Restaurants/Bars

298. El Camino – December 20, 2017 – Keego Harbor, MI

December2017ElCamino1 (2)December2017ElCamino3 (4)December2017ElCamino4 (3)Keego Harbor is represented on 100 Places in the D! The new-to-the-blog city is home to El Camino, a Mexican joint that opened earlier this year. And you know I was psyched to check it out because I ADORE Mexican food to the jillionth degree (the cheese, the spice, the vibrancy of flavor – ¡sí, sí, and sí!).

Walking into the restaurant for lunch on Wednesday, I was immediately taken with its whimsically eclectic decor. Where else do you see wicker lighting fixtures, red accent walls, gilded mirrors, mini cacti, and avocado chairs (yes, avocado chairs: lime-green seats studded with an image of a halved avocado) all comingling? I was even more thrilled, of course, to discover the deliciousness of the food and drink.

The Not Cho Mojito is a refreshing riff on a mojito: it’s less sweet, infused with tequila rather than rum, and steeped with cilantro instead of mint. That little guy goes down easy, as does the chips and salsa sampler, which was AMAZING. The fresh tortilla chips are thick, crispy, grease-saturated little triangles of heaven – especially when dipped into the pico de gallo, salsa verde, and charred tomato-pineapple salsa. I especially enjoyed the salsa verde with its zesty lime flavor – a pleasant surprise for me, as I’m generally not a big fan of the green sauce.

And the tacos: they were glorious flavor bombs, tender meat sprinkled with Cotija cheese and nestled in pillowy corn tortillas. I ordered the Carne Asada with grilled steak and the Al Pastor with shredded, slow-roasted pork and grilled pineapple. I appreciated how liberally filled they were and how fresh and flavorful they tasted. They were an apt reminder that Mexican food is LIFE – not that I needed a reminder of that, of course, but I’ll take it!

2807 Orchard Lake Rd.

Keego Harbor, MI 48320

www.elcamino.cool

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297. Ima – December 17, 2017 – Detroit, MI

December2017Ima1 (2)December2017Ima2 (2)December2017Ima4 (3)Today’s post recounts Visit Number 297 to a new-to-me, locally-owned place in the Metro-Detroit area since starting this blog in February 2014.

Number 297! It’s looking like Number 300 will be hit before the end of 2017 [Cue confetti]!!!!

I can’t believe I’ve covered so much ground in just under four years, yet I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface – especially when it comes to trying new restaurants, bars, and shops in Detroit itself. Sunday’s visit to Ima was my 72nd visit to a new-to-me Detroit establishment since starting 100 Places in the D, and still there are so many intriguing places in the city on my to-do list – 110 and counting! I’m excited by the fact that there are so many amazing restaurants, bars, shops, parks, and venues to try; simultaneously, I’m impatient to see them all.

Can you relate to that feeling, that mixture of anticipation and excitement and impatience? Perhaps you, like me, are a Metro-Detroiter with a list as long as your arm of all the cool places in the city you’d like to visit, and it seems like it takes you forever to cross just one item off the list. I feel you on that! Pursuing dreams – even the smallish dream of trying a new restaurant – requires more discipline than I always expect it should.

Regardless of where you live, of what you want to accomplish, however big or small, the actual logistical doing of those things can be scary – the struggle is real! I hope you’re able to spur yourself on to achieve those things you want to achieve, at whatever pace you’re able to proceed at, whether moved by motivation or inspiration or frustration or impatience (hopefully by the former two feelings over the latter two).

I’ll thank God for that sense of impatience in me; it’s what drove me down to Corktown last Sunday after reading several issues of Hour Detroit and collecting more places to visit. I could’ve easily eaten lunch at home, but I pushed myself into that place of discomfort (my fear of driving in the city persists – will that ever go away?) and headed down to Michigan Avenue.

Upon surviving my vehicular anxiety (phew!), I parked on a snowy side street near Ima and stepped inside its warm, snug interior. The noodle- and rice-bowl-centric restaurant with a cuisine that’s been described as Japanese fusion was populated by a number of patrons despite having only been open for a half hour. Greeted by a friendly server who suggested I take a counter seat, I picked one facing a white divider wall that fronted the kitchen.

I’d previously studied the menu of udon noodle dishes, rice bowls, and appetizers including shrimp-stuffed dumplings, edamame, and tacos with wakame (seaweed), green hot sauce, and “jicama shells” (who knew jicama could be fashioned into taco shells?). So I knew exactly what I wanted: the Golden Curry rice bowl with smoked pork loin.

My meal came out quickly, and I was eager to dig in to the vibrant bowl of steaming curry. It was then that I noticed my utensil choices: spoon or chopsticks.

Oh, man! I hadn’t eaten with chopsticks in the longest, but I decided to tough it out with those wooden sticks rather than embarrass myself asking for a fork, and the chopstick finagling got easier as I went. That Golden Curry was worth the struggle!

The rich curry sauce was accompanied by a flavorful nori furikake seasoning and paired well with the sticky rice, cauliflower, edamame, scallions, sauteed greens, and pink pickled ginger. The thinly sliced pork loin was perfection, tender as can be. What a filling, fresh, warming dish! I was able to take half of the ample serving home to enjoy later (sans chopsticks, admittedly).

My visit to Ima was much too quick. I’d regretted choosing the counter seat facing the white kitchen divider and abutting up to another counter seat along the wall to my right; it made me feel claustrophobic, so I didn’t linger. I should’ve squeezed into a spot along the well-populated counter fronting the window – the view of Michigan Ave. would’ve felt so much more expansive! Or maybe I could’ve negotiated a spot at one of the two long communal tables; there was another woman eating there solo. I’d definitely recommend sitting in one of those two areas if you visit Ima; don’t make the mistake I made and sit facing a blank wall when you could be people-watching and soaking in the ambiance. Going out of your way to cross a place off of your to-visit list is much too special for that!

2015 Michigan Ave.

Detroit, Michigan 48216

www.imanoodles.com

296. Downtown Café – December 8, 2017 – Rochester, MI

December2017DowntownCafe2 (2)December2017DowntownCafe1 (2)I’m a sucker for ambiance. When seeking out new places to visit, I find myself particularly attracted to elegant-contemporary, hipster-industrial, and down-to-earth-dive-y places. I like glossy, exciting, striking, mysterious, exuberantly welcoming environments.

Cozy-unpretentious isn’t an ambiance I generally gravitate toward, because let’s face it: cozy-unpretentious is not that exciting of a vibe. But my visit to Downtown Café on Main Street in downtown Rochester last Friday reminded me that cozy-unpretentious places can be awesome – especially when they serve up drool-worthy meals.

Perhaps my experience with this breakfast/lunch joint can serve as a reminder for me to not judge a book by its cover. Because now that I really ponder it, why shouldn’t cozy-unpretentious be considered a desirable vibe? My beloved late Gram could be described as both cozy and unpretentious, and she’s the best person I’ve ever known.

And yes, the small dining interior of the Downtown Café may not contain such dramatic decorative elements as exposed brickwork, crystal chandeliers, and tables crafted from repurposed wood. But it’s pleasant and comfortable, an easy place to sit and catch up with friends (no bumping music to shout over here!).

And its Turkey Reuben! It is utterly delicious with its buttery grilled rye bread, thick-piled turkey breast, gooey Swiss cheese, and savory coleslaw and Russian Dressing. I demolished mine and the coin-shaped seasoned French fries that came with it. Love, love, love this sandwich.

The sandwich section of the Downtown Café’s menu is obviously representative of the lunch side of the menu, as are the salad and appetizer sections. Entrée salads offered include the Bruschetta Salad, Sun-Dried Cherry Salad, and the classic local favorite that originated with the bygone Hudson department store, the Maurice Salad (which always makes me nostalgic for childhood and lunches at Hudson’s with my mom and/or grandmother).

Breakfast items constitute the rest of Downtown Café’s menu, including such tantalizing choices as the Asparagus, Spinach, Portabella Mushroom and Swiss Cheese Omelet; Almond Crusted French Toast; and homemade quiche.

After my experience at the Downtown Café, I’m thinking I should add cozy-unpretentious to my list of preferred ambiances. It’s a reminder for me that a restaurant doesn’t have to look flashy or gritty or glamorous to serve up amazing food.

Plus, I noticed in its Yelp profile that the Downtown Café offers seating on a gorgeous outdoor patio during the warm-weather months – a fact that was not evident to me during my dead-of-winter visit. And I’m ALWAYS a sucker for alfresco ambiance!

Worth noting: the Downtown Café is truly a breakfast/lunch joint, as reflected by its hours of operation (7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays).

606 N. Main St.

Rochester, MI 48307

www.downtowncaferochester.com

294. Stache International – November 17, 2017 – Detroit, MI

November2017Stache1 (2)November2017Stache2 (3)November2017Stache3 (2)November2017Stache4 (3)Hi guys! I’m glad to be back on the blog sharing with you another glorious place in the D after a week off – just in time for the weekend and any exploring you may be set on doing! 🙂

I hope you all had an excellent Thanksgiving if you celebrate that holiday. I was fortunate to enjoy a four-day weekend around it, and while I didn’t end up exploring any new-to-me Detroit-area places during that timeframe, I did get up to Mt. Pleasant to visit a friend (and my old stomping grounds from my college days at CMU – Fire Up Chips!) and did a revisit of M-Brew (where I guzzled cranberry-infused hard cider and played the heck out of the Ghostbusters pinball machine in celebration of a pal’s birthday). It was delightful.

You know what else was delightful? My recent visit to Stache International! After hitting up the recently opened Eastern Market Brewing Company two weekends ago, my night out in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Detroit continued with a visit to the sandwich joint, which I discovered is not your average deli (in the best way EVER).

Stache is more bar than sandwich shop. For one, it has a full bar – plus a dimly lit, eclectically hipster-trendy-slash-mysterious vibe. There are glossy black carousel horses flanking the bar, a plethora of eye-grabbing prints on the wall, and on the night I was there, two TVs playing a black-and-white movie that appeared to be Frankenstein and episodes of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, respectively.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse! OK, I know ol’ Pee-Wee, or rather, Paul Reubens who played him, has a tarnished past – and legitimately so – but man! did I love that show when I was a kid! I hadn’t seen it in years, and I felt a fond wave of nostalgia when I saw it playing above the Stache International bar – nostalgia that the younger friends I was with who were babies when Pee-Wee’s Playhouse ended couldn’t relate to. Man, is that show trippy to watch when you’re an adult! It fits in well with Stache’s surreal aesthetic.

While I very much enjoyed the ambiance and the blast-from-the-past TV viewing, I was ultimately at Stache for the food. I found that while its menu is small, it contains many intriguing sandwich and appetizer choices. After deliberating and taking the server’s suggestions into account, I decided on the Turkey Mondulo, which is described on Stache’s website as “House smoked pulled turkey breast marinated in chipotle & negra modelo & honey-cilantro red cabbage slaw & rosemary garlic aioli on grilled sourdough,” and added avocado per the add-on option. I also couldn’t help but spring for the Firecracker Bites, which are essentially a spring roll-mozzarella stick hybrid: spring roll wrappers loaded with cheese and local jam connoisseur Gus & Grey’s Sweet Jesus jalapeño jam and deep-fried. YES, PLEASE!

The Firecracker Bites came out first. I had gotten the order of four (there is also an order of 12) and shared them with my three companions. They were INSANELY good. I mean, deep-fried spring rolls loaded with mozzarella, asiago, and delectably sweet-and-spicy Gus & Grey jam and dunked in Cajun ranch sauce – how can you go wrong? As I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, I’m obsessed with Gus & Grey jams, and I certainly don’t find cheesy, deep-fried items unalluring, either.

Fun fact: our server told us that the husband of the woman who owns Gus & Grey is one of the owners of Stache International – so there’s the tie-in!

And then it was on to the Turkey Mondulo, which was PHENOMENAL! I was admittedly surprised to like it so much, as I wasn’t sure how appealing a turkey sandwich with cabbage on it would be and had relied more on our server’s enthusiastic recommendation of it than my reaction to the menu description when choosing it. But it was SOOOO good. The sourdough bread was irresistibly buttered and toasted to perfection, while the turkey breast and honey-cilantro cabbage slaw were pleasingly flavorful. I swore there was cheese on the sandwich, but I’m not seeing it in the menu description, so perhaps it was the garlic aioli whose delectable creaminess I adored in addition to the creaminess of the avocado? At any rate, the sandwich was amazing. The house-made potato chips that came with it were pretty darn good, too – crispy and well-seasoned.

My night out in the Eastern Market neighborhood concluded with a revisit to Detroit City Distillery, where the good vibes garnered from Eastern Market Brewing Company and Stache amplified as DJs spinned tunes while buoyantly happy dancers let loose. It was an awesome finish to an awesome night, but I was especially happy to have had the foresight to take half of my Stache International sandwich with me so I could enjoy it again later. The place is truly worth a revisit – and not just via leftovers.

1416 E. Fisher Service Dr.

Detroit, MI 48207

www.stacheinternational.com

293. Eastern Market Brewing Company – November 17, 2017 – Detroit, MI

November2017EMBC2 (2)November2017EMBC3 (2)Last Friday night was especially fun because (as I mentioned in my last post) I spent it downtown! Friends and I enjoyed a night out in Eastern Market, which I quickly realized is more loaded with restaurants and bars than I’d thought it to be. Our first stop? The recently opened Eastern Market Brewing Company.

Right away I loved the ambiance of this craft brewery established inside of a former meat-packing facility, from the exposed bricks and bare-lightbulb lighting to succulents in vintage cans studding the long pinewood tables to the hooks left as remnants from the building’s past festooned all over the walls. Wooden plant boxes crammed with lively greenery hang from one wall; a large mural of the brewery’s logo, a frolicking elephant wielding an EMBC banner with its trunk, emblazons another.

The menu contained an expansive selection of 15 brews on the night of my visit, from which I ordered four to populate a sampler flight: the Maize Cream Ale (a light-bodied beer infused with corn), Coffee Stout, Pumpkin Hefe, and Nitro Pumpkin (which led me to learn that nitro beers incorporate actual nitrogen – interesting!). All of the beers were good, but I especially enjoyed the Pumpkin Hefe – a.k.a a Hefeweizen (wheat beer) with a pronounced pumpkin flavor, subtle sweetness, and an irresistible hint of nutmeg. What a perfect brew to sip whilst huddled away from the chilly fall night in a cozy, convivial environs!

Worth noting: Eastern Market Brewing Company doesn’t have a kitchen-backed food menu, but snacks are available for purchase (I’m not positive what kind, but it did look like bags of popcorn were on display), and you can bring in outside food, as well.

2515 Riopelle St.

Detroit, MI 48207

www.easternmarket.beer

291. Tamaleria Nuevo Leon – November 11, 2017 – Detroit, MI

November2017Tamaleria1 (2)November2017Tamaleria2November2017Tamaleria3 (2)I’m so excited to bring you today’s post on Tamaleria Nuevo Leon, a tamale joint in Detroit!

This carryout restaurant is a cash-only establishment on Vernor Highway in Mexicantown. It’s a place I’ve referenced wanting to visit in a few of my recent posts, and this past weekend, I finally made it down there for some sweet, sweet tamale goodness.

You walk in and place your order at a counter. Tamales can be ordered by the dozen, half-dozen, and individually. The larger the order size for one variety of tamale that you order, the better the discount. For instance, I decided on a dozen tamales – one-half dozen pork with jalapeños and one-half dozen cheese with jalapeños – which cost me $14 before tax (as it’s $7 per each half-dozen variety of tamales). But if I had gotten all dozen tamales as pork, they would’ve only been $11. Since I wanted to try two different kinds, I was willing to pay a few extra dollars on this visit. And I still received a discount with the half-dozen orders versus ordering tamales individually, as single tamales are $1.50 each.

I LOVE Mexican food, so I was super excited to leave Tamaleria Nuevo Leon with two warm bundles of those little babies nestled in their corn husks. I finally sat down to lunch an hour-plus later, ravenous with hunger and anticipation.

My appetite was quickly sated, and I was not disappointed. Man, are these tamales melt-in-your-mouth delicious! If I had to pick a favorite, I would go with the pork ones with their meaty, spicy filling, but the cheese ones are certainly good, too. I ate eight tamales throughout the first day of getting them – not a difficult feat, as they are smaller than some tamales you will find in restaurants – more long and narrow.

If you love a good tamale, you’ve got to check out this place. Tamaleria Nuevo Leon is yet another Mexicantown gem!

2669 Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48216

 

289. The Fed – November 3, 2017 – Clarkston, MI

November2017Fed1 (2)November2017Fed2 (2)November2017Fed4 (2)November2017Fed7 (2)Hiya, guys! TGIF! The weekend with its beautiful chasm of open time and space beckons with its invitation to explore, and you can bet I’ll be checking out at least one new place this weekend. As I mentioned in last week’s Taqueria El Rey post, I was hoping to return to Mexicantown last weekend to try a much-lauded tamale shop, but my plans changed, and I didn’t end up making it. Wah wah. So that place is still on my list, and/or I might check out a new-to-me Detroit coffee shop, as I always appreciate a good indie java joint (killer ambiance+cappuccino is my version of rainbows+butterflies – so magical!).

Do you have a new-to-you place you are looking to try this weekend? If you’re in need of inspiration and are local, may I humbly suggest The Fed in downtown Clarkston? I met a friend there for dinner last Friday night and LOVED it. Now THERE is some killer ambiance!

Seriously, this restaurant housed in a building that was once a bank (complete with private rooms inside of former bank vaults) is STUNNING. I was immediately obsessed with its décor. Starting from the outside of the building with its stone brickwork and Spanish-tile roof: ivy clings to walls, lightbulbs are festooned about the ample patio space, heat lamps are aflame so the outdoor tables can be enjoyed into the chilly temps. No one was eating outside on the night I was there (the current temps likely being too chilly even for heating lamps), but there was a couple sitting out there presumably waiting for others or for a table, and they seemed quite comfortable.

And the interior of The Fed: well, there are so many gorgeous details to absorb that it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like you’re eating dinner in a living space straight from a chic decorating magazine, one with an eclectic collection of lighting fixtures (globe, paper-lantern, reading-lamp, minimalist-bulb), seating options (structured couches with brightly patterned pillows and furry throw rugs, rattan chairs), and general decorative awesomeness (white marble tabletops, a plethora of eye-pleasing pottery, wall hangings, tiny pots in plants – you name it) with an emphasis on neutrals, particularly white. It’s a clean, modern, luxurious-looking space, and I fell for it hard. Can every space I interact with throughout my day look like The Fed (especially my corporate-job office) – please?

Ambiance is important to me, yes – I love a pretty space – but of course, my numero-uno is the food. I was intrigued by The Fed’s menu, which our waitress explained is influenced by the kitchen’s farm-to-table focus; it changes periodically in order to embrace seasonal menu items.

After exploring the menu options, including various appetizers, salads, flatbreads, fish dishes (including sushi plates), tacos, and meat-centric entrees such as filet, I decided on the Angry Pig flatbread with its braised pork, cilantro pesto, corn kernels, diced tomatoes, sliced shallots, red onion, jack cheese, and spicy mayo drizzle. My friend and I also decided to get the crispy cauliflower appetizer to share. Both were awesome! The cauliflower was breaded and deep-fried and tossed in a sweet-and-sour-type sauce; it was a glorious vegan version of sweet-and-sour chicken. The flatbread was loaded with rich Southwestern-esque flavor; the crust especially intrigued me because it tasted like it was sourdough to me, and how many places do a sourdough pizza crust?

I was happy to love the meal I had at The Fed after previously scanning its Yelp reviews and finding mixed opinions. Some raved about the food, while some found it to be overpriced and/or just not good. I can only vouch for my own experience, and I’m psyched that it was a positive one, of course, but you can continue the detective work and try out The Fed for yourself. Let me know what you think of it if you go (you can post in the comments field below)!

15 S. Main St.

Clarkston, MI 48346

288. Jefferson Street Pub – October 28, 2017 – Harrison Township, MI

Oct2017JeffersonStPub3 (3)Oct2017JeffersonStPub2 (2)Halloween, how I miss you already!

I love that spooky holiday – the dressing up, the decorations, the candy, the Halloween movie marathons (no matter how many times I watch those films, I find myself filled with a mix of terror and suspense and Really? You people haven’t learned yet that this guy never dies? Come on now!).

Despite having an extreme fondness for Halloween, I’ve admittedly been lazy about actively celebrating it the last couple of years. Case in point: I went out the Saturday prior to Halloween this year without dressing up; I couldn’t motivate myself to come up with a costume. True, I purposefully wore a dress that looked straight out of the ’70s and did my eye makeup all retro in case anyone asked me what I was, so I could riff and be like, “I’m a groovy girl from the era of lava lamps and Led Zeppelin!” But let’s face it: I was completely phoning it in, and no one thought I was dressed up like anything, so that didn’t count.

I was ruing my laziness when I got to Jefferson Street Pub in Harrison Township that night and saw it crawling with Halloween shenanigans. I resolved right then and there, OK, next year I am NOT phoning it in; next year I will welcome Halloween in costume! Because just look at all of these characters – they are a delight!

I was at Jefferson Street Pub to see my dad’s band, Rock Steady, play. My dad has been in bands pretty much my whole life; he sings and used to play guitar, and I don’t see his band play nearly enough. That would change, I’d decided, with this Halloween show. I would score good-daughter points, and the band would be dressed up like pirates – Ahoy to both!

I was so glad I went because I had a blast, not only because of the rockin’ music and bonding time with my dad but also because I dug Jefferson Street Pub pretty much immediately upon walking into it. The bar is relatively small and had a cozy, homey vibe on the night I was there, with twinkle lights festooned about and spooky decorations, of course. An area near the back of the bar acted as the band’s stage area, with room for dancing ghosts and ghouls to mingle.

The bar was full when my friend and I got there, but we were fortunate to find an abandoned table. We perched on our chairs, ordered our drinks, and watched the merry madness.

Shortly thereafter, the joint reached an elevated level of bustling when a busload of costumed revelers arrived. We learned that the Jefferson Street Pub was part of a Halloween pub-crawl circuit; a flier I saw in the bathroom gave the cost to participate as $10. Not a bad deal!

You should have seen the costumes on these people; these new arrivals were decked out. The one that enthralled me the most – in a creeped-out way – was the scary clown. You can see him in the photo above. Is he not one of the creepiest clowns EVER? He gives me the willies just looking at him still! I continuously amused myself that night by looking at him and laughing/shuddering at how creepy he was, to the point that he eventually noticed me, looked right at me, and faux-menacingly (I hope) pointed his butcher’s knife at me. Yikes!

Scary Clown was the runner-up in the crowd-voted costume contest that was held for that busload of bargoers; the winner was a goofy-looking, semi-pro-esque basketball player who brought his own ball to dribble in the bar (you can also see him in the photo above). His costume was fun and deserved the win, but it wasn’t as captivating, in my opinion, as that grotesque clown!

Being at Jefferson Street Pub reiterated for me that a) while going out at night and drinking has lost much of the luster I prescribed to it in my youth, it can still be a riot (when practiced responsibly, of course); b) dressing in costume when going out during Halloween weekend is CRITICAL! because if I don’t, I’ll regret it and c) I am never seeing the movie It. Also, d) seeing my dad’s band or other bands play is FUN! I love soaking up the good vibes that live music emanates. And lastly but not leastly, e) Jefferson Street Pub is a keeper! It’s down-to-earth, lively atmosphere and affordable prices hooked me. I’ll be looking for it to be involved in that Halloween pub crawl next year so I can board the school bus with the other partygoers!

36611 Jefferson Ave.

Harrison Twp., MI 48045

287. Burgrz – October 19, 2017 – Rochester Hills, MI

Oct2017Burgerz1 (2)Oct2017Burgerz4 (2)Oct2017Burgerz2 (4)I had totally dismissed Burgrz. I’d seen it around, in downtown Royal Oak and in Rochester Hills, and I was like, OK, this totally has to be a corporate nationwide chain. I mean, Burgrz with a “z”? I totally judged that “z,” man.

Then one of my coworkers recommended we go to lunch there because it was one of his fave area restaurants. Its burgers and waffle fries were awesome, in his opinion. And I was like, OK, I’m down. I went on the Burgrz website and learned that it is indeed a locally-owned establishment, with the now sole location in Rochester Hills (the Royal Oak one has closed); knowing that certainly piqued my interest. New-place time!

I stepped inside the fast-casual restaurant to discover a clean, modern vibe, with brick, wood, and chrome décor accents, red booths, and black-and-white cityscape photography displayed on the walls.

Scoping out the colorful chalkboard menus above the counter, I decided on the California burger with its bacon, tomato, mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, avocado, and lettuce. I nixed the lettuce and subbed spicy mayo for the regular mayo, and my coworker and I ordered to share a large side of the Sweet & Salty Combo, a platter of both regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

Our food was delivered to our booth quickly. The California burger was WOW. It was juicy and flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth delicious on its own, and with that creamy avocado, spicy mayonnaise, meaty tomato, and rich cheddar cheese and bacon, it was next-level. Truly, truly, truly an awesome burger.

The Sweet & Salty waffle fries were great, too: perfectly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and accompanied by a spicy ketchup, which has to be up there in the list of best inventions ever. I mean, how did I ever eat fries without spicy ketchup? It added a nice zing to the fries, especially the sweet potato fries.

So yes, Burgrz may be a casual establishment that looks like a generic chain with that “z” in its name, but the verdict is in: it cooks up a DAMN GOOD burger – the kind of burger you think about for days afterword (that’s always the mark of a good meal to me: will I dream about it for days after eating it?). And it’s clean, and the staff is attentive, and the ambiance is nice, and those waffle fries with the spicy ketchup! It’s a local gem that should not be dismissed.

3204 Walton Blvd.

Rochester Hills, MI 48309

www.burgrz.com

286. Taqueria El Rey – October 14, 2017 – Detroit, MI

TaqueriaElReyOct2017-2 (3)TaqueriaElReyOct2017-3 (2)TaqueriaElReyOct2017-4 (3)TaqueriaElReyOct2017-1 (2)Hi, all! I am super excited to share today’s place with you because it is an absolute gem and I’m OBSESSED with it after eating there a few weeks ago: Taqueria El Rey in Detroit. From this Mexican restaurant, I ordered literally THE BEST tacos of my life – and very possibly the greatest meal of my life to date. They were THAT good.

I’ve visited and reported on some incredible Mexican restaurants for 100 Places in the D; El Patrón in Pontiac, Las Tortugas Taqueria in Shelby Township, and Taqueria Alma in Center Line immediately spring to mind as establishments whose wares still haunt my gastronomical dreams (in the best way possible). I have to say, though, that the carnitas tacos I had from Taqueria El Rey edged even the offerings from those fantastic establishments in the “Mind is BLOWN!” (or rather, “Taste buds are BLOWN”!) realm for me. They were ridiculously, life-affirmingly, all-is-right-with-the-world-level delicious.

Let me set the scene here before I elaborate on how insane these godly carnitas tacos were. Taqueria El Rey is on Vernor Highway in the Mexicantown neighborhood of Detroit. It’s a cash-only establishment (one that, take my word for it, is def worth withdrawing cash for) with a small dining area, a front counter with stools, and a grill near the front door where the magic is happening in real time.

The vibe inside was welcoming; I immediately felt a sense of easefulness. I felt like I had stepped into another realm far from home, one where cell phones didn’t exist and people ignored their to-do lists to relaxedly eat their lunches at counters while forming bonds with the benevolent strangers next to them.

I don’t know what exactly moved me to feel this way. Maybe it was the carefree ambiance afforded by the Latin music playing. Maybe it was that there were indeed people sitting at the front counter eating their lunches in a relaxed manner. Maybe it was the friendly young woman who took my order and told me her name was also Jackie and preceded to ask how I spelled the full version of my name (a common question when fellow Jackies meet; I am the “Jacqueline” brand of Jackie; she was Jacquelyn, if I’m remembering correctly). Whatever it was, the place emitted enough good feels in the short amount of time I waited for my carry-out order that I was like, hmm, maybe I should’ve just ordered the food for here. I’m digging this place. But when my order came, I decided, nah, I’ll wait until I get home. The practical side of me overrode the spontaneous side.

But when I got to my car and opened the carry-out box to peek in at my order of two carnitas tacos, all steaming pork and corn tortillas loaded with diced onions and cilantro and accompanied by lime wedges, radish chunks, salsa, and an intriguing green sauce, the spontaneous side roared back all like Are we insane??? We need to eat these ASAP, while they are fresh. So I did, right there in my car in the gravel parking lot abutting Taqueria El Rey. And my world was turned upside down, because they were the BEST.TACOS.EVER.

These tacos were so fresh and flavorful on their own, and then with the additions of the lime juice and the radishes and the hot salsa and the green sauce, which turned out to be an insanely good creamy jalapeño sauce, the ante was upped times a million. And all this for only $3.18 – $3.18!

I am in love with these tacos, hardcore. Like, introduce-them-to-the-family hardcore-in-love. In fact, as I exited Taqueria El Rey’s parking lot after gorging on both of them, I was like, when can I take my dad and brother here? They would love this place!

I can’t wait to make my next trip to Taqueria El Rey to eat these magical carnitas tacos drizzled in lime juice and salsa and dunked in that spicy jalapeño sauce again. I am actually hoping to make another trip down to Mexicantown this Saturday. Although here is the dilemma: my addiction to trying new places is calling me to check out another Mexicantown establishment; I’m pondering one that specializes in tamales. But hey, those two Taqueria El Rey tacos were only $3.18; certainly I could afford to visit both when those tacos cost less than the price of a latte, right?

4730 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.taqueria-elrey.com