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A History Of Detroit In 10 Dishes


by Kimmi Roybal



Welcome to Detroit, a city known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and diverse culinary scene. Detroit’s food travel experience is a true delight for both locals and visitors alike. With a unique blend of influences from various ethnic communities, the Motor City offers a tantalizing array of flavors and dishes that reflect its multicultural heritage.


In this article, we will take you on a culinary journey through Detroit, exploring ten iconic dishes that have become synonymous with the city’s food culture. From the famous coney dogs to the delightful paczki, each dish has a story to tell and a taste that will leave you craving for more.


Detroit’s food culture is a testament to the city’s resilience and innovation. As Detroit transformed from an industrial powerhouse to a hub of creativity and revitalization, its culinary scene flourished alongside it. The city’s chefs and food entrepreneurs have embraced their cultural roots while infusing their creations with a modern twist, resulting in a culinary landscape that is both authentic and cutting-edge.


So, get ready to embark on a mouthwatering adventure as we dive into the flavors of Detroit. Whether you’re a food enthusiast looking to explore new tastes or a traveler seeking to experience the soul of the city through its cuisine, this article will be your guide to the best dishes that Detroit has to offer.


Coney Dog: An Iconic Detroit Delight

When it comes to iconic Detroit dishes, the coney dog reigns supreme. A true symbol of the city, the coney dog is a delicious hot dog topped with chili, mustard, and onions, served on a steamed bun. While it may seem simple at first glance, the coney dog has a rich history and a dedicated following that spans generations.


The origins of the coney dog can be traced back to Greek immigrants who settled in Detroit in the early 20th century. These Greek restaurateurs put their own spin on the traditional hot dog, adding their homemade chili sauce and a touch of Mediterranean flair. Today, the coney dog can be found at numerous coney island restaurants throughout the city, each with its own variation on the classic recipe.


What sets the Detroit coney dog apart is the unique flavor combination of the chili, mustard, and onions. The chili is typically made with a blend of ground beef, spices, and secret ingredients that vary from restaurant to restaurant. The tangy mustard adds a pop of flavor, while the diced onions provide a refreshing crunch. When all these components come together, it creates a harmony of tastes that is truly irresistible.


When you order a coney dog in Detroit, be prepared for a messy, finger-licking experience. The chili sauce tends to be quite generous, sometimes even spilling over the sides of the bun. But that’s all part of the charm. Eating a coney dog is not just about satisfying your hunger—it’s about indulging in a culinary tradition and immersing yourself in the culture of Detroit.


To fully appreciate the coney dog, it’s important to visit some of the iconic coney island restaurants in Detroit. Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, located side by side on Lafayette Boulevard, are two of the most famous and longstanding establishments. These institutions have been serving up coney dogs for decades, and their friendly atmosphere and lively conversations among staff and customers add to the overall charm of the experience.


Whether you’re a Detroit native or a first-time visitor, trying a coney dog is a must. It’s a culinary rite of passage and a way to connect with the vibrant food culture that defines the city. So, grab a napkin, roll up your sleeves, and sink your teeth into a Detroit coney dog—you won’t be disappointed.


Detroit-style Pizza: A Motor City Twist on an Italian Classic

When you think of pizza, cities like New York and Chicago may come to mind. But did you know that Detroit has its own unique style of pizza that has been gaining popularity in recent years? Detroit-style pizza is a Motor City twist on the classic Italian favorite, with a thick and airy square crust, a generous amount of cheese, and the sauce on top.


What sets Detroit-style pizza apart from the rest is its distinctive crust. The dough is made with flour, water, salt, yeast, and a touch of olive oil, with a long fermentation process that results in a light and airy texture. The dough is then pressed into rectangular pans that are coated with a layer of oil, creating a crispy and caramelized crust on the bottom.


One of the defining features of Detroit-style pizza is the cheese. Traditionally, a blend of brick cheese, which has a mild yet distinctive flavor, and mozzarella is used. The cheese is spread to the edges of the crust, creating a layer that gets crispy and caramelized during baking. The result is a cheese lover’s dream—a perfect balance of gooey and crispy goodness in every bite.


Another unique aspect of Detroit-style pizza is the sauce. Unlike traditional pizzas where the sauce is spread directly on the dough, Detroit-style pizza has the sauce dolloped on top of the cheese. This allows the sauce to form little pools on the surface, adding bursts of tangy flavor to each slice.


Detroit-style pizza has gained a cult-like following, with pizzerias in the city and beyond embracing this delicious style. The popularity of Detroit-style pizza has even caught the attention of renowned chef and television personality, Buddy Valastro, who featured it on his show, “Cake Boss.”


When in Detroit, be sure to visit establishments like Buddy’s Pizza, which is credited with inventing this style of pizza in the 1940s. The original Buddy’s location on East McNichols Road is a beloved institution, serving up their signature square pies to locals and visitors alike. Other pizzerias in the city, such as Loui’s Pizza and Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant, have also made a name for themselves with their delicious renditions of Detroit-style pizza.


So, if you’re a pizza enthusiast looking for something different, or simply curious to try Detroit’s culinary creations, don’t miss the opportunity to taste the Motor City’s own take on pizza. Detroit-style pizza is a testament to the city’s culinary innovation and a delicious reflection of its rich food culture.


Paczki: Indulging in a Polish Tradition

When it comes to indulgent treats, few can rival the joy of biting into a paczki. Originating from Poland, paczki (pronounced “poonch-kee”) are deep-fried pastries that have become a beloved tradition in Detroit, thanks to the city’s strong Polish heritage.


Traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, paczki are a Polish version of a filled doughnut, but they are so much more than that. These pillowy pastries are made with a rich, sweet dough that is fried to perfection, resulting in a golden exterior that is crisp on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside.


What makes paczki truly special is their filling. While traditional doughnuts typically have a small amount of jelly or cream filling, paczki are generously filled with a variety of decadent flavors. Popular fillings include raspberry, custard, prune, and rosehip, with some bakeries offering unique creations like Nutella or lemon. Each bite is a burst of flavor, with the sweet filling perfectly complementing the soft dough.


During the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, Detroit’s bakeries and pastry shops go into full paczki production mode. Lines form outside these establishments as people eagerly wait to get their hands on these delectable treats. It has become a tradition for many families to share paczki on Fat Tuesday, often accompanied by a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.


To fully experience the paczki tradition in Detroit, make a visit to renowned establishments like New Martha Washington Bakery or Polish Village Café. These iconic spots have been serving up paczki for decades, ensuring that the flavors remain authentic and the tradition lives on.


If you find yourself in Detroit outside of the Fat Tuesday celebrations, fear not. Many bakeries in the city offer paczki year-round, allowing you to indulge in this decadent treat any time you please. Whether you’re enjoying them on the traditional day or treating yourself to a paczki on a random afternoon, you’re sure to fall in love with the irresistible combination of fluffy dough, sweet filling, and powdered sugar dusting.


So, whether you have Polish roots or simply appreciate a delicious pastry, make sure to add paczki to your Detroit food travel itinerary. It’s a chance to not only satisfy your sweet tooth but also immerse yourself in a beloved Polish tradition that has become an integral part of the city’s culinary identity.


Corned Beef Sandwich: A Taste of Detroit’s Delicatessen Culture

When it comes to hearty and satisfying sandwiches, Detroit’s corned beef sandwich is a true standout. A staple of the city’s delicatessen culture, this mouthwatering creation is a testament to Detroit’s rich culinary heritage and its love for all things meaty and flavorful.


The corned beef sandwich starts with thinly sliced, tender, and succulent corned beef piled high on fresh rye bread. The corned beef is a brisket that has been cured with a combination of spices, giving it a distinct and savory flavor. It’s then typically topped with tangy mustard and served with a side of pickles and potato chips.


What sets Detroit’s corned beef sandwiches apart is the quality of the meat and the attention to detail. Many of the city’s delis and sandwich shops source their corned beef from local purveyors, ensuring that each bite is filled with the highest-quality, perfectly seasoned meat. The combination of flavors and textures, from the tender corned beef to the crisp rye bread, creates a sandwich that is both comforting and satisfying.


One of the most famous establishments serving up delectable corned beef sandwiches is the legendary Zingerman’s Delicatessen. Located in Ann Arbor, just outside of Detroit, Zingerman’s has gained a reputation for its top-notch sandwiches, including their classic corned beef. The deli takes pride in using only the best ingredients, resulting in a corned beef sandwich that is fit for any food enthusiast.


Detroit’s corned beef sandwich is not just a meal, but a reflection of the city’s rich history. Many of the delis and sandwich shops that serve this iconic sandwich have been around for decades, preserving and honoring the deli culture that has been a part of Detroit for generations. These establishments serve as gathering places, where friends, family, and colleagues come together to enjoy a delicious sandwich and share stories and laughter.


So, whether you’re a local or a visitor, make sure to seek out a true Detroit corned beef sandwich. It’s an experience that will not only satisfy your hunger but also give you a taste of the city’s deli culture and the pride that Detroit takes in its culinary traditions.


Slows BBQ: Elevating Detroit’s Barbecue Scene

When it comes to barbecue, Detroit might not be the first city that comes to mind. However, one visit to Slows BBQ will change that perception. Slows BBQ has played a significant role in elevating Detroit’s barbecue scene and putting the city on the map as a destination for mouthwatering smoked meats and flavorful sauces.


Located in the heart of the city’s Corktown neighborhood, Slows BBQ has earned a loyal following with its commitment to high-quality ingredients and slow-cooked meats. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing locally-sourced meats, which are seasoned with a blend of spices and smoked to perfection, resulting in tender and juicy barbecue.


One of the highlights of Slows BBQ is their extensive menu, featuring a variety of meats and flavors. From their succulent pulled pork to their mouthwatering beef brisket, each dish is carefully crafted to showcase the full range of barbecue flavors. Whether you prefer sweet and tangy or bold and spicy, the assortment of house-made sauces at Slows BBQ has you covered.


In addition to their delicious meats, Slows BBQ also offers a range of creative and flavorful side dishes. From their famous mac and cheese to their tangy cole slaw and smoky baked beans, every bite is a perfect complement to the robust flavors of the barbecue. Slows BBQ takes pride in their scratch-made sides, ensuring that every element of the meal is crafted with care and attention to detail.


What sets Slows BBQ apart is not just their delicious food, but also their commitment to the community. The restaurant has been an active supporter of local events and initiatives, and they have played a significant role in the revitalization of the Corktown neighborhood. Slows BBQ has become a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, where people come together to enjoy great food, lively atmosphere, and the spirit of Detroit.


If you find yourself in Detroit, a visit to Slows BBQ is a must for any barbecue lover. The restaurant’s dedication to quality, flavors, and community has made it an integral part of the city’s culinary landscape. So, grab your napkins, prepare to get your hands dirty, and indulge in the mouthwatering barbecue that is putting Detroit on the barbecue map.


Detroit-style Chili: A Hearty and Flavorful Dish

When it comes to comfort food, few dishes can rival the hearty and flavorful goodness of Detroit-style chili. This unique spin on the classic comfort food is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, offering a delicious combination of ground meat, beans, spices, and a touch of sweetness.


Detroit-style chili typically starts with a base of ground beef, cooked with onions and garlic until browned and fragrant. To this base, a combination of spices such as chili powder, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper is added to create a robust and flavorful profile. The addition of kidney beans, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste gives the chili a rich texture and enhances its depth of flavor.


What sets Detroit-style chili apart from other chili variations is the touch of sweetness. It is common to find a hint of sweetness in the chili, typically achieved by adding a small amount of brown sugar or even chocolate. This slight sweetness adds a unique dimension to the flavor profile, balancing out the spice and adding a delightful complexity.


In Detroit, chili is often enjoyed as a standalone dish or served over a bed of spaghetti noodles, creating a dish known as “chili mac.” This hearty combination of chili, pasta, and toppings like shredded cheese and diced onions is a beloved comfort food staple in the city.


Detroit-style chili can be found at numerous diners, Coney Island restaurants, and chili parlors throughout the city. Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, two iconic establishments in downtown Detroit, are known for their flavorful chili coney dogs, where the chili is slathered on top of the hot dog along with mustard and onions.


Whether you’re seeking warmth on a chilly Detroit day or simply craving a satisfying and flavorful meal, Detroit-style chili is the answer. Its rich and hearty nature, combined with a touch of sweetness, makes it a unique and memorable dish that showcases the diverse culinary offerings the city has to offer.


So, next time you find yourself in Detroit, be sure to indulge in a bowl of Detroit-style chili. Whether you enjoy it on its own or as part of a chili mac creation, you’re in for a taste sensation that will warm your soul and satisfy your cravings for comfort food at its finest.


Vernors Ginger Ale: Quenching Thirst for Over a Century

When it comes to iconic beverages, Vernors Ginger Ale holds a special place in the hearts of Detroiters. This carbonated soft drink has been satisfying thirsts for over a century, earning the distinction of being the oldest continuously-operating soda brand in the United States. Vernors Ginger Ale is not just a fizzy beverage; it’s a beloved part of Detroit’s history and culture.


Vernors Ginger Ale was created in 1866 by pharmacist James Vernor in Detroit. The story goes that Vernor developed a unique blend of ginger and secret spices and stored it in an oak barrel. However, his plans were put on hold when he was called to serve in the Civil War. When Vernor returned from the war, he discovered that the flavor had been transformed during the aging process, resulting in a smooth and unique ginger ale unlike anything else on the market.


Vernors Ginger Ale quickly gained popularity, and its distinct flavor became a hit with the people of Detroit. The beverage’s success can be attributed to its bold and spiced taste, which is both refreshing and invigorating. The ginger ale is often described as having a strong ginger kick with hints of vanilla and caramel, giving it a complex and satisfying flavor profile.


One unique characteristic of Vernors Ginger Ale is its effervescence. Unlike other ginger ale brands, Vernors has a robust carbonation that creates a satisfying fizz when opened. This added effervescence makes Vernors Ginger Ale a refreshing choice, especially on hot summer days or when enjoyed as a mixer for cocktails.


Vernors Ginger Ale has become synonymous with Detroit, and it has found its way into the hearts and traditions of the city. It’s not uncommon to find locals incorporating Vernors into their recipes, such as using it as a base for a Vernors float—an irresistible combination of vanilla ice cream and Vernors Ginger Ale.


If you want to experience Vernors Ginger Ale in its true Detroit form, make sure to visit the Vernors mural on the side of the building at 4501 Woodward Avenue. The mural pays homage to the beloved beverage and showcases its enduring legacy in the city.


So, whether you’re a long-time fan of Vernors Ginger Ale or new to this uniquely Detroit beverage, be sure to raise a glass and toast to its rich history and the joy it has brought to countless thirsts over the past century. Vernors Ginger Ale is more than just a drink—it’s a symbol of Detroit’s resilience and enduring love for a refreshing and timeless soda.


Detroit-Style Coney Pizza: A Fusion of Two Local Favorites

When it comes to combining culinary delights, Detroit doesn’t shy away from pushing boundaries. One such example is the Detroit-style coney pizza, a unique fusion of two beloved local favorites—coney dogs and pizza. This mouthwatering creation takes the iconic flavors of a coney dog and elevates them to new heights on a pizza crust, resulting in a truly indulgent and delicious experience.


Detroit-style coney pizza begins with a square, deep-dish crust that is fluffy on the inside and crispy around the edges. The pizza dough is then topped with a layer of tangy tomato sauce, followed by generous amounts of chili, diced onions, and mustard-flavored ground beef—ingredients that are synonymous with the classic coney dog. To complete the masterpiece, a blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheese is added and melted to gooey perfection.


The result is a pizza that captures the essence of both a coney dog and a traditional Detroit-style pizza. Each bite is a delectable combination of flavors and textures. The tangy tomato sauce and chili provide a rich and savory base, while the diced onions add a hint of crunch. The mustard-flavored ground beef adds a zesty kick, and the melted cheese ties it all together.


Several pizzerias and restaurants in Detroit have embraced this unique culinary creation and have brought their own twists to the Detroit-style coney pizza. These establishments are celebrated for their innovation and dedication to creating unforgettable dining experiences. When you’re in Detroit, be sure to visit places like Buddy’s Pizza and Jet’s Pizza, where you can indulge in their renowned versions of the Detroit-style coney pizza.


The Detroit-style coney pizza offers a great way to satisfy cravings for both a coney dog and a pizza, all in a single dish. It’s a testament to the city’s culinary creativity and its willingness to experiment and combine two beloved local favorites into one mouthwatering creation.


Whether you’re a true coney dog aficionado or a fan of all things pizza, the Detroit-style coney pizza is a culinary experience not to be missed. It’s a delicious and unique representation of the flavors and traditions that make Detroit’s food culture so vibrant and exciting.


Almond Boneless Chicken: A Chinese-Inspired Detroit Specialty

Detroit’s culinary scene has always been defined by its diversity, and one dish that exemplifies this is almond boneless chicken. This unique and delicious specialty combines Chinese flavors with Detroit’s own twist, resulting in a dish that has become a local favorite.


Almond boneless chicken is an American-Chinese fusion dish that is primarily found in Chinese restaurants throughout the greater Detroit area. While the origins of this dish are unclear, it has become a beloved staple in the local food culture over the years.


The dish typically features breaded and fried chicken cutlets served over a bed of stir-fried vegetables, such as bean sprouts, pea pods, and carrots. A flavorful brown gravy made with chicken broth, soy sauce, and a hint of ginger is generously poured over the chicken and vegetables. To finish it off, a sprinkling of toasted almonds adds a delightful crunch and nutty flavor.


What sets Detroit’s almond boneless chicken apart is the unique way it is prepared and served. Unlike traditional Chinese cuisine, where chicken dishes often incorporate bone-in pieces, the Detroit version features boneless chicken cutlets, making it easier to eat and adding to its distinct appeal.


Almond boneless chicken has become a celebrated dish in Detroit’s Chinese-American community, with many local restaurants putting their own spin on the classic recipe. Some eateries even offer variations that include additional ingredients, such as water chestnuts, mushrooms, or even pineapple, adding flavor and texture to the dish.


To experience almond boneless chicken in Detroit at its best, head to beloved Chinese restaurants like Lung Wah Garden or Shong Hey Restaurant. These establishments have been serving this delightful dish for years, perfecting their recipes and attracting loyal customers seeking a taste of this unique fusion creation.


Whether you’re a lover of Chinese cuisine or simply a fan of culinary fusions, almond boneless chicken is a must-try when visiting Detroit. Its harmonious blend of flavors and textures is a testament to the city’s diverse food culture and its willingness to embrace new flavors and culinary influences.


So, the next time you’re in Detroit, be sure to seek out a plate of almond boneless chicken. Your taste buds will thank you as you savor the delectable combination of fried chicken, savory gravy, and crunchy almonds, all coming together in a mouthwatering symphony of flavors.


Detroit Original Caramelized Onion Roll: The Perfect Addition to Any Dish

When it comes to culinary delights, Detroit’s food scene never fails to impress. One item that stands out as a local favorite is the Detroit original caramelized onion roll. This unique creation adds a touch of sweetness and a burst of flavor to any dish it accompanies, making it a perfect addition to meals throughout the day.


The Detroit original caramelized onion roll is a soft and fluffy bread roll that has been elevated with the addition of caramelized onions. The roll is often lightly toasted, allowing for a beautiful golden crust that adds a delightful texture to each bite.


What sets the Detroit original caramelized onion roll apart is the attention to detail in achieving the perfect caramelized onions. Onions are slowly cooked in butter or oil over low heat until they become tender and sweet, releasing their natural flavors and creating a rich, savory sensation. The caramelization process brings out the onions’ natural sweetness, resulting in a heavenly combination of flavors when combined with the soft bread roll.


One of the best ways to enjoy the Detroit original caramelized onion roll is as a sandwich. The roll pairs perfectly with a variety of fillings, from classic deli meats to grilled vegetables or even a juicy burger. The sweetness and umami of the caramelized onions elevate the flavors of the sandwich, creating a delicious and satisfying meal.


In addition to sandwiches, the Detroit original caramelized onion roll can also be enjoyed as a side or accompaniment to soups, stews, or salads. The caramelized onions infuse the roll with a depth of flavor that adds an extra dimension to any dish.


To experience the Detroit original caramelized onion roll at its finest, visit local bakeries and delis in the area. These establishments take pride in their craft and offer freshly baked rolls that beautifully showcase the marriage of soft bread and caramelized onions. Places like Avalon International Breads and Astoria Pastry Shop are known for their exceptional bread selections, including the iconic caramelized onion roll.


So, whether you’re enjoying a savory sandwich, a hearty soup, or a simple salad, consider adding the Detroit original caramelized onion roll to your meal. Its unique blend of flavors and versatility make it the perfect complement to any dish, offering a taste of Detroit’s culinary expertise and innovation.


Don’t miss the opportunity to savor this local delight and discover why the Detroit original caramelized onion roll has become a beloved addition to meals throughout the city.



Detroit’s food travel experience is a journey that unveils the city’s rich history, diverse cultural influences, and innovative culinary creations. From iconic dishes like the coney dog and Detroit-style pizza to delightful treats like paczki and almond boneless chicken, the city’s food scene is a true reflection of its vibrant and evolving identity.


As you explore the flavors of Detroit, you’ll discover a deep connection between the food and the people who call this city home. From the Greek-inspired coney dogs to the Polish tradition of paczki, Detroit embraces its cultural diversity and celebrates it through its cuisine. Alongside signature dishes, establishments like Slows BBQ and Vernors Ginger Ale showcase the city’s culinary innovation and dedication to quality.


Detroit’s food culture not only highlights the city’s classics and cultural heritage but also showcases its willingness to blend and fuse flavors, resulting in unique creations like the Detroit-style coney pizza and the caramelized onion roll. These dishes embody the city’s spirit of experimentation and assimilation, adding depth and excitement to the culinary landscape.


So, whether you’re a local or a visitor, Detroit’s food travel experience is a delicious journey that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the city’s culinary traditions and innovations. The iconic dishes, local specialties, and fusion creations will tantalize your taste buds and provide a glimpse into the heart and soul of this incredible city.


As you venture through Detroit’s diverse neighborhoods and iconic eateries, remember to savor every bite, engage with the locals, and embrace the unique stories behind each dish. From the coney islands to the Chinese-American restaurants, the delis to the BBQ joints, every plate carries the history, culture, and passions that make Detroit a true food lover’s destination.


So, let the flavors of Detroit guide your food travel adventure and immerse yourself in the culinary tapestry of this extraordinary city. From the classics to the modern twists, Detroit’s food scene has something for everyone to enjoy, leaving you with memories and flavors that will linger long after you leave.