Best restaurants for families, including some new ones that are part of Detroit’s rebirth
Detroit is a city known around the world for cars and sports, but there’s much more to Detroit than that. The city has been working hard on an urban rebirth. Many new restaurants, along with some that have been a part of Detroit for years, are a driving force behind the crowds that are coming to visit. Whether you're looking for a great burger, a sit-down meal or a restaurant worthy of a president, you’ll find it in Detroit.
2138 Michigan Ave.
One cannot visit Detroit without taking in some real barbecue and soul food. There’s no better place to experience it than Slow’s Bar-B-Q. This Detroit institution has become famous with some help from Food Network’s Guy Fieri and Detroit native Kid Rock, but the food would still be fabulous without the celebrity endorsements. The highlight of the menu for my family is the Yardbird - Amish chicken topped with mustard, mushrooms, cheddar, and bacon. Once you taste it, you’ll understand the hype. The mac and cheese at Slow’s regularly shows up on the country’s top lists, as well. The wait to order food can be long, but the bar offers drinks while you wait. $$
KidTripster Tip: If your kids can’t handle the long wait, check out Slows To Go (4107 Cass Ave.). The menu is the same as the restaurant, minus the beer options, but the wait is minimal.
558 Monroe Ave.
When your meal begins with flaming cheese, and the waitstaff yelling “Opa!,” you know you’re in for an entertaining time. Located in the heart of Detroit’s Greektown, Pegasus Taverna combines authentic Greek food, a lively atmosphere, and kid-friendly waitstaff to give both parents and children a fun night out. The food here ranges from hamburgers and steak to gyros and stuffed grape leaves, so the large menu is sure to accommodate just about everyone. My pickiest eater did run into a problem after ordering the spaghetti from the kids’ menu. The sauce is more Greek in flavor and was not what he was expecting, so take note if your own child is partial to the Italian classic. $$
Pegasus Taverna offers a large variety of dessert options, but if your kids are getting antsy, check out Astoria Pastry Shop across the street. The bright red walls and large display cases seem to call to kids, while the eclairs, cannoli, and blueberry rum bread pudding will have adults finding room in their previously overfilled stomachs. $
3/Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery
441 W. Canfield St. #9
Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery is new to the Detroit area, but it’s already making a splash. This small restaurant is tucked into a storefront in an emerging area of Detroit, but the food, drinks, and a well-known recent guest are all combining to make it a popular destination. On first glance, the long communal tables might not seem very family-friendly, but the staff is at the ready with crayons and kids’ menus. Kids can get creative with their own pizzas, adding and deleting items to create the perfect individual pie. For those who aren’t crazy about pizza, there are also plenty of other items on the menu, including a variety of burgers and sandwiches. Jolly Pumpkin was the chosen lunch spot of former President Barack Obama on a visit to Detroit and burgeoning politicos can sit in the same spot where he sat (just look for the plaque on the long table in the middle of the restaurant). Those looking to recreate the entire presidential experience may be disappointed to know President Obama ordered a plain hamburger with mustard and not much else. $$
4/Hard Rock Cafe Detroit
45 Monroe Ave.
It’s a classic that can be found around the world, but in Detroit, Hard Rock Cafe is worth a stop for the Motown memorabilia. A visit here is more about the ambience than the food, but the options aren’t bad at this downtown Detroit restaurant. The salads, fajitas, and burgers get top marks from the adults in our group, and the kids were happy with burgers, hot dogs, and fish sticks. My kids particularly enjoyed walking around and checking out the different musical artifacts. The rotating display pays homage to the area’s musical roots with a focus on different Detroit artists, who helped shape the music scene. $$$
Detroit natives take their pizza seriously, so when a restaurant is named the "Best Pizza in the City, you know it's got to be good. Buddy’s Pizza has three locations in the Detroit area and all are great options for a low-key but great meal. Buddy’s is known for their slices, which are actually square-shaped and very large. Pizza is sold in either a four- or eight-square configuration, and two squares are normally more than enough for an adult. $
6/American Coney Island
114 W. Lafayette Blvd.
There are few things as divisive for a Michigander as the coney war in Detroit. You need to declare your allegiance to either American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island early and not waver once you have made up your mind. The Coney Island restaurants were started by Greek immigrants, who came to Detroit via Ellis Island and introduced the Coney Island hot dog. The Coney is a natural casing hot dog in a steamed bun with chili, diced onion, and yellow mustard. American Coney Island is one of two original Coney Island restaurants started by two brothers, next door to one another. The menu is simple with coney dogs, a loose meat hamburger, chili with or without beans, and French fries, but trying the coney dog is a rite of passage in Detroit. For a truly authentic experience, order a Vernors or Faygo pop (Michigan’s term for soda). $
7/Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette Blvd.
After you’ve checked out American Coney Island, you need to head over to Lafayette Coney Island to taste the competition. The two restaurants are right next door to one another, but enthusiasts for both restaurants will tell you that the coney dogs and ambiance are totally different. Lafayette Coney Island still retains the formica counter and many furnishings that are original to the restaurant, and the menu looks very much like it did on opening day with coney dogs, loose meat hot dogs, French fries, and chili fries. Both Coney Island restaurants use different suppliers for their meat and different recipes for their chili, giving the coney dogs very different tastes. My kids and I found it fun to have a coney dog (minus the onions, mustard, and chili for my pickiest eater) at both places and then declare our allegiance. We discovered that we’re a family divided! $
3401 Riopelle St.
Roma Cafe boasts the title as the oldest restaurant in Detroit. It’s incredible Italian food is just one of the reasons that it’s been around since 1890. Located in the Eastern Market, this upscale dining option offers classics like lasagna, chicken parmigiana, and spaghetti and meatballs. The décor and menu haven’t changed much in more than 100 years, so don’t expect fusion cuisine or flashy options; the items on the menu have been perfected and will leave you understanding why this place has been a mainstay in Detroit for so long. Roma Cafe feels a bit fancy for kids, but it really is geared towards families, and the waitstaff is very accommodating. $$$
The Eastern Market is home to Roma Cafe, as well as several other restaurants and food trucks. One of our family’s favorites is Supino’s Pizza. The little slice of pizza heaven is great for a sit-down meal or just grabbing a bite while walking through the market. $
9/Mercury Burger Bar
2163 Michigan Ave.
This Corktown gem is perfect for catching a meal before or after a Tigers game. Mercury Burger Bar is basically one giant kids’ menu with juicy burgers, a variety of speciality hot dogs, and the side dish that shines above all others - tater tots. The restaurant also offers a large variety of milk shakes with the option to add a shot of your favorite alcohol to Mom and Dad’s shakes. $$
KidTripster Tip: Parking in downtown Detroit can be tough, but there’s a parking lot with an attendant behind the restaurant. The $3 parking fee supports Roosevelt Park, which is across the street.
10/Mudgie's Authentic Artisan Deli
1300 Porter St.
Mudgie’s Authentic Artisan Deli may slip under most people’s radar, but it’s a not-to-be-missed option in Detroit for lunch or dinner. Most items at the restaurant are homemade, and local products are used whenever possible; the meats for the sandwiches are roasted on site. The deli also boasts an extensive craft beer menu along with wine, mead, and cocktails. Seating is tight at the restaurant, but our family orders sandwiches to-go and heads across the street to the playground for a gourmet picnic dinner. $
Former journalist Jamie Farber lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons. Her English degree has somehow led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels. In her spare time, she enjoys planning her family's many trips around the U.S. and the Caribbean.
This writer received some complimentary meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.