For the eighth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Locavore, the newest restaurant at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2014."
Prepping the annual Best of Milwaukee Dining poll and examining the results of your votes got us all thinking about our favorite places to dine in Milwaukee. Here are our best-loved places. Share yours using the talkback feature at the bottom or via social media.
Favorite restaurant: Sanford
My favorite restaurant in Milwaukee is Sanford. Period. I have been there exactly twice, and on evenings out I certainly have more regular "go-to" places, but without question the best food I've eaten, and the most pleasant total dining experience I've had, have come at the little house on the corner of Jackson and Pleasant.
What's funny is I can't tell you exactly what to eat -- each time I've ordered the seven-course "mystery" or chef's choice option. Why? Because frankly, it's so, so good -- why limit yourself? I don't know when the next opportunity to go might come up, but if you can look forward to an unknown, I do at this place.
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Favorite restaurant: Odd Duck
I hate having to pick just one! However, as these cruel editors have forced me to do so... I love to try new places but I am somewhat a creature of habit. Odd Duck would be the one that I consistently come back to for both my own dining experience as well as recommending to others to try. What isn't to love about being able to try and share Odd Duck's fantastic small plates?
The menu changes often depending on fresh availability -- there are always new things to try that are not only creative but delightful. My favorite place is to sit is at the bar, which is typical with me, but Odd Duck's is the perfect depth space wise -- even for a number of plates per person -- and is one of my favorites in the city.
Favorite restaurant: Conejito's
Even though I've eaten better Mexican food and I'm not particularly thrilled with the wastefulness of the paper plates, Conejito's will always be one of my Milwaukee happy places and my favorite restaurant. I had the honor of knowing and drinking with Jose "Conejito" Garza and I will never forget when he told me that after he moved here from Mexico, he got a job at another restaurant and when the boss told him that customers were asking for him, it was the first time it occurred to him that he could be really successful at something.
From there, he worked his tail off, saved money and opened Conejito's. I have also gone there, not even on purpose, during some major events in my life. My sons have both celebrated numerous birthday parties there. I stopped in on the night of my father's funeral, after a friend's wedding and on countless random Wednesday or Sunday or Tuesday nights. There have been a lot of changes since Jose's death, but for me, it still doesn't get any better than sitting at the bar with a plate of mole, a $3.50 margarita and a muffled Johnny Cash pouring from the jukebox.
Favorite restaurant: Ristorante Bartolotta
There’s pretty much nothing about Ristorante Bartolotta, in the heart of Tosa village, that I don’t like. I love the building, I love the vibe, I love the service, I love Chef Juan Urbieta’s food, which is about the heartiest, most authentic Italian (in contrast to Italian-American) food in Milwaukee.
A few years back Urbieta and his team did rotating menus of specialties from Italian regions and those were fun and interesting culinary jaunts. I wish I got there more often, but I’m OK, too, with keeping it sacred as a go-to special occasions place.
Favorite restaurant: Benji's
I hate this question, because people ask me it all the time, and I really don't have a good answer. I love tons of Milwaukee restaurants for many different reasons. But favorite? I've been stewing about this for a long time. I was about to answer La Merenda, because every small plate dish I've tried there has been amazing. And that would be a good choice.
But then I remembered the one restaurant I've been visiting since I was born, the place that I'll go to if I'm in a bad mood and I need a pick-me-up. The place I'll get matzo ball soup if I'm sick. It has to be Benji's in Shorewood. Yes, it's changed a little since the mid '70s (mostly they just got rid of the carpet), but I order the same thing every time: a corned beef sandwich on challah, cup of matzo ball soup and a Dr. Brown's cream soda. It tastes exactly the same. Simple, authentic, Jew food. It feeds my stomach and my soul.
Favorite restaurant: SoLo Pizza
Here's one fact that you should know about me: tortellini is my favorite dish. I can't get enough of it (but in regards to my health, there's certainly a limit). SoLo Pizza, located on 2856 N. Oakland Ave., may be best known for the delicious wood-fired specialty pizzas, but the best item on the menu is, well, you guessed it: the tortellini. It's by far the best I've had in Milwaukee and because of this, SoLo is my favorite restaurant. The tortellini is tricolored and comes slathered with creamy garlic sauce and shredded parmesan cheese. As a student at UW-Milwaukee, the restaurant is also conveniently located nearby for me to sneak into after a long day of classes (and a skip away from The Black Rose for a drink).
Favorite restaurant: Calderone Club (and Alexander's)
For me, a favorite Milwaukee restaurant has many definitions. So, I have many favorites. From La Merenda, to Circa 1880 to Cubanitas. First and foremost, though, to select a truly favorite it has to boil down to family. Have I dined there and spent great times with family and friends? And, of course, the food matters too. So, for me, I gotta pick two spots. Calderone Club in Downtown Milwaukee and Alexander's in the basement of The Wisconsin Club. Sure, the later is a private club. Sorry to pull that on you. But, my Dad's been involved there for years and it's truly a special place with a great feel, amazing Milwaukee history and really, really good food. Calderone Club, well it's my "club" too. The owners are great people, the pizza's the best in town and it's not only steps from our Downtown condo but a meeting place before and after Bucks and Marquette games and other area happenings. Gino and Larry are like family, and they are always welcoming and full of Italian fun and food.