Something weird happened in mid-2019. It seemed like 25 percent of Detroit’s millennials up and moved to the West Coast. Some left to pursue work in entertainment or the arts, some to start new jobs, and probably all of them left because they said, “This is my last winter here” a few months prior and stuck to it.
Count me in as one of those millennials, even if I’m on the older end of the spectrum. In August, I took a journalism fellowship at Stanford University and prepared to live outside of Michigan for 10 months, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere but Detroit. I didn’t intend to stay longer than that, but, well, all this happened, and I’m here indefinitely. Yes? No? Maybe? I could go back home, but do I want to get on a plane? Do I wait for a vaccine? I try not to ask myself these things 20 times a day as my bank account winces each time I pay Silicon Valley rent.
Like a lot of the Detroit-to-California transplants, I’ve been craving hometown favorites. In a different timeline, I could’ve snuck away to Detroit for a long weekend and gorged at local restaurants to get our fix. But as we enter day whatever of shelter-in-place, I’ve seen my social feeds turn to “Man, I wish I had ______ right now,” as we make our third homemade meal of the day with ingredients from the nearest Smart & Final. This is to say that for you folks in Detroit reading right now, we need your help to keep some of our favorites open until we get back.
Fortunately, a lot of places back home are still doing carryout and delivery, which means you can support them in the interim. Here in California, we’re not without Detroit staples. I can still find Vernors in higher-end markets, Bell’s has expanded to this region, and Faygo and Better Made will ship anywhere. But there are specific Detroit things — and the memories attached to them — I long for, and I’m hoping they’ll still be there when I return.
Deep-dish 7 Villages pizza with steak at Belle Isle Pizza
7869 E Jefferson Avenue || Website || 313-331-1222
I’ll always be one of Belle Isle Pizza’s biggest cheerleaders, and not just because I used to live across the street. I just love how it creates all these fantastic combinations in a humble shop, and it feels accessible without being pedestrian. The staff knew me by name — and by my order: 7 Villages pizza (it has to be deep-dish, but round is fine) with steak, plus two glass bottles of Redpop. And — here’s the key — it reheats well. Get a large pizza and eat it all day for every meal. You’re not going anywhere.
Corned beef sandwiches at Bread Basket Deli
Multiple locations || Website
A thing I’ve had to do a lot in California is explain that for Detroiters, corned beef isn’t just a once-a-year St. Patrick’s Day thing. (And just try to explain the concept of Asian corned beef.) We know corned beef sandwiches are legacy in the city, evidenced by how shocked Detroiters far and wide were when we learned that one of the earliest victims of COVID-19 was Mr. Fo-Fo himself. All that being said, no matter how many corned beef sandwiches I’ve had over the years, it’s still a surprise to bite into one every time. The way the mustard hits. How packed these sandwiches are. Getting that ratio right so it’s not too salty, but still tender. And when the bun doesn’t get too soggy, either? Listen.
Beef patties at Caribbean Citchen
10500 W. McNichols Road || Website || 313-345-3746
Long, long ago, when Renaissance High School was in the old building and the students didn’t have to wear uniforms, my mother would pick me up after school, and sometimes, as a special treat, we’d go a few blocks down to get beef patties at Caribbean Citchen for a snack on the way home. As an adult, I revisited Caribbean Citchen frequently; it has the same interior after all this time. The patties’ crispy outside and warm, spicy meaty inside still hits. Most West Indians flocked to the eastern part of the United States, which means there’s a serious dearth of Caribbean food in this part of California. Detroiters need to appreciate what they have.
Literally anything at Polish Village Cafe
2990 Yemans Street, Hamtramck || Website || 313874-5726
Again, one of those things you may not consider until you look at migration patterns across the United States, but you don’t realize that you miss handmade pierogies and dill pickle soup until you have to actually track these dishes down. Do not take for granted that if you live within a 20-minute drive of Hamtramck, you can have any kind of meat or potato concoction stuffed in a dumpling. You cannot make this at home unless you are actually Polish! (I also desperately want to go to Bumbo’s after a huge meal here, but alas.)
Lengua tacos at Taqueria Mi Pueblo
7278 Dix Street || Website || 313-841-3315
I am not lacking in Mexican food in a state that borders Mexico. (A lengua burrito at El Farolito in San Francisco’s Mission District, by the way, will change your life.) I fear, however, that while California will always have its Mexican places, Detroit may lose some of its favorites if the economy doesn’t recover. Take it from me: Taqueria Mi Pueblo makes some of the best tacos in Detroit. Without customers filling the original dining room, the restaurant is going to need people to keep ordering its food. Do it for me, so that when I make it back to the city at some undetermined date I can have a Mi Pueblo lengua taco again.
Forest udon at Ima
Multiple locations || Website
We’re all making broth, right? Seriously, if your friends haven’t posted an Instagram story of at least one pot of simmering vegetable scraps, are you even sheltering in place? But no broth will quite compare to whatever the kitchen crew at Ima is putting in theirs. This restaurant group is still doing carryout at its Midtown and Madison Heights locations. Let me tell y’all about the forest ramen, though, the secret weapon on Ima’s menu. It’s all vegetable, but I always add either pork, chicken, or — if I want to splurge — lobster tail. There’s nothing else you need to add; it’s rich, warm, and, for lack of a better term, earthy. I feel like Mother Nature herself is rubbing my tummy with every spoonful. I want to physically live in the forest and forage for various fungi after eating this.
Twice-cooked egg at Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails
15 E Kirby Street D || Website || 313-818-3915
What I wouldn’t give to be on an awkward Tinder date at my favorite of the “new” Detroit restaurants. I’ve always considered Chartreuse to be the best of the new wave, because not only is it consistent, but everything — everything — on the menu is a hit. Plus, I always appreciated how friendly the service was. All us Chartreuse fans know about the twice-cooked egg, and it seems like it should be simple enough to make at home. It’s an egg, and you cook it? Twice? But we all know better than to attempt this in our own kitchens (and where do you even buy salty cheese in the middle of a pandemic?), so go ahead and order one as an appetizer with anything else on the menu for carryout right now.
Wings at Captain Jay’s Fish & Chicken
Multiple locations || Website
If it’s in your will, Lord, we will have basement house parties again where we won’t have to socially distance over a giant foil pan of wings next to the jugs of Everfresh orange and cranberry juices and cheap vodka while we play spades. We will have Captain Jay’s wings — and nothing else, except maybe chips — at work potlucks when we go back to the office. But until then, we’ll just settle for carryout orders. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.
Chorizo omelet at Clique
1326 E Jefferson Avenue || Website
Let’s talk about hangover foods, though. I was surprised to learn that the Clique is still doing carryout during “these unprecedented times.” I was just sitting here thinking how different a diner breakfast hits when you’re trying to avoid making eye contact with people running for public office, or judging revelers still wearing their club ’fits from the night before. Now, the chorizo omelet is something special, because while you could try this at home (don’t), the one at Clique is so stuffed with meat and cheese that it stands out from the typical breakfast staples.
Beef shawarma at Bucharest Grill
Multiple locations || Website
I don’t even have to do a survey among all the California transplants to confirm that this is the one thing we all miss the most, because I’ve seen it mentioned more than any food back home. Shawarma isn’t that hard to come by in metro Detroit; it’s an abundance of choices that is difficult to find anywhere else in the U.S. So why do we keep coming back to Bucharest? I don’t want to put it above any Middle Eastern place (the restaurant’s recipes are actually based off Romanian street food). My theory: The convenience, the price, and the garlic sauce. The fact that how, right now, I can almost see myself riding up to the Jefferson location, driving alongside Polaris Slingshots and Harleys blasting Kem, to pick up a beef shawarma. Or how having Bucharest cater an otherwise dull conference or offsite work meeting breaks up the monotony. Or trying to eat messy leftovers. Or not even getting mad if they get your order wrong, because it’s still going to taste good. We’ve got to keep all these restaurants alive, so that if and when we go back to old Detroit, some of these otherwise mundane things won’t just exist in memory.
Aaron Foley is the author of How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass and editor of The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook. Prior to becoming the Chief Storyteller for the City of Detroit, Foley was the editor in chief of BLAC Detroit Magazine. He’s currently at Stanford University participating in the JSK Journalism Fellowship.