Before starting medical school this August, I took a gap year in which I spent a lot of time with friends on the East Coast. And we ate. And ate. And ate some more. I tried authentic Philly cheesesteaks, tackled tons of Manhattan pizza pies, found hole-in-the wall burger joints, and attempted to consume massive desserts at dessert shops Yelp reviews promised were “life changing.”
And yet – with the exception of a few rare dining experiences (shout out to Dim Sum Garden in Chinatown, Philadelphia), I was wholly unimpressed. Maybe there was too much hype. Maybe my friends on the East Coast didn’t know their cities well enough to find the best places. Maybe the air on the East Coast negatively impacted my taste buds (we haven’t gotten that far in our sequences yet, so I honestly think every diagnosis is aortic dissection). Or maybe – just maybe – Ann Arbor’s food is actually better. Like way better.
Now if you’re from one of these cities (or even if you’re not), you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. There’s no way food from a small town in Michigan can compete, right?
Well, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can taste it for yourself.
Fantastic Feasts and Where to Find Them – Part 1
Who doesn’t love a 5-item list? When it comes to food in Ann Arbor, so many lists immediately come to mind. To begin, however, I thought I’d start with a list of my all-time favorites – the Fab Five, if you will. If you’ve been to all of them and love them, contact me so we can be best friends. If you haven’t, here’s a little taste (ha-ha) of what’s to come:
- FRITA BATIDOS ($$): Self-declared as “Cuban style street food,” Frita Batidos is probably the recommendation that everyone in Ann Arbor will give you when you ask for a food suggestion. And, YES, it is worth it. If and when you go, remember to get your frita, or burger, “loco” style, which means all of the toppings (muenster, a sunny side up egg, cilantro-lime salsa, tropical coleslaw, and avocado spread) are added on top. My favorite burgers are the chorizo and bean burgers. They also have incredible garlic fries and ginger drinks, but it may be hard to stuff another molecule of anything into your body for at least 24 hours after you’ve finished your food.
Pro tip: Make sure you have storage on your phone because you will definitely want to Insta the heck out of this meal.
- ZINGERMAN’S ($$): Zingerman’s is a world-renowned Ann Arbor bakery and sandwich shop (now expanded to 10 business located throughout Ann Arbor) that sells tons of delicious made-to-order sandwiches. Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, the co-owners and founding partners, spoke at my commencement at Michigan in 2015, so they’ll always have a place in my heart. Additionally, every single person who works at Zingerman’s is so (suspiciously) nice and upbeat that they’ll be sure to turn around even the darkest of Michigan winter days. My favorite sandwiches are #18 Georgia Reuben and #23 Mary’s Commute. My favorite bakery bread is the chocolate sourdough bread. It makes the BEST French toast.
Pro tip: If you’re going to make a trip to Zingerman’s for the first time, save some time to explore the neighborhood in which they’re located. Kerrytown has a lot of cute shops and markets that you’ll want to check out.
- ISALITA ($$): Isalita is a great place to take your parents – there’s something for everyone, it’s a little more upscale, and the food is delicious. All of the tacos are incredible but my favorite is probably the baja fish tacos. My absolute FAVORITE item on the menu, however, is the mushroom quesadilla dish. You’ll be thinking about them for days after. I ordered it on a whim while eating with a vegetarian friend and get it every time I go (and force whoever I’m with to fall in love with them as well).
Pro tip: Isalita is NOT open on Mondays! I know this from experience and this is not a feeling I would like anyone else to endure.
- TOMUKUN ($$): Tomukun is a Korean BBQ and Noodle bar. If you’re craving noodles, dumplings or amazing Korean BBQ, Tomukun is the place to go. Everything is delicious, the noodle bowls are huge, and it’s the type of food you’ll definitely find yourself craving out of the blue. I absolutely love the dumplings, but always try a new noodle dish whenever I go. When I went a couple of weeks ago, I had the slow roasted spicy beef ramen (which was incredible) and the green curry udon (also incredible).
Pro tip: Tomukun is almost ALWAYS packed and they don’t take reservations. I would suggest calling ahead to see what the wait is when you’re ready to eat.
- BELLY DELI ($): In a way, I’ve saved the best for last. I admit the restaurants above are pricey, so if you’re someone looking for a smaller, hole-in-the-wall, cheaper option, this one’s for you. Belly Deli, which I would describe as Asian fusion food, is a tiny little restaurant located on South University. Their menu is pretty small, and, in this case, that definitely is a good sign. Each item is carefully prepared with fresh ingredients and great flavor. If you find yourself in the vicinity of Belly Deli, you absolutely MUST get an order of the crispy chicken buns ($6). I lived in an apartment across the street from Belly Deli my junior year of undergrad, and one by one convinced all of my undergrad friends to try these buns (and have yet to find someone who didn’t love them). After the chicken buns, the bulgogi sandwich (or as they call them, “Sammys” for $7.5) is my second go-to.
Pro tip: Belly Deli makes homemade crispy taro chips ($1.5). They are a fantastic addition to any meal.
I hope you enjoy trying these places or reminiscing over the times you’ve spent here. Until next time – Happy Eating!
Rasna is a fourth year student at UMMS. She enjoys writing, community organizing, and working with children!