Food & Drink

The Best Italian Restaurants in Milwaukee

Published On 09/27/2016 Published On 09/27/2016
Onesto
Courtesy of Onesto

Carini's la Conca d'Oro

Downer Woods

Carini's chef and owner Peter Carini came to the US from Palermo in the '60s, so it only makes sense that the restaurant specializes in Sicilian food. Seafood is the name of the game here -- Sicily is an island, after all. Start with octopus salad or clams, then move on to their signature dish of spaghetti with mixed seafood in marinara sauce.

Il Mito East Italian Restaurant

Il Mito

Wauwatosa

Chef and owner Michael Feker has a big personality, which is reflected in his menu. Bold flavors and colors dominate his dishes, like fresh horseradish on braised short ribs, a roasted radish and feta salad, and "Fekerized lasagna" filled with short ribs and topped with a roasted mushroom bechamel. Can I Fekerize my vegetables too?

Centro Cafe

Centro Cafe

Riverwest

The cozy, dimly lit dining room of Centro makes it one of the most romantic restaurants in Milwaukee -- especially if you can score the secluded table in the front window nook. If you're looking for something more lively, sit at the bar and watch your seafood risotto being made right in front of your eyes.

Calderone Club

Kilbourn Town

White tablecloths, murals of Tuscan villages, and a copper Italian espresso machine all point to the fact that you're in a fancy pants dining establishment at Calderone Club. The menu is large, and includes all the best Italian-American favorites, like fried calamari, Neapolitan-style pizza, homemade pasta, and chicken marsala.

Tenuta's Italian Restaurant

Tenuta's

Bay View

Located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the folks at this little corner restaurant makes you feel at home. The owners came to the US from Italy in 1961, and brought their knowledge of food and wine with them. We definitely recommend pairing your pizza, scallops, or butternut squash ravioli with a wine from the lengthy list.

Zarletti

Zarletti

Juneau Town

Always acclaimed by local critics, Zarletti is where you take a first date if you really want to impress them. Traditional Italian dishes from all over Italy are represented: osso buco with risotto Milanese, pasta bolognese, and panzanella salad. Pro tip: go for the daily homemade ravioli special.

Onesto

Third Ward

Though the menu is trendy, with categories like "jars" and "boards," the flavors at Onesto are classic Italian. A mussels starter with white wine, herbs, and tomato is good enough to be your entree, but good luck not ordering the wild mushroom ragu with homemade gnocchi anyway.

Balistreri's Bluemound Inn

Balistreri's

Wauwatosa (& Bluemound Heights)

Of the two Balistreri's, the Wauwatosa location has the longest history, having opened in 1968. Plus, it's got an Italian-American red sauce-joint menu and does a lot of great pizza. But Balistreri's Bluemound Inn ups the ante with dishes like melon carpaccio and braised rabbit... try them both, but we think the large pergola-covered patio gives the edge to Bluemound Inn.

Giovanni's

Giovanni's

Kilbourn Town

Giovanni's revives a beloved restaurant of the same name that closed about 10 years ago. It's more upscale now, with a smaller menu focused on meat and seafood. Besides spiedini and veal picatta, this is one of the only places in Milwaukee you can get chicken Vesuvio, a baked dish with potatoes and lemon sauce that's popular in Chicago.

Capri di Nuovo

West Allis

Capri has been around for decades -- I went here as a child growing up. It closed in 2012, and was purchased by a couple who lovingly remodeled it, giving the space a much needed facelift. The menu is classic Italian-American red sauce. We recommend ordering the lasagna special on Mondays and Tuesdays -- it comes with a thick layer of sauce and mozzarella broiled on top.

Tre Rivali | David Szymanski

Tre Rivali

Third Ward

A Mediterranean restaurant with heavy Italian influence, Tre Rivali has just recently opened in the posh new Kimpton Journeyman Hotel. Woodfire pizzas might catch your eye, but it's interesting seafood preps like olive oil braised octopus and shrimp bagna cauda with radishes that stand out. Whoever thought to make arancini out of paella is a genius.

Nessun Dorma

Riverwest

Think of Nessun Dorma as a neighborhood tavern that just happens to serve Italian food instead of mini tacos. The emphasis here is on bruschetta, antipasti, and panini, with some soup and salad for good measure. Daily and weekly specials bulk up the menu with pastas, salmon, and chicken.

Courtesy of SALA

SALA

Downer Woods

Sala is a family affair for the brother and sister owners of this casual spot across from UW-Milwaukee. A portrait of their great-grandmother even hangs on the wall, and her recipes provide the basis of dishes like their sugo angel hair. Go for the classic pasta with meatballs for the ultimate in grandma's comfort food.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Carini's La Conca D'Oro 3468 N Oakland Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53211

Carini's chef and owner Peter Carini came to the US from Palermo in the '60s, so it only makes sense that the restaurant specializes in Sicilian food. Seafood is the name of the game here -- Sicily is an island, after all. Start with octopus salad or clams, then move on to their signature dish of spaghetti with mixed seafood in marinara sauce.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Il Mito Enoteca 6913 W North Ave, Wauwatosa, WI 53213 (Wauwatosa)

Chef and owner Michael Feker has a big personality, which is reflected in his menu. Bold flavors and colors dominate his dishes, like fresh horseradish on braised short ribs, a roasted radish and feta salad, and "Fekerized lasagna" filled with short ribs and topped with a roasted mushroom bechamel.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. Centro Cafe 808 E Center St, Milwaukee, WI 53212 (Riverwest)

The cozy, dimly lit dining room of Centro makes it one of the most romantic restaurants in Milwaukee -- especially if you can score the secluded table in the front window nook. If you're looking for something more lively, sit at the bar and watch your seafood risotto being made right in front of your eyes.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Calderone Club 842 N Old World 3rd St, Milwaukee, WI 53203

White tablecloths, murals of Tuscan villages, and a copper Italian espresso machine all point to the fact that you're in a fancy pants dining establishment at Calderone Club. The menu is large, and includes all the best Italian-American favorites, like fried calamari, Neapolitan-style pizza, homemade pasta, and chicken marsala.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Tenuta's Italian Restaurant 2995 S Clement Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207 (Bay View)

This romantic Italian restaurant, known for pasta and an extensive wine list, also serves delicious pizza. The Diavola is an interesting mix of toppings with pepperoni, giardiniera peppers, cream cheese, and pineapple for a sweet/hot combination. It’s creamy, a little meaty, and definitely wakes up your taste buds.

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6. Zarletti 741 N Milwaukee St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Always acclaimed by local critics, Zarletti is where you take a first date if you really want to impress them. Traditional Italian dishes from all over Italy are represented: osso buco with risotto Milanese, pasta bolognese, and panzanella salad. Pro tip: go for the daily homemade ravioli special.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Onesto 221 N Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (Third Ward)

This restaurant, whose names means "honest" in Italian, serves modern takes on classic Roman fare inside a warm, brick-walled venue in the Historic Third Ward district. Authenticity is the name of the game here; the portions are sizeable, the ingredients fresh, and the prices fair.

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8. Balistreri's Italian American Ristorante 812 N 68th St, Milwaukee, WI 53213 (Wauwatosa)

Of the two Balistreri's, the Wauwatosa location has the longest history, having opened in 1968. Plus, it's got an Italian-American red sauce-joint menu and does a lot of great pizza. But Balistreri's Bluemound Inn ups the ante with dishes like melon carpaccio and braised rabbit... try them both, but we think the large pergola-covered patio gives the edge to Bluemound Inn.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Giovanni's 1033 N Old World 3rd St, Milwaukee, WI 53203

Giovanni's revives a beloved restaurant of the same name that closed about 10 years ago. It's more upscale now, with a smaller menu focused on meat and seafood. Besides spiedini and veal picatta, this is one of the only places in Milwaukee you can get chicken Vesuvio, a baked dish with potatoes and lemon sauce that's popular in Chicago.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Capri di Nuovo 8340 W Beloit Rd, West Allis, WI 53219 (West Allis)

Capri du Nuovo in West Allis is classic Italian-American red sauce. We recommend ordering the lasagna special when available -- it comes with a thick layer of sauce and mozzarella broiled on top.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
11. Tre Rivali 200 N Broadway Ste 100, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (Third Ward)

A Mediterranean restaurant with heavy Italian influence, Tre Rivali sits in the posh Kimpton Journeyman Hotel. Woodfire pizzas might catch your eye, but it's interesting seafood preps like olive oil braised octopus and shrimp bagna cauda with radishes that stand out. Whoever thought to make arancini out of paella is a genius.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
12. Nessun Dorma 2778 N Weil St, Milwaukee, WI 53212 (Riverwest)

Think of Nessun Dorma as a neighborhood tavern that just happens to serve Italian food instead of mini tacos. The emphasis here is on bruschetta, antipasti, and panini, with some soup and salad for good measure. Daily and weekly specials bulk up the menu with pastas, salmon, and chicken.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
13. SALA Modern-Sicilian 2613 E Hampshire Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53211

Sala is a family affair for the brother and sister owners of this casual spot across from UW-Milwaukee. A portrait of their great-grandmother even hangs on the wall, and her recipes provide the basis of dishes like their sugo angel hair. Go for the classic pasta with meatballs for the ultimate in grandma's comfort food.

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