I’m a die hard New Yorker. I was born in the city, grew up in a New Jersey suburb 20 minutes outside of the city, and absolutely love spending my summers interning in the city. Basically, I love the city (if you couldn’t already tell). Why? So many reasons, but for the sake of this article we’ll hone in on my passion for its booming restaurant scene.
How did I know I’d settle in at the University of Michigan just fine? That is, besides being drawn to the Pit by my favorite 50 Cent song, In Da Club, on my first official game day? My favorite part of the city–the restaurant scene–is arguably manifested right here in Ann Arbor. It’s like I never left the East coast.
If you’re from the New York area (or on the flip side, from AA and visiting NYC) be sure to hit up some of these Michigan translations of your favorite spots:
Toro’s my favorite tapa spot in the city, and for good reason. Toro effortlessly unites traditional Spanish flavors and modern flare into its vast tapas menu, all while maintaining an air of industrial sophistication through the restaurant space itself.
Both spots are home to the incredibly popular “patatas bravas” dish, and undeniably unreal charcuterie boards. Beyond the food, both have intimate and “rustic” (ft. brick walls; half urban trendy, half nestled up by the fireplace at Christmas vibes) atmospheres and tend to make you want to go back…many times. P.S. I’d advise against skipping out on the cocktails.
AA: Zola Bistro
I’ll admit, I’ve never actually been to the Kitchen of the David Burke saga of “New American” restaurants. BUT, it’s only because I have a minor obsession with rooftop eateries, and the Garden on the roof of the James Hotel is one of my personal faves (so much so that I celebrated both my 16th and 17th birthdays there). Luckily, the Kitchen’s unpredictable American menu is served up there on the roof, a whimsical and airy secret garden home to some quality foliage and pleasing views.
Zola Bistro, similarly, is one of the most open and naturally lit spaces in Ann Arbor. The breakfast and brunch menus also rock at the Garden and the Bistro, featuring a considerable amount of imaginative omelette and benedict options. They have a mutual knack for adventure, serving unique plates like David Burke’s pretzel-crusted crab cakes and Zola’s salmon burger (ft. a chili-honey glaze, ginger, and slathered in spicy mayo and mango chutney).
NYC: Dos Caminos
I’m sure you’ve heard of Dos Caminos…but if you haven’t, it’s a kick-ass Mexican chain with locations in NYC, Fort Lauderdale, and Atlantic City. The website presents the bold proclamation, “we have 100 kinds of tequila…need we say more?” which begs me to ask…need they say more? If you must argue “yes,” then I’m sure any one of their house specialities will sell you on the place.
These Mexican menus, to everyone’s glee, feature multiple mouth-watering variants on a creamily classic guacamole. Like mango in your guac? No problem, they have it. Like jalapeño in your guac? Cool, they have it. The cocktails are fun, the quesadillas to die for, and the sides nearly supersede the mains (specifically Dos Caminos’ brussel sprouts and Isalita’s esquites).
NYC: Num Pang
AA: Belly Deli
Fortunately for my sanity there was a Num Pang location, a NYC cambodian sandwich shop chain with graffiti splattered walls and hop-hop vibes, two blocks away from where I interned this summer. Unfortunately for my love handles, I happen to love Num Pang (specifically their khmer sausage sandwich). I swear to you, if I had consumed one more meal from Num Pang I’d morph into Cambodian sausage.
Each irresistible Num Pang sandwich is accented with cucumber, pickled carrots, chili mayo, and cilantro, forming the literal perfect combination of freshness and spice. The sides are not to be overlooked (I’d sell my soul for their grilled corn on the cob with chili powder, coconut flakes, and chili mayo). While Belly Deli isn’t a strictly Cambodian spot, it shares the same genius as Num Pang when it comes to marinated meat and (similar) signature toppings (pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, and mayo) with Asian leanings.
NYC: The Smith
The Smith seems to be everyone’s favorite bistro in the city these days. Seriously, I haven’t heard one negative remark on The Smith or its New American menu ever. The diverse food selection is complimented by the white tiled interior, lending to a French bistro vibe.
Practically Siamese twins separated at birth, you can’t go wrong with anything on The Smith’s or Sava’s menus—menus that tend to skim the surface of a variety of cuisines. Moreover, they’re both equally as popular for their weekend brunch as they are for their daily dinner and signature mac and cheese. 30 minute wait to sit down? Always.
AA: Slurping Turtle
Morimoto is out of this world in more ways than one. Not only is Chef Morimoto’s take on Japenese cuisine supernaturally legendary, but the restaurant resembles the interior of some alternate universe (you’ll get it when you check out the restrooms).
Both spots are successfully unconventional in their take on Japanese cuisine. While Morimoto’s maki menu is a little more extensive than Slurping Turtle’s (which slightly more focused on its noodle selection), you can find awesome hot and cold tapa appetizers for the table at either restaurant. Sleek and lounge-like in setting, definitely not eateries you want to pass up in either city.
I don’t think either of these spots need much of an introduction. Katz’s: New York’s most famous deli; home to a world famous pastrami sandwich. Zingerman’s: Ann Arbor’s most iconic deli; home to a world famous Reuben. They kill it. That is all.