A special day deserves a special meal.
When you’re celebrating someone’s birthday, anniversary, graduation, or whatever else, it’s worth dressing up a bit and heading somewhere you wouldn’t usually go. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve had a $45 entrée with an expensive glass of wine at the right place.
As much as we love a burger, special occasions deserve the extra mile.
Unfortunately, some of these unique restaurants are so small and cozy, they’re not suited to dining in the age of COVID-19. But while we’re missing the likes of the intimate Grove Restaurant, there are still quite a few eateries around West Michigan worthy of a celebration.
Side note: Typically, we’d mention Reserve Wine & Food, but they’ve been getting creative lately with unique, more economical menus — which you should also check out!
Bistro Bella Vita
44 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
While Grove may be shut down, Bistro Bella Vita, one of its sister restaurants, is going strong as the ideal place to celebrate a special occasion. You don’t have to worry about being too fancy here, yet the food is on another level, developed by chefs with years of experience. At Bistro Bella Vita, every aspect of your visit is a celebration of the dining out experience, from the interior to the staff, food and drinks. The menu is inspired by French and Italian cuisine, with dishes like Saffron Risotto, featuring shrimp, crab, sausage, asparagus, red pepper, parmesan and Calabrian chili aioli. After one special visit, you’ll be coming back all the time for the more affordable dishes like pizza and sandwiches.
235 Louis St. NW, Grand Rapids
Margaux is a French bistro for those who really want the Parisian dining experience. Trout meuniere, chicken basquaise, lamb persillade — it’s all here, along with massive seafood towers and caviar. And right now, you can enjoy all this luxury while dining in the open air along the Grand River.
Cork Wine & Grille
5500 Cascade Road SE, Grand Rapids
While Cork is special enough in its own right, the restaurant has become even more so by taking on some of the dishes from Vintage Prime & Seafood, located within. Due to having such an intimate space, Vintage must remain closed for now, which just means Cork gets 16-ounce prime cuts of steak and lobster tails. If you’re not looking to fly so close to the sun, go with classic Cork entrées like summer salmon, beef bulgogi and fettucine funghi. It’s an inviting, invigorating setting with “the largest wine list in the Grand Rapids area,” so you can really take your meal to the next level.
Everyday People Café
11 Center St., Douglas
While the name may sound like you’re in for nice snacks and a cup of joe, Everyday People is a high-end restaurant serving amazing meals like lamb chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, asparagus, radishes and mint salad. That said, the atmosphere suits the name, as you’ll feel totally comfortable here no matter who you are — it is near the beach, after all.
236 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo
Rustica isn’t simply serving up your meat and potatoes. The menu here crosses continents, such as the Braised New Zealand Lamb Biryani, with saffron rice, Yukon potato, plum tomato, peanut and scallion. Whatever your favorite flavors are, they do it as well as it can be done. Whether you live in Kalamazoo or are just visiting, this is one spot you should be sure to experience at least once.
Leo’s Seafood Restaurant and Bar
60 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Leo’s is one of the most elegant restaurants in West Michigan, located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. The focus here is seafood, with absolutely incredible dishes you likely won’t find anywhere else — such as a live Maine lobster steamed just for you or Alaskan king crab legs served with drawn butter, potato croquettes, and fresh vegetables. There’s a large “land” and pasta menu here as well, and all of it is special.
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
4515 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids
Cooper’s Hawk is one of those places where you could spend all evening eating appetizers and sipping wine. You’d leave feeling amazed, but the entrées are well worth your while too. There are multiple risottos as well as excellent steak, seafood and more. The interior is modern yet approachable, but the first thing you’ll notice when you walk in is all the vino. This is a winery after all, so you should absolutely get a flight and try as many as you can.
San Chez Bistro
38 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
San Chez has been my personal go-to special occasion restaurant for more than a decade. I like to go all in, ordering as many of these Spanish, Mediterranean and European small plates as our group can manage. It’s astounding how much the dynamic changes when the intention from the start is to share — plus, every dish on the menu is remarkable. You’ll quickly learn to love dishes you never knew existed.