Ann Arbor boasts an impressive array of international restaurants that will add special flair—and memories—to your next meeting or group event. From Ethiopian cuisine traditionally eaten with fingers to relatively uncommon Turkish fare, groups can dine their way around the world without leaving the city limits.
“The variety of cuisine available in Ann Arbor, paired with the number of local, independent restaurants, gives meeting planners an edge when crafting a unique and memorable experience,” says Mary Kerr, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Aventura’s cochinillo (roast suckling pig) is guaranteed to make diners’ heads turn and cameras click. But that’s not the only attention-getter in this stylish downtown Ann Arbor restaurant, which specializes in modern Spanish cuisine, starting with tasty Basque morsels called pintxos (PEEN-chos)—toothpick food—and cocas—flatbreads with sweet or savory toppings. In a sharing style wellsuited to groups, Aventura diners sample an array of tapas, from bite-size croquettes to Spanish cheese trays and charcuterie.
Favorites include Brussels sprouts with Granny Smith apples, pistachios and crème fraiche, and waffle cone-crusted chicken with maple glaze, served with Spanish wines and house-made sangrias, says Bill Griffin, guest service manager. Groups can choose from two private dining rooms with space for up to 32 seated or 40 standing, or may reserve the whole restaurant for up to 300 guests.
The Blue Nile
Diners receive hot towels before and after meals at this downtown Ethiopian restaurant with two private rooms for 15 and 18 guests, semiprivate space for 50 and a colorful main dining room that can be reserved for groups of 80 to 100. Food may be ordered from the menu or served buffet-style, says co-owner Almaz Lessanework.
Fresh-baked, flat Ethiopian bread, called injera, is used in place of utensils to scoop well-seasoned chicken, lamb or beef dishes. Collard greens, cabbage and other vegetables are spiked with jalapeno peppers or the hot Ethiopian spice mix known as berbere. Beverages include Tej honey wine (traditionally given to newlyweds), aromatic herbal teas and organic Ethiopian coffee.
Groups gather at sleek communal tables in the lower level of this contemporary campus restaurant that features celebrity chef Takashi Yagihashi’s upscale Japanese comfort food. He offers casual Japanese fare, from duck-fat fried chicken and pork dumpling appetizers with soy-chili dipping sauce to house-made noodle bowls, fresh sashimi, steamed buns and dessert macarons. Bento boxes or multi-course meals are available for parties of up to 44 seated or 75 at a stand-up reception. The private room, just steps from Slurping Turtle’s noodle-making operation, has its own bar and two TVs.
Ayse’s Turkish Café
Tucked away in a northeast-side strip mall, this unassuming little spot serves flavorful, made-from-scratch fare generally not available elsewhere. The café can host 64 for a sit-down dinner, the small room can fit 24, and the large room accommodates groups of up to 40, or up to 100 may take over the entire restaurant for birthdays, office parties, wedding rehearsal dinners, or bar and bat mitzvahs.
“Our cooking is a fusion and refinement of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Caucasian and Balkan cuisines,” says owner and chef Ayse Uras. Local eggplants, peppers and other farm-fresh ingredients star in not-too-spicy lamb, chicken and vegetarian dishes, she says. Turkish treats include ground chicken or lamb meatballs, borek (flaky pastries with cheese, spinach or potatoes), and the classic Noah’s Pudding with cracked wheat, chickpeas, walnuts, dried figs and apricots, rosewater and pomegranate seeds. Juices—cherry, peach, apricot or pungent Turkish turnip—are featured beverages, along with Turkish or American beer and wine.
Colorful Mexican artwork adorns the lowerlevel private dining room of this lively cantina featuring Mexican market and street fare. Favorites include house-made guacamole; tacos with grilled mahi-mahi, steak, pork or cauliflower; duck or buffalo chicken flautas; and sashimi-tuna tostadas, says Adam Baru, owner and general manager. The room, equipped with a 60-inch TV screen, accommodates up to 34 seated guests or 24 standing and also hosts tequila-tasting events.
From Sunday through Thursday, diners may request the Italian menu from Isalita’s sister restaurant next door, Mani Osteria, for made-from-scratch pizza and rustic pasta dishes with à la carte drinks or a beverage package.
Starring new American fusion cuisine (think short ribs, game hens and salmon), this downtown restaurant may be just the ticket for large groups interested in international wine tastings, such as wines of the Mediterranean or a taste of France. With 300 hand-blown glass balls hanging from the ceiling, the lower-level Bubble Room seats up to 60 but can accommodate about 80 guests for a private walk-around event, says owner Kristin Jonna. The semiprivate Vine Room holds 24, while the cozier, glass-enclosed Cellar Room seats 15.
During Vinology’s late-afternoon happy hour, groups of up to 60 may reserve the upper level bar area for mixers. “Everything can be customized,” Jonna says. “We do American dishes with a twist, like meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato frosting piped on top. It’s always really fun.”
MEET, EAT AND SLEEP AT WEBER’S
If you’re looking for delectable Ann Arbor dining with plenty of meeting space within reach, consider Weber’s.
The family-owned boutique hotel on the city’s west side (near Zingerman’s Roadhouse, another bright spot on Ann Arbor’s dining scene) offers an on-site restaurant and lounge, along with catering services and recently renovated meeting space.
The Weber family opened Weber’s Restaurant in 1937. Today the restaurant offers a spacious main dining room and serves up favorites like prime rib, escargot, live Maine lobster and rack of lamb. Weber’s also offers an impressive array of dishes prepared from Michigan fish, like its Lake Erie Walleye and Northern Lakes Whitefish. A beautiful outdoor terrace, with seating for 50, makes a perfect warm-weather dining spot for groups. Late-night diners can check out Habitat Ultralounge, which offers live music and dancing nightly.
Weber’s also offers nine conference rooms comprising 9,300 square feet of meeting space, and the hotel’s appealing guest rooms include perks like free Wi-Fi.