Travelers are discovering that a passion for food permeates every crevice of this vibrant college town. Whether you’re visiting for a game at the University of Michigan’s “Big House” (the largest stadium in the United States) or to acquire a unique piece from the award winning Ann Arbor Art Fair, it’s time to explore and satisfy your appetite at this flavorful Northern destination.
From small plates to cocktails, this Midwest culinary hub is garnering considerable admiration from celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali and Takashi Yagihashi. In fact, Chef Yagihashi opened a second location of Slurping Turtle, his acclaimed Chicago restaurant, just a few blocks from the University of Michigan’s central campus. What makes Ann Arbor so appealing to chefs and foodies alike? It’s a combination of small-town charm with a big-city passion for eclectic culinary discovery.
One of the largest contributors to the area’s epicurean culture is Zingerman’s. This gastro-juggernaut, founded by Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, first opened its Delicatessen in 1982. Over the next 30 years, Zingerman’s has expanded to nine specialty food-focused businesses including Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Bakehouse, Coffee Company, Creamery, and more.
Honored by Alton Brown and Food Network Magazine for having the best Mac and Cheese in America, Zingerman’s Roadhouse elevates the standards of traditional Americana comfort foods. Chef Alex Young, managing partner and James Beard Award winner, is passionate about serving traditionally-made American food from the best sources—many of which arrive daily directly from Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in nearby Dexter.
In Ann Arbor’s Main Street area (the one Bob Seger paid tribute to), visitors will find very few chain restaurants. Instead, local establishments line the streets, each one showcasing the specific talents of its chef. One such location is Frita Batidos – a Cuban-inspired street food paradise featuring burgers inspired by traditional Cuban fare and tropical Cuban milkshakes. National Geographic said, “If there’s one restaurant you won’t want to miss, it’s Frita Batidos, a Cuban restaurant in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. The standout culinary experience.” And, it’s a top value culinary getaway, with menu options between $8 and $15.
One of the newest arrivals to the Ann Arbor restaurant scene is Aventura, offering Spanish tapas, a variety of paellas, hand crafted cocktails with house made tonic, and a Spanish wine menu with something for everyone. Aventura is just the latest enterprise from restaurateur Sava Lelcaj, CEO of Savco Hospitality Inc. and 2013 recipient of Crain’s Detroit Business “40 under 40” award. In addition to Aventura, Savco operates Babo Market (a locally focused grocery in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor), and Sava’s State Street Café. Any of these ventures are worth checking out when in town.
If you’re looking for the perfect setting for a cocktail, check out The Last Word which delivers a speakeasy ambiance with its unmarked entrance and dark, eclectic décor. Here you can choose from a variety of classic cocktails prepared by bartender Giancarlo Aversa who competed against 14 other bartenders in the 2014 National Bartending Finals in New York City. The Last Word also offers a variety of small bites if you’re looking for something to complement your beverages, including a trio of upscale French fries seasoned with sea salt, paprika, and fennel pollen.
Flavors abound in this friendly, walkable city. In between meals, there are a number of museums, shops, and other attractions to explore. But guaranteed—when your friends and family ask about your visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the vibrant food scene will garner praise above all else!