Dearborn Restaurant Week offers the chance to tour the world in 30 restaurants

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. So sang Frank Sinatra about New York City, a place where someone can shake their small town blues and prove themselves on the biggest stage out there. That’s how Sam Haidar feels about Dearborn — except that he didn’t have to leave his hometown to prove himself. He could do it from his backyard.

Sam Haidar, founder and owner of Modern Greek and Salad Bar.Haidar opened the first brick-and-mortar location of his restaurant, Modern Greek and Salad Bar, in west downtown Dearborn in 2019.

“Opening in Dearborn, to me, it's a big deal. It's a very big deal. It's about eight minutes from my house. I know most of the clientele that comes in here,” Haidar says.

“I think Dearborn is just a great test market. There's a lot of people; it's a mixed culture. There's a lot of different ethnicities in Dearborn. And I figured this is where you want to try it out. If they like it here, they're gonna like it anywhere.”

Haidar’s Modern Greek and Salad Bar is participating in this year’s Dearborn Restaurant Week, the annual celebration of the city’s rich dining scene and restaurant community. As a celebration of all things local, Dearborn’s restaurant week is also a celebration of all things global, its 30 participating restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world. Dearborn is unique when compared to Detroit’s suburban communities; according to the United States Census Bureau, 29.1 percent of its population consists of “foreign born persons.” Major employers like Ford Motor Company draw a variety of peoples to work in the city each day, too.

Visiting Dearborn for restaurant week, one can enjoy Latin fusion and Mexican street food from M Cantina; sushi from BlueFish Asian Cuisine; modern Indian, Nepali, and Tibetan dishes from The Himalayan Flames; Italian cuisine from Roman Village; and plenty more. Given Dearborn’s status as the largest home to the Arab American diaspora, there’s also no shortage of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare: There’s the upscale Yemeni cuisine at Sheeba West and Sheeba East; Mediterranean dishes at La Shish, La Pita, Baba’s Grill, and others — the list goes on. This latter group can be especially appealing for those seeking out halal options, too.

If you received stamps and a passport for visiting the restaurants participating in Dearborn Restaurant Week, your passport book would be full.

“It's very special here,” Haidar says. “I mean, you've got Modern Greek, which has Greek food. You've got Lebanese food, you've got Iraqi food, you've got Yemeni food, you've got coffee houses. You've even got a Yemeni coffee house across the street. You've got sweet places — even the sweet places are from different parts of the world. It's crazy. Even within these few blocks here, it seems like there's everything you can imagine, food-wise, drink-wise, dessert-wise.”

Restaurants old and new

Many of this year’s Restaurant Week participants have opened within the past several years, reflecting a larger trend of a wave of new restaurants opening in the city. There are, however, no shortage of what might be considered “legacy” restaurants represented, as well. Roman Village Cucina Italiana opened in 1964. La Shish first opened in 1989. JB Bamboozles Pub opened in 1991 and, after a sale and relatively brief stint as the White Rhino Sports Bar, was reacquired by the original owners and reopened as JB Bamboozles in 2011.

Following its reopening in 2011, JB Bamboozles put a new emphasis on higher quality foods and a revamped menu; pub favorites like pizza and hamburgers abound. Given that JB Bamboozle is a fictional character that jetsets across the world, daily specials might be tacos one day, Polish fare the next. Each weekend, however, is sure to feature specials on Irish food and drinks.
Linda Rimanelli, general manager of JB Bamboozles Pub.
Located in east downtown Dearborn, where there’s an abundance of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants, JB Bamboozles has found its niche as an Irish pub that offers traditional American pub fare. The pub draws a diverse clientele, says general manager Linda Rimanelli, including workers visiting on their lunch breaks and neighborhood folks coming in for happy hour. 

“People have come here and said, Why don't you have hummus on your menu? I tried that and it didn't sell,” Rimanelli says. “There are plenty of Arabic customers that come here, (but it’s not for the hummus). Because why would they buy my hummus when they can get the real stuff right next door?”

Sticking to what they do well is what keeps people coming back, no matter their background, she says.

More options, more people

Also participating in this year’s Dearborn Restaurant Week is the Haraz Coffee House, a rapidly expanding Yemeni coffee roaster and bakery. Having only opened less than a year ago, Haraz has already opened a second location in Warren. Founder and owner Hamzah Nasser has nine more locations planned throughout metro Detroit, all of which should be open by the summer of 2023, he says. Nasser is also opening a centralized roasting, baking, and barista-training center in Dearborn later this year, too.
Hamzah Nasser, founder and owner of Haraz Coffee House.
Despite his plans for multiple Haraz Coffee locations throughout southeastern Michigan, Nasser says that his heart remains with Dearborn, that the original location will remain the flagship Haraz Coffee House. He takes pride in his business drawing people to Dearborn. Events like Restaurant Week only stand to do more of that.

“This is the type of business that doesn't only attract Dearborn residents, but brings people from outside of Dearborn. People come here from Ferndale, from Detroit, from Melvindale, from Garden City, or from Ann Arbor. We get a lot of guests over here that say, Hey, we're here from Chicago, but we heard about you guys and we wanted to come in and try it. We're from Texas, we're from California,” Nasser says.

“When people visit Michigan, they want to visit Dearborn. They'll come here, and maybe their intention is to come in here and just drink coffee, but then they'll go visit another restaurant in Dearborn, they’ll go pump gas at the gas station right down the street. It brings people into the city which helps the other businesses in our city.”

Dearborn Restaurant Week is scheduled to run Friday, March 18, through Sunday, March 27. Visit their website for a full breakdown of participating restaurants, featured foods, pricing options, and more.
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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.