Washtenaw County overflows with so many great dining options these days that it can be overwhelming to try to sample it all. So we asked a few of the county's finest chefs and restaurant owners what their favorite local meals are to enjoy on a well-earned day off.
Their picks lean heavily towards smaller, family-owned operations, and they demonstrate the fact that great dining options are as likely to be found in strip malls as they are in prime downtown real estate. They're also a reminder of what great food corridors Plymouth Road and Washtenaw Avenue are. Here are a few great local meals you might have walked past, driven by – or just skimmed past on the menu.
Chef/owner, Frita Batidos
"My favorite dishes these days are still simple, flavorful, and very casual – I really enjoy the falafel sandwich and the vegetarian cous cous at Casablanca Restaurant in Ypsilanti.
We also really enjoy going to Poke Fish on Washtenaw Avenue. My fave is a custom brown rice poke bowl with brown rice, salmon, mango, tofu, marinated mushrooms, sweet corn, avocado, and sriracha.
We also really enjoy going to El Harissa Market Cafe. It’s a really pleasant space to sit or take out. All three of these places are very personal, independent restaurants and the food is made and served with genuine care."
Executive chef and general manager, Blue LLama Jazz Club
"My wife and I really go to Mikette out on the north side (of Ann Arbor) a lot. We go out there for a burger and fries and a glass of wine. I think it's one of the best burgers in the city.
I love Kosmo. They do a bulgogi pita that is out of this world with some cheese and some hot sauce.
I'm a big fan of Spencer. I think they do some really awesome work. I really like their wine selection – I think that they're getting some really eclectic, cool stuff.
And I'm a fan of Zingerman's too – the Deli and the Roadhouse. At the deli I typically go with Binny’s Brooklyn Reuben. It's hard to get me away from that pastrami."
Chef/owner, Ricewood, Ma Lou's, and Pocai
"I really love the banh mi and the pho at Pho House, because it's right around the corner from my house, especially in the winter. I really enjoy the hot pepper fish and the green beans at Evergreen, which is a restaurant over on Plymouth Road. I also love Seoul Street’s fried chicken and the mujaddra at Haifa Falafel, which is just awesome. Also tacos at La Torre.
They all have the same thing in common. They’re smaller restaurants where the owner is probably there cooking. It’s no bullshit, and they just put out really good food."
Andrea "Cuppy" White
Owner, Cuppy's Best Soulful Cafe
"When I do go out I like to support local and small businesses because I know how they can struggle. Usually on my day off (Mondays, when Cuppy’s is closed) I want to get away from soul food though – I like to do Mexican or Chinese. I like tacos at Banditos and La Fuente. In Depot Town I like the shrimp fajitas and street corn at Maiz Mexican Cantina, and at Aubree’s Pizzeria and Grill I like the margherita pizza with pineapple and a flavored crust. When I’m in the mood for Chinese food I like the shrimp fried rice at Lucky 7 Chinese Food."
Ji Hye Kim
Chef/managing partner, Miss Kim
"Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market in Kerrytown offers a few food vendors along with the beautiful and bountiful fruits, vegetables, and flowers. One of my favorite spots is Humus Falafil, a little stall with a wonderful older woman who sells very delicious Middle Eastern food. The namesake hummus and falafels are great, but my favorite is muhammara, the roasted pepper spread. It has subtle sweetness from the roasted peppers and it’s nutty and delicious. I can snack on a whole container very easily by myself!
Another favorite is toast from Zingerman’s Coffee Company. I’m partial to the vollkornbrot toast with butter — organic whole grain bread made from freshly milled Michigan rye flour and a slap of really good butter. It’s so simple yet so complex and satiating. Definitely give it a try.
Bløm Meadworks is also great. (Owners) Lauren (Bloom) and Matt (Ritchey) use local and seasonal ingredients, and their mead and cider are complex, light, and delicious. Perfect for pairing with food. My favorites are stone fruit coriander mead and apple cyser."
Executive chef, Slurping Turtle
"While I was living in Chicago, the thing I missed the most was the Detroit-style pizza at Buddy's Pizza on Ann Arbor Saline Road. It's one of my favorite places to visit when I have a pizza craving.
Arirang Restaurant is another restaurant that I love going to. They are a Korean-style restaurant off Oak Valley Dr. with an amazing bibimbap that I can't pass up any time I'm there.
Siam Square on Washtenaw is another of my favorites. They are a Thai restaurant that I visit whenever I'm craving something spicy, especially in the summer."
"My favorite dish is black beans and house-made tortillas and an horchata from Pilar’s Tamales. Sylvia's place always feels so special and loved. I used to go every Tuesday when it was open. The horchata is laden with spices, the tortillas toothsome yet soft, and beans rich and flavorful. Just like her, her food radiates kindness and warmth. I always recommend sitting there, getting lost in conversation, getting too full, and drinking as much horchata as possible."
Doug Coombe is Concentrate's managing photographer. He also photographed this story.