When it comes to dining, strip malls get a bad reputation. The universally drab architecture of strip-mall buildings could make you think they hold no culinary gems. However, we firmly believing in not judging books by their covers, even if that “book” is sandwiched between a martial arts academy and a discount tobacco store — we all know it’s what’s inside that counts. With excellent food from all over the world, here’s a few strip mall sensations that deserve a visit.
Tokyo Grill & Sushi
4478 Breton Rd. SE, Grand Rapids
tokyogrillsushi.com, (616) 455-3433
Open since 1991, Tokyo Grill & Sushi has been providing the Grand Rapids area with quality Japanese sushi and cuisine for decades now. The restaurant began with a simple vision: to offer only the best. Now, with multiple awards for serving top-tier Japanese dishes, you can tell Tokyo Grill has more than a few fans. The restaurant offers a range of options on the menu, from udon bowls to gourmet sushi and exotic fish.
Slip your shoes off and get the full Japanese experience by dining in the tatami room, a room with just hardwood floors, mats and traditional Japanese-style tables that sit low to the ground. There’s also the option of taking a seat at the sushi bar, where you can get to know the chefs a little better as they prepare your rolls in front of you.
Sheshco Mediterranean Grill
2121 Celebration Dr. NE, Grand Rapids
sheshcogrill.net, (616) 364-0600
Attached at the hip to Celebration! Cinema North, Sheshco Mediterranean Grill has been called “a true essence of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine.” The restaurant offers up a solid menu of delicious and authentic Lebanese food. Traditional meals are largely based on a varied assortment of fresh vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a blend of traditional herbs and spices. Be sure to try the house-made garlic sauce that pairs beautifully with the fresh, hot pita bread that Shescho makes on the spot.
1621 Leonard St. NE, Grand Rapids
laithaikitchen.net, (616) 456-5730
Over on Leonard, the family-owned Lai Thai Kitchen serves up traditional Thai meals at a very affordable price. The restaurant takes pride in using fresh, locally grown herbs, vegetables and meats. Head chef Sawalee Thamavechmongkol, better known as “Gi,” has worked all over the world and found nothing quite as satisfying as cooking meals and seeing happy faces on the people who come in through the door. Try some of the specialties straight from Thailand like the mango seafood delight, grilled beef salad and more.
Pal’s Indian Cuisine
2915 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids
palsindiancuisine.com, (616) 957-2271
You don’t have to book a ticket and travel across the globe for authentic Indian dishes packed and bursting with flavor — just drive to the strip-mall nirvana that is 28th Street. Pal’s Indian Cuisine has 15 years of experience preparing Indian favorites like Tandoori chicken, vindaloo and pakoras. The restaurant opened its doors to provide customers with a local destination for true Indian meals. Not sure where to start on the menu? Come hungry and try a variety of dishes at Pal’s lunch buffet, available from Monday through Sunday. For just $8.99, you can sample a little bit of everything from the menu.
2948 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids
elarrieromexicangrill.com, (616) 977-2674
Directly across the road from Pal’s lies El Arriero, featuring fresh and authentic Mexican food. This place has all the Mexican restaurant staples — burritos, tacos, quesadillas — but taken to another level. House specialties include a slew of plates featuring ribeye steaks (such as the steak jalisco, topped with grilled shrimp and onions alongside rice, beans and guacamole) and a solid variety of seafood dishes. Also keep your eyes peeled for ever-changing daily specials, including cheap tequila cocktails.
530 S. Division Ave., Grand Rapids
jamaicandavesgrandrapidsmi.com, (616) 458-7875
If you’re looking for some true Caribbean cuisine, stop by Jamaican Dave’s. The restaurant moved from one strip mall to another after being ousted last year from its previous location at 1059 Wealthy St. for a redevelopment project. Regardless, Jamaican Dave’s has carried on successfully, continuing its legacy that began in 2001. The space itself is truly Jamaican, with rastafarian colors all around, reggae music bumping through the speakers, and the smell of jerk seasoning filling the air. While the meals are fairly straightforward (meat with a few sides), the individual ingredients are always expertly prepared. Try the curried goat, jerk wings or even oxtail.