Indulge French Bistro
No matter how many bodies you pack inside, some restaurants are always going to be as cold and sterile as a surgical pre-op, where voices seem to evaporate into wisps of cold before they can travel across the length of a table. But there are also restaurants that miraculously exude warmth and life and comfort no matter the condition of the floor. These are the rare ones, as extraordinary as real magic, where the house — despite a lack of trade, of buzz, of superficial action — subsists on a sort of rich inner life, a passion that flows outward from the kitchen, through the bar, to suffuse even just a few tables, even just one, with the sense that everything is going to be all right, despite all evidence to the contrary. Indulge French Bistro is just such a magical place, a wonderful Normandy French restaurant that serves amazing steak tartare, beautiful salmon with leek fondue, and the best duck we've ever tasted.
Danielle Lirette
Mezcal is a fantastic starting and ending place for any Friday night. Why? For so many reasons. Let's start with the fact that the kitchen serves until one in the morning. The cheap tacos, which we've loved since day one, are just the thing to fortify you before you head out to whatever weirdness awaits you downtown — and work equally well sopping up that excess alcohol at midnight. And then there's the bar, arranged like an agave stockade — walled in by bottles of all the best and worst tequilas and mezcals on the market. A shot could be just what you need to prepare you for the night ahead — or make you forget whatever just came down. And if things really went wrong, you can drink here until closing, go sleep in your car, then come back in the morning for a nice brunch.
Coleman's Taste of Detroit Soul Food
Henry Coleman, owner and head cook at Coleman's Soul Food, which took over the space occupied for decades by Ethel's House of Soul, knows from Detroit soul food, Detroit comfort food, Detroit's streetside, slapdash, eat-while-walking cuisine. He's a veteran lunchwagon cook from the city. Now, behind the rail of his kitchen at Coleman's, he knocks out specials (roasted barbecued chicken breast with greens and rice and gravy), bakes cornbread, slow-cooks his brisket and hot links. But what he does best is fry chicken. Each serving brings two legs and a big, plump piece of breast, steaming and juicy beneath a simple crust of flour, pepper, salt and spices. And on the side: a little cup of straight, uncut hot sauce; a big bowl of excellent church-picnic potato salad, heavy on the mustard, with celery and hard-boiled egg; another bowl of soft, sweet, molasses-y baked beans; a slab of cornbread big as a piece of birthday cake. The only thing missing? A couple shots of whiskey to wash it down.
GB Fish & Chips
Ariel Fried
Fish, chips, prawn chips, Cornish pasties, bikers, punks and soccer jerseys — what more could you ask of a neighborhood chipper in Denver, Colorado? Owner Alex Stokeld has done a fine job of transforming this cement bunker of a space into a down-and-dirty fish joint, with picnic tables in the dining room and beers at the bar. All of the food is excellent, but the best dish is the namesake fish and chips: sticks of flaky cod cut off the fillet, jacketed in a perfect, crisp, crumbling batter (which took Stokeld years to get right), scalded by the heat of the fryer and served in generous, greasy portions over a mound of proper, thick-cut chips fried the way chips are supposed to be fried — hard and fast, in animal fat.
Courtesy L'Atelier Facebook
Radek Cerny has never been a "normal" chef. He's always been the kind of guy who pushes borders and boundaries for his own amusement — for the thrill of hanging himself out there on the edge just to see what will happen. At L'Atelier, his current culinary workshop, he's free to be as weird as he wants to be. And for just $59, you, too, can go to the wall with Cerny. That's the price of his degustation menu — an eight-course, greatest-hits collection of whatever the kitchen is playing with at the moment. There are tartares on the degustation menu, little blips of French and Italian and Japanese and American technique, as well as escargot with potato foam. (Cerny has long been fascinated with doing unusual thing to and with potatoes). This is a man who's never seen a rule he didn't want to break or a border that didn't deserve crossing — and the results can be delicious.
Izakaya Den
Izakaya Den
Izakaya Den is a lot of things. It's a tapas restaurant, a small plates restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a sake bar. It does Mediterranean food and Italian food, re-envisioned American bar food and really, really authentic Japanese food. And sometimes, it does all of these together on a single plate — to the delight and confusion and occasional horror of those fortunate enough to have happened into this South Pearl Street restaurant with the nondescript exterior and windows that look out on its always-busy sister restaurant, Sushi Den, across the street. You can get sashimi with real (and murderously expensive) wasabi here, skate wing and waffles, shumai dumpling and lemongrass vichyssoise, kobe beef sliders with foie gras, purple Peruvian frites and hoisin duck wontons. Izakaya is not only proud to call itself a fusion restaurant, but it stands as an avatar of what fusion could've been had such an intriguing culinary designation not been wrecked years ago by 10,000 restaurants all serving wasabi mashed potatoes and ahi tuna tartare.
Buenos Aires Pizzeria
We've eaten big pizzas and little pizzas. We've had fancy-fancy dining-room pizzas and organic pizzas and a thousand-and-one digressions on the Spago-fied California pizzas. And not one of these quote/unquote gourmet pizzas had us aching for another bite. Instead, we find ourselves longing for the modest dining room of Buenos Aires Pizzeria, where the pizza is as gourmet as it gets, because the Carrera family will put egg or chimichurri or hearts of palm on your pie if you want them. But really, it's all just Argentine pizza, and Argentina is like the Olympics for culinary canons — the place where they all go to fight it out and see who comes out on top. No matter what you top your pie with at Buenos Aires, it's bound to be very, very good.
Santiago's Mexican Restaurant
Cassandra Kotnik
It took us a year to make this decision. Seriously, a year. We spooned our way through bowl after bowl around the city, through green chiles thick and thin, sweet and sour, dull and devilishly hot. And we kept coming back to Santiago's. Fortunately, it was easy to do so, because this homegrown chain keeps opening up more stores all around the city, and all of them serve the same great green. With its moderated heat and perfect balance of the chile's vegetable sweetness to the savor of pork fat, this elixir goes with everything from eggs to tacos to midnight snacks — and is also just splendid on its own. In our hearts, we knew Santiago's green chile was the winner from the start. All that testing and experimentation? Just an excuse to eat the leftovers, really.
Grits: the ultimate comfort food. So poverty-simple, and now, like Britney Spears, so trash-gone-superstar. It's the American polenta, the best thing to happen to high-end food costs since wasabi mashed potatoes. Just about every kitchen cooks grits these days, and just about every kitchen cooks them poorly. But not at Venue. Holly Hartnett's kitchen treats grits with care and respect, topping an immaculate white mound with a piece of perfect pork tenderloin, surrounded by a puddle of maple-pork jus and studded with dried cherries. When a kitchen gives such thoughtful attention to the most simple things, it can do almost anything exceptionally well.
El Noa Noa Mexican Restaurant
Courtesy El Noa Noa Facebook
We love a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast. And if there's one thing we love more than a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast, it's a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast and then continues to serve that breakfast all day long — a mercy for those of us whose notion of "breakfast" is somewhat fluid, defining it only as the first meal of any waking period, even if that meal happens to be taken at, say, one in the afternoon. El Noa Noa is just such a lovable place, a longtime neighborhood favorite that does a brisk breakfast trade throughout the day. Of all its breakfast options, the best for a man who's been drinking is the nice, greasy plate of machaca con huevos: shredded desebrado and scrambled eggs mixed together, served with a side of rice and a double-sized side of refritos. If that's not enough to get you up and going on the morning after whatever weirdness you got up to the night before, then God's mercy be with you — because you are beyond the help of man or breakfast magic.

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