Food & Drink
Best of Milwaukee 2012
1824 N. Farwell Ave.
Ethiopian restaurants offer a unique dining experience: You can ditch the knives and forks and eat your meal along with the plate it’s served on—the crepe-like, slightly tart sourdough called injera. Ethiopian Cottage offers traditional East African vegetable or meat stews, arrayed on injera and served in an attractive setting decorated with Ethiopian handicrafts. Try the honey wine and the lunch buffet. And yes, don’t worry, knives and forks are available. (David Luhrssen)
Alem Ethiopian Village
Milwaukee Ale House
With multiple dining rooms, a two-tier outdoor patio on the Milwaukee River, live music and a huge selection of house-brewed beers, it’s clear why the original Milwaukee Ale House (a popular second location resides in Grafton) took first place in the “Brew Pub” category. The suds selection ranges from tart golden ales like the Solomon Juneau, to rich stouts like the Sheepshead, to specialty beers like the Chai Polish Moon. Expansive yet full of intimate spots in which to socialize, this bar and full-scale restaurant epitomizes the atmosphere of scenic urban life. (Selena Milewski)
Horny Goat Hideaway
317 N. 76th St.
Blue’s Egg is a tasty place for a casual breakfast or lunch with a solid menu of classics, as well as some interesting twists. The expected eggs and pancakes are available, but it’s the dishes that feature Blue’s signature pulled ham or stuffed hash browns that really elevate this place to the top of the list for brunch. Of course, serving amazing omelets with creatively delicious fillings and perhaps the best eggs Benedict in town doesn’t hurt, either. Blue’s extensive list of house cocktails, bottled beer and Bloody Marys suggests diners should slow down and savor the experience. (Susan Harpt Grimes)
Sobelman’s opened on 19th and St. Paul in the ’90s, years before the Menomonee Valley was redeveloped; long before there was much else to do in the neighborhood, the little corner bar drew business on the strength of great hamburgers served on tasty buns. In recent years Sobelman’s empire has spread, with locations open on the East Side and Marquette campus. (D.L.)
1550 N. Farwell Ave.
Buffets have been a fail-safe way of introducing Milwaukeeans to previously unfamiliar cuisine—and they appeal to our city’s cost-conscious tradition. Maharaja has been a perennial favorite for Shepherd Express readers, both for flavor and variety. Not only will you not leave hungry, but most of us would be unable to consume everything among the array of biryanis and curried meat and vegetable dishes on the buffet tables. Be sure to save room for a scoop of mango ice cream. (D.L.)
Potawatomi Bingo Casino
728 N. Milwaukee St.
Cubanitas’ delightful menu is devoted to Cuban food. The décor of Spanish Colonial elegance includes a bar that comes alive in the evening—the perfect setting in which to enjoy a mojito. The menu features an impressive Cuban sandwich, shrimp in white wine sauce, and ropa vieja. The last is slow-cooked shredded beef in a zesty tomato Creole sauce. This is one of the hot spots on Milwaukee Street. (Jeff Beutner)
539 W. Virginia St.
This repeat winner of the Best of Milwaukee Cheap Eats category continues to earn its title by serving delicious traditional Mexican cuisine at affordable prices. A fixture of the South Side for 40 years, the restaurant boasts three spacious dining areas (each with a full bar serving Mexican and domestic beers, mixed drinks and margaritas) and is perfect for large parties or spontaneous outings with friends. Must-try menu items include the enchilada plate ($4.75) and the chicken mole ($5). (S.M.)
2501 S. Superior St.
This Bay View corner tap serves better-than-average bar food, including a truly respectable burger, but its wings are in a class all by themselves. Plump and marinated for deep flavor, each wing is grilled until it develops a tasty char. The process takes some time, so expect a wait from time to time—and a long one on Wednesday nights, when wings are 50 cents and customers sometimes wait hours for their order—but rest assured that it’s worth it. These wings are unlike any other in the city. (Evan Rytlewski)
Buffalo Wild Wings
Points East Pub
Emperor of China
1010 E. Brady St.
This indispensable restaurant wins every year for the expected reasons: its thoughtful menu, great food and service, affordable prices and comforting atmosphere. The secret ingredient, I think, is the hardworking husband-and-wife team who’ve owned the place since 1986. One of them is always on the premises to greet you with a cheerful smile or warmly answer the phone if you call for delivery or carryout. They seem to love what they do and to care about you. There’s a pleasure in patronizing their restaurant that goes beyond the good food, although I love that, too. (John Schneider)
Brewed local and brewed strong, Alterra coffee is full-bodied and easy on the wallet. Alterra coffee shops are designed with social interaction in mind, exuding a warm, comforting environment that is perfect for studying, relaxing or enjoying a date. Opening early and closing late, one can drop by at any time of day for a caffeine fix or to stave off hunger with a variety of soups, sandwiches and sweets. Get jacked on local brew! (Maxwell Thiesenhusen)
1827 N. Farwell Ave.
For a poor UWM student like me, Pizza Shuttle is one of the best things in existence. Since Pizza Shuttle delivers late (3 or 4 a.m., depending on the night), it becomes oh-so-convenient when trying to sober up from a long night out. The best part is that the menu is positively extensive, with pizza, sandwiches, burgers and salads—all you could want to satisfy that late-night hunger. No surprise, Pizza Shuttle has become a collegiate institution. On behalf of all students, I want to say thank you, Pizza Shuttle. Thank you. (M.T.)
Dunkin’ Donuts is not only an American favorite, but a Milwaukee hot spot as well. Dunkin’ is located throughout the area and has become preferred for coffee, bagels, muffins and, specifically, donuts. Ranging from old-fashioned cake donuts and Bavarian Kremes to fun flavors such as strawberry and pina colada, the donut selection can satisfy even those with the most particular tastes. I think it’s safe to say that Milwaukee runs on Dunkin’. (Amanda Sullivan)
Farm to Table (Local Source Restaurant)
1101 S. Second St.
Locally sourced foods have become the rage in 2012, and many restaurants are getting involved. Among the best is Braise, created by chef David Swanson. The menu is organized into small bites, butcher board, small plates, larger plates and dessert. The variety is exceptional, with recipes that search for purity of flavor. Braise also has a culinary school for those in search of a bit more depth. This is definitely one of the highlights of the 2012 dining season. (J.B.)
Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden—Captain Rusty’s Fish Fry
1872 N. Commerce St.
Beer, brats and fish fries make Milwaukee what it is. Two of the three will be found every Friday night at the Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden. This large hall has communal tables, live music from the Brewhaus Polka Kings and a menu highlighting seafood. The music is loud at this social gathering spot. The beers, brewed in the same building, offer some mighty fine ways to wash down the fish. (J.B.)
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
1022 S. First St.
Mention French restaurants and many Americans still think “expensive” or “fancy.” Chez Jacques confounds those stereotypes with modestly priced selections in an unpretentious setting. The menu is built around simple but well-prepared dishes, especially crepes, sandwiches and salads. The French onion soup and croissants are unsurpassed in Milwaukee. (D.L.)
Frozen Custard Stand
What is there to say about this Milwaukee institution that hasn’t been said before? Everything about this restaurant is amazing. While Kopp’s has gained notice for its burgers, dessert is still the main attraction. After all, what other custard stand has its own flavor calendar? Many intensely loyal customers plan specific days to visit in order to get their favorite custard taste. Since it’s open seven days a week, there’s always time for Kopp’s. I myself enjoy a double scoop of cookies and cream after eating a burger with the works. Absolutely delicious. (M.T.)
1041 N. Old World Third St.
In business for more than a century, Mader’s is one of the oldest restaurants in Milwaukee. It is a landmark on a street that also includes Usinger’s, the Wisconsin Cheese Mart and the Spice House. Mader’s interior is more German than Germany, with ornamental iron and woodwork, stained glass and beer steins of all sizes. The menu has classic German fare, including liver dumpling soup and an assortment of schnitzels. (J.B.)
The original Oakland Gyros has benefited from its location near all those starving UW-Milwaukee students. But it has also managed to replicate that success on Layton Avenue, with name and menu intact. The formula is nothing fancy: large portions of tasty food, served with rice or fries, at reasonable prices. Traditional Eastern Mediterranean dishes are joined with Hellenic-American hybrids such as Greek burgers and fries. (D.L.)
1947 N. Farwell Ave.
It was Sunday, 9:30 a.m. Ignoring the Beermosa, Booze-a-latte and Bruncharita, the young man seated beside me at the counter asked our waiter Adam to recommend “a light Wisconsin beer for breakfast.” Needing no hair of the dog myself, I was gorging on a breakfast burrito of scrambled eggs, cheese, pico de gallo, ranchero sauce and spicy sour cream, enough to reorient anyone’s insides constructively should the need arise. My bleary-eyed neighbor tasted Adam’s choice, a new craft beer from Geneva Lake Brewing Co., declared it “outstanding,” and thanked the smiling waiter. “That’s what I’m here for,” Adam replied. (J.S.)
The Dogg Haus
The scruffy Brady Street shop touted its Chicago-style dogs when it opened in 2005, and Milwaukee responded with relish. With Shepherd readers awarding it first place every year, additional shops were opened at Marquette, UWM, Cathedral Square and the Downtown business district. Each now offers 18 specialty hot dogs named for places around the globe. Having traveled, I prefer the Wisconsin hot dog, smothered in melted mozzarella, cheddar and spicy nacho cheese. There’s also a build-your-own option with 25 possible toppings slathered over Vienna beef or veggie dogs in steamed poppy-seed buns. (J.S.)
Sammy’s Taste of Chicago
Kil@wat at the InterContinental Hotel
139 E. Kilbourn Ave.
Kil@wat has a serene setting for a hotel restaurant. The seating is comfortable and spacious and large windows overlook the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The menu follows current trends with items like tuna tartare, a roasted beet salad and beef short ribs. Be sure to try the New York strip steak with truffled frites. Since many theaters are within walking distance, there also is a three-course pre-theater menu. (J.B.)
Mason Street Grill at the Pfister Hotel
Smyth at The Iron Horse Hotel
1503 N. Farwell Ave.
The Pasta Tree has two rooms. The original section is cozy and the more romantic of the two. The newer half offers a bar and more spacious seating. As the name promises, the menu is geared toward Italian pastas. The different types of pastas can be made with egg, spinach or whole wheat. There is a beef carpaccio appetizer, but the pastas are mainly vegetarian or with seafood. If your idea of Italian cooking is pasta, pasta, pasta, this is your dream restaurant. (J.B.)
202 W. Wisconsin Ave.
The large menu at Kiku offers every kind of teriyaki imaginable, including steak and mahi-mahi. Noodle dishes are abundant as well. The tempura is ever so crisp. Kiku also has two bars—one is devoted to sushi and the other to sake. The bars feature seats for people who want to be seen. Others will appreciate the relative privacy of a booth. The location is very close to the Delta Center and the Riverside Theater. (J.B.)
Benji’s is all about the comfort food. Eating here is like coming home, even if you’ve never been to Benji’s before. With a menu that stars steaming bowls of homemade matzo ball soup, sandwiches piled high with thin and tender corned beef, crispy potato pancakes and Hoppel Poppel loaded with fried salami, diners will feel fully satisfied when leaving. Benji’s classic Reuben is tough to beat, even in a town with other contenders. When a restaurant has been popular for more than 30 years, you know there is something special about it. (S.H.G.)
Kitchen Open After 10 p.m.
Ma Fischer’s Family Restaurant
2214 N. Farwell Ave.
If you’ve ever stopped by Ma Fischer’s after bar close, you’ll understand why it took first place in the After 10 category. Dine at this time and you’ll find yourself among dozens of other revelers enjoying that cheeseburger, Greek special or early breakfast combo that always proves the perfect way to ward off a hangover. Ma’s has an extensive menu with many affordable options, plenty of seating and a bustling city diner atmosphere. (S.M.)
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
2178 N. Prospect Ave.
This is the only local restaurant fully devoted to Korean food, a cuisine that doesn’t shy away from bold flavors. Take kimchee, fermented cabbage with an explosive pairing of hot pepper and garlic. But Korean fare can also be mild. Bulgogi is soy-sauce-marinated beef with wide appeal. For a sampler, try Seoul’s lunch buffet, which offers a good assortment of menu items. (J.B.)
Maxie's Southern Comfort
6732 W. Fairview Ave.
Since Maxie’s Southern Comfort opened in Milwaukee, we no longer have to travel to the Gulf for top-notch Cajun food. Fresh seafood is flown in five days a week to stock the raw bar, which features oysters, clams and shrimp. Mouth-watering favorites like shrimp and grits, jambalaya, gumbo and fried green tomatoes will warm you up on cool Wisconsin nights. Blue cheese lovers, make sure to order the yummy “RWB” coleslaw (red and white cabbage, plus blue cheese). A respectable list of draft and bottled beer, wine and interesting cocktails makes it easy to find something special to wash down all the tasty treats at Maxie’s. (S.H.G.)
2301 S. Howell Ave.
Guanajuato has developed a reputation for having some really amazing Mexican food. The menu includes beef tongue—meat so tender that it's transcendentally delicious. With generous portions, huge burritos and some really great salsa for chips beforehand, there isn’t much this place is lacking. And the atmosphere is set to receive an upgrade soon, when the restaurant moves up the block to 2317 S. Howell Ave. (Russ Bickerstaff)
Mexican Restaurant Runners-up:
Beans & Barley
Middle Eastern Restaurant
728 E. Brady St.
In the Bogart classic Casablanca, everyone goes to Rick’s. In Milwaukee, anyone who loves shish kabob and hummus has gone to Casablanca. With the opening of the upper level and its wrap-around mezzanine, there are more reasons than ever to visit. The weekday and Sunday lunch buffets offer a tantalizing array of mostly vegetarian options, and the menu includes much of what’s on the buffet table, plus lamb, beef and chicken. The stylishly designed bar is a great place for smoking the hookah, and belly dancers appear on Friday nights. (D.L.)
1955 S. Hilbert St.
Tucked away in a half-scenic, half-grimy nook of the Milwaukee River, this not-so-hidden treasure is one of the city’s most bustling summer destinations, a kitschy slice of Key West in northern Bay View. Diners can arrive by car or by boat and suck down tropical drinks or iced buckets of Corona while waiting for their burgers, po’ boys or catfish. The food is fresh, simple and often fried, nothing fancy but always tasty, and the patio’s festive ambiance gives Milwaukeeans something to dream about during the city’s long winter months. (E.R.)
1724 N. Farwell Ave.
The Zaffiro brothers, John and Liborio (aka Bobby), have been slinging pies from the East Side’s very heart since Frank Sinatra was still pulling Academy Awards. The Sicilian brothers’ specialty was thin-crust, with Bobby’s wife, Rose, creating a secret special family-recipe sauce. Their descendants still run the joint, and thin-crust is still the specialty. The crust is stretched, flipped and baked until it’s cracker crispy; it’s mysteriously capable of holding heaps of cheese and high-quality slices of everything. (Willy Thorn)
4016 S. Packard Ave.
Given Milwaukee’s history, there are surprisingly few Polish restaurants in the area. One of them, Polonez, is owned by George and Aleksandra Burzynski, natives of Poland. The menu is filled with Polish favorites like stuffed cabbage and beef roulade. Live polka music every Saturday evening encourages diners to get on the dance floor. And the restaurant’s charming bar serves a very impressive selection of Polish beers and vodkas. (J.B.)
1547 N. Jackson St.
Sanford D’Amato and his wife, Angie, opened Sanford in 1989. It quickly became a destination for its innovative fare; over the years, it has won numerous awards for its cuisine and its choice wine list. The menu maintains its edge with chef de cuisine Justin Aprahamian, a rising star. You will feel pampered here from the moment you walk in the door. By then, the valet will have already parked your car. (J.B.)
Restaurant When Someone Else Is Buying
Restaurant With a View
1818 N. Hubbard St.
On the morning of Sept. 16, Roots announced that it would be serving its last dinner that very evening. After eight years of both critical and customer acclaim, this came as a complete surprise to area patrons who had grown accustomed to the relaxed, contemporary dining experience that Roots was known for. While it will be missed, fans of Roots should be pleased to know that developer Tim Dixon will be opening a new restaurant—Wolf Peach—in the same location, where customers can once again partake in local, seasonal ingredients and, arguably, the greatest view of Downtown Milwaukee. (Justin Krol)
Restaurant When Someone Else Is Buying Runners-up:
Restaurant With a View Runners-up:
Lake Park Bistro
5539 W. State St.
Lots of Milwaukeeans will know Saz’s for its crispy sour-cream-and-chive fries, wonton-wrapped mozzarella sticks, and pulled pork sandwiches served at festivals all around town in the warmer months. But if you’ve never made the trip to Saz’s restaurant for its tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs smothered in its famous barbecue sauce, it’s time to fix that. Get the full or half rack with a choice of house coleslaw or baked beans and those tasty sour-cream-and-chive fries or homemade kettle chips. If you think the rib dinner is too much food, try the rib appetizer for a pound of ribs without all the extras. (S.H.G.)
Lake Park Bistro
3133 E. Newberry Blvd.
The setting could hardly be better, perched on top of the Lake Park bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Tables for two line the windows. The French menu includes items like sole meuniere and filet mignon au poivre. The exceptional wine list even offers a 1995 Krug Clos du Mesnil, which will run just $1,300 for a bottle. Fortunately, other selections are much less expensive. Lake Park Bistro is the choice for an enjoyable date. (J.B.)
1940 N. Farwell Ave.
Neighborhood grocers are rare. Ones with Ataris and bumper stickers that stay true to (Polish) ethnic roots are even more rare. Koppa’s tops it off by slinging the city’s best sandwiches. The formula is simple: great ingredients, low prices… and fun. Bread Favre or Baron Rodgers? The Elvis—fried peanut butter and banana—is fit for a king. The Deli Lama is vegetarian, naturally. Obi-wan Bologna may be your only hope. (W.T.)
550 N. Harbor Drive
Harbor House enjoys incredible views of the Calatrava wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum from its prime lakefront location, an apt spot for a seafood restaurant. This is the place for Scottish salmon, Hawaiian swordfish and plump Maine lobsters. The restaurant also offers a fine raw bar with seats that do not require reservations. Top neck clams are briny and utterly fresh. The oyster selection, which changes daily, is unrivaled in this area. (J.B.)
Devon Seafood + Steak
St. Paul Fish Co.
2414 S. Saint Clair St.
Housed in a landmark former tavern crowned with a Schlitz globe, Milwaukee’s longest-running Serbian restaurant is a bit like being invited into someone’s kitchen. The tables and chairs are crowded and mismatched and the preparation is agreeably slow. No microwaving here! Most importantly, the food is homemade and worth the wait. Warning: Three Brothers doesn’t accept credit cards, so bring along cash or a checkbook. (D.L.)
Old Town Serbian Gourmet House
1130 W. Walnut St.
A longtime Milwaukee institution, Speed Queen serves beef, pork and turkey in sandwiches and full dinners, all with sides of coleslaw to cool off the tanginess (even the mild sauce packs a little wallop). For light eaters, portions are often hearty enough to suffice for two meals. Fried fish, baked beans and a few pie varieties are among the other options. (Jamie Lee Rake)
Maxie’s Southern Comfort
Mr. Perkins’ Family Restaurant
The Soup House
324 E. Michigan St.
Visit the Soup House for some homemade goodness. Offering six different soups each day (as well as sandwiches, desserts and a variety of bottled drinks), this establishment caters to all tastes and dietary needs. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are regularly available, and the selection features a diverse array of ethnic recipes. The dining area is spacious and attractive, with high ceilings, beautiful local art, stacks of books and a pool table. (S.M.)
The Soup & Stock Market
724 N. Milwaukee St.
Steaks are the specialty at Carnevor, but chicken, veal and seafood are also good options. The steaks are manageable rather than enormous—top quality is the focus here. If price is no object, opt for a Kobe or Japanese wagyu filet mignon. Then pick from one of 13 sauces and a side dish. Even the caramelized brussels sprouts are good. Carnevor is a great place for romance or other special occasions. (J.B.)
Ward’s House of Prime
Butch’s Old Casino Steak House
Street Food Vendor
The idea is inspired: French pancakes hot off a street vendor’s cart. The tastes are heavenly: sweet crepes and savory lunch-in-a-pancake crepes. I love the Moon Unit, with its fresh bananas, Nutella and vanilla whipped cream. Ingredients are organic. A dairy- and egg-free crepe is as easily fired up as one from traditional buckwheat. The hand-built cart is solar powered. This is how Janeen and Dirk Werderich have chosen to live, catering when it grows too cold to work outside. Spending a moment with this friendly couple while you savor their wares is a treat. (J.S.)
Five O’Clock Steakhouse
2416 W. State St.
The Coerper family first opened this Milwaukee institution in 1948. More than 60 years later, it remains a classic supper club. Entrees include a relish tray, salad and sourdough bread. Steaks are the specialty—and they are big. Ditto for the rack of barbecue ribs. Other options include lamb, pork chops and a few seafood entrees. No less an authority than Saveur magazine once named this one of the top seven steakhouses in the United States. It is an oasis for carnivores. (J.B.)
Butch’s Old Casino Steak House
2150 N. Prospect Ave.
Izumi’s was one of the first Japanese restaurants in the area to offer a sushi bar. Around nine years ago the restaurant moved to its current location, a classic Art Deco building. Izumi’s “kitchen menu” offers a wide variety of Japanese small plates. The sushi menu includes many nigiri and maki options. There also are several sushi bowls. Izumi’s menu is very friendly to vegetarians. Japanese restaurants have become commonplace in recent years, but Izumi’s still stands out. (J.B.)
1935 N. Water St.
The long, high-ceilinged, arched-roofed, glass-fronted building with old-fashioned neon signage looks like a wonderful diner you’d find along the tracks of a train station in some country that loves trains. The food is as distinctive as the architecture. The menu is huge, but tacos in unusual variety are the specialty, served individually so you can contrast flavors. There are adventurous seafood, vegetarian, beef and chicken choices. Buy three and you’ll get free rice and beans, though each is so generously filled that two makes a meal. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they’re $2 each, and there are also drink specials. (J.S.)
Tapas (Small Plates)
125 E. National Ave.
Tapas aren’t just Spanish anymore. The international flavors of La Merenda’s small plates have caught on, making it one of the city’s most crowded restaurants during evening hours. It has even prompted valet parking, a rare sight in Milwaukee outside Downtown. La Merenda is an excellent place to savor good food and conversation slowly, plate by plate. (D.L.)
Anaba Tea Room
2107 E. Capitol Drive
Anaba Tea Room is open year round in the lower level of its garden shop; in the summer, the beautiful rooftop garden is one of the most spectacular places in town for lunch or dinner. The tea selection is wonderful, and beer and wine are also served. Joining English traditions such as cucumber and watercress sandwiches are dishes with an Asian theme. (D.L.)
1806 N. Farwell Ave.
With a philosophy that says it’s better for customers to wait for food than to make food that waits for customers, you know everything served at EE-Sane is fresh and made to order—including unbeatable fresh spring rolls, outstanding flavorful soups and a huge menu of delicious Thai classics with a spice level determined by the customer. The dining room can fill up quickly on weekends, so come early or be prepared for a short wait. For those keeping a tight budget, visit EE-Sane for lunch. Generous portions include an egg roll or soup and are very reasonably priced. (S.H.G.)
Beans & Barley
1901 E. North Ave.
Beans & Barley was serving tasty vegetarian, healthy fare at a time when many people assumed that vegetables were no fun and health food tasted like medicine. They have done their part to disprove the skeptical with delicious dishes of all kinds—including some chicken and fish options. Beans & Barley remains a great place to people-watch and an excellent place to shop for organic deli food and groceries as well as wine and supplements. (D.L.)
2691 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Of the many Vietnamese restaurants that have sprung up around Milwaukee over the last several years, Hue may be the coziest. This inviting Bay View nook serves traditional Vietnamese staples that keep the American palate in mind. The cuts of meat may be less exotic than at some other Vietnamese spots, but none of the flavors are compromised. The pho, in particular, is one of the finest in the city, thanks to a rich, homemade beef broth. Hue also serves what may be the city’s only vegetarian pho, which swaps beef tenderloin for fried triangles of tofu. (E.R.)