This is it. Your last Ann Arbor Sampler. It’s a bittersweet symphony, my friends. I’m going to close this chapter with some of my favorite spots in town. They are places I’ve enjoyed (and let’s face it, they’re mostly food related) over the last 4 years. The list is far from complete, and I’m sure there are places you’d include if it was your list, but these are mine, all mine. Should you find yourself in town for a weekend, stuck for 4 years of college, or just living daily life and looking to do something different, I encourage you to do some sampling of the places below. Cheers!
BARS AND RESTAURANTS– Ann Arbor has the bar and restaurant scene down, pat. There is something for every mood and every price range. These are just a selection of my favorites.
8 Ball Saloon – One of my hubby’s favorite spots, we recently had a “slumming it” night full of cheap beer, darts, jukebox, and good times. It’s a little dirty, a little smelly, a little rock and roll but it’s a great spot to relax and apparently, do some hippie watching.
327 Braun Ct. – This is what I’d really call a hidden gem in Kerrytown. They have an evolving drink menu of hand crafted creations, pop-up kitchens hosted by different chefs different days of the week, and an atmosphere that feels like a close friend’s apartment. It’s cool, check it out.
Angelo’s – Thank goodness I squeezed this place in last minute before leaving town. Superbly delicious breakfast, great service, not breaking the bank. Even more impressive was that we didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for a table Sunday at 11am. Fluke? Who cares..wait. It’s worth it!
Ashley’s – If you haven’t been to Ashley’s, I feel like you may be missing out on the essence of Ann Arbor. It is THEE bar for beer lovers, with a veritable book of beer selections from all over the world, of every genre imaginable. Great bar food too, the spot for many a Tuesday night happy hour or post- grad school vent session. I recommend the last booth in the back. It’s the ‘Traianos Gagos is here’ memorial… a great man who will never be forgotten.
Arbor Brewing Company – It’s a brewery. If we’re being honest, we never really LOVED the beer there. What we did love was the only shuffleboard table in town, plus real dart boards. The food is also pretty good, and the Jason Segel spotting makes it a celebrity hotspot.
Bab’s Underground Lounge – The first time we discovered this spot, it was a shit show…not a pretty night/morning after. What is cool about Bab’s is that it’s a nice place with room to sit and chat, a nice martini list, and still things for the “bored” people to do, like play pool on one of their 3 tables. During the week they have interesting nights and specials, including one night where they served us 40s in a paper bag while we watched a movie. Interesting, right?
Bar Louie – I know it’s a chain, but I wanted to make sure you knew about the $1 burgers on Tuesday night. Each topping is like $.50, but it still leaves you plennnnty of room to order the loaded tater tots, which is a must.
Black Pearl Seafood and Martini Bar – I love the late night menu here… great selection of foods ranging from pasta to fish tacos to sandwiches for a good price. The regular menu is a bit pricey, but the “cheapest” item on the menu the Diablo Chicken Sandwich is delicious and a great value. We watched the final UM Final Four game here.. they have plenty of TVs for sporting events while providing and upscale atmosphere, a well-made martini, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also sit next to a friendly millionaire who buys drinks for the entire bar all night.
Blimpy Burger – Another legendary establishment, featured on The Food Network several times. I was never allowed to sample other burger joints because that would be blasphemy, but I can vouch for the greasy, filling satisfaction of the Blimpy. Don’t get a “Wimpy Blimpy,” (less than 2 patties) or you may be ridiculed by the staff. DO get the fried veggies. Maybe my favorite part of dining there.
Blue Tractor BBQ and Brewery – Get the fried pickles. That is all.
Cafe Habana – Maybe I’m the only one who misses the old Habana in it’s old location next to Blue Tractor, but the lower lounge is still cool. They still have their baked goat cheese, so I’m okay with it.
Carlyle Grill – I probably would have never tried this place if it weren’t for some good friends of ours suggesting it as a meeting spot before the movies (conveniently located directly behind Carlyle.) Good food- but on the expensive side. My husband doesn’t see the value, but I like it! Haha. Large portions make up for the price, and sometimes you can get a deal on your movie ticket, too.
Cavern Club – I never even visited the 4-leveled bar until the night I was proposed to, so of course, it now holds a special place in my heart. The first floor is your typical club/bar setting, and is a frequent spot for the Killer Flamingoes, best cover band in the area. Keep exploring and you’ll find yourself dancing in a room a mirrors (gah!) The basement is quite cool.. hence the “cavern” name, you feel like you’re transfered to an underground speakeasy. Fast forward up to the very top floor, you’ll find Circus, which is a sports bar with pool tables, popcorn, and karaoke every night. Something for everyone.
China Gate – “Legendary” Chef Jan was introduced to me before I even set foot in town, and he does not disappoint. All your favorite Chinese food, plus favorites like Emperor’s Chicken (#18 on the lunch menu.) Yummy and great value (the husband’s two favorite things.)
Conor O’Neils Irish Pub – If you’re in the mood for the “next step above Rick’s,” then Conor’s is the place to go. I support popping in for an Irish car bomb, and quickly making your exit.
Dominick’s – Once the weather breaks, all people (especially students) want to do is grab an outdoor spot at Dominick’s. Famous for their giant jugs of fresh made sangria, it’s a pre-summer rite of passage. The food is counter-order style and I think it’s a tad pricey, especially if you plan to set up shop all afternoon.
The Earle – A restaurant landmark, serving up rich French and Italian inspired dishes. It’s good but very expensive. After my last less than stellar experience, I’d recommend just going for the happy hour- with $2.75 bowls of mussels and 20% off wine.
The Fleetwood Diner – This legendary place is THEE spot for your late night, bad decision eating. They’re known for their “hippie hash,” but they are my spot for chili cheese fries. Everything tastes better when you’re 8 drinks in, trust me!
Fraser’s Pub – You aren’t a townie until you’ve gone to Fraser’s. Sports bar, very casual, decent menu. It’s off the beaten path, which is always nice when you want to avoid the usual scene.
Gratzi – The “pricier” version of Palio… a much nicer atmosphere with a menu to match. It’s expensive, but if you have a good server (which once I did, once I did not).. it is a delicious meal worth the price. As with all the Main Street Ventures restaurants.. it’s fun to play on the tablet menus. I heart technology.
Grizzly Peak Brewing Company – I love it here. Really good food. Reasonably priced. I like the beer. Love sitting outside. The Grizzburger is a great value and has yummy toppings like goat cheese and olives (that’s my weird fav.) Just a good spot.
Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery – We don’t love the beer at Jolly Pumpkin. You might if you love, love bitter Belgians. The food is good but overrated. The cocktails are the more interesting attraction to me, personally. Usually changing with the seasons, they make their own liquor so don’t try to ask for Ketel One. They’ll give you a stink eye. The best part of JP is the rooftop patio. A2 really needs more of those.
Knight’s Steakhouse – An Ann Arbor classic. Everyone loves the place, and for good reason.. the food is quality, the service has always been great, and they have excellent steak, if that’s your thing. In my personal preference, I wish they’d modernize the menu a bit and offer some more seafood options that aren’t fried or coated in cheeses.. but hey, it’s not enough to make me not go there. My joke is, it’s a great restaurant stuck in the 70’s. Side of cottage cheese, anyone?
La Dolce Vita – It was pure chance that I ended up here one late night for dessert, and I’m so glad I did. It was just plain fun to go at 11PM, split a cheese plate with various desserts, coffee drinks, and yes, more booze.. all combined in a somehow sexy yet cozy atmosphere. Adjacent to the Chop House, it’s also a cigar lounge, if you’re feeling extra naughty. I just like the sweet life, what can I say?
Live – It’s a club. Usually full of younger people. I spent New Year’s Eve here once and it was fun. So it made my list.
mash – Located in the basement of the Blue Tractor, I’ve always enjoyed the unique cavern like ambience. Now a fully stocked whiskey bar, with knowledgeable, lumberjack-attired bartenders to help you make a selection.
Melange – Another one of the places I’ve always had a good time when I’m in a dancing mood. Except the time my jacket was stolen practically from out of my hands. It happened. It was extremely shady and there was a weird crowd that night. Otherwise, it’s a fun spot for a drink, happy hour sushi, or to see what the DJ is spinning. I feel like it gets a bad rap, but you need to ignore that and try it for yourself!
Pacific Rim – I only went once, and it was divine. I was devastated because they didn’t have any left of the much-talked about tuna. Alas, my time has run out and I will never have their tuna. You go and have it, and let me know how delicious it is. It’s quite expensive, so save up first. If you can’t get the tuna, I recommend the Japanese Sable Fish. Yum!
Palio – Decent Italian food. The “cheaper” of the two Italian spots on Main Street. Every meal I’ve had there has been good but again, it’s main draw is the awesome rooftop patio in the summer time. That will win you points, every time.
Pizza House – Best pizza in town. Get the Chicago deep dish. Giant menu. Open until 4AM + full bar. Pizza House is the man.
Prickly Pear Cafe – My last Ann Arbor meal did not disappoint. PP is consistently delicious Southwestern food. Fab margaritas. A nice house made salsa to go with those chips. Please, please get the scallop and shrimp quesadillas. I dream about them sometimes. You get a LOT of food.
The Original Cottage Inn – Worth a visit for a cute, fun for the whole family experience and pretty good Italian cuisine. There’s a 50% chance your waiter will be high, but who’s not, in Ann Arbor anyways, ha.
The Raven’s Club – I had the most delicious brunch on the patio once upon a time at Raven, with unlimited mimosas. It was a great experience. I later went back for some happy hour and snacks, including a delicious charcuterie plate and a Nicoise salad. I recommend all of the above.
The Real Seafood Company – I’ve visited several times, but my latest experience was by far the best. Fresh, fresh food (still thinking about the oysters I had), simple plating but truly yummy food. I heard they just went through a renovation, which will probably make it feel a lot nicer than the typical nautical decor they had before- the same kind of stuff you’d see at a Red Lobster.
Rush Street Martini Lounge – I am a girl who loves to dance. Is that a crime? Rush Street is one place to do that, and the highlight is the adorable drummer guy, who bangs on his bongos all night long to the sounds of Rihanna, Kanye, and Beyonce. All the best dance music. Good for a girls’ night out, but watch out for the creepsters prowling the dance floor. They’re everywhere. Also, get there early enough so you’re not waiting in line to get in. It’s Ann Arbor, not NYC. NEVER wait in line in the cold to get into a bar.. none of them are worth that!
Sadako – My favorite sushi in town, for it’s freshness, affordability, and casual but comfortable dining room. Recently, I was disappointed when they nickel and dimed us (new thing) out of getting the normally free soup and salad with lunch, but I won’t let one bad experience ruin 4 years of yummy sushi.
Sava’s State Street Cafe – A surprise find on campus. Upscale feeling with a very hearty menu and a range of prices to meet everyone’s needs. Great for a nice glass of wine or a cocktail. All the food I’ve had there has always been really good.
Tomukun Noodle Bar – A surprising find near campus, this place as the greatest selection of pho bowls, and other Asian inspired delicacies including pork buns that are so yummy. Cute spot, very reasonable prices for the giant soup portions you’ll receive.
Vellum – One of the newest restaurants, Vellum is quite the dining experience. Here, you will eat things you’ve only heard about on Top Chef. It’s expensive, though there are a selection of mid range entrees for about $15/16 that are just as good, and an exquisite burger for the less adventurous.
Vinology – Yes, I like hoity-toity wine bars with fance-fance food in small servings. And I like paying the same price for one glass that I’d pay for a bottle at the grocery store. It’s true. One night, just go to Vinology and spend too much money. It’s all in good fun and yumminess.
Wolverine State Brewery – This, in my opinion, is the best brewery in Ann Arbor. Every single beer I’ve tasted there is delicious. WSB became our Wednesday meet up spot and the home of our pub trivia team (LONG LIVE GARY CHUTCH’S TRIVIA ENTHUSIASTS!) They don’t serve food but you can bring in any food you want from the outside, and even have things delivered there. Often, they’ll have a food cart outside for your ordering pleasure. Love this place.
Zingerman’s Roadhouse – If you’ve heard of Ann Arbor, you’ve heard of the famous Zingerman’s Deli. While it’s must try, the Roadhouse is by far my favorite spot, and a place I tried to hit as much as possible, usually with out of town guests. Always fresh, local, in season, and a James Beard Award to boot.
COFFEE HOUSES – I spent many, many, many hours frequenting coffee shops. These are my favorites.
Espresso Royale – My favorite local coffee chain, and probably the one I clocked the most hours at during grad school. Reasonably priced coffee, a nice selection of snacks, (including my favorite, the strawberry yogurt parfait), nice music, and friendly staff. My favorite location is probably the State Street one, just because it screams, “U of M!” to me.
Great Lakes Coffee and Chocolate – When you need a switch up or a break from the often annoying college crowd, drive off the beaten path to GLCC. They had me at CHOCOLATE! Cute spot, not huge, but a great place to get work done and again… there’s CHOCOLATE THERE!
Sweetwaters Café – I love Sweetwaters. As far as coffee shops go, it’s probably my favorite, and I’d go there every time if it weren’t for the severe lack of electrical outlets and seating, pretty much every night of the week.
HEALTH AND BEAUTY – Though I never did truly find a salon that was my own, (Designer’s Edge, Buffalo, NY 4L!), I did frequent a few spots for my slower paced beauty regimen.
Body Wisdom Massage – My heart is broken because my favorite lady Kelsey left for greener pastures, but it’s still worth the mention for the best massage I had in the Midwest. It’s a cute, quiet serenity zone, and worth the quick trip to Dexter. Reasonable prices for massage, too!
Diva Nail and Spa – This place is clean, new, nicely decorated, and the technicians are all extremely sweet and professional. I’ve had gel manicures and pedicures there, all which lasted more than 2 weeks.
Luv Manicures and Pedicures – Luv is more of a cattle call situation, but here’s why I liked it: the 2-4-1 manicure and pedicure. Just the standard, nothing fancy (no gel or cutesy decals or anything), but decent for the $30 cost. I found a technician I really liked (not sure she’s even there still), plus you can purchase your own nail set to ensure you’re keeping all your cooties to yourself. It was always busy, and sometimes hard to relax in because of that. I’d go here if Diva is booked!
Relax Station – The little “massage hut”, as I like to call it is basically one large room where you can get a massage in either a chair, or a table, dependent on what’s available. Let’s get real- it’s not relaxing. You are in a giant room with other stressed out people and their therapists, about 2 feet away from you. If you are in a pinch, or desperate for some relief, it’s a quick alternative to the full massage experience. Just get the chair massage- 15 minutes. It’s all you really need for a quick fix.
Salon Vox – It’s uppity, it’s expensive, but it makes you feel like you’re getting the most cutting edge hairstyle in town (I’m a New Yorker, so I appreciate that.) Vox clearly prides themselves on being the poshest spot around. Stylists range in price dependent upon their experience level and seniority, and while I usually felt satisfied with my hair cut or color, there were times I felt like I could have gotten the same deal at a place that wasn’t charging $160 for a standard cut/color. It didn’t help that conflicting schedules always had me rotating to a different person.
ETC. – Let’s face it, there are so many places worth mentioning in Ann Arbor. It’s a great town (ask anyone I know that’s ever visited!) I will add to this list as I recall fond memories with great friends, and have more time to reflect. You can also check out some of my other A2 experiences, chronicled here on The Ann Arbor Sampler page. Thanks for taking this journey with me, and I look forward to sampling even more spots, worldwide.