724 E. Layton Ave.
A full-sized airplane is skillfully integrated into the front marquee of Amelia's, fittingly situated across the street from the airport. "Amelia" references the glorious aviator Earhart, of course. But this joint is about more than just aviation. The place offers a loaded evening of jazz every Thursday, including a happy hour (4-8 p.m.) slot that features vocalist Jackson Dordel with Milwaukee piano legend Ray Tabbs, bassist (and singer) Hal Miller, and drummer Jack Carr. Food options include thin-crust pizza from slate ovens and a local fave called the "747," a shaved-sirloin sandwich. (Kevin Lynch)
Anaba Tea Room
2107 E. Capitol Drive
Finding Anaba is part of the fun. You enter into an upscale garden shop featuring all of the accessories you need to make your yard perfect. Near the entrance, an elevator and a stairway lead to the lower-level Anaba. Thanks to a light well, sunlight and greenery fill the space. The specialty, with 80-some varieties to choose from, is hot tea. The bar also serves wine, beer and sake. Stay for dinner and order from the fine Asian fusion menu. In warmer weather, head to the roof of the building, where tables for tea and dining can be found alongside a greenhouse and garden. (Jeff Beutner)
711 W. Mitchell St.
The ambiance at Anmol, tucked into a small storefront, may be austere, but the food is excellent. The beef and lamb is halal, slaughtered according to Muslim tradition, and Amish farmers feed the chickens. The large-portioned entrees also include fish and vegetarian options. Sit back, watch the soccer scores on the Pakistani or Indian satellite channels beamed through the big TV and top off your meal with creamy mango lassi. Anmol does a brisk carry-out business and has recently begun delivering to much of the Milwaukee area. (David Luhrssen)
189 N. Milwaukee St.
Although overshadowed by such popular names as Starbucks and Alterra, Bella has persisted as an independent coffee shop for its unique atmosphere and friendly service. The high ceilings and windows connect the shop to the outside and grant the room a sense of spaciousness. The walls are always filled with posters promoting local performing arts groups. With its comfortable seating arrangements, Bella has become the first choice for many artists and presenters to gather for talking and planning. Light food and bakery are offered along with coffee and tea. (John Schneider/David Luhrssen)
3401 S. 13th St.
To walk into an Indian sweet shop in Mumbai or elsewhere is to be dazzled by the shapes and flavors that can be spun out of milk and sugar. In Milwaukee, Bombay Sweets sells a large array of Indian desserts by the pound, but the restaurant's reputation leans more on its eat-in or take-away selection of breads, curries and vegetarian entrees. The veggie lunch special (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) is a wallet-watcher's delight: a piece of roti, rice, a pair of entrees, cooling yogurt and the best kheer (rice pudding) in town, all for $5.95. (David Luhrssen)
901 E. Clarke St.
Nestled in the depths of Riverwest, Bremen Café sits in the massive shadow of the grand Our Lady of Divine Providence. The scruffy bohemian pub recalls a European café. It also offers a fairly serious pool hall in the back. Across from the bar hangs framed caricatures of Milwaukee business pioneers, including Gustave Pabst and Charles Pfister. On Wednesdays, Mid Mountain Music delves into Appalachian tradition with the artful banjo and high, lonesome voice of Chad Witty. (Kevin Lynch)
3466 N. 14th St. (414-265-9117)
9002 W. Silver Spring Drive (414-393-0322)
At The Bungalow, omnivores can sink their teeth into chicken and steak as well as more distinctive entrees including oxtails and chitterlings. Vegetarians can get their fill with a plate of sides such as okra and greens, every plate accompanied by mouth-watering cornbread flapjacks. Diners can wash it all down with sweet tea, fruit punch, lemonade or a mix of the latter two. If you have room for dessert, finish off the meal with some sweet potato pie or banana pudding. (Jamie Lee Rake)
3129 N. Bremen St.
This cozy place, which captures the heart of Latin romance, features Mexican cuisine made from the produce of local farmers. The brick exterior resembles a small flatiron building. The triangular layout includes a seasonal outdoor café overlooking a wild space. The bar touts its Bloody Marys and the food is quite tasty. (Kevin Lynch)
5901 W. Vliet St.
Café Perrin, which opened last year, is a welcome addition to the Washington Heights neighborhood. A pleasant spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the café serves fresh baked goods along with quiche and omelets. Lunch focuses on sandwiches, wraps and salads; dinner expands to include entrees such as lasagna al fresco, barbecue ribs and lobster mac 'n' cheese. Café Perrin is a restaurant to enjoy at all times of the day. (Jeff Beutner)
8718 W. Lisbon Ave.
Champion Chicken has been a full-service restaurant on the Northwest Side for decades. If you want to pick up your order, you'll have fun in the waiting area watching the efficient cooking staff in the exposed kitchen. If you want to eat in, you'll find a spacious, dark interior with many quiet spots amid the barnwood walls and rustic ornaments. And if you want a delivery, your dinner may arrive in one of Champion Chicken's famous trucks topped with the image of its namesake fowl. The menu is huge and, unlike at many chain-operated "family restaurants," a full bar is available. The specialty, of course, is chicken in all its varieties. Especially good is the barbecue chicken pizza. (David Luhrssen/Mary Manion)
Christie's Pub & Grill
3261 S. 13th St.
From outside and within, Christie's looks like countless other Milwaukee taverns. But when you ask for a menu, the little place turns into Sanford on the South Side. A family business since 1954, Christie's is currently a mother-son operation. The son is the tirelessly friendly bartender-waiter while mom is in the kitchen, preparing appetizers such as flash-fried shrimp (so tender they melt) with sweet-and-sour sauce and daily specials ranging from an astonishingly good pecan-crusted cod (with garlic mashed potatoes) to a burger topped with blue cheese and figs. Like at a gourmet restaurant, the food takes time to make, so be prepared to sip your drink slowly and study the walls, covered in '50s-era photos of the bar and its patrons. Prices are modest. (David Luhrssen)
6901 W. North Ave.
The "cranky" in Cranky Al's doesn't refer to the customers that find the place closed during normal business hours—not only is Al's shut down on Monday, but it's also closed from noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday—but rather to the "hand-cranked donuts" that are the coffeehouse's signature. The donuts have a deliciously lighter texture than the factory-produced competition and they aren't the only good thing on the menu of bakery, sandwiches and salads. From 4-8 p.m., Al cranks out homemade pizza with an array of toppings, including pineapple and anchovies. (David Luhrssen)
1824 N. Farwell Ave.
A little bit of East Africa is tucked snugly inside an inconspicuous East Side strip mall. Ethiopian Cottage serves the traditional food of the region, including stew-like preparations of vegetables, red meat and poultry, on the soft sourdough bread called injera—which serves as the plate, the eating utensil (when used to scoop up the stews) and part of the meal. It's the ultimate in sustainable dining! The Cottage, decorated with Ethiopian handicrafts, offers traditional honey wine along with a full bar and a lunch buffet. (David Luhrssen)
3701 E. Squire Ave., Cudahy
At a time when even many locally owned restaurants look as if they came from the same cookie cutter, Ilija's stands apart. The small Serbian restaurant is a dimly lit enclave with a bar and a backroom filled with kilims, icons, paintings and Balkan bric-a-brac. The bar offers some unique, potent libations and the menu is a carnivore's delight for lamb, beef and pork dishes, home cooked and artfully prepared. (David Luhrssen)
John's Sandwich Shop
8913 W. North Ave.
A friendly smile from the waitress and the aroma of warm toast and hot coffee greet customers at John's Sandwich Shop. Long a Wauwatosa favorite, John's renovated its menu a few years ago, adding many healthy items along with a slight Mediterranean accent. A great place for flavorful, imaginative omelets and sandwiches, John's sports a patio out front in summer and a lunch counter, tables and a pair of tiny booths year round. It's crowded with neighborhood folks—and worth the drive even if you don't live in Tosa. (David Luhrssen)
5025 W. Forest Home Ave.
A big neon sign marks your arrival at Maria's Pizza, a longtime favorite for thin-crust pizza. The interior décor follows the Italian-American tradition, complete with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. The place is a riot of color year round, thanks to the many Christmas lights, and walls are covered with bric-a-brac. This is where Elvis and the Easter Bunny meet. It's a singular approach that shows that Maria's is the real thing, not a corporate imitation. (Jeff Beutner)
Oscar's Pub & Grill
1712 W. Pierce St.
Although inconspicuously tucked into an industrial district in between the 16th Street Viaduct and National Avenue, Oscar's has attracted a large lunch crowd for its deliciously prepared Angus burgers (eight varieties on the menu), served on a superb bun and with fries sprinkled in grated cheese. With friendly service and the look and feel of a neighborhood bar, Oscar's is appealing any time of day. Stop in for some conversation and select from the two-dozen beers offered, including imports on tap. (David Luhrssen)
Plaza Hotel Café
1007 N. Cass St.
Set inside a small art deco hotel like a quaint keepsake in an antique locket, the Plaza Hotel Café serves a fresh, filling, inexpensive breakfast and lunch 7 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Sit at the original counter and enjoy the Grecian bas-reliefs of youth dancing to cymbals and pan pipes, bask in the sun at outdoor wrought-iron tables in the enclosed patio garden, and relax to the sound of dishes and conversation, no music, no TV, and a waitress who calls you "honey." (John Schneider)
2995 S. Clement Ave.
A corner bar in Bay View became a polished jewel in the middle of the last decade when Tenuta's occupied the spot. Pronounced as the most "authentic" Italian restaurant by some local Italianophiles, the little place boasts a good wine list, a thoughtful selection of antipasti, insalate and entrees, an excellent baked fish on Friday served Mediterranean style and some of the city's best pizza. The mood lighting, paintings on the wall and beautiful tile and wood floor provide a pleasant backdrop. (David Luhrssen)
1801 S. Third St.
The three-spiraled triskele, perhaps humankind's oldest symbol, here represents three realms of affordable fine cuisine—meat, seafood and vegetarian. The modest-sized, warmly decorated room has additional seating at a small bar with a view of popular chef JoLinda Klopp at work. Her partner in this owner-operated venture is bartender Lynn Winter, excellent company. Where but here each Tuesday evening can you find $8 all-you-can-eat mussels in two flavors, one traditional, one unique? The choose-your-cheeses mac 'n' cheese is another gem. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays with nightly specials. (John Schneider)