Dining in Michigan’s ‘Little Lebanon’
As of the 2010 Census, 40 percent of Dearborn’s 98,000+ residents were Arab American. Colloquially dubbed “Little Lebanon” due the city’s significant Lebanese-American population, the Detroit suburb has a plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants.
One of my absolute favorites is LaPita.
Mi casa es su casa — wait, that’s not Arabic
From the outside, the large, tan building, with black awnings and alfresco seating, may look to the first-time visitor like nothing out of the ordinary. However, once you enter the restaurant, the Middle Eastern music and decor may just transport your mind to destinations overseas. Beirut, anyone? For me, it’s just a reminder that I’m home.
I grew up in Dearborn and graduated high school alongside a cast member of the TLC show “All-American Muslim.” As a teenager, I was fed stuffed grape leaves, fattoush and tabouli salads and hummus — whether I was hungry or not — at my Arabic friends’ homes. If you’ve seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” you have some idea of what I’m talking about. It’s a hospitable culture, one that takes care of its own and welcomes newcomers into their homes — and their restaurants. When you look around LaPita, you’ll notice an ethnically diverse mix of customers.
Located just off Michigan Avenue in downtown West Dearborn, the restaurant attracts a steady lunch crowd of Ford employees — Dearborn is the automaker’s headquarters — as well as other working professionals and college students (Henry Ford Community College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn are only 2 miles away).
Last Friday night, my mom and I stopped here for dinner. While some locals will tell you there are “more authentic” Lebanese restaurants on Dearborn’s east side, where Arab Americans more densely populate the city, I make a point to visit LaPita whenever I’m in town — and I’m clearly not the only one. The dining room quickly filled with couples, friends and families noshing on round discs of warm, fluffy pita bread as the dinner hours wore on.
Send my hummus to heaven
I fear this may not be a normal thing that I’m about to admit, but here goes … You’ll know I really love a dish when I want to keep eating it into the afterlife. There are very few meals that make such a list, but LaPita’s pita bread and creamy hummus certainly earned a spot on my wishlist of things I hope exist in heaven. If there is one thing on the menu that you must try, it is the hummus appetizer.
Could I have a little more garlic with that?
Need more garlic? No problem. Order it on the side, and don’t use it sparingly. You’re not kissing anyone later, right Dracula?
Seriously, the white garlic paste pairs well with the chicken shawarma wrap and the chicken kabob. I have even seen people order it on the side with their salads.
If I don’t order the chicken shawarma pita sandwich (and yes, dip it in garlic), I often opt for the almond rice salad. This fresh, crisp salad includes cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red cabbage, carrots, romaine lettuce and almond slivers tossed in the house dressing over a bed of warm rice.
When my mom and I dined here on Valentine’s Day this year, I began my meal with a “Sweet Sunshine” smoothie from LaPita’s liquid health bar. The smoothie is a refreshing blend of mango, papaya, strawberries, banana, orange and honey. The $4 smoothies are incredibly filling and almost all of them are dairy-free. On Friday, I opted for an adult beverage. The restaurant’s wine list includes a nice, fruity Malbec.
Don’t go home hungry
Just as my Arabic friends’ moms would never let me go home hungry, LaPita’s portions indicate it follows that same sense of Lebanese hospitality. The salads are served on large dishes and are more than sufficient as a stand-alone meal. The “house specialties” are no more than $19 and include a soup or salad. Kabobs — also no more than $19 — are served with a choice of soup or salad and a choice of rice or fries. (Choose the rice. Trust me on this.)
Also, just a tip from a local who has dined at LaPita for years: Order a larger portion of the hummus than you think you’ll need. If you have leftovers, ask your server for a box and some fresh pita bread to take home with you.
Wish you were here,