- Joe Lloyd
Ann Arbor may be a small city, but it can feel as lively as the greatest metropolis with its vibrant student scene, abundance of art festivals and cultural happenings. Over the past couple of decades, this Michigan town’s culinary scene has thrived, with a bustling downtown dotted with restaurants serving classic American fare, microbreweries and international flavours alike. Here are 10 of the best restaurants in Ann Arbor.
Logan is a beacon of New American Cuisine, serving US classics reconfigured with flavours from around the world. Set in an intimate, peach-coloured room, it offers high-class food in a relaxed environment. The menu is superb. Start with ginger and shallot-seasoned pork dumplings or a scallop, shrimp and mahi-mahi ceviche, then feast on a Bourbon pork tenderloin, Cornish hen marinated in Moroccan spices or fresh Michigan perch tempura. Vegetarians should try the ponzu-glazed cauliflower, served with black quinoa and a pea broth, with a side of truffle-mashed potatoes. Owner and chef Thad Gilles prepares everything fresh each day, using only the finest ingredients, and fine tunes the menu to reflect each season’s produce.
Logan, 115 West Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI, USA, +734 327-2312
For many Ann Arbor residents, Zingerman’s is the ultimate deli. Founded in 1982 to serve Jewish-inspired sandwiches, the quality of its produce quickly led to statewide, and then national, fame. Although it now encompasses nine businesses in the area and employs over 500 people, the core of Zingerman’s is still the delicatessen. The corned beef won the NYC Slow Food taste-test, and the Reuben balances it perfectly with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian-style dressing. The huge menu abounds with intriguing combinations, from D-$’s Cuban Conundrum (pulled pork, peppered ham, Swiss cheese, dill, mayo and mustard) and Leo’s Friendly Lion (avocado spread, fire-roasted green chilies, muenster and tomato), each paired with a different bread. A must visit for anyone with a taste for sandwiches.
Arbor Brewing Company
It’s no surprise that Ann Arbor, both a university town and a foodie haven, is home to one of the country’s very best brewpubs. The Arbor Brewing Company, the first to open in town, inspires a fierce loyalty among University of Michigan students, one of whom helped to open a branch in Bangalore. The beer is of course outstanding, but the food is equally worthy of attention. Using only locally sourced, organic and sustainable ingredients, the menu includes some of the best pub food you’ll ever try. Vegans and meat-eaters alike shouldn’t miss the beer-battered tempeh burger, made from soy, brown rice and spices and topped with apple-ginger coleslaw. For an outside pint, head to the company’s microbrewery and beer garden in Ypsilanti, about eight miles east of Ann Arbor.
Though The Earle’s been around since long before the Ann Arbor food revolution, it more than holds its own. Founded in 1977 and devoted to serving delectable French and Italian food, it remains one of the classiest restaurants in town. The sautéed tenderloin, served with either Madeira glaze, Roquefort and nuts or black pepper, brandy and mushrooms, is sublime, as is the hazelnut-breaded whitefish. For a lighter summer meal, the salad menu is first-rate, including duck and balsamic on spring greens, grilled tuna with Italian vegetables and rocket, and a consummate Caesar topped with either chicken or salmon. The wine bar boasts a staggering 1,400 different bottled selections and 20 served by the glass, with an award winning happy hour every weekday evening. Come between Tuesday and Saturday for live jazz with your meal.
The Earle, 121 West Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI, USA, +734 994-0211
Looking at the selection of beers on offer at Ashley’s, it’s hard not to think that their claim to ‘Michigan’s best draft selection,’ is a shade too modest. Fitted out like a traditional, wood-paneled pub, Ashley’s selection is unparalleled in the area. At any one time, you’ll find about 70 drinks on tap, with regular rotations and new introductions. Whether you prefer the ultra-strong Belgian Tripel Karmeliet with its creamy, fruity flavours or the dark Aventinus wheat beer, there is a brew here to suit every taste. The food takes typical pub fare to scrumptious refinement, with a shrimp platter, Certified Angus burgers and fries garnished with pesto and sundried tomato.
Ashley’s, 338 South State St., Ann Arbor, MI, USA, +734 996-9191
Considered by most to be one of the best restaurants in town, Pacific Rim serves Asian food cooked with established French techniques. Although chef Duc, who fled Saigon as a child, is Chinese-Vietnamese, the menu also takes in influences from Thailand, Japan and Korea. It’s a wide net, but this is no half-baked fusion joint. Real care goes into ensuring that the flavour combinations are natural, sympathetic and immensely delicious. To start, try the tuna tartare, served with taro chips, avocado, seaweed, scallions and togarashi, or the unagi (eel) terrine. The entrées are even more tantalising, with sablefish marinated in sake and miso, seared big eye tuna, five-spice duck and Korean-style ribeye slices. Match your meal to an infused spirit, whether Thai chili-lime vodka, Fig-Coriander bourbon or green tea and Goji berry rum.
Superior burger joints are everywhere in Ann Arbor, but Frita Batidos offers something different, and even more enticing. Fritas are traditional Cuban burgers, made from chorizo and stacked with crispy shoestring fries. Choose from a range of toppings, including egg, cilantro and lie salsa, thick-cut bacon, to customise your sandwich. Feel like something other than a burger? Then order some black bean and avocado-loaded plantain or the mighty ‘Inspired Cuban’ platter, which includes lemongrass roast pork, bacon, tasso ham, gruyere and gherkins, all served on Cuban bread. The batidos, tropical milkshakes, are equally great, made from fruit and ice cream. Add a shot of rum for a true Caribbean vibe.
Frita Batidos, 117 West Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI, USA, +734 761-2882
The Chop House
Although located on Main Street, not far at all from the university, the Chop House is far from your usual student haunt. Rather, it’s the sort of place that students take their parents to on graduation day; high-end, sophisticated, a place for a special meal. Order a steak, and you’ll be presented with prime USDA beef, amongst the best in the whole country. The rest of the menu, featuring roasted racks of venison, Maryland crab and lobster cakes, pork from Berkshire and veal from Australia, is equally fine. After dining in the elegant, lamp-lit dining room, move on to La Dolce Vita, the restaurant’s sumptuous desert, liquor and cigar lounge, and try the flourless chai latte cake.
The Chop House, 332 South Main St., Ann Arbor, MI, USA, +888 456-3463
The Blue Nile
For proof that Ethiopian food is amongst the most extravagantly luscious in the world, look no further than The Blue Nile. Everything is served on the traditional injera, a table-size flatbread that serves as both plate and utensil, making for an intensely social dining experience. Choose from a selection of meat and vegetable dishes, all of which will be placed on the injera to be shared. The spicy doro wot chicken is particularly good, as are the zilzil wot beef strips. Accompany your meal with a sweet Ethiopian drink, such as honey wine or cinnamon tea.
The Blue Nile, 221 East Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI, USA, +734 998-4746
For all their wonders, it has to be admitted that many of Ann Arbor’s best restaurants serve only a couple of vegetarian options, and with fresh produce from the state so easily available, who could blame them? The Jolly Pumpkin, though it serves excellent meat dishes, readdresses the balance with a veggie-sympathetic sandwich menu. Try the artichoke, pepperoncini and feta, or the tofu chili with kimchi. The truffle pizza, with three types of cheese and creamed shiitake mushrooms, is not to be missed, nor are the shoestring truffle fries. Sit on the roof garden and accompany your food with artisan ale from the Jolly Pumpkin brewery in the nearby village of Dexter, whether the earthy amber of La Roja, light Weizen Bam wheat beer or the dark srtrout Madrugada Obscura.