Embrace the Elements With Fire & Smoke Burgers
Cafe by day, high-end tasting menu & bar by night
Interval is a choose-your-own-adventure story. Go during the day and you'll get Pilcrow coffee, sausage biscuits, and oat milk granola parfaits. During the evening, the airy, retro space offers seasonal small plates with aged sous-vide ribeye, sunchokes with aioli foam, and asparagus with spruce powder. Don't be intimidated though: Chef Travis Cook will guide you through each dish as he casually delivers them, whether you choose the full tasting menu or a la carte plates. The cocktails are just as memorable, and if you can't decide on one, the bartender will mix you a surprise based on your tastes for a truly personal experience.
Modern take on a classic diner (with 10-cent martinis)
Who would pass up 10-cent martinis for lunch? At Don's, you can get real-deal dime martinis weekdays until 1pm, and the only catch is that you're limited to three with your meal. If you're not quite into hard drinking that early, have a brandy old fashioned milkshake instead. Brunch-y items are the main draw on the menu, like the piggies in blankets pancakes cooked with bacon and topped with candied pecans. But at night it's hard to resist a decadent burger surrounded by a pool of rich demi-glace, or a head-turning version of shrimp and grits. Save room for dessert, though, because the mile-high cakes under glass on the bar taste as spectacular as they look.
Handmade noodles and dumplings from all over Asia
Xiao long bao, aka soup dumplings, are not easy to find in Milwaukee. When Momo Mee opened this year, it doubled the number restaurants you could go to for the steamy, stock-filled treat. If they're out for the day, don't worry, because Korean beef mandu and Sichuan wontons in chili oil can also fill your dumpling hole. Five types of ramen and yakisoba are both standout dishes with homemade noodles, but the best kept secret is actually a stir fry. The salt and pepper shrimp are the stuff that garlic lovers dream about.
East Side food hall with everything from barbecue to a raw bar
Milwaukee's trendy food hall has been well-received, and it's even better that it's in a space that had held a string of failed restaurants previously. Crossroads Collective has seven local purveyors, including outlets of Falafel Guys, Beerline Cafe, and Scratch Ice Cream. You can get daily fresh pasta at Egg & Flour, smoked ribs and cornbread at Heaven's Table BBQ, duck po-boys at Frida, and conch at Raw Bar. There's even a speakeasy-style bar called Shanghai you have to access from the back alley. The only thing bad about Crossroads is that you can't possibly try everything in one trip. Probably.
Laid-back breakfast and lunch in a natural light-filled bar
Name some things that Milwaukeeans love most, and brunch and taverns will be right up there with Aaron Rodgers. Uncle Wolfie's decided to blend the two (not including Rodgers, sorry) because why don't we have socially acceptable tavern spaces for chilling in the morning? The space has a lovely bar with white marble top and plenty of sunlight, making this the cheeriest tavern around. The substantial steak & eggs and pulled pork breakfast tostadas are not to be missed, and you can put an egg on any sandwich and call it breakfast. Bloodies, rum chai tea, and hibiscus negronis are just some of the boozy beverages.
Historic Mitchell Street
Traditional Syrian spot run by refugees
When Damascus Gate opened earlier this year, the outpouring of love and attention from all parts of Milwaukee was overwhelming. The restaurant, owned and operated by Syrian immigrants and refugees, had to extend their hours and tweak the menu ASAP. Now things have settled down a bit, and it's a staple for Middle Eastern favorites like hummus, kebbeh, and kefta kababs. Individual flaky spinach or cheese pies called fatayer are one-of-a-kind, as is the massive $70 family platter with chicken skewers and grilled vegetables on a mountain of rice.
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.
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.
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.
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. Though the experience is upscale, it's also casual and cozy in a dimly lit subterranean spot with cell phone pillows and plush afghans folded over the backs of the chairs.
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?
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.
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.
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.