12 standout dishes from Metro Detroit restaurants in 2019

Kebabs, pizza, curry and carrots, the Detroit food scene provided a bounty of choice eats in 2019

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

I didn't go to every single restaurant in Metro Detroit in 2019, but I certainly feel like I tried.

While I did run into some lukewarm chicken, soggy buns, too-salty meat and sad, wilted lettuce, an overwhelming majority of what I sampled from the local food scene this year was positive and I feel lucky to be able to share it with you. 

Here are the sandwiches, appetizers, pastas and more I encountered this year that made the biggest impression on me, in no particular order. I left off any dish that may have been a favorite but is no longer available due to chef shuffles, restaurant closings, etc. 

Döner kebab at Balkan House: This should come as a shock to no one. One of the happiest restaurant stories of the year is when the local food media blew up this Hamtramck spot and they had lines out the door for days of people wanting to try the now-famous doner kabob. The bump in business was enough for them to expand to a second location in Ferndale. I love everything about this döner kebab: the bread, the savory, greasy meat, crunchy cabbage, the sprinkle of purple sumac on top and that secret doner sauce. 3028 Caniff St, Hamtramck. (313) 262-6234. 314 W Nine Mile Rd, Ferndale. (248) 268-4920.

Batchoy at Isla: It was another big year for noodles, especially pho and ramen. The batchoy bowl at Isla, a Filipino food stall inside Fort Street Galley, stood out though, because of its sturdy, long yellow egg noodles that bathe in a bone broth with beef shank, pork shoulder, pork rinds and some greens. This dish is unique. Chef JP Garcia may give you a side of hot sauce but I think it is seasoned just right. 160 W. Fort, Detroit. (313) 230-0855.

Hummus at Leila: As someone who spent the last two decades dining in Hamtramck very regularly, I've had my fair share of hummus. The smashed chick pea spread at this promising new Capitol Park restaurant is rich and balanced (not too much garlic) with a thick texture and a generous amount of fantastic Lebanese olive oil. A large portion is served with fresh-from-the-oven pita breads. 1249 Griswold St, Detroit. (313) 816-8100. 

Empanadas at Latido at Joebar: Every time I saw emapandas on a menu this year, I ordered them, but none were as satisfying as the ones chef Michael Barrera presented at Latido, which debuted inside of Hazel Park hangout Joebar in January. Stuffed with beef, olives and hard-boiled egg, they're like the traditional Argentinian variety, which is where I fell in love with these Latin dumplings (they get delivered like pizza in Buenos Aries). 23839 John R, Hazel Park. joebar.com. Also great: Empanadas at Smith & Co. in Midtown made with Corridor Sausage's chorizo, salsa verde and pickled shallots.

Mamba chicken pasta at Le Culture Cafe:Specializing in rich comfort foods, steaks and seafood, this popular Eastern Market restaurant had its nearly 44,000 Instagram followers salivating the whole year. I loved the generous mamba chicken pasta made with bouncy rigatoni noodles, blackened chicken, peppers, spinach and a cream sauce. Like many things on Le menu, it was a hearty dish with a large enough portion to stretch to three meals. 1428 Gratiot, Detroit. (313) 285-8137 or facebook.com/leculturecafe. 

Hawaiian pizza from Grandma Bob's in Corktown.

Hawaiian Pizza at Grandma Bob's Handmade Pizza: You think I'm going to leave out pizza? The past dozen months proved to be another banner year for Detroit's pizza scene, but my favorite may have been the Hawaiian pie from this new Corktown pizzeria, Grandma Bob's. I've always been an advocate for pineapple on pizza, but this takes it to an exquisite level. Pineapple, yes, but also pickled jalapenos, chorizo, roasted onion, cilantro and — the best part — a charred sesame seed. 2135 Michigan, Detroit. (313) 315-3177. Also great: Como's version of Detroit-style deep dish, which they started slinging in April after much fanfare. 

Georgian Cheese Bread at Hazel Ravines & Downtown: Speaking of cheesy bread, this rich, rich, rich dish is made even richer with the addition of a runny egg yolk. It's one of many indulgent things on chef Emmele Herrold's lengthy and varied menu at this colorful Birmingham restaurant that has something for everyone. 1 Peabody, Birmingham. (248) 671-1714.

Curry dishes at YumVillage: The menu is short and to-the-point at this Afro-Caribbean restaurant that opened this year in New Center. I love the crunch of the curried ginger chickpeas, which is one of your choices of sides, along with jollof rice, turmeric rice, plantains and more. The curried chicken is very good, too, but the vegan black-eyed pea fritters may be my favorite thing here. 6500 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 334-6099. 

Carrot steak at Lady of the House: This popular Corktown restaurant opened in late 2017, but 2019 was the first time I was lucky enough to feast on the best version of a cooked carrot I have ever encountered. It's a labor-intensive dish and I don't know that I've appreciated anything more that's been set in front of me this year. The carrots are sliced thin and layered together to form the "steak," and it's served with a creamy hollandaise sauce and pistachios. 1426 Bagley, Detroit. (313) 818-0218. 

Parisian Breakfast at Folk: If Lady served me one of the best dinners of 2019 at the beginning of the year, the gals across the street served me my favorite breakfast. The Parisian breakfast board from chef Jessi Patuano's fall menu exemplifies Folk's community-orientated business model. A croissant from Zingerman's, thin and buttery ham from Marrow butcher shop, house-made spiced jam, house-pickled cranberries and mustard seed, a few slices of apple, some butter and brie. 1701 Trumbull, Detroit. (313) 290-5849.

Saffron tomato dip at Saffron De Twah: There are lots of bold and memorable flavors at this unique, tiny Moroccan restaurant in Detroit. The dark-meat fried chicken sandwich stands out, as do the meatballs, but I loved the saffron-infused tomato sauce with a rich dollop of goat cheese served with seasoned, fried pita chips. 7636 Gratiot, Detroit. (586) 359-6138. 

Paczki burger at Motor City Sports Bar: A cheeseburger with a doughnut for a bun, could that be good? Absolutely. Is it weird? Absolutely! This Hamtramck watering hole has a very large, juicy burger on its menu at all times, but last winter for Fat Tuesday they slapped a 1/3 pound beef patty between an un-jellied paczek. It's not something I would have eaten had I not just crossed the finish line in the Paczki Run 5K right in front of the bar. Owner Nick Nuculaj assured me the paczki burgers will be back this February for a whole week, instead of just for Fat Tuesday and the Paczki Run. 9122 Jos Campau, Hamtramck. (313) 875-4710. 


Twitter: @melodybaetens