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Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013

Best of Milwaukee 2013: Dining Out

Best breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between

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African Restaurant

Ethiopian Cottage
1824 N. Farwell Ave.
414-224-5226
ethiopiancottage.com

Injera, a large, spongy flatbread with a slightly tart flavor, adds to the unique experience of dining at an Ethiopian restaurant. All entrées are served on top of injera, and it is also your dining utensil—simply tear off a piece and dig in. Local diners looking for this experience can find it at Ethiopian Cottage. Many of the tables are traditional, small and made from basketry, so the tabletop is just large enough for a piece of injera. The restaurant’s weekday lunch buffet is mainly vegetarian. Ethiopian beers are served, as is a honey wine called tej. Ethiopian Cottage offers unique dining at budget prices. (Jeff Beutner)

Runner-up:

Alem Ethiopian Village

Bar Food

The Palomino

2491 S. Superior St.
414-747-1007
palominobar.com


Bay View staple Palomino recently went through two months of renovations and many menu changes. They brought in a wood burning smoker and grill, so their comfort food could be made more homemade and from scratch. There are still plenty of vegan options, such as a po-boy and “chicken wings.” As far as ambience, the seating and tables have been upgraded, and the place has a slightly cleaner and newer vibe, but is still very cool. (Danielle Stevens)

Runners-up:

Bar Louie
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill

Breakfast

Blue’s Egg

317 N. 76th St.
414-299-3180
bluesegg.com

Plan on skipping lunch if you do breakfast at Blue’s Egg, where the portions are massive and the preparations are decidedly decadent. This from-scratch Milwaukee hotspot specializes in eggs benedict, offering five varieties including the Dubliner, an Irish spin on the classic featuring corned beef, creamy leeks, rye toast and a good dousing of paprika aïoli, but even the most seemingly basic omelets here are a thing to behold. Hashbrowns are a particular standout, and can come stuffed with toppings including goat cheese, pulled ham and cheddar, or chicken chorizo and spinach. (Evan Rytlewski)

 

Runners-up:

Ma Fischer’s
George Webb

Brew Pub

Café Hollander

Multiple locations
cafehollander.com


The East Side and Tosa locations are run by Lowlands, which owns a number of restaurants with French and Low Countries themes. You’ll find appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches and a weekend brunch. There are occasional Dutch and Belgian touches, and beers are sometimes used for cooking. An example is a Belgian waffle that incorporates Guinness. The larger of the two menus is mostly devoted to Belgian beers, with everything from lambics to white ales. (J.B.)

  

Runners-up:

Milwaukee Ale House
Stonefly Brewing Company

Brunch

Sandwich

Comet Café
1947 N. Farwell Ave
414-273-7677
thecometcafe.com

Brunch is really the only early meal at which it is acceptable to drink. Comet’s array of eye-openers is compelling evidence for its supremacy in the world of brunch. But it is the bacon pancakes that remove any lingering doubt. Supposing you incline toward the lunch-side of brunch or just fancy a sandwich, Comet also makes the finest in the city. If vegetarians can resist the temptation of expertly used bacon, they’ll find the artichoke melt sandwich to be no mean alternative. (Tyler Friedman)

Runners-up Brunch:

Blue’s Egg
Café Hollander

Runners-up Sandwich:

Jake’s Deli
City Market
Suburpia
Love Handle

Buffet

Middle Eastern Restaurant


Casablanca
728 E. Brady St
414-271-6000
casablancaonbrady.com


In the Bogart classic Casablanca, everyone goes to Rick’s. In Milwaukee, anyone who loves Middle Eastern food has gone to Casablanca. With the opening last year 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. (Dave Luhrssen)

  

Runners-up Buffet:

Potawatomi
Golden Corral
Alem Ethiopian Village

  

Runners-up Middle Easternz:
Shahrazad
Aladdin

Burger

Frozen Custard

Kopp’s Frozen Custard

Multiple locations

The notion of “best custard” is something of a misnomer—there’s really no such thing as bad custard, since any desert with such a high butterfat content is bound to be delicious. Kopp’s custard, though, is among the creamiest, fattiest and most decadent custards in the city, and the local chain’s flare for pricey ingredients—think macadamia nuts—makes a good thing even better. What really makes Kopp’s worth the trip, though, is their massive burgers: perfect, nearly Frisbee-sized patties kissed with butter. Make sure to order yours with fried onions. (E.R.)

  

Runners-up Burger:

Sobelmans Pub and Grill
AJ Bombers

Runners-up Frozen Custard:

Leon’s Frozen Custard
Gilles Frozen Custard

  

Burrito

Café Corazón

3129 N. Bremen St.
414-810-3941
corazonmilwaukee.com


Café Corazón shows its beans, cheese and avocado that it loves them with a warm tortilla hug. This tenderness translates into deliciousness and garners top honors for the café’s burrito. Located in a quiet corner of Riverwest, what Café Corazón lacks in size it makes up for with a peaceful atmosphere, a delightful outdoor seating area and, of course, burritos that make you wish they hadn’t been so filling that you couldn’t possibly have another…well maybe just one more. (T.F.)

Runners-up:

Chipotle Mexican Grill
Qdoba Mexican Grill

Caribbean Restaurant

Cubanitas

728 N. Milwaukee St.
414-225-1760

Cubanitas is the place to go in town for 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. (J.B.)

  

Runners-up:

Painted Parrot
Irie Palace

  

Central/South American Restaurant

Tapas (Small Plates)

La Merenda

125 E. National Ave.
414-389-0125
lamerenda125.com

Calling La Merenda a Central/South American restaurant is putting it in too narrow a box. The international flavors of La Merenda’s small plates often have a Latin accent, but the evolving menu knows no boundaries. It remains one of the city’s most crowded restaurants during evening hours. The popularity 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.)

Runners-up Central/South American:

Cempazuchi
Cubanitas
Antigua Mexican and Latin Restaurant
Mr. Sebass

  

Runners-up Tapas:

Odd Duck
Balzac

  

Cheap Eats

Conejito’s Place

539 W. Virginia St.
414-278-9106
conejitos-place.com

Conejito’s offers great Mexican food without the frills. The environment is casual with meals served on paper plates and the three unpretentious dining rooms full of people from all walks of life—you’re just as likely to see a crowd of college kids as a family on a night out. In its 41-year run, Conejito’s has become a South Side favorite with loyal fans who rave about chicken mole for just $4.50 and wonderfully cheap margaritas for $3.50 a glass. Who needs fancy china when the deal is this good?  (Erin Heffernan)

Runners-up:

Oakland Gyros
Bel Air Cantina
Ian’s Pizza
Pizza Shuttle
Bombay Sweets

 

Chicken Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings

Multiple locations
buffalowildwings.com

Buffalo Wild Wings—better known as B-Dubs—is notorious for its delicious, all-white-meat chicken wings available in 16 signature sauce and five dry seasoning flavors, ranging from salt and vinegar to blazing hot. Traditional or boneless, these tasty wings pair perfectly with a cold beer while watching sports on B-Dubs’ multiple big-screen TVs. Or, if you’re up for a little self-competition, give the restaurant’s Blazin’ Challenge a try. Eat 12 wings slathered in B-Dubs’ hottest sauce in under six minutes to win a T-shirt and your photo on their wall of fame. (Amanda Sullivan)

  

Runners-up:

Points East Pub
Wingstop

Chinese Restaurant

Emperor of China

1010 E. Brady St.
414-271-8889
emperorofchinarestaurant.com


A longtime asset to the Brady Street neighborhood, the Emperor wins every year for the expected reasons: its thoughtful menu, great food and service, affordable prices and comforting atmosphere. The secret ingredient 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)

Runners-up:

No. 1 Chinese
East Garden
Jing’s

Coffee Shop

Colectivo (formerly known as Alterra)

Multiple locations
colectivocoffee.com


The name change has confused no one. The successful hometown chain is now called Colectivo, but the coffee is still full bodied and the various locations remain packed. Colectivo’s venues are architecturally interesting, many of them making use of Industrial Age Milwaukee sites. They have held their own against the transnational roasters, serving good food and service as well as hot drinks. (D.L.)

Runners-up:

Starbucks
Stone Creek Coffee

Delivery Menu

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

Multiple locations
jimmyjohns.com

Jimmy John’s delivers the quickest sandwich—likely to be in your hands by the time you’ve pulled out your wallet. Meat lovers can chow down on the Gargantuan or Vito, loaded with Italian genoa salami and capicola. Add some giardiniera and take your taste buds to Italy. Vegetarians will even be pleased with their gourmet vegetarian sub with cucumbers, tomatoes, provolone and real avocado spread. JJ’s offers fresh ingredients, in a range of sizes, at a fair price. Smells are free. (Ciera Mckissick)

Runners-up:

Pizza Shuttle
Golden Chicken

Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts

Multiple locations

Dunkin’ Donuts covers all your quick get-up-and-go breakfast needs, but donuts are their specialty. Customers can choose from a variety of colorful and delicious donuts that complement DD’s trademark coffee (dunking encouraged). They have a wide selection of flavors ranging from apple crumb to the more peculiar PB&J-flavored donut. DD has that particular donut for that particular person. (Brandon Miller)

Runners-up:

Sil’s
Krispy Kreme

 

Farm to Table Restaurant (Locally Sourced)

Odd Duck
2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

414-763-5881
oddduckrestaurant.com

With its ever-changing menu, you could dine at Odd Duck once a week without ever repeating the same meal, but you can always count on the experience being unforgettable. This ambitious Bay View restaurant creates transcendent small plates from locally sourced ingredients, offering unique flavor pairings like pan-roasted walleye in a butternut squash purée and leg of lamb with Spanish goat cheese and house-made giardiniera peppers, to name just a few that you may never see on the menu again. (E.R.)



 

Runners-up:
Wolf Peach
Braise

Fish Fry

Lakefront Brewery

1872 N. Commerce St.
414-372-8800
lakefrontbrewery.com

How convenient that Milwaukee’s best brewery tour and fish fry cohabit in Lakefront Brewery’s historic digs. This way, after the generous samples of the $7 tour, you need only stumble a short distance to keep the booze company with some beer-battered cod. The experience pairs well with the complimentary music courtesy of the Brew House Polka Kings. Given the well-deserved popularity of the brewery tour and fish fry, buying online tickets and making reservations are recommended. (T.F.)

Runners-up:

American Serb Hall
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
Brocach Irish Pub

 

French Restaurant

Pastiche Bistro

3001 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
414-482-1446
pastichebistro.com

The intimate Pastiche Bistro offers a fine French menu. Order some wine and begin with onion soup, then perhaps a salade Nicoise. The interior has understated Gallic charm. There are fewer entrées at lunch than at dinner, but the prices are considerably cheaper. In general, the prices seem right. The wine list is thoughtful and a full wine store is housed one floor above the restaurant. This is a charming restaurant in an unlikely setting. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:

Le Rêve Patisserie and Café
Chez Jacques

 

Frozen Yogurt/Gelato Shop

Yo Mama!
Multiple locations
yomamagoodness.com

Yo Mama! now boasts three locations, and it’s easy to see why the two-year-old company is such a success. Offering 10 frozen yogurt flavors each day, a whopping 35 toppings and a host of pastries and beverages, Yo Mama! is a sweets-lover’s dream. Watching your diet? Fear not, Yo Mama! has you covered—most yogurts served have zero fat and each selection of 10 features a no-sugar option and dairy-free sorbet. There’s really no excuse—grab a cup and start creating! (Selena Milewski)

Runners-up:

MyYoMy!
Cold Spoons Gelato

German Restaurant

Mader’s

1041 N. Old World Third St.
414-271-3377
madersrestaurant.com

Dine under a splendid wrought iron chandelier near a suit of medieval armor. Drink German beer from a ceramic mug. This is the Mader’s experience. In business for over a century, Mader’s is one of the city’s oldest restaurants and serves the German specialties that made it famous, including sauerbraten, schnitzel and sausages made by neighboring Usinger’s. (J.B.)

Runners-up:

Karl Ratzsch’s
Kegel’s Inn

Greek Restaurant

Oakland Gyros

Multiple locations

One of Milwaukee’s favorite counter-service restaurants, the original Oakland Gyros benefited from its location near the UW-Milwaukee campus and on the same block as a popular student bar, Axel's. The nothing-fancy eatery offers generous portions of flavorful Greek food (and even plain old cheeseburgers) at reasonable prices and served up quickly. The formula was so successful that Oakland Gyros has replicated itself on the South Side with name and menu intact. (D.L.)

Runners-up:

Apollo Café
Mykonos Café and Grill

Hot Dog

The Dogg Haus

Multiple locations
thedogghaus.com

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 single year, additional shops were opened at Marquette, UW-Milwaukee, Cathedral Square and the Downtown business district. Each offers 18 specialty hot dogs named for places around the globe. Homebodies may 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.)

Runners-up:

Martino’s
Dr. Dawg

Hotel Restaurant

Mason Street Grill

425 E. Mason St.
414-298-3131
masonstreetgrill.com


Located adjacent to the historic Pfister Hotel, the Mason Street Grill has become a favorite for both guests and local residents. The bar and dining room have a warm atmosphere with elegant furnishings. The menu includes classic grill options like steak and chops, as well as fish and seafood. Dishes are prepared by professional chefs using only the highest-quality ingredients. Six nights out of the week, live jazz complements the experience. It's the perfect place for an elegant evening with your special someone. (B.M.)

Runners-up:

METRO
Café at the Plaza Hotel

 

Indian-Pakistani Restaurant

Maharajah

1550 N. Farwell Ave.
414-276-2250
maharajarestaurants.com

Maharajah’s interior has undergone a welcome face life and the menu has been tweaked, but Milwaukee’s longest running Indian restaurant continues to draw crowds on the strength of its food. The lavish lunch buffet, with many meat and vegetarian dishes, has been a perennial favorite of Shepherd Express readers for flavor and variety. Not only will you not leave hungry, but most of us would be unable to find room to taste every item. The dinner menu goes beyond the norm for local Indian restaurants. (D.L.)

Runners-up:

Bombay Sweets
Shah Jee’s

Mayura

Italian Restaurant

Ristorante Bartolotta

7616 W. State St.
414-771-7910
bartolottaristorante.com


Ristorante Bartolotta, the flagship restaurant of the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, opened its doors in Wauwatosa nearly 20 years ago. This inviting nook offers an intimate dining space, top-quality service and great Italian food. Executive Chef Juan Urbieta and his crew consistently create a diverse menu that highlights Central and Northern Italian cuisine and also present an ever-changing seasonal menu. Don’t forget to take some time to peruse Ristorante’s notable list of authentic Italian wines and enjoy a glass (or two) with the restaurant’s delectable fare. (A.S.)

Runners-up:

IL MITO
The Pasta Tree

 

Japanese Restaurant

Sushi

Kiku
202 W. Wisconsin Ave.
414-270-1988
kikumilwaukee.com

Kiko focuses on sushi, with a variety of nigiri and maki options. Entrées include teriyaki, tempura, seafood and noodles. Appetizers include items like grilled hamachi collar and a jellyfish salad. The sushi is always fresh and of good quality. A sure bet is the tempura, especially the jumbo shrimp in a feather-light batter. The setting is casual and there are many private booths. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up Japanese restaurant:

Izumi’s
Japanica

 

Runners-up Sushi:

Izumi’s
Umami Moto

Jewish/Kosher-Style Restaurant

Benji’s Deli

4156 N. Oakland Ave.
414-332-7777

Benji’s specializes in Jewish dishes that can be hard to find anywhere else in Milwaukee. Their corned beef, long hailed as the city’s finest, is their great claim to fame, but the menu also includes an impressive assortment of herring, borscht, brisket and matzo, as well as an assortment of plate-dwarfing clubs and sandwiches. For breakfast, Benji’s offers specialties including lox omelets and their signature dish, Hoppel Poppel, a blend of fried salami, potatoes and eggs. For an extra buck, you can upgrade to the Super Hoppel Poppel, which adds green peppers, mushrooms, onions and cheese to an already very filling meal. (E.R.)

Runner-up:

Jake’s Deli

  

Kitchen Open After 10 p.m.

Ma Fischer’s

2214 N. Farwell Ave.
414- 271-7424

Typically packed on weekends directly following bar close, Ma Fischer’s is the North Avenue night owl’s go-to establishment for hangover-prevention fare. Offering a huge selection—including Greek, American and Mexican—Ma’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day. Remember to check out the dessert display case, a work of art even if you’re not partaking. With ample seating, this bustling diner can accommodate you even if you’re out with your full cadre. Pull up a chair—your piping hot slice of Americana awaits. (S.M.)

Runners-up:

George Webb
Ian’s Pizza
Kiku

Korean Restaurant

Seoul
2178 N. Prospect Ave.
414-289-8208


At Seoul, one of the only Milwaukee restaurants exclusively devoted to Korean food, the steamed dumplings and deep-fried shrimp make for fine starters. The hot pots, stews large enough to serve a few diners, are heated with a butane burner at the table. The eel is no longer served, but the menu offers many unusual items. The popular lunch buffet offers a quick introduction to Korean food. (J.B.)

Runners-up:

Wasabi
RuYi
Kanpai

Louisiana/Southern Restaurant

Soul Food

Maxie’s Southern Comfort
6732 W. Fairview Ave.
414-292-3969
maxies.com/milwaukee

Maxie’s is so good it’ll have you planning trips to Mardi Gras celebrations and saying “y’all” before your meal is done. This Milwaukee restaurant brings the best of the South north of the Mason-Dixon, cooking up the Carolinas, Creole and Cajun dishes of Louisiana, slow-smoked Southern barbeque and comfort food classics like fried green tomatoes, corn bread and grits. But perhaps what's most impressive is Maxie’s take on Southern-style seafood. With fresh ingredients flown in five days a week, the kitchen is always stocked for its outstanding raw bar that serves up quality oysters, clams and shrimp daily. Maxie’s also offers a nice selection of drinks with a respectable beer, wine and specialty drinks menu that includes a mint julep worthy of the Kentucky Derby. (E.H.)

Runners-up Louisiana:

Crawdaddy’s
Palomino Bar

Runners-up Soul Food:

Speed Queen Bar-B-Q
Ashley’s Que
Mr. Perkins
Puddle Jumpers BBQ
Pat’s Rib Place
Paje

Mexican Restaurant

Botanas

816 S. Fifth St.
414-672-3755
botanasrestaurant.com

A recurrent winner of the Best Mexican Restaurant Award, Botanas features a large menu of excellent Guadalajaran fare at reasonable prices. Included are the expected combos of tacos, burritos, tamales, etc., but look for more unusual dishes as well, like camarones ala diabla and Guadalajara mole Colorado. Thirsty? Nineteen tequilas are on hand, and the margarita selection is celebrated. Moreover, the décor alone makes the establishment worth checking out—with beautiful murals of Aztec ruins and tropical wildlife gracing the walls, faux-torches and a large patio for summer dining, Botanas’ aesthetic sense is impeccable. (S.M.)

Runners-up:

Café Corazón
Conejito’s Place

Outdoor Dining

Horny Goat Hideaway

2011 S. First St.
414-482-4628
hghideaway.com

Horny Goat Hideaway is located in the former Milwaukee Pump House and serves delicious food and drink in style. This smoke-free brewpub has indoor heated volleyball courts and dazzling fire pits, but it is best known for its expansive patio along the south bank of the Kinnickinnic River. Dine outside on this beautiful boardwalk for a one-of-a-kind experience with gorgeous river views, live entertainment (see website for schedule) and a full-service outdoor bar. (A.S.)

Runners-up:

Café Benelux
Trocadero

Pizza (Locally Owned)

Zaffiro’s Pizza

1724 N. Farwell Ave.
414-289-8776
zaffirospizza.com

Established in the heart of Milwaukee's Lower East Side in 1956 by Liborio “Bobby” Zaffiro and his brother John, Zaffiro’s pizzeria and bar remain a perennial all-city favorite. A good variety of Italian dishes are served, but the main draw is still, as always, the famous wafer-thin-crust pizza topped with fresh ingredients. The Farwell Avenue restaurant is relaxed and family friendly. Order for carry-out or delivery or simply drive to Omaha, Neb., and pick up a slice at the Marcus Midtown Cinema there. (Jay Peschman)

Runners-up:

Transfer Pizzeria Café
Pizza Man
Pizza Shuttle

Polish Restaurant

Polonez

4016 S. Packard Ave.
414-482-0080

Polenez recently introduced a new menu, with many vegetarian and gluten-free options, but don’t worry, the old favorites remain. Since opening 30 years ago, Polenez has been a favorite place for Polish comfort food such as pierogi, Polish sausage, borscht, zesty dill pickle soup and a traditional Friday fish fry with cod or perch. Look for the Saturday evening polka buffet and Sunday polka brunch with live music. (D.L.)

Runner-up:

Crocus

 

Restaurant Service

Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
8933 S. 27th St., Franklin
414-304-0300
mulliganson27th.com

Mulligans is a congenial place at all times. Among the local Irish pubs, Mulligans prepares the Irish basics as well as anybody, especially the corned beef. This is the type of pub that would be welcome in any neighborhood. The attractive interior includes woodwork in the main dining area, which offers private booths along the window. With numerous flat-screen TVs, the bar area also doubles as a sports bar. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:
Sanford Restaurant
Mozzaluna

Restaurant with a View

Seafood Restaurant

Harbor House

550 N. Harbor Drive
414-395-4500
harborhousemke.com

It's not the Calatrava any more than all the buildings down the west side of Juneau Park, high on the glorious bluff; not just the bluff, but the wooded Oak Leaf Trail, the tree-lined lagoon, the meadow stretching north to the marina, the kites, the bikes, the strollers and runners; it's that thin peninsula, the breakwater, too, the boats, the water, the wide sky. Our city is as beautiful as any in the world from the water's edge where Harbor House, with quiet good taste, rests. Nibble raw oysters, sip cocktails and savor seafood while meditating on this noble and profound terrain. (J.S.)

Runners-up Restaurant with a View:

Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
Wolf Peach

Runners-up Seafood:

St. Paul Fish Company
Kiku

Ribs

Speed Queen Bar-B-Q

1130 W. Walnut St.
414-265-2900

Speed Queen secured its name when co-founder Betty Gillespie got orders out faster than the competition. Speed Queen is among the longest-lasting Milwaukee restaurants, in its 57th year of operation with the city’s largest barbeque pit and sauces beloved enough to be sold in supermarkets. Ribs, tips, chicken, turkey, fish and soul food sides make the place an institution with a steady flow of take-out and drive-through orders. (Jamie Lee Rake)

Runners-up:

Saz’s
Smoke Shack

Romantic Restaurant

Gourmet Restaurant

Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro

3133 E. Newberry Blvd.
414-962-6300
lakeparkbistro.com

The elegantly repurposed Lake Park pavilion, perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, has incomparable views. The bistro’s menu and ambience are French and the standards for preparation and service are high. Dinners can get expensive, but lunches are more modestly priced and the Sunday off-the-menu brunch with selection of starters, entrées and desserts is one of the city's best. The wine list is long. (D.L.)

Runners-up Romantic:

The Pasta Tree
Tess

Runners-up Gourmet:

Sanford Restaurant
Ristorante Bartolotta

Serbian Restaurant

Three Brothers

2414 S. St. Clair St.
414-481-7530

Milwaukee has been home to a remarkable number of Serbian restaurants over the years and the long-running Three Brothers has led the way. Housed in a historic Schlitz brewery tavern in an out-of-the-way corner of Bay View, Three Brothers serves homemade stick-to-the-ribs dishes in a homey atmosphere. The stuffed cabbage and chicken paprikash are among the favorites. Raise a toast with a potent shot of slivovitz. (D.L.)

Runner-up:

Old Town Serbian Gourmet House

Soups

Soup Brothers

209 W. Florida St.
414-270-1040

Hidden in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, next to Caroline’s, there’s a small storefront that advertises soup. It’s the cozy little restaurant of Soup Brothers. Contrary to its size, Soup Bros. has a big reputation for serving some of the most delicious soups and homemade bread in town. They offer six soups every day, both vegetarian and with meat. As the winter season rolls in, warm up with a hot bowl of soup during their extended hours of operation. (B.M.)

Runners-up:

The Soup House
The Soup & Stock Market

Steakhouse

Five O’Clock Steakhouse

2416 W. State St.
414-342-3553
fiveoclocksteakhouse.com

Coerper’s Five O’Clock Club was the local veteran of steakhouses, founded by the Coerper family in 1948. A few years ago, when ownership changed, the name simplified to the Five O’Clock Steakhouse, but all else remains the same. There are still two dining areas, both with access to the bar, and the Deco-ish décor appears to be straight out of 1948. It’s a classic supper club setting. New competitors and national chains have had no effect on business. Reservations are a good idea on weeknights and essential on weekends. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:

Mr. B’s Steakhouse
Carnevor Steakhouse

 

Street Food Vendor

Streetza Pizza
414-215-0021
streetza.com

Since the summer of 2009, Streetza has made it its mission to unlock Milwaukee’s pizza potential. Using the city’s great selections of local meats and cheeses, the flame-streaked food truck serves up slices using a 650-degree oven on wheels. Offerings always include classics like cheese, pepperoni and veggie, but Streetza mixes up safer fare with special slices of the day like pumpkin, s’more and Wisconsin State Fair corn dog pizzas. You're bound to run into the truck at events around the city on Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., but the truck is easy to find using its iPhone app or Twitter account, @streetzapizza. You'll find a little bit of Twitter time can lead you straight to a local meal that’s #delicious. (E.H.) 

 

Runners-up:

Urban Caveman
Eats & Treats

 

Supper Club

The Packing House
900 E. Layton Ave.
414-483-5054
packinghousemke.com

The Packing House is one of those classic Milwaukee restaurants with top-notch food, pop and jazz in the cocktail lounge, a robust Sunday brunch and a drive-through Friday fish fry option. Service is always professional and even large dinner parties will be served with ease. Steak, ribs and seafood lovers will leave satisfied and the “famous” onion shreds are not to be missed. (Lisa Kaiser)

 

Runners up:

Five O’Clock Steakhouse
Joey Gerard’s

 

Taco

Bel Air Cantina
Multiple locations
belaircantina.com

In addition to a vast tequila selection, excellent margaritas and the usual array of Mexican favorites (burritos, tamales, etc.) are Bel Air’s award-winning tacos. Following the California trend of tapas eclecticism, these creations contain everything from Portobello mushrooms to hoisin-glazed pork to mango tilapia. More than 20 varieties are available, and the ingenious ingredient combinations and high quality will have you coming back to try them all. Visit on Tuesday or Thursday when select tacos are $2 each. (S.M.)


Runners-up:

Café Corazón
Guanajuato (GTO)


Tea Room

The Watts Tea Shop
761 N. Jefferson St.
414-290-5720
wattsteashop.com

Located in the historic East Town building that also houses George Watts & Sons china shop, the Tea Room is the best place south of Toronto for an authentic, traditional English tea experience. But if that isn’t your cup of tea, stop by for breakfast from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. and a lunch menu of salads, sandwiches and casseroles from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The Watts Tea Shop won a James Beard Award in 2011. (Morton Shlabotnik)

 

Runners-up:

Rochambo
Anaba Tea Room

 

Thai Restaurant

The King & I

830 N. Old World Third St.
414-276-4181
  
Many Milwaukeeans had their first taste of Thai at the King & I, with its popular weekday lunch buffet often serving as the introduction. Befitting its regal name, the King & I is more upscale than many of the more casual, recent Thai eateries in town, with a chic, open layout and a huge menu covering most of the Thai staples as well as a few surprises. Thai food can be among the most fiery in the world but the King & I’s selection runs toward milder Milwaukee flavors. (M.S.)

 

Runners-up:

EE-Sane
Thai-Namite
Singha Thai

 

Vegetarian Friendly Restaurant

Beans & Barley
901 E. North St.
414-278-7878
beansandbarley.com

Now that vegetarianism has ceased to be a punch line, cooking without meat is regarded as a culinary art unto itself. The East Side’s Beans & Barley has emerged as a Milwaukee master of the meatless. If you are inspired to try your hand at vegetarian cooking, the Beans & Barley market conveniently sells all the necessary ingredients in house. Pro tip: vegetarian chili—especially Beans & Barley’s—is a great way to fortify yourself against the bitter winter chill. (T.F.)

Runners-up:

Comet Café
Alem Ethiopian Village

 

Vietnamese Restaurant

Hue
2691 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
414-294-0483
huemilwaukee.com
  
Not so long ago, the number of local Vietnamese restaurants could be counted with one finger. Now they are relatively abundant. Most of the settings are a bit basic but the nicest décor belongs to Hue. The interior is simple and elegant with Vietnamese handicrafts and a small, charming bar. The menu is not the largest in town but has all of the typical rice and noodle dishes. Prices are a tad higher than the competition but are still moderate. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:
  
Pho Viet
Phan’s Garden
West Bank Café


Wine List

Thief Wine Shop & Bar
Multiple locations
thiefwine.com

A “thief” in wine terms is the small pipette that extracts wine from a barrel. Besides being the zenith of housewarming gift shopping, both of Thief Wine’s locations have a bar at which to relax with a glass or carafe of white, rose, red or sparkler. Offered is a vast, eclectic and worldly collection, at every price point, served up by expert sommeliers. Whether in Shorewood or the Third Ward’s Public Market, Thief Wine is the place to people watch, peruse shops, grab a meal and sit down for some taboo day drinking. (D.S.)

 

Runners-up:

Pizza Man
Balzac