Aladdin Sweets & Café 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050; $: On the corner of Commor and Conant streets, in the extraordinarily diverse city of Hamtramck, there is not one dish on Aladdin's menu that costs more than $8.99. In fact, a large mixed fruit shake costs more than any of the appetizers and even a few of the vegetarian entrées that include rice or naan. On the whole, prices hardly surpass what you'll pay for a meal at a national drive-through chain. Vegetarians have all sorts of choices, from curries to fried homemade cheese with spinach or green peas. There are some dishes where lentils are the base and others with chick peas. Try some mushroom vegetable fritters with onions and hot spices, or sautéed okra. The variety is amazing and the most expensive dish is $5.99. There are also many more meat and seafood dishes. The goat korma, braised in a yogurt base is creamy, subtle, deep and rich, with a touch of spice heat. The gravy was so delicious we wiped the last little bit out of the bowl with crispy and chewy naan. Open 10:30 a.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Credit cards accepted; free delivery.
Big Beaver Tavern 645 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-0066; $$: Once part of the triumvirate of the area's classic, old-line Italian-American restaurants (Mario's, Lelli's, Larco's), with roots going back a half century to Detroit's Six Mile Road, Larco's has now become Big Beaver Tavern, with the management going for a sports tavern format, with burgers, fries, wide-screen televisions and poker and blackjack tables in the basement. The customers seem to enjoy the video games, bartop games and DJs, and the food quality remains high. They're selling 1,000 burgers a week, but they still serve the same 8-ounce filet mignon that they served as Larco's since 1990.
Bucharest Grill inside the Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3111; $: Park Bar and Bucharest Grill simply make a fine place to grab a glass of draft Michigan beer and eat pork. The minimal and inexpensive menu is a loose blend of Eastern European and Middle Eastern, with an emphasis on ground pork dishes. In fact, more than half of the menu items contain ground pork in some form or another. It's not exactly the lightest fare in town, but if you're looking to set a substantial base to pour drinks over or fill your belly before a game, it will do quite well. For $7.75, you can get about 12 inches of house-specialty charred and pepper-spiced Romanian sausage with a side of refreshing cabbage salad in a mild vinegar dressing. Other house specialties include stuffed green peppers that look to be a larger version of the grape leaves. Grilled and marinated pork steak and pan-fried chicken schnitzel are served beside fries and a small salad.
Dick O'Dow's Irish Public House 160 W. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-642-1135; $$: For the past 14 years, Dick O'Dow's has been Birmingham's most popular unpretentious watering hole. With music, several TVs, and often a large crowd of more than a hundred tipplers, the front room dominated by the bar can get a bit boisterous. Those looking for a more sedate atmosphere can repair to the back room, which seats 75, featuring a huge fireplace. The menu is expansive with such bar food as pizza, burgers, sliders, wings, ribs, mac 'n' cheese, ahi tuna and the like appealing to those not interested in sampling the Irish fare. However, sometimes that sort of grub is perfect to warm the cockles on Michigan's cold winter nights. Among the mains, the "Irish Classics" ($11.99-$15.99) are the best place to linger. Here one finds boxty, a boule, and shepherd's pie with beef and champ covered with cheddar.
Gim Ling Restaurant 31402 Harper Ave. St. Clair Shores; 586-296-0070; $$: Gim Ling has served dine-in and carryout at the same St. Clair Shores strip mall location for decades. Only relatively recently has it been transformed into a "Modern Asian restaurant." In this case, the term "modern" mostly serves as a stand-in for "better." New diners, as well as those with memories of a Gim Ling past, are in for quite a revelation when they dig into a dish. The locals have been spreading the word. On a typical Saturday night, you'll find a substantial line of folks waiting on carryout. Gim Ling has as robust a takeout business as we've witnessed at a Chinese restaurant. The dining room is usually at least half-capacity, and we can't help wonder how big a crowd might be drawn if they served adult libations along with the quality fare. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sundays and holidays.
Joe Bologna Trattoria 2135 17 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-939-5700; $$: Joe Bologna and his wife Adele opened their place in 1985, and ever since have served cuisine that scores well on the cost-benefit scale, with none of their substantial main courses costing more than $16, while the appetizers average around $8. Pizza is available in a variety of formats, including often-inventive thin-crusted individual pies, such as Red's with red clam sauce, red pepper and red onion. Even better, the reasonably priced wine list is buttressed by periodic specials that feature a handful of intriguing varietals from boutique vineyards at $20.
Los Altos 7056 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-841-3109; $: Catering mostly to owner Adan Lopez's fellow immigrants from Jalisco, which gave birth to tacos al pastor, Los Altos' tacos al pastor are out of this world: filled to the brim with succulent, mellow chunks of pork leg marinated in an adobo mixture. A taco costs $1; $1.50 if you're silly enough to ask for a flour tortilla. The English menu is careful to advise that chopped onion and cilantro are the traditional toppings on a taco. If you insist on adding cheese, you may, but it'll cost you 50 cents. The restaurant's traditional dishes show off the cooks' ability to use every last portion of an animal: Besides rib-eye (bistec tampiqueño), chorizo or pork loin (lomo), you can try cabeza (head), buche (pork maw), lengua (tongue) or tripas (beef tripe). A plato grande of four meats with salad, beans and rice is said to feed six, for $18. The small $4 birria soup, made with marinated goat, is a rich, tender meal in itself. Los Altos' menu is long, including seafood dishes such as shrimp, tilapia, oysters and ceviche; tortas made with 13 kinds of meat or avocado; the usual chiles rellenos, burritos, enchiladas, flautas, quesadillas and even chimichangas. For dessert there's flan, sopapillas or tres leches cake. Cash only, no bar.
Los Corrales 2244 Junction St., Detroit; 313-849-3196; $: Most everyone knows the strip of Bagley Street where the majority of Mexicantown establishments are concentrated. But real neighborhoods are not defined by a sole commercial district with freeway signs guiding the way. There are dozens of Mexican shops and restaurants scattered about southwest Detroit. Finding a satisfying meal at these places off the beaten path is a thrill. Los Corrales is one of them. The atmosphere is warm and laid-back. Los Corrales offers fare from all over Mexico. You'll find chiles rellenos as well as chimichangas, but an emphasis on seafood dishes such as ceviche. Finish it all off with a horchata.
Moti Mahal 411 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-298-3198; $$: Ullah Abdul has 27 years experience with Northern Indian Cuisine in London, Montreal, Windsor, and metro Detroit. Hamtramck residents may remember him from the Bengal Masala Café on Conant, and his new venture retains many of the specialties he served there, with his emphasis on British preparations that can be hard to find here (such as balti). He is known for affordable prices, heaping portions, artful breads and value buffets. This new endeavor, opened just months ago, is worth a look. Some diners may be disappointed that most of the dishes are labeled "mild"; the kormas are "very mild." Spice levels are easily adjusted, though; just ask. Our waiter offered to go all the way with a tindaloo, not on the menu, "if you want to cry." I sampled a vegetable vindaloo that was indeed "very hot" and a "medium hot" Madras curry that was at my outer limits for still being able to taste the food itself.
Motor City Brewing Works 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700; $$: The homey taproom, into which 50 patrons can squeeze, is a colorful hodgepodge of stained glass windows, tiled walls, wooden beams, blond wood panels, skylights and even a huge steel fermenting tank in the rear. The tiny kitchen behind the bar, dominated by a huge pizza oven, precludes elaborate culinary preparations. The menu of appitezers, soups, salads, pizza and sandwiches is brief. Among the five appetizers ($8-$9), the sampler plate offers a pleasing assortment of Greek olives, warm spiced pecans, sun-dried tomato tapenade, salametti sausage with a sweet mustard sauce on the side, and a choice of cheese of the day with mini baguette. Adhering when possible to a locavore approach, the brewery purchases its cheese from Hirt's. Two welcome recent additions to the dinner bill of fare are an old-fashioned pot of mac and cheese ($8) that is creamy in the middle and crusty around the edges, and a well-seasoned, winter-warming shepherd's pie ($9). But the real strength of the brewery's kitchen is a 10-inch brick-oven pizza, which is a steal at $8-$9. You can construct your own from a large variety of sauces, vegetables, meats, cheese and fruit.
Music Hall Jazz Café 350 Madison Ave., Detroit; 313-887-8500; $$: If "Musick has Charms to soothe a savage Breast" (William Congreve, 1697), food, too, will smooth savage passions or normal grumpiness brought on by hunger pangs. Sandwiches come with big, perfect steak fries. The Cuban is crunchy and filling, with lots of pickle. Appetizers are another way to go, with my favorite being the skewered coconut shrimp: light, crisp, just a tad sweet. Chicken or beef quesadillas are served with a creditable guacamole as well as salsa and sour cream, and Cuban black bean soup, a mix of whole beans and purée, has a vinegar kick. There's only one dinner-type entrée per se on the menu — those same three lamb chops, but less interestingly presented, with rice and green beans — and a couple of desserts. To buy tickets to a Jazz Café show, call Music Hall or see Ticketmaster. Food is served from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on weekends.
My Sisters and Me 17410 E. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-343-0493; $$: Lois Hattaway, who long ago immigated from Pine Hill, Ala., says that her mama had to work when her nine children were young, so they weren't allowed to have friends over. They had to learn to play with each other and get along. Fifty years later, six of the siblings — Annie, Bettie, Lois, Martha, Sadie, and brother Ester — run My Sisters and Me on the east side. They attract big Sunday groups looking for "nourishment for the spiritual and physical body," as the menu explains. The luxury dish is ultra-tender beef short ribs for $11.35, no knife required, swimming in gravy. A half-slab of pork ribs is also tender, but it comes drenched in sauce — no chance to add it to your taste. (There's a roll of paper towels in each booth in case you're not a finger-licker.) Southern-fried pork chops are nice and peppery but, like the catfish, they curl up in the pan. My Sisters and Me does a thriving carryout business, but there's plenty of space to sit down in comfortable booths, with caricatures of the sisters on the wall. It may be the only restaurant in Detroit that's open later during the week than on weekends: 4 p.m. till 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and noon to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Neehee's Indian Vegetarian Street Food 45490 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-737-9777; $: What a kick to discover you can get Indian street food in Michigan! There's no street, of course — this is Michigan, and we try not to populate our streets unless we're in our vehicles. Neehee's is, in fact, selling street food in a strip mall, an irony that seems to bother the multitude of Indian families who flock there not at all. Our reviewer counted 96 dishes for sale at Neehee's, not counting the drinks and house-made ice creams. It's a bewildering array, incorporating street snacks from all over the subcontinent. You could just stick with the familiar samosas, dosas and pakoras, but we advise you to read the big posters around the room that describe the different dishes and their origins, and go from there.
Phat Sammich 34186 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-723-0860; $$: What do Funyuns, soft-shell crabs, bananas and grilled cheese sandwiches have in common? They're all ingredients in one or another of Phat Sammich's 60 selections, a mishmash of retro and stylin'-five-years-ago sandwiches with a decided tilt toward the calories-be-damned. Yes, grilled cheese sandwiches are an ingredient. Open since 2009, Phat Sammich is the brainchild of Jeffrey McArthur, owner of Farmington Hills' Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. It's a small and simple spot with a cheerful staff, an exposed kitchen, counter stools for seating, and everything served in plastic; most business seems to be take-out. These sandwiches are tall.
Saltwater inside MGM Grand Detroit, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1646; $$$: Away from the chiming of the casino floor, Saltwater is an oasis of tranquility. Exceptionally skilled servers — affable and well-informed — take good care of you. And the food is marvelous. The menu was designed by San Francisco chef Michael Mina, whose official title on Saltwater's website is "celebrity chef," and Mina does his best to bring the ocean's delights inland. Starters include shrimp cocktail (which comes with a mix that includes avocado, crème fraîche and lime juice), ahi tartare, New England clam chowder and mussels steamed with fennel and absinthe. The entrées don't disappoint either, and fans of San Franciscan cuisine will enjoy the cioppino, a shellfish stew that's more like seafood with sauce at Saltwater, every bite sublime: giant garlicky shrimp, clams and mussels, salty buttered toast to absorb the spicy broth. Also excellent are the simply grilled swordfish, a lobster pot pie. In addition to the pricey, ambitious wine list, the house-made desserts are delightful, including house-made ice creams that can include such flavors as sour cream, malted milk and roasted banana rum with sea-salt streusel for crunch. Saltwater is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Seva 314 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111; $$: A few steps above the street, the raised patio offers diners a bit of respite from the foot, bike and car traffic criss-crossing downtown Ann Arbor. You can still see it, but when you open the menu, the rest will be put on hold. The eclectic dishes change weekly and range the globe (from Ethiopian to Mexican, Indian to Italian), converting traditional meat-based fare into vegetarian or vegan: Summer favorites include the "Enchilada Calabaza" (a summer squash baked with spicy enchilada sauce on top and cream cheese), a low-fat Thai salad with a peanut-cilantro dressing and gazpacho available only during the season. They also offer a full bar and juice bar, smoothies and cocktails (all juices fresh squeezed, right down to the margarita lime), along with an extensive wine list. But these all-house-made offerings come at a moderate price: the most expensive entrée is just less than $14. Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays; half-priced wine on Tuesdays.
Tallulah 155 S. Bates St., Birmingham; 248-731-7066;$$: This wine bar in Birmingham may be the best in our area. From its cool cream walls and ceilings, whose main decoration is a large mature grape vine from her vineyard, to the first-rate open kitchen to the knowledgeable and efficient servers, to the exciting collection of 150 varietals, this is all one could ask for in the increasingly competitive genre. Aside from a seasonal vegetarian main and one or two specials, the rest of the entrée roster is brief. The most expensive dish on the menu is $24. While oenophiles most likely will opt for the traditional cheese platter to end their gastronomic adventure at Tallulah, the cheesecake and key lime pie, made in-house, are sublime.
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