Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich has dished out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between.
Milwaukee has never lacked Italian restaurants, though it was difficult to find much diversity represented in the cuisine for many years. Things are changing, however, as regional dishes, housemade pasta and fresh seasonal offerings have offered 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. And trust me when I say that was a tough decision.
Now offering Italian Style counter service coffee, pastries & paninis.
Open Tuesday - Saturday
7am - 2pm | 3pm - Close
Happy Hour | Mon - Fri, 3pm - 6pm 2613 East Hampshire Street, Milwaukee · 414-964-2611 · SalaDining.com
But if you’re looking to enjoy a special meal, I think you’ll be pleased with any one of the venues on this list, each of which offer memorable dishes, excellent service and an atmosphere to match. Buon appetito!
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, including excellently prepared seafood. 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 ceccaluccoli al pomo d'0ro, Irpinian hand-rolled gnocchi served with San Marzano tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata di pecora; culurgiones di mais e polenta, a dish of polenta and sweet corn filled pasta dumplings served with wild venison ragù; and trota alla mugnaia featuring sautéed rainbow trout, green beans, cherry tomatoes, almond, brown butter and lemon sauce.
It’s been 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.
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 shareable items, pastas and wood-fired pizza along with compelling, moderately priced entrees that are unlike any other restaurant in the city.
Don't miss the cauliflower cacio e pepe featuring wood-roasted cauliflower and guanciale; the cavatelli with Sorella's long-simmering ‘Monday Sauce’; or the pork chop with cherry pepper sauce. On the wood-fired pizza side, the broccolini pizza is simply delicious.
Tavolino had big shoes to fill when they opened; after all, they followed in the footsteps of a series of Italian restaurants which have occupied East Side space for about 50 years. But they've established themselves nicely with a menu of memorable Italian dishes – from bites and salads to housemade pasta, pizza and entrees – that are as beautiful as they are delicious.
Dig into autumnal pastas like the mushroom stuffed black garlic mezzaluna with kale, turnips, fried shallots and cheese brodo and the pan-seared scallops with arborio rice, sweet potatoes and ground cherries. Date night? Get the involtini lasagna for two!
5. Ristorante Bartolotta
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 $65 and include guests' choice of four courses (some dish selections are accompanied by a slight upcharge).
Currently, you can explore the region of Tuscany through dishes like gamberi e passatina di ceci, a dish of sauteed shrimp and chickpea puree seasoned with garlic and rosemary; tortelli mugellani di patate, a potato ravioli with butter and sage that dates back to the 1400s; and cinghiale in umido, a comforting dish of braised wild boar shoulder with tomato and olives.
A new menu with a focus on the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy will be released on Oct. 27.
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.