Meet the new kids on the block. Grand Rapids has a blossoming culinary scene that continues to grow year over year. Increasingly, we’re seeing chefs take tasting expeditions to the regions their menu highlights, from the Basque Region of Spain to America’s low country coastline.
This year’s new restaurants all seem to fit a common theme. We’re not seeing century-busting gastronomical advances. Instead, they’ve each elevated cultural classics. From American soul food to Asian treasures to French bistro basics, Grand Rapids’ new restaurateurs are continuing to raise the culinary bar while keeping food affordable and fare approachable.
Stepping into the restaurant feels like you’re entering a buzzy spot in Manhattan. It’s full every night of the week. Be prepared to wait your turn, as they don’t take reservations. However, the service is impressively fast, and tables flip quickly. Whether you’re stopping in for brunch, lunch or dinner, it’s a carnivore delight at Butcher’s Union with menu items like smoked beef brisket stroganoff and bacon-wrapped meatloaf. And don’t get us started on the fantastic steaks sourced from local farms – you won’t find the same quality at such an affordable price anywhere else in town.
Well-known to Traverse City beer drinkers, 7 Monks fittingly expanded its taproom to Beer City USA. It boasts more than 50 beers served on tap, from local favorites like Brewery Vivant’s Farmhand to seasonal brews like Anchor Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale 2017. If you’re feeling peckish, try the Korean nachos laced with kimchi and bulgogi-inspired marinated flank steak topped with a sweet chili sauce.
Drawing inspiration from Spain’s Basque region, the menu is built around pintxos and tapas — small, shareable bites. Portions are small (if you come hungry, be prepared to order a lot) but flavorful. Spanish ham takes center stage on the menu – if you’re pork-inclined, try the jamon serrano (dry-cured Iberian ham) and nduja (spicy, spreadable pork sausage) for a taste of something new. The restaurant boasts 45 varieties of gin, celebrating Spain’s national drink (the gin and tonic) as well as a Basque Region collection of ciders and wines.
Citizen Tiki Bar and Restaurant brings a taste of the tropics to the Grand Rapids Cheshire neighborhood. On a cold winter night, step inside to be transported to island time. While described as Hawaiian and Polynesian fusion, it’s broader than that. Regardless, expect to dine on pan-Asian fare (think banh mi, kimchi noodle salad and ramen) while sipping fruity drinks from fresh coconuts. On the way in, check out the mural on the outside, painted by local artist Mark Rumsey.
A Jewish deli meets all-day breakfast meets full-service bar, Matchbox Diner and Drinks serves up 10-ounce pastrami sandwiches as well as they do crème bruleè challah bread pudding and negronis. It caters equally to soccer moms (and dads) as it does to business suits, making this an ideal spot for a business meeting or weekday family dinner.
The Candied Yam puts the soul in soul food. Jessica Ann Tyson and Jerome T. Glenn debuted their southern grub shop with plenty of country fried chicken, sweet potato cornbread muffins and catfish sandwiches to go around. It’s the perfect place to bring the whole family with its competitively priced family meal option: choose from six pieces of meat and three large sides for $25.
Chef Tom Pugh’s tasting trip across the Low Country (the coastlines of the Carolinas and Georgia) helps him guarantee the authenticity of his menu. In fact, he even sources select ingredients from South Carolina. Go to town on the oyster bar, enjoy them shucked, char-grilled, fried or baked.
If you’re craving paczkis, you don’t have to wait for Fat Tuesday to pick up your favorite fried treat. Balinski serves up paczkis, pierogis and other Polish dishes. They have all the usual suspects like kielbasa and sauerkraut and golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves) along with a few funky fusion plates like the wet burrito, made with kielbasa, rice, carrots and cabbage wrapped in a flour shell and smothered in sauce.
After success with That Early Bird Café in Eastown, the husband and wife team expanded into downtown Grand Rapids with The Littlebird. While they also serve lunch, breakfast is the star of the show. Whether you’re craving savory (like biscuits and mushroom gravy topped with a sunny egg) or sweet (Japanese milk bread French toast with citrus cream cheese), Asian (kimchi hash browns) or Australian (avocado toast with fried kale) – there is something for everyone.
Named after the Italian horserace in Siena, Italy, Palio is an updated version of its Ann Arbor location. Indulge in dishes like pizzas fired in a giant stone oven, spaghetti carbonara and other twists on classic Tuscan-style cuisine made with herbs from its in-house garden.
Mazzo replaced the Tre Cugini, the upscale Italian restaurant on Monroe Ave. with a fresher take on pizzas and pasta. Don’t miss the tasty raw bar of oysters and crudo. Slurp select oysters for $2 Thursdays during happy hour and pair with a $6 glass of bubbly (3-6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close).
The folks who brought us Maru Sushi have opened a new Asian restaurant on the West Side. At Ando Asian, slurp a bowl of ramen or dig into a tantalizing bowl of bibimbap, a Korean rice dish made with pork, shrimp, veggies and topped with a sunny side up egg. Opt for the sizzling stone bowl ($2 extra) to scrape up the crispy rice bits at the bottom at the end.
Your search for a delicious bowl of Vietnamese pho will end at the Downtown Market. PHO 616’s pho bo is made with flank steak, rice pho noodles and topped with green onions, cilantro and onions, topped with Sriracha, basil and a squeeze of lime. Pair with the shrimp summer rolls for a warming, filling lunch.
Noco (short for Northern Comfort) replaced the local favorite Forest Hills Inn with a modern twist on Michigan’s trading posts from way back when. However, don’t arrive looking for a rustic wooden outpost selling furs and dry goods. The restaurant boasts beautiful modern wood accents, soaring windows and a brightly lit bar. French explorers and Michiganders alike will love their indulgent brunch menu (try the chilaquiles with eggs, avocado and Oaxacan cheese) as well as the delectable lunch and dinner menu. The Provisions burger makes an appearance on all three menus – we won’t judge if you eat it for every meal; it’s that tasty.
The food truck found its footings in Eastown’s Windmill building, and it seems like the perfect fit for the euro-inspired eatery. Entering Brown Butter Creperie is like stepping into a neighborhood Parisian café. If the black iron bistro seating, marble accents and hanging chandeliers don’t do the trick, the sweet and savory crepes will. You’ll enjoy everything from the simple (crepes topped with fresh lemon juice and sugar) to the inspired (campfire crepes made with peanut butter, graham cracker, torched marshmallow, chocolate sauce and whipped cream).
Nino Torres knows hot dogs. After working decades at Grand Rapids’ infamous Yesterdog, he and his brother opened up 1 Bun Restaurant. They only sell one bun – you guessed it… the hotdog bun. 1 Bun has only seven items on the menu (including soda and French fries), but the price is right and the dogs tick all the right flavor boxes. Snag a chili hot dog with fries and a drink for under $5.
Featuring the popular Japanese and Hawaiian dish, poke, Wikiwiki offers healthy bowls for busy customers on the go. The restaurant’s name is inspired by the Hawaiian term for “quick” – a fitting title for this new fast-casual dining option. While the menu features six to 10 house-favorite bowls, you’re free to customize to taste. It’s a spot that feels right at home on the trendy Wealthy St. corridor.
Tried any of the above? Give us a shout in the comments below on which has won a spot on your list.
*Main photo courtesy of Butcher’s Union