A quintessential college town, Ann Arbor resonates urban cool mixed with a midwestern small-town vibe. The city is defined by the University of Michigan, which sprawls beyond its 40-acre central campus across this small city in southeastern Michigan. Virginian John Allen and New Yorker Elisha Rumsey founded the town in 1824 and named it to honor their wives—both named Ann—and the dense oak forests that blanketed much of the 640 acres of land they bought from the federal government.
As you’d expect, the town’s cultural attractions revolve around the university, which claims James Earl Jones, Lucy Liu, and Madonna (who didn’t graduate) among its celebrity alumni. An easy walk from the main campus, the heart of Ann Arbor beats “down on Main Street,” as native son Bob Seger immortalized it in his eponymous 1977 song. Main Street and the blocks branching off of it are now are chock-a-block with shops, nightclubs, and theaters, as well as a bevy of bars, restaurants, and outdoor cafés.
“Ann Arbor has a really bustling, eclectic, internationally inspired food scene,” says Margaret Wyzlic, director of communications for Destination Ann Arbor. “There are over 300 restaurants in the city limits with international inspirations from Ethiopian to European, and every type of Asian cuisine you could imagine.” But it wasn’t always this way. Until recent decades, Ann Arbor catered more to university students—with pizza parlors and burger joints—than gourmands. The tide turned in 1982 when Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened Zingerman’s in a 1902 grocery building, a block from the farmer’s market. What began as a Jewish deli soon ballooned into a storied specialty-foods store whose shelves are stocked with some of the best regional and international products, including some from home: Anson Mill grits, Carolina Gold rice, and South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce.
Following the partners’ savvy business model, Zingerman’s has expanded into a group of specialized food-related businesses, including a creamery, a bakery, a coffee roaster, a historic farm and event venue called Cornman Farms, and two other restaurants (Zingerman’s Roadhouse and Miss Kim).
Zingerman’s has spawned a new generation of local chefs, such as James Beard Award-winner Alex Young, who opened Zingerman’s Roadhouse with Saginaw and Weinzweig in 2003. Young turned his focus to French cuisine when he launched The Standard Bistro & Larder in early 2018. Another Deli alumna and now one of the company’s managing partners, Ji Hye Kim crafts seasonal family-style dishes that celebrate her Korean heritage at Zingerman’s new restaurant, Miss Kim.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the producers-only Ann Arbor Farmers Market gathers more than 130 area producers and food artisans on Saturdays year-round and Wednesdays from May through December. “When Zingerman’s opened, the market was pretty small,” recalls Weinzweig, “but now I think it’s one of the best in the country.” Having such a resource in town makes easy pickin’s for chefs and consumers. “Ann Arbor is a very sophisticated city,” says Danny Van, chef/owner of Taste Kitchen, who shops at the farmers market twice a week in summer. “I see health-conscious diners here going toward more local and organic food.”
Whether you’re sampling farm-fresh cuisine in the city’s restaurants, tasting mead made from northern Michigan ingredients at Bløm Meadworks, or exploring the many iterations of the state’s abundant cherry crop (Michigan grows 75 percent of the country’s supply) at Cherry Republic on Main Street, wherever you turn, Ann Arbor lays out a luscious harvest of local cuisine.
The Kensington Hotel At this comfortable boutique hotel just outside downtown, 200 newly revitalized guest rooms come with plush bedding and free WiFi. And that’s not to mention the indoor pool, sauna and fitness center, and the complimentary Viennese coffee bar in the lobby; 3500 S State St
The Standard Bistro & Larder The menu changes daily at this downtown brasserie, where Chef Alex Young combines French cuisine (think bouillabaisse and beef Bourguignon) with a passion for local ingredients; 5827 Jackson Rd
Taste Kitchen A native of Vietnam, chef/owner Danny Van dishes up global cuisine, mixing Asian influences with French techniques in such plates as Alaskan halibut with ponzu and bok choy; 521 E Liberty St
University of Michigan Museum of Art Among its many treasures, the UMMA collection excels in Chinese paintings and Tiffany architectural glass, as well as an exceptional group of Asian ceramics; 525 S State St
Literati Any self-respecting college town should have a hip independent bookstore, and Literati does Ann Arbor proud by supporting both local authors and booklovers; 124 E Washington St