La Saj's Alex and Sal Awada & Sangria's Paul Tootikian

Cravings: Their stylish menus are enticing enough to attract a loyal clientele of discriminating diners, but no matter how expert they are, restaurant people like to take a break from their own kitchens for a taste of someone else’s cooking.


> ALEX AND SAL AWADA preside over La Saj, the upscale Middle Eastern restaurant in Sterling Heights. When taking a night off, the brothers, together or separately, are likely to head for Lelli’s of Auburn Hills, for “Steak Lelli,” the extra-cut filet with mashed potatoes. Or, “with a group, we share Chateaubriand,” Alex says. When in the mood for sushi, he likes Benihana. For Middle Eastern food other than his own, he swears by Phoenicia in Birmingham, and for “homemade Italian food, La Contessa on Erie Street East in Windsor. The fettuccine with marinara sauce is unbelievable.”

> Executive chef PAUL TOOTIKIAN, of Sangria Tapas Café in Royal Oak, is a fan of Al-Sultan, a family-run spot in Garden City, for its raw kibbeh. “My son likes the great combination plate with lamb, chicken, and rice pilaf — fresh and good. And the place is spotless.” When he tires of gourmet food from his own kitchen, he heads for the old Tiger Stadium neighborhood and hamburgers at Nemo’s. “I love the area,” he says. “It’s history.” Another hamburger fave is Miller’s Bar in Dearborn.

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