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Interior of Wine Side shop with floor to ceiling shelving with bottles on display, concrete flooring, and a window in Detroit, Michigan. Rosa Maria Zamarrón

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Here Are 2023’s Eater Award Winners for Detroit

The best new restaurant, wine bar, and taqueria of the year

Serena Maria Daniels is the editor for Eater Detroit.

Each year, the Eater Awards is an opportunity for editors to reflect on what made the best restaurants, bars, food trucks, and otherwise exciting dining experiences across the country.

In 2023, Detroit was all about creating spaces. Spaces in unusual or overlooked places, like a wine shop and bar inside a cafe alongside a picturesque walking path. Spaces that have lived many lives and that have once again stepped up to the challenge to reinvent itself for the next era of dining. Spaces inside basements, in a parking lot, a farmer’s market, or just about anywhere where one can pull up a food truck. We’re here to celebrate the people and places that have taken Detroit’s many underutilized or ignored spaces and have found ways to build a sense of community — whether over a bottle of wine between friends after a leisurely bike ride on the eastside, a nostalgia-inducing plate of schnitzel, cocktails and snacks prepared in the lower level of one of the city’s iconic mansions, halal-friendly street snacks that fuse the region’s Arab and Indian cultures, or a plate of brisket tacos that will make you reconsider whatever you thought you knew about the flavors of norteño cuisine.

Eater Detroit is pleased to announce the winners of Detroit’s 2023 Eater Awards.

Three dishes of food, one with pasta and red sauce, cucumber salad with flowers, and a sausage dish from Alpino restaurant in Detroit, Michigan. Fatima Syed
The interior of Alpino restaurant featuring the bar with wood log accents, shelving with drink ware, a row of bar seating, a window in Detroit, Michigan. Fatima Syed

Alpino: Best New Restaurant

In a world where restaurants are increasingly opting for maximalism, it could have easily been assumed by its name that Alpino would somehow give Disney Matterhorn vibes. That rickety, old bobsled log ride modeled to recreate the Swiss and Italian Alps might have been a Gen Xer’s childhood nightmare, but here in Detroit, we’re impressed to see Alpino offering a perhaps more subtle (and delicious) exploration into Austrian, French, German, Italian, and Swiss culture. No, the space does not replicate some corny après-ski. Diners are greeted with neutral tones, sure, some firewood accents, that stone fireplace, and a menu that reminds many of metro Detroit’s Eastern European community of grandma’s cooking.

Standouts include an herbaceous güurkensalat accented with edible marigold petals and a healthy dose of dill, a baseball mitt-sized wienerschnitzel made with a cut of breaded Strauss veal and a creamy morel rahmsauce, and pastas like a ragu tagliatelle made with buttery decadent Piedmontese beef. Of course, if you’re looking for ski resort vibes in post-industrial Detroit, come for Sunday brunch and be treated to cheese in many forms. Perhaps the secret weapon behind Alpino lies in the collaboration between owner David Richter and Eater Award-winning bar manager Andre Sykes, who earned the downtown speakeasy Shelby a James Beard semifinalist nod in 2022 for Best New Bar. Here, he evokes the pristine, mountainous landscape of the Alps with cocktails such as the La Vie en Rose, which combines pink Norden Aquavit, mulberry-infused dry vermouth, and orange bitters. For Richter’s part, he’s a New York-based City Winery alum, which is reported to be coming soon to Southwest Detroit (he’s no longer affiliated with the group). With his deep knowledge of wines from underrepresented regions of Europe, guests are transported to the Alps through rich flavors that remind some folks of home.

Interior of Wine Side shop with floor to ceiling shelving with bottles on display, concrete flooring, and a window in Detroit, Michigan. Rosa Maria Zamarrón
Interior of Red Hook cafe with a counter with espresso machine and pastry case on top. Three people standing. A yellow curtain in the right background in Detroit, Michigan. Rosa Maria Zamarrón

Best New Wine Bar: The Wine Side

Along the Dennis Archer Greenway between East Jefferson and East Vernor Highway, the century-old George Harrison Phelps, Inc. building hosts a unique food and drink destination. A longtime cafe favorite, Red Hook expanded to the greenway in 2021 and, this spring, introduced an adjoining wine shop, Wine Side. The sibling businesses marry the two items that folks were still willing to leave their homes for during lockdown: coffee and wine.

At Wine Side, customers can purchase bottles to take home, crack one open for a corkage fee, or order select wines by the glass. Outdoor seating offers alfresco relaxation and when weather permits, the patio area also hosts the occasional pop-up, happy hour, DJ set, and collaborates with its neighbors Breadless and empanada shop Empacho to encourage folks to stick around awhile. As for the wine, the selection leans in on cold climate offerings from regions such as Oregon, New Zealand, and Germany. Each bottle is labeled with details about its origins: whether a wine is biodynamic, uses organic farming practices, or is sustainable, along with descriptors of the flavor profiles, making the bottles feel more accessible.

It’s a similar approach to the care taken in Red Hook’s coffee sourcing. Thanks to Red Hook’s Wine Side, Detroiters have yet another worthy place to palm a glass of wine on a patio on a warm summer evening, fully realizing the potential of the greenway as a destination.

Two people standing and looking down behind flowers on a long countertop, green tile in the background at Cafe Sous Terre in Detroit, Michigan. Fatima Syed
Two cups, with a glass with a cocktail in it, another a white mug sitting on a saucer on a stone countertop at Cafe Sous Terre in Detroit, Michigan. Fatima Syed

Joel Jones (Cafe Sous Terre): Best Bartender

Situated in the basement of a 19th-century brick mansion turned Airbnb, Cafe Sous Terre is an homage to the French cafes of the early 20th century where one could while away the afternoon over espresso, a glass of wine, or small bites. Yes, the space is expertly renovated — you won’t get that funky Midwest basement smell when you enter. Vibes are accentuated with a charming, midcentury aesthetic with a row of two-tops and banquette seating, a standing bar in one corner, and seafoam and green-colored accents throughout. A painting depicting owner Reimer Priester’s grandfather playing drums alongside jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie hangs on one wall.

At the heart of the space is the sprawling bar equipped with the knowledge and talents of manager Joel Jones, who takes the trophy (or tomato can) this year for best bartender. Under his care, the full lineup of beer, wine, tea, coffee, and cocktails is designed to not only incorporate aspects of French culture, but also to touch on the ways that French colonialism is represented, everywhere from New Orleans or the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Jones’ hazelnut mai tai, uses rhum agricole — a sugarcane juice rum originally distilled on the islands of the French-colonized Caribbean. In its first few months since opening, Cafe Sous Terre has become an essential space for students, business meetups, and casual nightcaps — no matter what you’re in the mood for.

A white taco truck with yellow, red, and blue painting depicting a southwestern landscape in Detroit, Michigan. Fatima Syed
Three tacos on a plate on a table. Fatima Syed

Tacos Hernandez: Best New Taqueria

If you only had the pleasure of indulging in one taco this year, I hope that it came from Tacos Hernandez. It starts with brisket. Taquera Diana Gomez, who hails from El Paso, launched her taco truck in late summer 2022, after years of selling her handmade flour tortillas and salsa and hosting pop-ups throughout metro Detroit. Now with a truck brilliantly hand-painted in the style of a Southwestern sunset, she’s able to spread la buena palabra about her region’s interpretation of Mexican food from anywhere — no matter the zip code.

As Gomez explains, there’s a clear distinction between traditional Texas-style brisket and what she calls brisket the norteño way. For her brisket, she starts by brining the meat for 24 hours in El Paso’s own Claude’s brand barbecue brisket sauce, along with a few other secret ingredients, before drawing from ancestral traditions and braising it low and slow for eight hours — similar to how traditional barbacoa is cooked — allowing for the meat to slowly confit in its own fat. Once it’s cooked, she shreds it and places the brisket back into that brine to soak in more flavor. Corn tortillas are made to order. For now, she uses Maseca corn flour, but she is working with Crane Street Garden on the city’s eastside to grow corn. She intends on using her family’s nixtamal recipe (the pre-Hispanic process required to transform dried corn kernels into masa) on the resulting crop to create the dough that serves as the basis for tortillas, tamales, sopes, gorditas, and myriad other dishes. Nixtamalization hasn’t yet become popularized in metro Detroit, though its gained ground in other parts of the United States. Personally, we can’t get enough of Gomez’s flour tortillas. Yes, flour tortillas are frequently derided as colonizer’s food, but their imprint in norteño Mexican foodways cannot be overstated.

Gomez says having grown up in the desert, she’s been enthused to now be in a part of the country where one can grow their own produce. While Tacos Hernandez pops up all over town, its home base lies on the eastside along the East Warren corridor, which is currently undergoing a dramatic transformation bringing in new food and drink options like the forthcoming second location of Baobab Fare, Eastside Roasterz, and Gajiza Dumplins. Gomez says whenever she gets questions about why she’s not in Southwest Detroit, the eastsider says her response is emphatically, “Because I like living here. I like being your neighbor.” A reminder that all things Mexican do not have to be bound by the confines of Southwest.

A butter chicken taco held in a hand. Fatima Syed
A rice and vegetable dish in a rectangular cardboard box. Fatima Syed

Paradise Street Eats: Best New Food Truck

Paradise Biryani Pointe in Dearborn opened in 2019 just before the start of the pandemic, at first simply known for its traditional South Indian breakfast spread available during weekends. In polyglot Dearborn, the franchise has since evolved into an examination of the ways that halal cuisine can span genres, with dishes like za’atar naan, Indian falafel, and paneer tikka kabobs. Over the summer, owner Ali Wazne, who is Lebanese American, partnered with Srinath “Ziggy” Kalmadi, who is Indian and owns a few other Paradise Biryani Pointe franchise locations in Michigan, to launch Paradise Street Eats, a food truck situated in another ever-changing historically immigrant district, Greektown.

The truck’s butter chicken tacos contain all of the elements of an excellent taco: creaminess from the marinated grilled chicken tossed in butter sauce, balanced by a medley of chaat veggies, and amplified with a mint and tamarind chutney. Each taco is assembled with a piece of chapati — a reminder that no matter where you go on this planet, you’re bound to find a flatbread tradition ideal for scooping up yummy bites. On summer weekends, the truck could be found on Belle Isle, alongside what some say was the largest concentration of halal food trucks in the state of Michigan. Be on the lookout for more of these trucks outside of metro Detroit as the pair is inviting folks interested in launching their own business using the duo’s model.

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