Ann Arbor, located in southeastern Michigan, is home to the University of Michigan. While this university town has lots to offer, football is the main attraction in the autumn. Every home football Saturday, you’ll find more than 100,000 visitors in the Big House, also known as Michigan Stadium. If it’s a late game, you’ll need sustenance to cheer on the home team, and if it’s an early one, you’ll be famished after all the excitement.
In no specific order, here are seven fantastic restaurants to try in Ann Arbor. They represent a variety of styles, cuisines, and price points.
Located on State Street, just steps from the University of Michigan’s campus, Sava’s features American cuisine with an international twist. One of my favorite dishes is the wagyu beef cheeseburger, served with Cheddar cheese on a challah bun spread with dijonnaise. The lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion add freshness to the burger. They serve it with garlic and Parmesan fries, making it more than just a burger and fries.
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On Sundays, they also offer brunch. To make selecting a vegan option easy, they’ve marked each vegan dish on the menu. Vegans will enjoy the Hippie Bowl, a dish featuring tempeh and brown rice, roasted vegetables, sweet potato, avocado, and coconut.
The two-story restaurant seats 200 people and has large windows that let in lots of light. The upscale decor features green plants for a garden feel. Heaters on the patio take the chill out of those cool Michigan spring and fall evenings.
Pro Tip: Even though Sava’s is a big restaurant, larger parties should make reservations.
2. Gandy Dancer
The restored 1886 Michigan Central Depot is home to Gandy Dancer, slang for those who laid rail tracks before machines did. The restaurant’s original oak ceiling, rock walls, stained glass, and fireplace secured the building a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Gandy Dancer also offers outdoor dining on a covered patio.
My favorite dish is the Applejack Sea Bass. Tart sun-dried Michigan cherries mixed in a sweet bourbon reduction top the dish. The dish’s name comes from the combination of apples and bourbon. The sea bass comes with a wild rice risotto.
The house-made breadbasket includes a unique mixture of warm rolls and everything crackers. The crackers, with the same topping found on everything bagels, come with a smooth salmon pâté.
Pro Tip: When the passenger train passes the restaurant and blows its horn, diners at Gandy Dancer applaud. If you want to participate in this tradition, check the train schedule before making your reservations.
3. Miss Kim
With a menu rooted in Korean tradition, Miss Kim showcases those dishes using the finest Michigan ingredients.
The pork-belly hand-steamed buns, featuring slow-roasted pork belly, cucumbers, a ginger scallion sauce, and hoisin, are my favorite. The freshness of the cucumber cuts through the fat of the pork belly, making for the perfect bite. Miss Kim offers other varieties of steamed buns, too, including fried tofu, fried chicken, and mushroom. These small two-bite buns are the ideal starter.
Pro Tip: Miss Kim’s is located in the Kerrytown neighborhood, and the address indicates they’re on Fifth Avenue. That’s correct, but the entrance is on Kingsley and the adjoining parking lot. You can enter through the courtyard on Fifth or from the parking lot at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Kingsley.
4. Mani Osteria
Mani means “handmade” in Italian, and osteria is the Italian term for a tavern. With its house-made pasta and handmade pizza crusts, Mani Osteria lives up to its name.
The restaurant serves up Italian cuisine in a casual environment. The exhibition kitchen with its classic white subway tile was the perfect backdrop for the pizza maker’s performance. He stretched the crust by hand and then placed it in a wood-fired oven. The two-story dining room’s decor is traditional European with a contemporary twist. A large bank of windows provides natural light.
Wood-fired pizzas and pastas are just some of the family-style menu items available. Carnivores will enjoy entrees like the Tuscan ribeye, lamb chops, and fire-roasted branzino. Vegetarians will appreciate the eggplant Parmesan.
The Verde salad was my favorite dish. Beginning with a base of mixed greens featuring romaine as the main ingredient, they accented with other greens like frisse. The grated pieces of aged gouda were the only components of the dish that weren’t green, but rather a pale buttery yellow. The chefs arranged tart Granny Smith apples cut matchstick-style in a haystack for more height. Blanched haricots verts and edamame added a crisp component, while pieces of creamy avocado made for a variety of textures. A sherry vinaigrette made from basil oil added one more green ingredient to the salad. The dish was big enough to share as a side salad.
Pro Tip: If you prefer alfresco dining, the street-facing patio offers heaters to ward off the chill of a fall day.
5. Frita Batidos
Two Cuban street-food dishes, fritas and batidos, inspired Eve Aronoff’s restaurant Frita Batidos. A frita is a burger made with spicy chorizo, topped with shoestring fries, and served on a soft egg bun. Batidos are milkshakes made with sweetened milk, fruit, and ice. At Frita Batidos, they make theirs with Guernsey Dairy vanilla bean ice cream for a super-delicious treat.
I love plantains, and there are several versions on offer at Frita Batidos: crisped plantains with a choice of cilantro-lime salsa or an avocado spread; twice-fried plantains; and loaded plantains that come topped with black beans, Muenster cheese, an avocado spread, cilantro-lime salsa, and crème fraîche.
Frita Batidos features a bright and airy atmosphere with white-and-blue decor. The restaurant offers counter-style service with picnic-table-style seating. If you’d prefer to dine alfresco, their counter-style service lends itself to taking your meal outside to enjoy at one of the tables on the sidewalk.
Pro Tip: If you have special dietary needs, reference their online menu guide. It will tell you which dishes are suited for vegetarians, vegans, those avoiding dairy, and those avoiding gluten. It even references flavor profiles, so if you’d prefer a spicy dish or one with a delicate flavor, you’re sure to choose just the right dish.
6. Zingerman’s Roadhouse
Zingerman’s Roadhouse elevates farm-to-table food by using produce from local farms. My favorite dish is the macaroni and cheese made with handmade Cheddar from Vermont, cream, Dijon mustard, and onions. The macaroni and cheese menu section offers six varieties, one without embellishment and others with additions like pimento cheese and fried chicken or bacon.
The chili and Cheddar fries are hand-cut, twice-fried potatoes put in a bowl, served with a topping of ancho beef chuck chili, and sprinkled with cheese and scallions. The beef cubes are tender, and while the chili is flavorful, it isn’t overly spicy.
Pro Tip: Zingerman’s sells their coffee products online so that you can make their coffee at home.
7. Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery
Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery offers an internationally influenced menu that focuses on barbecue and beer. The restaurant uses applewood and hickory to smoke their meats low and for up to 18 hours. Southern dishes like collard greens and grits are a highlight, but you’ll find the rest of the world represented, too. The Bibimbap offers a taste of South Korea, for instance. You choose the protein, usually beef, and they mix it with a smoked soy sauce, sweet soy shiitake mushrooms, kimchi, and pickled vegetables. They serve it over basmati rice, top it with a fried egg and gochujang, and garnish it with scallions.
Vegetarians will find a hearty meal here, too. I enjoyed the triple-cheese macaroni and cheese with smoked Cheddar, Wisconsin-aged Cheddar, and gouda. They top the dish with toasted breadcrumbs for a flavor-packed vegetarian option.
The Michigan Maple salad features maple syrup in the vinaigrette and in the Michigan dried cherries. The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center indicates that Michigan is the number-one producer of tart cherries in the nation. The Michigan Maple features mixed fresh greens topped with zippy goat cheese, red onion, and crunchy almonds. That all results in a stellar Michigan dish.
Pro Tip: Try Blue Tractor’s award-winning Bearded Pig Cream Ale. The light-bodied beer is malty and faintly sweet. It pairs nicely with the barbecue.
For more on Ann Arbor, see this page.