Before you even walk into Detroit’s first Black-owned food hall, all you smell is food. The scent of burgers, chicken and barbecue wafts onto the sidewalk in front of the gray and black building, and the name of the restaurant asks you what your stomach wants to know: Whatcha Wanna Eat?
Whatcha Wanna Eat Food Hall opened Sept. 8 in northwest Detroit. Inside are nine minority-owned businesses, with offerings ranging from burgers to smoothies to hibachi. The staff stands behind their counters with welcoming smiles, inviting you in for an array of good grub.
“It’s been a blast just giving back to the community,” co-founder Gena Bailey said. “This is my husband’s idea. This is his dream. … We wanted to give this to everyone in the community and actually help people that couldn’t open their own brick-and-mortar.”
Anticipation for the food hall’s opening went viral on TikTok, and it now hosts a steady stream of hungry customers.
Outlier Media, Detroit Documenters and members of The Outlier Collective got together this month to taste-test each of the nine businesses. The restaurants were divided among the participants who each chose an entree to order. We evaluated taste, presentation, affordability and options for dietary restrictions.
The staff at each of the restaurants were friendly, welcoming and eager to recommend food to our taste testers. Bailey, who operates Life is Sweetz right at the front of the hall, greeted everyone who came in the door, regardless of if they came by for dessert.
In our experience, the food hall’s biggest weakness was a lack of knowledge about allergens, dietary restrictions and cross-contamination at some of the restaurants. Half our testers had some form of dietary restriction, but when they asked about options, vendors didn’t always have clear information.
However, our overall experience was positive — we left feeling full and satisfied.
Anxious to visit the new food hall? Here’s how it went and everything we recommend.
Buttery hibachi with variety
Poon’s Hibachi Grill features made-to-order hibachi meals with the customer’s choice of chicken, shrimp, steak, lamb, salmon or lobster. You can add different vegetables, upgrade from white to fried rice and get a drink of Kool-Aid to wash it down.
Documenter Meghan Rutigliano chose the salmon hibachi with shrimp fried rice. The hibachi came with zucchini, carrots, onions and a side of yum yum sauce. The meal cost a little over $25, including tax.
The hibachi was buttery, rich and just delicious. One serving was large enough for a person’s lunch and dinner. Poon’s also has tofu and veggie options for our vegetarian friends.
The price is steep for lunch but on par with other hibachi places. If you can swing it, it’s a must-try.
Comfort food in a bowl — for a price
Delectabowl offers fresh, made-to-order meals that are straight-up comfort food.
There are many options. The classic Comfort Bowl has slow-cooked pulled pork, barbecue sauce and coleslaw. The Mediterranean Bowl has chicken, red peppers and spicy feta sauce.
Outlier’s Ashley Fassett chose one of the Loaded Potato Bowls — the Classic option, minus the bacon. The meal was about $17, which seemed a little expensive for essentially a baked potato. However, the vegetarian-friendly bowl was “buttery, creamy and garlicky.” The bowl even looked comforting.
Delectabowl has good options and accommodations for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners at no additional cost, and their staff were easily the most informed on dietary restrictions.
Best birria tacos
Borderline Tacos + Things offers build-your-own Mexican meals, including tacos, nachos and quesadillas. Outlier Collective member Maia Regman chose beef birria tacos and a Jarritos pop, totaling $25.
The tacos are on the pricier side, but were tasty, so we considered them worth it. Their crispy golden shells looked delicious before we even dived in.
Regman said they were the best birria tacos she’s ever had.
“I have high standards,” Regman said. “The way they season the taco shells gives it an extra oomph.”
A bunch of wings for a small price
Wing Fellas is known for its 29 sauces and dry rubs, ranked on the restaurant’s “spice meter”. Detroit Documenter Colleen Cirocco chose the bone-in buffalo wings, garlic parmesan fries and chicken tenders with lemon pepper.
This restaurant is affordable considering the amount of food you get. Our entire meal was under $21. The menu is also simple, mostly wings and fries, with few options for dietary restrictions.
The fries were crispy and delicious, and the sauce-to-chicken ratio was perfect on the buffalo wings. It’s a great choice for a quick chicken meal.
Southern food done right
Heavenly Chicken & Waffles offers many variations of the Southern classic, along with breakfast and lunch sandwiches, omelets and more.
I chose The Original with four fried chicken wings and a Belgian waffle. The waffle was fluffy, and only needed a little syrup to complement the flavor. The wings were perfectly seasoned — and just the perfect amount of greasy.
This meal was just under $20, which felt a great value for the high quality.
Spicy, saucy barbecue
“Smoked then fried” barbecue options are in store for you at Detroit Wild Pit. Think beef, pork ribs, mac and cheese, barbecue chicken and beans. Outlier Collective member Lezlie Robinson chose the specialty Wild Tips with spicy sauce, a side of fries and a turkey leg.
The sauce is what won us over. It was a combination of sweet and spice with a hint of ginger. The rib tips were especially tender, and the turkey leg was huge — and we mean really huge — in classic barbecue fashion.
The meal was pricey at a little over $29, but mostly because we bought a lot of food. A win-win for everyone involved and worth the price.
Simple, cheap, tasty burgers
Gourmet Crazy Burger was probably our favorite spot. The burger joint features, well, burgers, all named after major Detroit streets. I had The Woodward, a simple burger with thinly sliced patties, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard and a pickle.
Even in its simplicity, this burger wowed us. The patty was just the right size, and the portion of onions was just right. Plus, it was the cheapest meal we ordered at under $16 and still included a satisfying amount of food. (There’s also an Impossible vegan burger option.)
Smoothies — with a healthy twist
Whatcha Wanna Eat also has drinks covered. Your Perfect Blend features fresh pressed juice, smoothies and açaí bowls, and it’s probably the most health-conscious spot in the food hall. Regman ordered the Strawberry Malibu smoothie with pineapples and white chocolate.
The flavors blended perfectly, and it was quite a large smoothie for about $10. The shop also offers add-on shots of whey protein, multivitamins and more.
You always have to end with dessert, so our group finished our taste test at Life is Sweetz. From ice cream and gourmet cookies to specialty sweets, it fulfilled our sweet tooth and left us wanting more. We ordered a variety of things — bourbon ice cream and peanut-butter-and-chocolate cookies, to name a couple — but the blondie brookie that Regman ordered, made with crunchy chocolate-and-vanilla cookies, was delicious. Our orders ranged from about $5 to $12 per item.
The blondie’s blend of flavors was really well done and a perfect ending to our taste tour. Try it warmed up with a scoop of ice cream for maximum dessert goodness.
If you visit Whatcha Wanna Eat, let us know how you like it! Email email@example.com with your favorites (it may be impossible to choose one).
Whatcha Wanna Eat Food Hall is located at 10635 West McNichols Road It’s open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sundays from noon-6 p.m.
Outlier Media Membership and Operations Coordinator Ashley Fassett, Detroit Documenters Meghan Rutigliano and Colleen Cirocco, and Outlier Collective members Maia Regman and Lezlie Robinson contributed to this article.