In a city abundant with diner hot spots, Bell’s Diner has set itself apart by putting a lot of love, and cultural twists, into their menu.
After relocating from South Korea, former Army chef Ben Kwon was looking for a way to make a living doing something he knew and loved. In 1987 he took over Bell’s Diner in Ann Arbor’s west side, and transformed the eatery into the community favorite it is today.
Initially, Ben focused on classic American style food, like omelets, pancakes and hamburgers. His reputation for quality grew quickly after opening, and it has lasted through the years. Receiving the most notoriety were the pancakes, as one reviewer described them as, “thin and perfectly delicious.” If you ask Ben about the pancakes he’ll smile. He tried many recipe variations until he created the perfect batter, which turned them into one of the diner’s hot sellers.
It was not until later that the now well-known Korean dishes appeared on the menu. Nervous about how his loyal customers would react to the change, he added the new options slowly, “I introduced a few Korean dishes as the day’s specialty to make sure my costumers liked it.” And like it they did! In fact, Ben explains that some of the Korean dishes are just as popular as the classic American favorites, “We serve Bi Bim Bob the most. One bowl has everything in it […] I even make the hot sauce myself.”
Bi Bim Bob is a fresh, light dish that includes sautéed vegetables (spinach, bean sprouts, cabbage and carrots), marinated meat or tofu and a fried egg all placed on top of a bed of warm rice. It can be tailored to individual tastes and appetites by adjusting the meat or vegetable portion. The best part is, it is not just for breakfast. The flavors are just as satisfying at lunch and dinner, and with Bell’s now open until 8:30pm Tuesday through Saturday that is a possibility six days a week!
Although the list is plentiful, other Korean favorites include Jopche (potato noodles with vegetable, egg and beef sautéed in soy sauce), and Kah-soo-Dong (broiled chicken, beef, shrimp or pork with vegetables and an egg). One cannot forget the Kimchi, a spicy side order that completes any meal. This national dish of Korea has been growing in popularity at even the most prestigious restaurants, but at Bell’s you can get a high-quality version for only $1.99. Although Kimchi originally is made with cabbage, Ben decided upon cucumber to set his recipe apart. The delicious outcome was well received by customers.
Along with an eclectic menu, Bell’s Diner has established themselves as an important part of the community. If you become a returning customer, they will likely have your favorite beverage and booth ready once you walk through the door. The decorations are quirky, as you look up and see a shamrock border mixed with Korean décor, but that just adds to the appeal and quite frankly puts a smile on your face. Bell’s Diner truly is a local favorite.
For diner prices and a diner atmosphere without the average diner flavors, give Bell’s a try.
Location: 2167 West Stadium Boulevard, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Hours: Monday 6:30 am - 4 pm
Tuesday through Saturday 6:30 am - 8:30 pm
Sunday 8 am - 8:30 pm