In this series, we’ll be hiking the burger trail to find the latest, greatest and most delicious burgers in Milwaukee. Click here for an explanation of the criteria used to rate each burger. Where have we been? Check out the complete catalog of burger reviews here.
On March 15, 2011, Oscar and Elisabeth Castenada fulfilled their dream of opening a little pub on Milwaukee’s near South Side. The bar and restaurant is a beauty, sporting lovely burnished hardwood floors, an original tin ceiling and long bar, which welcomes a constant flow of visitors. Guests flock to the popular spot for its fine selection of local beer as well as Oscar’s burgers, which have gained a reputation for being some of the best in the city.
I stopped in for a burger on Wednesday and was greeted by a pleasant surprise. It was the restaurant’s sixth anniversary, and the pub was alive with the sounds of a live mariachi band, who serenaded the audience throughout the hour or so we were there.
PHOTO: Oscar's Pub & Grill
On my visit, I ordered up the Oscar’s classic, The "Big O": a half-pound Premium Black Angus burger topped with chipotle jack, smoked gouda, hickory bacon, chorizo, fried onions, jalapeños and a side of house guacamole.
The Big O is a sight. Surrounded by Oscar’s hand-cut fries, which are sprinkled with parmesan cheese, the healthy cheesy burger peeks out from underneath its fluffy bun, almost beckoning to be eaten.
The fluffy buns, which are made by Wild Flour Bakery, sport a nice sheen and a pleasant, slightly sweet flavor. They’re also a decent match for the juicy burger, offering up just enough structure to keep the juicy burger from becoming an absolute mess to eat.
The burgers at Oscar’s are some of the most solid I’ve tried. Made from Black Angus beef, they’re tender and juicy, thanks to a good amount of fat in the blend. We asked for ours medium rare, and it came out a bit closer to the medium side. That turned out to be OK, since the meat was juicy in and of itself. It was a bit more difficult to gauge the level of seasoning for the burger alone since it was covered in chorizo, but it wasn’t too tightly packed, giving it great texture, and its beefy flavor was apparent, even amid the generous toppings.
You gotta love a little spice with your burger to tackle The Big O. And you better grab some napkins.
The chorizo offers up a nice balanced level of spice along with just enough grease to seep down and imbue the burger with a bit of added kick (as well as ensuring you’ll need a napkin to sop the orange from your fingers). There’s a pleasant smokiness and a bit more heat from the cheeses, which double up as a fine way of keeping the fried onions and jalapeños in place, giving you a bit of every flavor with each bite. The crisp bacon likely adds to that, though I’d consider it more of a textural component, since it breaks up the monotony with a bit of crunch.
You could dip your fries in the guacamole, which is delicious. But spreading a bit on the burger gives it a nice, fresh zip that lightens up the other bigger, smokier flavors.
At $7.25, you won’t find me complaining about the price of this burger anytime soon. It's got big flavors, it's filling and it comes with a generous plate of fries. A deal if I ever saw one.
If you haven’t yet tried a burger from Oscar’s, you’d be remiss not to put them on your list. And if you have, well, you know what I’m talking about. While I can’t guarantee mariachi on your next visit, I can assure you there’s a great burger waiting for you.
Oscar’s kitchen is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The bar keeps later hours, until midnight Monday through Wednesday and through bar time Thursday through Saturday.
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.