Editor’s note: Michigan Daily readers have spoken. Here are their picks for the best places to frequent in Ann Arbor.
You know you’re eating poorly rolled sushi when it falls apart the moment your chopsticks unite with the outer seaweed/rice layer, leaving nothing but a dismantled crab-cuc-avo corpse all over your plate — the worst. But this is never a problem at Sadako, this year’s Best of Ann Arbor winner for sushi. Here, the rolls are tight and together and always fresh and delicious. Couple this stress-free sushi eating experience with a serene restaurant atmosphere — walls and waitstaff all outfitted in a soothing baby blue. Though sometimes slightly overpriced, all’s well because the restaurant splurges on the smooth chopsticks that don’t give you splinters, and if you order more than $6 of food, you get a complementary miso soup and a mysterious orange dressing salad that tastes delicious. Sadako, a previous Best of Ann Arbor winner, definitely stays raw.
Club: 5th Quarter
Top 40 fare, moderately priced drinks and a giant mechanical bull. What’s not to love about 5th Quarter? If you’re over 21 and prefer to spend your boozy nights without having your ears blasted off by the Black Eyed Peas, you can probably name several things. But that’s part of the charm of 5th Quarter. With an 18+ age limit, the venue entices rambunctious underclassmen who share a taste for sweaty dance floors and illicitly consuming alcohol in club bathrooms. Although most Michigan students migrate to the even sleazier Rick’s once they hit the exalted 21st birthday, 5th Quarter offers a fitting introduction to the joys of dirty dancing, casual hookups and Blue Balls — the rum-and-blue-curacao mixed drink, that is.
Bar: Good Time Charley’s
There are few things nicer than spending the first glorious days of summer drinking a long island iced tea on a sunny patio. This fact, among many others, is why Good Time Charley’s remains one of the most popular student bars in Ann Arbor, with lines out the door once temperatures reach above freezing. With a wide outdoor patio, in addition to better-than-passable food, generous drink specials and a preemptive smoking ban, Charley’s remains the go-to spot for the 21+ set — or those with a decent fake. On certain high-volume nights, the attentive staff will even serve beer outside while bar-goers wait on line: That’s service. After all, you better be more than a little buzzed before you can entertain the idea of stumbling over to Rick’s.
Thrift/Vintage Shop: Salvation Army
To some, the words “Salvation Army” means a great place to find ridiculously cheap cast-off Christmas sweaters. To others, it brings to mind those bucket-toting do-gooders standing out in the snow ringing bells and making passersby feel guilty for hurrying past with a pocket full of cash. But these images barely scrape the surface of what the “S & A Boutique” really is. Ultimately, it represents a slice of life: After all, where else can you watch hipster college kids and grandmas on social security fight over the same smelly old jumper? The Salvation Army is an American culture major’s paradise. Every sort of person has some interaction with it, from the wealthy suburban housewife gingerly handing over the OshKosh overalls with holes in the knees, to the enterprising art student who buys them for a multimedia project exploring the emptiness of childhood through clothing. The Salvation Army is the middle section of a Venn diagram pairing “evangelical altruistism” with “trendy cool”; it’d be miles ahead of the competition, except there really isn’t any. And so, though it’s not saying anything new, it’s time to go ahead and deem the Salvation Army “Best of Ann Arbor.”
Mediterranean Food: Jerusalem Garden
Cheap (almost nothing on the menu runs over $10), convenient (five minutes’ walking distance from State Street) and delicious — Jerusalem Garden is any student’s dream dining destination. Jerusalem Garden serves up sizeable portions of tasty fare for vegetarian and carnivorous patrons alike. Some of its specialties include shawarma, falafel with hummus, stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup and chicken fattoush salad — a personal favorite. Though some of the traditional Middle Eastern food might sometimes lack spice, Jerusalem Garden puts its own unique spin on many of the dishes and everything is consistently fresh and made to order. Takeout is your best option given the limited space in the dining room and grillside counter. Service is extremely quick, and the staff is friendly and helpful. When the snow and clouds finally dissipate over Ann Arbor, the patio opens for service, further adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant. So the next time you’re craving something other than cheap pizza or greasy burgers, try Jerusalem Garden — you won’t leave disappointed or hungry.
Chinese Food: China Gate
“And (Jacob said), ‘How awesome is this place!? This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’ ” (Genesis 28:16-17 RSV) This may appear to be a passage from the Bible, but in fact, it’s a direct quote from a friend of mine after his first meal at China Gate. OK, maybe it is a passage from the Bible. But I promise you, when you walk through that door you really do get a little taste of heaven. From the excellent egg drop soup to the kick-ass Kung-Pao chicken, China Gate does it all. And most of the success can be attributed to the culinary brilliance of God himself: Chef Jan. With more than 40 years of experience and an array of accolades to his name, Chef Jan has helped China Gate become Ann Arbor’s favorite hotspot for Chinese cuisine. Whether you’re in the mood for Szechuan, Hunan or Peking food, China Gate has something to offer. So the next time you’re chowing down on some of Chef Jan’s magical creations, make sure to give yourself a quick pinch. You may have entered the afterlife.
Zingerman’s Delicatessen is what puts Ann Arbor on the foodie map. Though the famous sandwiches are pretty pricey, you’re paying for quality, and the food doesn’t disappoint. From the famous #2 Zingerman’s Reuben stacked with sauerkraut and tasty corned beef to the lesser-known, but still delicious #73 Tarb’s Tenacious Tenure turkey sandwich smothered in avocado and Wisconsin muenster cheese, all can find something fresh and flavorful to sink their teeth into. Zingerman’s has a fun, relaxed dining atmosphere and a mouth-watering selection of deli meats, cheeses, breads, desserts and more kinds of olives than you’ve ever heard of. Best of all, parents love taking their college kids to Zingerman’s, so milk that for all it’s worth. Calories don’t count at Zingerman’s.
Dessert/Ice Cream: Stucchi’s
The last thing anyone wants in Michigan in mid-January is an ice-cold frozen dessert. But come the warm weather, there’s no better place for ice cream than Stucchi’s. It tastes like heaven. And the cookie-wich — a thick scoop of rich ice cream between two gooey Insomnia Cookies — is heaven times two. Stucchi’s is moderately priced too, so you don’t have to feel guilty about treating yourself to this delicious piece of bliss. If you need any more convincing, feel good about supporting a local business. Unlike the other nation-wide chains with local branches, Stucchi’s has locations in Ann Arbor and surrounding Michigan cities. So grab a guilt-free spoon or cone and dip into a wonderful moment of deliciousness during this bright and sunny exam season.
Coffee Shop: Espresso Royale
Is fresh coffee the only thing that wakes up your morning? Then tumble out of bed and sleepwalk to Espresso Royale. And for good reason. With three downtown locations, Espresso remains convenient and consistently delicious. Espresso’s coffee, whether a cup of no-frills black or a fancier sampling, is full-bodied without roaming into bitterness. Get it in small, medium or large rather than Starbucks’s obnoxious “European” sizes. A wide variety of hot teas, plus a dash of chai and hot chocolate, compliment Espresso’s java. But the libations don’t overshadow Espresso’s tempting muffins, cookies and scones or hardier fare like wraps, fruit and yogurt. And for the eco-conscious patron staying to study or chat with coffee and a treat, Espresso offers glass cups at no extra charge. Also free: friendly smiles from Espresso’s consistently upbeat baristas — the perfect boost to a fragrant cup of joe.
Burger: Quickie Burger
Located on the corner of Hill and State, this small corner joint offers aromas that grab the nostrils of every passerby. The oversized burger puts the Big Mac to shame in its weight and quality, though its “quickie” nickname is not referring to the taste: Its taste lingers long after eating. Even if you already ate a burger and fries on top of that box of Franzia you polished off an hour ago, you’ll still consider eating another. The best part about Quickie, though, isn’t getting the food. It’s sitting on one of the maize-and-blue chairs that overlook State St., making awkward eye contact with the guy from your English class as you shove that huge burger in your mouth. Conversations via Quickie window are a one-of-a-kind experience — nothing says friendship like a wave at a familiar face through the Quickie glass.
Pizza: The Original Cottage Inn
The secret to a great Italian restaurant isn’t just the food, though The Original Cottage Inn certainly delivers on that front. No, it’s the ambiance. And this Ann Arbor mainstay knows how to present a gourmet Italian atmosphere so complete you forget you’re eating next to a giant construction pit. The eatery’s two levels of ivy-colored brick quaintness make you feel like you’ve just stepped in from a Roman piazza, as does the generous portion of olive oil your server pours for dipping your bread. Then you taste the deep-dish pizza, with its perfect seasoning and crunchy-doughy crust, and you realize why groups like the Glee Club will routinely take over the entire place: Italian food this good begs to be shared with a few dozen of your closest friends.
Thank you for being the most dependable, most delicious burrito place in all of Ann Arbor. Don’t let any haters tell you otherwise. They haven’t yet learned how to look past your cold, metallic appearance (seriously, is it necessary to make customers feel like they’ve just stumbled into a robot factory?) and appreciate what makes you so great: the simple elegance of your menu, the hearty chunks of grilled chicken in your flagship item, the non-mushy beans and the option of corn that makes the burrito all the more satisfying. But the rest will come around to you eventually, once people realize that sometimes burritos should actually taste good when consumed while sober. Which brings me to a pressing matter: Guys, you have to start staying open late. Nobody in their right mind has ever said, “Boy, this burrito place would be so much better if it closed at 10 p.m.”
A burrito lover
University Fan Apparel: MDen
We all know what the M in MDen stands for, but here’s a bunch of other things it could mean: magnificent, mellifluous, multipurpose, major, marvelous and merry. MDen is a one-stop shop for all things Michigan, whether you need a seating cushion for your butt at football games (which you shouldn’t if you’re a real fan) or an office chair for your butt at work. Things can run on the pricey side, but can you really put a price on proudly presenting the maize and blue? Well, technically yes. That’s kind of the whole point of MDen, really. But for a true Michigan fan, the prices are well worth it. So when your baby, porch, living room, bedroom, self, bathroom, relatives and pets all need to be decked out in Michigan gear, MDen has you covered.
You can’t spell Angelo’s without “angels,” and Angelo’s pancakes and angels both come from the same place. Angelo’s has all the essentials. It masterfully crafts an authentic diner ambiance, the food is terrific and the service is always super. Angelo’s is the quintessential Ann Arbor breakfast spot for a reason. Its only flaw is that too many people are aware of this, so waiting times can be egregiously long. But if you make your way there on an obscure day of the week (Wednesday, for example), you can waltz right in, sit yourself down and enjoy delicious eggs, pancakes, French toast, bacon and other delights to your heart’s content. Your mouth, your stomach and even your wallet (in some cases, at least) will love you, even if your arteries don’t.
Indian Food: Raja Rani
Anyone walking west of State Street on a breezy day will get a strong aroma of Indian food (enticing or unpleasant, depending on the individual) bursting from a peculiar-looking house on the corner of William and Division. But wait! It’s not a house at all! It’s a restaurant called “Raja Rani,” which translates directly from Hindi as “King Queen.” Though nonsensical, the name is regal and alliterative, and will surely draw you in with the promise of delectable chicken tikka masala and palak paneer. Some say that the food is a tad too greasy, but that’s what makes it so damn delicious. And it’s affordable! Eight bucks for the lunch buffet, stocked with enough samosas, naan and lamb curry to make your dadi maa in Bangalore proud. Holy Vishnu, that is a good deal — Raja Rani being voted the best Indian restaurant in AA is as obvious as an Indian guy writing this blurb.