Detroit’s food scene is a mosaic of international influences, from the Greek and Polish diasporas to China, Vietnam, Lebanon and more recent waves of refugees.
The city’s iconic food might be rooted in the working class, but Detroiters have always been resourceful and entrepreneurship-minded. There’s a fascinating tension between honoring old traditions and celebrating new ones—and the restaurants here reflect this ethos.
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1.Detroit Deep Dish
Detroit is known for cars, music and pizza – so it’s no surprise that its deep dish pie is considered one of the country’s most popular. A Detroit-style pizza is a rectangular pie topped with sauce and melted Wisconsin brick cheese in a thick, chewy crust.
A slice of this square pizza is often cut into corner slices, encouraging diners to savor each bite as they feast with their fingers, utensils or both. The square crust and savory cheese perimeter of this pizza encourage diners to take their time eating, a homage to its blue-collar Motor City roots.
The key to a Detroit-style pie is its pan, which originated from blue steel pans used by auto workers in Detroit’s factories. The pizza is baked in these pans, which provide the perfect soft and airy square crust, crispy exterior, and browned cheese perimeter.
The iconic Buddy’s Pizza (with numerous locations around the metro area) is credited with inventing Detroit-style pizza in the late 1940s. The restaurant’s founder, Gus Guerra, was inspired by his Italian mother-in-law’s square Sicilian pizza to create his own version, which would soon become a Detroit classic.
2.Coney Island Hot Dogs
The Coney Island Hot Dog is a frankfurter in a natural casing that’s nestled in a soft, steamed bun and topped with an all-meat, beanless chili, diced white onions and yellow mustard. It’s a unique combination that sets the coney apart from all other hot dogs and has a deep, long history in both New York and Michigan.
While no one knows for sure where the Coney dog originated, it has been associated with New York since Nathan Handwerker popularized it in Brooklyn, New York in 1916. And it’s believed that Greek immigrants passing through Detroit and New York borrowed the name for their version of the Coney dog, bringing it with them to Michigan.
Detroit’s two most iconic Coney restaurants are American and Lafayette Coney Island, both located on West Lafayette Street in downtown Detroit. The rivalry between these two establishments is among the most intense in Detroit’s food world and has lasted for decades.
3.Asian Corned Beef
One of the best things you can eat in Detroit is a corned beef egg roll. It’s an iconic local dish, a signature of Asian Corned Beef, a fast-food chain founded in the era of racial segregation and white flight that has grown to seven locations.
While the chain has been around for a while, its growth in recent years has been impressive. The company has added a few new stores to its lineup, including two along Woodward Avenue in Highland Park.
It’s a small, family-run business, but owner Kim White and her son Hasan have worked hard to make their restaurants stand out from the rest of the pack. Their bright red interiors are dotted with funky wooden accents and feature a cool aquarium that’s become a part of their branding.
The chain’s corned beef egg roll may be a little more complicated than its competitors, but it is still a major winner. They also have an aptly named cheesy egg roll, which comes with your choice of beef, chicken, pork, or a combination of the three.
Founded in 1944, Telway Hamburgers is one of the best places to get greasy, cheap fast food in Detroit. The 24-hour eatery has two locations in metro Detroit.
At both, you’ll find an old-school setup with retro decor and cash-only registers. You can also expect a lot of attention from staffers who know customers’ birthdays and family names.
The stand’s burgers are tender and melt-in-your-mouth, served with grilled onions and cheese. But its best dish is the slider.
It’s like a mini hamburger topped with cheese, fried onions and mustard on top of two buns. Instead of the usual White Castle style slider where you get a little punched-with-five-holes pre-made meat disc, Telway makes theirs fresh.
It’s no wonder that this 24-hour burger stand has been around for decades. Its owners, Earl Owens and his granddaughter Nicole, have kept the old-school spirit alive.
5.Scotty Simpson’s Fish & Chips
Located on Fenkell and Dolphin Street in Brightmoor, Scotty Simpson’s is a casual restaurant known for its fried seafood. It has been a Detroit landmark since 1950 and continues to serve a tasty dish that is a must try for any foodie.
The signature item is the fried Nova Scotian cod fish & chips dipped in a light house-batter and tossed in the fryer until golden brown. It’s accompanied by a plethora of other treats including piles of seasoned coleslaw and tartar sauce that is perfect for dipping.
A visit to this no-frills eatery should also include a stop at the dessert bar, where customers can sample banana pies, fruitcake and chocolate pie. Aside from the aforementioned fried fish and chips, Scotty Simpson’s also serves up a number of American dishes such as burgers and fried chicken.
The staff here is surprisingly friendly and knowledgeable about all things fried. They even have a few interesting tidbits of history. They were also one of the first to offer carryout services, which are a nice perk for a no-frills spot.
While Detroit is renowned for its deep dish pizza, the city is also home to an array of classic restaurants that serve up a wide range of foods from around the world. From Coney Island hot dogs and Asian corned beef to vegan soul food, the Motor City has something for everyone.
Whether you’re in the mood for barbecue, fried chicken, sweet potato pie or crumbly cornbread, Detroit soul food is one of its most iconic dishes. Find out more about the cuisine at favorites like Beans & Cornbread and Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (both in Southfield), Cafe d’Mongo Speakeasy and Steve’s Soul Food near downtown, and Detroit Vegan Soul in Midtown.
There are many variations to this classic summer treat, but a Boston Cooler typically consists of vanilla ice cream mixed with Vernors ginger ale. This drink is a staple in Michigan and has been served at soda fountains and ice cream parlors across the country since the 1910s.
If you’re looking for a classic fast-food experience, Big Boy restaurants are a must. These restaurants offer double-deck burgers, freshly cut fries, and milkshakes.
The chain began in 1937 with the invention of a sandwich called the Big Boy Hamburger, which included two beef patties separated by a piece of bread. It was a simple idea, but one that changed the way fast food was served.
Aside from being the inspiration for many similar burgers, the Big Boy was also an early franchise model. Bob Wian, the founder of the chain, was less concerned with profits than ensuring his restaurants offered superior food and service.
He didn’t charge his franchisees large fees, but instead only a small percentage of the sales they made for branding and marketing support. As a result, he was able to build a network of over 1,000 Big Boys across the country.
In the 1980s, Big Boy began to struggle and a few franchisees were unable to find success with the brand. Shoney’s backed out of the franchise in 2000, but Frisch’s of Cincinnati remains the only remaining Big Boy operator.
8.Slows Bar BQ
If you’re looking for a tasty bbq meal in detroit, Slows Bar BQ is the place to go. This establishment has a great selection of bbq sandwiches, waffle fries and sweet potato mash.
They also offer a wide selection of draft beer, ice tea and lemonade. Located near Michigan Central Station, this is a popular spot among travelers and locals alike.
The restaurant features slide-off-the-bone brisket, baby back ribs and pulled pork dishes along with side options that reflect a Southern sensibility. Mac and cheese, waffle fries (cheese is extra but worth the dollar) and black-eyed peas are some of their standout items.
In 2005, this barbecue establishment opened in Corktown and quickly became a fixture. Its signature entrée is the Charlene, which has succulent pulled pork tossed in a sauce made from the meat’s drippings and stuffed into a soft yet sturdy bun. It’s a dish you should try at least once, if you can get a table. The Yardbird is the restaurant’s take on a popular sandwich found at a number of other places around town and was even tried by Adam Richman during his 2009 Man v. Food trip to Detroit.