Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich has dished out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between.
The fare of Mexico is as diverse as the country is large, making it a cuisine that one could spend a lifetime exploring. And it might just take that long to sample every worthy dish from the plethora of Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee and beyond.
But, if you're up for the challenge, here are five spots you should definitely put on your list.
1. El Tlaxcalteca
My first visits to El Tlaxcalteca took place in early 2019, just a few months after the restaurant opened. The menu was filled with regional specialties; but I looked forward most to the selection of daily specials, which included items like tortitas de pollo (chicken croquettes) served with egg, pozole, albondigas and pipian rojo with pork.
Don't miss the machete, a masterpiece made with fresh masa that's pressed into a large oval shape on a flat-top grill and filled with guests’ choice of meats (get the birria) and loads of delicious Mexican melting cheese. The three-foot-long, three pound creation would easily feed four (and it's delicious).
2. Daily Taco + Cantina
For a long time it was tough to find great Mexican fare on the North Shore. But that's changed thanks to the addition of Daily Taco + Cantina, which focuses on the traditional dishes of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Can't miss dishes include their traditional birria tacos made with lamb that’s been marinated and braised in stock with warming spices. The lamb is served in tortillas that have been dipped in consomme (a broth flavored with ancho, guajillo, garlic, onion, tomato and spices) and seared on the flat top. Tacos are topped with onion and cilantro and served with a cup of consomme for dipping.
Fresh ingredients make a difference here and you'll see it clearly in options like their flavorful vegan frijoles, which are housemade from Peruano beans, along with their fresh house salsas, which accommodate a variety of palates with options like Furiosa “furious” (salsa taquera: the hottest of the bunch, made with chile de arbol, garlic and tomatillos) and the mild-but-fresh Alegre “happy” (pico de gallo).
3. La Dama
La Dama has been among the local restaurants to set the bar for modern Mexican fare with a laundry list of ever-changing items from inventive tacos and tostadas to entrees like citrus crusted salmon with beet puree, chapulin and toasted corn hibiscus reduction.
Don't miss the amazing duck carnitas tacos with quince compote, purslane and housemade mole or their tender lamb shank barilla with pasilla consomme, chickpeas, onions, cilantro and chile de arbol. It's mouthwateringly delicious.
4. Al Pastor
This family-owned restaurant made a big move in 2020, leaving their tiny restaurant on Burnham to reopen in their current home. The move brought not only a larger kitchen and dining room, but also palomas, margaritas and other cocktails. What hasn't changed? Their menu, which is filled with delicious items like birria (the traditional stew), marinated steak in chile de arbol sauce and staples like tacos.
Don't miss their alambre, a meat-filled platter of steak, bacon, ham, chorizo, grilled veggies, and pineapple topped with melted Oaxaca cheese served with a side of warm tortillas. It's delicious.
5. Tavo’s Signature Cuisine
This tiny (tiny!) spot on the West Side is a can't miss for beautifully presented Mexican fare. From fragrant housemade mole and ultra fresh guacamole to flavorful birria tacos and excellent chile en nogada (stuffed poblano peppers), the food is consistently fresh and well presented and delivered with top notch service.
Don't miss the Pineapple pastor express featuring half of a pineapple stuffed with al pastor and served with corn tortillas.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.