Posted by: Kath Usitalo | March 31, 2011

Road Food Report: Sampling Shangri-La In Detroit

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

Detroit’s first “Orientals” arrived in the 1870s, and by the 1920s and 30s the number of Chinese immigrants had grown to support a district 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. A May 1963 celebration dedicated the district with 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

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 heydey 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. Paige and I strolled there after touring Wayne State’s Art and Fashion Studies Departments to talk about her impressions of the school she may be calling home this fall. And we were famished after a couple of hours of walking the campus.

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 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 dinner. But we didn’t feel very adventurous in our choices. Next time I think I’ll do as other diners (many of them Asian) did and just feast on a variety of dim sum from the rolling cart (hold the chicken feet, thank you).

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

As we were leaving 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.

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 new location on Middlebelt in Farmington Hills, plus the cozy Midtown spot.

Visitor Info Clicks:


Pure Michigan



  1. Haven’t been to the Detroit location but have frequented the one in W. Bloomfiled. I wonder if the food is the same. Don’t recall non-Chinese delicacies in the menu there.

    • This is a great location; parking lot right next door and it’s across the street from the Hilberry Theatre, convenient for playgoers.

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