The Motor City is famous for a few regional delicacies, the most popular of which are Detroit-style pizza and Coney dogs. These foods are well known among tourists, but if you spend more time getting to know the city you’ll uncover lesser known treats like botanas, or the blended ginger ale float confusingly known as the Boston Cooler, or the sumptuous Sanders Bumpy Cake. Among these under-the-radar favorites is a beloved local sandwich that hails from the National Coney Island restaurant chain. It’s got a few different names, but if you go straight to the source, it’s simply known as a Hani.
The Coney diaspora is complex, but here’s a brief rundown: “Coney” refers to Detroit’s iconic Coney Island chili dog, which comes topped with chili, raw onions, and yellow mustard. However, the term “Coneys” also serves as a sort of shorthand for the Greek-American restaurants (Coney Islands) themselves. It can be a little confusing if you’re from out of town. “Why are we calling everything a Coney?” is a question I found myself asking my second week in Detroit.
The most well-known Coney restaurants, American and Lafayette, are somewhat rivals, but there exists a plethora of other Coneys within the city, too: Zeff’s, Duly’s, Leo’s, Grandy’s, and Kerby’s, all of which have their ardent fans. Most of those Coneys are one-off restaurants, whereas National Coney Island is a chain, and its iconic dish is a chicken pita wrap called a Hani.
The Detroit Free Press explains that the Hani was invented in 1985 by a line cook named, you guessed it, Hani, at the National Coney Island on 7 Mile Road and Mack Avenue.
It starts with a fluffy pita, the same used to wrap gyro meat, then it’s filled with slices of crispy fried chicken along with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and melted shredded cheese, usually a combo of Swiss and cheddar. Sometimes, the sandwich comes served with ranch. In fact, the Hani is best with ranch.
While it might not seem all that spectacular on paper, it is exactly the type of humble, wholly satisfying meal that Detroit loves. It’s on par with a Coney dog in that way—nothing flashy, but specific enough to exist in its own category.
Now, outside of National Coney Island, you’ll see the Hani labeled as a “chicken finger pita wrap.” That’s because National Coney Island is very protective of its baby; it filed the Hani for a U.S. trademark after seeing other restaurants and bars selling “Hanis” on their menus. Though National has the rights to the name, it doesn’t own the food item itself. Many Coneys still serve the wrap, like Duly’s in Southwest Detroit.
This chicken finger pita wrap from Duly’s came with a scalding hot pita. Like, it was impossible to pick up. Once it cooled, though, the bread was delightfully fluffy, with some nice crispy edges on the exterior. Soft pita cooked on a flattop is almost always delicious, and this didn’t disappoint. The chicken tenders were perfectly crispy, though the poultry itself was nothing spectacular. My guess is these are just frozen tenders, but they’re deep fried for that ncie oleaginous flavor. This is, and I say this lovingly, cafeteria junk food, and/or the type of thing you eat after hitting some late-night raves around Detroit.
The only crime at Duly’s is the use of store-bought bottled ranch—my palate detects Hidden Valley. That’s a shame, because Michigan has plenty of businesses that distinguish themselves with house-made ranch (see: Jet’s, Grandma Bob’s, Bunny Bunny, etc.), and with a subpar dressing Duly’s is doing a disservice to the Hani itself. Sauce is a huge consideration in a Hani.
Not that Hani sales are suffering due to any execution flaws. As quintessential late-night food, this sandwich has mass appeal, especially with the younger crowd.
“Over the years, it’s just grown to a big percentage of our menu [sales] almost to where it’s rivaling the hot dog and the coney dog,” National Coney Island president Tom Giftos told Eater earlier this year. In May 2023, National even opened a spinoff restaurant, Pop’s Hani Shop, dedicated to the sandwich.
Along with burgers, Coney dogs, and gyros, Pop’s serves the classic Hani served at National Coney Island, with Swiss and cheddar cheese. The menu also includes plenty of Hani spinoffs, like the bacon avocado ranch Hani, the spicy Southwest Hani with pepperjack cheese and chipotle aioli, and the Parm Hani with marinara, mozzarella, and fresh basil. Clearly this wrap is making gains in the modern Detroit food scene.
The Hani at Pop’s is pretty darn good. The ranch is far better than what I had at Duly’s, and the cheese blend is a step up from bagged stuff, too. The pita bread is made by hand and the chicken is battered in-house (no Sysco chicken tenders here). It comes wrapped, cut, and stabbed with frilly toothpicks like a club sandwich. I have no complaints.
Does the Hani’s recent growth in popularity threaten the supremacy of the Detroit Coney dog? This Detroit Free Press article from 2015 indicates that there might be a rivalry between the two local delicacies, but that mostly seems to be press drummed up by National Coney Island itself. I decided to reach out to Detroit-based reporter and restaurant critic Melody Baetens Malosh, who had this to say:
I don’t see there being a real rivalry between the Coney and the Hani. Maybe in the minds of National Coney Island for marketing purposes (which is possibly what sparked the Freep story), but out in the real food world of Detroit no one is debating Coney vs. Hani. Detroiters DO love Hanis, but I don’t think that “debate” or “rivalry” is a real thing. The Coney debate is always American vs. Lafayette.
So, no, nobody is pitting these two Detroit stalwarts against one another. because they don’t really need to. Within Detroit, the Hani is wildly popular, and Pop’s Hani Shop is trying hard to vault it to icon status. Maybe this really is the first sign of a cultural shift, a glimpse of a possible future in which Detroit will be known and celebrated for its chicken finger pita wraps just as much as its Coney dogs. For now, though, it remains a sandwich that only locals know about.