Lansing's International Flavor
If you're feeling stuck in a culinary rut, we've got the recipe for change. Simply sample some of the great, international fare waiting for you around the Capital City.
We've provided the roadmap. Each locale is a great place to start broadening your tastes and—better yet—is an independent, locally owned restaurant.
So skip the passport, grab a fork and set sail for the flavorful frontier. Kicking Korean
The furthest east you have to go for great Korean food is East Lansing
. Located on Grand River Ave., Charlie Kang’s has a relaxed atmosphere and a very friendly, accommodating waitstaff. Don’t let the gangs of hungry MSU students scare you off—the big crowd itself is a good recommendation.
Charlie Kang's serves Chinese food, too, but the real treasure can be found on the Korean side of the menu. There are a range of exciting things to try. For starters, the steamed dumplings (beef or vegetarian) are reputed to be some of the best in town. For the main course, give the bulgolgi (“fire meat”) a shot sometime—it's the house specialty.
But the star of the show at Charlie Kang’s is the Stone Bowl Bibimbap (“mixed meal”). A stone bowl is heated in the kitchen and filled with all kinds of goodies: rice, marinated spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, zucchini and the meat of your choice (tip: ask for the spicy pork).
The heated stone bowl cooks the food right before your eyes—the rice transforms into a crunchy, brown treat. A fried egg comes on top, but if you want a unique experience, request an uncooked egg and do this yourself—crack the egg on the edge of the bowl and drop it inside. After adding the hot bean sauce, quickly mix everything together as the stone bowl cooks the egg. Playing with your food never tasted so good.All Thai’d Up
Next on the Asian excursion is Thai Food From Lamai’s Kitchen
, a quirky Thai restaurant next door to Gone Wired Café on Michigan Ave. on Lansing’s Eastside
. The lengthy title gets right to the point: Lamai herself does all (or most) of the cooking, and she’s cultivated a devoted cult following—and after sampling her Pad Thai dishes, you’ll quickly see why.
The quirkiness of the restaurant is part of its charm: it looks like it something right out of a movie. The décor is a mix between a 1950s diner and a Thai restaurant; the counter has stools, but also stores menus, plates and even a few items from the buffet.
Seating is plentiful, so bring the whole gang. Lamai will probably serve you herself, and the word on the street is she’s good at remembering folks—so make sure to tip well.
The buffet is cornucopia of Thai dishes, and you can get take out from the buffet by the pound. A few of the dishes may look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, but give them a try—you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The Pad Thai, rich with eggs, is great, as is the bamboo curry. The transparent spring rolls are a refreshing treat—and make sure to save room for the deep fired bananas.
The vegetarian buffet is on Thursday and the seafood buffet rules the roost on Fridays.Marvelous Mediterranean
Point your compass back west and you’ll find one of Downtown Lansing’s best-kept secrets.
Located on South Washington Square, Restaurant Mediteran
specializes in Mediterranean and Eastern European dishes. The décor is top notch, and just stepping inside makes you feel like a VIP.
Call ahead for a table at lunch, as the place doesn’t hold that many and there is usually a wait. You’ll have an easier time getting in for dinner after the workday ends—and there is nothing wrong with that, as both the dinner menu and food presentation are spectacular.
For a healthy lunch, try the Sandwich Caprese—an amazing mix of fresh, homemade pesto, sliced tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. It is the kind of sandwich you’ll wake up in the night craving.
For dinner, sample the Catalunya Schnitzel. One of the best tasting chicken dishes in town, it's a chicken breast covered with avocado, melted mozzarella and served over brown rice—it's almost too pretty to eat. The vegetable soup is highly recommended, as is the dinner sample platter, which has a little bit of everything and can easily feed two people.
During the warmer months, sit outside—the best spot to savor one of their “authentic” Italian cappuccinos.Incredible Indian
Nestled in the corner of the Hannah Plaza, you’ll find Sindhu Indian Cuisine
. Before you even walk in the door, the spicy aromas take your sense of smell hostage and lure you inside.
“I ended up spending most of undergrad eating Indian food and working here,” says Amber Shinn, an independent PR and marketing consultant who is prone to sharing her culinary adventures on Twitter. “Indian food is my comfort food now.”
It is easy to understand why Shinn has such a devotion to Sindhu. Start out with a samosa, a dumpling made with potatoes and peas. Afterward, move up to the main dishes—but if you haven’t sampled Indian food before, you might want to play it safe and ask for everything seasoned mild. Or order it hot to see what you're really made of.
A lot of the dishes are vegetarian-friendly, such as the baigan bharta, made with eggplant, or the palak paneer, which uses spinach and cheese. Meat dishes are available, including lamb and goat. And if your curry ends up being a bit too hot, put out the fire with a nice, cold Indian lager.Epic Ethiopian
Rounding out the round the world feast is Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine
. At this unique eatery on Michigan Avenue, the dishes are served family style—meaning a bunch of food on one platter that is shared by your table. Spongy flat bread is used to scoop up the dish of your choice, or you can request the food on a bed of rice instead, if you’d rather eat with a fork.
Altu Tadesse, the owner, is from Ethiopia and specializes in sharing the traditional cuisine with the Lansing area.
Shinn, a vegetarian, enjoys the variety of meatless dishes Altu’s offers, “It is very green and lentil-based,” she says, and recommends the Veggie Feast for Two (or Three), which offers several different meatless dishes.
Lansing is home to many wonderful independent, international style restaurants. Next time you can’t decide where to dine, take a chance on a new kind of food—you just might find a new favorite place.To receive Capital Gains free every week, click here.
Daniel J. Hogan
is a freelance writer and creator of the Magic of Eyri Podcast. You can listen to his audio book podcast for free at magicofeyri.com
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Charlie Kang's (photo 1 & 2)
Thai Food From Lamai’s Kitchen
Altu's Ethiopian Cuisine
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie