Correction: This story has been updated to correct the phone number for La Cucina del Vino.
Looking back over the restaurants reviewed in 2016, certain places stood out. It wasn’t difficult to come up with a list of the most interesting of the year. Some are new, others have been around for a while, but each has a distinctive personality.
So break away from the routine and put these on your list of dining destinations for 2017.
27103 Woodward, Royal Oak. (248) 808-6244. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, all day daily except Sunday, when it closes at 11 p.m.
The enigmatic name of the 24-hour diner run by Joe and Kristen Bongiovanni lets people come up with their own interpretation of what it means. Step up to the counter and order from the blackboard menu before grabbing a stool. Dishes include such diner musts as eggs any style, sausage and potato hash, burgers and chicken wings as well as tacos and nachos served up by the cooks in the open kitchen. Graphic artist Tim Goodman’s road map-like black-and-white mural pays homage to Woodward locations old and new.
La Cucina del Vino
52963 Van Dyke at 24 Mile, Shelby Township. (586) 254-2999. Dinner nightly except Monday.
An international menu reflecting proprietor Lisa Ribaudo’s Armenian/Italian heritage encourages sharing dishes from grilled bruschetta and grilled oysters to Armenian grape leaves and beet ravioli. Ribaudo, a former wine director for the Andiamo restaurant group, emphasizes wine along with creative and unusual presentations of such dishes as Tuscan shrimp, charcuterie platters and balsamic glazed pork chops. The two floor setting is done up warmly with family portraits and rustic furnishings that give it style and back up the well-prepared fare by chef Domonique Morsello.
670 Lothrop, Detroit; (313) 872-5110. Dinner, Tuesday through Sunday.
This is a place for those who love small, personal restaurant settings. It offers seating at linen-covered tables in three small rooms on the main floor of the house that originally was a bridge club. The character of the place survives in its old woodwork and floors. The menu is as one-of-a-kind as the house itself. Dishes are not listed as appetizers and entrees, but rather under the headings of Fish, Meats and Vegetables. Each main course comes completely garnished with compatible accompaniments. There are no conventional combinations on chef and proprietor Paul Grosz’ menus. All the pairings illustrate his earthy and elegant style and ability to put together the unexpected. Cuisine celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2016.
Pop’s for Italian
280 W. Nine Mile, Ferndale. (248) 268-4806. Dinner, Tuesday through Sunday; brunch, Sunday.
A complete makeover of the space that once housed a Buffalo Wild Wings outlet has given Ferndale a destination restaurant. It has a wine-centric approach and Neapolitan pizzas cooked in a 1,000-degree oven in an open kitchen that’s part of the colorful room featuring a soaring 26-foot ceiling, humorous murals and some communal seating at picnic tables. The white marble-topped bar houses an elaborate Coravin wine system that allows wine to be poured without opening the bottles, allowing many more wines to be served by the glass. Beyond the good pizzas, other dishes on the Italian menu include handmade pastas including gnocchi with sausage, linguini with clams and fettucine Alfredo, as well as sharable appetizers, but no small plates. Strings of open-filiment bulbs give the room a festival feeling.
Mi Lindo San Blas
1807 Livernois at Vernor, Detroit. (313) 789-5100. Lunch and dinner daily.
A colorful spot that invokes proprietor Arnulfo Ramirez’ hometown in Mexico, the seaside Nayarit regions. Heaping platters of seafood from shrimp and crab legs to octopus, prawns and scallops generously garnished with fresh fruit and avocado. The eye-popping décor in ocean blue includes cartoon sea creatures and chairs patterned with bright red lobsters and palm trees. On weekends, live music is added and tables are often pushed back to create a dance floor.
33308 Plymouth Road, Livonia. (734) 762-7003. Lunch and dinner daily.
This establishment is named for the open-sided thatched roofed huts seen in Mexican resort areas, and that’s apt. The restaurant run by the brother/sister team of Hector and Leydiana Ochua has an upbeat feeling throughout its colorful setting. The kitchen’s all Mexican crew turns out well-prepared dishes ranging from enchiladas, burritos and tacos to carne asada (grilled rib-eye steak with pico de gallo, rice and beans and guacamole,) and arroz con pollo (grilled marinated chicken breast with grilled vegetables atop rice). The friendly young staff adds to the overall good feeling.
China Café Asian Bistro
24299 Novi Road, Novi. (248) 440-4888. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
This is a Chinese restaurant with French sensibility, with dedicated mom and pop proprietors, Kelly and Susana Chang. It offers a warm and friendly atmosphere and carefully prepared dishes that are the definition of a Parisian bistro. The couple has steadily improved the restaurant since opening 20 years ago, expanding the menu with touches of Thai and Korean cuisine. Small plates were added in 2016, typified by noodles tossed with minced pork, chili sauce and Sichuan peppercorns, seared Ahi tuna and dumplings filled with pork, scallops and shrimp.
4130 Cass, Detroit. (313) 285-9081. Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
The restaurant that can seat a maximum 35 diners at a time houses tables topped with wood reclaimed from three Detroit houses at the site that offers authentic Spanish tapas, the original small plates. The changing array of dishes may include tortilla Espagnola with fried potatoes and roasted red peppers, seared shrimp and charcuterie. The charcuterie is offered in three styles, a full array of imported meats including Serrano ham and Spanish salami with a couple of cheeses, or just cheese or meats. Paella is served just one night a week on Tuesday. Pilar Baron-Hidalgo and Naomi and Elias Khalil are the devoted proprietors at this little corner of Spain.
Campus Martius, 800 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 922-7272. Dinner nightly (hours will expand in 2017).
Expanses of windows on three sides make the view of Campus Martius and the cityscape beyond it is very much a part of the atmosphere of downtown’s newest destination restaurant. Parc — the spelling reflects Detroit’s French origins — offers a varied contemporary menu and expert service. Chef Jordan Hoffman and his staff send out handsome dishes to uncovered tables. Grilling over wood is part of the kitchen’s direction. All of the meats, from the bone-in veal to filet mignon are prepared that way. Other wood-grilled dishes on the menu include branzino (Mediterranean sea bass), giant prawns served in the shell, and at the top of the price scale, dry-aged steaks served with bone marrow and roasted onions. Proprietors Zaid Elia and Matthew Shiffman have added an real asset to downtown’s dining scene.
1431 Times Square, Detroit. (313) 926-0783. Dinner, Monday through Saturday.
Perched on the second floor of a building overlooking the People Mover tracks, this dinner-only spot has quite the urban feel. Its well-edited menu takes its inspiration from the South, with shrimp and grits, fried chicken and braised oxtails from the kitchen headed by chef Cedric Andrews. The softly lit setting of scrubbed old brick, charcoal walls and parquet floors offers an array of seating arrangements that manage to be both comfortable and romantic. Service is professional and caring. Live music adds to the appeal on the site’s SavannahBlue Mondays.