Head to the Motor City for some of the most celebrated dining in the country.

The Detroit food scene has steadily been garnering acclaim and, this year, has a total of 13 semifinalists for the annual James Beard Awards, which recognize talented chefs and excellent restaurants in a variety of categories.

“Ten years ago, we might have had four names on the Beard list,” says Melody Baetens, who’s spent 25 years at the Detroit News, the last 10 as its food writer. “Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have (had) any.”

Andy Hollyday, the chef and co-owner at Selden Standard, sees the origins for Detroit’s food scene in the 2008 opening of Roast by celebrity chef Michael Symon. The restaurant closed during the pandemic, but not before inspiring a new generation of chefs. 

“That was a big turning point,” says Hollyday, who was sous-chef there. “A lot of people involved went and started their own restaurants.”

Selden Standard, open since 2014, is a semifinalist for outstanding restaurant. The Midtown eatery combines a casual vibe with high-end recipes, using locally sourced produce on a menu that can be more than half vegetarian at any given time.

Alpino is a semifinalist for best new restaurant, but chef-owner David Richter is an experienced hand. He’s a Detroit native who boomeranged back to the area in 2019 after his career took him to New York City and Nashville. Located in the city’s historic Corktown neighborhood, his new restaurant touches on the cuisine of the countries in the Alps. You’ll find a classic wienerschnitzel there but also dishes like chestnut dumplings with wild boar. “It’s a genre of restaurants that I feel are underserved,” Richter says. “Alpine restaurants that have great recipes.”

Folk in Detroit and Spencer in Ann Arbor are nominees in the category of outstanding wine and other beverages program. Folk is a brunch and lunch restaurant featuring multiple wine and coffee options. Spencer features wine and small plates, as well as a limited but highly sought-after dinner menu.

Detroit’s nominees also demonstrate an international flair. Husband and wife Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere, who are nominated for outstanding restaurateur, are refugees who started Baobab Fare, a restaurant with cuisine from their native Burundi. And Dearborn remains a hub for Arab-American culture. Shatila Bakery, an area mainstay since 1979, is a semifinalist for outstanding bakery, and Lebanese breakfast restaurant AlTayeb is recognized for its hospitality.

Baetens notes that the food scene isn’t limited to restaurants. There’s also a thriving pop-up scene, from food trucks to special guest chefs. In fact, Nepantla sprung from a food truck operated by chef Rocky Coronado, who is a semifinalist for emerging chef.

In addition to its eight national nominations, five local semifinalists are in the best chef category for the Great Lakes. Ji Hye Kim is the chef and namesake at Miss Kim in Ann Arbor, offering Korean fare. Dan Klenotic is the chef at Bellflower, in Ypsilanti, which makes sandwiches for lunch and has an ever-changing dinner menu. John Yelinek is a bartender-turned-chef whose creations are attracting attention nationwide for Ladder 4 Wine Bar, which — as its name indicates — is in a former firehouse. Doug Hewitt is chef-owner of Freya, which boasts a tasting menu with vegan, pescatarian and omnivore options.

For the second year in a row, Hajime Sato is a nominee for best Great Lakes chef. The Japanese native is the owner of Sozai in Clawson. The restaurant is notable for its commitment to local, seasonal and sustainable seafood, including walleye, smelt and trout from the Great Lakes.  “I think people should be eating more seasonally,” Sato says.

However and whatever you like to eat, you’ll find it in this city where dining is quickly gaining traction on music and cars. 

“It’s a really good time to eat in Detroit,” Baetens says. “People are definitely coming here to eat.”