By Allison Arnold – Web Editor
LA is one of those cities booming with a variety of restaurants. From celebrating cultural cuisines, innovative tastes, or extraordinary chefs, you can find it there. But, we often miss how much Grand Rapids has to offer in the food scene.
Here’s a look at the amazing food I had while recently travelling in California, and where you can get similar, if not better, options here in GR.
So many friends recommended this restaurant to me and I am so glad I went. This award-winning restaurant is also a gourmet market, and patisserie. We ordered the portobello fries, which they are apparently known for, two pastas, and desserts, of course. Everything was so simple and flavorful and I felt as if I was sitting in cafe in France. The beignets tasted just like those in New Orleans and I ordered more macaroons than I dare to remember, each with unique flavors such as espresso and earl grey.
While it doesn’t double as a patisserie, the atmosphere and flavorful food at Bistro Bella Vita reminds me of Bottega Louie. You’ll find fresh pizzas, pastas, and unique yet simple entrees. While they’re not famous for their desserts, you can expect anything you order off the dessert menu to be delicious.
What can get better than sitting on the coast in Malibu, watching the waves and surfers, and eating freshly caught seafood at a picnic table? Neptune’s Net had to be hands-down my favorite culinary excursion in California. It was fancy by no means, but is renowned for it’s laid-back atmosphere and amazing food, not to mention it’s open 24-hours. You simply walk up to the counter, place your order, and you find your own spot to sit. We got a platter of freshly fried fish, calamari, shrimp, and crab cakes. I also ordered fish tacos, because that’s just what you do in California. The platter was so lightly fried, that you could actually taste the fresh fish and the fish tacos were amazing. If I lived in Malibu I would be there every day.
Honestly, you’re not going to find an experience quite like that here in Grand Rapids. The closest place I can think of, especially when it comes to the laid-back feel and the fresh fish, is Fish Lads in the Downtown Market. I hate to say that I haven’t eaten there yet, because the fish looks fantastic. You just order at the counter, from a list of rotating dishes such as cioppino, fish ‘n chips, or fish tacos (how have I not been there yet?) All fish is sourced from the Great Lakes or the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and is flown in fresh, daily. You won’t be sitting on the beach, but I’m sure it’s just as good.
In an old, renovated 1923 jewelry store, Mas Malo has both elegance and beautiful architecture. Mas Malo has amazing Mexican food, with somewhat of a contemporary twist. The guacamole with pomegranate seeds and homemade chips was a simple and delicious winner. And, of course I ordered the fish tacos, which were to die for. While these options have a contemporary flair, there were many traditional items such as elote with mayo and seasonings and the beans and rice, which tasted just like my grandma’s.
If you’re looking for good Mexican, but with a contemporary twist, I’d stop by Donkey Taqueria. Expect fresh and authentic food, just like Mas Malo. It’s definitely one of a kind in Grand Rapids.
Farmer’s Market at the Grove
Okay, so this is hands down my favorite place. Who wouldn’t like a market filled with local vendors selling anything from fresh fish and various cultural cuisines, to frozen bananas, coffees, wines, and fresh produce. I frequented the Farmer’s Market more than most locals probably do in a week.
The Downtown Market, or the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market is probably as close as you can get to the Grove. While definitely not the size or scope, you can find fresh produce and some artisan goods at the Fulton Street location. At the Downtown Market you can browse through the different vendors all ranging from coffees and sweets, to crepes, tacos, and fresh fish.
Lemonade is known as the place to get fresh California comfort food. And what’s California comfort food? It’s focused on simple and seasonal food items. You stand in a line picking from tons of deli salads, all with fresh veggies, meats, or grains. There’s also warm food items like sandwiches, soups, and pieces of meat and seafood, in addition to some awesome looking desserts. The best part? The reason why the joint is named Lemonade. There are more than a handful of different flavors of lemonades to choose from, such as cucumber mint or guava limeade.
Simply for all of the deli salads and sides, Lemonade reminds me of Marie Catribs. Marie’s never fails to be busy, so I often stop in to the deli side and pick up a mix of different deli sides-and of course dessert. You’ll find unique combinations here, just like Lemonade, such as curried rice and Lebanese potato salad, in addition to chicken salad that I am convinced is the best in the world.
This was definitely the most unique restaurant I’ve experienced. Cafe Gratitude is 100 percent vegan and organic. All the food is fresh and picked from their own garden, Be Love Farm. You’ll find dishes with names such as I am Whole, LIberated, or Warm-Hearted. When I ordered the dish, Whole, my server responded by saying, “You are whole!” She continued to do this with every person at our table, which was a little strange, but such fun and warm environment. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about all of the vegan food, but everything was great. I even ordered a green juice and coconut milk ice cream. It’s definitely an experience and you won’t lack great food.
Bartertown reminds me of Cafe Gratitude. It’s an all vegan and vegetarian restaurant with a similar vibe. You probably won’t get a server telling you that you are the name of what you ordered, but the food and desserts have always been great, and most products are locally sourced. An extra fun fact is that Bartertown is worker owned and operated.
Okay, so Sprinkles Cupcakes isn’t just special to LA, but there’s locations all over the states. They offer a variety of flavors every day, such as Ginger Lemon, or Chai Latte. I ordered the Summer Cherry and it tasted like I was eating a bowl of cherries. It wasn’t over-sweet and I could taste all of the simple flavors, a perfect dessert in my mind.
There’s a lot of dessert places and bakeries popping up in GR. Cakabakery in East Town has an awesome selection of cupcakes, cookies, cakes, cake pop, and more. Check it out. Marie Catribs, like I previously mentioned, has amazing desserts as well. There’s interesting cupcake flavors such as Lemon Basil, or Chocolate Lavender, and my favorite, Hummingbird, which is basically carrot cake with added coconut and banana. I recommend going on a cupcake escapade through GR and tasting as many as you can.