If your New Year's resolution is to try more local restaurants -- and it should be, because you're never going to lose 30lbs in one year -- then you're in luck. 2016 has given us a slew of new candidates to choose from. It's been a banner year for our new restaurants and bars in Milwaukee, from fine dining to falafel. Here are some of this past year's best new restaurants to cross off your list.
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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.
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1. DanDan360 E. Erie Street, Milwaukee
2. Iron Grate BBQ Co.4177 S Howell Ave, Milwaukee
3. Like Minds Brewing, Milwaukee
4. Drink Wisconsinbly Pub135 E National Ave, Milwaukee
5. Tre Rivali200 N Broadway Ste 100, Milwaukee
6. Fixture Pizza Pub623 S 2nd St, Milwaukee
7. Jerusalem Pastries4171 S 76th St, Greenfield
8. RuYi1721 W Canal St, Milwaukee
9. The Tandem1848 W Fond du Lac Ave, Milwaukee
10. Bodegón, Milwaukee
Headed by two veteran chefs both named Dan, sleek and stylish DanDan in Third Ward does, in fact, serve dandan noodles, alongside other Chinese Sichuan dishes on a menu meant for sharing, such as hand-pulled cumin lamb noodles, a smashed cucumber salad, and short rib & foie gras potstickers. You'll want to order a mai tai on the side, which comes to the table in flames, matching the warm red tones and Asian flair of the decor and wall art.
Located in Milwaukee's town of Lake, this Iron Grate is a proud BBQ and ribs restaurant that live fire cooks all its meat on trusty Edna -- the joint’s beloved main smoker. She’s responsible for what's dubbed the Milwaukee-style rib, which comes with the buttery, fatty pork belly still attached. Other than the ribs, Edna also helps cook up tender Beef Brisket, tangy Pulled Pork, and Smoked Links. Get any of it with uber American sides like baked beans, cole slaw, Smoked Tomato Mac’n Cheese, and grits. The BBQ joint shares space with Hawthorne Coffee Roasters so you can grab a cup of (really nice) joe while you wait.
Milwaukee’s Like Minds Brewing Company is a brewpub that focuses distinctly on layering flavors into beers. Working with many local and regional producers to source the best ingredients they can find, Like Minds uses 5,000-square-foot space to produce non-sour beers, while they use their sister brewery in Chicago to create sour beers. The food program offers Asian, American, and European flavors with small snacks like fried lemons, charcuterie, pizza, noodles, and burgers. Indulge in brews and bites on the outdoor patio or at one of the indoor tables.
This pub in Harbor View, the brainchild of Richard Lorbach, surrounds you with Wisconsin memorabilia, from T-shirts to can koozies. The menu draws on Wisconsin tavern and supper club fare, from burgers to cheese curds. Old Fashioneds (from a bubbler!), Bloody Marys, and PBR are several drinkable stables here.
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.
You might be alarmed when you order a pizza at this rustic-chic restaurant in Walker's Point and it appears to be missing the cheese, but not to worry -- Fixture switches its sauce and cheese order, meaning the sauce is on top of the cheese on its crispy thin-crust pies, and under the cheese on its deep-dish. Fixture's thin, cracker-like crust cut into squares is quintessential Milwaukee style, as are its specialty pizza choices, such as the Sabbatic with extra red sauce, pepperoni, and cream cheese, and the Walker's Pint with the makings of a taco, including ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and crushed tortilla. You'll find a small selection of Italian sandwiches and pastas on the menu, too.
Jerusalem Pastries is a sun-soaked Middle Eastern counter-serve with a knack for hummus and a whole island just for sweets. Have a seat in the large dining area to enjoy the pristinely whipped, white hummus adorned with olive oil and spices, a crispy falafel sandwich with tahini, or a traditional Shish Kabab platter (with two sewers of lamb and/or steak). And don’t leave without visiting the sugary oasis of pistachio-heavy pastries… our vote goes to the cylindrical baklava shimmering with golden honey.
RuYi, a pan-Asian restaurant inside Potawatomi Casino, serves up fresh, inventive dishes in an dimly lit, intimate yet modern setting. It offers diverse options like tangy Chinese Pork Buns, sweet and salty Pad Thai, Korean Bulgogi (marinated beef over rice), and Vietnamese Pho (rice noodles, bean sprouts, and beef meatballs in broth) to name a few. Order beautifully constructed sushi like classic maki rolls (think California and Spicy Tuna) and a huge number of nigiri and sashimi options like Tai (red snapper), Tako (octopus), and Ikura (marinated salmon) . RuYi’s cocktails are just as wide reaching with Chinese and Japanese beers, sake, lychee cocktails and, of course, a Mai Tai.
Tandem is a casual, comfortable Southern-focused spot that still uses the 100-year-old wood bar that has remained from the buildings origins as a tavern. At lunch the sandwiches get all the attention with a juicy pork Cubano dripping with melted cheese, bratwursts made three ways, and a vinegar-forward Beet Reuben, plus you can get them fries, southern cole slaw (that’s extra creamy, folks), or sweet fried okra. At dinner, enjoy piles of succulent fried chicken, crispy hush puppies, gooey Wisconsin mac and cheese, and stewed Oxtails served over red rice. Wash it down with craft beer or a bright cocktail like the Lindsay Heights Punch made with vodka, orange, berries, and bubbly.
The pristine white walls of Bodegón, a brightly lit, upscale Spanish-inspired restaurant in Hotel Madrid, are decked out with colorful matador uniforms and the ceilings are hung with antler chandeliers. With an emphasis on home cooking, the menu offers high end starters like a chef’s choice charcuterie board, Foie Gras (pate) with pumpkin, pickled plum, gingerbread, and brioche, and bone marrow with cranberry pistachio and bread. Then choose from house dry-aged cuts of steak like New York Strop and Ribeye or lighter mains like grilled salmon, tender scallops watercress and parsnips, and Sea Bass over squash tortellini and saffron tomato sauce. If you still have room, the Torrijás is rich, bready, and semi-sweet with Turrón ( Spanish almond candy), dark chocolate, and banana.