The future is largely uncertain. But when it comes to looking ahead at the new year, I'm certain of one thing: among the most impactful things that any one of us can choose to do in 2024 is commit to supporting our local restaurants, all of which have been through hell and back over the past four years.
In that spirit, I'd like to challenge you to consider joining me in creating a plan to support as many local restaurants as possible in the coming year.
One restaurant a week
To guide you on your journey, I’ve composed a list of 52 restaurants that are worthy of both your attention and your dollars. They are listed in a suggested order, based on the type of cuisine, the cost and the time of year in which their assigned week falls. But you can choose to plot out your visits as you see fit.
The eateries I've chosen run the gamut from upscale to casual and everything in between. Some are brand new. Others have been around for years. Some take you slightly off the beaten path. But every one offers an experience worth pursuing. Even if you've already been to one or more of these spots, I'd encourage you to return in 2024 and try something completely 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 2024. The bigger bonus? By the end of the year, you will have supported a wide range of restaurants across our great city. In all likelihood, you will have also found some new favorite dishes along the way.
About this list
This list was a year in the making. In fact, my work to choose next year’s picks will officially begin on Jan. 1 when I begin working my way through my neverending list of restaurants both new and old, making visits and taking notes. No restaurant is too small or too casual to be considered; but they do need to exhibit consistency in their delivery of memorably delicious, well-prepared food.
You'll note that there are quite a few new restaurants on this list. However, you'll also note that I have not included restaurants like Avli, Heirloom, The Edison and The Wolf on Broadway (among others). That's a decision made out of sheer fairness.
If a restaurant opened its doors on Aug. 1, 2023 or later (or made significant changes in the kitchen, including switching chefs), they will be considered for inclusion on next year’s list. This ensures that they’ve had time to establish their stride and I have adequate time to gauge their quality and consistency.
Also, while I’ve taken care to make useful recommendations for each spot, menu changes are commonplace, so some dishes I have mentioned may not be available. New this year, I've included a note if a restaurant also offers brunch.
Please remember to be kind, exercise patience and tip well. You can even download an abbreviated list for your fridge or wallet. Bon appetit!
This quaint creperie tucked away in the Riverwest neighborhood is among the coziest spots I can think of for a conversational breakfast or brunch with friends. Even better, the food is delicious.
Crepes span both sweet and savory with options like Cinnamon Toast with butter, cinnamon sugar and whipped cream; The Paris (Nutella, strawberries, bananas, roasted honey almonds, whipped cream); Vermonter (filled with rosemary sausage, sharp cheddar, caramelized apples, pictured above); the Frenchie (filled with caramelized and Gruyere); and a Three Cheese crepe served with a side of tomato basil soup for dipping! There are also seasonal specials to keep things interesting.
Recommended: Vermonter; Three Cheese; specials
Much has changed at this Downtown food hall since it opened in January of 2022. Now at capacity, the expansive eatery not only offers a wide range of cuisines but a full bar, a wine shop, a self-service beer garden and plenty of engaging activities from shuffleboard and pinball to ping pong, darts and Top Golf.
These days, you can head to the hall for steaming bowls of ramen and freshly made sushi from Kawa; grab tacos and tortas from Kompali; indulge in pizza from Paper Plane; or enjoy an excellent banh mi or pho from Pho Spot. There are also vendors for smoothies, salads, bakery items, Venezuelan arepas, hot dogs, burgers, wings, macaroni and cheese or the “lighning rod” mozzarella sticks that made Alphonsos the Original Internet famous. You can also explore the world of boutique natural wines at the Strange Town Bottle Shop (get a glass to enjoy or buy a bottle or two to take home).
Years ago, you had to settle for a chain restaurant like Cheesecake Factory to ensure there would be plenty of options for everyone. But now, you can just head to 3rd St Market Hall. And this week, that’s exactly what you should do.
Recommended: Pho oxtail from Pho Spot; pollo a la brasa (Peruvian rotisserie chicken) from Criollo; tori paiton ramen from Kawa; a scoop of sweet cream custard (or custard of the day) from Dairyland
Midwestern comfort food is the name of the game at Hot Dish Pantry, a pop-up turned brick-and-mortar restaurant that offers both well-executed carry-out or fast-casual-style dining at truly affordable prices. Service is counter service; you can wait for your meal to be ready and take a seat in the cozy, kitschy dining room or order your meal for carry-out.
There's no wrong way to dine at Hot Dish, which offers both a long list of bites and shareable sides (think pierogi, housemade tater tots and hand-battered cheese curds) to soul-filling sandwiches, their playfully named "Lucy Goosey" burger (or pizza burger) and their classic hot dish (ground beef, mushroom cream sauce and vegetables topped with crispy tater tots).
Recommended: Aloo chaat pierogi; pork tenderloin sandwich
Delightfully unexpected. Those are the first words that come to mind for me when I think about Travieso, a restaurant that weaves the flavors of Latin America into a slate of largely familiar dishes.
Humble vegetables like brussels sprouts stand out when fried until crisp and paired with chorizo aioli. Caesar salad takes on a new thrill when dressed with poblano and lime-infused dressing. And beef tenderloin shines when beautifully cooked, topped with chorizo bearnaise and served alongside scallops on a bed of vanilla buerre blanc. Sweet treats like churro cheesecake and sweet plantain creme brulee tie things up beautifully.
Those are the types of dishes you'll find at Travieso, which has transformed the formerly dark Irish Pub at the Clarke Hotel into a modern destination that offers guests an opportunity to adventure beyond the ordinary.
Are you a brunch-goer looking for something new? Travieso is also open for brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Recommended: Caesar salad; scallops with pork belly
1033 might be among the smallest restaurants in the city, boasting just 12 seats at the bar and a small table for two tucked back in the corner. But it’s a spot with big personality and a menu that features an ever-changing menu of raw bar items, tinned fish, charcuterie and cheese and a selection of shareable seasonal dishes.
Even more, the dishes at 1033 are ever-changing, offering diners the opportunity to visit more often without growing bored. You might find comforting vegetable dishes like squash brulee with spiced whipped ricotta and crostini; pork belly served with applesauce, and aebleskiver and lingonberry compote; or mussels with apricot liqueur, romesco and garum salt. Even better, there is knowledgeable staff who can help you find your perfect wine pairings for every single one.
Just want to dip your toes into the water? Stop in for happy hour, which takes place Thursday through Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. or 9-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Reservations are recommended for full dinner service. In fact, if you’re thinking of visiting for Valentine’s Day, now would be a good time to secure it.
Recommended: Raw bar for two; shareable vegetable plates
Want choices? You’ll find them in spaces along with a liberal dose of community at Zócalo Food Park, an ever-evolving food truck park located in the swiftly developing 6th Street corridor of Walker’s Point.
Relax with a drink from the newly remodeled tavern while enjoying an ever-changing assortment of dishes (from tacos and arepas to soulful Puerto Rican or Filipino fare, pizza or even sushi) from the food park’s collection of food trucks. Or make a reservation for one of their beautifully decorated heated outdoor huts (they’re very affordable, especially for groups). It’s the perfect spot to host a winter get-together!
It’s a casual dining experience unlike any other in the city. But even more than that, it’s a place that raises up food entrepreneurs, encourages community and works to make our city a better, more inclusive place.
Recommended: Hotbox smoked wings; Los Virellas pernil mofongo bowl; Modern Maki ramen (or sushi burritos); Anytime Arepas pork arepa; a torta from Mazorca; Ruby’s bagels (weekends only)
A meal from The Diplomat is always a pleasure. The vibe is mellow and comfortable enough for a weeknight, but the craveable menu – filled with dishes that are simultaneously new, yet comfortingly familiar – is entirely worthy of a special occasion. In fact, if you’re looking for a spot to take your Valentine, consider this a worthy pick.
You might find inventive takes like hushpuppies made from eggplant; a bacon lentil salad visually presented like a bowl of ramen; and deceptively simple offerings (like roasted chicken) that are so well prepared, they will knock your socks off. I also love the balance between smaller shareable plates and entrees, which leaves room for a new experience every time. Need a solid excuse to stop in for the first time, their burger (The Diplomac), which comes complete with housemade everything is positively stellar. Also, be sure to leave room for dessert!
Recommendations: Roast chicken; The Diplomac; dessert
Whether it’s a warming bowl of pho, a fresh plate of herb-filled larb or a plate of indulgent crisp-skinned pork, you’ll find something to love at An Ox Cafe, which continues to be a food-filled highlight of the Columbus Park neighborhood.
The restaurant itself is beautiful, bright and modern, making it the perfect spot to enjoy any number of comforting Southeast Asian dishes, from gingery housemade Lao sausage served with rice to delicious curries (from mild pandang to chile-infused green and sweet, lemon-grassy red). Do not miss their ultra crispy-edged marinated roasted pork, which is served with rice and delicious housemade hot sauce (I like to order mine with sticky rice). It's one of those remarkable dishes you won't be able to get out of your head.
Recommended: Nam kow (crispy coconut rice salad); kow piek (Lao chicken soup); crispy pork
When Safina opened earlier this year, it marked a comeback for the Safina family, long known for their classic Sicilian fare. The new restaurant is cozy, with plenty of nods to Sicilian culture, along with a modern menu comprised of both new and nostalgic dishes that have stood the test of time.
Highlights of the menu include classic starters like Giovanni’s baked mozzarella with San Marzano tomatoes; and Insalata di Mare, a traditional Sicilian seafood salad featuring calamari, shrimp and octopus served with finely shaved celery, onion and slivers of carrot in a red wine lemon vinaigrette. Meanwhile, entrees showcase dishes like Gio’s stuffed filet featuring center-cut filet stuffed with provolone, 18-month prosciutto de parma, caramelized onions, Roma tomatoes and potatoes; along with Strauss veal ribeye parmesan served with chef’s choice of pasta or salad.
Recommended: Beef carpaccio; frutta di mare (pasta); veal parmesan; cheesecake (you’ll be surprised)
Milwaukee is no longer a “good bagel” desert, thanks in large part to Allie Boy’s, which has contributed to the scene with its East Coast-inflected offerings from toothsome housemade bagels an schmears to an ever-changing menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and creative noshes.
You can tell there are two experienced restaurant veterans at the helm. There’s mastery to be found in their New York-style bagels (made fresh daily), next level schmears and inventive nibbles. Items like soup, which change with the seasons, are absolute comfort on a chilly day; grab a bowl and a half-portion of tartine and it might be among the best lunches you enjoy all week. Most importantly, keep your eye on specials like their weekend bialys and regular sandwich specials. (And watch for a new East Side location for the bagelry coming in the spring.)
Recommended: The Big Latke Waffle; matzo ball soup; bialys (on weekends)
If you’re looking for an opulent dining experience, you’ll find it at Lupi & Iris. Every detail of the space has been attended to, from the zinc-topped bar to comfortable banquettes and a chef’s counter surrounding the open kitchen.
Mediterranean fare forms the foundation for lunch, dinner and brunch at this Downtown restaurant, which serves up a menu of dishes inspired by the French and Italian Riviera. And, as the chill of winter blows in, the dishes from a warmer clime might just be even more appealing. Choose from seafood, including steamed mussels and clams; simple preparations of seasonal vegetable dishes; housemade pastas; and entrees that run the gamut from wood-grilled dover sole to bone-in New York strip. Planning a date night? The wood-oven roasted Angus porterhouse served with seasonal vegetables, roasted fingerlings and persillade is a hole-in-one.
Visit for Sunday brunch and you'll find a large menu offering salads, sandwiches and modified entrees, plus dishes like eggs served atop a buckwheat crepe with French ham, cheese and arugula; cheesy polenta topped with chard, sautéed mushrooms and eggs; and French toast made from housemade country French bread and served with preserves, berries and mascarpone cream.
Recommended: Goat cheese tart; winter squash with mint; corzetti with walnut sauce;
Step into Taqwa’s Bakery & Restaurant and you’ll find a lovely space decorated with artwork and textiles painstakingly transported from the owners’ travels to Jordan. But equally lovely is the feast of dishes on Taqwa’s menu which celebrates the fare from climes including Jordan and Palestine.
Stand-outs include signature entrees like dawalee (grape leaves stuffed with seasoned meat and rice) are served alongside roasted chicken with yogurt cucumber salad; along with daily specials like shoshbarak (beef dumplings) in yogurt sauce with rice. Be sure to try the freshly baked manakish (Palestinian taboun bread topped with cheese and za'atar), and don’t leave without ordering something from the list of freshly baked sweets (both the maamoul and warbat are outstanding).
Recommended: manakish; dawalee (grape leaves); daily specials
While I’m a big fan of more traditional, regional Chinese and Thai fare, there’s something craveable and nostalgic about trips to Dandan where the dishes are more about flavor than “authenticity” (a word I don’t love to use to reference food, but which seems apropo here).
Among the varied bites, the short rib and foie gras potstickers are an earthy indulgence and wings are crisp and meaty with a sweet and salty kick from five spice and chilies and a sauce that offers hints of citrus and roasted pepper. And while I still miss some items from the original menu (like their long-gone umami-bomb of an okonomiyaki pancake and the Taiwanese noodles that popped up on the menu during the pandemic), I’ll never tired of the five spice-infused Happy Chicken or delectable General Tsao’s Cauliflower.
Recommended: Mungbean kimchi pancake, potstickers, wings, Happy Chicken
It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since the Bartolotta Restaurants gave this longtime gem a welcoming redux. Now 20 years old, the fine dining establishment has been modernized just enough to make it feel welcoming and inclusive.
Chef Nick Wirth has been at the helm of Bacchus for years; but his dishes feel modern and never stale. From bright fresh Yellowfin crudo to seared scallops or braised salmon; fish dishes always shine. Seasonal dishes like prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin with chamomile jus push boundaries; and grilled Wagyu bavette steak comes alive when paired with intense Asian flavors. Dessert at Bacchus is always a delight, whether it’s a fruit-based tarte or truffle-inspired composed dessert. And you can always count on the wine list to offer up something new and exciting.
Recommended: If you can, go for the ever-changing five-course chef’s tasting menu (can be vegetarian).
If you’ve not been to Hacienda since they shook things up with a new chef and full concept rebrand last fall, the integration of smoked meats into their menu is one of the reasons to give it a try. Chef Ashley Turner, a native Texan who definitely knows her barbeque, has merged the taproom’s inaugural Southwestern theme with distinctive Texas influence, creating what she calls “Texacana,” a menu that seamlessly blends elements of classic southern fare with Tex-Mex and Texas BBQ.
Highlights include Turners’ Texas brisket chili, which also appears atop Hacienda’s BBQ Nacho Bites along with cheddar, red onions, radishes, cilantro crema and cilantro. Guests can also indulge in build-their-own BBQ tacos, thanks to plates filled with proteins like smoked salmon and Texas-style brisket along with warm tortillas and varied accompaniments.
Recommended: Texas brisket chili, BBQ tacos, specials
Every time I set foot inside Story Hill BKC, I’m reminded of all the reasons it has remained on my list of top spots for so many years. The space is comfortable, yet lively and the service is cordial, with front of house staff who can adeptly walk newcomers through the varied menu offerings.
Its Midwestern fare -- smattered with jolts of inspiration, both domestic and global -- is accessible, but also inventive, featuring starters like Milwaukee-inspired beef tartare and baked provolone cheese. There are also shareable family style plates filled with seasonal vegetables and passable entrees like cast iron roasted chicken and pork chop schnitzel.
It’s also a beautiful bet for brunch, thanks to both an inventive menu and a stellar collection of brunch-worthy cocktails. That said, the word has gotten out, so reservations are highly recommended, especially if you’re dining with a group.
Recommended: Chicken meatball; smoked Yukon au gratin; schnitzel; crepe monsieur at brunch
Put “sandwich” in the name of your restaurant and there’s definitely pressure to perform on that front. Fortunately for Sully’s, which features a laundry list of sandwiches made with local and housemade ingredients, quality is at the top of the list.
Sully’s sandwiches, many made with substantial Breadsmith baguettes, are substantial enough that two people could easily share one; so you definitely won’t leave hungry. But if you’d prefer not to share, or take home leftovers, you’re in luck. Sully’s also introduced Shorties, half-sized sandwiches that can be ordered on their own or paired up with housemade soup. Don’t love the crunch of a baguette? Sully’s also has wraps that use levash as their base.
Note: Sully’s is a family-friendly fast-casual spot that offers efficient service with the help of self-service ordering kiosks which work best with credit cards. That said, if you only have cash on hand, just ask an employee to convert your cash into a gift card; they’ll happily oblige.
Recommended: Beef & Blue; Cubano
Third Coast Provisions delivers some of the city's best fare in an environment that's as beautiful as the food. When it opened in 2016, it made a name for itself with a focus on fresh, beautifully prepared seafood with locally sourced accompaniments. And while seafood lovers can still enjoy some of the best fish dishes in the city at this Downtown restaurant, the menu has evolved to include an equally compelling selection of dishes featuring land-based proteins and locally sourced vegetables, many enhanced by globally-inspired preparations.
I’d still steer you towards items like fresh oysters with champagne granita; brightly flavored crudos and flavorful fish preparations. But I’d also encourage you to explore additional offerings like housemade pastas, short ribs and steak frites. I’d also recommend the notion of sharing. A shareable meal composed of their hot and cold appetizers would make for a delightful weeknight splurge. Also, be sure to ask about their ever-changing housemade desserts.
Recommended: House-baked bread; crudo; fish specials; house pasta
Sarinlada Panyasopa and her wife Neranchana Yabkaset opened Mom’s Kitchen this June. And, while the restaurant is still fairly new, it’s made its mark with fresh, flavorful Thai fare served up in a beautifully appointed modern restaurant.
The menu, which includes both Thai fare and sushi features most of the common Thai staples like pad thai, red, green, yellow and mussaman curries, tom yum soup and pad see ew. But, I’d recommend digging more deeply to find rare delights like the bright, fresh moo nam tok (pork with fresh herbs, lime, fish sauce); and hang lay pork curry, a specialty of Northern Thailand that I’ve not seen served at other local establishments. It’s rich and complex, but not as sweet as some Thai curries.
Recommended: Pad kra pao (Mom’s holy basil with pork); hang lay pork curry
Spring is among the best times to visit Morel, especially if you’re a fan of its namesake mushroom which they proudly serve in numerous dishes during the mushroom’s short, unpredictable season.
But well-crafted plates of fungi aren’t the only reason to visit this Walker’s Point staple, which – despite its uncanny ability to fly under the radar – consistently delivers on seasonal plates and beautifully crafted meals made with housemade ricotta cheese, pasta, sausages and some of the fluffiest biscuits around. Order with your cravings; I’ve yet to find dishes there that fall very far short of expectation.
Recommended: lamb carpaccio; seasonal pasta/gnocchi; short ribs; save room for their goat cheese cheesecake
Looking for a pizza spot that does things a bit differently? Look no further than Wy’East, a cozy west side spot where you’ll find pies made with a chewy slow-fermented crust and just enough prerequisite leoparding. The toppings are of great quality, with flavor combinations that show 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
Last year brought much change for this once-cozy butcher shop and cafe. Thanks to a move just down the street, Bavette has metamorphosed into a bright modern space with an open kitchen and an expanded menu that is just as delightful (if not more) than before.
Guests who’ve been fans of the restaurant’s casual sandwiches and salads can still get their fix over the lunch hour. Even better, Bavette’s delicious half-pound burger – formerly reserved for burger nights in the summer – is now a permanent fixture on the menu (and, now that the restaurant has a deep fryer, there are fries too). But, what’s most exciting of all is the dinner menu, which still allows for casual noshing, but has been expanded to include a larger selection of seasonally evolving entrees, from beautifully prepared scallops to butcher’s cut steak. You’ll find a match for any one on Bavette’s wine list, which errs beautifully on the old world side.
Recommended: Steak tartare; seasonal salads; burger (it comes with beef tallow fries); butcher’s cut steak
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. Years later, its menu of globally inspired seasonal New American fare is still relevant and (more importantly) delicious. Equally as important, the restaurant’s hospitality has remained as cordial as ever, ensuring that the guest experience is excellent from start to finish.
Currently, Sanford offers a choice of a four-course menu or seven-course surprise tasting menu. Menus change regularly, but you can peek at the sample menu on their website to get a gist of what you might find. Ultimately, it’s a selection of nicely balanced dishes that simultaneously reflect refinement in technique and playfulness in their flavor combinations.
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 surprise tasting menu; it’s unparalleled
There’s always been something charming about Honeypie Cafe, a restaurant that has served up plates of locally sourced Midwestern comfort for over 14 years. In fact, it seems that charm has only amplified since their 2021 move just down the street from their original location.
Step into the restaurant and you'll find indulgent snacks like pork fries, comforting staples like housemade meatloaf and what might be the very best macaroni & cheese in the city. Save room for a slice of their housemade pie, if you can; otherwise there's no shame in taking a piece for the road. Don’t miss their stellar brunch (on the patio, if the weather cooperates) along with one of the best bloody marys in the city.
Recommended: Pork fries, macaroni & cheese, pie, brunch
Flavors collide (in a good way) at this family-owned East Side spot which fuses Italian staples (like pasta and pizza) with Mexican flavors. And I’ve strategically placed this listing on week 25, since it’s an extra special delight to visit during the summer months when their quaint courtyard patio, complete with its burbling fountain, is in full swing.
You’ll find pastas dressed with poblano pesto and mezcal chipotle cream sauce; pizzas topped with beautifully cooked mid-rare hanger steak, tomatillo salsa and Oaxacan cheese; and even some nostalgic 90s era flavor combinations like figs, goat cheese and balsamic glaze.
Be sure to leave room for the flan, which is made by Kristin Uribe with a family recipe that’s been passed down through the generations. And don’t rule out their well-designed brunch, which incorporates Mexican staples like slow braised beef birria alongside American classics like French toast.
Recommended: Burrata frito; mussels with chipotle butter and white wine; asada pizza
Despite its more casual, neighborhood restaurant feel, Sorella doesn’t scrimp on the details, offering a beautiful rustic dining room and a varied menu of shareable seasonal dishes inspired by Southern Italy and shaped with a bit of East Coast inflection.
You’ll find a mix of shareable items (including big bowls of wood-roasted veggies), pastas and wood-fired pizza along with compelling, moderately priced entrees that are unlike those served at any other restaurant in the city. The menu is built for sociable sharing, so don’t be afraid to order multiple dishes to split among a group of friends.
Recommended: Kale Caesar; roasted broccoli; cavatelli with “Monday” sauce
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. Dimly lit quarters make fall and winter meals feel cozy and special, while the beautifully appointed patio is a welcome oasis during the summer months. Best of all, the ever-changing menu of locally sourced but worldy flavored dishes always seems to offer something new.
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, don’t hesitate to try it; it’s excellent.
Recommended: Goat cheese curds; Columbian empanadas; risotto
Simplicity and quality are foundations of this Downtown restaurant, which serves up an ever-changing feast of fare that pays the utmost respect to locally sourced meats and vegetables.
Dishes run the gamut from fresh and bright (take that summer crudo made with Steelhead trout, for instance) to sexy and caramelized (like wood-fired shishito peppers with house focaccia and ricotta). Meat dishes are satisfying, but never overly heavy; and their housemade filled pastas are simultaneously exciting and comforting. Most importantly, if you love vegetables, you'll find them in spades. They're respected, treated well and allowed to shine... right there in the center of the plate. Also watch for specials like pop-up oyster bars, bistro lunches and farm dinners with Chef Kyle Knall.
Recommended: Crudo; housemade pasta; seasonal fish
Regional Mexican food is celebrated at La Dama, a restaurant which offers both a cozy, eclectic vibe (think tin ceilings, artful Mexico-themed murals), an open kitchen that allows you to see the impressive bustle of the chefs at work and – most importantly –beautifully presented modern fare. It’s also a wonderful place to visit during the summer months, thanks to their lovely back patio.
On the menu, you’ll find staples like gorgeous aguachiles, outstanding tacos and truly lovely entrees like citrus-crusted salmon and lamb shank birria that will challenge what you think you know about Mexican cuisine. You can also explore things on the beverage side. La Dama makes an excellent Margarita or Paloma. But you can also order up flight of tequila/mezcal.
Recommended: Aguachile rojo, charro beans, lamb shank birria
Vegan or not, it’s worth your while to spend some time with the menu at Strange Town where the cozy bar and dining room and eclectic collection of vinyl sets the stage for an evening of nibbling from their menu of locally sourced, seasonal fare.
You might find an autumnal pumpkin curry or wintery fig and olive tapenade; springtime brings dishes like celeriac tartines and beautifully spiced patta gobhi with cabbage and paratha bread. Meanwhile summer offerings are fresh, light and perfectly paired with a glass of bubbly. Offerings change frequently, but you can count on seasonal, fresh takes on globally inspired fare. Strange Town also offers a beautifully curated list of natural wines and low ABV cocktails.
Recommended: [Not just any old] hummus; seasonal soups; pasta
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. Not only is it a beautiful, comfortable place to dine, but its menu always seems to hit the spot, especially when you are looking for something familiar and comforting.
But don’t get me wrong. Familiar is far from boring. At Buckley’s you’ll find a fantastic cocktail program (and a bar with an impressive amaro collection) to a food menu that’s doppled with both solid American classics and globally inspired dishes. Seasonal changes keep things fresh and exciting, while consistent execution (and friendly service) keeps customers coming back time and time again.
Recommended: House focaccia; mushroom ragu; pork chop; that gosh-darn-craveable carrot cake
You’ve truly never experienced housemade pasta until you’ve tried it at Ca’ Lucchenzo, where I swear they put a little extra “something” into every dish. The ever-changing menu pays homage to the regional dishes of Italy with offerings including antipasti, housemade pastas and seasonally appropriate entrees, including excellently prepared seafood.
Their food hits the spot during the dregs of winter when rich pasta dishes and hearty meats are called for. But it’s also among my favorite places for a leisurely patio meal in the late summer when tomatoes and peapods intermingle on plates along with fresh fish dishes, light, bright pastas and plenty of aperol spritzes to go around. The flavors are fresh, service is beyond attentive and each dish is made with an attention to detail that truly sets Ca’Lucchenzo apart.
Recommended: Foccaccia; fonduta arancino; filled pastas; fish dishes
Much has changed since Braise opened its doors in 2011, showcasing a rustic, inviting space and a menu of fresh seasonal fare. But what has remained is the restaurant’s commitment to both local sourcing and bold, flavorful fare that changes with whatever is fresh and in season.
You’ll find light, summery tomato salads and beautifully prepared vegetable-forward plates during the summer months and offerings like braised meats, rum glazed parsnips or dirty chai beets in the winter. Global flavors shine in offerings like housemade merguez sausage, filipino braised pork and chicken coconut curry. The flexible nature of the small plates menu makes it a perfect spot for sharing dishes and the ever-changing menu presents new surprises on every visit.
Recommended: Seasonal soups; bao buns; pork belly dishes
A trip to Cedarburg is always a pleasure, and if you dine when you visit, there are few spots better than Brandywine to enjoy memorable, well-executed fare inside charming, restored historic digs.
Food lovers will revel in little details like delicious focaccia (made fresh daily) served with ever-changing accompaniments; to hand-filled mezzaluna pasta that’s as gorgeous on the plate as it is delicious. Ingredients are all given tantamount respect, resulting in a mid-sized menu that showcases both the talent in the kitchen and the best of the season. Visit during the pique of harvest season and every dish pops with flavor. You might even find a gem featuring the umami-rich namesake Brandywine tomato.
Recommended: Fresh seasonal vegetables; housemade pasta, seared fish with seasonal accouterments
If you’re looking for a beautiful place to dine, look no further than I.d. in Delafield where the aesthetic in the dining room is just as gorgeous as the chef-inspired shareable plates, pastas and flatbreads that come out of the open kitchen.
The menu is a team effort at I.d., so it showcases a wide range of styles; but you can be assured of finding bold flavors, global influences and fresh, local ingredients at every turn. In the summer you might find an elote-inspired flatbread on the menu, while winter brings warming dishes like duck confit with five spice squash and bourbon-glazed pork belly. Regardless of the season, you’ll find accessible fare that also turns things up a notch. Don’t sleep on their stunning composed desserts, which will stretch your palate with their wild-yet-scrumptious flavor profiles.
Recommended: Caesar salad; fish dishes; pork belly; desserts
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 been traditionally quite difficult (if not impossible) to find elsewhere in the city.
It’s also a place where fresh, beautifully presented sushi is equally worthy of attention. Choose from more traditional nigiri and maki, a selection of craft sushi (try it all!), plus beautifully presented modern rolls including the Tosa Fab roll featuring a combination of fresh yellowtail, cilantro and avocado wrapped in black rice and topped with super white tuna.
Recommendations: Dip dip (ask about the name!); flaming tuna crispy rice; spicy hokkaido scallop (craft sushi); khaosoy
Sure, this quaint Downtown spot is busier since Chef Gregory Leon was honored with a James Beard nomination in 2023. But little has changed in terms of the seasonal dishes and bold flavors that Amilinda’s kitchen continues to deliver. If anything, it’s given Leon the confidence to branch out in his efforts to showcase flavors inspired by Spain and Portugal.
Amilinda’s menu is small and focused and composed of dishes that change often, depending on what’s fresh and in season. But you can expect a rotating cast of offerings including empanadas, bacalhau (salt cod), housemade sausages or (if you’re lucky) piri piri chicken, a dish that is among my personal favorites.
Recommended: Seasonal fish dishes; braised meats; piri piri chicken
There’s something special about handcrafted noodles and beautifully made dumplings. And you’ll find both at Momo Mee, a staple eatery in 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). They’re all delicious.
Recommended: Dan dan noodles; xiao long bao; jjamppong; Japanese garlic eggplant
The longevity of this quirky-but-wonderful restaurant is a testament to many things, from its workplace culture and commitment to hospitality to the creativity, research and work that goes into designing its frequently changing menu of small plates.
Like many of the best restaurants in town, Odd Duck also puts an emphasis on fresh, local and seasonal, ensuring that menu items change out frequently and vegetable offerings are allowed to shine as brightly – if not moreso – than other offerings.
I’m foregoing recommendations since the Odd Duck menu truly changes on a whim. But that’s the beauty of this creative food space, which never fails to dish out something new and unexpected. What I will say is that, in my experience, the wildest and most abstract sounding dishes have often ended up to be my favorites.
Recommended: Order with your gut or close your eyes and point; but do not forget the vegetables
Step into this former tied house and take in warmth old school charm intermingled with an eclectic, earthy Bohemian aesthetic. Pair that up with a menu filled with inventive breakfast and lunch fare and you get Uncle Wolfie’s.
Pay a visit and you’ll find a mix of seasonal dishes that strike both familiar and creative notes, including omelets, benedicts and a host of tasty salads, sandwiches and a refreshingly creative drink list featuring both cocktails and zero proof options.Be sure to stop at Orange & Blue Co. next door to peruse the remarkable collection of home goods created by female makers.
Recommended: The BELTCH; hamburger with cheese; whatever is on special
Buttermint has changed a bit since appearing on the scene with its stylish mid century modern aesthetic and a menu filled with modern continental fare.
And while the Sputnik-style lighting remains – and is charming as ever – the menu has evolved to best serve its neighborhood crowd with dishes that run the gamut from accessible salads, sandwiches and burgers to full-on entrees including fish, chicken, steak and pork chops.
But nostalgia still reigns supreme in dishes like Oysters Rockefeller, Waldorf salad and Wednesday night “TV dinners” which come complete with mains, sides and desserts. It’s also apparent in Buttermint’s commitment to service, which is a keen reminder that dining out really is still among life’s greatest pleasures.
Want more? Stop in at Buttermint for one of the best happy hours in the area!
Recommended: Oysters Rockefeller; Great Lakes walleye; Duroc pork chop
If there’s a restaurant that seems to get both bigger and better every time I turn around it’s Flour Girl & Flame. What was once a carry-out-only pizzeria now has seating in the form of Everyone’s Table, a dining room and event space located right next door to the pizza shop at 8125 W. National Ave. The space is warm, welcoming and full of good vibes. That’s much like Flour Girl’s seasonal wood-fired pizza, which is made with heirloom flour, hand-stretched to order and topped with local ingredients from women growers, LGBTQ+ producers and farmers of color.
I’ve never met a pizza of theirs I didn’t like; but my favorite is the Pep in Yer Step (add their giardiniera). That’s second only to their fantastically indulgent Detroit style pizza (currently available on Wednesdays only), which comes complete with a well-carbonized crust, plenty of cheese and racing stripes of flavorful tomato sauce painted on top.
Note: During the winter months (Nov. through April), Flour Girl operates at their brick and mortar location; but during the summer (May through Oct.), they are off and running to new places each week with their mobile pizza trailer (watch their social for locations).
Recommended: Pep in Yer Step (add housemade giardiniera); Detroit style pizza; ice cream (local flavors available when you dine in)
I love well-executed Indian fare, and Saffron delivers in spades with a modern concept that takes everything I love and turns it up a notch. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, the service is fantastic and the food is like nothing else in the city. It's fresh. It's modern. But it still pays full homage to the traditional flavors and techniques that make Indian fare so incredible.
Familiar dishes include Saffron’s butter chicken (made with smoked chicken); dal makhani; saag paneer and breads including na’an, roti and lacha paratha. You’ll also find beautifully prepared dishes from the tandoor, including chicken, lamb, shrimp and paneer, flavored with varied ingredients depending on the season. But the fun lies in the less familiar offerings like paneer mille-feuille, a dish featuring layers of paneer, green pea fondue, mango pickles and red pepper coulis; and tandoori duck seekh kebab with layers of paratha and duck served with pickled onions and apricot chutney. Be sure to try one of their remarkable cocktails, many of which are infused with Indian botanicals.
Note: Saffron is also a deliciously different stop for weekend brunch.
Recommended: Fig na’an; crispy cauliflower; biryani
Restaurants with a friendly, welcoming vibe tend to make the top of everyone’s list. And such it is with Goodkind where the people are as delightful as the fare. It’s among my favorite spots to sidle up to the bar with a friend for a later than average dinner. And thanks to their excellent seasonally driven cocktail menu, it’s also one of my favorite spots for drinks and noshes.
The menu changes frequently, so there’s always something new to enjoy (and you should definitely pay attention to their limited time specials, which are always top notch). Highlights on their regular menu include the GK Caesar salad, housemade pasta and crispy skinned rotisserie chicken that’s as flavorful as it is tender. Also, if their delicious Basque cake is on the menu, be sure to save room for it; it’s lovely. Bonus: Goodkind is one of the few spots open on Sunday and Monday evenings for dinner.
Recommended: Champagne battered oyster mushrooms; spicy crab pasta; lavender-rubbed lamb
Cozy neighborhood vibes are what you’ll find at The National Cafe, a longtime favorite of mine for late breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch. Cozy quarters and friendly service are part of the draw, but its menu is a close second.
Highlights include stellar breakfast sandwiches, available on croissants or toasted sourdough; a Full English breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, bangers and mushrooms; and the potato chorizo burrito, a grilled burrito stuffed with all the goods, from potatoes and onions to black bean dip and cheddar cheese and then smothered in salsa verde and topped with sunny-side eggs and pico de gallo. You’ll also find classic offerings like the Turkey Bacon Brie sandwich sidled right up next to vegan options like the Chorizo Joe. In the end, there’s a little something for everyone at this little Walker’s Point gem.
Recommended: Huevos rancheros; breakfast burritos; the Hot Mess (weekends only)
Lebnani House is a beautiful restaurant, with a plush, bright dining room and comfortable seating. But it’s the feast of flavors that you’ll find on the menu that makes Lebnani House so compelling.
Plates remain true to the traditions of Levantine cuisine while highlighting the evolution of the cuisines in a fresh, modern way. Yes, you can find classics like hummus (get the trio), shawarma and kafta (it’s excellent). But you’ll definitely want to explore dishes you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. For instance, you can feast on fatteh (layers of toasted pita bread tossed with tahini, tangy yogurt and grilled prawns) or indulge in eggplant and beef sajiyyeh prepared with olive oil and kashkaval cheese. The grilled meats and kebabs are also worth exploring. My earnest advice: dine with multiple friends and get a variety of dishes to share. You’ll quickly find favorites you want to eat again and again.
Recommended: hummus, eggplant and beef sajiyyeh, telar kebab
If there’s a place in town that captures the feel of a casual Parisian bistro, it’s Le Reve, where French fare is treated with elegance and care. Not only is the atmosphere clean and always filled with a pleasant bustle, there’s a menu that meets folks where they are, with offerings that span a variety of budgets.
At lunch, you’ll find what I believe to be the city’s best croque-monsieur, along with expertly prepared mussels scented of Pernod and served alongside ultra crisp frites. Meanwhile, the dinner menu is a feast of choices, from amazing steak frites to seasonal fish dishes and well-executed classics like coq au vin. Don’t miss ordering something special (and French!) off of their well curated wine list.
Le Reve is also among a few places where I’d consider dessert to be a must-have; their selection of intricate treats, including opera torte and chocolate caramel cake, are as beautiful as they are delicious. Also – don’t discount their fantastic brunch service, which includes some of the most lovely eggs benedict around.
Recommended: Moules frites au Pernod; Parisian gnocchi; confit de canard crepes; opera cake
From familiar favorites like creamy tom kha gai and comforting massamun curry to plump, crisp fried squid and slightly fiery waterfall beef salad, a meal at Appethai is both an adventure and a joy. This family operated restaurant considers every detail, offering up a beautiful dining room and hospitality that makes you feel as if you’re dining in their home.
Dig into satisfying dishes like nua toon, braised beef brisket which comes with tart lime-garlic-chili dipping sauce and potatoes or Thai rotisserie chicken with sticky rice and house dipping sauce. If you love heat, try the pad ped moo pah featuring wild boar stir fried with vegetables and (hot) chili paste. Thanks to its welcoming feel and beautifully presented fare, Appethai is the perfect spot for an easygoing date night.
Recommended: Waterfall beef salad; duck curry; Thai rotisserie chicken
Milwaukee’s BBQ game has grown stronger thanks to players like Heaven’s Table, which offers consistently well-executed meats and sides out of a simple carry-out only spot on Milwaukee’s West Side.
Meats (including pork, brisket, sausages and more) are hickory smoked and served up sans sauce with sides including mac and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans and some of the best cornbread I’ve had in the North.
Recommended: Cheddar jalapeno cornbread, greens (weekends only), smoked chicken, brisket
A casual visitor to Milwaukee could easily miss this hidden gem, which resides inside of DanDan but offers up an entirely different culinary experience. It’s a creative space where Chefs Daniel Jacobs and Dan Van Rite are allowed to experiment and push flavor boundaries. And it’s a must-try for anyone who appreciates the work that chefs put into their craft.
Despite the caliber of the dishes served, the beauty of EsterEv is that it remains a comfortable spot with little to no pretense. That’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, priced at right around $100 per person for an eight-course tasting menu (more for beverage pairings). And no, you won’t go home feeling hungry. Multi-course dinners are offered at EsterEv on Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations are required.
If you’d like to taste great Chinese fare -- particularly dishes that hail from the Sichuan region -- look no further than Sze Chuan, a West Allis gem that has raised the bar for regional Chinese fare across the city.
Step inside the restaurant and you’ll find a simple aesthetic featuring minimal art and a collection of classic booths and round tables to accommodate groups. But, open up the menu and you’ll find a virtual world of flavor with options ranging from cold dishes and noodles to Sichuan specialties and dry and stone pot dishes (including a great collection of vegetable options).
This isn’t the place to get stuck in a rut; ordering something you’ve never tried before often pays off in dividends. Highlights include the sliced pork belly in garlic sauce; the dry pot lotus root; and the Sichuan grilled lamb (which is somehow a better version of cumin lamb than the cumin lamb on the menu). Be sure to try the Szechuan special house shortribs; they’re tender and flavorful with just the right balance of mouth-numbing Szechuan pepper. Oh, and if you’re a hot pot fan, Sze Chuan’s offerings are lovely and diverse. 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; twice cooked pork
I’ve saved up one of the city’s most treasured gems especially for this celebratory time of year. After all, there are few spots more qualified to give you a taste of the Old World than Three Brothers. And a trip to dine there is both a cultural pursuit and a pleasure. Located inside of a former Schlitz tied house, this longtime restaurant offers an ambiance that embraces the charms of the old world and the hospitality you might find in someone’s private home.
On the menu, you’ll find Serbian specialties like fresh Serbian salad with tomatoes and peppers; flakey burek filled with cheese and spinach (allow about an hour for preparation); goulash served with traditional Serbian dumplings; cevapcici (sausages); and roasted lamb. Every dish is made from scratch and served with heart. Be sure to save room for desserts like housemade strudel or filled Serbian crepes.
Recommended: Burek; sarma; musaka; specials
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.