City Flavor Guide: Grand Rapids
Editor's note: Grand Rapids is the home of the Koeze Company, who, as far as I'm concerned, make the best peanut butter in America. They also make terrific cream nut clusters, fresh roasted nuts, and lots of other good stuff, so I figured who better to tell serious eaters where to eat in Grand Rapids than Jeff Koeze himself. Jeff would never say this himself (he's far too modest) but Koeze's two locations are a must for serious eaters in Grand Rapids. Beyond that, here are Jeff's recommendations. —EL
The wheelhouse for Grand Rapids food is breakfast. My favorite is a vegetarian place called Gaia Cafe. I like it not just because their food is really good, but also because it gets me away from eggs and bacon. It has a great breakfast burrito called the MexBrex with eggs cheese, beans, and fresh salsa. When I am looking for bacon and eggs and other everyday breakfast fare, the Garden Room Cafe, Real Food Cafe, and The Brandywine are all terrific.
Gaia Cafe: 209 Diamond Ave SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506 (map); 616-454-6233. Garden Room Cafe: 2055 28th St SE, Grand Rapids MI 49508 (map); 616-452-8544. Real Food Cafe: 5430 Northland Dr NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 (map); 616-361-1808; 2419 Eastern Ave SE, Grand Rapids MI 49507 (map); 616-241-4080. The Brandywine: 2844 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 (map); 616-363-1723; 1345 Lake Dr SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506 (map); 616-774-8641.
Foodie and Locavore Central
The most interesting place for foodies and locavores in town is Restaurant Bloom, created by three grads of Grand Rapids Community College's excellent culinary arts program. These guys are really creative, and given the overall quality of the food and the ingredients they use, it's really reasonably priced. Must haves: this amazing dish with seared whitefish and savoy cabbage and ham dumplings in a caraway broth.
Restaurant Bloom: 40 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids MI 49503 (map); 616-632-2233.
We have a terrific local hamburger dive: Choo-Choo Grill. The burgers are made from fresh ground chuck and they're pressed down on an old grill so they get the nice crunch everyone loves to have on their burger. Plus, your burger arrives via an electric train. How much fun is that?
Choo-Choo Grill: 1209 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids MI 49505 (map); 616-774-8652.
We also have a really cool local hot dog joint, Yesterdog. It's been around for over thirty years with good reason. The hot dogs are excellent, especially the traditional hot dog. A word to the wise, though: Ordering at Yesterdog is not for the inexperienced. Everyone has to learn the rules. No exceptions.
Yesterdog: 1505 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506 (map); 616-336-0746.
Mexican food is where we're really starting to get it going. We've got a bunch of traditional Mexican places, all targeted at the growing Mexican and Latino communities. My favorite is Lindo Mexico—they have an amazing marinated pork filling that is absolutely fabulous. Two others I like are Tacos El Caporal and Tacos El Ranchero. These three are all within a mile of so of our business, so I am confident that there are other gems to be unearthed in this vein if only I were willing to go further for lunch. There are tons of these places, and I've only scratched the surface.
Lindo Mexico: 2747 Clyde Park Ave SW, Wyoming MI 49509 (map); 616-261-2280. Tacos El Caporal: 1024 Burton St SW, Wyoming MI 49509 (map); 616-246-6180. Tacos El Ranchero: 1240 Burton St SW, Wyoming MI 49509 (map); 616-245-6514.
For a special occasion, a big birthday, or an anniversary, the 1913 Room at the Amway Grand Plaza is a AAA five diamond joint, and the meals I've eaten with my wife there have been really good. For steak, I like The Chop House. The shrimp cocktail is excellent, the steaks are thick and juicy, and the baked potatoes come fully loaded with sour cream, butter, and chives.