Aut Bar 315 Braun Court, Ann Arbor; 734-994-3677: In the warmer months, historic Kerrytown's Aut Bar spills out onto a quiet courtyard it has nearly all to itself. Functioning as a restaurant and a bar for 21 years (the second level is 21 and older only), there's a popular Sunday brunch (10-3) and a new Saturday brunch (11-2), and a Friday lunch (11-2). For brunch, Mexican specialties are standouts, including breakfast burritos or huevos motulenos — layers of corn tortilla, eggs, and black beans with ranchero sauce, diced ham, peas and cheese on top. Even simple house omelets get a twist, such as the eatery's take-off from meat-and-cheese in their turkey-and-gouda, which adds onions and tomato to create a fluffy, three-layer omelet. Sunday specials include cobbler on cinnamon French toast and eggs Benedict. The Aut Bar is definitely gay-friendly, catering to the LGBT community and their friends, families and allies.
Blue Nile 545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-547-6699: For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian dining, a big part of the draw is that you get to eat with your hands (steaming washcloths are tendered before and after). At the Blue Nile, you get only two all-you-can-eat choices: four meats and seven vegetables for $18.90, or all-veg for $15.90 (kids younger than 12 eat for half price, or, if they're toddlers, for free). Diners use small pieces of injera to scoop up the food, and the juices soak into the unleavened bread so that the last part of the meal is the tastiest.
Earthen Jar 311 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-327-9464: Featuring vegetarian north Indian food in one big buffet, with dozens of selections. But instead of all-you-can-eat dining, this is dining by the pound — $4.99 a pound, to be exact. After your food is weighed, you can sit down and eat in their casual shop or carry it out. And no tipping means you can get almost a pound of scandalously healthful food for about $5.
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.
Margarita's Mexican Restaurant 27861 Woodward Ave., Berkley; 248-547-5050: Located right smack in the middle of the Woodward corridor suburbs is a Mexican restaurant that would never even dream of pandering to the Chi-Chi's crowd. This is authentic Mexican cuisine that is heavy on the veggies and true to its roots. This place is right under your nose — don't miss it any longer.
Mind Body & Spirits 301 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-3663: Situated at the corner of Main and Third, their newly remodeled building boasts rooftop solar panels, cork flooring, a bar top constructed of reclaimed wood, rain barrels for irrigating their onsite greenhouse and a bio-digester. But all these nifty, earth-friendly measures don't mean a hill of organic beans without tasty food. No worries there. The menu plainly defines the dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free. They also put effort into creating their dishes for simple removal of any items that might be objectionable to the food-conscious or food-sensitive diner. All the food is organic and local if possible. MBS has cultivated relationships with local farmers, such as Maple Creek in Yale, to supply their seasonal produce and even the edibles growing in the luxuriant greenhouse that faces Third Street.
Om Cafe 23136 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-1941: How does a vegetarian restaurant weather almost a quarter of a century? Find out by visiting Om Cafe, where you'll find vegan, vegetarian and macrobiotic choices. And not only does the cafe offer some fish dishes for your flesh eating (or vegetarian-cheating) friends, but all desserts are vegan. Open only 10 (glorious) hours a week, 4-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Red Pepper Deli 116 W. Main St., Northville; 248-773-7672: Before she opened the Red Pepper Deli last September, Carolyn Simon had no idea there were so many raw food enthusiasts around. There are. They make up three-quarters of her clientele, and they instruct her on everything from recipes to the science of raw-foodism. But the way Simon does it, raw dishes are scrumptious. Your own cooking — excuse me, dish preparation — might be improved too if you distributed cashews as generously as she does, in everything from salads to pie crust.
Seva 314 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111: The eclectic specials can change weekly and all offerings range the globe (from Ethiopian to Mexican, Indian to Italian), converting traditional meat-based fare into vegetarian or vegan: Favorites include the "Enchilada Calabaza" (a butternut squash baked with spicy enchilada sauce on top and cream cheese), a low-fat Thai salad with a peanut-cilantro dressing, and for winter they are serving a hearty vegetarian chili. 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.
Sprout House 15233 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe; 313-331-3200: The Sprout House is serious about health and finds nutrition to be key in a long life. A sort of organic grocery, with produce, discount vitamins and health and beauty products, this place does a thriving carryout business in sandwiches and refrigerated prepared dishes from the store's working kitchen. Offering vegan, organic dairy, organic chicken, soy cheese and vegetarian options, the store has preservative-, growth hormone- and antibiotic-free foods. They are as serious about their soups as they are about healthy living. How serious? Serious enough to create an organic, cheesy lima bean corn chowder or a nutty pumpkin miso. Chef-owner Marie Maconochie says, "I think we just come up with different things and people get kind of excited."
Ashley's Restaurant and Pub 338 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-9191: Billed as a "casual pub," you can't get much more relaxed than when you have 65 beers on tap to choose from, plus a long list of bottle beer, and more than 60 single-malt scotches and "small-batch" bourbons. The kitchen is open late because, presumably, you'll need something before you wobble out.
Bates Hamburgers 33406 Five Mile Rd., Livonia, 734-427-3464: This slider stop is a venerable west side institution, with some saying you haven't lived until you've tried one of Bates' "gut bombs." The blandishments are few — just the essentials: salt, pepper, mustard and ketchup — but it doesn't get any more authentic than this. Great for going alone, eating at the counter and rubbing elbows with the people. A winning combo, as this place will have been open 50 years in February.
Big Beaver Tavern 645 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-0066: How does an Italian restaurant get reborn as a sports tavern? Check out what Mark Larco and company have done here. Not only do they have the burgers and fries, they have the sport and fun, including a massive burger that, if you can finish, you get a T-shirt for eating? We're down with that.
Bookies 2208 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-962-0319: Formerly Bookies Tavern on Washington Blvd., the new Bookies offers three levels and a full-service kitchen. On the first level, a stone and granite bar provides a place to watch the game on six hi-definition plamsa TVs. The second floor has a private VIP area and the third has a roof-top deck with its own bar. The kitchen features moderately priced American food such as soups, salads and sandwiches. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m., after which a scaled down version of the menu is available.
Butcher's Inn 1489 Winder St., Detroit; 313-394-0112: Recently reopened by the crew over at Eastern Market's Cutter's, Butcher's Inn has been reborn as a tequila and margarita bar, with sliders, sandwiches and an Eastern Market location tailor-made for tailgating. As with all market spots, call ahead for hours.
Cutter's Bar & Grill 2638 Orleans St., Detroit; 313-393-0960: Good-size burgers for $4.50, or $4.75 with cheese? And they're not stingy on the meat, gigantic and hearty. If you have enough cash you can shoot for higher things: stuffed chicken breasts, baby back ribs or whitefish. Or, you can choose to spend those extra sheckels at their bar; they mix their drinks generously.
Detroiter Bar 655 Beaubien St, Detroit, 313-963-3355: Yes, it's a bar, but it's also a grill worthy of this meat-and-potatoes town. The downtown spot packs 'em in for lunch. Expect solid bar fare, including big salads and a tasty chicken breast sandwich. The staff seems especially proud of their half-pound burger, the "house special," draped with enough meat and cheese to bring tears to a vegan's eyes, including ham, bacon, American and Swiss, served with fries and a mug of beer or a pop. Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily, except Sundays, which vary, but the kitchen does close for a bit, usually between 2 and 3 p.m., and then for the night at midnight.
Dino's 201 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-6458: Next door to Club Bart, Dino's shares much with its neighbor: live music and open mics, sandwiches with just a touch more love than you'd expect, and a long bar that serves up quality cocktails. There's nothing intimidating here, and, if the music catches your fancy, many reasons to stay.
Dublin Fish and Chips 41900 Hayes Rd., Clinton Twp.; 586-416-3474: Hidden in a little strip mall in Clinton Township, guests can enjoy affordable fish meals as well as all things chowdery, including clam cakes, hush puppies and oysters, all bought fresh and prepared when you order.
Duly's Coney Island 5458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit, 313-554-3076: This little southwest Detroit diner seems to have been built when people were a head shorter than they are today. Low-slung stools grace the long lunch counter, with small tables crowded in the back. Open 24 hours, with a fairly lively after-bar crowd, we're still getting used to sneaking around the cook to get to the restroom. Smoking allowed.
Hambo Coney Island 22900 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-414-9400: A cheap stop for a hash brown or a BLT, Hambo's will serve you in a jiffy, even if you arrive during Sunday's busy post-church crowd. Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, until 3 p.m. Sunday.
Janet's Lunch 15033 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Park, 313-331-5776: A place doesn't stay open for 71 years by chance. Founded in 1938, Janet's still serves such diner mainstays as hot beef, hot pork, hot turkey, mashed potatoes, soups made from scratch and homemade pies, including banana cream, apple, cherry and blueberry. There's fish after five every day, all day on Fridays. Great for eating alone, with 27 stools to choose from. Open 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
Lafayette Coney Island 118 W. Lafayette, Detroit, 313-964-8198: Unless you're new to Detroit, you probably already know this place. If not, know this: Service here is fast, affable and loud. Accommodating night crawlers and day stalkers alike, the king of coneys boasts bright lights, long counters and cheap prices.
Mitchell's Fish Market locations in Birmingham and Rochester Hills; see mitchellsfishmarket.com: Mitchell's Fish Market is a member of that new breed of restaurants: the upscale chain. Featuring an ice-filled display case with luscious steaks and bright fillets, the selection of fish varies from day to day. You choose the fish and its style of preparation
Noah's Deli 14500 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, 313-582-8361: Though the spot opened as a deli back in 1936, it was only reincorporated as Noah's in 1977 years. But the offerings are timeless, and Noah's built its reputation on corned beef that's fresh-cut, lean and made on-site. This is your stop in east Dearborn for deli-style sandwiches. In addition to the specialty corned beef ($6.50), there's also ham, salami, roast beef, pastrami and turkey, as well as soups, meatloaf and hot plates, as well as dessert. Pick from their counter's 27 seats. Open 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.
Omega Hawg & Dawg Deli 2100 Hilton Rd., Ferndale, 248-548-5700: This narrow, rectangular building on the northeast corner of Hilton and Cambourne has minimalist diner decor. Coney fare predominates, including burgers, triple-decker sandwiches, salads and a large omelet menu. But expect inventive twists, such as a bag of sliders, "chilly dilly" (chili with all the fixings) and all-day breakfast. With 13 years on the block, this puckishly named eatery has solid fare, reasonable prices, and undeniable staying power. Open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
Sherwood Brewing Co. 45689 Hayes Rd., Shelby Twp.; 586-532-9669: A microbrewery with a full menu of ambitious burgers, pizzas and more, their midday lunch-and-pint specials (11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday) look like a good deal.
Telway Diner 6820 Michigan Ave., Detroit, 313-843-2146: This is the sort of place that looks like it hasn't changed since the late 1960s. The tiny building on Michigan Avenue is frequented by police, late night cabbies and local yokels at its busy take-out window. You'll find no-frills service with a charming gap-toothed smile. Settle in for a bowl of "hillbilly chili" or a classic slider.
Uptown Grille 3100 E. West Maple, Commerce Twp.; 248-960-3344: When you come in, you'll see the café that opens at 6 a.m. where they sell wine and beer, as well as drinks and casual food. After 11 a.m., they open the restaurant, with wine, beer, a full menu of burgers sandwiches and pastas, as well as steaks, fish and desserts.
Zumba 121 N. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-542-1400: Zumba, located right across the street from the Main Art Theatre, serves the film crowd and anyone seeking a fresh, quality meal as well. While the menu boasts just a handful of items, including the elusive "Baja-style" fish taco, all choices are made to order and can be customized multiple ways. Zumba labels vegetarian choices clearly, and diners top their meal from the fresh salsa bar where at least six varieties, ranging from very mild to spicy, are offered. Those dining inside sit at a stainless steel counter where they can enjoy the view of passers-by.
Atlas Global Bistro 3111 Woodward Ave., 313-831-2241: Voted by our readers as the best affordably expensive restaurant (under $50 per diner), Atlas has the vibe of a hip city eatery thanks to its striking interiors, knowledgeable service and international cuisine. In Atlas' quirky kitchen, ingredients don't necessarily remain with their cuisine-of-origin, and the fusion fare can be at once exotic and down-home, mixing it up with lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, caviar and black-eyed peas.
Beverly Hills Grill 31471 Southfield Rd., Beverly Hills; 248-642-2355: For Sunday brunch, be prepared to wait at the bar for as long as a mimosa or two. But once you get your seat, you can choose from a half-dozen scrambles, omelets and frittatas, from the humble vegetable scramble (mushrooms, leeks, tomatoes, spinach and garlic-herb chèvre; can be made with egg whites) to the lobster Cobb omelet (smoked bacon, avocado, tomato, onion and blue cheese). Entering its fourth decade, here's one spot that has weathered more than one recession.
The Breakfast Club 30600 John R, Madison Heights; 248-307-9090: This eatery is proud of its specialty breakfasts, such as crab cakes Florentine or a crab-asparagus omelet with Hollandaise. A vegetarian omelet made with Egg Beaters or egg whites, smoked salmon with capers and cream cheese, as well as about a half-dozen others. They also serve a chocolate-covered strawberry with every check.
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.
Cafe Zola 112 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-769-2020: A bistro in the European tradition: a place for gathering, eating and enjoying coffee, espresso, hand-selected teas, and sweet and savory crepes made fresh, one at a time, and served hot and delicious. Or you can enjoy organic egg omelets, luscious house-made biscotti, Belgian waffles, market-fresh salads and sandwiches, and Turkish-inspired specialties. In true European style, there is outdoor seating on the sidewalk. Open 7 a.m.- 11 p.m., though the kitchen closes for an hour around 4 p.m. to prepare for dinner.
Club Bart 22726 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-8746: Some may be more familiar with the night-time music, but every morning, this bar and grill serves up breakfasts, opening at 9 a.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. weekends. The weekday breakfasts include popular omelets and oatmeal pancakes, but the weekend breakfast choices can get more interesting, including French toast, biscuits and gravy, eggs Benedict, quiches, at least one Mexican-inspired special, and lots of sweet things to choose from.
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.
The Emory 22700 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-8202: Breakfast is served exclusively Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m.-2 p.m. One way to start the day right is with a plate of the Emory's huevos rancheros: two crispy corn tortillas layered with black bean spread, a generous dose of sautéed peppers and onions, eggs sunny-side-up and topped with melted cheddar. On the side are potatoes, baked and then flash-fried crispy on the outside and sprinkled with large chunks of onion and pepper. The other side of the plate is reserved for avocado slices and mandarin orange wedges. Anyway, whatever you get, wash it down with your own personal creation from the well-stocked Bloody Mary bar. Of course, it's more than just breakfast, with a kitchen that stays open until midnight. Try Tuesday's $5 burger-and-fry special, with buns baked right in Royal Oak, high-quality beef, house-made turkey and black-bean patties, and hand-cut French fries made from fresh potatoes.
The Fly Trap 22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150: Chef Gaven McMillian and his partners — wife Kara McMillian and her bro Sean McClanaghan — bought the tiny space that's been home to a diner since 1932. At first, they considered going high-end, but decided to go for a diner. "We're definitely thankful about that now," Kara says. They wanted to preserve the concept of diner food, but with a twist that's both playful and sophisticated. Gaven, a longtime chef formerly at now-defunct Fiddleheads, concocts diner food with a fine-dining finish. "You can't go wrong with that for $8.95," Kara points out. You can get a burger and fries, or bacon and eggs, but after that the menu goes in all sorts of interesting directions. The bill of fare is littered with fun names; it's one big "blunch" menu, with egg and breakfast dishes, sandwiches, Asian-influenced fare, and some generous salads, all with a tweak. Even mac 'n' cheese becomes "macaroni with three cheeses" — a distant cousin to the common version. The little diner that could marks five years on the block this December.
Frittata 236 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-280-2552: Named after a type of omelet, Frittata has creative dishes without the smokers or fried food odors. Their knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff serves frittatas that are off the hook. The roasted wild mushroom frittata is a blend of wild mushrooms with fresh herbs, Gouda cheese and pancetta (Italian bacon) baked in a herb frittata. Every dish here looks camera-ready, and the frittatas are all $7 or $8, though the build-your-own starts at $5. They also have homemade soups, a slew of specials, that can include a turkey frittata, with sweet potato and apple with sage, smoked Gouda, and a homemade demi; apple-walnut pancakes; or hash with prosciutto ham, red-skinned and sweet potatoes, and a sunny-side-up egg. It's also vegetarian-friendly, kid-friendly and handicap-accessible. It's usually not hard to get in weekdays, but on weekends calling ahead for seating is advised. Weather permitting, the outdoor patio is open for folks with pets, and sometimes a DJ will spin light jazz on a Sunday morning.
Gest Omelettes 39560 W. 14 Mile Rd., Commerce Twp.; 248-926-0717: More than 13 years in the omelet game means you're doing something right. Choose from omelets starting at $5.95, such as the Coney Island (dogs and chili), Popeye's Favorite (with spinach) or the Greek-influenced "Opa!" Or select from the create-your-own options of 14 meats, 12 vegetables, seven cheeses and such extras as black olives, chili and shrimp. The rest of their menu is a hoot too: Order the "World War I" plate and get corned beef hash, two eggs and toast for $6.85. Or, for a mere $6.30 you can have a go at the "World War II" plate, with creamed, seasoned ground beef and mushrooms over hash browns, two eggs, two strips of bacon and toast. There's even a "Mexican Revolution" plate for $6.55! Remember: All's fair in love and war. Open 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.
Harvard Grill 16624 Mack Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-882-9090: You can create your own omelet here, piling items on until you've created a 2,000-calorie breakfast bomb. Or, you can choose from the usual omelets. One interesting choice is the Irish omelet, with corned beef (natch), green pepper, onion and Swiss cheese. All omelets come with hash browns and toast.
Louie's Ham & Corned Beef 3570 Riopelle, Detroit; 313-831-1800: This boxy, newish diner on Mack and Orleans (near Eastern Market) has a giant pig on its sign. With a hog as a mascot, it's hardly a surprise they have a lot of pork on the menu. And you'll pay full freight for that pastrami on rye or Canadian bacon. But the breakfasts are a little cheaper. Another bonus: They have a drive-through window.
Original Pancake House 33703 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-642-5775: The quintessential breakfast, served all day, with the titular pancake still supreme and the omelets a close second. Do not confuse this with chain pancake houses. This one makes everything from scratch, and adheres to truth-in-menu honesty. No mixes or ersatz ingredients: real cream, real butter, real maple syrup. Often a wait, but worth it.
Russell Street Deli 2465 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2900: This chattery Eastern Market deli serves breakfast and lunch six days a week to a loyal crowd. The customers are happy because they're eating really good food, and there's something about sharing tables with who-knows-whom that brings out the best in people. Both breakfast and lunch menus offer original combinations of fresh ingredients that make the best veggie sammies to ever set you salivating.
Toast and Toast Birmingham 23144 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-398-0444; 203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278; In Ferndale, it's difficult to make a poor choice when ordering at Toast. The Grand Marnier French toast pairs vanilla-soaked challa bread with toasted almonds and other ingredients perfectly, and the more-than-filling granola banana cakes are made to explode stomachs — in a good way. And the Birmingham spinoff serves great food and wine "with humor in a fun, casual environment." The hostess station is an old white Detroit Liner stove, a 1940s model with legs and drawers. There's a lounge called the Blue Room that's full of candles and sports a stark white deer's head over the fireplace. Serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week, with a menu almost like Ferndale's served till 4 p.m.
Al-Ajami 14633 W. Warren, Dearborn, 313-846-9330, $; Al-Ajami is no worse than, but no better than, a slew of other Middle Eastern restaurants, with uneven quality to its cuisine and cleanliness. So what does Al-Ajami do right? It's definitely inexpensive. Chef and co-owner Stephan Ajami offers 15 seafood dishes. Also good are the chicken lemon, which combines grilled chicken and pilaf with vegetables doused in lemon butter, a terrific chicken rice soup and a good lentil soup. Servings are enormous.
Al-Ameer 12710 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn, 313-582-8185; 27346 Ford Rd., Dearborn Heights, 313-565-9600; Owner Khalil Ameer says with pride that his Lebanese fare isn't Americanized factory food. He has labored to stay true to the Lebanese table, offering fresh bread, serving no pork or liquor, and preparing food that's not overwhelmed by spices and herbs. And the dishes are made to order. Instead of simply ordering a vegetarian platter, diners may choose among vegetarian grape leaves, tomato kibbee, green bean stew, eggplant stew, a "veggie galaba" of rice, mushrooms, carrots, green peppers — and, if you must have it, they'll add more spice. The restaurant in Dearborn, which seats 200, has been open since 1989, and a new, equally commodious location in Dearborn Heights a year and a half ago.
Anita's Kitchen 110 W. Maple, Troy, 248-362-0680, $, A crowded lunch spot for Troy cubicle workers, this friendly café offers good food, reasonable prices and large portions of Middle Eastern and American foods. And, after many successful years of catering to the office crowd, general manager Joe Wegrzyn tells us that, at the end of October, Anita's will make its bid for a more serious dining crowd with a second location in Ferndale, on Woodward south of Nine Mile Road at the former home of the Frostbite ice cream parlor.
Beirut Palace 105 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-399-4600; 2095 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights, 586-795-0424, $; 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, particularly on unseasonably warm fall nights. (They take in their chairs Oct. 15.) 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.
Byblos Cafe & Grill 87 W. Palmer St, Detroit, 313-831-4420, $; Located near Wayne State University, Byblos offers a Lebanese- and Middle Eastern-inspired menu featuring more than 90 dishes. The servers are friendly and helpful, making this an excellent place for those eager to dip their toes into a larger culinary world. While their juices and Lebanese dishes are quite good — the Moujadara sandwich is a particular favorite — they also offer more run-of-the-mill fare like quesadillas, fettucine Alfredo and grape Crush. Their wraps and sandwiches are a bargain and top out at around $5. A wide selection and easy-on-the-wallet prices.
Cedarland Restaurant 13007 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn, 313-582-4849, $$; When the three brothers who own Cedarland converted the large bank building on the corner of Warren and Hartwell into a restaurant, they retained the drive-through window for quick orders. Whether eating in or taking out, the baba is creamy, with a roasted, earthy aroma and just the right bite. You can order it as an appetizer or a side dish. The website currently offers a printable coupon worth a 10 percent discount to a family meal $20 or more.
Elie's Cafe & Fresh Juice Bar 263 Pierce St., Birmingham, 248-647-2420, $$; Elie's menu is supplemented with a sheet of daily specials, but even the standard menu is full of unusual Middle Eastern delicacies and a dozen vegetarian entrées, falafel or veggie combo plate are popular favorites. A favorite for lunch, even though the supply of hot pita loaves can run short.
M&M Cafe 13714 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, 313-581-5775, $: Tender loving care, dished up along with great food, and served in spacious and attractive digs. The menu is a mix of American and Lebanese: hamburgers, chef salad and turkey sandwiches, kafta, hommous and laban. The grilled shrimp is divine; just as good is a garlicky, buttery lemon chicken topped with thinly sliced mushrooms and served with rice pilaf.
Mr. Kabob 3372 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley, 248-545-4000, $: There was a time not long ago when you stopped at a service station for gas and maybe a candy bar. Although most now have morphed into convenience stores offering sandwiches, donuts and slurpies, few if any flaunt the restaurant-quality cuisine turned out at Mr. Kabob, located inside a Sunoco station at the corner of 12 Mile and Coolidge. Most popular is the chicken kebab dinner, with your choice of rice or fries and soup or salad for $10.95.
Phoenicia Restaurant 588 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham, 248-644-3122, $$$; Proprietor Sameer Eid has been serving meticulously prepared Middle Eastern food to the locals since 1970. He knows his way around the kitchen, and gives a more sophisticated spin to the well-known litany of shish kebab, shish kafta, baked kibbee and lamb chops. Seafood is a specialty, including whitefish, Dover sole, grilled salmon, and a fish long known in the Mediterranean but relatively new to the American table: bronzini.
Pita Cafe 25282 Greenfield Rd., Oak Park, 248-968-2225, $$: It's a busy place underneath the pretend grape arbor, because both the familiar (baba, the popular chicken shawarma, roasted vegetables) and the less so (arayis, ghallaba) are excellent. In business since the early 1990s, Pita Café has since expanded into Birmingham and Novi.
Steve's Back Room 19872 Kelly Rd., Harper Woods, 313-527-5047; 24935 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores, 586-774-4545, $$, An east side institution since 1988, the eatery behind the swinging saloon doors of a grocery in Harper Woods is still open for lunch, but owner Steve Kalil has moved the main operation to the booming "Nautical Mile" of St. Clair Shores. The house specials feature what is best about Middle Eastern food: the sprightly flavors of lemon, garlic, parsley and olive oil, vegetables used in inventive ways, meat as a minor player. Desserts are standouts.
Yossi's Israeli Cuisine 7325 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield, 248-626-0160, $$; At Yossi's, much of the menu is similar to what you might find in an Arabic restaurant — kebabs, hummus, shwarma, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, fattoush — but with differences that are both subtle and substantial. Dishes with the same names may be seasoned differently or prepared differently. Israeli cuisine also incorporates influences from Morocco, with its emphasis on spices and slow cooking. All appetizers are vegetarian, as are four entrées. Coming on the heels of Sukkoth, wander in for a taste of the harvest.
upscale & romantic
24grille 204 Michigan Ave., 313-964-3821: Though it shares the Book-Cadillac hotel with the open and airy Roast, stepping through the wooden double doors of 24grille means entering its darker, sexier sister. This urban oasis is decked out in leather and wood tones of beige and brown, a more intimate setting sporting a designer's touch, with cushioned stools and benches and wine glasses frosted with the restaurant's logo, all set off with low-key lighting from creative fixtures.
Antonio's in the Park 15117 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park, 313-821-2433: This romantic little Italian restaurant has all the Old World charm of a courtyard café in Rome. The menu has handmade pastas, thick and rich soups and to-die-for specials. The atmosphere, suggested by candlelight and colorful tapestries, is so relaxing that slow service would seem like a gift.
Assaggi 330 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, 248-584-3499: Assaggi's Mediterranean dishes include wood-fired pizza, antipasti, sea bass and sea scallops with hand-rolled pasta. A full wine list and a full bar are available to accompany your lunch or dinner. Known for its seasonal dishes, this month's fall menu will incorporate butternut squashes, risottos and richer, more comforting sauces. Half-entrée orders offer a slightly more inexpensive meal, but with all the flavor intact.
Big Fish Seafood 700 Town Center, Dearborn; 313-336-6350: A Chuck Muer Restaurant, Big Fish responds to the need for "high quality, moderately priced, casual seafood." It has two open dining rooms, an outdoor patio and what may be the largest cocktail bar in town.
Bistro Bordeau 3315 Auburn Rd., Auburn Hills, 248-852-3410, $$; Executive chef Kipp Bourdeau cooks up innovative bistro-style cuisine, including dishes such as crab- and Asiago-crusted whitefish with sautéed spinach, as well as rare-seared ahi tuna with side of seaweed salad and a vegetable spring roll. The decor is inviting, and the circle-in-a-square dining room offers many opportunities for privacy. Smoking in the bar area only. Want a testimonial? Server Becky Sorgen says, "We have great food."
Café Felix 204 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, 734-662-8650: Authentic European-style café, serving pastries, breads and cakes baked fresh on-site, as well as European wines, beers and liquors. They serve a full breakfast, omelets, crepes, soups, salads and tapas. No smoking. Handicap accessible.
Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543: Stepping into the newly restored art deco live jazz bar with an even more recently opened kitchen is to arrive in another era. Before the stage, the main area is separated into two spaces: One with round, candle-lit tables, the other, a stunning curved bar. All this sits below massive barrel-vaulted ceilings. All this ambience comes from pricey restoration work done in 2006 to make today's Cliff Bell's look like the Cliff Bell's of 1935. That and the way they mix a cocktail. Neither cheap nor fast, mixed drinks are crafted old-school, more for taste than ease of production. With everything from a standard fillet of beef tenderloin to cassoulet, the French-inspired eclectic food menu speaks for itself. Try the duck confit on a buttermilk biscuit with cranberry jam for a small plate reduction of Thanksgiving dinner. Hedonists will go for a chunk of tender braised pork belly (otherwise known as bacon when cured and smoked) that comes plated with a rich, spicy sweet cider sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and a pinch of cracklings for good measure.
Coach Insignia 200 Renaissance Center, 62 Floor, Detroit, 313-567-2622, $$$ This eclectic chophouse is the United States' second-highest restaurant and is located at the top of the GM Global Renaissance Center. Coach Insignia features incomparable food, great service and a world-class wine list to accompany a panoramic view of Detroit and our Canadian neighbors. Handicap accessible; dress code: no jeans.
Cuisine 670 Lothrop St., 313-872-5110: Nestled along a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stretch of Lothrop Street, just uptown from the gargantuan 1920s buildings of New Center, sits one of Detroit's most unusual fine-dining establishments, chef Paul Grosz's Cuisine. Housed in an original Detroit dwelling, walking up into the anteroom of the former home takes you into an intimate experience, where early 20th century parlors, paneled with wood and stucco, have been turned into dining areas. Grosz's reputation for chatting with diners means the kitchen knows better what to do.
Detroit Fish Market 1435 Randolph St., 313-963-3003: The newest addition to the Frank Taylor dining empire fills a gap left by Joe Muer's departure from the downtown dining scene, an eatery specializing in the fruit of the sea. And it's a doozy of a location, set in old Harmonie Park, one of the last remaining oases of Augustus Woodward's 1806 city plan. Retooled and remodeled as an urban upscale eatery trading off the fame of Paradise Valley, the wood-paneled interior is decorated with fanciful murals depicting the creatures of the sea. And no place is more intimate than in the half-dozen private booths, each encased in its own partition of wood and blue curtain.
The Fondue Room 82 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens; 586-463-8568: Here private cozy booths provide the ultimate romantic secluded atmosphere — and dipping succulent strawberries in rich Swiss chocolate ain't all bad either! Serving a wide array of savory dishes, desserts and wines, the Fondue Room also educates its servers to act as skilled fondue trainers — to ensure your fondue doesn't end up a "fon-don't." Open 3-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m. Friday and 4-11 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
Giovanni's 330 S. Oakwood Blvd., Detroit, 313-841-0122: The 2002 winner of our Best Where You'd Least Expect It award, Giovanni's could get your date wondering why you're driving toward the Rouge Complex. But, once you get inside, all will be clear: The stunning old spot brims with carved woodwork in the dining room and stainless steel in the kitchen. The restaurant's different rooms are adorned with family photos and heirlooms. The "Godfather Room" has a fireplace and charming old furniture. The "Wine Room" has a custom-forged gate that took nine months to make and is decorated with grapes that look ready for picking. And that's not to mention the "Speakeasy Room" in back, or the marble-clad restrooms. And the food needs no improvement, all homemade, including thin gourmet pizzas, eggplant Parmesan, capoletti soup, pasta fazul and calamari steak. Then there's the lasagna, made without ricotta, which features 16 layers of pasta. And all the restaurant's pastas are homemade by 84-year-old Irma Morri and her staff, including the light angel hair linguine, gnocci. For dessert, try the homemade tiramisu of cannollis. Everything is made to order, and nothing is ever kept in a steam table or on a shelf. Co-owner Fran Cannarsa Truant is proud of the restaurant's famous clientele, which has included Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Red Skelton, Paul Newman, John Travolta and, now, maybe you.
Iridescence 2901 Grand River Ave., inside the Motor City Casino; 877-777-0711: High atop the hotel tower, Iridescence has a winning team that has given it quite a buzz. And they have recently welcomed new chef de cuisine, Derik Watson, who used to work with Iridescence's executive chef Don Yamauchi at Tribute in Farmington Hills. Look for his dishes on the new fall menu.
Mario's 4222 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-832-1616: It's been more than 60 years since Mario Lelli opened this inviting Italian spot. Just down the street from the Hilberry Theatre, generations of theatergoers have enjoyed multi-course meals here. This is exactly the kind of place people think of when they think Italian restaurant. All the favorites from veal Tosca and spaghetti Bolognese to shrimp scampi and chicken cacciatore are served by a competent waitstaff in a series of rooms. Get everything from the humble chicken mariata soup ($4.50) to the mammoth chateaubriand for two ($65).
Mon Jin Lau 1515 E. Maple, Troy, 248-689-2332, $$$; Sophisticated but casual chic Asian-Deco decor. New Asian cuisine, combining the taste of Asia with preparations artfully presented. Great ambience for gourmet Chinese food, with a lively bar for drinks or sushi, as well as cool music and lighting. The Chinese stuffed eggplant is an appetizer big enough for two. Lunch Monday through Friday; dinner seven nights including late night dining.
Mosaic 501 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-9366: When Greektown goes global, prepare to be dazzled. And it's not all porcini-mushroom-dusted scallops with Asiago potato croquettes, spinach confit, tomatoes and white truffle oil. The feast is as much for the eyes as the mouth at Mosaic, and all of it is drawn from a hip new generation.
Opus One 565 E. Larned St., Detroit; 313-961-7766: When Tim Kokas opened Opus One in 1987, plenty of observers scoffed that a four-star restaurant tucked away on Larned Street wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't fly. But Kokas was no stranger to the business, as his family ran the long-lost Chambertin restaurant in Dearborn. But unlike his parents' suburban establishment, he felt that an upscale, luxurious eatery — with a wine list to match its high-toned trimmings — would be a smart gamble. For 22 years, he's been proving the doubters wrong.
Rattlesnake Club 300 River Place Dr., Detroit; 313-567-4400: There's a reason this place has been selected by our critics year after year as the Best River View: Lots of other spots have pleasant water views, but none can match the fine-dining experience of the Rattlesnake Club. For decades, Jimmy Schmidt, the respected doyen of local chefs, has presided over one of the most creative kitchens in town. It's often where the city's movers and shakers cut deals over the restaurant's padded white tablecloths. The settings are just as elegant as the decoration. In fact, it's hard to tell where the art stops and the cutlery begins, with art deco salt and pepper shakers, real crystal, and Bernadotte china. It's enough to make the waitstaff flinch whenever something shatters. One newer addition is the outdoor pergola, with a shaded, garden feel and smooth jazz piped in.
Roast 1128 Washington Ave., 313-442-1600: After a $200 million renovation, the freshly scrubbed, historic facade of the Book-Cadillac contains this up-to-the-minute establishment. Unlike the 1920s flourishes on the hotel, Michael Symon's Roast is decked out in modern style. But it's a laid-back sort of elegance, relatively minimalist, with slabs of marble, granite and tile, leather-padded columns and sharkskin-style tile mosaics. The casual vibe extends to the service, with smartly dressed diners disarmed by the denim-and-dress-shirt servers who keep things down-to-earth. Restrained lighting, white linens and floor-to-ceiling windows pervade both rooms. Oozing from the sound system are chill-out lounge beats at just the right volume. And that food? The kitchen does the meat right, aging everything at least 21 days, and lavishing just as much attention on the poultry. Even better, Detroit's dean of the classic cocktail, Eric Welsh, is their new bartender.
Seldom Blues 400 Renaissance Center, Detroit; 313-567-7301: Seldom Blues' concept is that of a sophisticated jazz supper club on the river, with handsome views. Celebrity owners — restaurateur Frank Taylor, jazz flutist Alexander Zonjic, "executive concept chef" Jerry Nottage and retired Detroit Lion Robert Porcher III — add to the cachet. If you've had their short ribs served off the bone, you know how the fat really can melt in the mouth. The meat from their kitchen gives up the essence of beef with the creamy taste and feel of lots and lots of fat. And there's a lot of meat, including steak Porcher, rack of lamb, classic chateaubriand and butterflied pork chops, alongside the surf: blueberry-glazed blue-b-que bass, ahi tuna and bronzed salmon.
SaltWater 1777 Third St., inside the MGM Grand Casino; 877-888-2121: When it comes to beyond-the-pale interior decorating, Michael Mina's opulent seafood restaurant is the catch of the day. Though the surf they serve will tickle your sea-tooth, the elegant space celebrates all things aquatic with equal creativity. The wow-factor is in the way they work the motif of water into every conceivable surface. It's in the cobalt-blue accents at the bar or on the great folding doors to the private dining rooms. The entire restaurant is screened off by glass, sort of like it's one giant aquarium. What's more, against the wall are sculptural reliefs of ripples spreading out across the surface of water; they're hit with dramatic key lights that really make them pop. And their menu is equally dazzling.
The Whitney 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 313-832-5700: Detroit's showplace mansion restaurant, the Whitney used to cater to an older, chamber-music-loving crowd, but it has now made a bid for more casual, younger diners, with happy hours (Tuesday-Friday), shuttle services, DJs, live music, casual garden menus and patio parties, and its quirky Ghost Bar, trading off the building's haunted reputation. And the menu seems just as ambitious as the building, offering entrée choices including pork, salmon, duck, chicken, lamb, risotto, sea scallops, rib-eye and cioppino.
Wolfgang Puck Grille 1777 Third St., inside the MGM Grand Casino; 877-888-2121: Detroit's casino dining vaults over the top when it comes to interior design. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's entry is fairly restrained by those standards, open and spacious, with the usual gazillion accent lights playing upon its surfaces. But there's a sleight of hand in that restraint, with playful design gags that reward the attentive. The fire also comes in flashes from the kitchen, visible through windows, where they prepare the innovative, seasonal, organic cuisine Puck has helped popularize. But if you'd rather get away from the bells and whistles (and the subdued chiming of the casino floor), the partitioned dining booths offer a bit more seclusion, with massive fabric lampshades that resemble, of course, open blossoms.
Gaucho Brazilian Steak House 39550 W. Seven Mile Rd., Northville; 248-380-7770: The rooms gleam with Brazilian cherry wood and the brilliant white gaucho shirts of the staff at this authentic Rodizio restaurant owned and operated by Brazilians. Eliane Carvalho Coelho Turner and her partner, Neto Fernandez, have brought a real touch of Rio to the free-standing building. It is a fixed price system where an array of 15 different cuts of fire-roasted meats, from filet mignon to lamb chops, are brought to the tables on long skewers, one after the other, until diners call a halt. A salad bar offers 40-plus well-prepared relishes, salads, pastas, soups, risottos, cheeses, and side dishes of black beans and rice.
The Hill Seafood & Chop House 123 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Farms, 313-886-8101: Many of the Hill's "signature dishes" cater to a Reagan-era notion of good eating — surf and turf, lots of blue cheese and bacon in the house salad. Seafood is a strong point: The swordfish is tall and terrific and the calamari appetizer is out of the ordinary. Desserts are quintessentially American: The molten lava cake has a luscious liquid chocolate center. The steaks are the usual cuts — filet mignon, New York strip (prime) and porterhouse — and all are certified Angus beef, char-grilled and prepared to spec. And the preparations aren't just mash and veg anymore, chef de cuisine Matt Couri says they've stepped up their game a great deal. The strip is available au poivre. And there's also a light-dining menu priced in the teens and happy-hour burger deals to keep 'em coming in.
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.
Moe's on Ten Seafood Grill 39455 W. 10 Mile Rd., Novi, 248-478-9742: At Moe's, your friends can have the surf, but you still get your turf. For them: lemon sole that's lightly breaded and served with a lemony sauce flavored with dill and scattered with capers, seasonally available Chilean sea bass with green tomato salsa, halibut with mango chutney, and salmon with hearts of palm salsa. For meat-lovers: a New York strip sautéed with mushrooms, scallions and herb butter, and a filet mignon heaped with sautéed mushrooms and onions and a demi-glace sauce, as well as French-cut pork chops. And Moe's also serves such popular Michigan fish as lake perch, whitefish and walleye, for those who want to keep it local.
Morton's of Chicago 888 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-404-9845: No cheap steaks are served here. The Morton's chain specializes in serving only the very best quality, aged, prime quality cuts of beef. They're so serious that a presentation cart of raw meat and fish comes to each table so diners may preview their porterhouse, double filet mignon or live lobster before actually ordering it. Everything is big enough to split. Since the menu is a la carte and expensive, it's far from a bad idea.
No. VI Chop House 27790 Novi Rd., Novi, 248-305-5210, $$$, As plush a steak and seafood house as can be found in the area, this one offers top-of-the-line fare in a darkly sophisticated setting. All of the meats are prime, from the filet mignon to the veal chop. Expect to plunk down good money for fine meat, and it can be topped with bleu cheese glaçage, foie gras, carmelized onions, portobellos with shallot madeira or a morel mushroom sauce. Steaks are broiled at 1,700 degrees to sear in flavor. The remodeled bar now has plasma TVs and is cigar friendly.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse 755 W. Big Beaver, Troy, 248-269-8424, $$$, The clubhouse-like dining room has a golf theme, lots of wood and brass, and white linen swathed tables. Steaks, ranging from a small filet mignon to a huge porterhouse (for two), come to the tables on platters sizzling with butter, hinting at the New Orleans origins of the now-international chain of very good steakhouses. Extras are all a la carte.
Shiraz 30100 Telegraph, Bingham Farms, 248-645-5289, $$$, Diners will find steaks of one grade only — prime, the most expensive and fattiest — plus beef in other forms, like short ribs, veal chops and calf's liver. You can even get duck, or a "surf and turf" consisting of a 7 oz. fillet and lobster tail. Steaks come with a choice of sauces: port wine veal essence, béarnaise, morel, horseradish cream or Detroit zip. The hearty port sauce complements the flavorful steak perfectly.
Sindbads at the River 100 St. Clair Ave., Detroit; 313-822-8000: Before the roadhouse-style restaurants started springing up this decade, Sindbads had long served roadhouse fare. Opened in 1949, this multilevel restaurant has a great view of the Detroit River. There's an emphasis on steaks, chops and especially seafood. Try their fresh-made beer batter. Seafood appetizers include Snug Harbor mussels or Campeche Bay shrimp, and New England clam chowder. Steaks include a 16 oz., certified Angus beef center cut New York strip, a choice 8 oz. center cut filet mignon with zip sauce and the "Coxswain's Striker," a choice 9-ounce Delmonico steak. Or come for cheaper versions at lunchtime.
around the world
Buca di Beppo 12575 Hall Rd., Utica, 586-803-9463: Thousands of people love this place, a fast-growing chain that attempts to re-create the Southern Italian immigrant experience of the 1950s. The surprising thing is that the food is really good — not to mention cheap. The tiramisu is dense and superior, and the wine list has Chianti in a basket.
Cafe Nini Da Edoardo 98 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Farms, 313-308-3120, $: The Barbieri family is attempting to re-create an Italian café in Grosse Pointe with Café Nini, the latest restaurant to bear the name Da Edoardo. They have Mokarabia coffee, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma and mortadella with pistachios — all that's lacking is a glass of wine to sip with the panini.
Cariera's 6565 Telegraph Rd., Dearborn Heights, 313-278-4060, $$: Charming little Italian restaurant with authentic Italian cuisine. Portions are big enough for two. In two cozy rooms, with bare wooden tables and thick cloth napkins and walls full of family photographs and wine and oil bottles, Cariera's turns out a familiar array of old-fashioned classics.
Crust Pizza & Wine Bar 2595 Rochester Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-844-8899; 6622 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Plaza, Bloomfield Township; 248-855-5855; $$: The flavors at Crust are a revelation — not to mention the wines chosen to go along with them. Lots of people pick up a pizza after work, and maybe a six-pack. For not a lot more money, you can have more fun at Crust, where the "Naples classics" attest to the Neapolitan way of thinking, where crust is supreme.
Giulio's Cucina Italiana 31735 Plymouth Rd., Livonia, 734-427-9500, $$: The pizza is great, at least the "al pesto" variety. In fact, if you're seeking a good pizza pie, the fare here is much tastier than hitting the local chain, and far cheaper. Giulio's also offers four veal dishes — the usual three (Marsala, piccata, saltimbocca) plus a braised veal roast.
Inyo 22871 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-543-9500: With a wide-ranging menu, striking presentations and quality cocktails, Inyo has sparked a buzz in Ferndale's dining scene. The dishes have not just flavor, but pleasing texture contrasts within a dish. Take the cold appetizer maguro yookwhe: Strips of raw, lean tuna are deepened by a quail-egg topping and served with crunchy sliced Asian pear and a spicy dipping sauce. The hot side of the appetizer menu has everything from unagi (freshwater eel) and avocado rolled in a French crepe to Hong Kong-style spare ribs. Space sports oversized, wraparound booths and a granite horseshoe bar, with a soundtrack of easygoing nu-disco and downbeat lounge tunes. Excellent specialty cocktails.
Irie 45580 Cherry Hill Rd., Canton; 734-844-8892: The menu showcases seafood, of course, alongside jerk chicken and curried goat. But it's also the homey side dishes that make Irie worth a trek. To try them, the appetizer sampler platter is positively the way to go. It comes with a mango-coconut-pineapple dipping sauce and well-browned but tender crab cakes, jerk wings, fried plantains, coconut-flavored shrimp that are crunchy and sweet, and, best of all, codfish fritters. Don't be afraid of goat, which in Irie's curry is spicy, not goaty, and more like an island beef stew than anything else. Sides include rice and peas cooked in coconut milk; fried dumplings, which taste like a hard version of biscuits; and festivals, which are dumplings too, but with cornmeal. And the desserts are sublime.
Kona Grill 30 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-619-9060: For a taste of Hawaiian cuisine, which, as on the Big Island itself, is more accurately described as pan-Asian, Kona offers moderately priced fare in an attractive dining environment. Choices range from sushi, noodles and pizza to beef and seafood, featuring ahi, Maui onions, and macadamia nuts as a genuflection to the islands' culinary culture. Most of their mains cost less than $20, with the "signature dish" being macadamia chicken combined with a soy-based shoyu-cream sauce and adorned with pineapple-papaya marmalade, accompanied by a huge mound of mashed potatoes dotted with white cheddar and wok-tossed vegetables. The small and versatile wine list has some decent buys in the 20s and 30s.
Little Italy Ristorante 227 Hutton Rd., Northville, 248-348-0575, $$, The food at Little Italy is splendid – standouts include calamari fritti and the eggplant appetizer, delicious sauces, and an exquisite raspberry sorbet-and-chocolate dessert called "Amore." These thoughtfully prepared dishes are expertly served in a narrow, old, frame house, now expanded to include a bar.
Los Galanes 3362 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-554-4444: In addition to the expected enchiladas, tacos and burritos, such dishes as roasted baby goat, caldo de res (hearty beef and vegetable soup) and swordfish fajitas will please those who want to avoid the emphasis on tortillas. Outdoor seating on the side street offers great people watching and a chill from all the hot salsa.
Luigi's 104 Macomb St., Mount Clemens, 586-468-7200, $$: Luigi's picks tradition over trendy any day: no experiments, only the tried-and-true. Pasta, fish, chicken, veal, lamb, beef — nary a disappointment among them. Angel hair pasta primavera is a winner, and pizza is elevated to gourmet status, such as the five-cheese gooey dream.
Maria's Comida 11411 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-733-8406: Family-owned and -operated, Maria's won Best New Restaurant from Metro Times readers, and Maria's Mexican cooking has really filled a void in Hamtramck, adding a bit of diversity to that already-diverse town.
Maria's Front Room 215 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-7379: Maria's anchored Ferndale's restaurant scene for more than a decade. Then, after memorable owner Joan Orlando died in 2004, the restaurant remained open until April of 2008. Its longevity had a lot to do with the fact that little had changed over the years. David Brown reopened the cozy trattoria in October 2008, and even purchased Maria's old recipes. He did, however, do considerable redecorating. The place does look more sophisticated now, and Brown slashed the previously low prices by about 25 percent so that entrées now average around $14. The food includes old classics and some new lighter fare. Moreover, Brown scored a full liquor license from Ferndale's city fathers, and now boasts a serviceable list with most bottles under $30.
Mario's Restaurant 4222 Second Ave., Detroit, 313-832-1616, $$$, It's been 60 years since Mario Lelli opened this inviting Italian spot. Just down the street from the Hilberry Theatre, generations of theatergoers have enjoyed multicourse meals here. This is exactly the kind of place people think of when they think Italian restaurant. All the favorites from veal Tosca and spaghetti Bolognese to shrimp scampi and chicken cacciatore are served by a competent waitstaff in a series of rooms. Get everything from the humble chicken mariata soup ($4.50) to the mammoth chateaubriand for two ($65).
Mezzaluna 7750 E. Metro Parkway, Sterling Heights, 586-268-7100, $$, Offering classic Italian fare in elegant surroundings, Mezzaluna's mains on the menu include fresh pastas such as baci pappalina and several gnocchis that do resemble a traditional tutto mare. Most of the seafood is flown in from Boston's fabled Foley's, and milk-fed veal is another specialty.
Mezza Mediterranean Grille with locations in Orchard Lake, Southfield, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak; 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. Looks like you can throw a rock and hit the nearest location, too.
Nami Sushi 201 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-6458: You might never guess it from glancing at the expanse of glass facing Nine Mile Road, but, inside, Nami possesses a chill and cozy atmosphere. Narrow as the storefront restaurant is, its bar runs quite a ways, making it an ideal place to watch the show put on by expert sushi chefs. Nami's strength lies not in authenticity, but in the breadth of its offerings, running the gamut from the everyday creamy California rolls to dessert rolls featuring chocolate and lemon. Check out the new chicken lettuce wraps, tempura shrimp appetizers, and a brand new wine list.
Panini Press 28983 Woodward Ave., Berkley; 248-547-7377: Opened this July in a storefront in a strip mall on Woodward Avenue just south of Twelve Mile Road, the owners take pride in the fact that virtually every product utilized in the creation of meals is of local origin. And the large panini sandwiches come white or multi-grain bread, roll-up wraps and even, somewhat incongruously, lettuce wraps for patrons concerned about the calories. For a slight extra charge, those with celiac disease and related afflictions can order a gluten-free panini.
Priya 36600 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills; 248-615-7700; 72 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-269-0100: Specializing in south Indian as well as north Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine. Lunch buffet 7 days a week with wide variety of fresh selections, exotic drinks, and desserts always available. Catering for all kinds of parties and carryout available.
Quattro Cucina Italiana 201 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-593-6060: The newest addition to Birmingham's dining scene, this elegant Italian restaurant's lush interior provides an elegant setting for the Mediterranean delights of its kitchen.
Rice Bowl Asian Kitchen 333 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-963-3200; 3031 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; 313-871-7000; 7930 W. Outer Dr., Detroit; 313-533-5353: It's called Asian, but it's really a little mini-chain of Chinese joints, quick and inexpensive, with online ordering too.
Ristorante Cafe Cortina 30715 W. 10 Mile, Farmington Hills, 248-474-3033, $$$: Perhaps because of its somewhat off-the-beaten-track location, or maybe because the price structure has been higher than most other comparable restaurants, this place has never gotten much notice beyond its hardcore fans. The fresh pastas and veals, however, are the real thing and the setting — which aims for elegance — does help. If you like the sauces, they're bottled for sale, and they've added cherry wood to the indoor décor and an outdoor Tuscan patio to perhaps enjoy on a warm fall day.
Senor Lopez Taqueria 7144 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-551-0685: Before you sit down to eat, you'll notice that someone with an eye for design has been at work for Señor Rafael López. His walls are a sunny, warm coral, and the oblong room is lined with framed mirrors. Black, lattice-back chairs are spare and classy. Utensils come wrapped in a black paper napkin ring decorated with bright peppers. And the food won't disappoint either.
Supino Pizzeria 2457 Russell St., Detroit, 313-567-7879, $$, Serving brilliant thin-crust pizza with imaginative fresh ingredients — even an egg — with a delectable thin crust that's not too chewy. They serve five red pizzas and six white, meaning no tomato sauce; almost all are made with traditional ingredients, no pineapple, no taco fixings. The red sauce is supremely simple, nothing much besides some fresh-tasting though canned crushed tomatoes. The