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 2019, I’d beseech you to rethink your dining strategy and really explore the dining landscape in and around Milwaukee. 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 support you in your journey, I’ve comprised a list of 52 restaurants for your bucket list in 2019 (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, it’s a great opportunity to revisit them 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 2019. 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.
Snack BoysSnack Bar 814 S. 2nd St. (414) 509-5975
Snack Boys is an ultra fun 1980s themed snack bar which serves up a scrumptious menu of elevated (and sometimes shareable) bites. It’s the perfect spot to make a meal of inventive noshes, either during the traditional dinner hour or after 10 p.m. on weekends. With Chef Mitch Ciohon at the helm, you can be sure each snack on their ever-changing list is pretty darn delicious. [Read more about the inspiration behind Snack Boys here].
Recommended: "Send Noods" noodle dish; "What’s Up Turkey Butt" (confited turkey tail)$$
BrandywineNew American W61 N480 Washington Ave., Cedarburg (262) 618-4683
Wy’East PizzaPizza 5601 W Vliet St. (414) 943-3278
Looking for a pizza spot that does things a bit differently? That’s Wy’East where you’ll find pies made with a chewy slow-fermented crust and just enough liberally doppled charring. The toppings are of great quality, with flavor combinations that show a true attention to detail. [Read more about Wy'East Pizza here].
Recommended: The Hot Marmot, seasonal specials
Pro tip: The dining room is small, so you’re likely to encounter a wait during peak hours. Nonetheless, Wy’East pizza tastes best when eaten at the restaurant; if you must carry out, ask them not to pre-cut the pizza (cutting it yourself ensures a warmer pie with a better crust).$$
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. [Read more about Kawa Ramen & Sushi here].
Recommended: If you like your ramen spicy, try the Hellfire Ramen.$$
Kegel’s InnGerman 5901 W. National Ave., West Allis (414) 257-9999
Experience a bit of old Milwaukee at Kegel’s Inn, one of the oldest family owned restaurants in town. If you’ve only been to this gem for a Friday night fish fry, it’s time to head back to try something new; Julian Kegel and his wife Stephanie have been busy making improvements to the restaurant’s German menu, making it worth another visit.
Recommended: pork shank, spaetzle, roasted duck$$
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 about the cheel here].
Recommended: The (nontraditional) Friday night fish fry; bandel roganjosh; shan noodles$$
Strange TownVegan 2101 N. Prospect Ave. (414) 885-0404
Vegan or not, it’s worth your while to spend some time with the menu at Strange Town where an eclectic collection of vinyl sets the stage for an evening of nibbling. Offerings change frequently, but you can count on seasonal, fresh takes on globally inspired fare. [Read more about Strange Town here].
Recommended: Date night on Tuesdays, featuring Sicilian pizza, salad, dessert, and wine for two (just $40)$$
Ristorante BartolottaItalian 7616 W. State St., Wauwatosa (414) 771-7910
If you’ve not been to the Bartolotta flagship restaurant (or if it’s been a while), you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. After all, this restaurant has now been a Milwaukee staple for over 25 years. Whether you stick with simple standards like housemade pappardelle with duck ragu or branch out to try something new off the chef’s seasonal menu, a trip to Ristorante is always a pleasure worth having. [Read more about recent updates to Ristorante Bartolotta here].
Recommended: Tuscan gnudi; pollo al mattone (brick roasted half chicken)$$$
Iron Grate BBQ Co.BBQ 4125 S. Howell Ave. (414) 455-1776
You’ll find classic wood-smoked meats (brisket, pork shoulder, hot links and chicken hindquarters) and southern inspired sides at this quaint spot on Milwaukee’s near South Side. Trying it out for the first time? Share a platter of three meats and three sides with a friend for just $32. [Read more about Iron Grate BBQ Co. here].
Recommended: more unique items like the Milwaukee rib or hickory butter shrimp$$
IntervalNew American 1600 N. Jackson St.
Ah, the wonderments of a fine-dining style menu that doesn’t cost a bundle! That’s really what you’ll find at Interval, where the beautifully inventive menu from Chef Travis Cook surprises and delights around every turn. Stop in for lunch and you can be assured of items like an excellent beef carpaccio and wedge salad. Come for dinner and you’ll find an ever-changing assortment of interesting dishes featuring a combination of fresh, pickled, dehydrated and delicately sauced items a few of which make inventive use of Pilcrow Coffee. [Read more about Interval here].$$
Chilango ExpressMexican 6821 W. Lincoln Ave. (414) 541-8201
Don’t discount this unexpected gem, which has been located inside a gas station in West Allis for years. Indeed, Chilango Express is a surprise with every bite. Try their delicious house-made huaraches, made to order and filled with refried beans and seasonal ingredients like squash blossoms and cactus. Or indulge in delicious tacos – from al pastor and chorizo to huitlacoche and poblanos – served on delicious warm handmade tortillas. As for that gas station location, it’s being traded for bigger digs at 7030 W. Lincoln beginning March 14, 2019. And you can be assured that’s good news all around.
Recommended: Get there on Sundays for their roasted lamb$
Irie ZuluAfrican, Jamaican 7237 W. North Ave. (414) 509-6014
There are few places that make the foods of Africa and Jamaica more accessible than Irie Zulu, a restaurant which has established an unprecedented reputation in East Tosa. Each dish is accompanied by a poignant story from the diaspora, making an everyday (or special occasion) meal even more memorable. [Read more about Irie Zulu here].
Recommended: jerk chicken; oxtail$$
Rice N Roll BistroJapanese, Thai 1952 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 220-9944
This East Side spot has made a name for itself with fast, friendly service and a menu filled with excellent Thai staples like basil fried rice and pad Thai. 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. Alternatively, you really can’t beat the reasonable prices on their sushi, which is beautifully presented with inventive flavor profiles to match. [Read more about Rice N Roll here].
Recommended: ceviche, khaosoy, crab fried rice$$
Buckley’sNew American 3908 N. Cass St. (414) 277-1111
It’s been over a decade since the Buckley family established their restaurant on MIlwaukee’s lower East Side; but you’d barely know it thanks to a menu that’s kept up with the times in terms of both a great cocktail program and food menu doppled with both solid American classics and globally inspired dishes. [Read more about the newly expanded Buckley's here].
Recommended: truffle fried artichokes; bahn mi; carrot cake$$
Glass + GriddleBrewpub 1130 N. 9th St. (414) 988-1551
If you’ve not been to Milwaukee’s newest beer hall, it’s time you paid a visit to Glass + Griddle, a spot which provides as much in atmosphere (envision being surrounded by glass walls and myriad plants) as it does in terms of beer-worthy fare. Settle in with a beer and a few snacks (try the Korean chicken wings or buffalo sprouts) or indulge in simple fare like the Italian pork sandwich or a burger. Either way, you’ll find something memorable. [Read the review of the G+G smash burger here].
Recommended: cauliflower and chickpeas; lamb merguez burger; falafel$$
The National CafeBreakfast, Lunch 839 W. National Ave. (414) 431-6551
The draw of this Walker’s Point spot is as much about the cozy, welcoming vibe in the cafe as it is about the food, which is smattered with a mix of classics and internationally inspired offerings. I love heading there in the early afternoon after the lunch crowd has cleared. I’ll sit and work while enjoying a great breakfast dish (like the Full English) or one of the many daily specials. And on a cold blustery day, there’s little better than a bowl of their silky tonkotsu ramen, also one of my favorites in the city. [Read about a few of the dishes at The National here].
Recommended: The Hot Mess (weekends only); turkey, bacon and brie panini$$
Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast TavernBreakfast, Lunch 234 E. Vine St. (414) 763-3021
Among the most anticipated openings of 2018, 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. Don’t miss indulging in their tasty bloody mary or anything off their simple, yet tasty cocktail menu. [Read more about Uncle Wolfie's here].
Recommended: The BELTCH; sweet potato chorizo omelette$$
Bass Bay BrewhouseBrewpub S79 W15851 Aud Mar Dr., Muskego (414) 377-9449
If you love the comfortable vibe of a classic Wisconsin supper club, you might just find your happy place at Bass Bay Brewhouse, a casual spot that comes complete with a picturesque lakeside view. It’s a great spot for brunch or dinner, particularly in the summer months when you can take a seat on the covered porch-like patio. Their fish fry is also exceptional, but get there early or expect a wait. [Read more about Bass Bay Brewhouse here].
Recommended: mushroom Swiss burger; prime rib; fried chicken$$
San Giorgio Pizzeria NapoletanaItalian 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. [Read more about San Giorgio here].
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$$
C-VicheLatin American, Peruvian 2165 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View (414) 800-7329
From delicious specials like tender grilled octopus to menu standards like Peruvian anticuchos and lomo saltado, there’s always something new to enjoy at C-Viche, a restaurant that aspires to showcase the wonders of Ibero-American fare. [Read more about the Nikkei menu here].
Recommended: ceviche; Peruvian style sushi from the nikkei menu; a pisco sour from the bar$$
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. But there’s sheer joy in the buttery lobster potholes, a luxurious dish featuring crab and lobster drenched in garlic butter with brioche for dipping. 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. [Tune in to our recent FoodCrush podcast episode featuring Chef Andrew Miller of Third Coast Provisions].
Recommended: Parker House rolls; crudo; lobster potholes$$-$$$
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.$$-$$$
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. [Read more about Celesta here].
Recommended: macaroni & cheese; housemade soups; daily specials$$
BavetteNew American 330 E. Menomonee St. (414) 273-3375
Bavette is low-key and unassuming, the sort of restaurant which defies expectation at every turn. Take for instance, their seasonal sandwich menu, which might feature a spectacular pork belly bahn mi one day and steak with truffled mushroom duxelle and roasted grapes the next. The same is true for their salads, which are so well constructed they could justifiably suffice as a meal. And the entrees? They’re always changing, and each iteration seems better than the last. [Tune in to our recent FoodCrush podcast episode featuring Chef Karen Bell of Bavette].
Recommended: charcuterie plates; beef tongue reuben; seasonal plates$$
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. [Read about happy hour at Story Hill BKC]
Recommended: chicken meatball; Story Hill steak; brunch specials$$
Don’s DinerUpscale diner 1100 S. 1st St. (414) 808-0805
There’s really nothing in Milwaukee like Don’s Diner, an upscale spot that will take you back to the days of the soda jerk while propelling you directly into a comfort-food-wielding future with dishes like buttermilk Sprite pancakes, deconstructed chicken pot pie and lamb meatballs with pasta and mushroom truffle demiglace. [Read all about the over-the-top Don's Burger at Don's Diner]
Recommended: corned beef tongue hash; bologna sandwich; boozie shakes$$
The OriginalNew American 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. [Read more about the foundations behind The Originalxydeztcdzstatqaezyazucxatbatzf].
Recommended: seasonal pork chop; scallops; craft cocktails$$
Blue Star CafeSomali, East African 1619 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 273-9744
Somali fare is comforting by nature, but at this humble little fast casual spot you’ll find it in spades. Among the remarkably affordable options you’ll find nibble-worthy sambusas, pastries filled with well seasoned meats or veggies, and platters of lightly seasoned tender goat cooked with onions, raisins and potato and served over basmati rice that’s heady with the aroma of spices … cinnamon, cumin, coriander and cardamom. Be sure to make liberal use of the bright, green chili-heavy basbaas cagaar, a sauce that I swear tastes good on just about anything. [Read more about Blue Star Cafe here].
Recommended: Sambusas, lamb platter with rice, hummus$
Hungry SumoJapanese 2663 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (414) 595-9656
Part of the beauty of Hungry Sumo is the varied dishes available from inventive sushi and sashimi to Thai curries and standards like pad Thai. It’s a beautiful spot to relish Thai flavors, and it’s an unexpected spot to indulge in a great bowl of ramen. Fair warning: the ramen is likely to be your gateway drug to many repeat visits.
Recommended: sashimi and nigiri; ramen; specials$$
Kim’s ThaiThai 938 W Layton Ave. (414) 282-8687
Kim’s Thai is a restaurant where all the sweet, sour and spicy flavors of Thailand come together on a single menu. Rich flavorful curries are well prepared along with items like green papaya salad and pad lad na with its chewy thick noodles, fresh vegetables and flavorful sauce. Thai style chicken wings are superbly crisp on the exterior, with a beautifully seasoned filling. [Read more about Kim's Thai].
Recommended: pad lad na; Thai chicken wings; curry squash$
Heaven’s Table BBQ (in the Crossroads Collective)BBQ 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. [Read more about Heaven's Table at Crossroads Collective].
Recommended: firecracker cornbread, brisket, beef ribs (available Saturdays only)$$
SanfordNew American 1547 N. Jackson St. (414) 276-9608
In an age where new and shiny is king, there are still standards that deserve attention. Among them is Sanford, a staple fine dining spot that (quite literally) helped to put Milwaukee on the national dining map with its menu of globally inspired New American fare. If you can swing it, I’d recommend making a reservation and ordering the chef’s tasting menu, which will illustrate all the reasons why Sanford has stood the test of time. But you can also experience Sanford in more casual ways. Stop in for a cellared beer and appetizers before your next show. You’ll be glad you did.
Pro tip: Guests tend to dress up at Sanford, insinuating there’s a dress code; but like most modern spots, there isn’t. Go as you feel comfortable; they won’t turn you away.$$$
Sze ChuanChinese 11102 W. National Ave. (414) 885-0856
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). [Read more about Sze Chuan here].
Recommended: Szechuan pork dumplings; mustard greens with tofu skin; grilled curry lamb$$
Tofte’s TableSmall plates 331 Riverfront St., Waukesha (262) 408-5633
If comforting shareable dishes — like fried chicken, risotto and pork belly — sound good, that’s what you’ll find on the menu at Tofte’s Table. From the beautifully shabby chic interior to the well-executed dishes and welcoming staff, this restaurant makes it well worth the trip to Waukesha. [Read more about Tofte's Table].
Recommended: Grilled octopus; shortribs$$
FauntleroyFrench 316 N. Milwaukee St. (414) 269-9908
French food is often an indulgence, and such is the case 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. Nearly every dish is deserving of accolades from the moules frites and short ribs to their delicious burger (available at lunch and happy hour). [Read more about Fauntleroy].
Recommended: Lyonnaise salad; French onion soup; oil-poached salmon$$-$$$
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. [Read more about Asian Papayoyo here].
Recommended: Roti canai; rendang tik curry beef with spicy chili prawns; nasi lemak (be sure to ask for this off-menu item)$
Jewels CaribbeanCaribbean 2230 N. Doctor M.L.K. Jr. Dr. (414) 585-0678
If the weather in Wisconsin gets you down, find respite at Jewels Caribbean where the fare — much of which hails from Saint Lucia — and the beautifully decorated space will whisk you off to the islands. Enjoy staple dishes like callalloo, jerk chicken and curried goat. Don’t miss their brunch which includes a mix of American favorites and Saint Lucian staples like saltfish and bakes (fried breakfast bread) served with cocoa tea. [Read more about Jewels Caribbean].
Recommended: Accras (salt fish fritters); stewed or jerk chicken; Trini corn soup$$
Birch + ButcherNew American 459 E. Pleasant St. (414) 323-7372
If you’ve not been to Birch + Butcher, it’s a great time to go. Since opening, their mastery of hearth-fired cooking has only gotten better and better. The ever-changing menu has offered much in the way of meats, including pork ragu with housemade pasta, steak and grilled fish. Meanwhile, inventive vegetable offerings include marinated beets served with tangy whipped chevre and barbequed parsnips so good they’ve developed a cult following. In so many cases, the dishes are deceptively simple. But the care and technical expertise employed to suss out the flavors in simple vegetables is one of the things that keeps me coming back. Brunch — featuring excellent biscuits and gravy, steak and eggs, waffles and a lox platter — is an equally good bet.
Recommended: Bread service (truly); barbequed parsnips; beef tartare; Sunday brunch$$
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 Southern inspired fried Cornish hen. Don’t miss the Diplomac Burger, which features a housemade sesame bun and all the fixin’s (available Monday through Friday only). [Read more about The Diplomat].
Recommended: date carpaccio; corn grits; chicken in a biscuit$$
GoodkindAmerican 2457 S. Wentworth Ave. (414) 763-4706
Restaurants with a friendly, welcoming vibe tend to make the top of everyone’s list. And such it is with Goodkind where the people seem as delightful as the fare. The menu changes frequently, so there’s always something new to enjoy. Highlights include fried calamari augmented with delightful fried lemon slices, housemade pasta and crispy skinned rotisserie chicken that’s as flavorful as it is tender. Goodkind is also a great spot for late night eats or brunch. You can read about their Tuesday night burger special here.
Recommended: Champagne battered oyster mushrooms; spicy crab pasta; rotisserie chicken$$$
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 in the winter. Meat eaters will find options like housemade goat sausage, filipino braised pork served along with comforting sides like lemon-cardamom spaetzle. 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 right around the $35 mark. It’s a nice choice for a casual date night. [Read more about the types of dishes you can find at Braise].
Recommended: seasonal soups; pork buns; housemade sausage;$$$
AmilindaSpanish, Portuguese 315 E. Wisconsin Ave. (414) 369-3683
If Spanish and Portuguese-inspired fare sounds delicious, set sails for Amilinda. Their digs are quaint and the menu is small and focused, but dishes rotate often, depending on what’s fresh and in season, so your tastebuds won’t tire. At any given moment, you could find empanadas, bacalhau (salt cod), housemade sausages or (if you’re lucky) piri piri chicken, a dish that’s always a solid bet. [Read all about why Amilinda was chosen as one of the best new restaurants in America].
Recommended: Seasonal fish dishes; piri piri chicken$$
Odd DuckSmall plates 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (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.$$
TochiRamen 705 Village Green Way #102, West Bend (262) 429-1515
Why travel 40 minutes for ramen? Why not? When the options are as good as they are at Tochi, you can’t lose. Choose from multiple ramen styles including unctuous traditional tonkotsu, shrimp kimchi shio to solidly creative takes like bacon apple mazeman with goat cheese. You’ll also find udon and rice dishes and playful nibbles like spam buns and brat stickers. [Tune in for a recent episode of the FoodCrush podcast featuring Chef Greg Des Rosier of Tochi].
Recommended: Tonkotsu; beef mazeman; chicken chorizo udon$$
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). [Read more about Momo Mee].
Recommended: Dan dan noodles; xiao long bao; Japanese garlic eggplant$$
Doc’s Commerce SmokehouseBBQ 754 Vel R. Phillips Ave. (414) 935-2029
Yes, you really can find solidly prepared barbeque right Downtown. That’s thanks to Doc’s Commerce Smokehouse, which serves up on-premise prepared wood-smoked meats for both lunch and dinner. Pick and choose from meats and sides like vinegar slaw, Bacardi baked beans, macaroni and cheese or Brunswick stew. Or sample it all with the Doc’s Sampler featuring ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey, wings and smoked Usinger’s sausage.
Recommended: Hickory smoked wings; brisket; collard greens (when offered)$$
MergeAsian, Korean 1932 E. Kenilworth Pl. (414) 226-5160
There might not be a more fun place on this list than Merge, the new Korean fried chicken wing bar on the East Side. From the 80s playlist to the colorful murals and the playful menu, the experience is one-of-a-kind. Enjoy Korean fried chicken wings, fusion-style tacos, burgers and strangely addictive rice cake skewers featuring vaguely crisp, chewy rice cakes, coated with sticky sweet dukbokki sauce and crushed peanuts. [Read more about Merge].
Recommended: Rice cake skewers; Korean fried wings (and cauliflower); kimchi macaroni and cheese$$
Crazy WaterNew American 839 S. 2nd St. (414) 645-2606
Another staple restaurant which has stood the test of time is Crazy Water, with its beautifully eclectic interior and menu of classic, well-prepared dishes. Go in the summer and you can reserve a spot on the quaint enclosed patio or dine in the cozy dining area with a clear view of the tiny bar-side kitchen. On the menu you’ll find options like grilled branzino and seared diver scallops to veal scallopini and steak au poivre. If you can, save room for dessert; there’s always something tasty from which to choose.
Recommended: Baked oysters; crazy shrimp (a classic); specials$$$
Three BrothersSerbian 2414 S. St Clair St. (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; stuffed grape leaves; roasted duck; suckling pig$$
Vientiane Noodle ShopLao 3422 W. National Ave. (414) 672-8440
There aren’t many spots where Lao fare is front and center, but Vientiane Noodle Shop (named for the capital city of Laos) is one. Start off with crunchy fried quail or Lao sausage, a textural feast with its crispy fried exterior and meaty herbal interior (be sure to order Lao sticky rice to enjoy alongside). Then move on and explore the entrees like pad burapa or warming soups like khao poun. Unsure of what to try first? In my experience, it’s usually a win when you ask for recommendations from staff. [Read more about Vientiane Noodle Shop here].
Recommended: Fried Lao sausage; Lao beef jerky, pad burapa$
The TandemAmerican 1848 W. Fond Du Lac Ave. (414) 885-1919
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. [Learn more in our episode of FoodCrush featuring owner Caitlin Cullen].
Recommended: Fried okra; greens; fried chicken; braised pork shoulder$
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 EsterEv 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. Dinner at EsterEv is offered Friday and Saturday, at 6:30 p.m.; cost is $80 per person for 10 courses.$$$