A Guide To Ann Arbor: Eating, Drinking Comment Count

Brian August 24th, 2011 at 12:34 PM

I've been wanting to write this forever but only got around to it because TOC reminded me I should do it. I'll update this if I forgot anything and as warranted by changes.

angelos-m-burgers

via Angelo's, but don't get this because it doesn't have hollandaise on it.

So, you're coming to Ann Arbor to watch football. Welcome! Sorry about the frat guys who talk crap to you. At least they aren't throwing beer cans! (They totally would, but those things are ten cents, and in this economy DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM SAYING.)

I'm not much use when it comes to getting tickets or finding accommodations but I know where to eat and drink in this town. I had to go to Paris to confirm this, but it's true: Ann Arbor is a fantastic food town. You can get virtually anything here, and get it done well.

Unfortunately, some of the famous things are terribly overrated and it's really easy to walk into an overpriced restaurant run by Main Street Ventures. But that's what this is for, to prevent this from happening to you. There is also no doner kebab. I can't do anything about that, or I already would have.

Shorter Version Of This Post

If you need something to eat after you hit town and want quick takeout for tailgating, go to Frita Batidos or Satchel's. If you want to watch football go to Bar Louie. If you want to drink, go to Ashley's. Dinner is harder. Right now I'd say The Ravens Club is the most versatile.

Breakfast

I want to wait in line for some Hollandaise.

Angelo's is the quintessential Ann Arbor breakfast place, and it deserves its rep. They'll serve you raisin toast for a little bit extra and all the tables have a cinnamon sugar shaker and they've got deep fried French toast. I hear this is all very good.

I don't know because I didn't understand what the BFD was about Angelo's until about the third time I went there and I got eggs benedict. The hollandaise. This is what you should order. Accept no substitutes.

On a Sunday morning go early or late or prepare to wait. Your best bet is to avoid the church rushes; they don't take reservations.

I want a ridiculous pile of food no one could hope to finish.

The Broken Egg is Ann Arbor's premier purveyor of 2000 calorie breakfasts. They aren't great, but they're huge. It's not really my style—I'd rather just hit up one of the copious diners—but if you could eat a horse this is your jam.

I want brunch. Like brunch with crepes.

Café Zola is the best brunch-with-crepes sort of place in town. They also serve ludicrous waffles and… uh… half-pound burgers. Pricey for dinner. A tiny bit pricey for breakfast, but high quality.

I want eggs, toast, and coffee.

There are plenty of diners. The Cloverleaf is the downtown one I'm most familiar with. It is a diner. Benny's is also a diner, but it's famous because Michael Phelps ate there. If you're not from Michigan, a Coney Island is a diner that will serve you a hot dog with chili on it if you want them to. 

Lunch/Dinner

I would like to participate in the deli sandwich blood war.

When Andy Staples came to town he ran down the Great Sandwich War of Ann Arbor with exacting accuracy. Choose as you will.

I brought a jacket and would like to eat at the best restaurant in town.

Since Eve Aronoff closed her eponymous restaurant, this is almost certainly Logan. It will run you fancy dinner prices; it will be worth it. Reservations are a good idea. Get the fresh baked cookies for dessert.

SHIT JUST GOT REALI just want a burger.

That Eve person mentioned above opened a new place when she shut down her old one: Frita Batidos. They serve fritas, not burgers. Fritas (right, via Kitchen Chick) are Cuban sandwiches on round buns that are basically burgers except they're made of glory and chorizo. And can come with a fried egg and tropical coleslaw and avocado spread and Munster on them. Or be fish or turkey or a really really good black bean thing. And you can get milkshakes (batidos) with them and fried plantains. Or you could just get the Cuban sandwich, or some fried smelt, or churros that descend from the heavens accompanied by a chorus of angels. Just go here.

They do takeout. Therefore, this is the best possible idea for spur-of-the-moment road game "tailgating." You know what I'm talking about: you roll into a town you know nothing about and get Subway and wish you were at a home game. Frita will cure you of that malaise. The most convenient way to get there from the highway is to take the Main Street exit off M-14.

If you refuse to do this there is a Five Guys. You are disappointingly average. Boo you!

I would like to eat a fancy dinner or some small plates in my sports-themed attire near hipsters.

You are destined for The Grange, which opened about a year ago. The Grange is the only reason there's a qualifier before Logan's status as the best place in town.

It's one of those places that will tell you the life history of the pig you are eating. You will actually enjoy this because you will be having a burger with bacon jam—bacon jam!—and a little blue cheese croquette that is glorious, or duck poutine, or, like, food for adults that's just as good. 

When we went we were the only people not in t-shirts. If you want someplace that tastes fancy you can go after a game, this is it.

I want a reasonably priced American place.

Red Hawk is the best bar/grill/American place in town, and it's conveniently located near Ashley's.

I'd like to see these quaint Northerners try barbecue.

I used to recommend Blue Tractor but the last couple of times I've gone it's been not so good. It's also just a restaurant. A place called Satchel's opened up recently, though, and it features big benches and styrofoam plates with slabs of stuff on them and all manner of sauces and it seems pretty credible. I've lived in Texas, so I have an inkling of what I speak. This is also a good idea for road game tailgating, especially if you're exiting off US 23 at Washtenaw—it's right on the way.

I want ramen.

Tomukun is excellent.

I want pizza.

If you want fontina and grapes on your pizza, Silvio's is the place for you. Pricey, good, interesting. If you want a slice like Manhattan used to make, New York Pizza Depot, commonly known as NYPD, is a tasty approximation. Cottage Inn is widely reputed to be the best conventional place in town, and it is good. In my experience the takeout/delivery is actually a better idea than the restaurant.

It's 5AM.

The Fleetwood is open 24 hours and will give you a solid meal. It's a diner with a hippie twist. You win the prize if you go there and there's no one with dreads hanging around, looking derelict.

Other late night options: Pizza House's restaurant is open until 4 AM. Big Ten Burrito BTB is Ann Arbor's late-night face-stuffing burrito of choice.

I'm stuck on Main Street and want something that will please a group of disparate people, some of whom I'm beginning to hate because I'm quite hungry.

The Ravens Club is your best bet. Their menu varies wildly in price from 10 to 30 bucks, so you can choose what you're feeling up to, and it's all very good. They make excellent cocktails as well.

Other good options on Main are Prickly Pear, a Mexican restaurant with killer empanadas, and Middle Kingdom, a by-the-book Chinese place that's high quality but not mind-expanding.

I would like to cook my own meat, or I'm from South Korea.

seoul-garden-1seoul-garden-2

this is doing it right at Seoul Garden

Ann Arbor has a frighteningly authentic Korean restaurant called Seoul Garden that's conveniently located next to I-94 and Briarwood mall. If you are not Korean, be careful: this is not a place that pulls its punches. Once they had huge menu-wide specials on sea squirts, so we got some. Sea squirts turn out to be close relatives of barnacles. Trying to eat one is like trying to eat a tiny basketball full of salt water and bones. Another time we mistakenly ordered some cod roe soup. Cod roe is like eating those little packets of desiccants you find in beef jerky.

HOWEVA, if you sidestep the many pitfalls on the menu and just order some bulgogi or bi bim bop it's going to be good. They'll bring out delightful little bowls of ban chan that are always great and then you'll cook up some beef or pork belly at your table and put it in some lettuce with some rice and be just delighted with everything. If you get the bi bim bop get it in a stone bowl and you'll get fantastic crispy rice at the bottom of your meal.

You would not believe how poor I am.

Hello, student. BTB above is a good bet. Jerusalem Garden is a genuinely good Mediterranean joint that will stuff huge amounts of falafel in your face for five bucks. Ann Arbor also has the usual flock of Jimmy John's you'll find in any college town.

I would like Ann Arbor to leave a bad taste in my mouth. (IE: not recommended.)

Virtually every place on Main is overpriced for what it is. (Rent is killer.) The above-mentioned places are exceptions. As a general rule pick something just off Main over something on it. Skip anything from Main Street Ventures.

The Earle hasn't updated what it does since the 1960s. Blimpy Burger calls itself "cheaper than food" but is actually quite expensive and gets along on reputation these days. If you really like grease—like… you don't mind doing shots of it—I guess it's cool.

People will kill me for this but I have been unimpressed with Zingerman's Roadhouse. In my experience the bread fights back when you try to eat it. I don't think a lot of vegetarians are going to be hitting this post up but Seva is the most depressing kind of vegetarian restaurant, the sort that pretends everything has meat in it—and not very well.

Drankin'

I want to watch football on sixty TVs.

This is a shameful thing but the best place in town to watch sports at a bar is Buffalo Wild Wings. The TV situations at the local sports bars (the Arena and Cubs AC, most prominently) are totally unacceptable for watching multiple games. I'm talking wavy, dim, 20-year-old projection TVs.

Bar Louie is another solid option; that's another chain but they have a much better beer selection and better food than BWW. Also, they have not made you want to put your fist through a TV with their ads. Actually, forget I said anything about BWW. Go to Bar Louie. If it's full, BWW is your second option. If that's full, the bar area at the Arena is workable. They're all within a couple blocks of each other.

I have a favorite Russian Imperial Stout.

ashleys-bar

you call that a bar? this is a bar.

Michigan isn't Oregon but it has a booming microbrew scene, of which Ann Arbor is a major participant. You will be able to find two to four varieties of Bell's on tap virtually everywhere, and many places will have New Holland or Founder's.

If you're just drinking, Ashley's is the place to go. With over 100 taps and a zillion bottles they will have something you like. Unfortunately, the menu no longer describes Labatt Blue as "bland perfumy sweetness," but it used to. That's the kind of place we're talking about. Heavy grad student population; fairly popular with undergrads. Food is substandard except for the Stilton fries, which rock.

Jolly Pumpkin opened a brewpub on Main a couple years ago. Their beer is good but there aren't a ton of options and they're often out of what they do have. The food is trying really hard to be gourmet but is not well executed. I was excited about them; one of these days they will Get It.

Grizzly Peak is more of a restaurant than a pub but they do brew their own beer and it's quality. Tends to be overrun, though. It's where students take their parents. Avoid if it's parents' weekend. And Bar Louie does have a surprisingly good beer selection for a chain.

I have a hard-won loathing for Arbor Brewing Company. Their Irish stout has no head. They make pine beer that tastes like soap to the point of undrinkability. Hit their Olde 22 Ale at the wrong point and it will taste like cigarettes. The rest of their beers have something just… off about them. Unless you need to hit on grad students who really enjoy organizing labor, stay away.

I am an undergrad, possibly one wearing an Affliction shirt.

Any of the bars on South University will be up your alley: Mitch's, Touchdown's, The Brown Jug, Good Time Charley's. [UPDATE: Apparently the former two no longer exist.] The latter two are less fratty; all are heavily undergrad. Charley's is a good place to go if there's a USMNT game you want to see. Your other main option is Scorekeeper's. They're all the same place. Rick's is as close as you'll get to Jersey Shore in AA.

If you want to rub up against ladies who are not interested in rubbing back, Necto is the primary nightclub in town. There are others farther from campus. I hear tell there was a mechanical bull but I think that place went under.

I'm tired and I want something as mellow as possible.

Old Town is usually your best bet for a relaxed drink on a crowded night. Service and beer selection is good, they can pour a drink, and… hey… free peanuts. Very townie bar.

I want a martini in a dark place that kind of makes me feel like a spy.

Babs' is your jam. The Ravens Club also does nice cocktails and I hear tell after a being a crushed-ice-in-your-martini kind of place the Alley Bar has undergone reform.

Comments

M-Dog

August 28th, 2011 at 12:05 AM ^

5 Guys is only recently a chain.  It started out as a quirky Blimpy Burger-type place in the DC area.  So you can eat there and still safely keep your street cred of turning up your nose at any place that has more than one location.

 

JimLahey

August 24th, 2011 at 12:50 PM ^

This might be my favorite thing Brian has ever written and that's saying something. This really made me wish I went to school at Michigan at some point. Great article.

Leaders_and_Best

August 24th, 2011 at 4:46 PM ^

totally agree, Northside is by far the best breakfast place in town.  My dad took me there when I was kid on a visit and I've been hooked ever since, Maiden Lane no mayo....mmmm delicious

Anyone else find Jamaican Jerk Pit? its nestled in between the parking lot and Panera on Thayer, I am convinved it's  a drug front but the barbecue pork sandwich with sweet potato fries are hella good

Bb011

August 24th, 2011 at 12:50 PM ^

Very good in depth reviews. I 100% agree with zola for brunch, it is on the more expensive side but definitely worth it. I would, however, disagree that Logan is the best restaurant in Ann Arbor. I have been there many times and while it is very good, I don't think it is the best. They really need to permanently add a steak to the menu...

jcorqian

August 24th, 2011 at 12:51 PM ^

Just graduated Michigan and moved away to NYC, and this list makes me feel quite homesick.

I agree with most things on this list, and I want to highlight Frita Banditos and Grange as two excellent establishments.  Food at both is just phenomenal.  I have only been to Logan's once, and while it is certainly a quality place, I happened to not like the menu we got all that much.  

Tomukun is great ramen; I am somewhat of a ramen fanatic and outside of Japan, New York, and certain places on the West Coast (i.e. in the Midwest), it's probably about as good as you are going to find.  The real thing in Japan is just tremendous, however.  It's also really easy to get fucked up there because the sake is pretty cheap if you buy the bigger bottles.

I too, was not quite impressed with Zingermann's Roadhouse, although the Southern Fried Chicken I got there was tremendous.  Everything else was just average.

Arbor Brewing Company really does just suck.  I have never enjoyed a beer there; it was never really cold and everything tasted like it was the last remnants in a keg.  Finally, a correction: Mitch's is no longer opened.  It closed my junior year, so I guess about a year and a half ago now.

stubob

August 24th, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

I will now roll my eyes as the statement "I've lived in Texas, so I have an inkling of what I speak." about barbecue.

Having said that, I would just about kill for a Founder's Breakfast Stout, and will have to satisfy myself with a Lefthand Brewery Milk Stout.

aaamichfan

August 24th, 2011 at 9:33 PM ^

Satchel's is really nothing special. I've been a couple times now, and haven't found anything better than average. It's not even in the same ballpark as Slow's in Detroit, and that's probably the best I've had in Michigan.

goblue232

August 24th, 2011 at 12:54 PM ^

that reads this blog but I must say Seva is actually very good.  If you eat meat, I highly recommend you do NOT get something on their menu imitating meat because as Brian said it won't be a good imitation.  But there are so many great options on their menu not imitating meat that you can leave there very happy.

Highly recommend the Enchiladas Calabaza which are butternut squash and very filling. 

Also sweet potato fries.

 

 

tdcarl

August 24th, 2011 at 9:09 PM ^

My girlfriend is a vegetarian so we frequent Seva. Before her I would have never even thought to go there, but the place is amazing. The yam fries are off the charts. She always orders the enchiladas calabaza, but I usually try to get something new each time. My current favorites are the black bean and sweet potato quesadilla and an apple omelet that they had as a special one time. Both were quite tasty.

 

I also second the Cafe Zola nod. Their crepes are downright awesome.

eastone

August 25th, 2011 at 8:18 AM ^

Seva has remained my favorite restaurant since I was a pre-teen 30 plus years ago. My sister was an undergrad and worked there at the time. My family was convinced that she introduced Birkenstocks to the rest of the staff. The fact that the place has remained in Ann Arbor so long (when other things come and go so frequently) is evidence that it must be doing something right. I've been to other outstanding vegetarian places (Evanston's Blind Faith Cafe) that might have more original vegetarian entrees - but I always know I'll have something fantastic at Seva.

M-Wolverine

August 24th, 2011 at 12:54 PM ^

I don't think we're going to run into each other much at dinner (lucky you); your tastes are a little fu-fu hipster for me.

I mean, you'll eat this-

But Blimpy's is too greasy? That's the point. If you haven't had at least one heart attack walking out of there, you haven't eaten. But nothing Cuba.

Angelo's is just the place living off it's rep. Good, but not even as good as Northside Grill.

I'll give you credit for Satchel's. Best of a weak lot of BBQ.  Since Roadhouse Blues went under new ownership, and their food plunged, there's not even any other average BBQ in town. Ahhhh, Mr. Rib.....

It is criminal the complete dearth of sports bars in a major college sports town.  How I long for the days of Touchdown Cafe (when it was a SPORTS bar, and not a NY Club wanna be bar it became after it was sold...and you know, actually existed).  And Scorekeepers, despite the name, still favors frat dancers over games, and is a complete whore willing to sell itself to other fans (Ohio State or otherwise - see 1995 for example) for a buck.  So it's certainly not a Michigan sports bar.

And it's amazing how hard it is to keep a donut place open in this town.

Nothsa

August 24th, 2011 at 2:38 PM ^

Back in the early 1970's as a 3-5 year old I lived around the corner on Forest Ct. My parents would sometimes send be around to the VC to pick up some food, and of course the bagels were a regular thing. I get over there every once in a while; the parking garage, the church, and the old rental houses are all the same, but most all the storefronts have changed of course. And that tall building on Forest and University looks like a wreck.

Chi Go Blue

August 24th, 2011 at 2:24 PM ^

This is not well known, but there is a little bagel store on Plymouth Rd by North Campus called Bagel Fragel. I don't know if the owners are the same, but they make Fragels the same way...and they're DELICIOUS!

For anyone who doesn't know what a Fragel is, my apologies. My parents used to take me there for homecoming since I was barely able to walk and go watch the Mudbowl next door. Some of my best childhood memories of Ann Arbor involve cinnamon sugar all over my face.

aaamichfan

August 24th, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

I agree on Scorekeepers being a complete whore to other fanbases. I remember them playing the Penn State fight song the night after the 2009 game. Yes, the crowd was probably 75% Penn State fans at the time, but it was still pretty absurd. 

M-Wolverine

August 24th, 2011 at 8:44 PM ^

When there weren't any around SE Michigan, some partners and I looked into opening a BW3's (what they were called then), but the developer didn't want to use the property for that....right where they have it now. Wanted to open something near the athletic campus, but no real property available. Now we have the Packard Pub, of which I've heard nothing good. It I had know Rida was selling TD's, I might have gotten involved, but couldn't have competed with the money behind so many Ann Arbor properties.