We all get in ruts. We go to our favorite places over and over again. We eat the same dishes. We drink the same drinks.
In 2020, I’d beseech you to take the time to diversify. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Eat something you’ve never eaten before. Escape your comfort zone and support the amazing chefs we have right in our own backyards.
To guide you on your journey, I’ve composed a list of 52 restaurants (in random order) that should be on your Milwaukee restaurant bucket list. Some are brand new. Others have been around for years. A few have been around for decades. Some take you slightly off the beaten path. But every one offers an experience worth pursuing. And even if you’ve already visited one or more of the spots on the list, consider this an invitation to make a return visit and try something new.
Why 52? I wanted the list to be manageable. Try just one of these every week and you’ll have visited them all by the end of 2020. The bigger bonus? With every new restaurant you try, you’ll become a more educated diner. There’s also a chance you’ll find your new favorite dish along the way.
And make sure you download the printable checklist companion for your fridge.
Note: While we’ve taken care to recommend primarily restaurant staples, seasonal menu changes are commonplace, so some dishes may not be available.
Egg & FlourItalian Crossroads Collective, 2238 N. Farwell Ave.
There’s nothing like housemade pasta, and Chef Adam Pawlak executes his well, tossing out a variety of shapes from simple pappardelle to shells and handmade ravioli. There’s consistency in favorites like creste di gallo with basil pesto and the fantastic, fresh-tasting burrata salad which makes a meal in and of itself. Oh, and if the squid ink bucatini with lobster and tomato cream makes it to the specials menu again, you should hightail it to the East Side to try it out. Egg & Flour will also add a Bay View location in 2020. [Read more].
Recommended: Creste di gallo; bucatini; burrata salad; specials$$
Snack BoysSnack Bar 814 S. 2nd St. (414) 509-5975
2020 is going to be an exciting year for Snack Boys, which is slated to move from Walker's Point to the East Side in late January. The new digs are likely to be bigger and better; but I'd encourage you to make a pilgrimage to the current location (for the first or 50th time) before they move. This ultra fun 1980s themed snack bar which serves up a scrumptious menu of elevated (and sometimes shareable) bites. Pay a visit for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, make a meal of their delicious noshes or go late-night (after 10 p.m. on weekends). [Read more about Snack Boys East Side move].
Recommended: Thursday night pizza; the rare (but delicious) dilly wings; pho$$
Lazy SusanNew American 2378 S. Howell Ave. (414) 988-7086
From wild game to inventive vegetable dishes and gluten-free options; you’ll find it all at Lazy Susan, a casual Bay View spot with a homey, eclectic feel. The Thursday night Korean fried chicken special is a must-try; it includes crisp, juicy chicken served up with delicious sides like spam mac and cheese (call ahead to reserve your whole or half chicken).
Recommended: On Wednesdays, a four-course dinner for two is just $50 (per couple)$$
Damascus GateMiddle Eastern 807 W. Historic Mitchell St. (414) 509-5975
There’s little more delightful than a trip Damascus Gate, where Syrian fare is both showcased and celebrated. There’s vibrant, lemony hummus and hand-rolled stuffed grape leaves with tangy pomegranate molasses. And don’t miss the fatayer (handmade pies); the spinach is deliciously nuanced and the cheese pies are both tasty and beautiful, flecked with black sesame seeds. Foods are also presented as both individual dishes and platters, allowing you to sample your way through numerous dishes in a single trip. [Read the compelling story of Damascus Gate].
Recommended: Fatayer; kefta; grape leaves; specials$
Char'dKorean 222 E. Erie St. (414) 885-2611
Korean fare is a rarity in Milwaukee, but you can find beautiful, well executed modern Korean fare in a comfortable environment at Char’d, which offers a compelling menu of shareable tapas and flavorful entrees. A visit on any night is certain to introduce you to something new; but I highly recommend visiting on a Sunday when you can indulge in a traditional Korean meal, complete with tasty (and often unusual) banchan. [Read more].
Recommended: Perilla avocado appetizer; beef galbi; yukgae jang$$
Ca'LucchenzoItalian 6030 W. North Ave. (414) 312-8968
Although new to the scene, Ca’Lucchenzo is a restaurant which has demonstrated a commitment to both attentive service and a menu that pays homage to the regional dishes of Italy with dishes including antipasti, housemade pastas and seasonally appropriate entrees. If there’s Sardinian gnocchi on the menu, be sure to order it; an early iteration of the unique pasta was served with lamb ragu, bitter greens, anchovy breadcrumbs and pecorino. And it was fantastic. Reservations are highly recommended. [Read more].
Recommended: Braised veal & pork meatball with tomato sugo; fonduta arancino; pasta$$
La MerendaGlobal, Small plates 125 E. National Ave. (414) 389-0125
Inventive globally inspired shared plates are the hallmark at this classic Milwaukee restaurant where the menu showcases dishes from Italy and Mexico to Indonesia and Peru. It’s the perfect place to visit with a group of friends who love to try a variety of items. Be sure to order at least one dish that falls outside your comfort zone. And if osso bucco is on the menu, be sure to order it; it’s excellent.
Recommended: Goat cheese curds; Columbian empanadas; seasonal risotto$$-$$$
EsterEvNew American 360 E. Erie St. (414) 488-8036
Who doesn't love a good tasting menu with beautifully prepared, imaginative fare? That's exactly what you'll get when you dine at EsterEv, the tiny little restaurant-within-a-restaurant hidden inside of DanDan where Chefs Daniel Jacobs and Dan Van Rite pull out the stops with creative fine dining dishes. Despite the caliber of the dishes served, the beauty of Ester Ev is that it remains a comfortable spot with little to no pretense. It’s something reflected in not only the atmosphere and mood, but also the pricing. A meal at EsterEv feels grand, but it's also one of the best finer dining deals in the city at less than $100 per person. Dinner at EsterEv is offered Friday and Saturday, at 6:30 p.m.
Recommended: Braised veal & pork meatball with tomato sugo; fonduta arancino; pasta$$$$
The National CafeBreakfast, Lunch 839 W. National Ave. (414) 431-6551
The draw of this Walker’s Point spot is as much about the cozy, welcoming vibe in the cafe as it is about the food, which is smattered with a mix of classics and internationally inspired offerings. I love heading there in the early afternoon after the lunch crowd has cleared. I'll sit and work while enjoying a great breakfast dish (like the Full English) or one of the many daily specials. And on a cold blustery day, there's little better than a bowl of their silky tonkotsu ramen, also one of my favorites in the city.
Recommended: The smothered potato & chorizo burrito; The Hot Mess (weekends only; be sure to pair it with a bloody mary)$
Wy'East PizzaPizza 5601 W. Vliet St.(414)943-3278
Looking for a pizza spot that does things a bit differently? That’s Wy’East where you’ll find pies made with a chewy slow-fermented crust and just enough liberally doppled charring. The toppings are of great quality, with flavor combinations that show a true attention to detail. Pro tip: The dining room is small, so you’re likely to encounter a wait during peak hours. Nonetheless, Wy’East pizza tastes best when eaten at the restaurant; if you must carry out, ask them not to pre-cut the pizza (cutting it yourself ensures a warmer pie with a better crust).
Recommended: The Hot Marmot, seasonal specials$$
Strange TownVegan 2101 N. Prospect Ave. (414) 885-0404
Vegan or not, it’s worth your while to spend some time with the menu at Strange Town where an eclectic collection of vinyl sets the stage for an evening of nibbling. Offerings change frequently, but you can count on seasonal, fresh takes on globally inspired fare, plus a great list of natural wines and low ABV cocktails.
Recommended: Don’t forget to stop by for lunch.$$
BacchusNew American 925 E. Wells St. (414) 765-1166
If it’s been a while since you visited this long-time staple, you’ll likely be delighted by the changes. The newly renovated restaurant is beautiful, and its menu is thoughtful and flexible enough to accommodate a casual weeknight meal. Order what you like or indulge in three courses for just $55. A lovely vegetarian menu is also available. [Read more].
Recommended: Charred Spanish Octopus; risotto; venison loin$$-$$$$
Iron Grate BBQ Co.BBQ 4125 S. Howell Ave. (414) 455-1776
You’ll find classic wood-smoked meats (brisket, pork shoulder, hot links and chicken hindquarters) and southern inspired sides at this quaint spot on Milwaukee’s near South Side. Trying it out for the first time? Share a platter of three meats and three sides with a friend for just $32.
Recommended: More unique items like the Milwaukee rib or hickory butter shrimp$$
Prec1nct Tap + TableNew American W161 N11629 Church Ave., Germantown (262) 415-5680
Head to this new spot in Germantown and you'll be greeted by creative, yet casual dishes that combine an eye for flavor with a commitment to local and seasonal. Precinct’s menu includes fun, accessible favorites like burgers, housemade pizzas and flatbreads with a rotating cast of shareable plates, salads and entrees. [Read more].
Recommended: The Drive By Burger; bison carpaccio; fish and chips$$
the cheelNepalese 105 S. Main St., Thiensville (262) 236-9463
Take the short drive to Thiensville and you’ll be rewarded with a fragrant meal featuring the varied flavors of Nepal, a country with a rich culinary history not explored by many local venues. If you’re a first-timer, it’s worthwhile to try the Nepali thali, a flavorful tour of numerous Nepalese dishes. [Read more].
Recommended: The (nontraditional) Friday night fish fry; bandel roganjosh; shan noodles$$-$$$
Tavo's Signature CuisineMexican 5814 W. Bluemound Rd. (262) 239-8888
This tiny (tiny!) spot on the West Side is serving up some exceptional food that maintains a solid nod to tradition, but presents itself in a beautiful way. From fragrant housemade mole and ultra fresh guacamole to comforting burritos and well executed tacos, the food is consistently fresh and well presented and delivered with top notch service.
Recommended: Azteca guacamole; chicken enmolades; camarones a la diabla$$-$$$
Kin by Rice N RollJapanese, Thai 7484 W. State St., Wauwatosa (414) 524-9056
Venture to Kin in the Wauwatosa Village and you’ll be greeted with a menu filled with excellent Thai staples like drunken noodles and panang curry. But it gets even more fun when you dig a bit deeper, trying dishes like khaosoy, a curry from Northern Thailand that’s pretty difficult (if not impossible) to find elsewhere in the city. And you can’t go wrong with their fresh, beautifully presented sushi, including more unusual takes like salmon, tuna and hamachi zuke, an Edo style preparation which dates back to the 1800s.
Recommended: Khaosoy, crab fried rice; crispy pad thai shrimp; sushi$$
Buckley'sNew American 801 N. Cass St. (414) 277-1111
It’s been over a decade since the Buckley family established their restaurant on MIlwaukee’s lower East Side; but you’d barely know it thanks to a menu that’s kept up with the times in terms of both a great cocktail program and food menu doppled with both solid American classics and globally inspired dishes. On top of it all, the newly expanded restaurant is beautiful.
Recommended: Truffle fried artichokes; nightly specials; carrot cake$$-$$$
Proof PizzaNew American 139 E. Kilbourn Ave. (414) 270-4433
If you haven’t found reason to visit Saint Kate, Milwaukee’s first Arts Hotel, allow the draw of delicious pizza to inspire a trip. Proof pizzas are made with a nod to the Neapolitan style featuring a soft chewy crust with a crisp exterior and a crust dappled with char. The toppings are fresh and the pies affordable. I recommend enjoying your pizza in the art-filled lobby area, or at The Bar, where there is a combination of bar seating, communal workstations or modern couches with low tables for larger groups. [Read more].
Recommended: Wisconsin burrata with tomato jam and Tuscan bread; the Genoa pizza$$
Uncle Wolfie's Breakfast TavernBreakfast, Lunch 234 E. Vine St. (414) 763-3021
Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern is a can’t miss spot for both breakfast and lunch. Guests will find a mix of dishes that strike both familiar and creative notes, including creative omelettes, Benedicts and a host of tasty salads and sandwiches.
Recommended: The BELTCH; Hamburger with cheese$$
Bass Bay BrewhouseModern Supper Club S79 W15851 Aud Mar Dr., Muskego (414) 377-9449
If you love the comfortable vibe of a classic Wisconsin supper club, you might just find your happy place at Bass Bay Brewhouse, a casual spot that comes complete with a picturesque lakeside view. It’s a great spot for brunch or dinner, particularly in the summer months when you can take a seat on the covered porch-like patio. Their fish fry is also exceptional, but get there early or expect a wait.
Recommended: Burgers; prime rib; fried chicken$$
San Giorgio Pizzeria NapoletanaPizza 838 N. Old World 3rd St. (414) 276-2876
There’s no shortage of pizza on the Milwaukee scene. So why make a trek to San Giorgio? It’s simple: you’ll find well executed authentic Neapolitan style pies, antipasti and even spit-roasted Italian style chicken, if you’re so inclined. San Giorgio also claims the honor of being the singular Vera Pizza Napoletana certified pizza restaurant in Milwaukee. That means every bite of that chewy, wood-fired oven blasted crust is derived from a long tradition of Italian expertise.
Recommended: The flawlessly simple margherita or the rich quattro formaggio featuring smoked provola, fresh fior di latte mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola, fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil$$
C-VicheLatin American, Peruvian 2165 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View (414) 800-7329
From delicious specials like tender grilled octopus to menu standards like Peruvian anticuchos and lomo saltado, there's always something new to enjoy at C-Viche, a restaurant that aspires to showcase the wonders of Ibero-American fare.
Recommended: Ceviche; Peruvian style sushi from the nikkei menu; a pisco sour from the bar$$
Third Coast ProvisionsSeafood 724 N. Milwaukee St. (414) 323-7434
If you love seafood, Third Coast Provisions delivers some of the city's best in an environment that's as beautiful as the food. One could make a meal of raw oysters or crudo, including tuna with chiles, avocado and coconut or perfectly sweet halibut with refreshing cucumber and dill. You'll also find well-executed seasonal presentations of fish including salmon, halibut and walleye as well as dishes like the prerequisite surf 'n turf featuring filet mignon and your choice of crab, shrimp, scallops or lobster.
Recommended: Parker House rolls; crudo; lobster potholes; whole fish special$$
CelestaVegan 1978 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 231-3030
You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy dishes at Celesta, which caters to humanity’s innate desire to consume beautiful, comforting fare. On the ever-changing menu you’ll find vegan standards like macaroni & cheese as well as globally influenced plates, fried seitan and ramen.
Recommended: Macaroni & cheese; lasagna; housemade soups; daily specials$$
The TandemSouthern, Soul food 1848 W. Fond Du Lac Ave. (414) 885-19190
Both Southern and soul food are filled with heart. And you'll find fewer restaurants with a bigger heart than The Tandem. One is likely to find delight in their succulent fried chicken – I'm a sucker for the Memphis style myself – and I'd swear there's love cooked into those delectable greens often served on the side. There are countless wins, from the braised oxtails to the daily specials, so you'd be remiss to stop with the fried chicken. And it's all of those dishes, combined with The Tandem's compelling mission that makes the restaurant a must try. [Read more].
Recommended: Fried okra; greens; fried chicken; braised pork shoulder$$
Zócalo Food ParkFood Trucks 636 S. 6th St. (414) 433-9747
Want choices? You’ve got them, plus a liberal dose of community, at Zócalo Food Park. Relax with a drink at the airy, well-appointed tavern while enjoying dishes (from tacos and burgers to bagels, creative bowls and ice cream) from the food park’s collection of food trucks. It’s a casual dining experience unlike any other in the city.$
Crazy WaterNew American 4839 S. 2nd St. (414) 645-2606
Another staple restaurant which has stood the test of time is Crazy Water, with its beautifully eclectic interior and menu of classic, well-prepared dishes. Go in the summer and you can reserve a spot on the quaint enclosed patio or dine in the cozy dining area with a clear view of the tiny bar-side kitchen. On the menu you’ll find options like grilled branzino and seared diver scallops to veal scallopini and steak au poivre. If you can, save room for dessert; there’s always something tasty from which to choose.
Recommended: Baked oysters; crazy shrimp (a classic); specials$$$
Story Hill BKCNew American, Midwestern 5100 W. Bluemound Rd. (414) 539-4424
As West Side restaurants go, Story Hill remains among the best. Its Midwestern fare -- smattered with jolts of inspiration, both domestic and global -- is accessible without inciting boredom. It’s also a great place to go with friends who love to share dishes, since you can try a good number in one sitting. For similar reasons, it’s also a beautiful bet for brunch.
Recommended: Chicken meatball; Story Hill steak; brunch specials$$-$$$
Three BrothersSerbian 2414 S. St Clair St., Bay View (414) 481-7530
There are few spots more qualified to give you a taste of Old World Europe, more specifically Serbia, than Three Brothers. And a trip to dine there is both a cultural pursuit and a pleasure. Delve into classic Serbian dishes like flakey delicious burek (allow about an hour for preparation); goulash served with traditional Serbian dumplings; cevapcici (sausages); or roasted lamb. Save room for a house-made dessert. While you’re there, be sure to take in the charm of the building, which was a former Schlitz tied house.
Recommended: Burek; sarma; musaka; suckling pig$$
The OriginalNew American, Southern 2498 N. Bartlett Ave. (414) 763-4811
The Original is as comfortable as a neighborhood spot should be with approachable fare that goes the extra mile. Dishes seamlessly blend Midwestern sensibilities with distinctly Southern flair to more adventurous bits like crispy pig ears and octopus. The warm hospitable atmosphere is reason enough to go back again and again. Don’t miss their weekend brunch!
Recommended: Seasonal pork chop; scallops; craft cocktails$$-$$$
Blue Star CafeSomali, East African 1619 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 273-9744
Somali fare is comforting by nature, but at this humble little fast casual spot you’ll find it in spades. Among the remarkably affordable options you’ll find nibble-worthy sambusas, pastries filled with well seasoned meats or veggies, and platters of lightly seasoned tender goat cooked with onions, raisins and potato and served over basmati rice that’s heady with the aroma of spices … cinnamon, cumin, coriander and cardamom. Be sure to make liberal use of the bright, green chili-heavy basbaas cagaar, a sauce that I swear tastes good on just about anything.
Recommended: Sambusas, lamb platter with rice, hummus$
Kawa Ramen & SushiJapanese 2321 N. Murray Ave. (414) 800-7979
Beautiful, well-prepared sushi (including creatively executed maki) and ultra-consistent bowls of comforting ramen are both good bets at Kawa. Don’t be alarmed if they’re out of a dish when you visit; their kitchen orders prudently to ensure that items are as fresh as possible.
Recommended: If you like your ramen spicy, try the Hellfire Ramen.$$
Heaven's Table BBQBBQ Crossroads Collective, 2238 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 455-1160
Milwaukee’s BBQ game has gotten stronger over the past few years. Among the newest spots to tackle the art of smoked meats is Heaven’s Table, a catering business turned brick and mortar thanks to the Crossroads Collective food hall. Meats are hickory smoked and served up sans sauce with sides including fried corn, macaroni and cheese and some of the best cornbread I’ve had in the North.
Recommended: Cheddar jalapeno cornbread, brisket, Texas cut beef ribs (available Saturdays only)$$
SanfordNew American 1547 N. Jackson St. (414) 276-9608
In an age where new and shiny is king, there are still standards that deserve attention. Among them is Sanford, a staple fine dining spot that (quite literally) helped to put Milwaukee on the national dining map with its menu of globally inspired New American fare. If you can swing it, I’d recommend making a reservation and ordering the chef’s tasting menu, which will illustrate all the reasons why Sanford has stood the test of time. But you can also experience Sanford in more casual ways. Stop in for a cellared beer and appetizers before your next show. You’ll be glad you did. Pro tip: Guests tend to dress up at Sanford, insinuating there’s a dress code; but like most modern spots, there isn’t. Go as you feel comfortable; they won’t turn you away.
Recommended: The ever changing four-course exploration menu (served Monday through Friday)$$
Sze ChuanChinese 11102 W. National Ave. (414) 276-9608
If you’d like to taste great Chinese fare -- particularly dishes that hail from the Szechuan region -- look no further than Sze Chuan, a West Allis gem serving up an overwhelmingly large menu including cold dishes, noodles, Chinese staples and a selection of dry and stone pot dishes. If you’re a hot pot fan, they’ve got that in spades. Bring friends and order prudently (it’s easy to get carried away; you can always order more later.
Recommended: Szechuan pork dumplings; mustard greens with tofu skin; grilled curry lamb$$
Tofte's TableSmall plates 331 Riverfront St., Waukesha (414) 408-5633
If comforting shareable dishes -- like fried chicken, risotto and pork belly -- sound good, that’s what you’ll find on the menu at Tofte’s Table. From the beautifully shabby chic interior to the well-executed dishes and welcoming staff, this restaurant makes it well worth the trip to Waukesha.
Recommended: Grilled octopus; shortribs$$
FauntleroyModern French 316 N. Milwaukee St. (414) 269-9908
Modern French food is an adventure; and that’s what you’ll find at Fauntleroy a restaurant that provides diners with a taste of classic French fare (often delivered with a twist) against a backdrop of 70s rock music. Even their cheeseburger is worth a rave.
Recommended: Lyonnaise salad; French onion soup; half-chicken$$-$$$
Asian PapayoyoMalaysian 2020 W. Wisconsin Ave. (414) 935-1111
There aren’t many spots to enjoy Malaysian food in the area, so when you find one that represents with key dishes from the region, it’s a great idea to take advantage. While you can order Chinese dishes here, don’t sleep on the Malaysian entrees, including croissant-like roti with flavorful curry sauce, beautifully balanced beef curry and comforting soups. Expect fare redolent with the flavors of sambal, makrut lime leaf, lemongrass, pandan leaf, soybean paste and roots like turmeric, galangal and ginger.
Recommended: Roti canai; rendang tik curry beef with spicy chili prawns; nasi lemak (be sure to ask for this off-menu item)$
BrandywineNew American W61N480 Washington Ave, Cedarburg, WI 53012 (262) 618-4683
Enjoy expertly prepared food in charming, restored historic digs at Brandywine where Chef Andrew Wilson prepares memorable, beautifully plated dishes that change with the seasons. Specials are worth your attention, and the seasonal housemade pasta seldom fails to impress.
Recommended: Housemade pasta, roasted chicken$$-$$$
Birch + ButcherNew American 459 E. Pleasant St. (414) 323-7372
Experience the flavor of hearth-fired cooking in comfortably sleek modern digs at Birch + Butcher. In so many cases, the dishes are deceptively simple. But the care and technical expertise employed to suss extraordinary flavor from local and regional ingredients is what makes eating here a joy. Brunch -- featuring excellent biscuits and gravy, steak and eggs, waffles and a lox platter -- is an equally good bet.
Recommended: Bread service (truly); barbequed parsnips; coal-roasted aged ribeye$$
The DiplomatNew American 815 E. Brady St. (414) 800-5816
Eating at The Diplomat is a pleasure. It’s the sort of place that’s comfortable enough for a weeknight meal, but entirely worthy of a special occasion. The menu rings similarly, featuring well executed fare (much of which is shareable) from warming soups and comforting lentils to seasonal gnocchi and Asian inspired shortribs. Don’t miss the Diplomac Burger, which features a housemade sesame bun and all the fixin’s.
Recommended: Date carpaccio; corn grits; chicken in a biscuit$$
GoodkindNew American 2457 S. Wentworth Ave., Bay View (414) 763-4706
Restaurants with a friendly, welcoming vibe tend to make the top of everyone’s list. And such it is with Goodkind where the people seem as delightful as the fare. The menu changes frequently, so there’s always something new to enjoy. Highlights include fried calamari augmented with delightful fried lemon slices, housemade pasta and crispy skinned rotisserie chicken that’s as flavorful as it is tender. Goodkind is also a great spot for late night eats or brunch.
Recommended: Champagne battered oyster mushrooms; spicy crab pasta; rotisserie chicken$$$
AmilindaSpanish, Portuguese 315 E. Wisconsin Ave. (414) 369-3683
If Spanish and Portuguese-inspired fare sounds delicious, set sails for Amilinda. Their digs are quaint and the menu is small and focused, but dishes rotate often, depending on what's fresh and in season, so your tastebuds won’t tire. At any given moment, you could find empanadas, bacalhau (salt cod), housemade sausages or (if you’re lucky) piri piri chicken, a dish that’s always a solid bet.
Recommended: Seasonal fish dishes; braised meats; piri piri chicken$$-$$$
Odd DuckSmall Plates 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View (414) 763-5881
Can one ever tire of Odd Duck? I think not. It’s a delightful spot for food lovers to graze on countless shareable dishes from Korean pancakes and Moroccan kofta to whimsical bites like fried broccoli with "cheese poofs.’ It’s also one of those places where vegetable dishes shine just as brightly as meaty options, so don’t hesitate to order broadly. I’m foregoing recommendations here as the menu is a moving target; but open-minded diners will find a good many wins here, no matter what they order.$$
TochiRamen 705 Village Green Way #102, West Bend (262) 429-1515
Why travel 40 minutes for ramen? Why not? When the options are as good as they are at Tochi, you can’t lose. Choose from multiple ramen styles including unctuous traditional tonkotsu, shrimp kimchi shio to solidly creative takes like bacon apple mazeman with goat cheese. You’ll also find udon and rice dishes and playful nibbles like spam buns and brat stickers.
Recommended: Tonkotsu; beef mazeman; chicken chorizo udon$$
Momo MeeAsian 110 E. Greenfield Ave. (414) 316-9003
There’s something special about handcrafted noodles and beautifully made dumplings. And you’ll find both at Momo Mee, a newcomer to the rapidly developing Harbor District. Their pan-Asian menu features a smattering of dishes from countries including Korea, India, Japan and China. Amid familiar items like fried rice, steamed buns and ramen, diners will also find more adventurous dishes like Korean Jjampong, Thai gang ped and xiao long bao (soup dumplings).
Recommended: Dan dan noodles; xiao long bao; jjamppong; Japanese garlic eggplant$$
Kegel’s InnGerman 5901 W. National Ave., West Allis (414) 257-9999
Experience a bit of old Milwaukee at Kegel’s Inn, one of the oldest family owned restaurants in town. If you’ve only been to this gem for a Friday night fish fry, it’s time to head back to try something new; Julian Kegel and his wife Stephanie have been busy making improvements to the restaurant’s German menu, making it worth another visit.
Recommended: Pork shank, spaetzle, roasted duck$$
MorelNew American 430 S. 2nd St. (414) 897-0747
How Morel manages to fly under the dining radar so adeptly has always been a mystery to me. It’s a place where you’ll find consistently well-executed dishes featuring not only local ingredients, but any number of housemade items from ricotta cheese to pasta, sausage and biscuits. Order with your cravings; I’ve yet to find dishes there that fall very far short of expectation.
Recommended: Lamb (an evolving dish of lamb served three ways); housemade gnudi (when available); save room for dessert.$$-$$$
Bavette La BoucherieNew American 330 E. Menomonee St. (414) 273-3375
Bavette is low-key and unassuming, the sort of restaurant which defies expectation at every turn. Take for instance, their seasonal sandwich menu, which might feature a spectacular pork belly bahn mi one day and steak with truffled mushroom duxelle and roasted grapes the next. The same is true for their salads, which are so well constructed they could justifiably suffice as a meal. And the entrees? They’re always changing, and each iteration seems better than the last. You can also visit Bavette’s sister location at the Mequon Public Market.
Recommended: Charcuterie plates; beef tongue reuben; seasonal dishes$$
Hotel MadridSpanish 600 S. 6th St. (414) 488-9146
Hotel Madrid has many faces: from its well-appointed patio and comfortable, casual bar to its eclectic dining room, complete with an open kitchen and chef’s table. And when you dine there, you can choose the sort of experience that fits. Any way you plan it, you’ll have access to a delicious menu of rustic, worldly Spanish fare -- from small shareable plates to full-sized entrees-- a masterfully curated wine list, housemade vermouth and well-made cocktails.
Recommended: Empanadillas; octopus; fried chicken; housemade vermouth$$-$$$
BraiseNew American 1101 S. 2nd St. (414) 212-8843
Local food takes on a global view at Braise, where cooks get truly creative with seasonal fare, from fresh tomato salads during the summer months to rum glazed parsnips or dirty chai beets in the winter. Meat eaters will find options like housemade merguez sausage, filipino braised pork and the like. Choose from shareables and entrees or opt for one of the family style meals for two, which always features at least one vegetarian option plus a few meat-based choices priced $40 or less. It’s a nice choice for a casual date night.
Recommended: Seasonal soups; pork buns; housemade sausage$$-$$$