The fertile land around Lake Michigan is home high-quality restaurants that take advantage of organic, local produce. Many Grand Rapids venues serve locally grown food and seafood fresh from the lake, but there’s also the country’s best burger and European eats on offer. We’ve chosen the ten best places to sample Grand Rapids cuisine, from fresh fish tacos to vegan diner fare.
Phil’s Bar and Grille, a drive outside Grand Rapids near Kalamazoo lake, serves a great martini and a mean roasted chicken. The chefs serve seafood, grills and salads and specialise in twists on the everyday classics, like lamb lollipops with pomegranate and risotto or grilled ham and cheese on special pretzel bread. If you book in advance, the staff will put your name on the cinema-style marquee out front, and every meal comes with a free cup of animal crackers for dessert.
Cygnus 27, the upmarket restaurant perched on the top floor of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, offers high-end, delicious food and the best views over the city. The food, prepared by chef Werner Absenge, is American with global influences, while the decor is inspired by the Cygnus constellation, the Grand Rapids skyline and restaurant’s world menu, with Turkish rugs and modernist lighting that create an eclectic mixture of design styles. The food is served in small plates, so you can have a single dish with a drink or three for a hearty meal. A favourite is the shrimp and scallop brochette, grilled shrimp and scallops on a skewer served on black pasta with vegetables.
GQ Magazine has declared Stella’s burgers as the best in the United States, and the restarant is an unmissable stop if you’re in the area. The walls are decorated with colourful murals and the laid-back bar atmosphere (their motto is ‘strong drinks, cheap beer, loud music’) belies the serious culinary talent on offer. The burgers themselves are huge, and stuffed with cheese, accompanied with onion rings and salad. There’s Stella’s famous quarter pound of beef, speared with a steak knife so the towering stack doesn’t topple over. Elsewhere on the menu, there’s bacon popcorn, nachos, tacos, and steak sandwiches, if you’ve got room left after your burger, that is.
Amore Trattoria Italiana is generally thought of as the best Italian in West Michigan. Head chef and owner Jenna Arcidiacono, known to customers and staff alike as Chef Jenna, won Grand Rapids’ Chef of the Year award in 2014 and her cooking is no disappointment. Fresh local fish and meats are combined with Italian seasonings to produce menu highlights like the lobster pasta or the Mangia Fuoco salami and sausage pizza. Imported Italian cheeses and handmade pasta complete the picture, and guests should look no further for the best in Italian home cooking. The atmosphere is cosy, with regular live music during the week and friendly staff.
Grove sources everything from its berries to its maple syrup from environmentally friendly local providers, and the menu changes accordingly. Clams, crab, pork and lamb make up the backbone of their menu, with local cheeses, beans and vegetables determining the accompaniments from day to day. The restaurant itself is low-lit, with a dedicated cocktail and drinks bar (try their special-recipe Moonraker cocktail) and striped booths in the restaurant’s signature browns and greens. Grove defines itself as part of Michigan’s ‘farm to fork’ restaurant tradition, but ‘farm to fine dining’ would be a better description, as their original recipes and flavour combinations make them a stand-out choice.
Bartertown Diner serves all-American diner food, but not as you know it. Here, all the meals are vegan or vegetarian, and the sandwiches and curries are stuffed with chickpeas, beans and other healthy ingredients. Their pun-filled menu is a delight to read as well as eat from. The Pretzeldential sandwich and Michigander black bean burger are worth ordering as much for their names as their flavour. Authentic booths and chequerboard flooring complete the atmosphere. The diner aims to promote fresh, local ingredients, and is co-owned by its workers, so is the perfect place for a guilt-free diner meal.