Kosmo’s, to me, represents everything good about Ann Arbor. It’s not extravagant, not rich, not immaculate, not famous, not large, and definitely not exclusive. It nonetheless manages to maintain a special status in Kerrytown, which I conceive of as the cultural epicenter of Ann Arbor. Everyone can find a fitting meal at Kosmo’s, and they do, making its habitues a varied and unpredictable lot. Businessmen in blazers, Community High School students, grandparents with grandchildren, hippies and athletes and geeks of all ages and identities, they all sit side-by-side at those dingy little black tables, like they wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. Judging by its patrons, Kosmos couldn’t be more cosmopolitan.

The people behind the counter aren’t a shabby sight either, and by that, I mean they ARE. Shabby in just about every way, sporting every faux pas from excessive piercings to unkempt, uncovered, greasy hair. But they’re lovely. Almost without exception, the waiters at Kosmo’s are some of the most open, helpful, considerate early-twenty-year-olds you could find. Which is a funny result of the owner’s application process: he doesn’t have one. He hires by word of mouth. Most of the current workers at Kosmo’s are just the friends of the old workers. Don’t let my maybe-overly-generous appraisal put you off, though. These guys really remember what I order, sometimes from weeks past, always ask politely anyway, and generally produce fine service. Two Kosmo’s employees in particular (who, I think, recently moved on), named Anna and Evan, were phenomenal. They talked it up, joked with us, remembered my preferences, remembered my mother’s preferences, remembered my allergies, served so well that my mom and I began to think of them as friends. And Kosmo’s atmosphere encourages friendship like no other. Surrounded by happy shoppers, windows, and the homey smell of fish and spice, it feels like more than a deli. I even had a birthday there once–the owner gave me a Kosmo’s shirt for that.

The food, finally, makes it all-American in a way only true Ann Arborites could think of as “American.” It takes some of the traditions of Korean cuisine and throws them unceremoniously onto generic, simple American dishes, and the whole always manages to be greater than the sum of the parts. Who would have thought kimchee went so well with hotdogs and cheeseburgers? My mother, for example, always orders the bi-bim-bop–like a chopped salad, except with some crazy-awesome (chili?) sauce, and added tofu. I just ordered that earlier this week; it’s the first vegan dish I’ve ever actually loved. It should finally be noted that you can find either healthy food or junk food at Kosmo’s, and all for a fair price. My mom doesn’t complain about the price, anyway, which is saying something.

I think Kosmo’s has the best food in the cosmos.