Changing tastes and a volatile economy make it tough to survive in the restaurant business, but these mainstays have found the recipe for success, satisfying hungry Detroiters for at least a half-century.
> Buddy’s Pizza
17125 Conant, Detroit; buddyspizza.com.
Beginning as a blind pig in 1936, Buddy’s became a legitimate tavern in 1944 and began serving its signature square pizza two years later. Today, there are seven Buddy’s locations (and two carryout sites), but the original at Six Mile and Conant is still kicking.
> Caucus Club
150 W. Congress (on the first floor of the Penobscot Building), Detroit; caucusclubdetroit.com.
A Detroit institution since 1952, the Caucus Club is renowned for many things: the Bullshot (beef broth, vodka, and spices), which has been on the bar menu since the restaurant opened; menu staples, such as the sautéed perch, the Penobscot Salad, and Jim Beard’s Hamburger Steak; the dimly lit, clubby atmosphere; and for its pedigree: brothers Les and Sam Gruber also owned the London Chop House (regarded as one of the nation’s top restaurants), which was across the street. But the Caucus Club’s biggest claim to fame was a little-known singer who was hired for a gig in the back room in 1961. Her name was Barbra Streisand. She was young, inexperienced, and was just getting her sea legs in the entertainment world. “Watching her was like watching the first brush strokes in a picture. She was creating herself,” Les Gruber told the Detroit Free Press in 1966.
> Cadieux Café
4300 Cadieux, Detroit; cadieuxcafe.com.
In addition to its reputation for feather bowling, Belgian beers, and specialty mussels, Cadieux Café has been the social core for metro Detroit’s Belgian population since the Prohibition era. The Devos family, who have owned the Cadieux since the 1960s, maintain the classic aura while appealing to a younger (21-35 year old) demographic, partly because the beer is $8 a pitcher after 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.
> Dakota Inn Rathskeller
17324 John R, Detroit; dakota-inn.com.
It opened Aug. 1, 1933, by Karl Kurz, grandfather of current owner Karl E. Kurz. The founder wanted his restaurant to look like an original German-style rathskeller from his native Wiekersheim, Germany. After all these years, the restaurant maintains the old-country feel, thanks to trophy animal heads on the wall, polished dark-wood furniture, and a lederhosen-clad wait staff that delivers schnitzels.
> Checker Bar & Grill
124 Cadillac Square, Detroit; 313-961-9249.
The signature Checker Burger is still prepared using the original recipe, which dates to 1973, but the restaurant has been in operation since 1955. The atmosphere has been compared to the tavern in TV’s Cheers sitcom. It’s closed on the weekends.
> Diamond Jim Brady’s
26503 Town Center Dr., Novi; djbistro.com.
Opened in 1954 by James Brady in Detroit, this family-owned restaurant now calls Novi home. Burgers are a menu mainstay, with versions that include the Original Diamond Jim Brady or the Charlie Brown. Another staple is the Chicken Isabella.
> Holly Hotel
110 Battle Alley, Holly; hollyhotel.com.
The hotel, opened in 1891, has been recognized for its Queen Anne revival architecture, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structure no longer accepts overnight guests. Among the featured item on the dinner menus, which are printed daily, is the popular chicken strudel. Its onion soup was featured in Gourmet in the 1980s.
> Jacoby’s German Biergarten
624 Brush St., Detroit; jacobysbar.com.
Since 1904, this German establishment has been serving schnitzels to metro Detroiters. Libations include an impressive list of German, Belgian, and other imported beers.
885 North Opdyke Rd., Auburn Hills; lellisrestaurant.com.
Although the original Woodward location, which was opened in 1939, burned down in 2000, Lelli’s northeast Italian cuisine endures in Auburn Hills. They serve several popular veal dishes, but their claim to fame remains the filet mignon with zip sauce.
> Ivanhoe Café (the Polish Yacht Club)
5249 Joseph Campau, Detroit; ivanhoecafe-pyc.com.
In operation since 1909, the Ivanhoe celebrated its centennial while under the name of its founder: Grendzinski. Favorites in this casual Polish bar include the pan-fried perch and walleye, which are cooked to order.
> Janet’s Lunch
15033 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park; 313-331-5776.
Contrary to its name, this counter-and-stool mainstay in Grosse Pointe Park’s “Cabbage Patch” neighborhood also serves breakfast and dinner. The best-selling dish at this busy spot, which opened in 1938, is the hot-turkey plate — and the meat is not from a turkey roll.
> Mario’s Restaurant
4222 Second, Detroit; mariosdetroit.com
Opened in 1948, this Detroit establishment maintains its old-school charm. The signature filet with Mario’s zip sauce is a favorite, and has been on the menu from the start.
> Oak Café
1167 Oak St., Wyandotte; theoakcafe.com.
When locals come to the six-decade-old Oak Café, they know to order the Cajun Bayou Burger, seasoned with Louisiana spices, pepper cheese, and Louisiana mayonnaise — for $4.95, a price that’s possibly lower than the number of calories it contains.
> Mr. Mike’s Karaoke & Sports Bar
6064 Woodward, Detroit; mrmikeskaraoke.com.
Since 1936, Mr. Mike’s has been serving metro Detroiters its famous Mr. Mike Burger, which comes with a side order of karaoke Wednesday through Saturday.
31555 Woodward, Royal Oak; pasqualesrestaurant.com.
Thanks to Papa Giuseppe, traditional Italian specialties of Naples still have metro Detroiters arriving in droves. The first location, opened in 1954, could hold 96 patrons. Today’s restaurant can accommodate 240. In addition to pizza, the Antipasto alla Sylvia (with artichoke hearts, shrimp, and creamy Italian dressing) is popular.
> Miller’s Bar
23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; millersbar.com.
Though the menu and building are small, Miller’s has no problem attracting crowds since opening in 1941. The winning formula is as basic as it gets: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, and onion rings. Add pickles from a jar on the table or request fresh onion for your burger, and the meal is complete. Alan Richman ranked Miller’s burger eighth on his list in GQ’s “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die.” Insider’s tip: Don’t wait for the check to arrive at the table. Tell the bartender what you had and skedaddle.
> Mexican Village
2600 N. Bagley (at 18th), Detroit; mexicanvillagefood.com.
Opened in 1956, Mexican Village is the oldest restaurant in Mexicantown. Manager Connie Bacigalupo says diners love the combination plates, including the Village Combination (two beef tacos, tostada with beans and cheese, one cheese enchilada, and one chicken flauta). Mexican Village’s Utica outpost celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
> Roma Café
3401 Riopelle, Detroit; romacafe.com.
Roma Café opened in 1890, making it Detroit’s oldest Italian restaurant. Today, it’s operated by third-generation owner Janet Sossi Belcoure. This old-school gem near Detroit’s Eastern Market serves traditional Italian cuisine and is known for its veal Parmesan and homemade meat sauce.
> Scotty Simpson’s Fish & Chips
22200 Fenkell (near Lahser), Detroit; scottysfishandchips.com.
Since 1950, Scotty’s signature dish has been its top seller. But owner Harry Barber, who also toils away at the fryer, says Shrimp & Chips comes in second. Barber began at Scotty’s as a dishwasher in 1966 and is the restaurant’s third owner. “I started on the same day I started high school,” he says. He says Lent is the busiest season, and that Friday is still the most-crowded day of the week. “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti night, and Friday is fish-and-chips night. It’s a tradition,” Barber says.
100 St. Clair, Detroit; sindbads.com.
Since 1949, this riverside spot has offered stunning water views and a menu with a nautical theme. Dishes include Neptune’s Delight, The Tug Boat, and the Gang Plank. In the early days, the most popular item was the steak sandwich, says general manager/owner Marc Blancke. “Not many people in those days, when my dad and uncle ran the place, ate seafood,” Blancke says. They do now, making shrimp and scallops big sellers. But the stalwart steak sandwich still has a place on the menu.
> Sibley Gardens
916 W. Jefferson, Trenton; sibleygardens.com.
This Downriver hotspot opened in 1935 and has been owned by the Piunti family since 1944. It’s currently operated by third-generation siblings Nick and Andrea. A notable staple on the menu is the “Steak Sammy,” beef tenderloin sautéed with wine, garlic, and parsley. Sibley Gardens also caters, and has the capacity to host banquets and luncheons in three private rooms.
1341 Springwells, Detroit; vincesdetroit.com.
In 1960, Vince’s opened as a four-table pizza parlor catering to the nearby Cadillac Fleetwood plant on Detroit’s southwest side, but it’s been a full-service restaurant for years. The homemade angel-hair pasta is its most popular menu item, but Vince’s most popular patron has to be Frank Sinatra, who visited the restaurant in the 1980s. Ole Blue Eyes’ autographed photo is framed on the wall.