Italian dining guide
Note: The contents of this guide were checked for accuracy when this article was updated on May 23, 2008 at 9:03 a.m. We continually update the thousands of articles on OnMilwaukee.com, but it's possible some details, specials and offers may have changed. As always, we recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the businesses mentioned in the guide.
Few ethnic cuisines are better represented in Milwaukee than that of the Italians. We've got nearly everything, from traditional Italian-American red sauce joints to upscale eateries and adventurous menus. There has been an upsurge recently in fine Italian dining in Milwaukee and so it's time to present some highlights of Italian dining in Brew City.
Of course, there are far too many restaurants to list them all, so here are some of our favorites (and we've saved places that are generally considered pizzerias for another guide). Add your favorite using the talkback feature at the bottom of the story.
Ann's Italian Restaurant
5969 S. 108th Pl., Hales Corners, (414) 425-5040
From veal cannelloni to pizza, Ann's is a southwest side favorite. Don't miss the homemade ravioli.
Balistreri's Bluemound Inn and Italian Ristorante
812 N. 68th St., (414) 475-1414 (ristorante)
6501 W. Bluemound Rd. (414) 258-9881
A Wauwatosa favorite, Balistreri's Italian Ristorante is best known for its delicious pizza, but also serves a variety of other traditional Italian-American favorites in a lively, intimate setting. The Bluemound Inn location has the same great pizza but focuses more on steaks, fresh fish, and elaborate Italian specialties. It's also more conveniently located for sports fans attending Brewer Games.
Barbiere's Italian Inn
5844 W. Bluemound Rd., (414) 4530-3800
1021 Milwaukee Ave., (414) 764-1234
Sal Barbiere, a brother to the founder of Mama Mia's, established this restaurant in 1963. Start off your meal with their famous garlic bread. In true Italian fashion, they won't let you leave hungry: all dinners come with minestrone soup, antipasto salad, garlic bread and spumoni ice cream.
Buca di Beppo
1233 N. Van Buren St., (414) 224-8672
This chain opened to great reviews from the public a few years back thanks to its kitschy interior (hello, Sophia Loren!) and gargantuan portions. If family-style tables, a loud and lively atmosphere and heaping bowls of OK pasta are your thing, Buca is for you.
Cafe La Scala
631 E. Chicago St., (414) 223-2800
A new outward focus -- i.e. al fresco dining in the courtyard -- has given some new legs to this trattoria located adjacent to the bocce courts at the Italian Community Center in the Third Ward. So has its reformulation as a family-style place that now offers pizzas to diners and for take-out and delivery to the many new nearby condos and apartments.
8001 N. Port Washington Rd., Fox Point, (414) 352-9303
A classic checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurant, Calderone dishes up mounds of delicious pasta like mamma used to make. They also make some of the city's most beloved thin crust pizza.
Carini's La Conca d'Oro
3468 N. Oakland Ave., (414) 963-9623
Housed in a former Mexican restaurant and tavern, the Carini brothers serve up the city's best seafood-based Italian cuisine. From shrimp and scallops to swordfish and more, the dishes here will transport you to Palermo and the original Conca d'Oro. The lunch buffet is also a good option.
9104 W. Oklahoma Ave., West Allis, (414) 541-4200
Homemade pasta joins a range of chicken, steak and seafood dishes at this warm family-owned restaurant, which opened in 1982. Diners who order dinner entrees (which come with soup, salad and a side), you get a complimentary antipasto tray with cheeses, olive salad and charcuterie.
808 E. Center St., (414) 455-3751
If you're looking for a warm-your-heart pasta dinner and you aren't under time constraints, Centro is for you. Our Amy Schubert counsels: "While you're there, take a look at the wine list. With options ranging from $7 a glass to over $100 a bottle, there's a taste for every palate." Note: Centro only accepts cash.
Filippo's Italian Restaurant
6915 W. Lincoln Ave., (414) 321-4040
What more can you ask for from an Italian restaurant than heaping portions and great service? Filippo's is known for its pizza but the menu doesn't stop there. Yes, the pizza is amazing (and the crust is said to be close to perfection) but they also offer various poultry entrees and pasta dishes.
10404 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon (262) 241-5420
This family-owned gem has been a staple of the North Shore for 34 years. Come in for the friendly service and adorable checkered tablecloths. Stay for the amazing food. The Chicken Cacciatore can't be beat.
Il Mito Enoteca
6913 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa (414) 443-1414
Chef Michael Feker's Tosa Italian eatery is very popular in the neighborhood and draws from beyond, too. The atmosphere is inviting and the changing menu always interesting. Feker's personality is also key to the allure of the restaurant and the attached "Chef Feker's School of Culinary Magic."
Joey Buona's Italian Grille
500 N. Water St., (414) 272-8662
New York-style pizza and the kind of panini you can pick up anywhere in Italy are married to mouth-watering desserts and a range of more weighty entrees. The upper level contains breathtaking banquet facilities - no wonder they were voted the 2011 Pick for theknot.com Best of Weddings.
Libiamo Restaurant, Tavern & Hall
221 W. Galena St., (414) 271-1155
Located in the old Schlitz Brewery's restaurant -- long known as the Brown Bottle Pub -- Dean Cannestra's Italian restaurant has a beautiful bar and dining room (albeit one more German than Italian) in which to serve a range of pastas and Italian entrees, alongside a great fish fry, pizzas, panini and more.
801 N. Jefferson St., (414) 273-4224
275 Regency Ct., Brookfield, (262) 784-4275
Sure, it started out as a chain restaurant, but now it's locally owned by the same folks who own Water St. Brewery, Turner Hall and a host of other establishments. While the pasta here is sometimes nothing to write home about, the salads are unrivaled and the minestrone is satisfying. The bread and accompanying oil and vinegar are addictive and a wood-fired oven makes the pizzas and calzoni scrumptuous.
Maggiano's Little Italy
2500 N. Mayfair Rd. (414) 978-1000
Sure, it's a national chain - but when you come into their Tosa location, you'll feel like family. The portions can't be beat, the atmosphere is intimate, and the service is friendly. They're famous for their Rigatoni "D" served with herb-roasted chicken, mushrooms, caramelized onions and creamy Marsala sauce.
10049 W. Forest Home Ave., Hales Corners, (414) 425-0507
Few would expect to find one of the most beautiful family-owned restaurants in the Milwaukee area on a busy strip of West Forest Home Avenue in Hales Corners. The patio has two tiers, and is set in a garden with a stone path and muraled fence, making it one of the most romantic and peaceful dinner getaways around. Add stellar food, reasonable prices and portioning and great service and you've got Mia Famiglia.
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