By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 18, 2022 at 10:01 AM

’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee!

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.  

Cumin, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, garam masala. The warming spices that define the Indian and Pakistani canon are also part of what makes the cuisine stand out from the crowd. In fact, if it’s flavor you’re looking for, its tough to go wrong with a comforting meal of butter chicken, dal and saag. But if you’re eager to explore more of the cuisines, here are five restaurants that are worth your while.

1. Saffron

Saffron dishesX

223 N. Water St., (414) 539-4980

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If there's a restaurant that stole my heart this year, it's Saffron. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, the service is fantastic and the food is like nothing else in the city. It's fresh. It's modern. But it still pays full homage to the traditional flavors and techniques that make Indian fare so incredible.

You'll find shareable plates like their addictive spinach chaat featuring ultra light crisp fried spinach with sweet mango chutney, chili lime dust and yogurt; and incredible fusion dishes like tandoori chicken filled bao and shrimp tawa tacos.

But you'll also find beautifully prepared dishes from the tandoor, including chicken, lamb, shrimp and paneer; delicious black lentil daal, saag paneer and chickpea masala; and gems like khubani malai kofte featuring apricot stuffed dumplings served in onion sauce laced with smoked cardamom. Be sure to try the deliciously different fig na'an as well.

Don't sleep on the cocktails coming out of Saffron's bar. Most are creative takes on familiar classics; but they incorporate botanicals and spices that mirror Saffron's food menu, so every drink is also unlike anything you've tried before. Don't drink? Their mocktails are equally as thoughtful.

2. Peshawar

7510 W. Layton Ave., Greenfield, (414) 800-4226

Chapli kebab at Peshawar
Chapli kebab at Peshawar

Among the newer Pakistani restaurants in the city, Peshawar offers a combination of Pakistani and Indian staples.

Their relatively meat-heavy menu includes kebabs, a showing of vegetable, chicken and mutton curries, biryani and a number of remarkable Pakistani meat stews including the comfort food staple, beef nihari, and haleem, a flavorful stew of shredded beef with lentils, pounded barley and wheat which originated in Persia.

Don’t overlook the chapli kebab, richly spiced minced beef patties flecked with tomato, onion and pomegranate seeds; it’s delicious with the accompanying cilantro chutney. 

3. Ruta’s Vibrant Indian Cafe

Crossroads Collective, 2238 N. Farwell Ave.

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Goa pork bowl at Ruta's
Goa pork bowl at Ruta's

Set your expectations aside. Ruta’s offers a whole new view of Indian fare thanks to inspired cafe-style offerings (think soup, sandwiches and bowls), which knit together the varied flavors of Indian cuisine with Ayurvedic principles to create fresh, healthful offerings.

You’ll find fresh flavorful sandwiches including the Monsoon rainbow filled with bright fresh vegetables, hummus and flaxseed podi (a mix of flavorful spices), along with heartier bowls like black eyed pea curry or the Goa pork bowl featuring slow cooked pork bathed in a flavorful, slightly spicy sauce that’s redolent with warming Indian spices, turmeric and chilis served alongside rice and crisp kale slaw.

Don’t miss Ruta’s Immuni-Tea, a house-blended Ayurvedic infusion with notes of ginger and turmeric. 

4. Bollywood Grill

1038 N. Jackson St., (414) 271-8200

[Bollywood Grille]

Tandoori chicken at Bollywood GrillX

I’ve never had a bad meal at this lower East Side restaurant, which stays true to its name by broadcasting Bollywood films on televisions throughout the dining room.

I’m particularly fond of a number of their vegetarian dishes including the buttery dal makhni featuring black and kidney beans; the bagara bainga (eggplant with sesame, peanuts and garam masala); and the masala dosa, thin flavorful crepes served with sambar and coconut chutney. But if meat is what you’re craving, opt for one of their sizzling platters of tangy, beautifully spiced chicken (or paneer, lamb or seafood), fresh from the tandoor. 

5. India Garden

2930 N. 117th St., Wauwatosa, (414) 235-9220 

Indian dish and rice at India Garden
Photo: India Garden

The menu at India garden is expansive, featuring dishes from both the north and south of India. Vegetable dishes are plentiful and include standouts paneer mushroom masala, aloo chole (chickpeas, potatoes and tomato in a fragrant, spiced sauce) and beans porial, a great example of a dry southern curry featuring green beans cooked with mustard seeds, curry leaves, coconut, chiles and black lentils.

India Garden is also a good bet for date night; you can get dinners for two (meat, vegetable or seafood) for right around $50.

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.