamy herbed mac 'n' cheese, large, bright salads, and cornflake-crusted walleye with buttermilk grits. A great cocktail list and an extensive whiskey selection ensure that there’s rarely a free seat at the bar.
Joe Muer Seafood400 Renaissance Center, Downtown | 313.567.6837
Fancy eateries are not what makes Detroit a cool city. That said, if you're looking for a white tablecloth meal while you're here, go to Joe Muer Seafood—which still isn't strictly formal. The restaurant has a long history with the city: An original Detroit destination, the first iteration of Joe Muer opened in 1929 and remained opened until the late 80's. In 2011, the original concept returned, with some updates of course. The restaurant is now in the admittedly maze-like GM Renaissance Center, but in a prime corner spot with a view of the Detroit River just beyond its glass windows, or outdoor patio, depending on the month/where you're sitting. A lot of people come for the raw bar/seafood tower situation; lunch at the central sushi bar is a smart move. Off of the main dining space, there are a few rooms available for private dining, too.
El Asador1312 Springwells St., Southwest | 313.297.2360
While the restaurants in the central Detroit neighborhoods—Midtown, Downtown, and Corktown—get more airtime, Mexicantown and the greater Southwest have a number of local gems. El Asador is one, a bit off of the beaten path, marked by a bright mural on its exterior brick wall, although the interior is totally nondescript. Billed as a Mexican steakhouse, El Asador does the classics (like quesadillas) simply, and really right.
Dime Store719 Griswold St., Downtown | 313.962.9106
Part of downtown’s emerging restaurant scene, Dime Store calls itself an “American Brunch Bar”—a dining category we can certainly get behind. A full bar serves Michigan craft beer, wine, and cocktails, which are all welcome complements to the restaurant’s extensive list of sandwiches. Duck-confit hash, build-your-own omelets, and inventive eggs benedicts lend a modern twist to an otherwise retro breakfast menu. Located on the lobby level of the century-old Chrysler House skyscraper, the casual spot has an inviting vibe that defies its industrial setting.
Flowers of Vietnam4430 Vernor Hwy W., Mexicantown | 313.554.2085
Though it's still only open for Saturday and Sunday dinner, Chef George Azar's Vietnamese pop-up has been open several months now, and rumors are spreading that it might become a more permanent installation—a prospect that everyone's rooting for. Just down the street from Clark Park, in a neighborhood that's much better known for Mexican food, Azar serves authentic Vietnamese food in a former Coney Island that's still filled with plenty of relics from the past, from old-school diner stools, to leather booths, to the old-school menus (white with individual letters that can be swapped out) behind the bar. Azar's menu is actually written in Vietnamese, serving bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee, mango and papaya salad, and a delicious pho. And though they're technically Korean, we've heard the caramel chicken wings are out of this world.
Supino Pizzeria2457 Russell St., Eastern Market | 313.567.7879
If you’re looking for the best pizza in Detroit, this beloved Eastern Market spot is where you want to be. Chef Dave Mancini—who also owns the laid-back La Rondinella next door—offers 13 different kinds of pizza, ranging from tried-and-true favorites like margherita, pepperoni, and cheese to his "City Wing Thing": a thin-crust pie topped with smoked turkey, cherry peppers, smoked Gouda, and mozzarella. And, if you’re feeling choosy, Supino’s has a build-your-own option. Also to note: the pizzas here are wonderfully huge.
Slows Bar BQ2138 Michigan Ave., Corktown | 313.962.9828
Sure, the barbecue is great at Slows, but it's also a pretty important part of Detroit's cultural resurgence—their bold opening on Michigan Avenue more than ten years ago ushered in a slew of other now-famous Corktown businesses, including Astro Coffee, Gold Cash Gold, and The Sugar House. There are now four locations, and they're expanding quickly, but we're still partial to the original.
Gold Cash Gold2100 Michigan Ave., Corktown | 313.242.0770
Josh Stockton's philosophy at Gold Cash Gold might best be described as "waste not want not," starting with its location in an old pawn shop (hence the name) and the hardwood floor, rescued from a basketball court at a now-closed elementary school, which features a flying eagle. Stockton, who trained at French Brasserie and Blackberry Farm, also brings the mantra to his cooking style, which prominently features pickling, preserving, and whole-animal butchery. Favorite dishes on the seasonally changing menu include burrata with sweet pepper jam, kielbasa with sauerkraut, and a soulful pickle-brine fried chicken.
Selden Standard3921 2nd Ave., Midtown | 313.438.5055
Ask anyone about the more sophisticated menus in Detroit, and Selden Standard comes up again and again. Named Restaurant of the Year by the Detroit Free Press, the restaurant is a collaboration between Andy Hollyday (a Toledo native who grew up cooking in his family's restaurant) and Evan Hansen (a local businessman with a major passion for wine and beer). Hollyday's menu is all about locally sourced food and shared plates, with an emphasis on cooking from scratch—pasta is all handmade, butter is churned in the back of house, and ricotta and pickling are done on-site. It's close to Comerica Park, so it's a great place to go before Tigers games if you're driving in from the suburbs.
Grey Ghost47 Watson St., Midtown | 313.262.6534
Most of the great food in Detroit is pretty casual, so the opening of Grey Ghost, a more dressed-up spot in Brush Park, was a welcome addition to the restaurant scene here. The owners (who just relocated from Chicago) specialize in forward-thinking takes on unusual meats, like grilled shishito peppers with candied oxtail, fried quail with pepper jelly and corn flakes, and fried bologna on a waffle with cheddar and jalapeño. The cocktail program, executed behind a stunning bar made from salvaged bowling alley wood, is helmed by Will Lee, who's got a formidable Detroit resume that includes both Standby and Selden Standard. The name, Grey Ghost, refers to a pirate who ran rum on the Detroit River during prohibition.
Rose’s Fine Food10551 East Jefferson Ave., Lower East Side | 313.309.7947
Co-owners Molly Mitchell (the chef) and Lucy Carnaghi (front of house) are actually cousins, who became close spending summers on their grandparents' farm in Northern Michigan. Sourcing locally is a big part of their business, and they have a laundry list of local farms, gardens, and other producers that provide ingredients for their seasonally changing menu.