By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 13, 2023 at 10:01 AM

Looking for new spots to try? During Dining Month, Lori Fredrich is dishing out must-tries in 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between. Here's what she's recommended so far!

Milwaukee has never lacked Italian restaurants, although – for a long while – it was difficult to find much diversity represented in the cuisine. Fortunately, things are changing. A focus on regional dishes combined with an emphasis on housemade pasta and fresh seasonal offerings have brought an uplift to the cuisine’s local showing. 

For the purpose of narrowing this list, I’ve left off many of the classic, comforting “red sauce joints,” as well as restaurants where pizza is the primary offering (watch for list of top spots for pizza on Sunday). Yes, I love them too; but I needed to narrow the field somehow.

However, if you are looking for a place to enjoy a special Italian meal, I think you’ll be pleased with any one of the venues on this list. Each one offers memorable dishes, solid (if not excellent) service and an atmosphere to match. Buon appetito!


6030 W. North Ave., (414) 312-8968
[Read more]

At Ca’Lucchenzo, the ever-changing menu pays homage to the regional dishes of Italy with offerings including antipasti, housemade pastas and seasonally appropriate entrees. The flavors are fresh and each dish is made with an attention to detail that truly sets Ca’Lucchenzo apart. Even better, the service is some of the best in the city.

Highlights on their current menu include pomo d'oro, pesca e mozzarella, an antipasto that begs us to cherish those last bites of summer with fresh heirloom tomatoes, peach, hours-old fresh mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil.  The same could be true of the featured pastas, which include  culurgiones di polenta: polenta-filled pasta dumplings with sweet corn, hen of the woods mushrooms, leeks and Parmigiano.  And how about a lead-in to the autumn with capesante con olivada featuring roasted jumbo scallops with baby butter beans, oven-dried tomatoes and taggiasca olive sauce?  

Ristorante Bartalotta

Crescentine, salumi e formaggio (Photo: Ristorante Bartolotta)

7616 W. State St., Wauwatosa, (414) 771-7910

[Read more]

For over 25 years, Ristorante Bartolotta has been a West Side staple, offering guests a long view of Italy through well prepared dishes. Over the years, the restaurant has always shone brightest when they’ve stretched their boundaries (traditionally through seasonal specials). Today, they’re offering guests the opportunity to travel abroad without leaving the Village of Wauwatosa thanks to monthly menus, each focused on a different region of Italy. Regional dinners are $75 and include guests' choice of four courses (some dish selections are accompanied by a slight upcharge).

Currently, you can explore the region of Bolognese through dishes like crescentine, salumi e formaggio (an antipasto of shaved prosciutto, Felino salame, mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano and crescentine/fried dough; tagliatelle al ragu (hand-cut wide ribbon pasta served with classic Bolognese ragù of beef and pancetta); and Scorfano dell'Adriatico in guazzetto (oven-baked wild Mediterranean scorpionfish with cherry tomatoes, leeks, potatoes, garlic and white wine).


Safina Veal parmesan

785 N. Jefferson St., (414) 488-9578 

[Read more]
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.


Sala chicken saltimbocca
Sala chicken saltimbocca

2613 E. Hampshire St., (414) 964-2611

[Read more]
It’s been over 20 years since Sala opened its doors on the East Side, and this cozy restaurant is still serving up some of the best Sicilian cuisine in the city. Built on the foundations of family recipes handed down through the generations, their menu showcases both old-school and new in its collection of pastas, pizzas and entrees. Even better, you'll find service that makes you feel as if you've been welcomed into someone's home.

Staples include long-simmering five-meat bolognese and gnocchi with spinach and gorgonzola cream. But be sure to ask about their current specials, which are always memorable.


Sorella Kale Caesar
Kale Caesar

2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 301-6255

[Read more]

Despite its more casual, neighborhood restaurant feel, Sorella doesn’t scrimp on the details (or the service), offering 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 antipasti, vegetable-forward plates, pastas and wood-fired pizza along with compelling, moderately priced entrees that are unlike any other restaurant in the city. 

Don't miss the kale caesar salad with Tuscan kale, celery, fennel and parmesan crispies;  the flavorful cauliflower agrodolce featuring wood-roasted cauliflower with herbs and spicy, sweet and sour peppers; the gnocchi Genovese featuring potato gnocchi with short rib and onion ragu; or the wood-r0asted swordfish livornaise with cherry tomato broth, Gaeta olives and capers. On the wood-fired pizza side, the Carmelo with sausage, broccoli rabe, mozzarella and sharp provolone is simply delicious.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.