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Vintage wooden boats in the water in front of large white home, Leland’s Riverside Inn
Vintage wooden boats tie up for dinner at Leland’s Riverside Inn
Brian Confer

16 Great Waterfront Restaurants in Northern Michigan

Where to dine and drink when being on the water matters most

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Vintage wooden boats tie up for dinner at Leland’s Riverside Inn
| Brian Confer

For a place that’s known as the Great Lakes State, good waterside restaurants can be harder to find in Michigan than one would think. And yet, there are some nights where only a waterside location will do. It’s Father’s Day, or your girlfriend’s birthday, or the final night before you have to pry yourself from that Airbnb and—even if you have to settle for one more basket of fried fish—the most important criteria is being so close to the water that you might accidentally fall in. From white tablecloth fine dining and historic inns to a taco truck and a vintage drive-in, there is more to these 16 gems than just the view alone, making them our favorite waterside spots Up North. Driving up as we speak? Call ahead and book a table, pronto. But hey, if you’re “that guy” who actually slips off the dock dressed for dinner (it totally happens), you’ve been warned.

Read next: 14 Essential Traverse City Restaurants

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Fitzgerald's Restaurant

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5033 Front St
Eagle River, MI 49950
(906) 337-0666
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Pulling into the hamlet of Eagle River off of Highway 41 feels like stepping back in time. There’s little there but a collection of simple, historic summer homes, a vintage playground, a turn-of-the-century metal truss footbridge…and one of the U.P.’s best meals. “The Fitz,” as it’s known around the Keweenaw, is equal parts hotel and restaurant—the building itself an unassuming 1950s era motel. But inside, owner Mike LaMotte and his team are pouring decades-aged whiskey into etched cocktail glasses and plating beef brisket from the on-site smoker. Bonus: LaMotte just finished a stunning remodel of the property’s (now) one-bedroom king suites. Book a room and turn dinner into an overnight at this sunset-facing Lake Superior gem.

Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork on a plate on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork from the house smoker on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Mike LaMotte

2. Harbor Haus Restaurant

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77 Brockway Ave
Copper Harbor, MI 49918
(906) 289-4502
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This white-tablecloth dining room on the tip of the Keweenaw is the place to be for an occasion that warrants oysters Rockefeller, lobster tail, or a tableside martini. The restaurant holds onto its longstanding German roots, with smoked jagerwurst and schnitzel also making appearances on the menu. If dirndl-clad waitresses feels a bit dated, head straight for the bar, order one of the large format German dunkles on the menu, and watch the Isle Royale ferry return to Copper Harbor. 

3. Drífa Brewing Company

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501 S Lake St
Marquette, MI 49855
(906) 273-1300
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Marquette got its start as a working harbor and the stunning ore dock and related historic buildings still (rightly) dominate the city’s shoreline. As a result, most of the Queen City’s exciting restaurant scene is happening up the hill on Front, Washington, and Third streets. To dine on the water, head slightly south of town to Drífa Brewing, a rare cooperative brewery that brings in Marquette’s two best food trucks on a regular schedule. On Wednesday and Thursday nights you can eat carnitas, chorizo, and chicken tacos from Dia de los Tacos, flavors that pair well with Drifa’s Green Ladder American IPA; and on Sunday nights there’s wood-fired pizza from Smelted, which Drífa’s Heather Ludwig recommends with the Lower Harbor lager. The cooperative’s beer garden is some 100 yards from Lake Superior, where you can watch freighters and sailboats cruise by—a view that will only improve over the next year as the retired Shiras steam plant continues to come down.

4. Clyde's Drive-In

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1425 Riverside Dr
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
(906) 632-2581
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Who says million-dollar views have to come with million-dollar meals? In Sault Sainte Marie, known simply as the Soo, you can get a ¾-pound (that is not a typo) hamburger and a chocolate shake from a vintage drive-in that just so happens to hug the St. Marys River. This working passageway connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron by way of the Soo Locks. Eating in your car never looked so good!

5. Les Cheneaux Culinary School

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186 S Pickford Ave
Hessel, MI 49745
(906) 484-4800
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Hessel, Michigan, which is home to the first Chris-Craft dealership in the world and an annual wooden boat show, is also home to the Les Chaneaux Islands Culinary School—which includes a lovely, student-run summer-only restaurant. The menu is never the same on any two nights, but dishes such as lamb with corn succotash help students—and guests—understand the relationship between the woods, water, and area farms. Phone a friend with a woody, nab one of the restaurant’s two boat slips at the historic E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works, and pop across the street for the best meal in “the Snows.” Don’t have access to a boat? No worries. While some destinations in this 36-island archipelago are only reachable by water, the culinary school is reachable by road.

Kate Shawan

6. Carriage House

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7485 Main St
Mackinac Island, MI 49757
(906) 847-3321
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Anyone who is celebrating a milestone on Mackinac Island knows about Grand Hotel, but don’t overlook Carriage House restaurant at the Hotel Iroquois, located within inches of Lake Huron and the island’s ferry harbor. Walk through the property’s meticulously-manicured Victorian-style flower gardens, take in the nightly piano music, ask for a table on the patio, and dine on smoked whitefish cakes while overlooking the historic Round Island lighthouse. Don’t skip dessert. In a region where tourists are known as “fudgies,” it’s fitting that Carriage House restaurant’s ice cream puff pastry with hot fudge is a guest favorite.

Two plates on a white-tablecloth table with glasses of water. There’s a slight view of grass and the outdoors in the background
When at Carriage House, ask for a table on the patio.
It’s Wonderful Photography

7. Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

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8131 Beebe Rd
Cheboygan, MI 49721
(231) 625-2919
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Built in 1894 as a private hunting and fishing lodge, the Hack-Ma-Tack Inn is one of the most historic dining rooms in Northern Michigan. Named for the Native American word for the tamarack logs from which it was built, this vintage cabin that is decorated with canoes, rowing sculls, and old fishing lures sits on the Cheboygan River near Mullett Lake. Anyone who is cruising Michigan’s Inland Waterway should tie up at “the Hack,” as it is known to regulars, find a chair near one of the enormous picture windows, order a bottle of the Ruinart Brut Rosé and the slow-roasted prime rib with house-made creamed horseradish, and watch the string of pontoons go by.

courtesy photo, Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

8. Douglas Lake Bar & Steakhouse

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11001 Douglas Lake Rd
Pellston, MI 49769
(231) 539-8588
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Halfway between Petoskey and the Mighty Mac—and not far away from the Pellston airport—sits Douglas Lake and the aptly named Douglas Lake Bar and Steakhouse (aka “the DLB”). This rustic log restaurant features two fieldstone fireplaces and a lakeside patio, and is beloved for their wedge salad and steak au poivre. Be sure to hit this woodland gem on a Sunday evening in July or August—when there’s a rotating lineup of live music.

9. Stafford's Pier Restaurant

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102 E Bay St
Harbor Springs, MI 49740
(231) 526-6201
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This longstanding anchor of the Harbor Springs dining scene underwent a major renovation five years ago and is worth revisiting if it’s been awhile. A more casual version of its former self, the nautical themed- redo is fitting for being just footsteps from some of the most exquisite yachts in all of Lake Michigan. Grab a mint julep to-go and sip it in the city’s nearby “social drinking district” while you wait for a table to open up on Dudley’s Deck. Once seated, order the fish and chips or the pan roasted walleye with tomatoes, capers, and white wine butter and watch the world (and the Lilly Pulitzer parade) go by.

courtesy photo, Stafford’s Hospitality

10. Barrel Back Restaurant

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4069 M-75
Walloon Lake, MI 49796
(231) 535-6000
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It used to be that the only thing to eat at “the foot,” as the Village of Walloon is known to residents of the lake, was a tale of two extremes—a bare bones turkey sandwich pre-wrapped in cellophane from the general store, or a fine-dining meal of whitefish and hummers at (then) David Beier’s Walloon Lake Inn. Enter Barrel Back Restaurant. Built in 2013 on the top floor of an old marine building, the restaurant boasts three walls of garage-door style windows for a true fresh air experience, as well as an open-air deck and a shaded bar on the dock itself. Barrel Back is one of the few restaurants where you can boat to breakfast, lunch, or dinner but it’s a sunset visit that’s especially magical. Grab the buffalo chicken dip, the smoked BBQ wings or some other snack from the appetizer section, a beer from their smart list of suds, and watch the sun sink over Ernest Hemingway’s childhood lake.

Jessica Miller

11. Cafe Santé

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1 Water St
Boyne City, MI 49712
(231) 582-8800
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Located just a stone’s throw from the far eastern end of Lake Charlevoix, Cafe Santé is a locals favorite. Inspired by the classic French Brasserie, this Boyne City spot is open all day. The brunch menu includes a Croque Madame and a Niçoise Salad, and a duck French onion soup and whitefish á la meuniére can be found at dinner. Dine inside for a real bistro feel, or outdoors on the patio to see the kids running off their ice cream in Sunset Park next to the lake.

12. Boathouse Restaurant

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14039 Peninsula Dr
Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 223-4030
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Old Mission Peninsula is the spit of land that heads due north out of Traverse City, splitting Grand Traverse Bay into two: East Bay and West Bay. Nestled in a small cove known as Bowers Harbor, looking west over West Bay, is Boathouse Restaurant—fittingly named for the sailboats that also call this calm harbor home. Treat yourself to a dozen oysters (the restaurant goes through some 10,000 of them every summer) and one of the 30 Michigan wines on offer, followed by any of the entrees that feature fruits or vegetables from owner’s Doug Kosch’s personal 10-acre farm.  

13. The Riverside Inn

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302 E River St
Leland, MI 49654
(231) 256-9971
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This 120-year-old inn and restaurant in Leland has seen it all in recent years—a jaw dropping remodel, a kitchen fire, and (like everyone) a pandemic. Summer 2021 is shaping up to be just as eventful. At press time, one of Leelanau County’s best restaurants was just a week or two away from changing hands. The new owners promise fellow locals that nothing will change, including the head chef, general manager, lead bartender, and sustainable scallops. Dishes like this one evolve with the seasons, but the mollusks are currently being served pan-seared with fennel cream puree, fresh peas, white asparagus, and an orange beurre blanc. Make sure there’s also room on your table for any of the Riv’s salads—like the blueberry and watermelon radish beauty that was served last summer—and a glass of organic or biodynamic wine.

Stacey Brugeman

14. Blu

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5705 S Lake St
Glen Arbor, MI 49636
(231) 334-2530
Visit Website

While Blu is on a momentary hiatus while they wait for utilities to be restored following a nearby fire, this award-winning restaurant is worth seeking out the moment they re-open this June. Owned by husband and wife team Randy and Mari Chamberlain, he helms the kitchen while she oversees the dining room and wine list. Dine on Loma Farm arugula with grilled octopus and Alba mushrooms or rack of lamb with a cherry mostarda, garlic confit, and mint pistou. Sit in the comfort of Blu’s dining room, which is like an oversized sun porch with glass walls and ceiling, or ask for a table outside. Both have unparalleled views of Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Bay and the Manitou Islands.

15. Rocks Landing

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1577 Crystal Dr
Frankfort, MI 49635
(231) 399-0158
Visit Website

The deck at Rocks Landing is so close to Crystal Lake that you can hear the waves lapping up against the shoreline while you eat. While this was a privilege that for decades was enjoyed by guests of Chimney Corners Resort, for whom this building served as a beachside dining hall, it was only a few years ago that the space underwent a major remodel and became a restaurant that is open to the public. Look for dishes inspired by the salted coasts, such as gambas al ajillo or a sesame-crusted ahi tuna with a soy egg.

Stacey Brugeman

16. The Glenwood

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4604 Main St
Onekama, MI 49675
(231) 889-3734
Visit Website

Residents of Manistee County rave about The Glenwood, especially their screened porch overlooking Portage Lake. Eating at this Onekama classic feels like dining in someone’s historic lakeside home. Try the 7-ounce blue cheese filet mignon with horseradish smashed redskin potatoes, and save room for something sweet. Co-owner Donna Ervin bakes the pies (think: Pecan Chocolate Cream, Triple Berry, and of course Cherry) herself.

1. Fitzgerald's Restaurant

5033 Front St, Eagle River, MI 49950
Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork on a plate on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork from the house smoker on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Mike LaMotte

Pulling into the hamlet of Eagle River off of Highway 41 feels like stepping back in time. There’s little there but a collection of simple, historic summer homes, a vintage playground, a turn-of-the-century metal truss footbridge…and one of the U.P.’s best meals. “The Fitz,” as it’s known around the Keweenaw, is equal parts hotel and restaurant—the building itself an unassuming 1950s era motel. But inside, owner Mike LaMotte and his team are pouring decades-aged whiskey into etched cocktail glasses and plating beef brisket from the on-site smoker. Bonus: LaMotte just finished a stunning remodel of the property’s (now) one-bedroom king suites. Book a room and turn dinner into an overnight at this sunset-facing Lake Superior gem.

5033 Front St
Eagle River, MI 49950

2. Harbor Haus Restaurant

77 Brockway Ave, Copper Harbor, MI 49918

This white-tablecloth dining room on the tip of the Keweenaw is the place to be for an occasion that warrants oysters Rockefeller, lobster tail, or a tableside martini. The restaurant holds onto its longstanding German roots, with smoked jagerwurst and schnitzel also making appearances on the menu. If dirndl-clad waitresses feels a bit dated, head straight for the bar, order one of the large format German dunkles on the menu, and watch the Isle Royale ferry return to Copper Harbor. 

77 Brockway Ave
Copper Harbor, MI 49918

3. Drífa Brewing Company

501 S Lake St, Marquette, MI 49855

Marquette got its start as a working harbor and the stunning ore dock and related historic buildings still (rightly) dominate the city’s shoreline. As a result, most of the Queen City’s exciting restaurant scene is happening up the hill on Front, Washington, and Third streets. To dine on the water, head slightly south of town to Drífa Brewing, a rare cooperative brewery that brings in Marquette’s two best food trucks on a regular schedule. On Wednesday and Thursday nights you can eat carnitas, chorizo, and chicken tacos from Dia de los Tacos, flavors that pair well with Drifa’s Green Ladder American IPA; and on Sunday nights there’s wood-fired pizza from Smelted, which Drífa’s Heather Ludwig recommends with the Lower Harbor lager. The cooperative’s beer garden is some 100 yards from Lake Superior, where you can watch freighters and sailboats cruise by—a view that will only improve over the next year as the retired Shiras steam plant continues to come down.

501 S Lake St
Marquette, MI 49855

4. Clyde's Drive-In

1425 Riverside Dr, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783

Who says million-dollar views have to come with million-dollar meals? In Sault Sainte Marie, known simply as the Soo, you can get a ¾-pound (that is not a typo) hamburger and a chocolate shake from a vintage drive-in that just so happens to hug the St. Marys River. This working passageway connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron by way of the Soo Locks. Eating in your car never looked so good!

1425 Riverside Dr
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783

5. Les Cheneaux Culinary School

186 S Pickford Ave, Hessel, MI 49745
Kate Shawan

Hessel, Michigan, which is home to the first Chris-Craft dealership in the world and an annual wooden boat show, is also home to the Les Chaneaux Islands Culinary School—which includes a lovely, student-run summer-only restaurant. The menu is never the same on any two nights, but dishes such as lamb with corn succotash help students—and guests—understand the relationship between the woods, water, and area farms. Phone a friend with a woody, nab one of the restaurant’s two boat slips at the historic E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works, and pop across the street for the best meal in “the Snows.” Don’t have access to a boat? No worries. While some destinations in this 36-island archipelago are only reachable by water, the culinary school is reachable by road.

186 S Pickford Ave
Hessel, MI 49745

6. Carriage House

7485 Main St, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
Two plates on a white-tablecloth table with glasses of water. There’s a slight view of grass and the outdoors in the background
When at Carriage House, ask for a table on the patio.
It’s Wonderful Photography

Anyone who is celebrating a milestone on Mackinac Island knows about Grand Hotel, but don’t overlook Carriage House restaurant at the Hotel Iroquois, located within inches of Lake Huron and the island’s ferry harbor. Walk through the property’s meticulously-manicured Victorian-style flower gardens, take in the nightly piano music, ask for a table on the patio, and dine on smoked whitefish cakes while overlooking the historic Round Island lighthouse. Don’t skip dessert. In a region where tourists are known as “fudgies,” it’s fitting that Carriage House restaurant’s ice cream puff pastry with hot fudge is a guest favorite.

7485 Main St
Mackinac Island, MI 49757

7. Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

8131 Beebe Rd, Cheboygan, MI 49721
courtesy photo, Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

Built in 1894 as a private hunting and fishing lodge, the Hack-Ma-Tack Inn is one of the most historic dining rooms in Northern Michigan. Named for the Native American word for the tamarack logs from which it was built, this vintage cabin that is decorated with canoes, rowing sculls, and old fishing lures sits on the Cheboygan River near Mullett Lake. Anyone who is cruising Michigan’s Inland Waterway should tie up at “the Hack,” as it is known to regulars, find a chair near one of the enormous picture windows, order a bottle of the Ruinart Brut Rosé and the slow-roasted prime rib with house-made creamed horseradish, and watch the string of pontoons go by.

8131 Beebe Rd
Cheboygan, MI 49721

8. Douglas Lake Bar & Steakhouse

11001 Douglas Lake Rd, Pellston, MI 49769

Halfway between Petoskey and the Mighty Mac—and not far away from the Pellston airport—sits Douglas Lake and the aptly named Douglas Lake Bar and Steakhouse (aka “the DLB”). This rustic log restaurant features two fieldstone fireplaces and a lakeside patio, and is beloved for their wedge salad and steak au poivre. Be sure to hit this woodland gem on a Sunday evening in July or August—when there’s a rotating lineup of live music.

11001 Douglas Lake Rd
Pellston, MI 49769

9. Stafford's Pier Restaurant

102 E Bay St, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
courtesy photo, Stafford’s Hospitality

This longstanding anchor of the Harbor Springs dining scene underwent a major renovation five years ago and is worth revisiting if it’s been awhile. A more casual version of its former self, the nautical themed- redo is fitting for being just footsteps from some of the most exquisite yachts in all of Lake Michigan. Grab a mint julep to-go and sip it in the city’s nearby “social drinking district” while you wait for a table to open up on Dudley’s Deck. Once seated, order the fish and chips or the pan roasted walleye with tomatoes, capers, and white wine butter and watch the world (and the Lilly Pulitzer parade) go by.

102 E Bay St
Harbor Springs, MI 49740

10. Barrel Back Restaurant

4069 M-75, Walloon Lake, MI 49796
Jessica Miller

It used to be that the only thing to eat at “the foot,” as the Village of Walloon is known to residents of the lake, was a tale of two extremes—a bare bones turkey sandwich pre-wrapped in cellophane from the general store, or a fine-dining meal of whitefish and hummers at (then) David Beier’s Walloon Lake Inn. Enter Barrel Back Restaurant. Built in 2013 on the top floor of an old marine building, the restaurant boasts three walls of garage-door style windows for a true fresh air experience, as well as an open-air deck and a shaded bar on the dock itself. Barrel Back is one of the few restaurants where you can boat to breakfast, lunch, or dinner but it’s a sunset visit that’s especially magical. Grab the buffalo chicken dip, the smoked BBQ wings or some other snack from the appetizer section, a beer from their smart list of suds, and watch the sun sink over Ernest Hemingway’s childhood lake.

4069 M-75
Walloon Lake, MI 49796

11. Cafe Santé

1 Water St, Boyne City, MI 49712

Located just a stone’s throw from the far eastern end of Lake Charlevoix, Cafe Santé is a locals favorite. Inspired by the classic French Brasserie, this Boyne City spot is open all day. The brunch menu includes a Croque Madame and a Niçoise Salad, and a duck French onion soup and whitefish á la meuniére can be found at dinner. Dine inside for a real bistro feel, or outdoors on the patio to see the kids running off their ice cream in Sunset Park next to the lake.

1 Water St
Boyne City, MI 49712

12. Boathouse Restaurant

14039 Peninsula Dr, Traverse City, MI 49686

Old Mission Peninsula is the spit of land that heads due north out of Traverse City, splitting Grand Traverse Bay into two: East Bay and West Bay. Nestled in a small cove known as Bowers Harbor, looking west over West Bay, is Boathouse Restaurant—fittingly named for the sailboats that also call this calm harbor home. Treat yourself to a dozen oysters (the restaurant goes through some 10,000 of them every summer) and one of the 30 Michigan wines on offer, followed by any of the entrees that feature fruits or vegetables from owner’s Doug Kosch’s personal 10-acre farm.  

14039 Peninsula Dr
Traverse City, MI 49686

13. The Riverside Inn

302 E River St, Leland, MI 49654
Stacey Brugeman

This 120-year-old inn and restaurant in Leland has seen it all in recent years—a jaw dropping remodel, a kitchen fire, and (like everyone) a pandemic. Summer 2021 is shaping up to be just as eventful. At press time, one of Leelanau County’s best restaurants was just a week or two away from changing hands. The new owners promise fellow locals that nothing will change, including the head chef, general manager, lead bartender, and sustainable scallops. Dishes like this one evolve with the seasons, but the mollusks are currently being served pan-seared with fennel cream puree, fresh peas, white asparagus, and an orange beurre blanc. Make sure there’s also room on your table for any of the Riv’s salads—like the blueberry and watermelon radish beauty that was served last summer—and a glass of organic or biodynamic wine.

302 E River St
Leland, MI 49654

14. Blu

5705 S Lake St, Glen Arbor, MI 49636

While Blu is on a momentary hiatus while they wait for utilities to be restored following a nearby fire, this award-winning restaurant is worth seeking out the moment they re-open this June. Owned by husband and wife team Randy and Mari Chamberlain, he helms the kitchen while she oversees the dining room and wine list. Dine on Loma Farm arugula with grilled octopus and Alba mushrooms or rack of lamb with a cherry mostarda, garlic confit, and mint pistou. Sit in the comfort of Blu’s dining room, which is like an oversized sun porch with glass walls and ceiling, or ask for a table outside. Both have unparalleled views of Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Bay and the Manitou Islands.

5705 S Lake St
Glen Arbor, MI 49636

15. Rocks Landing

1577 Crystal Dr, Frankfort, MI 49635
Stacey Brugeman

The deck at Rocks Landing is so close to Crystal Lake that you can hear the waves lapping up against the shoreline while you eat. While this was a privilege that for decades was enjoyed by guests of Chimney Corners Resort, for whom this building served as a beachside dining hall, it was only a few years ago that the space underwent a major remodel and became a restaurant that is open to the public. Look for dishes inspired by the salted coasts, such as gambas al ajillo or a sesame-crusted ahi tuna with a soy egg.

1577 Crystal Dr
Frankfort, MI 49635

Related Maps

16. The Glenwood

4604 Main St, Onekama, MI 49675

Residents of Manistee County rave about The Glenwood, especially their screened porch overlooking Portage Lake. Eating at this Onekama classic feels like dining in someone’s historic lakeside home. Try the 7-ounce blue cheese filet mignon with horseradish smashed redskin potatoes, and save room for something sweet. Co-owner Donna Ervin bakes the pies (think: Pecan Chocolate Cream, Triple Berry, and of course Cherry) herself.

4604 Main St
Onekama, MI 49675

Related Maps