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The Best of Ann Arbor 2011

BY DAILY ARTS STAFF

Published April 10, 2011

Readers of The Michigan Daily have voted. Here are their selections for the best places to eat, drink, live, shop and be in Ann Arbor. Use the list on the left to jump to a category or page through one by one.

Japanese Food: Sadako

Of all the sushi restaurants in Ann Arbor, one stands above the rest: Sadako. It's a sushi lover’s dream come true, with the calm, casual atmosphere making it the perfect place to stop in for dinner with friends or bring family members when they come to visit campus. The delicious miso soup and salad with ginger dressing are the perfect start to what is always a fresh, quickly prepared meal.

And for those dining with friends who don’t eat sushi, there’s an entire menu of Japanese food, which includes teriyaki and noodles. In terms of price, nothing is too expensive and the service is always fast and friendly. Takeout is usually ready in a snappy 15 minutes, a waiting time rivaled only by the super-speedy Jimmy John’s. Be sure to treat yourself to Sadako’s amazing sushi before a study session — fish is a great brain food — or whenever you just feel like it.

—ERIN STEELE

Allison Kruske/Daily


Bar: Good Time Charley's

There is much to be thankful for at Good Time Charley’s. Over the years, the bar has cultivated the Michigan standard for college-aged drinking and revelry. Long Island Iced Teas in sizes that would shock your mama, flat screen TVs in strategically placed positions and cheap Happy Hour specials make it a fan favorite. When it’s nice out, the option to enjoy the patio — with its primetime South U people-watching location — is a key element to a rocking good time.

On a typical weekend night, lines curl around the corner, proof that it’s the go-to spot for the over-21 crowd. It’s the perfect stop on the way to Rick's (because, let’s be honest, that’s where you’re heading), it provides late-night snacks not to be scoffed at and it throws a damn good trivia night every Wednesday. Michigan’s most popular bar packs in the patrons every time. It’s Chuck's.

—LILA KALICK

Salam Rida/Daily


Pizza: Pizza House

Even the (somewhat recent) arrival of lip-smackingly delicious new-kid-on-the-block South U Pizza couldn’t claim the “Best Pizza” crown from the venerable Pizza House. From the heavenly, sesame-seeded Sicilian deep dish to the stomach-arresting Chicago stuffed, this Church Street institution simply serves the most tantalizing slices in town ― and for those averse to the traditional pie, the steaming calzones are equally gastronomically formidable. Being straddled by Charley’s and Rick’s doesn’t hurt either (nor does being open till 4 a.m.). After all, that famished beer deserves quality ’za, doesn’t it?

Sure, the House is fiscally steeper than other pizza purveyors, but the well-styled, accommodating setting is an at-times necessary departure from cramped collegiate quarters. In other words, the few extra George Washingtons is worth the upper-crust ambiance. It's no wonder why George Clooney and Co. recently decided to film parts of “Ides of March” in Ann Arbor. OK ― maybe that's not the reason. But we wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

—STEPHEN OSTROWSKI

Anna Schulte/Daily


Sandwich: Zingerman's Deli

What makes the perfect deli sandwich? New Yorkers might say a couple pieces of rye soaked in Russian dressing and separated by a healthy wad of either pastrami or corned beef is all you need — after all, they're the “experts,” right? But a Zingerman’s regular might be less than impressed. Where are the locally grown organic meats and cheeses, the inventive and colorful sandwich menu, the free samples, the perennially tie-dyed, intensely knowledgeable staff? What happened to the flood of grinning students with Dad’s credit card in hand, the connoisseurs who’ve come from far and wide for a taste of Midwestern TLC?

Fuhgetaboutit — it’s not in NYC but back at Zingerman’s, which year after year earns its reputation as a fixture on the Michigan (and national) foodie scene. And even though it keeps the highly inflated prices that deli regulars in the Village have come to expect, rest assured that a Zingerman’s sandwich is worth every penny of its $14 price tag, every time.

—MIKE KUNTZ

Terra Molengraff/Daily


New Business: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Five Guys Burgers and Fries is one of those rare success stories, a franchise that has exploded from its Northern Virginia roots to become a symbol of the D.C. area. The beef patties are thoroughly cooked, yet juicy. The buns are freshly baked. The free toppings are endlessly customizable. And with delectable French fries, hand-cut from painstakingly sourced potatoes, cooked in peanut oil and served in generously heart attack-inducing portions, Five Guys is difficult to top. Add in the free crates of peanuts you can munch on while you wait and it's practically impossible to resist.

This year, Five Guys has finally come to Ann Arbor and it has managed to carve out a niche in a town that plays host to both Blimpy and Quickie Burger. That, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment.

—DAVID TAO

Hannah Chin/Daily


Breakfast: Angelo's

It’s hard to cure that Sunday morning headache after a fun night out, but Ann Arbor prescribes something better than Advil and coffee — breakfast at Angelo’s. With its savory pancakes, fluffy-as-can-be French toast and mouth-watering, world-famous raisin bread toast, Angelo’s is a tasty remedy for those in need of hangover and hunger recovery.

Though the line is often out the door, this fine dining establishment is worth the wait. Its atmosphere is inviting and diner-like, the staff is friendly, the prices won’t kill your budget and the food is top notch. And for those who aren’t always down for sugary sweetness in the morning, there are sandwiches, eggs, salads and more. There’s even a take-out coffee shop for those on the go. Tucked away on East Catherine, Angelo’s is an Ann Arbor gem too tempting to pass up.

—ARIELLE SPECINER

Anna Schulte/Daily


Grocery Store: Meijer

Granted, both of Ann Arbor's Meijer locations are a bit of a drive, but the payoff is worth it. Both stores have a far wider variety of foods and lower prices than similar superstores, with the added benefit of non-food departments like housewares, clothing, sporting goods and kitchen wares. Big-box stores can be a turn-off to some, but the convenience of getting everything in one place fits the busy schedule of a college student — so long as you can bum transportation.

And really, you're still supporting a local company, as Meijer is based in Grand Rapids and about half of its locations are in Michigan. There are also more checkout lines than in other stores, and that includes more self-checkouts in case you only need a few things. Overall, it's the lowest price and the widest selection in town.

—TIMOTHY RABB

Marissa McClain/Daily


Club: Rick's American Cafe

After stumbling around Ann Arbor in a drunken haze, hordes of polo- and high heel-clad revelers descend steps of Rick's to find themselves in a subterranean oasis. With Rick's diverse clientele of fraternity boys and sorority girls and its nightly drink specials (two dollar PBRs on Wednesday!), students often find themselves shivering in line just for a chance to navigate down those stairs. The lack of windows, low lighting and vast dance floor are the perfect combination for a classic night of regrettable shenanigans.

For more low-key evenings, clubbers can shoot some pool or alleviate social anxiety by playing a video game. On the weekends, Rick's always boasts crowds of students milling about its entrance, and thanks to advent of Ricksline.com, merrymakers can now monitor the line’s progress from the comfort of their smartphones. Boys in pastel button-downs and girls in those ubiquitous black skirts dedicate their weekends to standing in that roped-off line — there’s just something about Rick's.

—CASSIE BALFOUR

Salam Rida/Daily


Burrito: Chipotle

Just picture it: a beautiful fall day, and a Football Saturday to boot. You woke up early for some pre-game festivities. It’s now 4 p.m. You’re hankering for something delicious, and you know there’s only one place where the food is as good as the people-watching. That’s right: the “Chipotle Experience,” Ann Arbor style.

The number-one burrito in town is located at the intersection of East Liberty and State. And we’re not just talking burritos, but also burrito bowls, crispy tacos, soft tacos and the always-tasty vegetarian option (in which guacamole doesn’t cost “extra”). With ingredients that smell and taste as good as they look, friendly service and an excellent soundtrack accompanying those anxious minutes of picking out the perfect ingredients, Chipotle’s burrito earns its spot as a best taste of Ann Arbor.

—JACOB AXELRAD

Hannah Chin/Daily


Coffee Shop: Espresso Royale

Don’t be fooled by its name — Espresso Royale is about more than just coffee. From its hip background music to the tantalizing display case of muffins, parfaits and brownies, the café is a haven for all things comfortable and cool. It’s the perfect place to kick back and catch up with friends, kill awkward gaps between classes and even grab a scone on the way home from a party Sunday morning.

That isn’t to say that the drink menu doesn’t have its merits, though. With its spicy chai lattes, creamy cappuccinos, rich teas and assortment of mocha flavors, Espresso Royale boasts enough beverages to satisfy even the most serious caffeine consumer. It’s a royal destination for any student’s needs, whether you’re just popping in for an expertly brewed cup of coffee or looking for a cozy booth to spend a day of studying in style.

—CHLOE STACHOWIAK

Hannah Chin/Daily


Date Place: The Chop House

Nothing says “I want to have sex with you” like a $43 steak (unless, of course, you’re dating a vegetarian). Impress your significant other with a trip to one of Ann Arbor’s swankiest and priciest dining venues: The Chop House. The Main Street restaurant’s logo — a long-horned bull with prominently displayed genitalia — is a testament to the house specialty of thick, juicy, red-blooded, all-American, USDA prime beef. Wash your steak down with a bottle of cabernet from The Chop House’s award-winning cellar. Or, order two bottles if the date is going awkwardly.

But no trip to the Chop House would be complete without a descent into La Dolce Vita, the restaurant’s dark and dungeon-chic dessert bar. Aromatic cigar-smoke swirls around the bar’s plush leather chairs, where diners can relax and order after-dinner cocktails and pastries. Seated together in an intimate corner, you and your date will be sure to make La Dolce Vita’s regular clientele — a bunch of middle-aged white guys — green with envy.

—JOE CADAGIN

Salam Rida/Daily


Chinese Food: China Gate

You can’t even walk into China Gate without observing the staggering number of awards Executive Chef Jan has accrued over the years. The signs that brag to this effect fill the front windows, reminding any passerby that he has won the Top Gold Medal an impressive eight times at the International Professional Culinary Competition (which, the signs also claim, is the world’s largest culinary competition). With China Gate, Chef Jan clearly found an outlet to pour his culinary expertise into.

There’s a reason China Gate is being bestowed the honor of Best Chinese Food in Ann Arbor for the 10th time. The sauces are succulent, the soups warm and comforting and the spices dialed in to the perfect extent. The menu’s daunting only because of its massive breadth, but from the mainstays (like wonton soup or chicken with cashew nuts) to the less common (Kung Pao scallops), China Gate executes with blatant expertise.

—ELLIOT ALPERN

Salam Rida/Daily


Barber/Hair Salon: Douglas J Aveda Institute

For all colors, cuts and styles, one salon stands alone as the best of Ann Arbor: Aveda. The Douglas J Aveda Institute offers cheap cuts and color for students. Student hairdressers carefully follow the specifications of clients under the close supervision of their instructors to ensure the best service possible.

While waiting for color to set or bangs to be trimmed, complimentary hand massages are common, leaving customers relaxed. Aside from the service, anyone who leaves Aveda is guaranteed to smell great. Every hair flip, glance or nod will send waves of countless natural essences that are sure to turn heads. There’s a reason Aveda is a cut above the rest.

—LUCY PERKINS

Erin Kirkland/Daily


Thrift Store: The Salvation Army

Whether you need something for Halloween, an ugly sweater party or you just don’t own enough flannel shirts and combat boots, The Salvation Army has you covered. The large warehouse off State Street is full of wonders to behold. The clothes, which are sorted neatly by color, help you pick out exactly what you need to complete your look. And, when you’re totally over your flannel-and-combat-boot phase, instead of tossing your shirts, you can just donate all your clothes back.

The Salvation Army allows you to be environmentally conscious and endlessly recycle your look. Conservation and thriftiness never go out of style.

—CAROLYN KLARECKI

Terra Molengraff/Daily


Outdoor Store: Bivouac

The term “bivouac” usually refers to some kind of makeshift camp. But in Ann Arbor, it most likely refers to the store on State Street that is so ingrained in the life of the student shopper.

Michigan is known for its unpredictable weather — hailstorms, three feet of snow, violent thunderstorms and the occasional sunny day. It’s best to be prepared for these conditions, and Bivouac supplies any outdoors-wear need with its abundant selection of North Face, Patagonia and Mountain Hardware. In addition to the ever-popular North Face wardrobe staple, the store also offers a range of gear, like sleeping bags and backpacks, for those who love the outdoors. But Bivouac is not just for those more rustic types. It's also a great place to pick up some stylish workout clothes or even a dress to wear to the bar.

Not only is Michigan’s weather unpredictable, but a student’s shopping needs are too. Bivouac is the perfect one-stop shop.

—EMILY BOUDREAU

Todd Needle/Daily


Cheap Eats: BTB

BTB is worthy of so many superlatives, but nothing can rival its price. Cooking is always the wallet-friendly alternative to eating out, but three square BTB meals a day would challenge any budget shopper to find a cheaper regiment (a vegetarian burrito for $3.75 seriously outweighs all other options). What’s more, if the basic BTB burrito isn’t enough, the menu drifts from the hippie-friendly vegan plate to the deep-fried steak chimichanga with extra steak (yes, this is a real option).

Panchero’s and Chipotle may rival the quality of BTB, but with such low prices, it’s nearly impossible to justify purchases anywhere else. The establishment is also open 11 a.m. to 4 a.m., so even late-night foodies can get in on the cheap eats. At almost any hour of the day, BTB will have the cheapest meal around.

—TEDDY PAPES

Salam Rida/Daily


Housing: Zaragon Place

“Got an 8 a.m. class? Wake up at 7:59.” The Zaragon Place promotional video teaches college students an important lesson on real estate — it’s all about “location, location, location.” Merely a stone's throw away from the Diag, the Ross School of Business and the Law Quad, Zaragon boasts one of the best locations on campus.

However, its proximity to classes is only half the reason why people should start emptying their piggy banks. Featuring granite kitchen tops and a washer and dryer in each unit, Zaragon “Palace” is the most luxurious student-housing complex on campus. With Zaragon’s lofty aesthetic and rent, students have the opportunity to live like collegiate royalty.

—DANIEL CARLIN

Salam Rida/Daily


University Fan Apparel: M-Den

Freshmen, beware: Walking into M-Den for the first time is an overwhelming experience. One doesn’t go to M-Den just to peruse idly through maize and blue regalia — no, you are absolutely immersed from the second you walk through the doors. This is no mere student store — it’s a die-hard Michigan fan’s wildest dream. There are sweaters, vests, sweater vests, watches, plaques, key chains, earrings, scrunchies, flags, backpacks, dog collars, underwear, socks, polos, bedspreads, napkins and bathing suits — all emblazoned with one of the many logos of our dear University.

And let’s not forget about the super-awesome value room in the back on the second floor. Don’t feeling like breakin’ out the big bucks? No fear, the value room holds an impressive variety of paraphernalia for a much lower price. M-Den is a haven of all things Wolverine, where alums, students, prospective students and the like can come and equip themselves to properly hail to the victors — albeit for a price. But come on: What true fan doesn’t want maize-and-blue salt and pepper shakers?

—EMMA GASE

Hannah Chin/Daily


Delivery: Jimmy John’s

It’s 2 a.m. You’ve knocked back a couple cocktails and are suddenly possessed by an insatiable desire to eat everything in sight. Panic mode. Your appetite is exponential. Where do you go? For many University students, the answer is Jimmy John’s. With its fresh meat, crunchy veggies and, best of all, freshly baked French bread, Jimmy John’s packs a satisfying punch whether the patrons are sober or not. And, if it’s impossible to get to one of the eight locations in Ann Arbor, its face-meltingly fast delivery is always an option.

There’s nothing quite like that first exquisite bite into a fragrant fresh bread followed by the delicious combination of turkey, avocado, provolone and veggies. But whether you go for turkey or salami, lettuce wrap or fresh bread, the Jimmy John’s reputation for quality speaks for itself, promising satisfaction and joy with every bite.

—MACKENZIE METER

Terra Molengraff/Daily


Live Music: The Blind Pig

Dark. Grimy. Sticky. These are the words that come to mind when thinking of the home of Ann Arbor’s underground music scene, the Blind Pig. But most people would agree, that’s part of its charm.

Though its shows can be as hit-or-miss as the dart players downstairs, ranging from the obscurely talented to the downright bizarre, one thing the music venue is always good for is parties. With throwback beats and outrageous costumes, the joint’s monthly Soul Club rarely disappoints. Similarly impressive are its more sporadic parties known as Bang!s, each one thematically adapted for whichever holiday it appears on (Halloween, New Year's, Valentine’s, etc.) — though these fêtes are a tad more exclusive (only for the 21 and up).

So if you’re looking for a break from the usual parties and bars or want a music experience a little less PG than the Ark, be sure to check out everyone’s favorite visually challenged farm animal.

—WILL DEFEBAUGH

Jake Fromm/Daily


Burger: Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger

Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger is quite possibly the only restaurant to snag a “best of” nod for a “worst of” attitude. Patrons of this jeer-happy joint have to be thick-skinned to survive the burger assembly line — and never, ever order a veggie burger. But once the meal has been made and the wait staff’s jibes have been sidestepped, there’s no complaining about Blimpy. Its patties are grilled to perfection, its buns are just the right amount of fluffy and its deep-fried veggie option is not to be missed.

The waiters may give you lip, but the burgers are lip-smackingly delicious — and that’s why Blimpy Burger deserves the “Best Burger” title.

—SHARON JACOBS


Test Prep: Kaplan Test Prep

Purple: It's the color of ermine-trimmed royalty, associated with the Crown chakra that links the individual spirit to the universal. Neurologist Oliver Sacks even ingested some highly questionable drugs in search of the elusive indigo. But more importantly, purple is the reigning color of Kaplan Test Prep, a center located on the corner of South University that promises primo services for all your examination preparatory needs.

Exam prep, you say? You thought you were through with standardized tests after bubbling in the finishing touches to your junior year SATs, didn’t you? But future employers and grad schools say differently. LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, GRE — they’re your high school nightmares all over again, but this time meaner and meatier. In a world where soaring numbers could potentially carve out a path for the rest of your future, you could see where one could go into Woody-Allen-panic-attack mode.

But you don’t, because when it comes down to crunch time, noble Kaplan is there to save the day: With small class sessions, specialized teachers and intensive on-site hours, Kaplan can make studying for such a feat an (almost) enjoyable task — all for a price lower than the neighboring Princeton Review.


Indian Food: Raja Rani

With no shortage of Indian restaurants to choose from in Ann Arbor, this is Raja Rani’s second year winning the reader-selected Best Indian Food label. The little house on the corner of William and Division still provides an affordable lunch buffet of tandoori specialties, at a mere five-minute walk from campus. It even has India’s signature beer, Kingfisher, if you like your chicken tikka with a mild side. And though it’s more expensive in the evening, you’ll be willing to pay any amount of money after tasting the peshwari naan and free pakoras while chatting with a friendly waiter about Bollywood movies.

—PROMA KHOSLA


Korean Food: University Café

Next time you’re looking for a homey meal on a cold, rainy day, look no further than University Café on Church Street. A couple spoonfuls of the restaurant’s spicy kimchee jee geh — a bright red soup filled with pork, tofu, cabbage and a variety of other vegetables — will have you feeling warm and content in no time. If spicy food isn’t your thing, try some galbi — beef short ribs in a slightly sweet and garlicky soy sauce-based marinade.

This is the Daily readers’ top choice for Korean food, and for good reason — with most dishes priced below $10, it’s an affordable choice for lunch or dinner. And if you and your friends leave University Café around closing time, you can step upstairs to rent a private room at Friends Karaoke, where they’ll record a free DVD to capture your most embarrassing moments forever. With a great location and great food, what more could you ask for?

—EILEEN PATTEN


Bank: TCF

Why did TCF win “Best Bank” yet again? Simple — no one bank has as many on-campus locations as TCF. Scrambling to pay the Jimmy John’s delivery guy when you’re pulling an all-nighter at the School of Dentistry? TCF’s got you. Gotta put down the $36 for that Zumba class when you’re at the CCRB? TCF’s got you. In dire need of some bills to purchase that white pizza at NYPD after you’ve stumbled out of Skeeps at 2 a.m.? Yeah man, TCF’s got you. Though we may never know what TCF stands for, that trademark gray sweatshirt is the comfiest thing outside of a Snuggie.

—KAVI PANDEY AND EMMA GASE


Italian Food: Gratzi

One step inside Gratzi and patrons enter another world. With a dramatic Renaissance-style mural overlooking the finely clothed tables and a menu that lists its contents in Italian, this fine ristorante is everything one would expect from the home of Ann Arbor’s best Italian food. The dishes, Northern Italian-inspired and often drenched in sauces richer than the Roman Empire at the height of its power, never disappoint, and the staff is knowledgeable about its wines, both Mediterranean-bred and otherwise. But the biggest bonus of all? Gratzi’s cannoli, the grandiose Coliseum of desserts. Thank you, Gratzi!