Michigan food – a type of meat-and-potatoes heritage – has changed over the years. Today, a visit to any city is likely to bring some tasty new treats and world-class quality dishes.
Yet, there are some Michigan foods that are very much “Michigan.” They are the types of foods you grew up with, enjoyed, and didn’t know were not as popular elsewhere in the country. Here’s a look at some of the most impressive ones!
If you’re wondering what food is Michigan known for, we’re excited to introduce you to some uniquely Michigan foods and brands…
The Coney Island hot dog might be one of the most tell-tale Michigan foods. Very much a Michigan thing, these hot dogs (which have become popular on Coney Island in New York) got their start in Detroit.
Specifically, it’s believed that Macedonians and Greeks who moved to the area in the early 1900s brought with them the popular beef hot dog, and then they topped it with all-meat chili, diced white onions, and yellow mustard in a warm bun.
Coney Dogs are a Michigan staple. When summer rolls around, we love to roll into the classic drive-up stands and feast our eyes and our stomachs on these beauties.
Of course, we need to remember there are two styles of sauces – chili-style brown sauce without beans and a drier, meatier, looser sauce called coney. Either way, it’s topped with onions and mustard for the perfect flavor combination.
Many cities have their own styles of pizza, and Detroit is no different. This pizza is a deep dish, somewhat like what is found in Chicago, but it is rectangular with a topping of thick Wisconsin cheese on it.
What makes it so special? The crust is baked to be spongey on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Plus, Detroit-style pizza has cheese and sauce covering the crust, and the cheese perfectly carmelizes to add even more crunch to each bite.
Also, Detroit-style pizza has a tomato-based sauce. The making of this type of pizza, which has a much higher hydration level than other types of pizza, helps create a chewy crust though the exterior should still be perfectly crisp.
With delicious sauce and toppings – like smaller and thicker pepperonis that curl up when they’re baking – this is one pizza you definitely don’t want to miss.
Who doesn’t love pizza? And when you’re in Michigan, you have got to check out the Detroit-Style Square Pizza.
Traverse City Cherries
Perhaps one of the best Michigan experiences is a bite into the tartness of Traverse City cherries. These are golden, sweet cherries often made into maraschino cherries (the ones that are put on top of ice cream sundaes).
You’ll find these bright red cherries on market stands from July through August. The cherry has long been an important component of the culture of the city and the home of the National Cherry Festival in July.
Mackinac Island Fudge
Mackinac Island Fudge is something everyone who visits the island hopes to come home with after a long day. The island is less than 4 square miles in size, but there are many few fudge shops on it that are well worth exploring if you have a sweet tooth.
Fudge is a big draw for locals and tourists hoping to take a slice or two home with them. The varieties seem endless, and new products are nearly always arriving. Although, the tried-and-true favorites — like chocolate walnut and turtle — are popular options.
Nothing says U.P. cuisine quite like a pasty (pronounced with a short “a” sound). Flaky and golden on the outside and wrapped around a delicious, flavorful filling, the pasty will leave you feeling filled up and so satisfied.
The pasty is perhaps best known in the Upper Peninsula, but it’s easily found throughout the state. Some restaurants even make this a big part of their menu.
The pasty dates back to the early mining days when pasties were sent with the miners for a practical hot lunch and a full meal.
Now, pasties can be found throughout the U.P. and northern Michigan with meat and veggie fillings. (We’ve heard the secret ingredient for making them so tasty is rutabaga.)
A doughy exterior with a crisp shell wrapped around a variety of fillings makes this a hearty, one-handed meal. Most of the time, Michigan pasties have beef, pork, or chicken in them with potatoes and other fillings to fill them up. Some are served with gravy for dipping too.
Gravy is often offered with pasties on the menu, but that’s a good way to show you’re not from the U.P. It’s ketchup or nothing, and ketchup with a little kick can really kick your pasty up a notch!
Most people know of Frankenmuth Michigan as the year-round Christmas destination. Yet, what you may not know if you don’t visit often is that Frankenmuth chicken has its own following.
The chicken is coated in an egg wash, flour, and cracker meal before it is cooked in a fryer, just for a few minutes. The result is tender and juicy.
Numerous restaurants in the area offer this chicken, and each has its own spin on it, though Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth and the Bavarian Inn Restaurant are two of the most notable.
Pączkis are one of the most notable fried, tasty treats that make a resurgence every Fat Tuesday (though some areas have them throughout the year). They are a Michigan treat, though they are found in many Polish communities around the country.
A fried donut-like exterior stuffed with decadent jellies and other fillings makes this a special way to celebrate the day before Lent begins. It’s easy to find them at any of the Polish bakeries in the state, along with most grocers closer to the holiday.
Better Made Potato Chips
Better Made chips used to come in a big metal tin, though you can often find them in vending machines and tucked into most school lunches in some areas of the state.
Better Made began in 1930 and has grown to offer a wide range of goodies, including tortilla chips (perfect with cheese dip) and popcorn. It is most noted for its chips, though, including the garlic dill pickle and red hots, which are sure to sizzle.
Most kids in the 1980s and 1990s grew up with a big bowl of cereal, a spoon, and Saturday morning cartoons. What many people don’t know is that Kellogg’s Cereal started in Battle Creek Michigan.
In fact, Kellogg’s Cereal City was an actual tourist attraction that you could visit until it closed in 2007. The company’s cereal division, which is noted for Special K and Corn Flakes (among many others), is still produced and led in Battle Creek.
Superman Ice Cream
Superman ice cream got its start in Detroit Michigan, according to legend, at Stroh’s Ice Cream. That dates all the way back to the Prohibition Era. The name comes from the superhero legend and his blue suit.
This ice cream, which has variations in flavor from one ice cream shop to another, is noted for its bright blue, red, and yellow color. Typically, the flavors include Red Pop, lemon, and Blue Moon, though some incorporate black cherry into them.
The actual blend that makes up the Blue Moon flavor isn’t shared with the public, though many believe it has a range of citrus, marshmallows, and almond extract in it.
The Olive Burger
You are unlikely to find the Olive Burger available in much of the United States, but you will find it in Michigan. It is a beef patty burger topped with a mound of chopped olives. Many locations also use the brine in the beef mixture or use it as a sauce.
It’s commonly found in Lansing and Grand Rapids, but you’ll also find some locations that serve it in Flint, including Halo Burger, which was noted as one of the most well-known burger shops.
Whitefish is a popular, mostly mild-flavored fish that’s popular in many Midwestern states. It’s particularly prevalent in Michigan, thanks to Lake Michigan, where it’s easy to find them.
Lake whitefish can reach up to 20 pounds in size, and they can get over 25 years of age, though that’s not as common today. They grow fast and make for a fantastic catch.
You’ll find that cooked whitefish is popular on diner menus — deep-fried or pan-fried — and they are particularly delicate and easy to enjoy in a sandwich.
Many people have seen the Vlasic pickle commercials with the talking stork that has become the brand image. The company, which got its start in Imlay City, where its first plant was built, remains a hometown hero of sorts.
Vlasic is noted for its ability to reach the American consumer with catchy marketing, which is why pickles became such a big part of the American diet in the 1930s and beyond.
The company, started by two cheesemakers, began with a spiced garlic and dill variety. Today, though, there are many options to select from in the Vlasic lineup.
A wet burrito seems like a Mexican food choice, and you’ll find it in many Mexican restaurants in Michigan. While the origins of the wet burrito are a bit fuzzy, this is a popular option in many areas of the state.
It’s “wet” because it is topped with a good dose of red chili sauce, adding some nice heat to it. It is also topped with a mound of cheese that’s melted under a salamander.
Some believe it was first developed in 1966 at The Beltline Bar in Grand Rapids Michigan. If you’re heading out for Mexican today, request one if you haven’t done so before to experience the hype for yourself.
Apple Cider (& Doughnuts)
Winters get very cold in Michigan, but that doesn’t stop many from spending time outdoors, especially in the fall months. Coming inside to warm apple cider steeping on the stove with some freshly fried doughnuts (if you’re lucky) isn’t an uncommon thing here.
Plenty of areas around the country enjoy these foods, but this is a Michigan fall tradition through and through. If you stop by one of the farmer’s markets or apple orchards, the chances are good that you’ll be able to pick up some fresh cider from the year’s groves.
Vernors & Boston Coolers
Vernors, which most Michigan kids drank when they had to stay home from school for a stomach ache, has a history in Michigan. The drink was invented by a Detroit pharmacist in 1866, and mothers have used it ever since.
For those who may want something with a bit more depth, a Boston cooler is the way to go. Yes, it hales from Michigan – Dr. Vernon’s Original Soda Fountain, in fact.
Nothing quite says “Michigan” like an ice-cold Vernors. And pouring it over vanilla ice cream really takes it to the next level. The Boston Cooler is a divine refreshment perfect for the hot summer days (well really, absolutely any and every day!).
If you’re wondering why a Michigan drink has the name Boston in it, it’s named for the street where the first soda counter served this refreshing beverage.
Where can you get one yourself? Check out Mercury Burger Bar.
Faygo is the “other” soda brand that didn’t get as much marketing publicity as others but still has made a long-lasting name for itself. Founded in Detroit Michigan, Faygo remains a popular choice on restaurant menus and store shelves here, though it’s less common throughout the rest of the country.
It was developed in 1907 by Feigenson Brothers Bottle Works, which was founded by a Russian baker. The original flavor was fruit punch, and other varieties — like grape and strawberry — were also available early on.
The flavors have changed over the years, but many of them have the same original formulas based on cake frosting recipes.
Hudsonville Ice Cream
Michigan loves its sweets, and Hudsonville Ice Cream could be one of the reasons for that. Located in Holland Michigan, the creamery first opened its doors in 1895 when a group of local farmers came together to create a cooperative to share their dairy products with the public.
The creamery itself got started in 1926 in the production of ice cream, and flavors like butter pecan, chocolate, tutti frutti, and orange pineapple are some of the most sought-after.
Bell’s Brewery produces Oberon, an American pale ale wheat beer. Based out of Comstock Michigan, it’s said to be an inspired beer and has been a popular option in the area for over 30 years.
The company makes other varieties as well — including Two Hearted Ale and Hopslam Ale — but Oberon Ale is, perhaps, what it is most noted for.
The brewery got its start in 1983 as a homebrewing supply chain based out of Kalamazoo. Over time, the Comstock location opened to help keep up with demand. Typically, Oberon is a seasonal beer available from February through August.
The Hummer cocktail was first developed at the Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit. It’s made with a combination of Kahlua, rum, and ice cream.
While you had to visit the club in the 1960s to get it, it’s now made on plenty of Saturday nights at home. This signature drink offers the sweet smoothness you crave after a long week, with a bit of rum to add to the tartness.
Biggby Coffee is a popular option for the many truckers who make stops throughout their routes and for anyone who is looking for a good cup of coffee to start their day. The big orange signs are well known throughout the state, including East Lansing where it started.
You could say this is the Starbucks of Michigan (and yes, it has all of the frozen coffee drinks you can imagine).
Kowalski’s Polish Kielbasa
The strong Polish heritage in Michigan has led to the creation of plenty of fantastic meals. For many, Kowalski’s Polish kielbasa has been on that list.
It’s a mixture of pork and beef with numerous spices, including those imported from overseas. It has a good dose of fresh garlic, too, which gives it a nice bite. Though now available around the country, the company has long been founded in Hamtramck Michigan.
Frequently Asked Questions
What food is Michigan famous for?
Michigan is noted for many foods, but a few tend to stand out overall. Mackinac Island fudge and Coney Island hot dogs could be at the top of that list.
However, it depends on where people grew up and the cultural heritage in their homes.
Many in the Polish community, for example, often ate home-prepared meals with a good mixture of kielbasa and pierogies on the table every week. For those with an English heritage, pasties are a commonly served choice.
What snacks are made in Michigan?
Snacks and sweets go hand in hand with food lovers. There are a number of fantastic Michigan foods made in the state for snacking.
These include Mindo Chocolate, Dave’s Sweet Tooth Toffee, Better Made Potato Chips, and Kar’s Nuts. Better Made Snack Foods is a popular choice overall for its lineup of popcorn, tortilla chips, and pretzels.
What drink is Michigan known for?
There is a range of drinks that got their start in Michigan. For example, Vernors is the go-to drink for upset stomachs.
Faygo, a sweet drink, was started by a Russian baker who crafted his flavors based on cake frosting flavors.
However, if you have to pick a signature drink for those in Michigan, it may be the hummer cocktail. It’s a tasty treat on a hot summer day.
What is a Michigan sandwich?
If you want to go by classic tradition, the term “Michigan sandwich” refers to the Coney Island dog.
However, there are also a number of popular sandwiches in Michigan that are quite popular, especially in diners throughout the state.
One of the most noted is the Reuben, piled high with freshly made corned beef. This is the type of sandwich that would fill factory workers on their way out for the day. Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor is noted for them.
On the other hand, the prime rib sandwich from West Texas Barbeque Co restaurant in Jackson Michigan is another treat and one that’s had a strong following develop. It’s a huge sandwich with some nice spicy flavor.
What is Michigan’s state fruit?
Michigan’s state fruit is the tart cherry, perhaps one of the best fruits for those who love the bright taste. There is a bit of controversy in this area, though, with some competition from the blueberry.
However, Senate Bill 684 made it official that tart cherries are the official state fruit, while blueberries are the state’s official state berries.
Taste All of the Most Famous Michigan Foods
Michigan foods are fantastic and full of flavor and tradition. Anyone who has spent some time going to local diners, shopping at specialty shops, and preparing meals for Sunday family dinners has likely tried these foods before.
If you haven’t experienced any of these Michigan foods, consider seeking them out. You’re bound to enjoy most or all of them!