Sampling Shangri-La in Detroit

A heaping serving of cashew chicken; not the most exotic menu item, but tasty

A heaping serving of cashew chicken; not the most exotic menu item, but tasty

In the 1870s the first “Orientals” arrived in Detroit, and by the 1920s and ’30s the number of Chinese immigrants had grown to support a district in the city known as Chinatown, on Third Avenue near Michigan Avenue.

Uprooted by urban renewal and freeway construction in the early 1960s, the community relocated and established  a “New Chinatown” about a mile north, along Cass Avenue near Wayne State University. In May 1963 there was a grand celebration to dedicate the district including firecracker and dragon dances in the streets, ceremonial costumes, an appearance by Miss Hong Kong Shirley Pong, and the grand opening of the Forbidden City restaurant.

Chin Tiki was a Detroit Chinatown landmark (photo from

Chin Tiki was a Detroit Chinatown landmark (photo from

Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine moved to Chinatown from the old neighborhood, and in 1967 the owner of Chin’s in Livonia opened the Chin Tiki restaurant on Cass. In its heyday Chin Tiki attracted visiting celebs including Muhammad Ali and Barbra Streisand, but the legendary spot closed in 1980.

Chin Tiki was unlocked and spruced up for a scene in Eminem’s 2001 movie “8 Mile.” Sadly, the building, like most of Detroit’s Chinatown, has been demolished.

So I was happy to lunch at Midtown Shangri-La offering “Authentic Chinese Cuisine” on Cass Avenue, just blocks from the former Chinatown.

Although it was our first visit to Shangri-La Paige and I were greeted as though we were long-lost friends. Service was prompt and friendly, but we weren’t prepared for the onslaught of menus and the choices we were faced with: traditional Chinese favorites, Thai dishes, a dozen soups, chef’s specials, sushi and—my favorite—dim sum, served all day.

Carlos serves dim sum, available daily, from the rolling cart

Carlos serves dim sum, available daily, from the rolling cart

With all of those tasty options I’m kicking myself for quickly settling on Cashew Chicken; Paige opted for Chicken Pad Thai. We shared one order of a shrimp dumpling from the dim sum cart. Delish.

Our tasty lunch dishes were served quickly and we had plenty for both lunch and to carry home for dinner. But we didn’t feel very adventurous in our choices. I’d like to return and do as other diners (many of them Asian) did and just feast on a variety of dim sum from the rolling cart (hold the steamed chicken feet, thank you).

I was happy with the big pot of hot tea but there’s a full bar and inventive drink specials; check out what’s happening at the bar on the Shangri-La Facebook page.

As we were leaving the restaurant I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the white ceramic cat near the front door.

Our host was eager to explain that the kitty, which has one raised paw and holds a gold coin with the other, is a traditional good luck symbol in China. It isn’t waving but beckoning for good fortune or more gold coins

Later I leaned from the www that the cat, Maneki Neko, first appeared in Japan in the 1870s and that cats are considered lucky spirits.road-food-shangri-la_0761

We were lucky we stopped for lunch at Shangri-La.

Note: Shangri-La has three locations: the original on Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield, which opened in 1995; a Chinese and Thai restaurant on Middlebelt in Farmington Hills, plus the cozy Midtown spot.

Midtown Shangri-La is closed on Sunday
4710 Cass Avenue, Detroit, Michigan
(313) 974-7669
Located in Area A on the map



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All stories and photos copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted