This is an excerpt from the Daily’s 2014 Orientation Issue. To read the rest of the issue, click here.
A few months ago, a friend of mine posted on Facebook lamenting her inability to find fried chicken in Ann Arbor. The very next day, one of my housemates came home with a white takeout box filled with … fried chicken! And not just normal, Southern-style fried chicken. It was Korean-style fried chicken, from Seoul Street, basted with a soy-garlic sauce. It had such a magnificent flavor — salty, sweet, greasy and crunchy— I had to resist stealing more than one piece from him.
I’m telling you this story to demonstrate that if you look hard enough, you can find pretty much anything to eat in Ann Arbor. In fact, Ann Arbor might even expose to things you’ve never heard of, or at least only seen on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. So without much further ado, I’ll give you the who/what/when/where/why of dining in Ann Arbor as a freshman.
Seeing that you’ll most likely be living in the dorms, a lot of your meals your first year will be in the dining hall. I know what you’re thinking right now — “dining hall?” But fear not. The University dining services are a long way from your high school cafeteria. Most dorms have their own dining halls, like South Quad and East Quad, or a group of connected dorms might share one big one, like the Hill Dining Center. Using the dining hall is very simple. You purchase a meal plan at the beginning of the semester, and then all you need to do to is swipe your MCard when you walk into the dining hall. All meal plans are unlimited, but pricier meal plans include more Dining Dollars, guest meals and to-go meals.
Each dining hall has it’s own little niche: East Quad has a slew of vegetarian options, The Hill Dining Center is upscale kid-friendly, West Quad has a make-your-own burrito station, etc. In addition, most dining halls will have several themed dinners a semester — they may range from holiday-themed ones for Halloween and Thanksgiving to Harry Potter and even Beyoncé.
The food in the dining halls ranges from the perfectly edible to the legitimately delectable, and there’s enough variety at every meal, and every day, that everyone can find something to eat. Most dining halls are split into several stations, each devoted to a different food like pasta, sandwiches, grilled entrees, and vegetarian.
Meal plans don’t just involve dining hall swipes though. You’ll also get, based on the plan, a certain number of “Dining Dollars.” These can be used at University-affiliated restaurants, like Ahmo’s Gyros in the Michigan Union, and for non-dining hall food in dorms, like the Blue Apple Cafe in the Bursley dorm.
But enough of that. There’s a lot more to eat beyond the dining halls, but not too far beyond your dorm (or your wallet after buying textbooks). I’ll split Ann Arbor food into two general categories: stuff you’ll eat when your parents aren’t here, and stuff to eat when they visit.
During the week, when you’re scrambling to eat in between classes, State Street and South University are full of places to grab a quick bite. Pita Kebab Grill, Noodles and Company, Mr. Spots, New York Pizza Department and Amer’s Deli are all fast, easy and tasty, and they’re great places to get lunch with all the new people you’ll be meeting in your first few weeks.
When you want to have a slightly more relaxed dinner with your new friends, you can get more adventurous. On East Liberty, there’s Tomokun Noodle Bar for pho and ramen. On South University, there’s Kang’s Korean for bibimbap. NeoPapalis has amazing pizza, as close to true Neopolitan pies as you’re likely to find in Ann Arbor. And If you’re up for a walk, Frita Batidos on West Washington is, unlikely as it sounds, a Cuban burger joint, complete with tropical milkshakes and fried plantains shimmering with garlic butter.
In general, Ann Arbor checks everything off on the “college town necessary foods” checklist. There’s pizza, Mexican, Chinese food, wings, sandwiches and more pizza, many of which deliver. And I must add (parents cover your eyes), there’s a bounty of places open till 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for any attack of the munchies or drunchies that you might. Some favorites of students are Panchero’s and Insomnia Cookies on South University, and Ray’s Red Hots on East University, which sells 99-cent hot dogs between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Okay parents, start reading again. When you visit your beloved Wolverine, you should splurge and take them out for a weekend of fine dining. For Saturday lunch, go to Zingerman’s. Yes, it’s the most hyped restaurant in Ann Arbor. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s worth it, even the long wait in line, because pretty much any item they sell, from sandwiches to pastries to coffee to olive oil, is incredible.
If you still have an appetite at night, there are many microbreweries, like the Jolly Pumpkin and Ann Arbor Brewing Company, which have excellent pub-style food in addition to homemade beer. Or, if you want to get fancier, go to The Grange on West Liberty, which serves up creative bites like fried pig’s head and duck confit dirty rice.
This is an impossibly brief introduction to food at the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor as a whole, and of course I have left out Ypsilanti, Detroit and many other surrounding communities. So you can use this article as a starting off point, but don’t hesitate to go explore the culinary wonders of your new home!