This Sunday, Taste of Ann Arbor takes over two blocks of Main Street, where downtown's finest restaurants will offer bite-size samples of their signature dishes.
Visitors can purchase tickets for 50 cents each and savor morsels from 40 of the city's favorite eateries, including the Black Pearl, Arbor Brewing Company and Silvio's Organic Ristorante. Sample prices range from one to eight tickets, and no dish costs more than $4.
Main Street Association executive director Maura Thomson says a taste of Ann Arbor is really a taste of the entire globe.
"The food culture in Ann Arbor literally would appeal to any taste," Thomson says. "We run the gamut on ethnicity here in Ann Arbor as far as what type of food is represented. It's really unique that in this small town you can get food from Ethiopia, Jamaica, France and Italy."
Every year since Thomson started organizing the festival in 2005, Taste of Ann Arbor's attendance has grown steadily, from around 7,000 attendees in 2008 to more than 15,000 last year. That means more exposure for Ann Arbor's unique dining scene, which Thomson says has always been the event's main goal.
"We want to showcase our food scene here in Ann Arbor, and really for the restaurants this is an advertising opportunity," she says. "It's not really supposed to be a revenue generator. It's all about exposing these restaurants to a new population of people."
Thomson says she also hopes Taste of Ann Arbor bolster visitors' connection with the city, whether they're first-time visitors or natives.
"The whole point of Taste of Ann Arbor is to bring people to our downtown, both from our local community and beyond to have a wonderful experience, then tell people they had a wonderful time in downtown Ann Arbor and come back," she says. "For the community itself my hope is from the youngest child to the oldest person, we really want them to feel a sense of pride in their community, a connection to their downtown, so they know this is their place."
New at the fest this year is a food truck combining three Ann Arbor treasures: Aventura, Babo market and Sava's. Visitors will have the mouth-watering opportunity to try a paella ball from Aventura and a shrimp Thai roll from Sava's all under one roof.
The newly opened Ann Arbor hub of the Grand Rapids-based bar Hopcat will also make its debut at the event, offering falafel, pretzel nuggets and, of course, its famous Crack Fries.
The event also highlights Ann Arbor's many environmentally conscious restaurants and chefs. Thomson cites the Lunch Room as a prime example of a downtown restaurant with a focus on locally sourced, sustainable products. As its main dish, the vegan cafe will offer a half portion of its Bahn Mi Chay sandwich, a twist on the classic Vietnamese baguette sandwich.
When you've had your fill of Ann Arbor's diverse cuisine, there will still be plenty to do downtown. You can send the kids to one of several educational booths on Liberty Street, spend your remaining tickets at Arbor Brewing Company's beer garden on Washington, or catch a live show at the Taste of Sonic Lunch stage.
This year's musical performers include Detroit's Briar Rabbit, Ypsilanti's Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful and the Michigan supergroup Airborne or Aquatic?
Thomson has some insider advice for those who have never attended the festival before.
"Every year we do awards, and the Black Pearl fish tacos are pretty legendary at this point," she says. "The line for the fish tacos literally can be a hundred feet all day. I would suggest coming on the early side, because sometimes we get so busy that by 3:30 or 4 o'clock some of our restaurants will be running out of their favorites."
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Taste of Ann Arbor
11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday
Main Street, between William and Washington
Tickets for food tastes can be purchased at the event for $.50 each
Food prices range from .50 (1 ticket) to $4.00 (8 tickets)