I can actually remember the moment when I became obsessed with restaurants and amazing food. It wasn’t something I was brought up with; on the contrary, my family had pretty simple tastes. The closest association I had to a “foodie” was my Mom who was a school lunch lady. That all changed when I was 19 years old and working at the Women’s Club of Wisconsin (which was basically a high-end private club for women of power in Milwaukee) as a server. We had fantastic chefs and my world was opened to a whole new palate of loveliness. Soon after, things started to move at an escalated rate. I started dating one of the chefs (don’t tell my boss!) and he REALLY introduced me to the world of flavors, unique combinations and everything else amazing restaurants have to offer. Even though he and I are long over, I will forever be grateful to what he introduced me to. I can’t say my wallet is as grateful, but it’s all worth it to me.
Even luckier for me, within the last five years Milwaukee has exploded as a major restaurant player in the US. When people think of Milwaukee the obvious associations come to mind: beer, cheese and beer. But the city has so much more to offer. I am beyond proud of the food scene in the Cream City. My love of food and restaurants has landed me a part-time job as a tour guide for Milwaukee Food & City Tours (check it out as a great way to experience numerous restaurants all in one evening and get entertained by people like me), so a portion of my living is made taking people to restaurants in Milwaukee and having them sample the best dishes that a place has to offer. (If that doesn’t make me an expert, then I don’t know what does)!
It was basically a nightmare to narrow down my list of “must-visits” (and this does not even BEGIN to include every phenomenal establishment in Mil-town), but here are five of the best restaurants in Milwaukee, WI:
Britt’s number one pick? I have to go with The Noble. Let me just start by saying that 2nd street in Walker’s Point (just south of downtown) is now prime real estate for the best of the best food-wise. If you ever are starving and want to go on the restaurant binge of your life, just start at the corner of 2nd and Virginia and head south. All of these restaurants are amazing and you won’t want to miss any of them – especially the Noble. No reservations taken, The Noble has the décor of a library and the soundtrack of Casablanca. You will instantly feel like you walked into heaven with a kitchen. The menu is small but changes every day, so you could literally frequent this place daily (except Sunday when they are closed) and never get bored. Not to mention, the menu always has something for everyone: typically a unique vegetarian option, a “middle of the road” (i.e. fish, etc.) and a meat dish. Swoon.
Hard to follow that act, but it must be done. And if anything is going to do it, it’s going to be Sanford. Bring your finest jacket (not found on the floor) and take everything you own out of the bank. (You may need it, but you won’t regret it). Located in a small building on a dark and unexciting corner on Jackson Street (just on the north tip of downtown), the restaurant’s surroundings weren’t exactly what I expected. However, the moment I stepped through the door, all hesitation dissipated. Sanford is everything you want in a fantastic restaurant: fancy, classy, tasty and so much more. The chef has won the prestigious James Beard award (Okay, I didn’t used to know what that was either, but just know that it’s incredibly important) and deserves every word of praise he receives.
I’m trying hard not to be a cliché here, but a Milwaukee restaurant list is not a Milwaukee restaurant list without the inclusion of a Bartolotta. (What did you just call me?) For those unfamiliar, the Bartolotta family is basically THE restaurant family in Milwaukee. They keep opening restaurants and each one is as good as the last. I’ve often thought a genie has granted some never-ending array of wishes to have this much wonderfulness come out of every one of their establishments; but I don’t care the reason, I just don’t want them to stop. While all of their restaurants are good and each has a different focus (Lake Park Bistro will make you cry French tears, the Harbor House has such fresh seafood I swear it swims up from Lake Michigan to my plate, Ristorante will make you kiss the Coliseum the Italian fare is so good… Okay, I’ll quit with the cheesiness now, I think you get the idea), my favorite would have to be Bacchus. Located in the luxurious Cudahy Tower building (on the furthest east side of Wells St., right before you fall into the lake), you can choose from a variety of delicious dishes – anything from scallops to filet mignon. Prepare to be mesmerized. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. A word to the wise: do not wear casual attire to Bacchus. Make sure you dress the part, so you aren’t judged as you devour your Skuna Bay salmon.
What would a Milwaukee restaurant list be without two of the trendiest things that have come to Milwaukee: Bay View and tapas? (These are two separate things, but definitely look up the word “hipster” before experiencing either). Bay View is just south of Walker’s Point (a.k.a.: restaurant mile) and, in the last 10 years, has become one of the places in Milwaukee to be and be seen. Luckily, an incredible small plates restaurant has been added into the mix called Odd Duck. Located on the main drag in Bay View called Kinnickinnic Avenue (or “KK” if you want to sound like a pro), parking can be difficult (but, you can usually get lucky on one of the nearby side streets). Odd Duck features some of the most incredibly unique flavor combinations I have ever tasted in my life. Ingredients you would never think to put together, let alone order… and then you try it and wonder why you’ve never had it before! Their menu changes often, but the gouda stuffed medjool dates with smoky bacon and saba is the one item that has never left the menu (and once you taste it, you’ll know why).
How did we get to my fifth pick already? I still have at least 20 more restaurants I want to tell you about, but my long-winded side is already surfacing, so I suppose I should wrap it up. I could keep on going with the fancy-schmancy places, but instead, I’m going to take it down a notch because I want to put forth a universal option that everyone likes: a wonderful place called Pizza Man. Okay, you may be wondering how I’m going to compare places like Sanford and Bacchus to Pizza Man, but hold on just one second… First, this is no ordinary take-out pizza place. It was established in 1970 and stuck around until a fire burned it down it’s popular North Avenue location. The city was devastated. Literally. People cried. But, lucky for us, Pizza Man rebuilt in a great new location just south of UW Milwaukee on posh Downer Avenue. Pizza Man boasts the largest “wine selection on tap” in the city and delicious pizzas like the “Pizza Man Special” and “Artichoke Ala Mode” (made with cheese, artichoke hearts, cream cheese, tomatoes, and fresh garlic… HELLO!). Never will you look at pizza the same way again (until you travel to Italy, and still then you’ll have a hard time deciding which tastes better).
Related posts: 5 Reasons to Visit Milwaukee and 3 Things to do in Milwaukee When It’s Cold Outside.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Milwaukee?
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