Still haven't found what I'm looking for

While I talk about DC area restaurants and food joints quite often, that doesn't mean that I've forgotten about the places I enjoyed in my old home town of Ann Arbor for the previous 14 years. So here I will tell not the top places in Ann Arbor, but more importantly, the top places in Ann Arbor that I have yet to replace in DC. While DC is loaded with restaurants of all ranks and genres, sometimes it’s still lacking that slight culture of uniquity that Ann Arbor is known and loved for. I should just be careful not to make myself too hungry or too nostalgic, or I might just have to extend our Thanksgiving return to Michigan next week.

No particular order, (except number one)!

9. Saica: Saica is an awesome little sushi joint in Ann Arbor, just off of North Campus of the University of Michigan on Plymouth Road. I frequented this place at least once a month since 2003, either with Julia or other roommates or friends. It is casual, open seating, very unpretentious and high quality. Above all, it's high value. I am so sick of sushi places in DC, a great one I have still yet to find, that is not entirely overpriced. Pair that with a lack of creativity to make up for the high prices, and I yearn for my far less expensive Saica classics like the Spicy Shrimp Roll, Chicken Teriyaki Roll, the most crispy, delectable shrimp tempura roll I have ever had, great tuna and whitefish Nigiri, a super spicy sashimi-rice bowl (hae dup bop), Julia's favorite rich, goma dressing over a crispy tofu salad, their over-the-top bento box. The list goes on. It's like Japanese comfort food, and I do miss it.

8. Mr. Spots: Best wings out there that I've tried. They have the reputation as being the best and lived up to it each and every time during my three years of Mr. Spot’s patronage. The little dive on State Street just past Hill in Ann Arbor employs some of the rudest individuals that I have ever encountered in the service industry. That didn't matter because these are not people you are tipping. They know how to make Buffalo wings, plain and simple. Crispy and meaty wings, the perfect amount of addictively flavorful, Buffalo spicy sauce. Plenty of chunky bleu cheese dressing (unless you get a really really rude employee and then they give you one tiny little cup of dressing). Many a cold winters night after an economics exam I would treat myself to a dozen wings, and they never disappointed. In DC all the wings I have had so far have tried to do too much – be too fancy, too sweet, too sticky, too spicy, or sometimes just too bland. I think I'll find some wings to rival Spots someday, but until then I'll just try to score some when I'm in A2.

7. Zingerman's: Best deli in the country (and yes I have been to many New York delis); best specialty food store I have been to as well. Located at the corner of Detroit and Kingsley Streets, Zingerman's has a reputation beyond compare and it is a singular draw in Ann Arbor for many. Its sandwiches are unique, fresh and loaded, and are complemented by two whole buildings filled with house made breads, cheese, gelatos and pastries; house cured meats and olives; a pantheon of rare olive oils, vinegars, mustards, sauces, spices and other specialty goodies. The dill pickles alone with their emphasis on the dill and the garlic and the salt and not on the vinegar (re: jarred dill pickles) are unrivaled by ant. I have tried about 25 different pickles in DC and none have even come remotely close to Zing's. I have tried a bunch of deli sandwiches here too and none yet have been awful, but none have had the love that Zingerman's packs into their sandwiches, which make them the best. At a DC or NY deli, if you order pastrami or ham or whatever, they slap a heaping portion between two slices of rye bread and “badda-bing.” Nice sandwich, no love. At Zingerman's, you might end up with Jimmy Wants Rosemary's Baby, piles of thin sliced country ham with house made fresh mozzarella and tomato slices, with a beautiful combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar from their stores, all between two thick slices of house made sesame semolina bread. Makes my mouth water. But hey, you want that corned beef on rye or the turkey Reuben at Zingerman’s? They've got you covered. And still manage to pack in the love.

6. Shalimar: It's not that Shalimar (Main Street near Liberty in Ann Arbor) is the best Indian food out there, and certainly is not the cheapest. It's that I have not had the opportunity to find a consistent, high-quality Indian restaurant that is as simple and packed with the classics. We have been to a couple so-so Indian restaurants in DC, one pretty good high-end Indian restaurant and of course the amazing Naan & Beyond for sandwiches. But none that had a menu as loaded with different naans and other breads, crispy appetizers, Tandoori delicacies and an endless list of thick, delicious meat and vegetarian curries as Shalimar's. I think they have the best naan bread and best Tandoor chicken that I have tried, and that pairing is one of my favorite dishes in any cuisine, so that alone is saying something about Shalimar.

5. Silvio's: Authentic Italian organic pizza can be found on North University near State Street in Ann Arbor at Silvio's. And this place is a hidden gem. Competing with endless bland campus pizzerias, this place is special. The taste of the pizza is, well, real. The crust is chewy and crunchy and endlessly flavorful. The sauce and cheese actually taste fresh and flavorful and interesting. A list of over 40 organic toppings range from shiitake mushrooms and raw fresh arugula to bacon, fennel and truffle oil. You can even get grapes or carrots, but most of the ingredients are organic variations on classic ingredients. Bottom line is this pizza place is unparalleled by any I have seen and is vastly underrated, even in Ann Arbor. Needless to say I have not found a pizza place that can match up in DC as of yet, but if I ever do, it will be good enough that you will be hearing about it.

4. Pizza House: Another pizza place, you ask? Well yes, sort of. This one is not so much for the pizza, although the pizza is actually very good. It's about the atmosphere. Pizza House (Church Street near South University) is that comfortable, campus place that everyone loves. It's huge so you can almost always get a table for any party; it's open and delivers until 4AM every night; it's got a huge menu filled with pizzas, bar foods and a full bar, desserts, salads, sandwiches, their famous chapattis (huge fresh pita stuffed with salad) and even steaks and other dinner entrees; oh and it's pretty darn cheap. The place is hopping in the middle of the day, the middle of the evening and the middle of the night, and Julia and I would go there whenever we needed to just get out for a little comfort and relaxation. Whether it was meeting friends or just us, this was our little hangout for years, and it will take quite a lot for another place in a big city like DC to quite have all that it would take to be our next Pizza House.

3. Le Dog: Le Dog is a tiny little soup stand (think less glamorous than Seinfeld's “soup Nazi”) located on Liberty Street in Ann Arbor near Thompson. It is only open several hours per day during lunch, but it has a line every minute that it's open – in rain or shine or sleet. Yes, they do have hot dogs, and I have heard they are quite good, but this place is known for its out-of-this-world homemade soups. Rich, thick and comfortable, these soups are worth any wait. The portion is certainly large enough for lunch, especially with a huge hunk of Zingerman's bread that comes with it. The selection changes daily and is always fresh, ranging from Turkey Chili to Minestrone to Squash with Bleu Cheese. I have heard there are over 70 soups that rotate through the window, and I believe it. The absolute best is the weekly offering of lobster bisque on Fridays. A thin, flavorful, slightly-spiked broth encompassing huge hunks of lobster meat. Oh yah baby, that kind of comfort is well worth the $6-7. As for soups in DC, they have yet to inspire me, although I did try an extra worldly pumpkin and chorizo soup at the Bread Line in DC last week (Pennsylvania near 18th) that might have me changing my tune soon.

2. Ashley's: Ashley's, located on State Street near North University in Ann Arbor, is a surprisingly good Irish pub with surprisingly good food. The surprising part is that although it is “Irish,” its selection of imported beers, ranging from high-quality Belgium beers to Irish to local Michigan microbreweries, is astonishingly vast and cheap. They have a book of beers (with extensive lists of wines, liquors and mixed drinks in the back) that has beer descriptions, a taste guide and even flights. It is a fun place to go, which is likely why it is packed to max most evenings and nights. I even enjoyed having dinner at Ashley's sometimes – it was a little pubby of course, but they manage to sneak quite a few interesting (and even healthy) dishes on their menu. Nothing spectacular like the beers, but definitely worth eating at if you're trying to decide.

1. My Mom's Home Cooking: There ain't nothing like it no matter where in the world I could possibly travel, and I miss it most of all!

Check out my reviews of these places in even more detail at Menuism.com!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you on Zingerman's. It is the tops.

Shalimar is a good Indian restaurant. It is certainly one of the best in A2, but I doubt it ranks amongst the very best elsewhere. Suprised DC hasn't blown you out of the water with Indian food.

Silvio's is definately unique and serves the veggie/vegan crowd. I like their grapes on a pizza. But, I'm not missing it like you... But I'll concede.

Never went to Saica, Mr. Spots or Le Dog (or your mom's home cooking).

Mentioning Asheley's and Pizza House was interesting...

But, I'm suprised you didn't mention BTB and Oriental Express. Does BTB have the best burritos? Not exactly... But, it is good and distinctive from other places. I know I ate it pretty much everyday and never got sick of it. In fact I miss BTB. Same goes for Oriental Express. Cheap Chinese food at its low-low-cost best.

What are your thoughts on these two fine A2 institutions?


~~BT~~ said...

Rich----Glad that you love Zing's too. And spot on about Shalimar.

Haha BTB! I pained over that one due to its popularity and iconic status, but I just couldn't include it, mostly since I never thought those burritos were anything special. I think I have had enough Burritos here (even at Baja Fresh) to supplant BTB. I would love a little hole in the wall where I could get one at 3AM for $4 with fresh homemade chips, but hey I guess we have to sacrifice a little when "off-campus."

As for Oriental Express, there is no way. I swear that's the only place I've EVER been to that has made me sick. And I think it might have happened twice! The chinese food was cheap but nothing special and just not worth remembering. But yet I do. :)

I can't believe you never went to Spots!! Especially with your BTB, OriExp and Rod's Diner patronage. It's smack dab in the middle, is an institution and is the best of the four.