The first restaurant of its kind in Milwaukee, DanDan emulates some well-known Chinese restaurants and noodle shops on the coasts with it's Asian-fusion style. Schmaltz fried rice, hand-pulled cumin lamb noodles, and whole Peking duck can all be washed down with any number of flaming Tiki-like cocktails. There's also a formal restaurant-within-a-restaurant called EsterEv with a menu of (usually) non-Chinese things that rotates monthly. If that seems like a lot for one chef to take on, that's because there are two chefs at the helm, Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite. (Dan and Dan. Get it?)
Town of Lake
Opened at the very beginning of the year, Iron Grate is creating what it calls Milwaukee-style barbecue. At the center is the Milwaukee rib, a cut of pork ribs with the belly meat left on. It makes for a rib with a cap of sticky, melty belly fat laced with super-tender meat. Get it -- or brisket, homemade sausage links, or pulled pork -- in a classic meat+three with smoked tomato mac & cheese, baked beans, and braised greens. It's still only open on weekends, but here's hoping it expands its hours soon.
The opening of this brewpub was much-anticipated, thanks in part to the legal fight just to to be able to brew in this state, and partly because it's the brainchild of Sanford owner and chef Justin Aprahamian. So far, the food and beer have lived up to the hype. Beer is brewed with kitchen ingredients like rhubarb and lemon peel, and you can get everything from Armenian pizza to butter burgers to snack on. It's got that hipster-approved brunch, too.
Take all of your favorite things from Wisconsin taverns -- Old Fashioneds, fried food, Packers fans -- and put them in one place, and you get Drink Wisconsinbly Pub. You can get a couple different kinds of Old Fashioneds, including a classic with Korbel brandy or one out of a bubbler. There's cheese curds, butter burgers and an unusual kringle ice cream sundae, which deserves classic status. It's not uncool to love our state, so this is pretty much our jam.
Don't let the fact that this is a hotel restaurant scare you away: Chef Heather Terhune honed her culinary chops at top restaurants in Chicago and even an appearance on Top Chef. It helps that she's a Midwesterner at heart, so the Mediterranean-inspired menu isn't full of ingredients you haven't heard of. Handmade pasta, wood-fired pizza, vegetables, and seafood dominate the menu, including an olive oil-braised charred octopus.
In a city full of Milwaukee-style pizza joints, there's somehow still room for one more. You'll recognize the thin, crunchy crust cut into squares, but the sauce on top of the cheese might throw you. Don't be alarmed, it keeps the crust from getting soggy. Specialty pizzas are named for local landmarks and bars, like the Fat Daddy's five-meat creation. A smattering of sandwiches, appetizers, and pastas rounds out the Italian menu.
In a stretch of street near a mall and full of chain restaurants, the Middle Eastern options at Jerusalem Pastries are a welcome reprieve. You order at the counter, but your food comes on real plates, or in the case of tea, on a fancy silver tray. Falafel, shawarma, and kafta come as sandwiches or on yellow rice with almonds. Don't pass up the hummus which is the smoothest around. I dare you to leave without grabbing a few pastries by the pound.
Menomonee River Valley
The Asian restaurant inside of Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, RuYi, opened a new sushi bar early in 2016. Located in a sleek new space at the back of the restaurant (and carved out of the adjoining buffet), the bar serves starters, soup, salad, and donburi in addition to the usual maki, nigiri and sashimi. Fish is flown in fresh twice a week and prepared and sliced inside a custom walk-in refrigerator.
With a focus on Southern meals served family-style, The Tandem aims to bridge neighborhoods with big platters of fried chicken and mac & cheese. The century-old building used to house a popular tavern, and the original wood back bar is still in use. Besides the numerous fried staples, you can get stewed oxtails, Thai curry, and hot dogs or brats served three ways.
Located in the two-room, not-quite-open-yet boutique Hotel Madrid, Bodegon is the biggest addition to MKE's fine-dining scene in 2016. The name means "home-cooking restaurant," but the food, drinks, and atmosphere are way better than anything you have at home. Start with a cheese board or carpaccio, finish with a local, 32oz bone-in rib-eye for sharing. Order a whole suckling pig for your next party when you've got someone to impress and $620 to spare.