By Dorothy Hernandez, Foodable Contributor
Detroit’s food scene has been getting a lot of love lately, from Zagat naming it one of the country’s hottest food cities to some top chefs getting semi-finalist recognition from the James Beard Awards. But before all of the trendy plates and craft cocktails, Detroit has been a tasty town not only because of its iconic foods such as square pizza and coney dogs, but also because it’s home to a melting pot of diverse food cultures. Here’s a look at some of the area’s vibrant ethnic communities and the foods that make each area unique and delicious.
Attracted by jobs in the automobile industry, like many of the immigrants who came to the Motor City, Mexicans began to settle in Detroit at the beginning of the 20th century. They began opening restaurants around the ’30s and for a long time, eateries in the neighborhood became known for dishes that weren’t exactly traditional Mexican; think lots of deep-fried tortillas filled with ground beef and smothered with melted cheese. But more authentic eats have emerged in recent years, highlighting the best local Mexican food. The price is right at Taqueria Lupita's, which dishes up street-style food such as tacos filled with carne asada, pollo or al pastor, topped with fresh cilantro and chopped onion. At El Asador Steakhouse, guacamole is made fresh tableside, a delicious starter to a meal where meat is the star with dishes such as rib-eye with poblano pepper cream sauce and sirloin with guajillo, ancho, and chipotle butter sauce. Seafood lovers will be happy with choices such as shrimp in lobster cream sauce. And for some of the most creative fare in town, not just Mexicantown, head over to El Barzon, where Mexican meets Italian. The chef honed his chops at one of the top Italian spots in the area and melds the two cuisines with skill. Mexican is well represented with from-scratch moles, while the Italian side of the menu features hearty pastas such as strozzapreti. Just want to have a cocktail? The intimate and beautiful patio offers the perfect scenery for margarita sipping.
This suburb in south Oakland County is a hub for Asian food, especially Vietnamese. A drive down John R between 12 and 14 Mile Roads is like a tour of Southeast Asian cuisines. There’s Saigon Market, a staple in the community featuring authentic Asian produce like yam leaves, lemon grass and kaffir lime, as well as the adjoining banh mi counter. In the same strip mall is Thuy Trang, which specializes in the popular pho noodle soup. Other pho enthusiasts will make their case for the bowls across the street at Que Huong. Each offers their own nuanced take on the popular dish from Vietnam. Nearby is Edamame Sushi, which serves sushi and authentic Filipino dishes in a “nu Asian kitchen” concept. Head over a few miles east to Dequindre Road, which is home to more restaurants and grocery shops including Kim Nhung Superfood, where harder-to-find ingredients such as whole fresh jackfruit, banana leaves, and pig ears and snouts are readily available. Madison Heights may not have the Asian population numbers on par with California, but there is a visible presence evident by the authentic fare found here.
With the Islamic Center of America – the largest one in North America – and one of the largest concentrations of Arab-Americans in the country, Dearborn’s Warren Avenue has a vibrant food community with popular restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores. Featured a few years ago on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” Al Ameer is a favorite spot for Middle Eastern food. A popular – and budget-friendly – option is the Al Ameer Plate, which boasts a variety of the house favorites such as fried kibbeh, shawarma and tawook. They also offer an array of fresh raw juices such as Al Ameer Specialty (a variety of fruits topped with pistachios, honey and Ashta, which is clotted cream with rose water). Savvy shoppers know that some of the best-priced produce as well as an impressive selection of Middle Eastern ingredients can be found at Super Greenland. For a sweet treat, Shatila offers not just traditional Middle Eastern desserts, but also Western offerings such as ice cream and frozen yogurt as well as French pastries. Another bakery worth checking out is New Yasmeen Bakery, which also offers many authentic Middle Eastern staple ingredients and hot food, like meat pies and shawarma sandwiches.
An enclave surrounded by Detroit, Hamtramck itself is a melting pot of different cuisines and flavors. With a sizable Bangladeshi community, a portion of one of the main streets (Conant Avenue) has been deemed Bangladesh Avenue because a majority of the businesses, including restaurants and grocery stores, along this stretch is owned or operated by Bangladeshis. Old-fashioned Polish food is also well represented in Hamtramck through renowned restaurants such as Polish Village Café, which has a deep and rich history. Located in the basement of an old hotel, it’s beloved for classics such as stuffed cabbage, kielbasa in beer, pierogis, and traditional soups such as dill pickle. Those searching for the classic duck blood soup can get their fix at Polonia, another stop on Bourdain’s “No Reservations” tour. Recently, more modern and trendier spots have set up shop in Hamtramck, such as Revolver, a restaurant venue for both emerging and established chefs to take over the kitchen every week, hence the name; Bon Bon Bon, an artisan chocolatier; and Rock City Eatery, a casual spot with food executed at a high level.