2 Foodies Scoured the City for the Best Traverse City Restaurants
My husband and I were tasked with a mission: scope out all the foodie delights in Traverse City.
It’s been 7 years since just the two of us explored Traverse City, so we were excited to check out the growing number of restaurants popping up all over the Cherry Capital.
And after the end to a busy basketball season for our kids, a few days of escape were just what we needed!
This trip also gave me the excuse to do something that I really love: hunting down delicious eats and fun activities.
I did a deep dive on Instagram, searching hashtags and local businesses, sent texts to friends who live or vacation there; and scoured local tourism sites for things to do.
Well-researched and with a plan (which I would recommend when your goal is to experience as much of Traverse City as possible), my husband and I dropped the kids at school in the morning and arrived in Traverse City two-and-half hours later.
With three days stretched ahead of us, we were ready to search out restaurant favorites and some new adventures, too.
These six dining establishments made our itinerary for the weekend. See where we ended up and what made our tastebuds sing!
Rose & Fern Cafe is a Friendly, Delicious Stop Just Outside of Town
You know that Instagram research I mentioned? Well, it led us to our first stop: Rose & Fern Cafe for lunch. Recently opened and five minutes outside of downtown Traverse City, you may think Google maps is taking you on a wild goose chase. But trust me when I say, “Go with it!”
Not sure what to expect when we got there, other than knowing they have a fabulous wallpaper situation going on, we grabbed a table. The familiarity the other diners had with each other told us this is definitely a favorite neighborhood spot!
The order-at-the-counter service was friendly and quick and just what we needed to make a scheduled tour on time.
You can get breakfast all day, so I ordered the V.O. Bagel with all sorts of goodness like hummus, shredded beets, and pickled red onions. I promptly patted myself on the back for making such a good menu pick.
The Good Bowl Serves Up Fresh Vietnamese Eats
Winter was still very much in charge during our visit, so we were looking for something warm and satisfying to throw off the chill. And The Good Bowl was the perfect solution.
A newer Traverse City restaurant with a focus on Vietnamese cuisine, The Good Bowl donates $1 from each bowl sold to charity. So when we ordered two Rice Bowls at the counter we were asked which local, national or global charity we wanted our $1 to go to.
The Good Bowl has a fun vibe, fast service, and a full bar. We loved spending this date night relaxing in a corner booth, sharing a plate of Vietnamese Dumplings, and sipping on Saigon Mules.
Sugar 2 Salt is a Delightful Breakfast Adventure
This breakfast gem was put on my radar by a friend who spends her summers in Traverse City and said we couldn’t spend a weekend up north without experiencing Sugar 2 Salt. Who am I to not listen to such an emphatic endorsement?
So that sunny Saturday morning, we let Google maps (once again) guide us to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons where Sugar 2 Salt calls home. Getting there just after 9 AM we snagged one of the last tables and began our very serious menu perusal. Will it be the Bread Pudding with crisp pork belly and hollandaise or the Risotto with Bacon and Basil Walnut Pesto?
After realizing that we would have to return again (and again) to try all the yummy things, I ordered the Spent Grain Pancakes with lemon curd and cranberry simple syrup. I’m pretty sure that’s when the heavens parted and my tastebuds rejoiced.
Mama Lu’s Taco Shop is the Spot for Guac
This spot has skyrocketed to fame in downtown Traverse City. And there was one dish in particular that I had on my radar: Street Corn.
Squeezing into one of the only tables left at lunchtime on a Saturday, our server recommended 2-3 tacos per person and rounding things off with their made-when-you order guacamole.
Our table was filled with tacos (Pescado and Beef), guacamole and deliciously salty tortilla chips, and the infamous Street Corn, in no time. My husband and I agreed that we’ll be dreaming of Mama Lu’s guacamole for months to come. And the street corn? On point.
Amical is a Classy Place for Date Night
Feeling our weekend slipping away faster than we’d like, we slowed things down and made our way to Amical for their monthly Cookbook Dinner series. Around since 1994, we were excited to try this downtown Traverse City staple for the first time.
One thing that I crave when it comes to an amazing date night experience? Ambiance. Give me the linen tablecloths, candles, quiet conversation…I want it all.
Amical gave us a beautiful, warm space to relax.
Unique dishes, like Jerusalem Artichoke soup and Miso-Marinated Hanger Steak, from the NOPI Middle Eastern cookbook, took us on a fun culinary adventure. One that we were sad to see come to an end, but definitely gave us reason to return again soon.
Patisserie Amie Treats Your Tastebuds to French Perfection
Oh, Patisserie Amie. My first venture to this Parisian breakfast delight was on a girls’ weekend several summers ago and since then, I make every possible excuse to dine here when we’re in Traverse City.
We made sure to get there early to avoid a wait as they get quite busy on the weekends. The space is charming, they have an extensive breakfast menu, and their specials are phenomenal. I chose their Quiche Du Jour and my husband ordered the Omelette Sarladaise — both were home runs.
Feeling satisfied but wanting to linger a little longer, we ordered coffee and “Critters” — a must every time. I always save just enough room to indulge in these frittered and deep-fried croissants because they are the epitome of vacation bliss.
Even More Traverse City Restaurants to Try
Delicious Extras: The Traverse City Coffee, Sips, and Sweets Scene
Yes, we even explored the “in between” food scene in Traverse City. Here are the coffee, alcohol and tasty sweets that we enjoyed over the weekend.
1 – Traverse City Coffee Shops
Traverse City has a growing coffee scene, and these two places should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a caffeine fix! Want more? We were eyeing both Brew Coffeehouse and Cafe and BLK \ MRKT, too.
Mundos Roasting & Co. Brings the Coffee Shop Vibes and Vanilla Lattes
Recommended by a fellow coffee-obsessed friend that lives in Traverse City, Mundos Roasting & Co. had me at “Hello.” From the atmosphere to my vanilla latte to the welcoming barista, we were two happy customers. A must-stop if you need to recharge before taking on more adventures.
Higher Grounds Trading Co. is Eclectic and Cool
In a former laundry building on the grounds of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, we stopped at Higher Grounds Trading Co. for a Roastery Tour (keep reading to hear more on that). While we didn’t grab a drink from their coffee bar, we had the chance to taste several of their blends during our tour and they were delightful.
Don’t forget to grab a bag of beans roasted right on site to remember your trip by!
2 – Traverse City’s Burgeoning Wine, Beer and Distillery Scene
Traverse City has the perfect trifecta of wineries, distilleries, and bars. We sampled all three…in the name of research, of course.
The Low Bar is Where I Want to Be Every Friday Night
A speakeasy under 7 Monks Taproom, the Low Bar is a swanky place to cap off your evening. We loved sitting in one of the small, intimate seating areas they have scattered all over the Low Bar.
The extensive menu had my Bourbon loving husband doing a happy dance. And I was thankful for our bartender who made narrowing down my choices easier. I’ll be back for the upscale vibes and the Cerberus cocktail soon.
On-the-Town at Mammoth Distillery
Mammoth Distillery has three locations, but we opted for their Traverse City Cocktail Lounge for our last night in town. Live music was playing and the lounge was humming. A tasting of bourbon for my husband and a cocktail for me and the night was complete.
Two Peninsulas With Beautiful Wineries
The beauty of Traverse City is that both the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula are a short drive away. We traveled to each peninsula and stopped at one winery on each: Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay (they also have a location on Old Mission Peninsula) and Chateau Chantal.
Seeing as my husband isn’t a wine drinker, I’ll save more wine tastings for my next girlfriends weekend!
3 – Truffles, Ice Cream & Cherries: Traverse City Nails the Sweets Scene
Whether it’s melt-in-your-mouth truffles or homemade ice cream, Traverse City has the best places for your sweet tooth.
Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate is a Treat Haven for Mom and Dad
A chocolate haven in Empire, Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate stood out because of its cheery, bright-green building. And to say that I brake for chocolate may be a bit of an understatement – screeching to a halt is more accurate.
Free samples, a space to sit and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, and warm hospitality made this such a fun stop! We took home milk chocolate “Sleeping Bears” for the kids and truffles and honey caramels for us.
Indulge in an Ice Cream Flight at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream
Fortunately for us, our trip happened just as Moomers opened for the season! I had a hard time deciding between their three new flavors (Moomers Sunset, Dutch Delight, and Chow Chow), so I twisted my husband’s arm to get the ice cream flight.
Five flavors served in individual metal cups and I am sold. This is the best way to try a handful of different ice creams in one visit!
Enjoy Bite-Sized Delicious at Morsels Bakery
This could fall under the coffee and sweets category because Morsels serves both. The appeal of bite-sized cakes was so great that we couldn’t leave town without popping in here. Pro-Tip: Grab a box of these before heading home to give to grandma and grandpa as thanks for watching the kids while you were away!
½ -Pound Chocolate Chip Cookies at Old Mission General Store
Old Mission General Store caught my eye on Instagram and I was immediately intrigued. The deal was sealed when a follower on Instagram messaged and said: Go to the General Store on the peninsula! So Fun! Get Horseradish Dip, Soft Pretzels, Pickles, Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies, Aged Cheddar. All SO GOOD!
Barrels of candy, household staples mixed with antiques, and creaky wood floors make the Old Mission General Store such a gem. We chatted with the shopkeeper while she cut us a slab of the 12-year aged cheddar and wrapped up soft pretzels for us to take home to the kids.
We’ll have to return for those ½-pound chocolate chip cookies — they were sold out!
Traverse City’s Spring Adventure Scene
Heading to Traverse City in the Spring means you could find either snow or cherry blossoms when you arrive. No matter the weather though, we found a lot of great options…both indoors and out!
Higher Grounds Roastery Tour and Coffee Tasting is Free Fun
Coffee aficionado or not, everyone can join the free behind-the-scenes tour at Higher Grounds. Wearing hairnets, we were guided through the whole process — from partnering with coffee farmers to growing and then roasting.
Our tour also included tasting two different blends, carefully extracted by the pour-over method. This is a great tour if you want an indoor activity that is both fun and informative. Pro-Tip: Plan 60-90 minutes for this tour and sign-up ahead of time as spots fill quickly.
Stay Warm Indoors at The Village Farmers Market
Every Saturday, November through March, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is filled with vendors selling bread, vegetables, cheese, soaps and more. Their booths line the hallways inside the Mercato and you get to experience the winter market and shop the retailers in the Grand Traverse Commons, too.
Free Sips at Fustini’s Olive Oil Tasting
Did you know you can swing into Fustini’s anytime and try their delicious olive oils and vinegars? They also have a guided Olive Oil tasting with their chef that is free on Fridays and Saturdays.
We noted that for our next visit, but enjoyed sampling oils and getting a tutorial on how to taste and note their flavors this time around.
Find Pure Michigan When you go for a Drive
There’s something about driving in a car when it’s just you and your husband, It’s peaceful and enjoyable when there aren’t kids anxious to get to the next destination or asking for snacks.
When the sun is out and you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery, it’s fun to just drive and see where you end up. Our route took us by the D.H. Day Farm and ended at our favorite place in Empire, Lake Michigan Beach.
Snowshoes, Vines & Wines
If you arrive to find snow in the spring, like we did, you can rent a pair of snowshoes and work up an appetite traversing the trails.
Having never gone before, we appreciated the great snowshoe instruction and the assurance that If you can walk, you can snowshoe! Black Star Farms has well-marked and groomed paths that were easy-to-moderate and wound us through the vineyards.
Our experience here made big snowshoeing fans out of us and I loved having the reward of a wine tasting when we were done.
Breathtaking Views No Matter the Season at Old Mission Lighthouse
I love this quieter time of year in Northern Michigan. And after a fresh dusting of snow, we couldn’t resist driving up the peninsula to take a peek at Mission Point Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse is closed during winter months, but the park and beach are open. The perfect spot for taking photos, inhaling fresh air and taking in the view!
Cambria Suites is a Top Pick for a Traverse City Hotel
Three things that make me happy when it comes to hotels:
- A comfortable bed
- Amazing front desk staff service
- A convenient location to all the good things (restaurants, coffee, sightseeing).
Cambria Hotel Traverse City checked all three of those boxes. Right on US31 and only a few minutes to Front Street in Downtown Traverse City, this was a great location for popping by between adventures and having a suite to take it easy in at night.
The front desk staff sent us several texts during our weekend to see if there was anything we needed, and after getting snow one night, we woke up to find they had cleared the snow off our car! Their #1 Trip Advisor rating is the real deal.
Next time we visit, we’re going to make sure to take advantage of their complimentary shuttle service to downtown Traverse City and remember to pack our suits to take advantage of the pool, too!