That the Detroit area is home to the largest population of Arab Americans in the United States is relatively well-known. The story of Arab migration to the Detroit area is long (it started before the turn of the 20th century) and complicated — the city’s once-booming auto industry was only part of the tale.
Still, as the cultures from countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria melded into the Detroit region, one of many fortuitous results has been a thriving Middle Eastern culinary scene. Looking to experience authentic fare at Detroit restaurants? Try a taste of these local favorites.
The suburb of Dearborn is the epicenter of Detroit’s Arab American community (and, incidentally, where Henry Ford founded his world-famous car company), and the Lebanese restaurant Al-Ameer is far and away the most authentic spot for Middle Eastern eats in Dearborn.
Whether you want enjoy more familiar Lebanese foods like hummus and labneh or want to sample house specialties like stuffed roasted lamb or Arayes (toasted pita stuffed with ground meat and pine nuts), a meal at Al-Ameer is like a trip to Beirut for your taste buds.
Speaking of pita bread, there are plenty of things to dip it into at La Pita (whose name, let’s face it, would be misleading if that weren’t the case), but dips like baba ghanouj are only the beginning of the Mediterranean delights on offer at this Dearborn eatery.
From Arabic favorites like charbroiled chicken kafta to the breezier Cypriot Rocca salad featuring roasted arugula and halloumi cheese, La Pita is much more than just bread. The space even operates its own nightclub on the weekends, allowing diners to dance off even the heaviest meal while grooving to modern Middle Eastern sounds.
Historically, a majority of Detroit’s Arab immigrants have been from the Levant region, which includes Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Recently, however, more have arrived from Yemen, a nation at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, whose tastes you can sample at Yemen Café in Hamtramck.
Of course, if you’re not feeling adventurous enough to try traditional Yemeni dishes like fahsa (lamb cutlet stew) and haneeth (roasted lamb served over basmati rice), you can always opt for familiar Arabic choices like stuffed grape leaves and fragrant tabbouleh salad.
Ali Baba Shish Kabob
Also located in Hamtramck, Ali Baba Shish Kabob evokes neither the most ubiquitous Arabic food nor one of the culture’s most famous legends lightly. Indeed, this Iraqi-operated eatery expertly prepares Arabic classics, from beef and chicken shawarma and the mezze appetizer trays to (of course) shish kabobs of grilled meat.
Ali Baba is also an ideal place to enjoy traditional Middle Eastern desserts — wash down your sweet baklava with strong, thick Turkish coffee.
“Habibi” and “habibti” are common terms of endearment for men and women (respectively) in the Arabic language, and after dining at Habib’s Cuisine in Dearborn, you might even think the cook is sweet on you. Whether you start out with hindbée, a cold salad made with sautéed dandelion greens, or feast on oozé, which pairs seasoned rice with ground beef, lamb chunks and roasted nuts, the freshness of the ingredients at Habib’s is almost romantic, particularly in the dead of the Detroit winter.