Middle Eastern restaurants and the birthplace of Ford make this suburb one of the most interesting places in Detroit.
Dearborn, a large suburb of Detroit, is known as the hometown of Henry Ford and for having the largest Muslim population in the United States. French farmers settled here in the 18th century, and soon after, other European immigrants moved in. There is still a large Polish, German, and Irish population. When Henry Ford started his automobile company, Lebanese immigrants moved to Dearborn to work in his factory, and in the 1980s, thousands more fled war in their home country and settled in Dearborn. Legend has it that around this time, Ford met a Yemeni sailor at a port and promised high-paying jobs for immigrants, leading to migration from around the Middle East (It’s unclear if this story is true, but there is a large Yemeni population in Dearborn.).
When war broke out in Iraq in 2003, Dearborn saw another surge of immigrants, and the population continues to grow with people from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. As a result, there are dozens of Middle Eastern restaurants and specialty shops. In Dearborn, you’ll find blocks of stores with signs in Arabic, the Arab-American National Museum, and the largest mosque in North America. It’s a unique area that feels far away from Detroit, though really it’s less than 10 miles and definitely worth your time.
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This James Beard Award-winning, family-run Lebanese restaurant serves classic dishes, and it does them very well. An in-house butcher means the meat is always fresh, and you can watch bread (3,000-4,000 pitas per day!) come out of the large brick oven from your booth. It’s hard to choose favorites off the menu, but you can’t go wrong with the famous stuffed lamb, the fried kibbe, and the hummus. Khalil Ammar and Zaki Hashem have been running the restaurant since 1989, after moving to the United States, and they take pride in working in the kitchen every day. “When you love something, you have to do it from your heart,” Hashem said in a video made about the restaurant. And when you try it, you can tell—it tastes like you’re in Lebanon.
Arab American National Museum
Between all your eating, stop at the Arab American National Museum–the first museum in the world devoted to Arab American culture. Here, you’ll learn about how Arab Americans have contributed to the economic, political, and cultural landscape of the United States. Take some time with the large map of the Middle East near the entrance—this is your starting point and often makes people think. What qualifies as the Arab world? (Hint: it’s not only the Middle East but parts of North Africa as well). What makes someone Arab? These questions are answered, plus you’ll find exhibits about famous Arab Americans throughout history, activist groups, post-9/11 struggles, and artwork created by Arab Americans around the country and in Dearborn.
While much of Dearborn’s food scene helms from Lebanon or elsewhere in the Levant region, Sheeba’s serves Yemeni cuisine. The traditional recipes have been passed down for generations, and are served in a cozy, inviting restaurant great for families or date nights. Make sure to try maraq, a stew of mixed vegetables in a stoneware pot, topped with fenugreek froth and a mixture of peppers, tomatoes, and herbs called Sahawiq. It’s served with tannour bread, which you should use to scoop up your food. Breakfast—like shakshuka—is great here, too. And if you’re confused about anything on the menu, the staff is always friendly and helpful.
Ibrahim Alhasbani opened Qahwah House (qahwah means “coffee” in Arabic) in 2018 with a mission to teach people about Yemen’s coffee heritage. Coffee originated in Yemen in the 14th century, and it’s still grown there today, though recent conflicts have slowed exports to the rest of the world. Alhasbani comes from a family of coffee growers, and he sources his beans directly from his family’s coffee farm in the Haraz region of Yemen. He roasts the beans in-house and serves coffee in an array of traditional styles with cardamom, ginger, and other spices. Order a (very Instagrammable) beautiful glass pot of the fragrant brew with a side of sabaya, a flaky, honey pastry that is less sweet and more delicious than it looks.
Ok, so Dearborn isn’t only Middle Eastern food. Buddy’s Pizza opened in the 1930s as a tavern and in 1946, pizza was added to the menu. August “Gus” Guerra, the owner at the time, had a special recipe—one that would later come to be known as “Detroit Style Pizza.” What makes it special? It’s a rectangular pizza with a thick, buttery crust that’s crispy on the bottom. Buddy’s original recipe is made with Sicilian pepperoni and Wisconsin cheddar cheese. There are 13 locations and more opening soon. The Dearborn restaurant is large and near the Henry Ford Museum, making it the perfect spot to grab a bite after a long day of learning.
Players Guild of Dearborn
To get a feel for the community of Dearborn, take in a show from the Players Guild. The theatre puts on high-quality productions while also educating the community about the arts. It’s been around for 90 years and is integral to the community. Residents perform in musicals and comedy shows, take classes, and work with schools and other organizations. Show your support by checking the calendar and attending a show.
The no-frills look (and it really is no-frills) of this Iraqi restaurant belies the incredible kebab within. The meat kebab, called kafta, is tender and juicy and is by far the best thing on the menu. Order the plate, which comes with pickles, raw onion, tomato, and add a side of basmati rice if you’re extra hungry; or, ask for samoon–a type of Iraqi bread that’s also excellent dipped in hummus. To save money, order for take-out, which is cheaper than dining in.
This dive bar has been a staple in the Detroit area since 1941, and the burger and honor system that made it famous still draw visitors and locals year after year. The burger is simple–a beef patty on a steamed white bun with Velveeta, pickles, and onions served “commando style” (in wax paper). Order it with fries or onion rings and pay at the bar. That’s where the honor system comes in. It’s up to you to tell the bartender what you had when you’re ready to pay, and it works.
INSIDER TIPMake sure you have enough cash; the bar doesn’t accept credit cards.
Dearborn Meat Market
The Dearborn Meat Market is two things: an actual meat market, and a restaurant. If you’re in town for a few days and have a refrigerator and the ability to cook, stop in for raw skewers or steaks. Most visitors though, head to the tiny restaurant, where you can choose from seven types of meat skewers, each grilled on a BBQ to order and served with pita, some tomatoes, and onions. The spices, from cinnamon to chiles, are what make the kebabs stand out. It fills up fast during lunch hours, so try to visit on the earlier or later side if you can. But if the restaurant is full, don’t leave! It’s widely considered the best kebab in Dearborn, and well worth the wait.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village
Dearborn is home to Henry Ford, as in the creator of the Model T and the ensuing behemoth car brand. Ford employs almost 200,000 people, many of them in the Dearborn area, but cars and jobs aren’t all that’s left of Henry Ford’s legacy. He started the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation to preserve items pertaining to the Industrial Revolution, and it remains one of the largest collections in the country on this topic. See a full steam engine, learn about the telephone, see examples of American furniture through the decades, check out the massive railroad exhibit, see the chair Lincoln sat in at the Ford Theater when he was shot, the bus Rosa Parks sat on when she started a movement, and so much more. Of course, there are many cars, from the Model T to today’s most impressive sports cars, and even presidential vehicles through time, including the car 1961 Lincoln Continental JFK sat in when he was assassinated. Next door, Greenfield Village is a blast to the past. It’s 80 acres of life as it once was. Get your hands dirty in a working farm, walk Main Street as it would have looked 100 years ago, or explore a replica of Edison’s lab, among other activities.
Hamido might make the best chicken shawarma in all of Dearborn. It’s hard to choose with so many great options, but Hamido does it right—the spit spins with freshly-cooking meat, which is sliced thinly with bits of skin, and the sandwich is stuffed with housemade pickled vegetables and a fantastic garlic sauce. It tastes just like shawarma in the Middle East. Plus, a sandwich will only cost you around $4, a great deal anywhere. A few Yelp reviews are negative and upon further reading, you’ll find it’s because of the atmosphere or because the reviewer ordered a burger. So, we should note: the interior is clean but basic, and if you want to guarantee a good meal, get the shawarma or shish tawook.
Islamic Center of America
The Islamic Center of America is a beautiful mosque and also the largest in North America. It was opened in 1963 (but has been housed in the current building since 2005) by Imam Muhammad Chiri, who moved to Dearborn from Lebanon to serve the increasing Muslim population. Currently, the mosque holds Friday prayers as well as community events and Arabic classes. Anyone is welcome to visit, and tours are available if you call in advance (though if you walk in on a whim, chances are someone will be happy to show you around). Make sure to note the spectacular interior lighting and design in the domes.
Shatila Bakery is a sweets lover’s dream. First of all, it’s huge. Inside, you’ll find long glass cases with four tiers of shelves stocked with baklava, knafeh, date and pistachio cookies, beautifully-decorated cakes, and much more. Take a number and wait your turn to order, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Riad Shatila started the bakery in 1979 to bring high-quality, authentic Middle Eastern sweets to Dearborn, and 40 years later it’s an institution, a favorite among locals and those who travel from out of state for a rosewater cream-stuffed pastry. Save room for ice cream too, which is thick and creamy and made with ingredients like Turkish pistachios.