Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich will be dishing out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories throughout the month of October. In this particular case, she's chosen 10... because CHEESE.
Is there anything better than a delving into a plate of indulgently crisp deep-fried cheese curds? We think not.
But, if you’re going to indulge in this Dairy State worthy treat, it pays to do the research and make it worth your while. After all, fried curds come in many forms – from breaded to beer-battered and everything in between – and, as much as we'd like them to be, they're not all created equal.
That said, we've taken one for the team, sampling our way around the city to find the best cheese curds of the bunch.
Whether it’s that warm buttery crunch you’re after or the ever-so subtle squeak of the cheese between your teeth, we’ve curated eight of the best spots (in alphabetical order) to get your ooey gooey, super stretchy, hot cheesy fix.
1. Black Sheep
216 S. 2nd St., (414) 223-0903
Pancake battered cheese curds? Oh, yes. The one-of-a-kind nature of these curds is among the good reasons to give them a try. These curds have been a Black Sheep classic for years; but they have evolved over time to be lighter and crispier. The huge fluffy curds are perfectly fine eaten on their own, but a dip into the accompanying maple syrup really does make them delicious. You can grab these up anytime for $11, even at brunch.
7700 W Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 271-7700
Made with muenster cheese curds from Decatur Dairy, the Buckatabon curds boast a soft, mildly buttery interior with an ultra-crisp exterior breadcrumb coating that also offers an herbal pop. They’re served alongside an intensely herbal ranch dressing that offers a fresh foil for the richness of the curds. The curds are sold by the half pound for $10.95, with a full pound for $17.95.
434 S. 2nd St., (414) 800-5641
7211 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 810-4838
Camino is a craft beer bar, so you might expect the curds to sport a stereotypical beer batter. But they don’t. Instead, the cheddar curds are hand-breaded in an Italian breadcrumb-based coating and fried to a deep golden brown. The cheese itself has a nice healthy pull, and a rich buttery flavor. And, once fried, the breadcrumbs offer up an exceedingly light, crisp texture that clings nicely to the curds. They’re served with a side of Russian dressing, which is a nice sweet foil for the curds’ saltiness ($9).
636 S 6th St, Milwaukee, WI (414) 531-5772
If it’s a Wisconsin-style beer batter you’re looking for, you’ll find it at Dairyland where they serve up a third pound of fresh Clock Shadow cheese curds dipped in beer batter and fried until crisp. The batter itself has a clean beer flavor and a light consistency similar to tempura. The curds themselves are squeaky fresh with a rich cheddar tang. Don’t sleep on the “ultra ranchy” buttermilk ranch, which is redolent of dill and just as good as the curds themselves ($6.95).
Food Truck, (262) 229-1157
I'm not sure if there are lighter, crispier curds to be found than at the Heirloom food truck where Clock Shadow cheese curds are utterly transformed into dreamy, pillowy puffs of beer-battered glory ($11). The stellar jalapeno ranch and housemade roasted tomato jam only sweeten the deal.
6. Joe Mama's Bar & Grill
4600 County Line Q, Colgate, (262) 628-9211
We made a trek outside the city for these. But how can you resist a menu description that promises “little pillows of cheesy heaven from Chippewa Falls?" Yeah, that's what we thought. Now, the first thing to note about the Lake Five cheese curds at Joe Mama’s is that they’re not true cheese curds, per se (cheese curds, which are formed naturally during the cheesemaking process, are not square by design); but they are delicious. The cubes of lightly breaded fried cheddar are creamy and melty with a gentler pull than you’d find in a curd. They’re crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside, and they harbor a distinctive flavor that’s pretty much a dead ringer for a grilled cheese sandwich. They’re nice dipped in Joe Mama’s ranch dressing; but we didn’t mind eating them as-is, with a bit of beer to chase down the saltiness ($8.95).
7. Lakefront Brewery & Beer Hall
1872 N Commerce St., (414) 372-8800
Long known for their Friday night fish fry, Lakefront has also drawn the crowds for their award-winning cheese curds. The beer batter on their exterior is light and crisp with just a hint of beer flavor that compliments the salty tangy pull of the Clock Shadow Creamery curds beneath. As for that ranch dipping sauce, it’s classic with a nice kick of garlic ($9).
8. Milwaukee Brat House
1013 N. Old World 3rd St., (414) 273-8709
4022 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, (414) 539-5826
At the Brat House, you’ll find ultra-crispy curds that hold their crunch better than most. That’s juxtaposed against a stretchy, cheesy interior. Their ranch dipping sauce is mild, slightly tangy and mayo-forward. Oh, did I mention that their curds are topped with parmesan? Yeah. Because garnishing fried cheese with more cheese is the best idea ever ($9.95). Prefer your curds with a kick? You can also get them tossed in buffalo sauce (+$1).
9. Red Lion Pub
1850 N. Water St., (414) 431-9009
Red Lion might be experts at showcasing British-inspired fare; but they’re no slouches when it comes to capturing the cheese-loving soul of Wisconsin. Here Clock Shadow Creamery curds are treated to a robe of crisp, airy Spotted Cow beer batter. When hot, these better-than-State Fair curds sport a light crispness that allows the cheese to speak for itself. They’re served with a side of ranch dressing for $10.49.
10. The Vanguard
2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 539-3593
Oh, yes. The creative sausage slingers at The Vanguard deliver true goodness with their take on the classic Wisconsin snack. These curds woo cheese lovin’ diners with stretchy, buttery curds enveloped by a breading that delivers on the crunch factor. The bacon stein aioli adds even more Wisconsin flair with big beer and mustard notes and a vaguely smokey undertone ($7).
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.