10 things you need to eat (and drink) in Michigan

Don't leave without trying these state specialties

By Elizabeth Xu,

Whether you’re visiting Michigan for a football game, road trip or magnificent sights, no trip to the state is complete without some of the food and drink Michiganders enjoy. The Midwest is known for its comfort food, and Michigan surely shouldn't be left out.

From cheesy pizza and sweet cocktails in Detroit to fudge and meat-filled pasties in the Upper Peninsula, here’s what you should fill up on in the Mitten State.

1. Detroit pizza

This Detroit-style pizza has a crispy crust and plenty of cheese — Photo courtesy of @joefoodie

If cheese is your thing, Detroit-style pizza will be your new favorite food. Sure, you’ve had pizza before, but this pizza is definitely different. First served in 1946 at a small place called Buddy’s Rendezvous, this square, deep-dish, cheese-all-the-way-to-the-edge pizza can now be found all over the state.

If you grab a pie and look closely, don’t be confused – yes, the toppings are under the sauce, but that’s how it’s supposed to be, and Michiganders wouldn’t have it any other way.

2. Vernors

Vernors has been a staple in Michigan since the late 1800s — Photo courtesy of Pure Michigan

Chicken soup and ginger ale are used to settle upset stomachs throughout much of the U.S., but most kids growing up in Michigan don’t get just any ginger ale when they’re ill – they get Vernors. A Detroit pharmacist created the drink in 1866 and it has been popular ever since.

Originally sold at a soda fountain, this sweet beverage is also a popular alcoholic drink mixer.

3. Chipati

A Pizza's Bob's chipati is a pocket bread stuffed with a salad mix — Photo courtesy of Pizza Bob's

For decades, University of Michigan students have been eating their salads stuffed in a pita and calling it a chipati. You can find this sandwich-like salad at both Pizza Bob’s and Pizza House in Ann Arbor, though it was first created at Pizza Bob’s in the 1970s.

If you’re not interested in a salad at a pizza joint, you can also get just the chapati bread with a side of sauce at Pizza House.

4. Better Made potato chips

Better Made started making potato chips in Detroit in 1930 — Photo courtesy of Bill Bowen/Pure Michigan

Potato chips are ubiquitous in school lunches and vending machines, and in Michigan, there’s a good chance it’s a local brand: Better Made. The company started in 1930 and now makes a variety of snack foods, including pretzels, popcorn, tortilla chips and beef jerky, but it all started with potato chips. Today, you’ll find flavors like sweet barbecue, garlic dill pickle, and red hot lining the shelves of stores.

5. Pasty

Pasties made their way to Michigan via miners from Cornwall, England — Photo courtesy of iStock/Fudio

The pasty is an Upper Peninsula staple. Visitors and locals alike dine at the many pasty restaurants dotting the landscape. Yes – whole restaurants are devoted to this pastry shell stuffed with various fillings. Rumor has it they became popular in the area because they were a quick, easy and portable lunch for miners.

Popular fillings include beef and potatoes, pork, and chicken. Top it off with ketchup or gravy and you have a hearty meal.

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6. Hummer cocktail

A Hummer is a sweet drink made with Kahlua, ice cream and rum — Photo courtesy of Bayview Yacht Club

A sweet cocktail, the Hummer got its start in Detroit at the Bayview Yacht Club in the 1960s. Made with Kahlua, ice cream and rum, the drink is easy to make at home, too. Imbibing at the source probably makes it much better, though. After all, Hummer inventor Jerome Adams has worked at the Bayview Yacht Club for more than 50 years and is still there to mix up his signature drink.

7. Mackinac Island fudge

Ryba's Fudge Shop is one of many on Mackinac Island. — Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chatfield

Mackinac Island is only 3.8 square miles, but you’d never guess it was so small by looking at the number of fudge shops downtown. The smell of fresh fudge has been prevalent on the island since the late 1800s and nowadays, tourists have dozens of shops with dozens of varieties from which to choose.  You can practically overdose on this chocolate confection.

Few visitors leave without sampling the sweet treat in flavors like turtle, German chocolate, peanut butter or chocolate walnut.

8. Biggby Coffee

The original Biggby Coffee location is in East Lansing — Photo courtesy of David Shane

There are plenty of Starbucks locations in Michigan, but for a real Michigander experience. you’ll have to find a Biggby Coffee. Started in East Lansing in 1995, franchises can now be found all over the state – and beyond. You’ll find seasonal beverages and the usual lattes, coffee, tea and frozen coffee concoctions available here.

9. Coney dog

A Detroit coney with onions — Photo courtesy of Eugene Kim

Coney dogs aren’t unique to Michigan, but like with pizza, Detroit puts its own spin on these hot dogs. They take a beef hot dog, add coney (chili) sauce on top, and finish it off with some mustard and onions. First brought to the city by immigrants, coneys are available in Detroit and surrounding suburbs.  In fact, many restaurants specialize in them.

10. Traverse City cherries

Harvested Traverse City cherries — Photo courtesy of National Cherry Festival

Traverse City has long been known for its cherry bounty, so much so that the National Cherry Festival began there in 1925. Every year, in late June and July, this "cherry capital of the world" hosts locals and visitors for cherry-filled foods, a parade, carnival games and more.

There are numerous U-Pick cherry farms in the area, and several stores that focus solely on foods made with cherries, like jams, candies and salsa.