If you are interested in dining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (commonly known as the UP) but have no idea where to begin, you’ve come to the right place.
Whether you want to enjoy an authentic “Yooper” dish in a weathered lakeside fish house, dine with locals at a roadside diner, or dine in luxury in a glamorous dining room, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a unique dining experience to offer everyone.
Dining Options in the Upper Peninsula: A Taste of Michigan
Perhaps more than anything, what puts the UP on the map, of course, is its breathtakingly beautiful landscape characterized by an abundance of woodlands, wildlife, waterfalls, lakes, and endless opportunities for outdoor activities.
However, an often overlooked and significant part of what makes the region an extraordinary place is its Yooper culture inherited from European settlers that crossed the pond to work in the area’s copper mines so many generations ago.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s once-booming mining industry virtually disappeared in the 20th century, except for the occasional vestiges of abandoned factory buildings that litter the UP’s idealistic Midwestern landscape.
However, the European cultural influence that the area’s early immigrant coal miners brought can still be found and experienced in the Upper Peninsula’s local cuisine and dining scene. Below, you will find a list of the tastiest dishes that dining in the U.P has to offer as well as the best places to find them.
Perhaps the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s most iconic dish, the pasty (pronounced pas-tee), might best be described as a sort of meat pie or type of empanada. However, the term “meat pie” doesn’t do justice to the legendary dish that the pasty truly deserves.
Brought to the UP by Cornish immigrants who came to work in the area’s copper mines, legend has it that it was the preferred work meal amongst the miners as the outer crust made it practical to take into the mines and eat on the job.
The traditional pasty recipe essentially consists of ground beef and cooked vegetables stuffed inside a flaky pastry shell/crust. However, this dish has many variations, such as the apple pie pasty. In the improbable event that your first pasty is less than satisfying, you can try another!
At any rate, If you are interested in experiencing cuisine that is distinct to the Upper Peninsula region, tasting a pasty is an absolute must-try.
Where Can I Find Pasties?
You can more or less find pasties anywhere in the Upper Peninsula. It’s not uncommon to see hand-drawn signs posted with arrows on the highway that read “Pasties This Way.”
There has been some lively debate about who lays claim to the best pasty in the Upper Peninsula, but that’s just something you’ll have to experience and judge for yourself. However, I have a personal favorite that is guaranteed to get you on the path to pasty paradise.
Slim’s Cafe & Bakery
Located in Mohawk, Michigan, this classic, small UP roadside cafe earned the “Best Pasty” award at the 2021 Pasty Fest (yes, there are entire festivals dedicated to this divine dish).
In addition to their reputation for crafting flawless pasrties, their breakfast menu is also quite a hit with locals and visitors alike. However, if you’re looking to get your hands on a pasty, you better get there quick; they sell out early!
Smoked Whitefish (and smoked whitefish dip) is an Upper Peninsula staple amongst the locals and a must-try for visitors. Surrounded by the Great Lakes of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, the Upper Peninsula is home to numerous fresh fish houses and fish markets that offer some of the tastiest freshwater fish anywhere.
Although the Upper Peninsula has far more types of fish than just whitefish to offer, it is smoked whitefish in all its many preparations that has rightfully earned a reputation for being an Upper Peninsula classic.
Where Can I Find Whitefish?
You’ll want to try out the restaurants below.
Iron Bay Restaurant & Drinkery
Located in Marquette, this restaurant/bar offers a variety of unique spins on the UP’s staple fish dish. Their menu practically has fresh locally sourced (from Lake Superior) “whitefish everything.”
This menu includes:
- Whitefish tater tots
- Whitefish chowder
- Whitefish tacos
- Whitefish fish and chips
If you’re fishing for whitefish in the Upper Peninsula, this is a one-stop-shop that is guaranteed to satisfy whitefish fanatics and whitefish first-timers alike.
If these places all sound a bit too casual for the exceptional dining experience you have planned, Mackinac Island has a place for all your Upper Peninsula of Michigan fine dining desires.
Fine Dining in the Upper Peninsula
Are you looking for a fancier dining option? You should try out the Grand Hotel.
Grand Hotel Main Dining Room
The Upper Peninsula’s historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is home to a wonderfully glamorous and elegant dining room and restaurant.
With music often performed live by the Grand Hotel Orchestra and a view of “the world’s longest porch,” the Grand Hotel’s Main Dining Room is sure to provide an unforgettable dining experience.
There are three different dinner menus, each prepared by a world-renown in-house chef, that are rotated throughout the season. Each meal includes a:
- Soup or salad
If you plan to come for dinner, make sure to dress to impress. There is a formal dress code after 6 pm. If you’re looking for ambiance and atmosphere to accompany your fine dining experience in the Upper Peninsula, the Grand Hotel Main Dining Room won’t disappoint.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for its idyllic landscape, suitable for almost every outdoor activity you can imagine, including hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and sledding.
Like the land itself, its residents have a history of being rugged and hearty people. These are qualities that are also reflected in the restaurants, diners, and fish houses that serve the region’s equally hearty and distinct cuisine. The Upper Peninsula is guaranteed to offer an unforgettable dining experience wherever you decide to dine.