Food & Drink

50 Things You Need to Eat in Milwaukee Before You Die

Published On 09/01/2015 Published On 09/01/2015
Courtesy of The Vanguard
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Courtesy of Red Light Ramen
Cassandra Forbes at Gilded Lens Photography/Courtesy of Ono Kine Grindz
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Courtesy of Potawatomi Hotel and Casino
Flickr/Ben Husmann
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
John Buchel/Courtesy of Maxie’s
Courtesy of Chef Paz
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Courtesy of Odd Duck
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Courtesy of Cubanitas
Courtesy of Purple Door
Courtesy of Botanas Restaurant
Courtesy of Saz’s
Courtesy of Bartolotta’s
Courtesy of Ardent
Flickr/John Kannenberg
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Flickr/C-Monster
Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Flickr/vxla
Courtesy of Points East Pub
Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Vanguard 2659 S Kinnickinnic Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53207

Sausages will never go out of style in MKE, especially when Vanguard in Bay View reinvents the wheel with new versions all the time. Thai, Italian, German, and Jamaican meats are all represented, not to mention our neighbor to the north (which gets a nod with several variations on poutine). But you're in Milwaukee, so opt for the city's namesake dog, which comes with cheese curds, cheddar cheese, and Cheez Whiz for good measure. There's a hidden patio out back, which we suggest retreating to so you can eat the second hot dog you'll likely order in peace.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Mazos 3146 S 27th St, Milwaukee, WI 53215

That this old-school diner has been a Milwaukee staple since 1934 should come as no surprise: the fresh, house-ground burgers here are some of the city's finest. Guests can select two different sides to pair with their patties, ranging from French fries, cottage cheese, coleslaw, or apple sauce, all of which are made from heirloom family recipes. There's a lovingly divey vibe to the place, one that attracts locals and passersby time and time again.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. The Packing House 900 E Layton Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

After over 30 years of supper club-ing, this spot has found its place again with a younger crowd. The classic menu includes stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, beef Wellington, prime rib, lobster thermidor, and steak au poivre.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Red Light Ramen 1751 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Ardent, everyone's favorite Milwaukee restaurant, transforms on Friday and Saturday nights from 11:30-1:30 into a ramen house with a cult following. Every college kid's dream.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Ono Kine Grindz 7215 W North Ave, Wauwatosa, WI 53213 (Wauwatosa)

Not what you normally think of when you think BBQ, this Hawaiian market and restaurant is much beloved for the kalua pork and char siu chicken. The pork is wrapped in banana leaves and smoked, while the deep red chicken is cooked with Chinese spices. Both meats are served with beautiful purple sticky rice, macaroni salad, kimchi, and a crunchy, sweet carrot and pineapple slaw. It’s like a Hawaiian rainbow in a takeout box.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Buenavista Restaurant and Bar 3447 W Forest Home Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53215

Your favorite taco truck is now a full-blown bar and restaurant. Your welcome.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Goodkind 2457 S Wentworth Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

Goodkind has all the warmth and friendliness of your neighborhood bar and grill -- but also lots of stuff that place doesn't have. This Bay View farm-to-table restaurant and bar specializes in rotisserie meats, local produce, and house-made cocktails. You'll find as many seasonal ingredients on your plate as you will in your glass, and the full kitchen menu is served until 1am to ensure that the space maintains as much of a bar status as it does of a restaurant one.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. RuYi 1721 W Canal St, Milwaukee, WI 53233

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.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Leon's 3131 S. 27th St, Milwaukee, WI 53215

There's some debate as to whether Leon’s was the model for Arnold’s Drive-In on Happy Days. Regardless, it’s the best place to get frozen custard in Milwaukee. And yes, it’s open in the winter, because there's no reason to stop eating custard, especially when it's in the cinnamon and raspberry flavors.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Speed Queen Bar-B-Q 1130 W Walnut St, Milwaukee, WI 53205

Speed Queen is BBQ royalty (having reigned since 1956), and probably the most well-known smoked meat around. Its specialty is "outside," the deepest part of the bark that forms on the outside of the pork shoulder while smoking. Its sticky, tangy sauce is a little ketchupy by itself, but it forms BBQ nirvana when paired with the charred outside or rib tips.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
11. Jake’s Deli 1634 W. North Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53205 (Riverwest)

Putting your thoughts about Bud Selig's tenure as MLB Commish aside, the man knows his delis. That’s why he invested in Jake’s for a time to keep the deli -- which has been operating since 1955 -- going. The corned beef is made fresh every day, cut by hand, and it's quality enough to woo any New Yorker.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
12. Maxie's 6732 W Fairview Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53213

This Southern restaurant has expanded its barbeque offerings since opening to include Memphis and St. Louis-style ribs, and North Carolina pulled pork with a vinegar-based sauce. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but what really stands out here are the sides, including homemade mac and cheese, corn and arugula salad in buttermilk dressing, and sweet cornbread with whipped orange honey butter. Start with fried green tomatoes, tackle ribs and greens, and end with bread pudding. Congratulations, you’re now a true Southerner.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
13. El Sen'orial 1901 S 31st St, Milwaukee, WI 53215

Count on traditional Mexican dishes like carne asada chilequeñas, tacos, and margaritas at this easygoing cantina. As for specials, try the meat-heavy Parrillada, a communal dish served over an open flame along with sides and tortillas.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
14. Chef Paz Restaurant 9039 W National Ave, West Allis, WI 53227

Count on authentic Peruvian fare in this compact bar and eatery that is a favorite among locals. The ceviche is a fresh and delicious must-order.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
15. La Casa De Alberto 624 W National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53204

Conejito’s alumni Alberto and Laura Gonzalez helm La Casa de Alberto, a barebones Mexican joint whose menu of tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and chicken mole is simple yet bursting with flavor in every dish. Portions are generous, so you’ll want to pace yourself as you dive into your sizzling plate of steak fajitas, snack on cilantro- and onion-covered tacos, and soothe your singed tongue after the fiery chile rellenos. The best part of the whole affair might actually be the precursor: the chips and three salsas hurriedly brought to your table when you first take a seat.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
16. Kims Thai Restaurant 938 W Layton Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53221

Located in a nondescript strip mall by the airport, this hidden Mitchell West gem offers flavorful and unique Thai cuisine. Everything is made-to-order, and the variety of creative options keep you from choosing pad thai again. If the menu isn't hard enough to narrow down an order from, a rotating selection of daily specials makes your decision all the more difficult, in the best way. Plus, they'll make your food as spicy as you'd like it!

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
17. Peking Chef 8673 N Port Washington Rd, Fox Point, WI 53217

Expect Chinese, Thai and Indonesian fare at this suburban restaurant. The rendang beef, which sits in a thick, coconut-based curry, is absolutely addicting.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
18. Spartan Gyros 6309 N 76th St, Milwaukee, WI 53218

This under-the-radar joint is arguably home to the best gyro in the city. The food is always fresh and the owner is usually behind the counter, ready to greet you.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
19. Tomken's Bar & Grill 8001 W Greenfield Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53214 (West Allis)

Sitting across from the State Fairgrounds in West Allis, Tomken's is an unpretentious neighborhood tavern that regulars (who all know each other's names) defend as Milwaukee's top wing joint. From Buffalo Bleu to Honey BBQ to Jerk-rubbed, the wings -- served grilled or fried -- are reliably moist and meaty no matter the sauce, and will barely make a dent in your wallet. For another good deal, order the fried chicken dinner, which offers four crispy, golden-brown pieces just like grandma used to make, plus crinkle-cut fries, cole slaw, and Italian bread. And what are wings without beers? There are plenty of American brews on tap to pair with your basket.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
20. Comet Cafe 1947 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Comet does the holy trinity of Bs (beer, bacon, and brunch, of course) so very well that finding a table in this tiny, dual-sided bar/cafe can be difficult on the weekend. Hungover or not, folks venture here for stellar biscuits & gravy, hearty meatloaf (wrapped in bacon, because of course), and some bomb mac & cheese.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
21. Jackson Grill 3736 W Mitchell St, Milwaukee, WI 53215

Chef Jimmy Jackson learned to cook at his father's restaurant (Ray Jackson's) under Jahn Kramph. Now he helms this spot, which calls itself "Milwaukee's Supper Club." The steaks are phenomenal, and most of them come topped with mushroom, gorgonzola butter, or creme bordelaise.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
22. Odd Duck 2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

Odd Duck in Bay View stands out for consistently delivering creative flavor combinations contained in small plates on an ever-changing menu. It serves a variety of vegan options suitable even to carnivores, and their cocktails rarely disappoint. This place is incredibly popular, so reservations are recommended.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
23. Sanford 1547 N Jackson St, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (East Side)

Arguably the best restaurant in Milwaukee, at least if the culinary equivalent of the Super Bowl -- the James Beard Awards -- are any indication. The menu changes seasonally, or you can spring for the tasting menu and put all your trust in the chef.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
24. Honeypie 2643 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207 (Bay View)

If your grandma was Midwestern, Honeypie makes its food like your grandma used to make. Ingredients for corn muffins or apple cabbage slaw are locally sourced whenever possible, and there's a whole case of just the namesake pie and cake: cheesecake, red velvet, Black Bottom Banana...

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
25. Three Brothers 2414 S St Clair St, Milwaukee, WI 53207 (Bay View)

Another throwback to the '50s, this family-run Serbian restaurant hasn’t changed much. It still only takes cash or personal check, the historic Schlitz tavern is still dark and kind of creepy, and the specialty burek still takes 40 minutes to make (it's worth it). Offset your heavy meal with Serbian Salad, a refreshing mix of crunchy vegetables and cheese.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
26. Cubanitas 728 N Milwaukee St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Down home cuban cooking and awesome mojitos cause locals to line up outside this compact spot with sidewalk seating. The cuban sandwich is a must-try.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
27. Vientiane Noodle Shop 3422 W National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53215

This place makes some of the most authentic pho you'll come by in Milwaukee. It's reasonably priced, not too salty and has a very balanced flavor profile. Thai bird chiles are served on the side to really spice up your order.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
28. Purple Door Ice Cream 205 S 2nd St, Milwaukee, WI 53204

This colorful ice cream shop offers a slew of unique flavors from banana peanut butter to blueberry buttermilk. Can't decide what you want? Try a tasting flight!

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
29. Botanas Restaurant 816 S. 5th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204

If you haven't had their shrimp soup yet, you don't know what you are missing!

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
30. Maria's Pizzaria 5025 W Forest Home Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53219

If you've ever envisioned an abundance of pizza, you can literally see your dreams come true at Maria's Pizzaria, where the pizza overflows off the sheeter pan. This old-school neighborhood spot is charmingly decorated with Christmas lights, and the bouffant hairdos of the senior waitstaff add to the pizzerias character.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
31. Saz's State House 5539 W State St, Milwaukee, WI 53208 (Story Hill)

Saz’s has built a BBQ empire in MKE, from its main location and bar, to its outposts at just about every festival in the city. You can get all kinds of meat at the restaurant, so you might as well order the Texas BBQ combo in order to try ribs, brisket, and smoked andouille sausage. Wash the meat down with the ubiquitous sour cream and chive fries or the wonton skin-wrapped mozzarella sticks.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
32. Koppa's Fulbeli Deli 1940 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202

The Hodag sandwich is basically like a local legend. Meaning if you haven't eaten it, you aren't a really from the MKE.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
33. Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro 3133 East Newberry Blvd., Milwaukee, WI 53211

You aren't a real French foodie until you've eaten their sole meuniere.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
34. Polonez 4016 S Packard Ave, St Francis, WI 53235

Voted one of the best Polish eateries in the city, Polonez serves up the traditional cuisine you are craving. They are known for their Pierogi, which is hand-made, fried, and full of butter.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
35. Ardent 1751 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (East Side)

Leave your tastebuds in Chef Justin Carlisle's capable hands and order the tasting menu at this James Beard Award-nominated spot in the Lower East Side. Expect lots of foams, gels, crunchy things and ingredients you’ve never heard of before, but that are all the more intriguing for it. If that’s too much for you, no worries -- just head over after 11:30pm on Saturday nights when it changes into Red Light Ramen, serving homemade ramen, PBR, and booze slushies.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
36. Solly's Grille 4629 N Port Washington Rd, Milwaukee, WI 53212

From afar it might just seem like you're getting a classic diner-style griddled burger with 1/3lb worth of sirloin, some melty American cheese, and stewed onions. But what's that pooling on the plate? Oh, it's melted butter. Because Solly's, a Wisconsin institution opened in 1936, slathers it on at the end.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
37. Northpoint Custard 2272 N Lincoln Memorial Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Northpoint Custard’s lakefront location is a seasonal affair, mostly because frozen custard just tastes better in the summertime. In addition to sundaes and shakes, the snack bar stand serves American grill classics like charred burgers, tarter-heavy fried cod sandwiches, and cheesey hot dogs. If you don't grab a side order of the fried white cheddar cheese curds, you're not doing it right.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
38. Blue's Egg 317 N 76th St, Milwaukee, WI 53213 (Wauwatosa)

No matter what time of day you visit Blue’s Egg (well, it’s only open afternoons), there’s going to be a wait. An acronym for breakfast, lunch, in an urban environment and everyone’s good graces, Blue’s Egg offers Milwaukee diners glimpses of European breakfast or lunch menus with dishes like creamy polenta with poached eggs, roasted mushrooms, braised kale, and fonduta cheese, the Dubliner Benedict with corned beef, creamy leeks, rye toast, and paprika aioli, and a Hoppel Poppel, consisting of scrambled eggs, cream, sausage, bacon, caramelized onion, shredded potatoes, spinach, hollandaise, and toast. Fill your daytime meal cravings and put all of your eggs in Blue’s basket.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
39. Old German Beer Hall 1009 N Old World 3rd St, Milwaukee, WI 53203

Old German Beer Hall is a wonderful place to kick back with a large beer and Bavarian festival food. The giant pretzels are imported from Munich and the bratwurst is really something special.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
40. Grebe’s Bakery 5132 W Lincoln Av, West Allis, WI 53219 (West Allis)

This place has been baking sweet and savory classics in West Allis for 75 years. They are known for their hot ham and rolls, which cause a Sunday rush.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
41. Bombay Sweets 3401 South 13th St, Milwaukee, WI 53215

Bombay Sweets prepares massive quantities of savory, sweet, vegetarian Indian fare, like masala samosas, dosas, and more than a dozen varieties of curry. The prices are locally renowned for being bafflingly low, but the restaurant compensates for affordability with a barebones hyper-casual space, and use of styrofoam plates.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
42. Karl Ratzsch 320 E Mason St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

The location where Karl Ratzsch now dwells has been an old school German beer hall since 1904, and Karl Ratzsch’s hearty, authentic German menu that continues to pay homage to Milwaukee’s heritage. For starters, Karl Ratzsch features savory inventions like Sauerkraut Fritters stuffed with bacon, and crispy Pork Cracklings on pumpernickel. For full on stomach-filling mains, the menu sticks pretty closely to traditional German dishes like Sauerbraten (potato dumplings in a gingersnap gravy), pork Bratwursts, Wienerschnitzel (veal, red cabbage, and parsley), and a gigantic, honey-glazed Goose Shank served over wild rice and pickled red cabbage. As expected, the beer program is just as German with hefeweissens, kölschs, pilsners, and bocks galore.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
43. Points East Pub 1501 N Jackson St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Maintaining the maxim, "Built on a wing and a prayer," this Milwaukee watering hole boasts an impressive list of craft beers, a whiskey forward cocktail program, and most importantly, plenty of grilled chicken wings. Locally renowned for their popular rendition of the sauce-drenched poultry delicacy, Points East Pub hand-coats each of their wings in a viscous house BBQ sauce, grills them for precisely the right amount of time -- not too tender, not too crispy -- and serves them hot with fresh-cut celery and blue cheese sauce. While the bar offers 15 rotating beer on tap, tasting menus for its veritable whiskey selection from Japanese rye to Canadian bourbon, and a food menu listing plenty of classic bar snacks, you'd be remiss to leave Points East without ordering the notorious wings.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
44. Simma’s Bakery 817 N 68th St, Milwaukee, WI 53213 (Wauwatosa)

Simma’s Bakery makes plenty of cakes and sweet goodies, but the winner is their cheesecake. It's got one chocolate cake layer, one cheesecake layer, and some raspberry jelly, so it's much more than your ordinary cheesecake.