One great thing about Michigan is that we get the concept of food. Michigan spends a lot of time in the grips of winter, about five months or so out of every year from about mid-November to mid-April, depending on the year.
Nothing fends off that cold weather like some hot food in your belly. Michigan has plenty of this, and great places to dine no matter the season.
There's no shortage of eateries all over the state, and many towns will have more places to eat than they have traffic lights. With that in mind, here's 15 great restaurants to check out, helping to ensure that, no matter where you are in the state, you'll find a good place to stop and grab a meal.
Driving through Bronson on your way to Coldwater on US-12, you might drive past a smallish white building that looks like a particularly ambitious house. Contained within that house is Bill's Steak House, which may look like a dive from the outside, but the inside reveals good family seating and a bar for those thirsting. Home to some of the biggest meals you've ever seen, the steaks alone start at the 10-ounce filet range, topping out at the 32-ounce porterhouse. Several days of the week boast all you can eat specials, including walleye, lake perch, frog legs, sirloin tips, and fantail shrimp.
When the president calls your deli's Reuben sandwich "killer", you know you've got a winner on your hands. In Ann Arbor, that's just the story at Zingerman's Delicatessen, where sandwiches from the Cuban Conundrum to the Detroit St. BBQ Chicken await. It's not just about the sandwiches, though, as Zingerman's has desserts like ice cream and chocolate afoot, and even makes its own cheese and coffee for patrons to try. Plus, those who'd like to take something non-perishable home can check out art offered for sale.
The Upper Peninsula-sometimes known as Yooperland for location in the U.P., phonetically "the Yoop"-has a particular breed of sandwich that's all its own. That sandwich is called the pasty-pronounced PAST-ie-and it dates back to the U.P's days as an iron mining powerhouse. The pasty is essentially a sandwich, usually containing a variety of meats and vegetables in a pie crust and then eaten directly out of hand. One of the best places to find a pasty is Calumet's Pasty Central, which won a top slot in USA Today's 10Best rankings. There's even online ordering available for those who don't want to make the trek to the Upper Peninsula available at Pasty Central's website.
Looking for good food in Michigan outside of Detroit can sometimes be difficult, but the Union Woodshop makes it that much easier. So what's so special about this barbecue place in Clarkston? Simple: a combination of great food and some unusual choices like a Vermont / Pinconning cheddar macaroni and cheese backed up by wood-fired pizzas and, of course, the ribs. Even the breadsticks are made in a wood-fired oven.
Easily home to one of the best breakfasts I've ever had-and also to my parents' best breakfast after they tried it at my recommendation-Cafe Meli in Portage is a small, unassuming restaurant just south of I-94. Offering big plates of most everything for breakfast, including pancakes the size of dinner plates, it's a great place to get a breakfast that will last most of the day. Meli translates from the Greek as "honey", and there's no denying that this is one sweet breakfast. And it doesn't stop there, with a slate of lunch options also included.
Culture plays a lot of parts in food, and while most everyone can name an Italian or Mexican restaurant near them, few can name a place to find Polish food. One of the best places to find this comparative oddity-featuring the standard Polish sausage called a kielbasa and the dumpling from "Men in Black" fame known as a pierogi-is the Polish Village Cafe. Soon to be featured on an episode of Travel Channel's Food Paradise, the Polish Village Cafe will offer some of the hardest-to-find foods this side of Poland.
Do you like nachos? If you do, then there's one place you must hit in Michigan, home of what may be one of the biggest plates of nachos most have ever seen: Tio's Mexican Cafe. Known by the charming name of Mt. Nacheesmo, it's a five-pound platter of nachos. Yes, five solid pounds of chips, cheese, beans, three different meats and more combine to form this massive snack platter. Those who aren't inclined to down five pounds of Mexican snack goodness can get plenty of other items from empanadas to taco salads and beyond.
Those craving more of an upscale experience, meanwhile, can point themselves toward Traverse City. A place known for its casino, its natural beauty, and its lakeside connections, Traverse City has a lot to offer, and Trattoria Stella is one of the leading restaurants in the region. Trattoria Stella starts with filtered water. Everything that involves water-from the coffee pot to the pasta pot-goes through a unique filtering process. From such simple beginnings, a host of cuisine offerings emerges from fish to pasta to even pizzas. Though the prices may seem forbidding, the average Yelp rating-4.5 out of five-suggests it's worthwhile.
Where Detroit is the east side of Michigan's capital for upscale dining, that honor goes to Grand Rapids. One of the biggest names in upscale dining in Grand Rapids is Grove, with 4.5 out of five stars on Yelp on average based on 123 reviews. Recently welcoming in a new head chef, Grove offers a recently-instituted Sunday brunch, and features dishes from chicken scallopini to paprikash risotto, featuring rabbit as its base.
Easily one of the most widely-regarded restaurants in Kalamazoo, Food Dance is known for its brunch menu. Beyond that, however, it's also got something for just about every meal of the day. From fresh-milled oats at breakfast to popcorn chickpeas at lunch to duck and tart cherry at dinner, there's a little something for every meal of the day, and in a place that might surprise.
Another unexpected cultural option is Cuban food, and Ann Arbor eatery Frita Batidos offers up an array of Cuban-inspired specialties. Ranging from fritas to batidos-as the name implies-and an array of side dishes and other items, Frita Batidos will offer up a taste of Cuba in Michigan. The "Inspired Cuban" sandwich offers three different kinds of pork, from pork loin to bacon to ham.
There are a few La Senorita locations in Michigan, but the reason to hit one of them is known as the Big Juan. The Big Juan is a wet burrito that weighs a whopping four pounds, and only appears during certain seasons. Last time, it was April. But for those who miss the big burrito, there are plenty of other dishes, including smaller burritos, for those interested.
A notable stop as part of Food Network's "Craziest Restaurants in America," the Bavarian Inn is noteworthy for what it serves and where it is. In Frankenmuth, known for its focus on Christmas, the Bavarian Inn not only offers a slate of German dishes, but it also has a more unique offering, the family-style chicken dinner. So when the Christmas side of Frankenmuth leaves you hungry, try the Bavarian Inn for a stick-to-your-ribs affair that exemplifies Michigan cooking.
It's not surprising to think seafood when you think Michigan. With so many lakes we've got no shortage of fish to go around. One of the best seafood restaurants in the state can be found in Troy, not too far from Detroit, in Ocean Prime. With Ambassador Magazine giving it a "Best Seafood" award, and the menu featuring everything from sushi to bisque-as well as some non-seafood-based dishes like chicken-there's something here for most every taste, especially if that taste favors seafood.
In Battle Creek, Clara's on the River is known not only for its food, but also its history. Built inside the former Michigan Central Railroad Depot, Clara's maintains a connection with the railroad, reflected in the interior décor. But it's more than just a historical building. Clara's offers a slate of comfort-food favorites in its own style, as well as a terrific Sunday brunch.