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.
Milwaukee has never lacked Italian restaurants, though for a long while it was difficult to find much diversity represented in the cuisine. 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.
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.
2. 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. Currently, you can explore the region of Veneto, with Piemonte to follow in mid-November.
Despite its more casual, neighborhood restaurant feel, Sorella doesn’t scrimp on the details, 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.
Among the newest restaurants in the city, 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. Nonetheless, they successfully forged through the challenges of the pandemic with a menu of memorable Italian dishes – from bites and salads to pasta, pizza and entrees – that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Don’t sleep on their delicious Italian inspired brunch on weekends.
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, entrees and memorable specials.
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.