Recently, Oscar's Bar and Grill owner Oscar Castaneda wrote to tell me I ought to stop in and try the burgers at his new place on 17th and Pierce Streets in Clarke Square.
Today, I took him up on that advice and was confronted with one of the city's best burgers.
"We serve awesome burgers on a fresh bun, with homemade french fries," Castaneda said of his restaurant at 1712 W. Pierce St.
If I thought he might be overstating it a little when I read that, I think it no more.
Castaneda has worked at Sobelman's and The Wicked Hop, among other places. He has also worked at Wild Flour Bakery, and all this experience has helped get him where he is now.
His half-pound burgers are plump and juicy Black Angus. I had a Big Gringo ($6.75) with melted Wisconsin white cheddar and American cheese and two criss-crossed strips of hearty and thick hickory smoked bacon.
The bun was soft but not mushy and is made especially for Oscar's by Wild Flour.
Instead of the homemade fries, I opted for the cinnamon sweet potato fries, which were a revelation. Sweet and savory at the same time, they were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and, thankfully, with no excess grease.
I was joined by co-worker Andy Tarnoff, who had signature The Big "O" burger ($7.25) -- with jalapenos, fried onions, chipotle jack and smoked gouda cheeses, bacon and chorizo and a side of guac.
"If this isn't the best burger in Milwaukee, it's close," Andy enthused. "When this city's offerings are this good, it's hard to pick just one winner, but I couldn't imagine my lunch tasting any better."
There are a handful of other burger choices, too, including a basic hamburger for $5 and a simple cheeseburger for 50 cents more. There are a couple Cuban sandwiches, a Caesar salad and appetizers like seven layer nachos, wings, chicken tenders and chicken quesadillas, too.
Castaneda has transformed the old Mixers tavern for Oscar's, keeping the personality of a classic old Milwaukee tavern but with fresh paint, re-finished hardwood floors and a nice, clean look.
There's a patio out back that overlooks the Potawatomi flame down in the valley and the western end of Downtown. A three-terraced grassy area may soon be transformed into a larger deck space and/or sand soccer areas.
Of course, Oscar's is also a pub, so there's a juke box with Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga, hits compilations and the usual fare -- and a couple dozen bottled beers, a few tappers and a great selection of tequilas available.
Castaneda ditched the pool table near the front window and replaced it with a ping pong table in the back room.
Service is friendly and welcoming and the place has a nice feel, too.
The menu isn't huge, but that's OK. The burger choices are solid and, in the end, they are what will draw you in and earn Oscar's its reputation.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.