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Let me preface this particular adventure with a bit of a disclaimer…

I kind of hate malls.

Having spent a couple of my fresh-faced years in them caking people’s faces and trying not to gauge my eyes out, they’re simply not an environment I want to spend my free time in.

“But wait..wait…you booked a trip to the Mall of America?”

I did, indeed. During a pre-Lela Takes The Lakes research session, The Mall of America (and its surrounding areas of Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota) seemed to offer everything I love in a new travel destination.

I expected much more than a mall. And boy, did I get it…

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If I had to recommend only one destination in the Great Lakes, Traverse City would be it.

It didn’t take me long to really Traverse City is as Great as The Lakes gets; a wonderful surprise, really, as it was the stop I was least excited for in my Lela Takes The Lakes adventures.

Before my quasi road trip made space for it, Northern Michigan simply couldn’t seduce its way to becoming a bucket list contender.

Isn’t it funny how fast vineyards, beaches, and dirty banh mi fries can change your mind?

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grand rapids travel blog
Though I spent far more time than I needed to in the state underneath it throughout my adolescence, I had never visited Michigan until this year. This exact Lela Takes The Lakes meander.

Because of its proximity to my best friend’s wedding (hello again, Indiana) and equidistance from my first long-term stop (Traverse City), I kicked all things Great Lakes off with a stop in Grand Rapids.

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best burger in america
Before I delve into all that Grand Rapids had to offer, I must introduce you to the best burger in America.

I know. I was as dubious as you, “Mr. Michigan CAN’T have the best burger in America?!”, are. Alas, Stella’s Lounge pulled it out of the bag.

The restaurant-cum-whiskey bar-cum-retro arcade had their half-pound stuffed patties knighted “best burgers in America” by the court of GQ a few short years ago and I refused to pass through the city without pursuing a taste test of my very own.

The truth? The Buffalo (a blue cheese & bacon-stuffed burger served with Stella’s buffalo hot wing sauce and celery mayo in brioche) is the dirtiest dirty burger I’ve ever laid lip on and, as its now a 11+ hour transatlantic crossing away, a complete personal travesty.

Don’t try it without chronic fries (crispy & spicy ay-eff), Angel’s Envy Rye (the finish is outstanding), and a few solid hours of Mortal Kombat.

I actually enjoyed all the aforementioned so much I dragged my travel-weary ass back on a layover between Traverse City and Minneapolis. This time for their veggie/vegan options and weekly Gong Show karaoke. Highlights included the Ted Avocado Nugents (avo beer-battered in Perrin Double IPA and served with Asian slaw & spicy avocado ranch dipping sauce) and performances from every American Idol reject West of New York City.

With over 250 whiskies (some of which I’ve searched bars for worldwide), Ms. Pacman, Q*bert, and the best burgers in America (at least in personal & GQ experience), Stella’s can’t be missed.

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