Hot off the minds of Midwest travel writers: a fresh look at where to eat and drink, play and stay around the region.

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Nobu, a sleek sushi restaurant in Chicag
Nobu Hotel rooftop
| Credit: NOBU HOTEL CHICAGO

Eat & Drink

Sushi, Sake and Chill, Chicago

Do as the celebs do and dine at Nobu, a sleek sushi restaurant with outposts in major cities across the world—and now in Chicago. The Nobu Hotel group unveiled its first Midwest edition last year in the vibrant West Loop neighborhood. Nobu's signature restaurant gets three different expressions: a dining room on the ground floor, a 28-foot sushi bar on the mezzanine level and a rooftop on the 11th floor. Favorite dishes include Chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa's signature black cod with miso, rock shrimp tempura and yellowtail sashimi. nobuhotels.com

Empowered Brews, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Given the choice, would you rather visit a coffee chain or a local shop with a philanthropic bent? The answer is clear in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: When Inspired Coffee opened downtown last June, the community showed up in droves to back the shop's mission of employing people with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. "Everyone really came out to support us," says Merik Fell, director of development at Inspiration Ministries. "Every purchase of a cup of coffee is helping a person with a disability thrive in our community." Beans are roasted locally, and sweet treats come from local Hummingbird Bake Shop. inspiredcoffee.org

From Refugees to Restaurateurs, Detroit

When husband and wife Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere were forced to flee their home in Burundi in 2014, they faced an uncertain life in a new country. Nijimbere had been persecuted for her work as a human rights advocate and sought asylum in the United States. The couple's path led them to the Motor City, where they found solace at Freedom House Detroit, a nonprofit providing services to asylum seekers.

Eager to launch a business, they began making and serving East African dishes at pop-ups. They quickly gained a following and their long-awaited East African restaurant Baobab Fare is now open for lunch, dinner, and grab-and-go in Detroit's West Village neighborhood. (Don't leave without trying the plantains.)

The couple hopes Baobab Fare will be a beacon of East African culture as well as a safe space for all who visit, regardless of background or immigration status. Hoping to pay forward the help they received, Mamba and Nijimbere still work closely with Freedom House, giving jobs to former residents who are getting their start in the Midwest. baobabfare.com

Brother Justus Whiskey Company
Brother Justus Whiskey Company
| Credit: BROTHER JUSTUS WHISKEY CO.

Whiskey Business, Minneapolis

Named after a monk who distilled whiskey during Prohibition, Brother Justus Whiskey Company espouses the same commitment to high-proof excellence. After six years perfecting single malt recipes in an underground lab, the distillery has opened a breezy tasting room to show off the goods.

"We want to get the flavors of the northland into a glass," says founder Phil Steger. It's the only whiskey in the world made with Minnesota-sourced peat. Don't love whiskey? Don't write it off yet. Try Brother Justus' Silver Whiskey—a single malt that resembles a delicately botanical clear spirit, like blanco tequila or gin. brotherjustus.com

Play

March of the Penguins, Evansville, Indiana

Humboldt penguins would like you to stop putting them in a wintry box, please. Evansville's Mesker Park Zoo invites visitors to hang with this summer-loving South American species year-round at the new Penguins of Patagonia exhibit, opening in August. "Penguins are always a fan favorite," says Danny Schembre, the zoo's marketing director. "They're a fun, charismatic bird, and they'll provide a new energy to the zoo." This nearly $7 million project is the only Humboldt penguin habitat in Indiana. Modeled after a Chilean seaside, the exhibit will mimic the birds' natural environs and feature deep-water views through multiple windows as the little guys dive, swim and splash around. meskerparkzoo.com

Fire and Water, Chicago

When friends and Navy veterans Erich Totsch and Raymond Novak found a historic Chicago fireboat for sale, they knew they wanted to get back on the water—this time as business owners. The only one of its kind in the area, Chicago Fireboat Tours invites passengers on board the Fred A. Busse, a 1936 fireboat that was active in the Chicago Fire Department for over 40 years. Daily guided historical tours, sunset cruises and special fireworks viewings ply the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. fireboattours.com

Stay

Knocking on New Doors, Door County, Wisconsin

Some things about Door County should never change. Cherry pie. Fish boils. The goats on the roof at Al Johnson's. But new places to bed down on the famously picturesque Lake Michigan peninsula? We'll always take more of those. In Fish Creek, new owners Matt and Susie Cottick have unveiled bright renovations at the Cedar Court Inn. Think Scandinavian coastal design and retro touches. "We wanted to bring back that family-style vacation," Susie says. Rooms feature plenty of space to hang out, and the outdoor courtyard has bag games, a firepit and oversized-backyard vibes. cedarcourt.com

Dorr Hotel Door County Wisconsin
The Dörr Hotel rendering
| Credit: Courtesy of The Dörr Hotel

As of Memorial Day weekend, The Dörr Hotel will open as the area's first new large hotel in nearly 20 years. Architects kept the region's landscape and Nordic heritage top of mind when designing the boutique property—nearly every room has a private patio overlooking Sister Bay. thedorrhotel.com

Hello Earl, Charlevoix, Michigan

Spotting Earl Young's hobbit-esque Mushroom Houses has always been a quirky side show in the Lake Michigan town of Charlevoix. But the architectural designer's downtown waterfront hotel, known recently as Earl Young's Weathervane Lodge, was due for a refresh. Now called the Hotel Earl, the 1959 property—which sits near the town's iconic drawbridge and puts guests in walking distance of beaches, shopping and dining—has been reimagined with both preservation and luxury in mind. Don Draper vibes still emanate (we're talking Victrola Bluetooth radios and colorful mod furniture), but you can also charge your Tesla. hotelearl.com