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Michigan's Top 20 restaurants to visit in 2020

MLive - Jackson logo MLive - Jackson 1/24/2020 By John Gonzalez, mlive.com

Kayla Renie 5/8 MLive.com

John and Amy at Dockers Fish House in Muskegon.

BY JOHN GONZALEZ 5/8 gonzo@mlive.com

and AMY SHERMAN 5/8 asherma2@mlive.com

It was another great year searching for Michigan's Best - pushing our taste buds to the limit as we visited new spots, discovered hidden gems and returned to some familiar haunts.

Once again, we traveled thousands of miles in 2019 to bring you searches for Michigan's Best Diner, Favorite Fish Fry,  Best Coney Dog, Most Iconic Restaurant, Best Waterfront Restaurant and Best Chili.

Soon we'll be announcing our next search.

But before we do that we thought we would share some of our favorite places we have visited over the last few years, or places we just talk about when we're on a long road trip.

This is a list of 20 places we recommend you visit in 2020.

We have a little bit of everything - from a doughnut shop and a coney dog place to bars and fine dining restaurants. Our goal was to be broad and represent several regions throughout the state. We know we didn't cover every market, and we know we may have left off your favorite restaurant.

If that's the case, we would love to hear from you!

Email us at:

gonzo@mlive.com

or asherma2@mlive.com.

You know we're always willing to discover new places.

20 Michigan restaurants to visit in 2020

MLive.com

Friends and supporters of Butter Crust Bakery.

#20 Butter Crust Bakery

6181 Dixie, Bridgeport, MI

989-777-3680

Check their Facebook page here

Hours:  6 a.m-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Saturday. They  are closed Sundays and Mondays. You can also find them at the Frankenmuth Farmers Market, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays.

MLive.com

Butter Crust Bakery, Bridgeport

John says: A Top 10 pick for Best Bakery and Best Doughnuts, Butter Crust Bakery in  Bridgeport -- right off I-75 north of Frankenmuth and near Saginaw --  never disappoints. Serving customers since 1967, owner Greg Sochocki is making doughnuts and baked goods fresh every day. We loved the community spirit and excitement from customers who obviously stop in often. Along with mouthwatering Peanut Butter & Jelly Long Johns and glazed doughnuts, Butter Crust also impressed us with a couple unique creations  -- the Ugly, which consists of apple, strawberry and cinnamon mixed with the ends of the dough, rolled out and fried. And The Yum Yums,  their top seller, which are layered dough folded into angel wings,  fried and glazed. The bakery also makes homemade breads, including hotdog and hamburger buns, as well as awesome cupcakes (try the S'Mores)  and massive eclairs.

RELATED: Michigan's Best Doughnut: We offer a "baker's dozen" -- the Top 13.

RELATED: Top 10 Michigan's Best Bakery

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Apache Trout Grill in Traverse City.

#19 Apache Trout Grill

13671 S W Bay Shore Drive, Traverse City, MI

231-947-7079

Hours: Open seven days a week; Sunday brunch from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner from 2-10 p.m.; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. During the summer, six slips are available for boaters; no charge, no reservations.

http://www.apachetroutgrill.com/

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Bacon-wrapped BBQ shrimp appetizer at Apache Trout Grill.

Apache Trout Grill, Traverse City

John says: Oddly for the Traverse City area, there are not a lot of restaurants on the water. The Apache Trout Grill, which was founded by Mike and Sheila Connors in 1994 out of a passion for the Northern Michigan outdoors and their love of the fresh fish, has carved out that niche. Now under the ownership of Jeff Lobdell and Scott Parkhurst of Restaurant Partners, based in Grand Rapids and Traverse City, the popularity of Apache Trout Grill has not waned. Good luck finding a parking spot during prime dinner time any day of the week. The transition in the last year has been smooth since not much has changed.

"This restaurant belongs to the community and the people that patronize it," Lobdell said when taking over the restaurant. "My role is to be the caretaker of the Apache Trout Grill so it can continue to serve its role as a cherished waterfront, community gathering place.”

We couldn't agree more. The gorgeous setting overlooks the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay where diners see boats of all sizes. A popular Tiki bar keeps the party going as live music entertains those waiting for a table. Food is not allowed in the patio area because of health department regulations, Parkhurst said.

We loved everything coming out of the kitchen from chef Seth Bouchard, including the signature, lip-smacking bacon wrapped BBQ shrimp appetizer and the whitefish dip served with Naan bread, flatbread crackers and baby gerkins. The entrees were over-the-top good. We loved the "flavor explosion" of the Twin Boursin Beef Filets topped with Boursin cheese medallions, mushroom caps, haystack onions, and demi-glace, served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and asparagus. The big surprise for both of us was the pan-seared halibut, a very meaty halibut filet seared perfectly and served atop creamy mushroom asparagus risotto with a lemon beurre blanc sauce. Factor in great desserts, a great drink menu and you have a perfect destination for any occasion.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Mr. Spots!

#18 Mr. Spots

808 S. State St., Ann Arbor, MI

734-747-7768

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-Midnight, Sunday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Mr. Spots, Ann Arbor

Amy says:

I’ve been craving cheese steaks lately (actually, I crave them pretty frequently to be honest), and one of my favorites in all the land is at Mr. Spots, a little spot in Ann Arbor. We first tried one while on our search for

, because if someone offers you a taste of something else during a visit, you take it. The cheesesteak is a personal weakness for me, so after sampling a few dozen wings we had one of these beauties for dessert.

Steaming hot, loaded with shaved beef, coated in melty cheese and topped with these very hot peppers, it was cheesesteak perfection. No wonder Mr. Spots sometimes delivers hundreds of these to the University of Michigan football team as they head out for an away game.

We also stopped by Mr. Spots on our search for

. The cheesesteak, we can confirm, is still delicious, and Mr. Spots is an Ann Arbor classic, and a perfect stop any time of the year, especially if you're visiting town during Ann Arbor Art Fair.

Be sure to say hello to our friends Keith Mckendry and Tim Wojcik, who own Mister Spots.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#17 The Detroiter Bar

655 Beaubien St., Detroit, MI

313-963-3355

Check their Facebook page here.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

The Yanni Special at The Detroiter.

The Detroiter Bar, Detroit

Amy says: We fell in love with The Detroiter when we are on our search for Detroit's Best Burger a  few years ago. Since then it has become a regular stop whenever we are in Detroit. The staff here is incredibly fun to visit with, they have a  great craft beer list, and it is not uncommon to find it packed whenever there is a game in town.

Burgers here are top-notch. Order a "Detroit House Special" and you get a mess of steak fries, a 1/4 u00bd pound Detroiter Burger and a mug of  draft beer.

RELATED: Detroit's Best Burger: Our Top 10 list revealed

RELATED: Detroit's Best Burger: 13 more places not to miss

From  our review: The Detroiter burger is topped with ham, bacon, American  and Swiss cheese, and served on a sesame bun from Metropolitan Bread  Company. The fresh ground chuck arrives three times a week from Eastern  Market, where Ernst Hotel & Supply prepares the patties with their own seasoning. The burger (80-20 lean-to-fat ratio) has not changed at all over the years. It's always fun to run into co-manager  Yanni Kefallinos, whose grandfather was the former owner and named it  Detroiter Bar in 1989. We loved the juicy, hearty bite and perfect ratio  of burger to toppings. The lightly-seasoned steak fries came out hot and were the perfect combination. The bar is also known for its Gyro and  saganaki sausage. The Detroiter also serves a half-pound burger with fries for lunch. The craft beer lovers will find some  Detroit favorites from Atwater, Kuhnhenn and others.

We recently stopped at The Detroiter for our Michigan's Best Day Greektown video, where we enjoyed the Yanni Special, a burger with fries and special sauce!

RELATED: How to have a Michigan's Best Day in Greektown

Tanya Moutzalias 5/8 MLive.com

Pictured are the owners of Giovanni's, the incomparable Fran Cannarsa Truant, and her talented son, Chef Randy Truant

#16 Giovanni's

330 Oakwood Blvd, Detroit, MI

313-841-0122

giovannisristorante.com

Tanya Moutzalias 5/8 MLive.com

The lasagna at Giovanni’s is the best in Michigan.

Giovanni’s, Detroit

Amy says: Originally a pizzeria located in a full-on Italian neighborhood, Giovanni's is one of the holdouts in gritty Southwest Detroit. Owner Fran Cannarsa Truant had a vision back in the 1970's to transform the space into a full-service restaurant, so of course, she did.

Truant is a singular force of nature: brash, funny and one of the hardest-working women you’ve ever met.

Giovanni’s has fed celebrities -- according to Truant, Michael Bolton and the late comedian Red Skelton were favorites, while Frank Sinatra was “a snot.” And it’s a favorite of Detroit area executives, who appreciate their discretion and fabulous food.

Her son, Randy, is chef now, after having trained under the original and now-retired chef, Paulina Tarducci, who is spoken of with reverence. Following her original recipes straight from Italy, he adds his signature touch, plus creates new wonders from the kitchen.

We can confidently say that the lasagna at Giovanni’s is the best in Michigan, with an incredible melt-in-your-mouth quality. Calamari was perfectly cooked, and classic. The arancini was rich, crispy and gooey. All of the veal is pounded in house daily, and is delectable. The “veal saltimbocca,” which means “jump in your mouth,” is a taste sensation, with layers of meat, prosciutto, Fontina cheese and fresh sage.

A perfect ending to your meal is the house-made cannoli, filled to order with a creamy ricotta. Or try  the lemon custard, Fran Truant’s grandmother’s recipe, which is light and lovely.

Visit Giovanni’s for the wonderful food and atmosphere, and live your life like Fran. “If you don’t have fun, you might as well be dead,” she told us. Agreed.

RELATED: These are the 10 best Italian restaurants in Michigan

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#15 Dagwood's Tavern and Grill

2803 E. Kalamazoo St., Lansing, MI

517-374-0390

Amy Sherman 5/8 MLive.com

Dagwood's Tavern, Lansing

John says: A finalist for Michigan's Best Neighborhood Bar and Top 10 pick for Michigan's Best French Fries, we are so excited to recommend a stop at Dagwood's, a Lansing institution that has been around since 1947. Owner Marji Cheadle has been at the helm for close to 20 years, overseeing the more than 900 pounds of potatoes they hand cut every week. Everything here is homemade, and when you see the size of their kitchen, you'll be both amazed and surprised. Hint: It's small.

They’ve been making their fries the same way the whole time, using Idaho #1 potatoes and frying them in the greatest of the fats, lard. The fries come out extra crispy on the outside, with perfect creaminess on the inside and big, pure potato flavor. No seasoning is added. That’s up to you at the table. You can also get chili cheese fries, with homemade chili, or try the excellent 'All day, everyday, special' where you get a burger, fries, and a domestic beer for $5.

Note: Limited menu is available on MSU game days.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#14 Mayfair Bar

1585 Lake Lansing Road, Haslett, MI

517-339-3880

mayfairbar.net/

Mayfair Bar, Haslett

John says: If you're a Michigan State University sports fan, this is the place to be. Located on Lake Lansing in Haslett, owner Brett Story bleeds green and white and supports all the teams. The old-school restaurant and bar (opened in 1934) oozes with charm with wooden tables, a dance floor, plenty of TVs, pool tables and an upstairs deck that is crowded when the weather is nice. He runs daily food specials and at least two soups, as well as his award-winning chili.

The Chili: You get two kinds here - Brett's Award-Winning Chili (he has won numerous times at the Lansing Chili Cook Off), and the Award-Winning Blazin' Hot Chili. Both have the same base with fresh ground beef, kidney beans, fresh tomato, onions and fresh jalapenos. The hot chili includes his homemade hot sauce, habaneros and ghost pepper juice. "It's really rotten stuff," Story said. Customers are warned that it's hot; no refunds. We tried both, of course, and loved the regular chili with a nice level of spice, extremely chunky and a good ratio of beef and beans. It's a hearty fall chili. As for the Blazin's hot? We didn't attempt to eat more than a couple bites. But we did find it tolerable despite the fact that the burn lingers for several minutes. You can also find the regular chili on chili cheese fries, as well as the topping on the wet burrito.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#13 Jean Kay's

1635 Presque Isle Ave., Marquette, MI

906-228-5310

jeankayspasties.com

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Jean Kay's, Marquette

Amy says: Owner Brian Harsch started Jean Kay's over 40 years ago, sold it, and then bought it back. Why? The new owners were having a rough go of it, and Harsch's dad called him. "Your mother's name is up there and she will be rolling in her grave if that business fails," he told him. So Harsch came out of retirement to make things right.

Things are all right now. We love to visit Jean Kay's, and have stopped in several times since our infamous Yooper Trooper trip. It's a super friendly place, with awesome pasties, and one heck of a "kickin' pasty sauce" that we would happily put on everything.

The pasty at Jean Kay's is really different, with chopped steak instead of ground beef in it. "When you grind something, you take away its integrity," Harsch explained. We loved the bit of texture these pasties had. Jean Kay's makes Cornish pasties, so no carrots. And no gravy. That marks you as a troll. Ketchup is fine, but that pasty sauce is even better. It's ketchup, with just a bit of heat.

We love Harsch's passion for Marquette. "I'm so proud of this city and proud to be a part of this city. It's one of the best little cities in Michigan,"  he said.

RELATED: 13 U.P. pasties you must try on your next visit

RELATED: How to spend a Michigan's Best Day in Marquette

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#12 Elizabeth's Chop House

113 S. Front St., Marquette, MI

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 3-9 p.m. Sunday.

elizabethschophouse.com

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Elizabeth's Chop House, Marquette

John says: One of our Top 10 picks from our Michigan's Best Steakhouse search, Elizabeth's Chop House in Marquette is one of the U.P.'s best fine dining restaurants, known for incredible steaks, attentive service, but also a friendly and casual experience where you can come as you are. Owner Tom Wahlstrom is a certified executive chef, while his wife, Elizabeth, is an expert on customer service. On our visit in 2015 we sampled a little bit of everything from great appetizers and salads to steak and seafood entrees and dessert. We were impressed with the philosophy of only offering the best products, whether dry-aged steaks or fresh catch.

Must Haves: The coal-smoked, 18-ounce Hickory ribeye on a Himalayan salt plate that keeps it warm. It's been something calling my name every time I venture to the U.P. Also, check out the Bone-in Ribeye, a 20-oz. filet that is thick, juicy and tender. Or the sweet pan-seared scallops. The restaurant also offers a great Happy Hour with house wines, martinis and craft beers - and appetizers. A lunch menu offers a great selection of sandwiches (Lobster BLT!), burgers, a bistro-style french dip, whitefish tacos and more. Oh, and you'll be impressed with the extensive wine list and desserts.

RELATED:

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#11 Da Francesco's Ristorante and Bar

49521 Van Dyke Ave., Shelby Township, MI

586-731-7544

dafrancescos.com

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Seafood platter.

Da Francesco's, Shelby Township

Amy says: Have you always wished that you came from an Italian family? Wish no more. Just head to Da Francesco's for lunch or dinner, and you'll be living la dolce vita right away. The Belcastro family will welcome you with open arms, huge portions and authentic Italian cuisine. Originally located across the street, Da Francesco's first iteration was a tiny eight-seat restaurant in a strip mall. They expanded four times, and just this year opened a gorgeous new place with over 340 seats, two kitchens and banquet facilities. It still feels welcoming, in an open and airy space.

If it feels like the whole Belcastro family works here, it’s because they do, with three generations working this family business. They’ve got all of the classic Italian staples here like meatballs, fresh made pasta and gnocchi. They also have an absolutely killer marinated seafood platter, a soothing “stracciatella” chicken soup, a bright and fresh “fruitti di mare” fettucine, and specials every day.

Be sure to stop by on a Wednesday, which is “Holy Cannoli Day” at Da Francesco’s, where everyone gets one of their freshly made, cinnamon-infused cannoli for free.

This is the restaurant that you’ll come back to again and again, whether it’s for a simple lunch, dinner with family, or a big celebration.  It was on our list for Michigan's Best Italian Restaurant, and it's flat-out delicious.

These are the 10 best Italian restaurants in Michigan

Tanya Moutzalias 5/8 MLive.com

#10 Ernie's Market

8500 Capital St., Oak Park, MI

248-541-9703

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, closed Sundays; cash only

erniessandwichshop.com

Tanya Moutzalias 5/8 MLive.com

Ernie's Market, Oak Park

Amy says: A visit to Ernie's Market is guaranteed to make your day better, as it quite possibly is the happiest sandwich shop in Michigan. We stopped by on our search for Michigan's Best sub sandwich, and were enchanted by the charming force of nature known as Ernie Hassan.

Opened by Hassan's parents, Ernie and Virginia Hassan, in 1955, the market is currently staffed by both Hassan, and "Mrs. Ernie," his wife, Lois Hassan. She works the register, and tries to keep him slightly under wrap. Good luck with that. This guy runs on a whole different level than the rest of us.

As soon as you enter (and be prepared to wait up to an hour during lunch time), you'll hear Hassan in the back exclaiming his signature "Yeah, Baby!" to all. As he personally slices all the meat and cheeses for your sandwich, he's talking to everyone in the store.

Since his sandwiches are served on kaiser rolls, and didn't fall under the traditional definition of a sub, we didn't feel we could include him in our Top 10.

However, if we ever do a search for best sandwich, we are pretty sure that these massive, hand-made beauties will be right at the top.

As great as the food is here, it's really just one part of the experience. "Who loves you baby?" is exclaimed every few minutes to every customer. The minute you walk in the door, you'll feel a smile start to spread.

When we asked him what was up with all this love he shares, he told us a story that had us tearing up. He explained that when he was younger, he got a call from his father, who said he was in the hospital, and for Hassan to come down and see him. As he put it, "Back then I thought I was so macho. So macho. And when I left, my dad asked me to hug him, but I thought I was too cool for that, so I didn't."

His dad passed away later that day, and to this day he deeply regrets this. So, to make up for it, he loves everyone everyday, and he tells them, loudly, proudly, and with every bit of his soul.

Go to Ernie's for the sandwiches, they are incredible. But stay for a bit to soak up some of Ernie and Lois' love. We decree that Ernie's Market is the "Happiest Sandwich Shop in Michigan" and that it is truly one of Michigan's best.

RELATED: The happiest sandwich shop in Michigan is Ernie's Market in Oak Park

RELATED: 10 of Michigan's Best sub shops that you must visit now

RELATED: Michigan's Best Sub Sandwich: A closer look at 52 of the state's best

Amy Sherman 5/8 MLive.com

Water Tower Sports Pub.

#9 Water Tower Sports Pub

7245 Lakeshore Road, Lexington, MI

810-359-3310

Hours: 4-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Noon-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and Noon-8 p.m. Sunday; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Check their Facebook page here.

Amy Sherman 5/8 MLive.com

Water Tower Sports Pub, Lexington

Amy says: Our visit to Water Tower was truly a pleasant surprise. Not sure what to expect, the outside of the pub is a bit like an old roadhouse. But once you enter, you can see the hard work that went into remodeling the entire inside by owners Greg and Stephanie Redman, and Mike Kennealy, who opened the place in 2013. Greg has been making pizzas since he was 17, and his experience shows.

We were impressed by the hand-tossed supreme, which is an all-around classic. The square, deep dish “Three Little Pigs” had ham, bacon and house smoke pork on it: delicious. The dough is light and airy, with a slightly sweet sauce. Everything here is made fresh daily, and the beer list is incredibly well-curated with excellent Michigan craft beers on tap (or in a crowler to go if you like).

Water Tower’s fries are perfectly crisp, very hearty due to their slightly larger cut and full of great potato flavor. We couldn’t stop eating them. On the side, the official dip of the Thumb, cheese sauce. Here, it’s homemade, and also offered in habanero (which is the one to get, not too spicy and a lovely foil to the fries). These are really good fries. So are the pizzas, trust us.

RELATED: Best Pizza Top 12 (2016)

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#8 Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant

3420 Gull Road, Kalamazoo, MI

269-349-2469

Facebook

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Authentic tacos at Mi Pueblo.

Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant, Kalamazoo

Gonzo says: A hidden gem in a strip mall in Kalamazoo, Mi Pueblo has some tasty drinks like traditional Horchata and delicious agua de Jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah) with hibiscus flowers. It's made fresh every day original owner Carmen Vargas, who comes in often to greet customers and help out her sons and current owners Javier and Cesar Vargas. The brothers maintain the traditions started by their parents, who also owned the popular La Mexicana Market.

On the day we visited, the weather was extremely hot, but the crew at Mi Pueblo was so confident in its top-selling Caldo de Res, a Mexican beef soup, that it had to show it off. We were so happy they did. Try this, folks. The broth is loaded with Mexican spices and the beef is tender. The biggest draw, though, is the Taco Bar, which is on the weekends. People rush in and, for a set price, eat all the tacos they want, including rice and beans with all the fixings and salsas. "We're known now as the Taco Bar Spot," Javier Vargas said.

Everything at Mi Pueblo is super fresh and tasty. Save room for palettas, which are Mexican popsicles that are homemade and distributed all over the state.

RELATED: These are the 10 best Mexican restaurants in Michigan

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#7 Mussel Beach Drive In

3540 State Park Drive, Bay City, MI

989-686-0575

https://www.facebook.com/mussellbeach/

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Mussel Beach Drive In, Bay City

Gonzo says: Owner Jacquie Larner hasn't changed much since we met her in 2012. She's still doing most of her menu from scratch and not cutting corners for what some may pass off as a roadside ice cream stand in the middle of nowhere. You need to stop in, folks. Everything is incredible. That's why she was on searches for Michigan's Best Breakfast (Top 10), Best French Fries (Top 10) and Best Ice Cream Shop. And she could win Best Onion Rings if we ever decide to that search. They are hand-cut, battered and fried to a crispy goodness.

Coney Dog: It's her coney dog that stunned us back in the day, and it still lives up to the hype. She puts her mustard on the bun first, followed a Koegel's Vienna in its natural casing. The sauce is ground chuck beef, plus her spice blend. And the onions come from the hearts she has left over from those famous onion rings. The buns are from a Detroit bakery and made to hold up all of the meat without getting too messy. It's nearly perfect. Lately she has been adding locally-sourced pickles because customers have been asking for them. She's fine with that and so are we.

RELATED:  Michigan's Best Coney Dog 2019 Top 10

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#6 Trattoria Stella

1200 W 11th St., Traverse City, MI

231-929-8989

Check their Facebook page here.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Octopus at Trattoria Stella.

Trattoria Stella, Traverse City

Amy says:  Trattoria Stella is not only Michigan's Best Italian restaurant, it is one of the best restaurants in Michigan, period.

Stella exudes Old-World charm the moment you walk in the door, and your experience only gets better from there. Located at the beautiful and historic Grand Traverse Commons, once the site of the Traverse City State Hospital, the restaurant has a cozy, intimate feel despite having close to 185 seats. Exposed brick, warm tones and hidden alcoves to dine in make you feel like you are in Italy as soon as you sit down. Once you do, get ready for the meal of a lifetime.

We got to try the "bag of cheese," otherwise known as the burrata. House-made, fresh-pulled mozzarella is wrapped around fresh, marinated mozz shredds, to create the most unbelievable cheese bomb of all time. Cut into the orb, watch it ooze out, and then spread on fresh crostini and garnish with a roasted tomato sauce. Lovely.

They offer about five different seasonal pastas each night. The "Maltagliati" features all the different scraps of pasta cooked with deep and rich beef ragu, while the ravioli we tried had a sharp and creamy cheese filling. The octopus at Stella's simmers for six hours before getting grilled for the perfect combo of tender and charred. Unique offerings such as beef cheeks and brain are popular.

Desserts range from a top-notch tiramisu to a creamy panna cotta with a zippy roasted strawberry sauce.

Peruse the incredible wine menu that owner Amanda Danielson has curated: Just reading the descriptions is an education in Italian wine itself. She is so passionate about wine that she offers the staff bi-weekly wine training sessions that are taught on a Master Sommelier level. The servers here, faced with a multi-page list, are experts on all things wine. Feel free to tap into their knowledge. They are happy to share. Danielson and her husband and co-owner, Paul Danielson, explained that "there is lots of inspiration involved with our program."

Chef and co-owner Myles Anton's menu is inspired by his many trips to Italy, as well as to a commitment to using locally-grown products. Everything here is homemade, from dressings, to sauces, to pastas and bread. The kitchen prides itself on butchering all their own meat, and using every part "except the squeal." The chef explained why: "It's a salute to the whole animal." Do not miss the charcuterie board. And the duck liver pate is so good that I wanted to jump with joy after tasting it.

RELATED: Michigan's Best Italian restaurant is Trattoria Stella in Traverse City

RELATED:  These are the 10 best Italian restaurants in Michigan

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#5 Mustang Lounge

1485 Astor St., Mackinac Island, MI

906-847-9916

Check their Facebook page here.

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Mustang Lounge, Mackinac Island

John says: Every time we head north on a Michigan's Best search, it seems like we're making a stop on Mackinac Island and the Mustang Lounge. Co-owners Tony Brodeur and Jason Klonowski -- who have known each other since 1984 -- always bring the party, and they take food seriously with chef Chad Idema. In fact, as pitmaster, Idea has really upped their game with BBQ, which he prepares at sister restaurant the Rusted Spoke Brewing Company. If you want atmosphere, you'll find it at Mustang Lounge, which has been part of our searches for Best Neighborhood Bar, Best Wings, Best Pizza, Best BBQ and Best Chili. We also recommend the burgers and Bloody Marys. And they're open year-round, so there's no excuse for not stopping in while taking a break when biking the island or once you've had your fill of fudge.

RELATED: The ultimate guide to Michigan's Best chicken wings

RELATED: Each Michigan's Best pizza nominee is special and here's why

RELATED: 30 delicious chilis in Michigan to spoon up all year long

MLive.com

#4 Chilango's Mexican Grill

501 Longfellow Ave., Jackson, MI

517-795-1465

chilangosmi.com

MLive.com

Red Snapper at Chilango's.

Chilango's Cantina Grill, Jackson

John says:  A Top 10 pick for Michigan's Best Tacos in 2014, we knew that chef/owner Carlos Perez would do a great job on presentation and make our visit a memorable one. We didn't realize he would really take it to another level. His Cantina Grill allows him and his wife, Rachael, to offer a full bar with creative drinks, a Tower of Margaritas and 200-plus tequilas.

However, that's just a small reason why we ranked Chilango's at No. 2. overall. The menu is just a bit loco. It features tacos, enchiladas and many traditional items, but Perez also shows off his Vera Cruz-inspired menu with a variety of tacos (red snapper, shrimp, fried oyster, pulpos and grilled tilapia) and a Pinata del Mar, with a blend of shrimp, tilapia, crab meat and scallops, steamed with onions, tomatoes, and fresh epazote in a garlic white-wine sauce.

Chilango's is one of the restaurants that is always going to surprise you if you're willing to try something new. From the tableside guacamole to tacos, everything is recommended. (Note: The restaurant serves black beans, which is what the chef liked growing up.)

More photos: Michigan's Best Mexican Restaurant: Chilango's Cantina Grill

RELATED: These are the 10 best Mexican restaurants in Michigan

Kayla Renie 5/8 MLive.com

#3 Dockers Fish House

3505 Marina View Point, Muskegon, MI

231-755-0400

dockersfishhouse.com

Open seasonally from about Easter to mid October. Check the Facebook page for updates  https://www.facebook.com/dockersmuskegon/

Kayla Renie 5/8 MLive.com

The Feast at Dockers.

Dockers Fish House, Muskegon

Amy says: Tucked down a little cul-de-sac just a block or two from the beach, Dockers Fish House is located in Harbor Town Marina, overlooking Muskegon Lake, right off of the Muskegon Channel. This is one big place, with about 500 seats. It's a place with a "little bit of everything," according to manager James Curtis, who works closely with owners Jennifer and Andrew Harris.

Kick off your visit with one heck of a plate of Spicy Crab Poppers. These are seriously above and beyond your normal frozen, deep-fried poppers. These beauties come out roasted nice and tender, then overstuffed with a creamy cheddar and crab spread.  A quick trip under the broiler means lovely caramelization for you. Served with three-mustard cream sauce, be sure to order them.

If you come with a group of friends that love seafood, you must get The Feast. It can easily feed four, so the $75 price really isn't too bad. This is what dockside eating is all about, fun, communal and tasty. A huge platter comes covered with mussels, crayfish, snow crab claws, shrimp, seasonal vegetables, and tiny baby potatoes, all of it doused in a flavorful butter sauce.

The lobster roll is a signature item here, and a top-notch version for sure. Heaps and heaps of lobster, very lightly dressed in mayo, with the addition of a bit of fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon, all stuffed into a lightly toasted split-top bun. Dockers nails this sandwich.

Of course, they have some great drinks at Dockers. The Bloody Mary here is extremely popular, especially on weekends, and comes garnished with a couple of big cocktail shrimp. On a hot day, the house-made frozen sangria would totally hit the spot, with its fresh fruit flavor that's not too sweet, but very, very cold.1/4 u202f It's on tap all the time, and comes in a keepsake, color-changing cup. Dockers creates new seasonal drinks every summer, so even if you've been here before there is always something new to try.

RELATED: These are the 10 best waterfront restaurants in Michigan

Cory Morse 5/8 MLive.com

#2 Amore Trattoria Italiana

5080 Alpine Ave., NW, Comstock Park, MI

616-785-5344

amoretrattoriaitaliana.com

Cory Morse 5/8 MLive.com

Amore Trattoria Italiana

Amy says:  Amore is known throughout West Michigan as being the destination for special occasions, like anniversaries and birthdays, because the staff here takes such good care of their customers. From the moment you walk in the door,  to your last sip of the owner's special chocolate liquor, Amore is sure to make you fall in love.

The name Amore is perfect. Not only is it run by the husband-and-wife team of Maurizo and Chef Jenna Arcidiacono, who have been married for about 20 years, we dare you not to fall in love with everything they’ve got going on here.

Start your night off at the bar, with a bright and bitter Aperol Spritz to get your taste buds flowing, then indulge in house-made potato chips with truffle oil, Ligurian chickpea fritters, olives and tarallini (crispy savory crackers), or fresh-made pizzelle (fried dough) served with a fresh tomato sauce.

When you are ready, you'll be led through their all-Italian wine list. Here at Amore they are happy to offer not only a 100% Italian wine list, but also several big Italian styles by the glass, like barolo or amarone, that you might not usually get to try that way.

They truly are here to serve you, and make you feel like family.

The top seller? The arancini, which is stuffed with oozy Fontina cheese.

Maurizo Arcidiacono is from the Milano region of Italy, and Jenna Arcidiacono not only lived there, but returns to Italy several times each year, each time coming back with new recipes and ideas. They also offer a full vegetarian and vegan menu every day.

RELATED:

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

#1 Lula's Louisiana Cookhouse

113 S. Washington St Owosso, MI

989-720-5852

lulascookhouse.com/

John Gonzalez 5/8 MLive.com

Lula's Louisiana Cookhouse, Owosso

John says: "If you had to pick one restaurant from all of your Michigan's Best adventures, which one would you recommend?" That's a question we often get, and Amy Sherman and I always respond in unison: "Lula's!"

Located in Owosso, a Shiawassee County town with a population about 15,000, Lula's Louisiana Cookhouse is home to our winner for Michigan's Best Fried Chicken. "The chicken comes with perfect nooks and crannies in the crunchy coating, is very well-seasoned but not overly spicy, and the meat is moist and flavorful all the way to the bone," Amy said in her review.

Owner John Beilfuss and his wife, Morgan, have spent a lifetime perfecting recipes in what might be Michigan's top "all from scratch" restaurant. And it's in Owosso. Whether it's famous fried chicken, which he tops with a bacon cream gravy or the Bayou Fried Rice, everything is so good.

RELATED: Michigan's Best Fried Chicken: Our top ten revealed 

Tanya Moutzalias 5/8 MLive.com

Detroit's Best Burger at Redcoat Tavern in Royal Oak.

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