KEVIN MIYAZAKI
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Milwaukee Right Now

Published On 09/26/2017
Michael Goelzer

Goodkind

Bay View

Don't let the quaint, retro-inspired dining room and bar fool you: there are modern flavor combinations coming out of this kitchen, like bucatini with tomato, crab, and spicy pepperoni. Belly up to the bar and sip some of the best cocktails in Milwaukee.

Orry Leon

Amilinda

Juneau Town

A pop-up so popular they made it permanent. Amilinda was one of the most anticipated openings of 2015, and it has not let MKE down. The food is Spanish-inspired, by way of Venezuela and Portugal. Plates are hearty with lots of braised meat, making it a great spot to get your comfort food fix.

Kevin J. Miyazaki/Courtesy of Ardent

Ardent

East Side

Leave your tastebuds in Chef Justin Carlisle's capable hands and order the tasting menu at this James Beard Award-nominated spot, which has quickly become one of the star restaurants in the city. For something a little more punk rock, visit after hours on the weekends when they transform into Red Light Ramen.

Kailley Lindman/Merriment Social

Merriment Social

Harbor View

If you ever find yourself torn between dim sum and burgers, there is now a restaurant for that. Modern fusion small plates are delivered on dim sum carts, while there's also a section of menu dedicated to heartier plates. Sounds a little confused, but it's working out just fine.

Adam Horwitz/Odd Duck

Odd Duck

Bay View

You know the drill: mostly small plates, ever-changing menu. Odd Duck stands out for consistently delivering creative flavor combinations since opening in 2012. Charred octopus with fermented black beans and snow peas, anyone?

Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist

Iron Grate BBQ Co.

Lake

The newest kid on the barbecue block is owned by former Ardent chef Aaron Patin, though it's Edna -- the restaurant's main smoker -- that really runs the show. She's responsible for the restaurant's delicious meats, including what's dubbed the Milwaukee-style rib... which comes with the pork belly still attached. The belly fat melts into the rib for a sticky bite that goes well with the sweet, tart pickles on the side.

Savage Solutions

Drink Wisconsinbly

Harbor View

You may recognize the name of this pub from the endless parade of "Drink Wisconsinbly" T-shirts, can koozies, and pint glasses you see at basically every MKE event. This is the same company, doubling down on Wisconsinites' love of their state, with a pub that surrounds you with Wisconsin memorabilia. Burgers, cheese curds, Old Fashioneds (from a bubbler!), Bloody Marys, and PBR are all wonderfully familiar, tasty standards here.

Courtesy of Hello Falafel

Hello Falafel

Bay View

The owners of small plate heaven Odd Duck bring you this Mediterranean fast casual spot, which offers mostly -- what else -- falafel. There are four different ways to dress your crunchy little chickpea balls, from classic hummus and pickled vegetables to sabih with charred eggplant spread, hard boiled egg, tahini, and cucumber salad. Charred halloumi cheese, lentil soup, fattoush, and fresh juice blends round out the menu.

Courtesy of Rare Steakhouse

Rare Steakhouse Milwaukee

East Town

We Milwaukeeans l-o-v-e our meat and potatoes, so there's always fanfare when another steakhouse opens up. The MKE outpost, in a brand spanking new high-rise, is just as lovely as the original Madison location. Supple crimson banquettes, chandeliers, and a library room indicate precisely what you're in for: delicious foie gras, tableside prepared salads, and big old hunks of steak, all at premium prices.

David Szymanski

Tre Rivali

Third Ward

Located in the brand-spanking-new Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, Tre Rivali focuses on Mediterranean food with a heavy influence from Italy. Chef Heather Terhune prepares handmade pasta, wood-fired pizzas, and fish and meat entrees... plus some creative tapas like aracini made with paella. The restaurant is more comfortable than the hotel's posh rooftop bar, so you can grab some of the same, fairly expensive craft cocktails in a more casual setting.

Kevin Miyazaki

DanDan

Third Ward

The first MKE restaurant serving some of the trendy Chinese-American dishes popular on the coasts, DanDan hit the ground running when it opened at the end of July. Headed by two veteran chefs both named Dan, they do in fact serve dandan noodles, because it'd be a travesty not to. Hand-pulled cumin lamb noodles, smashed cucumber salad, and short rib and foie gras potstickers stand out on a menu that's meant for sharing. The bar's mai tai comes to the table flaming... and full of booze.

Third Coast Provisions

Third Coast Provisions

East Town

Chef Andrew Miller of Merriment Social brings us this sleek, shiny bastion of seafood in a city with more steakhouses than oyster bars. Luckily, most of the fish served here doesn’t come from our third coast, since MKEans are all too familiar with the smell of dead alewives. Instead, you can get chargrilled oysters, lobster and crab meat masquerading as escargot in pools of garlic butter, and some of the best steak tartare around.

San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana

San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana

Westown

The operator of the Calderone Club took over the vacant space next door and created a Naples-style pizzeria. San Giorgio is the first VPN-certified pizzeria in Milwaukee -- that means a committee of Italians who are very serious about pizza dictates everything about the pies here, from the type of flour used to the oven temperature. The results are appropriate homages to what you'd get in Naples; sit at the semicircular bar around the imported oven, and watch your pizza cook while you munch on arancini.

The Tandem

The Tandem

Triangle North

Caitlin Cullen, formerly of Bavette La Boucherie, opened The Tandem in Triangle North, a neighborhood that needs more community gathering spots of this ilk. For many years the building was the Wally Schmidt Tavern, so continuing that history with a watering hole made sense. For dinner, order a whole family-style chicken, either roasted or fried and bathed in Memphis-style hot sauce. Whichever style you choose, hushpuppies and braised greens are a must for sides.

Hotel Madrid

Bodegón at Hotel Madrid

Walker's Point

Bodegón is the main draw at Hotel Madrid, considering there are only two rooms in the hotel and the place isn’t even booking yet. You'll find Spanish-inspired food and aged steaks, presented in an upscale atmosphere that matches the high price tag. Check out the bar for a large menu of cocktails, snacks, and small entrees, like a smoked suckling pig sandwich or savory potato churros. Book the wine cave -- yes, it's really underground -- for special events.

Santino's Little Italy

Santino's

Bay View

Another pizzeria touting Neapolitan pizza recently opened on "the same street as Barnacle Bud's." When you describe your location in reference to the best summer drinking patio in Milwaukee, you're clearly doing something right. Go traditional with a Margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil, or opt for a more alternative pie, like one topped with garlic sauce, pan-fried potato slices, and grilled chicken.

Eat at MOXIE

Moxie

North Shore

Local couple Anne Marie Arroyo and Tamela Greene are bringing a little verve to the sleepy ‘hood of Whitefish Bay with a menu of classics like shrimp cocktail, chicken piccata, short rib bolognese, and a burger with peppercorn aioli. The brunch menu here includes four types of eggs Benedict, including one with crispy pork belly. Because if there's anything eggs Benedict needs, it's more richness.

Up Next
Food & Drink

The Ultimate Guide to Dining in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Published On 01/30/2018
Thrillist Video
Sponsored

This Kayak Excursion on Louisiana's Bayou is Downright Magical

Published On 05/18/2018
third coast provisions | Kailley Lindman
Food & Drink

Milwaukee's Best New Restaurants of 2017

Published On 11/13/2017
M ilwaukee's booming -- some might say oversaturated -- restaurant scene churned a lot of changes in its wake over the last year. Some stalwart restaurants closed their doors, and we mourn the passing of classics like Karl Ratzsch, Cempazuchi, and Hinterland, while other much-loved local spots like Cubanitas and Fuel Cafe expanded their reach with new locations. But most importantly, fantastic new restaurants of all types and cuisines opened to replace those we lost, from a dog-friendly pizza joint to a restaurant's side room that only serves a tasting menu twice a week. So next time you're sick of all your usual haunts, hit up one of these new dining gems that graced Milwaukee in 2017.
Kindred on KK

Kindred on KK

Bay View

Reimagined hotel restaurant looking to bring diners together
Located in the tiny Kinn Guesthouse, this place is redefining what a hotel restaurant can be. Just as a boutique hotel with the name guesthouse implies, the goal is to bring people together, and in Kindred, that's done by utilizing community tables. Most dishes are meant to be shared, to the point where that section of the menu is called "gather," and includes small plates like coffee citrus-rubbed wild boar sliders and scallops with sweet potatoes and speck. Large plates that are harder to share like pasta and burgers are available, but where's the fun in that?

Maison

Maison

Hawthorne Glen

Cozy French bistro that replaced an esteemed classic
All of Milwaukee sighed when our beloved Meritage closed down, but the restaurant that has taken its place is a more than worthy replacement, filling a hole in a neighborhood that’s always embraced upscale casual dining. Maison is French for home (as the restaurant is fond of reminding you), and the atmosphere is similarly inviting, with warm lighting and dark wood; all the classic French dishes are represented on the menu as well, including salade nicoise with oil-cured tuna, escargots, steak frites, and coq au vin. It’s basically like visiting the home in France you never had -- provided your home in France charged you for its signature cocktails.

The Diplomat

Brady Street

Regional American small plates from a Milwaukee restaurant veteran
Formerly of restaurant group powerhouses SURG and Bartolotta, chef Dane Baldwin opened The Diplomat on busy Brady Street in August. He serves a menu of small plates meant for sharing that changes regularly, including a selection of sweet desserts, and you're likely to find influences from many regions on the menu, like Southern pork rinds with tomato salt and Carolina mustard sauce. Even if you’re not looking for another small plate spot, The Diplomat’s got some heartier dishes as well, like beef short ribs with broccolini, which are available in larger, more traditional entree sizes if you're feeling selfish. Don't skip past the innocuous sounding Diplomat fries: This unusual version is more akin to crispy fried baked potato wedges and could easily become a Milwaukee classic.

DiModa Pizza

DiModa Pizza

East Village

A new dog-friendly option serving Roman-style pizza and pasta
DiModa moved into the former spot of Trocadero and has proven itself a worthy successor to the popular gastropub. They bake up Roman-style, wood-fired oven pizza, which has a thicker crust than Neapolitan-style and isn't common in MKE. There's the classic margherita, but also versions with Underground Meats 'nduja sausage, caramelized cipollini onions, and roasted figs. In addition to the dog-friendly patio outside, there's also a custom pooch menu with treats like beef-flavored doggie beer and puparoni pizzas, so be sure to bring little Bowser along.

Stella Van Buren

Juneau Town

Italian steakhouse with a refreshingly bright, non-steakhouse vibe
You wouldn't think downtown needed another steakhouse, but Stella brings a fresh twist with its added focus on Italian cuisine. The unconventional steakhouse is located on the third floor of the brand new Westin Hotel -- this was a good year for hotel restaurants, if you couldn’t tell already -- and unlike what you’d expect from most other steakhouses, its atmosphere is bright and airy thanks to the open dining room, high ceilings, and huge windows. This place’s legit Italian influences mean the pastas are all made in-house -- including an elevated version of spaghetti and meatballs (if you’re feeling ultra-basic) -- or go the classic steakhouse route with a 22-ounce dry-aged bone-in ribeye if you're really hungry and on your company's dime.

The Fitz

The Fitz

Avenues West

Retro classics from a husband/wife team in an art deco hotel
Also a hotel restaurant, The Fitz is the brainchild of Jason Gorman and his wife and pastry chef, Jennifer, and replaces the Ambassador Hotel's previous restaurant, Envoy (which was in dire need of reworking and remodel). The name is an obvious reference to F. Scott (it's located in an art deco hotel, after all), and it's quite easy to imagine you're in the roaring ‘20s (or at least a decade before you were born) when the menu is full of chic classics like crab louis salad and a twist on rumaki, as well as luxurious entrees like duck breast with green curry dumplings.

Santino's Little Italy

Bay View

Vibrant lounge with authentic Neapolitan pizza and East Coast vibes
The owners of Santino's had to go through a lot to get the vintage building that houses it up to code, including redoing the foundation and basement. What they ended up with, though, is a modern, sleek pizza bar with hot pink lighting and industrial touches that's been getting rave reviews since it opened. Pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven and are big enough to serve one extremely hungry person (or two normal people). And while simple preparations like margherita are offered, it's toppings like Italian beef and giardiniera, or chicken and Spanish fried potatoes, that steal the show. For starters, you’ll want to share a giant 10-ounce meatball called The Bocce Ball.

Kailley Lindman

Third Coast Provisions

Juneau Town

The opulent seafood restaurant Milwaukee’s been waiting for
Wisconsin isn't exactly known for being a bastion of seafood restaurants, but we got one this past year that's putting a lot of others to shame. Third Coast is a swanky, upscale seafood restaurant that surrounds you with glitz and mirrors, and it's the kind of place where you can order a giant chilled seafood tower, oysters Rockefeller, and something magical called lobster potholes that combines crab, lobster, and copious amounts of garlic butter. Head downstairs to the Oak & Oyster bar for cocktails, seafood tacos, and unbeatable happy hour specials.

Huge Galdones

EsterEv

Third Ward

Intimate tasting menu spot inside another classic MKE restaurant
Located inside DanDan, this Inception-style restaurant is the pet project of chefs Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite. EsterEv, named after the chefs' great grandmothers, operates every Friday and Saturday night for one seating of 10 courses, and while the menu changes monthly, it’s nothing like what you’ll find at DanDan, even though the two spaces share a kitchen. Each course will be well thought out and exquisitely plated, matching some of the best restaurants in the state, with dishes like steak tartare with mozzarella, celery, parsley, and crackers. It's an intimate dining experience, and at only $80 for the meal, it's a steal.

Doc's Commerce Smokehouse

Kilbourn Town

Southern-style barbecue with a focus on hickory-smoked meats
In a city that loves meat and potatoes, you can never have too many barbecue restaurants. Doc's Commerce Smokehouse has a massive open space for dining with a large bar and a few TVs for optimal sports viewing. Here, platters of smoked meats with plenty of char (especially the chicken and ribs) are served; there are also five sauces to choose from, if you're so inclined, including a rare-around-here Alabama white sauce. Between fried pickles, burnt ends, 60 beers on tap, and peanut butter pie, there's really no reason to leave this place.