In 2015, Milwaukee saw a favorite pop-up get a permanent location, ice cream turn boozy, and new breweries open (obviously), but the biggest surprise for our food scene was the huge influx of flavors from around the world. From South African peanut stew to Korean-inspired grilled cheeses, ethnic cuisine flooded the menus even at our bars. That means when you want to try the year’s best new openings and dishes, you’ll get to check off that new year’s resolution to get a little out of your comfort zone. Don’t worry, though: our pick for the best new burger is a perfectly done classic.
The Thrillist Awards: Milwaukee's Best New Food & Drink of 2015
Best new restaurant
AmilindaAddress and Info
There haven’t been many openings as anticipated as Amilinda’s, thanks to a large fanbase cultivated at their pop-up restaurant of the same name. Their permanent home has lived up to expectations with a menu influenced heavily by Spain and Portugal, and dishes. ranging from braised lamb to octopus, that are all tackled with a skillful hand.
Best new Asian
Rice n Roll BistroAddress and Info
Lower East Side
Asian restaurants that take on too many cuisines can raise red flags, but this one pulls it off. From sushi to Thai to whatever cuisine crab rangoon is, every dish on the huge menu is made with finesse.
Best new beer bar
CaminoAddress and Info
A decidedly unpretentious bar and grill in an area rife with expensive dining options, Camino's focus is on craft brews by the glass or growler. The kitchen is pumping out some instant classics, like the kimcheese sandwich, Korean chicken wings, and cheese curds from a local dairy, and while you’re waiting for your food, you can embrace your inner teenager with vintage arcade games like Tapper and BurgerTime.
Best new burger
Merriment SocialAddress and Info
Though Merriment Social’s menu touts small plates and dim sum, the burger here steals the show. It’s a classic combination done really well: a double stack, topped with thick slabs of bacon, a couple slices of cheese, and homemade pickles. It’s a classic combination done really well.
Best new bar
Plum LoungeAddress and Info
Though DJs abound late night, Plum Lounge’s atmosphere is more lounge and less nightclub, thanks to swanky bottle service and an upscale, substantial food menu. Even if dance music isn’t your thing, make the trip for the patio and its long fireplace-in-the-bar.
Best new African
Irie ZuluAddress and Info
Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot of competition for African food around the city, but even if there were, Irie Zulu would still be the stand out. The restaurant itself brings a marriage of African and Jamaican cuisines, but it’s the creative combos from the African portions of the menu that impress the most. Start your menu exploration with the peanut butter stew.
Best new taco
Gypsy TacoAddress and Info
The Gypsy Taco cart moved to MKE this year from Door County, and has taken up permanent residence at Boone & Crockett, one of the best bars in the city. They operate on a pop-up basis lately, thanks to a jerk who stole their money instead of delivering a shiny new taco truck. So when you can get your hands on their fusion tacos with Dr. Pepper-marinated pork and fresh veggies, run, don’t walk.
Best new pizza
AnodyneAddress and Info
A coffee shop with pizza? It makes total sense when you realize they sell beer and wine and serve as a hub of activity for their neighborhood. The massive pizza oven was shipped from Italy, and the pies are Neapolitan style, naturally. Originally only available on weekends, demand for pizzas has increased, and the oven (thankfully) now only rests on Mondays.
Best new brewpub
Company BrewingAddress and Info
Company Brewing comes out on top by being a brewery, live music venue, and outstanding restaurant all rolled into one warm industrial space. While you’re coming for the impressive, refreshing beers, you’ll stay for the food; much of it is Puerto Rican influenced, like jibarito and tostones, but you can get trout, steak, or gnocchi, too.
Best new vegetarian
Beerline CafeAddress and Info
You’re guaranteed to feel good for going to Beerline Cafe. You’ll have a good coffee, you’ll be supporting a local business that believes in sustainability, and no animals will be harmed in the making of your food. If none of that actually convinces you, the large array of sweet-filled crepes should seal the deal.
Best new sandwiches
XankiaAddress and Info
This Vietnamese spot that specializes in banh mi moved downtown this year, earning them much more recognition than they had tucked away in an Asian supermarket. The cubicle farm worker has heard the siren song of pork pate combined with briny vegetables and spicy jalapeños, and will never look back.
Best new supper club
SupperAddress and Info
Lower East Side
A modern reinterpretation of the classic Wisconsin supper club, Supper is sleek and retro, from the decor to the menu. Some things are classic, like steak Diane and oysters Rockefeller, and some things have been updated, like a craft cocktail menu. One thing that straddles both old and new: ice cream drinks. Blue Moon in an after-dinner drink? Yes please.
1. Amilinda315 E Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee
2. Rice N Roll Bistro1952 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee
3. Camino434 S 2nd St, Milwaukee
4. Merriment Social240 E Pittsburgh Ave, Milwaukee
5. Plum Lounge780 N Jefferson St, Milwaukee
6. Irie Zulu7237 W North Ave, Wauwatosa
7. Gypsy Taco2151 W Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee
8. Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co2920 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Bay View (& other locations)
9. Company Brewing735 E Center St, Milwaukee
10. Beerline Cafe2076 N Commerce St, Milwaukee
11. Xankia222 W Wells St, Milwaukee
12. Supper1962 N Prospect Ave, Milwaukee
A pop-up so popular they made it permanent, this East Town restaurant specializes in farm fresh, tapas style plates. Chef Gregory Leon and his husband who works front of house have infused Wisconsin Ave with just the right amount of Catalan ambiance: a Gaudi mural takes over one wall, bright accents from the chairs to the walls pop, even from the street, somehow incongruously working with the 1891 building, and that food transferred oh so well into a full-time space. Just as natural a fit is Leon’s Spanish and Portuguese menu, which manages to be even more comforting than Wisconsin staples.
Sushi and Thai food come together in this Asian spot with a lengthy menu featuring everything from maki rolls, pad thai, to Caribbean fried rice. In a display of local pride, rolls are colloquially named: the East Town Monster with shrimp, cilantro, avocado and jalapeno, and Lake Front, which hopefully doesn’t describe the origins of the ingredients.
Cerveza and chorizo sandwiches are what's on offer at this MKE Mexican gastropub. Their Breakfast Fries with beer cheese, bacon, and eggs are good any time of the day.
If you ever find yourself torn between dim sum and burgers, there is a restaurant for that. Modern fusion small plates are delivered on dim sum carts at this Harbor View spot, while there's also a section of menu dedicated to heartier plates. It's reminiscent of a Chinatown brunch, but the plates all utilize seasonal Wisconsin ingredients that come together and err on the side of American. Merriment Social also features craft cocktails and signature punches for two, which arrive at the table in small bottles. Just like the drinks, sharing plates is encouraged as well.
This East Town bar and lounge is a plum choice for your next happy hour hang. This all purple everything spot offers sophisticated fare (truffle grilled cheese, for one) alongside classic cocktails, bottle service, and nightly DJ sessions.
Variety is the spice of life at Irie Zulu, a Jamaican restaurant with a menu that changes daily. A variety of jerk meats, curries and uniquely prepared rice and plantains come on and off the menu, enabling you to order something different (and delicious) every time you go.
This "unapologetically unauthentic" taco truck traffics in modern Mexican fare (think kale and sunflower seed tacos, piled high with jalapenos).
Born in 1999, Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. is a cool, rustic and spacious coffee shop that also serves wood-fired oven pizza. Using a huge Ferrara wood-burning pizza oven that was imported from Italy, this bad boy cooks pizzas in just a minute or two, in true Southern Italian style. Pair your slice with a shot of espresso or a glass of wine.
House brews and inventive New American eats pair beautifully at this rustic, modern brewpub in Riverwest. Company Brewing comes out on top by being a brewery, live music venue, and outstanding restaurant all rolled into one warm industrial space. While you’re coming for the impressive, refreshing beers and tap cocktails, you’ll stay for the food; much of it is Puerto Rican influenced and far beyond the realm of average bar food.
This eco-friendly vegetarian spot, in tropical digs, is known for its creative crepes. Favorites include the classic breakfast (roasted rosemary potatoes, tempeh bacon, eggs, and cheese), strawberry vanilla cream cheese, and the assortment of grab 'n' go breakfast options.
We've never met a banh mi we didn't like but the house special at Xankia takes the cake. Piled high with pate on a crunchy French roll, run, don't walk to this counter service only spot that serves some of the best Vietnamese sandos around.
Get fancy at Supper, a New American style spot located in the Shorecrest Hotel. Inspired by the famous supper clubs of 1930s' Hollywood, Supper offers classic dishes like Oysters Rockefeller and Steak Delmonico with modern, gastronomic flourishes.