Andiamo 129 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-582-9300; more locations at andiamoitalia.com: Unquestioned master of the Best Italian Chain category in our annual readers' poll, the many iterations of Andiamo's are part of an Italian chain, all right, but they have different styles and menus. Under the tutelage of Chef Aldo Ottaviani, the kitchen staff is trained to prepare the outstanding recipes that have sustained this operation and enabled its growth for the past 20 years. In the Royal Oak kitchen, Stephen J. Kuclo Jr. has helped add a few specialties to the menu of old reliables.
Bastone 419 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-544-6250: The concept is Belgian brewpub and the atmosphere is totally unpretentious, quirky and interesting. Belgian food is heavily influenced by Germany and France, and some of Bastone's menu items are quintessentially Belgian, such as moule (mussels), and twice-fried Belgian frites served with mayonnaise.
Beirut Palace 105 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-399-4600: The Royal Oak location is situated just across the street from the Main Art Theatre and makes a great start to a night at the movies. And while we certainly would never suggest patrons smuggle food into the show, shawarma is definitely easier to pick out of teeth than popcorn. At Beirut, they make all their own bread — definitely a plus in an industry where prepacked, hard-to-chew pitas abound. Their sandwiches include those made with lamb tongue and chicken liver. Gourmands with a more American palate might seek out the potato skins appetizer. All food is very fresh, and they make a great Turkish coffee. Have a nargilah pipe at your table for $11.95.
BlackFinn 530 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-542-9466: BlackFinn began its corporate life in 1994 as an Irish pub, but the only remnant of those origins is the Guinness sauce and marinade that appear on several dishes and the Bailey's Irish Cream that enhances a mousse. Referred to instead as "an American saloon," the pub theme is emphasized on the walls in vintage photographs of celebrated saloons. The sprawling, boisterous lounge and the much more sedate dining room, which seat around 120 people, feature the sort of dark wooden tables and walls that one would expect to find in the classic urban tavern, although with more than 20 flat-screen TVs. The substantial appetizers average around $9, including a pulled pork sandwich and three chicken and three steak skewers. Along with chili and a soup of the day, BlackFinn offers New England clam chowder chock-full of potatoes and clam bits. Some sauces overwhelm the entrées, but the honey-dill glaze on the Atlantic salmon ($16.99) served with rice pilaf is just about right. Among the desserts, there is a bit of the Irish in the luscious dark chocolate mousse laced with Bailey's, served in a tall glass. And the small 25-bottle wine list will appeal to penurious tipplers with relative bargains.
Cafe Habana 419 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-544-6255: Café Habana offers excellent, reasonably priced Cuban cuisine in a fun, funky-chic setting, along with Latin music and a full bar, in downtown Royal Oak's ever-expanding restaurant hub. The Caribbean nation's food is simple, with Spanish and Central American influences, but substantial. Grilled meats dominate platos principales, enhanced by fresh and spicy marinades and sauces.
Cafe Muse 418 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-544-4749: You won't find "omelets" on the menu, as the kitchen has chosen to serve scrambled eggs instead. The "exotic mushroom scramble" is rich with truffle oil and a bit of Boursin cheese, topped with shredded basil, which also goes well with the sweet potato side dish. Another scramble choice incorporates ammoglio, a mortar-and-pestle pounding of garlic, basil, peppercorns and tomatoes. Bread is from Strawberry Moon Bakery, which means excellent sourdough toast.
Comet Burger 207 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-414-4567: Comet Burger's concept of the '50s is pink vinyl and stainless steel chairs, Formica tabletops decorated with little boomerangs (you'll recognize them when you see them), album covers on the walls, lots of TVs, and, of course, sliders and malts. The malts alone are worth the trip. As for the sliders, they're sliders, but grilled onions improve the flavor considerably.
D'Amato's 222 S. Sherman Dr., Royal Oak; 248-584-7400: Neighborhood Italian joint has eclectic and "from scratch" fare. A fresh Caesar or Caprese salad will run you $6, and a pizza with feta, grape tomatoes, roasted banana peppers, kalamata olives and more is $8. Tender, fluffy gnocchi of ricotta and spinach come surrounded with a rich sauce, and veal saltimbocca arrives on soft layers of rapini and gnocchi, resting in a silky Marsala sauce. There are many more beef, chicken and seafood entrées, and 30 glasses and 60 bottles of wine to wash them down. What's more, there's often live music (call for schedule) and legendary Royal Oak martini bar Goodnight Gracie is connected to the restaurant.
Delmar Family Restaurant 1207 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak; 248-543-2773: Most of the omelets are less than $6, and they're all classics. You have your spinach omelet, your mushroom omelet, your ham-and-cheese. But the choices get grander from there. There's the "meat-lover's," with bacon, ham, sausage and cheese. There's the Southern, with green pepper, onion and sausage with country gravy on top. But, for $6.25, you can have the Delmar omelet, which has it all: ham, cheese, onion, tomatoes, green peppers, even potatoes rolled up in there. Omelets come with potatoes and toast. And if that weren't enough, they allow a potato pancake- or pancakes-for-potatoes substitution that will fill out a trencherman's breakfast.
Falaffel King 32748 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, 248-554-9881: Syrian-born owner Ziad Atasi's take on Middle Eastern standards compares favorably with those found in many of his white-tablecloth, sit-down competitors. Not that you can't sit down in his plain, tiny storefront — he can accommodate 10 diners at the narrow counters along the walls and windows. But most of his patrons are happy to bring their food home. The eatery earned the best suburban "cheap-eats" laurels in the 2004 Metro Times competition, and a restaurant does not win a cheap-eats award just because its fare is modestly priced. Happily, the King delivers on culinary quality.
Green Lantern Lounge 4326 Rochester Rd., Royal Oak; 248-298-3005: As in most older pizza palaces, the kitchen first made thin-crusted round pies and only added the deep-dish variety around seven years ago. Both come in four sizes from 10 inches ($5.35-$5.95) to 16 inches ($10.50-$11.95) with the 10-inch mini suitable for two. The price structure here and throughout the menu is quite reasonable, another explanation for the Green Lantern's popularity. Best of all, they use the pepperoni that curl up into little "grease cups." Ah, the Midwest.
Inn Season Café 500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-547-7916: Good news: Inn Season Café — a rare provider of vegetarian cuisine in metro Detroit — has gotten better as it has gotten older. Fine, organic ingredients have always been its hallmark, but the health food nature of the cooking has been eclipsed; now you are eating vegetarian haute cuisine.
Katana Nu-Asian Steakhouse 111 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-591-9900: Katana offers a spectacular show seven nights a week in the fine art of teppanyaki, or grilling. This is a Japanese restaurant for those who shudder at raw fish; any steak-loving American will find plenty that pleases. Seven stations are on one side of the restaurant, each with a granite counter wrapped around three sides of a hibachi. For this experience, expect to pay as little as $16.25 for chicken or $40 for a seafood combo of fillets, scallops and lobster (all tableside packages include soup, salad, steamed rice and vegetables). As many as 10 people can be seated at each station. On the other side are booths and tables for those who prefer the bistro and sushi menu, now with full entrées in addition to the small plates.
Lily's Seafood 410 S. Washington, Royal Oak, 248-591-5459: Lily's Seafood is a hot spot that offers not only a stunning interior and friendly service, but most importantly a kitchen that believes homemade is best. In keeping with this idea, even the beverage menu includes house-made root beer, cream soda and four varieties of house-made beer. Both the entrees and desserts are special. full of mixtures of both flavor and texture. Mondays offer an "all-you-can-eat fish fry," while Saturdays and Sundays cater to a "build your own Bloody Mary bar." Kids eat free Tuesdays.
Memphis Smoke 100 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-543-4300: Memphis Smoke offers more than juicy ribs and pulled pork po' boys — it also plays a gracious host to many of the area's best blues acts.
Mezza Mediterranean Grille 212 Fifth Ave., Royal Oak; 248-414-7000; more locations in Orchard Lake, Southfield, Rochester Hills; see mezzagrille.com: A new entry into the Middle Eastern mini-chain category, Mezza has all the usual classics at bargain prices, and with larger than usual servings. And it looks like, no matter where you are in the metro region, you can throw a rock and hit the nearest location.
Monterrey Cantina 312 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-545-1940: The Tijuana cousins of the Mr. B's family have many of the parent company's signatures: young, friendly staffs, big portions, colorful settings. Pop-Mex favorites include burritos, quesadillas, tacos and enchiladas and some fun drinks, such as the "Iguana" margarita. Promotions abound, with a seven-hour "happy hour" (11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday), "fiesta weekends" (10 p.m.-midnight) that can slash your bill in half — including drinks. And if you bring in an entertainment coupon, they'll punch it and give it back for two more uses.
Mt. Chalet 32955 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, 248-549-2929: This oddly named, vaguely Swiss-looking structure just south of 14 Mile Road holds a full-service restaurant with pretensions of culinary respectability, as well as a boisterous, smoky watering hole with sports featured round-the-clock on multiple screens. The spot offers interesting fare that transcends pub grub, with generously proportioned appetizers that average around $8, surprisingly close in price to the equally generously proportioned entrées. The menu toys with diners' expectations, including not just such predictable fare as "Grandmama's World Famous Mac & Cheese" but also chicken marsala, a breaded pork cutlet with buttered cabbage and lots of salads for vegetarians. Foam-lovers will find 10 beers on tap, including Guinness, Magic Hat No. 9, and at least one choice from Bell's Brewery, and the more than 25 bottled varieties, in addition to Celis white, and five "premium" wines, such as Hess chardonnay, each priced at a modest $24 for a bottle.
Noodles & Company 470 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-548-7700: Noodles & Company's fast food is made with fresh vegetables and organic tofu. The menu is internationally inspired, and includes specialties from China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia (mushrooms stroganoff with egg noodles), the Mediterranean, the United States and, of course, Italy.
Oak City Grille 212 W. Sixth St., Royal Oak; 248-556-0947: The Grill is a step up from owner Mike Sophiea's last restaurant, Rumors, the now-shuttered, venerable burger-and-beer joint that arrived on Main Street in 1985, when then-sleepy Royal Oak was best known for its army-navy store. Compare those humble beginnings with a menu that spills over with filet mignon, peppercorn sirloin and pecan-encrusted trout. With a full kitchen ably presided over by Chris Lambert, formerly of Big Buck Brewery, and his two capacious rooms patrolled by Sean Gagnier, formerly of Bacco and Forté, Sophiea's new enterprise fills several gaps on the Royal Oak entertainment-dining scene by providing live music Tuesday through Saturday and traditional American cuisine at decent prices.
Pasquale's 31555 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-4002: The calorie-bomb here is called "Brown's special," and it's loaded with cheese, pepperoni, bacon, ham, onions, green peppers, green and black olives, and mushrooms, $13 for a small, $16 for a medium and $21 for a large. Right on Woodward in Royal Oak, away from the bustle of Main Street. If you've been in business for 55 years, you must be doing something right.
Pizza Paesano 415 S. Washington, Royal Oak; 248-547-2751: Open late for Royal Oak hanger-outers, Pizza Paesano isn't just another pizza joint. The pesto pizza is subtly flavored; the crust is thin and crisp and excellent. The gyro is also marvelous, decorated with thin lamb strips and scallions. Besides pizza, the guys serve calzones, a spinach pie and a spicy meat pie (Italian sausage, pepperoni and bacon).
Pronto! Royal Oak 608 S. Washington, Royal Oak, 248-544-7900: If you're going to Royal Oak to eat, but you want to avoid the pricey, overcrowded Main Street restaurants and the greasy spoons by the train tracks, go to Pronto. Brightly colored walls add to the lively feel here. The sandwich menu is creative and fun. There's a bakery and a bar with music videos, and sidewalk seating in the summertime.
Red Coat Tavern 31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, 248-549-0300: In our annual reader's poll for Best Burger, the Red Coat comes out on top year after year, with its list of 20 add-ons, from burnt onions to olives to smoked Gouda, and five types of bread, including grilled rye or pumpernickel. The thick, juicy succulent two-handers require extra napkins. This place is crowded every day at lunch and dinner — and usually in between. There is a full menu, and not just bar food.
Rexy's Bangkok Cuisine 30923 Woodward Ave., In Kroger Plaza, Royal Oak; 248-288-0002: Rexy's is an upscale version of a successful formula. The interior is interesting and elegant, with a saltwater fish tank and bold, tropical murals. For an appetizer, try koong houm pa ($6.50), large shrimp stuffed with minced pork, ensconced in a paper-thin wrapper, then briefly fried. Served with a sugary-sweet plum sauce, it's a lovely beginning. With most of the entrées, you can select your protein: chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, scallops or squid. Within the last year, they've even added a sit-down sushi bar.
Ronin 326 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak, 248-546-0888: In a stylish setting, bandana-clad sushi chefs vigorously chop and slice at the sushi bar turning out first-rate sushi and sashimi. But for the sushi-shy, there's also an interesting limited array of other Japanese standards. Ronin offers only six entrées ($11-$28) but with fish, fowl and beef, most gastronomic bases are covered. Of the 20-odd beers available, six are on tap, including Kirin Ichiban. Not surprisingly, the bar is well stocked with sake, along with an intelligently selected group of 14 bottles of wine, with at least four of them priced between $20 and $28.
Sangria 401 S. Lafayette Ave., Royal Oak; 248-543-1964: Spanish cuisine is underrepresented in the metro Detroit area, making Sangria most welcome. The featured dishes, tapas and paella, require a leisurely schedule. With a pitcher of sangria and a good friend, you have the ingredients for an enjoyable evening.
Thai House Express 32166 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, 248-549-4112: Thai House Express in Royal Oak is an offshoot of the original on Gratiot in Roseville, though now under separate management. In general, the restaurant encourages substitutions; the menu says any dish can be vegetarian, even giving an example of how to convert a chicken dish into a vegetarian one. Bear in mind that Thai House Express is basically a carryout joint, and that portions are enormous, but you could still settle into one of their 16 seats for a satisfying meal.
Tokyo Sushi & Grill 315 S. Center St., Royal Oak; 248-284-0165: If we added correctly, the restaurant is offering more than 100 items just in the "rolls" category, including the "Dragon Roll": long, high, wide and bright, with different fillings, toppings and colored sauces as you eat your way from head to tail. Crab tempura, cucumber, avocado, eel, eel sauce, bright orange smelt roe and octopus each play a part in surprising and delighting the diner from one bite to the next. For those who fear the raw, there are plenty of tempura items in the rolls, or the whole roll can be deep fried, creating a crisp outside while leaving the inside in its original state — no mean trick. Hot appetizers are also done well.
Town Tavern 116 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-544-7300: Bill Roberts, proprietor of the successful Beverly Hills Grill and Streetside Seafood, opened this neighborhood tavern in June 2007 on Fourth Street in Royal Oak. With mohair booths and bentwood chairs, noted restaurant designer Ron Rea has created an ersatz 1930s tavern updated to a 21st century bistro. Grazers can easily make a hearty meal of the "bar-plate" appetizers. Notable mains on the new fall menu include a "buffalo chicken" mac and cheese, crab-stuffed shrimp, overnight-braised short ribs and three steak choices: New York strip, rib-eye and filet mignon. Also look for the autumnal-themed cider-maple-glazed pork chops. Bustling, noisy, with a train passing through the heart of downtown Royal Oak a block away now and then.
Vinotecca 417 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6256: Patrons can learn from knowledgeable waiters, and they can relax as much as their party's designated-driver policy will allow. The wine list is eclectic, well balanced among vineyards around the globe. Most of the bottles are less than $40, and many are priced between $20 and $30. Vinotecca has a good list of cheeses and plenty of small plates — larger than tapas, smaller than most entrées. The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. every day.
Vinsetta Grill 28028 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-543-2626: Diners are permitted to build their own burger of beef, turkey or veggie with a dazzling array of choices. You can have your patty in a traditional bun or in a bowl with greenery and add one cheese from 10 options that include feta and horseradish cheddar and four toppings from among 20 that range from prosaic onions or tomatoes to unusual dried cranberries or hard-boiled eggs. And you're not done yet, because you can also select from among 19 sauces, with peanut, roasted garlic aioli, and soy-ginger glaze among the most intriguing. The owners estimate that — also considering a grilled-chicken "burger" variation, choice of bun and additional "premium toppings," they offer as many as 300,000 possible individualized burgers. All three burgers are thick and juicy, with the pricey and complicated veggie burger — corn, mushrooms, scallions, bell pepper, spinach, carrots, spinach and potatoes — a bit looser in consistency than its meatier counterparts. The perfect accompaniment would be the grill's signature French fried sweet potatoes ($3.79) cooked without trans fats.
What Crêpe? 317 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-629-9391: Another crêpe spot? We can dig it. The little French food pocket is a hit because it's all fresh, it cooks in a flash, and it doesn't break the bank. Who'd have thought it? And What Crêpe? has 50 to choose from for every taste.
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