It may be a cold, slushy mess outside, but the North American International Auto show is in town, which means downtown Detroit will be abuzz with visitors from near and far.
Whether you’re a staple downtown or a visitor, here’s what you need to know about dining during the NAIAS’s run at Cobo.
First tip: Plan for extra crowds.
For auto show visitors, inside Cobo Center has a cafeteria filled with grab-and-go items, plus hot food that represents the local culture, such as coney dogs, Polish food and thick, square “Detroit-style” pizza. I’m told by Cobo’s food and catering company Centerplate that they went through 14,000 slices of this pizza last year. There are also burgers, fries and build-your-own salad options.
If you want to get some fresh air, but not go far from the venue, there are many options a skip away from Cobo’s front steps.
Cobo Joe’s (422 W. Congress) has expanded its hours for NAIAS and will open an hour early at 10 a.m. for those looking for an early lunch. The hockey-lovers bar has a full menu, including smoked meats, sandwiches, salads and pizza. The sports bar also hosts live bands on Saturday nights performing Motown music.
Another casual spot that is just a stone’s throw from Cobo is Tommy’s Detroit Bar & Grill (624 Third). Last summer I was lucky enough to judge the Burger Battle in Eastern Market and this place entered an outstanding burger on a pretzel bun with corned beef and coleslaw. It’s not on the menu, but if you want it, order the standard burger and have them add the corned beef and coleslaw.
For a quick lunch nearby, speedy service can be found at the Gateway Deli (333 W. Fort) and the Greenroom (120 W. Congress). The latter is carry-out only, but if you go early enough, there’s an excellent selection of soups for all dietary needs.
For something new and upscale, the Apparatus Room at the Detroit Foundation Hotel (250 W. Larned) will be a popular choice. Reservations are going to be some of the hottest tickets in town, but you may have luck in non-peak dining hours.
Also new this year is the upscale Caucus Club Detroit (150 W. Congress). The historic club, which closed in 2012 after 60 years, reopened in May after new owners took over and renovated. The steakhouse has an open kitchen visible from the hallway of the Penobscot Building, where you can peek in and see the dry-aged steaks and the kitchen action.
Remember: Friday is the night of the auto show’s annual Charity Preview, and many of downtown’s more upscale restaurants may be booked with private pre- and post-parties for diners dressed to the nines.
Central Kitchen + Bar (600 Woodward) will be ready for auto show crowds Friday night and beyond. They’re promoting a $12 lamb burger that’s topped with spicy whipped feta cheese and pickled red onion, as well as a pickled beet salad. The laid-back restaurant has a view of the Cadillac Lodge at Cadillac Square, which is hosting shopping and snacks.
With its large, glitzy “TOWNHOUSE” sign, this restaurant will be a popular spot throughout the show, too. Townhouse Detroit will be tough to get into the night of Charity Preview, but you don’t need reservations to perch up at the bar for one of their popular burgers and a nip from their expansive whiskey selection.
Over at Capitol Park, you will find a holiday market and one of the more interesting new Detroit restaurants, Prime + Proper (1145 Griswold). You’re likely to drop a pretty penny, but early reports indicate the swank restaurant is worth a visit.
Walking toward Campus Martius (800 Woodward) from Cobo during the last weekend of the auto show (Jan. 26-28), it will be hard not to notice the Meridian Winter Blast. The annual outdoor, family-friendly snowfest will include a food truck rally with a variety of things to nosh on. Look for meaty and vegetarian sandwiches at Hero or Villain Deli, tacos at Imperial Ferndale, wings from Sweetwater Tavern, and vegan choices from Nosh Pit.
In the gaming spirit? Besides three nearby casinos — four, if you count Caesars Windsor — downtown Detroit gained two “barcades” this year. Pop + Offworld Arcade (128 Cadillac Square) above Checker Bar has pizza, a full bar and tons of vintage arcade games. Ready Player One (407 E. Fort) is a basement-level arcade and restaurant with bar-friendly food such as fried pickles, nacho fries and giant Rice Cripsy squares. There’s also a game-themed cocktail menu.
International Auto Show
Charity Preview: 6-9 p.m. Friday. Tickets: $400 per person
Public show: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Jan. 27; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 28. Tickets: $14 adults; $7 65 and older, and children 7-12 years old; free for children 6 and younger with a parent or guardian
Call (248) 283-5173; naias.com