KEVIN MIYAZAKI
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Milwaukee Right Now

Updated On 10/03/2018 at 04:57PM EST

best new openings

Fauntelroy

Fauntleroy

Third Ward

Modern French fare in elegant surroundings
When Coquette Cafe closed early this year, Milwaukeeans collectively breathed a heavy sigh. But what Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite (those are the guys behind DanDan) opened in its former space is a logical step forward for French cuisine in the city. Flavors are classic, like radishes with butter, Lyonnaise salad, and poached salmon, but dishes are prepared and presented in updated, unstuffy ways. Influence from ‘70s rock and roll adds a little trippiness to the decor, and we're fully on board.

Snack Boys

Snack Boys

Walker's Point

Chaotic snack bar with crazy small plates
What do you get when you cross a giant mural of Burt Reynolds reclining nude with a bunch of young, successful MKE restaurateurs? You get Snack Boys. It’s like nothing the city has seen before: an ever-changing menu of playful, often nostalgic favorites, alcoholic slushie machines, and pink neon lights. You don't have to be high to enjoy the spot by any means, but it sure helps. Always order the homemade cheese fries and aioli, and whatever "send noodz" (aka noodles) are on the menu that day, along with a Pop Rocks-dusted drink.

Sichuan Cold Noodle | Sze Chuan

Sze Chuan

West Allis

Traditional Sichuan in a southwest suburb
West Allis is a hub for international cuisine, and its got another box ticked off with the opening of Sze Chuan. The owners/chefs are from Chengdu in China's Sichuan province, and serve traditional preparations in their strip-mall, nothing-fancy restaurant. What it lacks in decor, though, it makes up for in spades with bold flavors that aren't dumbed down for American palates. Go with a group of friends and order the massive hot pot and various accoutrements using the DIY order sheet; you'll be happy you did.

Celesta | Melanie Manuel

Celesta

Lower East Side

Cozy, plant-based bar and restaurant
Full-on vegan (or even vegetarian) restaurants are a little hard to come by around here, but Celesta is bucking the notion that Milwaukeeans don't want vegan food. The bar and restaurant is cozy, and bills itself as "plant-based," perhaps in an attempt to not scare anyone off with a vegan label. Crispy lemon arancini are a great start to a meal of lasagna or a housemade seitan club sandwich. And, since they're usually vegan anyway, there's also a list of interesting cocktails.

View MKE

View MKE

Brewer's Hill

Small plates with a gorgeous view
View MKE is aptly named, since its location in Brewer's Hill offers one of the best views of the downtown skyline in town. Its beginnings were a little contentious, with a lot of he-said-she-saiding with the owners of Wolf Peach, which View MKE replaced. That said, it's seeming to be a good replacement, with upscale small plates like charred octopus and Korean beef tartar. There's also Milwaukee-style thin crust pizza (the owners also own family-friendly StoneFire Pizza) and one heck of a multi-level patio to take full advantage of the view.

best of the best

Michael Goelzer

Goodkind

Bay View

Boho chic small plates and unforgettable cocktails
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

Homey, beautiful Spanish and Portuguese dishes
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

Modern tasting menu in cozy digs
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.

Adam Horwitz/Odd Duck

Odd Duck

Bay View

Eclectic, ever-changing small plates
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?

Kevin Miyazaki

DanDan

Third Ward

Coastal-style Asian fusion
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

Elegant but playful seafood
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.

Grilled Corn Broth with Scallion Parmesan Flan | Sarah Aprahmian, Sanford Restaurant

Sanford

Sanford Lower East Side

Old reliable new American dining
Arguably one of the best restaurants in Milwaukee, Sanford has held its position for a long time, or at least since original owner and chef Sanford D'Amato won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest in 1996. He turned the restaurant over to Justin Aprahamian in 2012, and he also won the same James Beard Award two years later; that's quite a restaurant pedigree. While it may not be trendy or flashy like some newcomers, Sanford continues to serve exquisite food with some of the best service in the city.

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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.