MY BIO: Mark Kurlyandchik is the restaurant critic for the Detroit Free Press. Every February, he reveals his Top 10 Best New Restaurants in the Detroit area, as well as his overall Restaurant of the Year, based on his extensive experience in the Detroit dining scene. He makes documentaries, too, and is in production on a feature-length documentary about Lakeland Prison’s culinary program. He will be here at 2 p.m. Thursday answer your questions about all things Detroit-area food and dining.


THE STORY: Detroit’s best restaurants are being revealed this week.

Honorable mentions for our Top 10 Best New Restaurants:

Mark's review of Empire in Detroit made Eater's list of Best Bad Restaurant Reviews of 2018:

More on the Lakeland Prison food program:

UPDATE 2:00 P.M. THURS: Whoa! Hey all. I'm here now and about to start answering questions. Thanks for your patience. We posted this a day in advance not knowing how much interest there'd be and wanting it to build momentum, but this thing sort of took off. Here we go!

UPDATE 5:00 P.M. THURS: That was a lot of fun. Thanks for all the great questions. Sorry I couldn't get to every single one of them but I've gotta run now and do a final edit on my big Restaurant of the Year piece, which goes live tomorrow at 10 a.m. on

We've already announced the 10 Best New Restaurants and you can read about all of them now at

Thanks again!

Comments: 456 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

BonerHonkfart106 karma

American or Lafayette?

detroit_free_press16 karma

I think this largely comes down to atmosphere because their products are almost indistinguishable, especially after a long night of drinking if you're doing it right.

Lafayette all day.

lordoftime65 karma

Do you ever weigh accessibility when reviewing restaurants? Something I find under-represented in food journalism is the perspective of a new establishment actually being fully wheelchair accessible and up to legal ADA code. Nothing is worse than hearing about a trendy new spot with good reviews, just to realize they skirted code for their building. It really sucks to have to leave your dining experience early just to find a bathroom to use (or in some cases, just going home).

Notable examples are Mabel Grey, Albena, Green Dot Stables.

*Edit: Now I'm double interested in this answer, as now Albena was named no.1 despite the fact that I wouldn't even be able to comfortably dine there with my wife, and the complete lack of information and assistance in asking any questions to them via phone or email to check their accommodations.

detroit_free_press9 karma

Admittedly, I need to do a better job of this. I plan to add a tag at the bottom of reviews to address this. Thanks for bringing it up.

Hotplate_DET36 karma

How did you break into the field of being a food critic for the free press?

detroit_free_press9 karma

I got into journalism to be a food writer because I thought it'd be cool to be paid to eat and write about it. One of those stupid pipe dreams... Through a blend of luck, pluck and privilege I was able to get an internship at the local glossy magazine, which I parlayed into a freelancing relationship and eventually a full-time gig. But the economy wasn't great, particularly for print journalism, so I left my job there to go to grad school at Berkeley and learn how to make documentaries. While there, I covered the food beat in San Francisco's Mission District for a hyperlocal website and also studied with food writer Michael Pollan, who expanded my understanding of what food journalism can be. Meanwhile, I'd been focusing on video production and shot for documentaries and TV news shows while maintaining my interest in food. When my predecessor at the Free Press announced her retirement, I jumped at the chance to apply -- without much hope of actually getting the job. I banged out a pretty killer cover letter and sent a LinkedIn message to the one person who I sort of knew at the Freep. Couple weeks later I came in for an interview and was tasked with producing content on a restaurant in town. I turned around three short videos and a 2,000-word story in three or four days and that helped convince my editors I was right for the job. (It helped that they were looking for someone who could do more than just write. I don't think I'd have gotten this job without the documentary/video-production experience I'd sought out at grad school.)

Sorry. Not super exciting, but that's how it went.

IanLouder23 karma

Best Polish restaurant around Detroit?

detroit_free_press6 karma


PureMichiganChip18 karma

I'm not really a brunch guy, but sometimes social situations require it. Yelp, Eater, and similar outlets list great brunch places like Parks & Rec, Hudson Cafe, etc... but in my experience, they haven't been very good. Is there any brunch actually worth my time?

detroit_free_press7 karma

I don't do a ton of brunching these days because I'm a parent to two little boys who I want to spend as much time with on weekends without the anxiety of taking them to a restaurant.

However, I've had brunch at Grey Ghost a couple times and would call it my favorite. (My wife and I recently went for a childless anniversary weekend and had a great meal.)

I also love the pancakes at Lady of the House and the menu is pretty unique otherwise.

Otus Supply in Ferndale just started brunch a few weeks ago that I also enjoyed.

You also can't go wrong with Folk, which just made my Best New Restaurants list.

youngjiddle18 karma

favorite detroit style pizza?

detroit_free_press5 karma

Cloverleaf for the pie. Loui's for the atmosphere. Amar for the next-generation Bangladeshi fusion thing (try the fish paste).

JoumanaKayrouz3 karma

Fuck yeah, Cloverleaf is always my answer when this question is asked.

detroit_free_press2 karma

Have an upvote!

WiggiE_WiggiE17 karma

Do you plan on answering any questions presented here today?

detroit_free_press6 karma

No. I'm answering them *today* today.

Wakookoo15 karma


detroit_free_press7 karma

We had no idea there'd be this much interest and wanted to give it time to gain steam. Sorry for making you wait!

stevestgermain14 karma

What was the blowback like from Empire after you dished its scathing review? Have you been back since?

detroit_free_press9 karma

No *real* blowback other than an inbox full of notes calling me an asshole or an idiot or totally right.

I'm just happy I'm no longer just that guy who hates burgers.

(For the record: I fucking love burgers.)

[EDITED for redundancy.]

detroit_free_press6 karma

And no, I haven't been back, though their new PR agent recently reached out and we've planned to get coffee in the near future. I'm not opposed to it. I've heard that they changed some things after the review, which is always the hope.

SupawetMegaSnek13 karma

Prime and Proper. Overpriced and overrated?

detroit_free_press6 karma

I get why some people like it but the value proposition isn't there for a decidedly middle-class person like me. (I also think grilling steak -- no matter how fancy the grill -- is an inferior cooking method compared to searing it on cast-iron.)

I should add that the steakhouse genre isn't my favorite to begin with -- unless it's a lived-in place like Clawson Steak House or Mr. Paul's Chop House. Otherwise, I'll buy my own dry-aged NY strip from Fairway Packing and and give it the love of a ripping hot skillet at home.

lavabeing12 karma

Favorite Coney restaurant. Favorite non-coney order at a Coney?

bassdude72 karma

I know it's garbage food but I'm hoping he says a Hani from National.

detroit_free_press6 karma

Sort of. But National's hanis have declined in recent years.

I'm all about the Hambo roll-up -- which is basically a better version of the hani -- from Hambo Coney Island in Ferndale.

szayl12 karma

Best shawarma in metro Detroit?

detroit_free_press5 karma


AddictedtoSodomy9 karma

I've noticed a sort of "third wave" of restaurants coming into the city that are different than the last. The majority of them are what I could only call boring. Do you think Detroit is at risk of becoming another bland and uninspired food scene?

detroit_free_press5 karma

Yes. That's why I wrote the Empire review to begin with -- because I'm worried about that very real possibility.

alanblah9 karma

What's the best "Old Detroit" restaurant?

BigODetroit2 karma

Giovanni's. It's Italian, and it's been around since the 60's. It's in a rough part of town, but the food is absolutely worth it.

detroit_free_press3 karma

Giovanni's is great.

I have to say that giving the "Old Detroit" restaurants their due, much less getting to them in between all the new openings, has been tough. IT's why last year we introduced the Restaurant of the Year Classic category.

I thinkthis year's choice is a pretty great "Old Detroit" spot.

burntbythestove8 karma

What's your least favorite trend that is constantly repeated by new restaurants in the area?

BigODetroit38 karma

Read the scathing review he linked. Detroit is a hotbed for newer chefs who don't want to wait their turn in large cities known for their restaurant scenes. Unfortunately, all the newer restaurants kind of become a parody of everything that's come before, but more ridiculous. Asking if the dressing was ranch and having the waiter correct the diner by calling it their buttermilk dressing is sort of the pinnacle of what the dining scene has become.

Every restaurant has a bespoke cocktail menu. All drinks are mixed with house-made infusions, bitters, and aromatics. Any other bar would call it a Manhattan, but at the restaurant you choose to go to it's called The Walrus and the Carpenter. It's $14 and comes in a glass slipper.

Sometimes I read the menus in Stefon's voice. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Detroit's hottest new restaurant is Lady of the House. This place has everything. Carrot steak, Challah migas, and miso butter." Seth: "What's a carrot steak?" Stefon: "It's that thing where you haven't gone shopping and a blizzard hits overnight. So you go through your fridge and combine everything you have into a patty and eat it while watching disability attorney commercials on YouTube."

detroit_free_press6 karma


EDIT: Didn't read to the end. LoH checks a lot of the trend boxes, for sure, but it makes up for it with genuine hospitality, a great vibe, interesting wine list and lamb ham.

schmellykelly8 karma

I was the opening bar manager at Empire when you came to review. I only had a month to build their entire bar program (no menu or any other liquid other than the bag in box in the kitchen) so maybe some sympathy for my lack of creativity. I moved on after about a month there so no hard feelings, either way. My question: Did my program evade a negative review because it was solid, or did it fail to inspire, also?

detroit_free_press12 karma

I hope this doesn't come off sounding as lame as it does in my head, but my only criticism of your cocktails was that they were a little too plain to look at. For $13 you need at least a little garnish to trick the brain into perceiving value.

melkor5556 karma

One of the few cuisines I have had a hard time finding a go to is Chinese food. Any great recommendation? I prefer one in western suburbs

detroit_free_press3 karma

You've got some great suggestions down here already but I will add Jiang Nan, a new hand-pulled noodle place in Farmington Hills, to the list.

CheesyStravinsky5 karma

How did you get into food criticism? Does it actually pay the bills? You often hear that food critics that are less famous than Johnathan Gold basically have to pay for the privilege of being a critic; how true is that?

detroit_free_press3 karma

I gave a long-winded and not very interesting answer to your first question above, so let me address the other one:

Yes, it pays the bills. I'm a full-time, salaried employee of the Free Press and I make enough to own a home, raise a family and travel every year (although my student loan debt doesn't seem to shrink much). The Freep picks up the tab for all of my on-the-job meals.

johntempleton3 karma

Food critics seemed divided between known and anonymous. Michelin, for example, is famous for being so secretive that some editors do not even know their inspectors.

Do you feel as if being known helps, or hurts, your work?

detroit_free_press3 karma

I think it does both. I didn't have a choice when I took this job. Freep wanted someone who could emcee special dinners and be the public face of our dining coverage.

Anonymity would be great to have when doing straight-up restaurant reviews for the obvious reasons. Thing is, this job is a lot more dynamic than it used to be or is in some other markets. In addition to monthly reviews, I also cover restaurant openings and closures, do deep dive reports on labor issues, profile chefs and culinary programs, take all my own photos, produce documentaries and short videos, etc. etc. etc. Those things that actually make up the bulk of my work output would be impossible to do anonymously.

happyduck183 karma

Any advice for a michigander student journalist trying to start a career?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Do some soul-searching and make sure you're ready for what's about to be a tough slog that's only getting tougher. (Or, like, work on developing a new business model for the industry?)

fast_mover3 karma

Do you find that review sites likes Yelp! often align with the perspectives of a food critic, or do they tell a different story? I've seen a lot of restaurants get hammered in critic reviews, but their guest/patron ratings remain high.

Curious to hear your take on the role of crowdsourced review sites before, during and after the restaurant review process (if they play a role at all).

detroit_free_press5 karma

I'll look at Yelp just as an overall barometer of public perception though I don't put a ton of stock into individual reviews. Sometimes my opinion aligns and sometimes it doesn't. But in my role as critic context is king. That's really what I'm trying to bring to a review beyond questions like "was the meat cooked to temp" and "did my water get refilled without asking." How does a place fit into the wider scene? Where did the chef ply her trade before? Who are they sourcing from? What does this place contribute to the fabric of the city or region? What is the story it's trying to tell? Those are all questions that you'll have a hard time sussing out from Yelp reviews.

portajohnjackoff2 karma

What's the best fast food restaurant in your opinion?

detroit_free_press6 karma

Taco Bell, but only meatless stuff (bean burrito, 7-layer).

I'm also a long-time fan of Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich.

lordoftime2 karma

Where's your favorite place to go if you had time for a 1.5 hour weekday lunch in Detroit city limits?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Probably somewhere in Southwest: Mariscos El Salpicon, Taqueria El Rey, El Asador, or La Noria.

I'm digging the stuff at Fort Street Galley, too, but my desk is also located directly above it so it's a pretty easy lunch spot.

Can't go wrong with Hygrade Deli, either.

EDIT: Ima Corktown.

Gjproducer2 karma

How do you feel about the declining newspaper industry affecting your job?

detroit_free_press8 karma

I'm not gonna lie, it's been rough on morale. One thing I can brag about a little bit is that my job actually generates a significant amount of revenue for the paper through our sponsored Restaurant of the Year project. This one big project is enough to keep me and at least a few more of my colleagues employed, so that's pretty cool.

in_casino_0ut2 karma

What does it feel like to be hated by most chefs?

detroit_free_press3 karma

As long as they respect the work...

trailerparksandrec2 karma

I've been noticing and appreciating the recent increase of ramen restaurants; Johnny Noodle King, Edo, etc. Which place has your recommendation on price and which on quality and menu variety?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Ima in Corktown and Madison Heights, although Matsuchan in Canton is an OG that I hit any time I make the trek out to Ikea.

Zelenak942 karma

What’s a great food place in Detroit that isn’t a result of the gentrifying of the area? Businesses owned by locals who, say, didn’t come in, buy up property to build another hotel on Woodward/Downtown, and added a luxury restaurant that caters to the rich and usually non-native Detroiters

detroit_free_press5 karma

Man. There are too many to list.

We can start with Bert's in Eastern Market, which was my choice this year for the Restaurant of the Year Classic. Bert's been in the city since 1968. This applies to most of the other places in Eastern Market too, including Zef's, Russell Street, Vivio's, Supino's, Louie's, etc. Just hoping all these new investors don't mess it up.

robat19892 karma

Who are some of your favorite bartenders in the city? And if you cannot name people because of professional reasons what qualities would make the best bartenders in your opinion?

Who do you think has some amazing service in the city?

You mentioned in your review about shewolf that they brought your food while you sitting at the bar from your back and you did not like that, can you please elaborate why that was a bad thing?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Grey Ghost's Will Lee makes some of the my favorite cocktails in the city, but I love the old-school calm of Rick Paulger at Buhl Bar. I go to him when it's been a long day and I just need a stiff drink and an ear. (Buhl Bar is two blocks from my building.) And I still miss Dorothy Elizabeth since she moved to NYC..

Service has always been a challenge here, so it's been interesting to see what an out-of-town hospitality group with some big guns behind it can do. (Tl;dr San Morello's service is fantastic.)

It's a nit-picky thing but I find it annoying when eating at the bar to be tapped on the shoulder and have to lean back and awkwardly turn around to hear the dish detailed. It can be tough in a small restaurant with lots of staff and traffic bottlenecks, but I much prefer if the bartender or runner served the plates from the same direction as the drinks so you're not being pulled in two directions.

constantino12 karma

Do you agree that Miller's Bar is a vastly overrated burger?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Sometimes it's not necessarily what's on your plate that makes a place special.

Beard_of_Valor2 karma

I listen to Dave and Chuck. They've said as recently as this weeK that there's a local strip club known for its steak. Have you ever reviewed food at a strip club?

detroit_free_press4 karma

No, despite John Carlisle's best efforts to convince me to.

Lobster_osity2 karma

Have you been to the reopened/new mgmt Caucus Club in the Penobscot? If so what do you think?

Thank you!

detroit_free_press3 karma

Yes. My experience was colored by the fact that on both occassions my dates and I were the only ones in the place other than the people waiting on us. Almost doesn't matter if the food is any good if you're sitting in a huge empty space devoid of life. The owner is a real sweet guy but I'm not sure how long that place can hold on.

farmer_bach2 karma

Given the glut of upscale restaurants in the past decade and talent seemingly spreading thin, do you foresee a strong contraction in the market? Is there room for growth, yet?

If you would, please elaborate on the state of the restaurant ecosystem in Detroit and the Midwest in general. Cheers!

detroit_free_press3 karma

I wrote about this very thing in my New Year's column. (Tl;dr There is still room for growth here, but predictions of recession and Big 3 layoffs will slow the pace a bit and rising labor costs will drive more stalwarts out of business.)

f_o_t_a2 karma

I just found out about Detroit style pizza. Any specific pizza spots I should check out next time in there?

detroit_free_press5 karma

Aside from the obvious recommendations listed below, Amar Pizza in Hamtramck does Detroit-style pizza with Bangladeshi toppings -- a beautiful, funky fusion.

Temperment2 karma

Will a Michelin star restaurant ever appear in Detroit?

detroit_free_press2 karma

No. Michelin doesn't operate in Detroit and probably never will. The short, overly simplified reason why is because Michelin is in the business of selling tires and there isn't enough population density to attract them here.

cameronc892 karma

What are your thoughts on the crack fries at hopcats?

detroit_free_press5 karma

You can't call them that anymore.

honeyskips2 karma

best soul food place ?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Chef Gregg's Soul 'N' the Wall and Bert's Marketplace. Beans & Cornbread is good too.

service_plumber2 karma

Is it true what Gordon Ramsay said on Hot Ones? That critics wish they were the person they're critiquing?

detroit_free_press3 karma

No. I wouldn't ever wish to run a restaurant.

matt-piles2 karma

What is your favorite beer brewery in the Metro Detroit area?

detroit_free_press5 karma

Not a big beer drinker anymore but I like Batch.

CheeseCurdCommunism2 karma

When preparing a "surf and turf dish", say Flat Iron steak served with Skillet seared butter scallops, what is the best wine to pair with the meal? A red, a white? Recommendations?

detroit_free_press3 karma

I'd probably go with a lighter-bodied red like pinot noir or Nebbiolo, although you might be surprised how well a fleshier riesling pairs with steak.

ElectricGod2 karma

What sort of public or private push back from the Lakeland food program have you seen or heard?
Also, how much better is Cleveland's food scene vs Detroit?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Pushback? For what?

Where's Cleveland? /s

ReallyWeirdNormalGuy2 karma

Telway, Hunter House, Little Bros, or Comet Burger?

detroit_free_press5 karma

Telway all day. The sliders there are actually steamed dumplings posing as sliders.

HonestBreath2 karma

Loving the adjusted format for restaurant of the year. Also appreciate your inclusion of smaller and lesser known restaurants throughout the entire community.

My question:

Are all Restaurants opened between January 1st to December 31st considered? I'm curious if an establishment like San Morello (opened mid December) would be eligible for this year's ROTY or next years.

detroit_free_press2 karma


And to be clear -- because there's some confusion on this -- there is no timeframe for Restaurant of the Year. The place can be a month old, a year old, or a decade old. But because that award is supposed to celebrate a place that speaks to the current moment, it often is a newer spot. We announce the winner at 10 a.m. tomorrow on, by the way, because this year there was both a Best New and ROTY.

detroit_free_press2 karma

Oh and thanks for the positive feedback.

swakel2 karma

Do you think we will see upcoming restaurants openings in Detroit serving “new Midwest cuisine” style menus with high fat and high acid type dishes like lady of the house and mabel gray or instead mirroring west coast trends and serving more fusion style menus like mojodomo for Korea food?

detroit_free_press3 karma

I think you're already starting to see the latter, with places like Adachi, Antihero and Ima. I hope the next phase of new restaurants brings a little more focused regionality. I'm so sick of the whole "pan-Latin" and "Asian-inspired" thing because WTF does that even mean? Do you know how big and diverse Asia is? That's like saying you're opening a place inspired by half of the world's population. Let's narrow it down just a tad. /endrant

But to answer your question, I think you'll start to see even more people cooking food from their own heritage. An example I'm really excited for is Poppie's, because we're way overdue for a thoughtful, contemporary take on Polish food.

swakel2 karma

Thanks for answering my question! I am a big fan of your writing!

detroit_free_press2 karma

Appreciate you saying that and for reading!

elh932 karma

How often do you go to Ann Arbor?

detroit_free_press2 karma

Not nearly enough. It's like another world and I would really like to do better at getting out there to explore it.

ImGoingToHell1 karma

How did you manage to scrape together a top ten list without repeating? Or were strip clubs eligible?

detroit_free_press3 karma

Do you have any idea how many restaurants opened last year?

RCMattyIce1 karma

What do you think is Detroit's (or Michigan's in general) worst/grossest dish?

detroit_free_press2 karma

Man. You are just setting me up for hate mail.

But I don't get why pasties ever expanded beyond the copper mines and think bumpy cake and almond boneless chicken are both overrated.

TheHelpfulChem1 karma

While Detroit has been growing immensely in higher end restaurants (Albena, Flowers, Besa, Etc) and the already established cheap eats restaurants seem to be booming (anywhere in Southwest, Madison Heights, Dearborn, Etc), why do you think it is that were not seeing any growth in the middle tier market? Additionally, when do you think Detroit proper will start gaining any of the "fast casual" restaurants that have been taking over the country (Chipolte, Sweetgreen, Boba Guys, Etc.)

detroit_free_press2 karma

It's hard to make money in the middle.