Best restaurants in Milwaukee 2018: Critic Carol Deptolla’s Top 30
Milwaukee’s Top 30 restaurants for 2018, plus 20 more good eats
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This is my 10th list of Milwaukee’s top restaurants. What a different restaurant landscape it is from 2009. What a different restaurant landscape it is from last year.
Restaurants have come and gone, yes. (I miss you, c.1880; you were in every aspect a four-star restaurant when you closed in April. Miss you, too, Hinterland, Wolf Peach and All Purpose, all Top 30 restaurants that closed since the 2017 list was published.)
But the way we eat has changed, too.
We saw the rise … and rise … of small plates over the past 10 lists. Sharing plates remains strong, but some of those plates are big now, not small. (A whole chicken, served family style? You bet.) More restaurants are playing with fire; sometimes you can see the flames bouncing in a brick oven oriented to the dining room.
The most common theme for a restaurant’s menu these days is contemporary American — flavors and cooking styles from around the world and across the country, most often with seasonal dishes that are here today, gone tomorrow. Back in 2009, five of the 30 top restaurants were steakhouses; now it’s two.
It’s not just beer on tap these days; it might be cocktails or cold-brewed coffee. The wine list might include a number of natural wines, wines made with minimal intervention.
To me, these restaurants capture what’s exciting and what’s delicious in Milwaukee right now, from special nights to everyday dining. If you were new to town and made your way through the list, you’d see why Milwaukee is a delicious and diverse place to eat, and you’d also get a sense of the traditions that brought us to this point.
It took some extraordinary nitpicking and hair-splitting to whittle the list to the Top 30 plus 20 more for everyday. I had to leave off a number of restaurants I enjoy and think very highly of.
In some cases, it came down to one flawed dish, even though others were great successes.
Or desserts didn’t rise to the ambition of the other courses. Or service wasn’t quite as polished as it should be at a top restaurant. Or at some point I had to stop putting French restaurants on the list, no matter how much I liked them.
That’s why I recommend all sorts of restaurants to readers who call, email or otherwise contact me for personalized recommendations, restaurants that go beyond the ones on this list. Get in touch; I’d love to chat.
Just be sure to catch me between meals. Happy dining, everyone.
RELATED: This is what it’s like to be a dining critic for the Journal Sentinel
RELATED: Where’d the spoons go, what’s with all the cauliflower and other dining trends in 2018
What do we want from dinner? A lot of things, actually, but a delicious meal is at the heart of it. Dinner at Sanford was entirely delicious: The grilled chanterelles with sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes and lovage pesto; the air-cured essence of beef that is Armenian basturma, with fresh cheese, brandied apricots and the restaurant’s own beer vinegar, reduced; and, restorative like a cool breeze on a hot day, chilled sorrel and cucumber gazpacho with lemon cream, garnished with the tiniest of croutons.
And that was just the beginning of dinner. . Dishes can be fleeting, because Sanford serves a seasonal menu and has, long before it was cool. Chef-owner Justin Aprahamian seeks out excellent ingredients year-round and treats them so very well.
Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $34-$37; four-course menu, $49; seven-course tasting menu, $95, plus $45 with optional wine pairings. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; call the restaurant after 1 p.m.
Ardent, with its changing tasting menu of 10 or so courses, always surprises and delights. Dishes here can evoke sense memories: Tea of apple and wild rice washed with browned butter, served by chef de cuisine Ben Nerenhausen with the opening snacks, smelled surprisingly like fresh popcorn. And it was delicious.
At five years old, Ardent has not only evolved, it’s blossomed. Chef-owner Justin Carlisle’s fine-dining restaurant that was started on a shoestring is fleshed out, with art on the walls and little luxuries like hot towels brought to the table at the outset of dinner.
Hours: Seatings from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Prices: Tasting menu is $90; optional beverage pairing is $60. Reservations: Required. Make them online with a credit card; for parties of five or more, call the restaurant.
360 E. Erie St., in Dandan restaurant
At EsterEv, where the tasting menu is served at two communal tables seating 10 each, you never know what you’ll get: a group of fellow diners that’s garrulous, maybe, or one that’s reserved. You never know what you’ll get on the tasting menu by chefs Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite, either, but it assuredly will be delicious.
Maybe you’ll get the snack that’s a refined take on a McDonald’s hash brown, topped with crème fraiche and caviar, or a raw oyster on the half shell, seasoned with ham broth and chile oil. Or pelmeni, perhaps, Russian dumplings filled with house ricotta in leek broth (and you’ll be urged to drink the broth directly from the spouted bowl made by ceramics artist Kate Riley). It’s not just dinner, it’s an experience.
Hours: One seating Friday and Saturday, 6:30 p.m. reception. Prices: Tasting menu, $80; optional beverage pairings, $45. Reservations: Required. Make them through the website or by calling Dandan.
Chef-owner Dane Baldwin has an instinct for what’s delicious together. Combinations might surprise, like last fall’s gnocchi with Concord grape, but they’re bound to please. A dish can be pure fun, like Chicken in a Biscuit (a buttermilk biscuit rich with schmaltz and chicken cracklings), or a comfort (papardelle with pork), or celebratory (a perfect New York strip).
Plates can be fancy, like the modernist arrangement of pureed, pickled and roasted carrot, or they can be elemental, like the sensational double burger, the Diplomac, served weekdays. It’s dinner in itself, but share it and go all in on dessert; Baldwin has a way with sweets, too. A stylish but low-key bar and dining room, smart cocktails and wine and beer lists — this might become your go-to spot.
Hours: Dinner (with all-night happy hour) served in the bar Mondays, 4-10 p.m. Dinner in the dining room, 6-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday. The bar opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday for happy hour until 6; the dinner menu is available in the bar starting at 5. Prices: Smaller shareable plates, $6-$18; larger plates, $16-$36. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; they can be made online.
REVIEW, 2017: The Diplomat on Brady Street serves stellar food
5. Third Coast Provisions
You could order your fish prepared simply at seafood restaurant Third Coast Provisions: just fish, sauce and seasonal greens. But I put my trust in chef-owner Andrew Miller, who in spring gave halibut the glory it deserves, with fennel, orange and risotto seasoned with vadouvan, the French curry blend, plus peas and lemon-mint aioli. Seafood includes everything from oysters (raw or chargrilled) to rich preparations for lobster. Expect modern cocktails and a number of boutique wines from the bar. Add attentive service and a gorgeous restaurant, and this feels like a special night out. For something more casual, head downstairs to the restaurant’s Oak & Oyster raw bar for snacks and a weekly po’ boy.
Hours: Restaurant, 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Oak & Oyster bar downstairs opens 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Prices: Small plates, mostly $13-$21; entrées, $26-$45. Reservations: Recommended Thursday-Saturday; can be made through the website.
REVIEW, 2017: At Third Coast Provisions, the pull of the seafood
Fauntleroy, Dan Jacobs’ and Dan Van Rite’s lighthearted modern French restaurant with a bouncy ’70s soundtrack, is making a splash just a few months after opening. Chef de cuisine Blair Herridge is executing a formidably delicious menu. It starts with snacky one- or two-bite hors d’oeuvres, like fried escargot cromesqui, molten at the center (think of it as a French soup dumpling). Details set dishes apart; those puffy scallop chips garnishing the crab salad are made in the kitchen. The modern duck a l’orange for two is the showstopper: dry-aged breast served with foie-gras and grilled-heart salad and aerated potatoes over duck confit. It’s French food with a fresh outlook.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Dinner, 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Happy hour, 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Prices: Entrees, $18-$26; duck a l’orange for two, $65. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday, can be made through the website.
7. Story Hill BKC
5100 W. Blue Mound Road
It’s named for the neighborhood where it stands and, sure, this part-restaurant/part-wine-and-beer bottle shop has the laid-back feel of a neighborhood spot. To me, though, Story Hill BKC is destination dining. You’re visiting? Go. You’re new to Milwaukee? Go. You love good food? Go!
Chef and co-owner Joe Muench and executive chef Erik Malmstadt keep a modern outlook but tip their hats to our Upper Midwestern heritage, as in a special of Great Lakes whitefish dabbed with lemon-butter sauce and served with seared endive, potatoes cooked in white wine, and French green beans. Foodways of the area’s earlier immigrants are represented, as are the flavors of newer ones. Very Milwaukee.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Brunch, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Happy hour, 2-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday with bar menu served 3-5 p.m. Prices: Dinner entrées, $17-$30. Five-course wine dinners for four to 12, $95 a person. Reservations: Recommended. They can be made by phone or at email@example.com. Virtual waiting list via NoWait app.
7616 W. State St., Wauwatosa
Marking a milestone in 2018, the Bartolotta empire’s flagship restaurant in summer was refreshed: a new kitchen, swanky bathrooms, updates to the dining room that leave it looking sharper but still like the cozy Ristorante we’ve known for 25 years. The updated menu kept the restaurant’s much-loved dishes — here’s looking at you, pappardelle with duck ragu — but chef Juan Urbieta introduced some excellent additions. Meet a first-course dish of sautéed shrimp in rosemary-chickpea sauce, tender ricotta-spinach gnudi among the pastas and a new dessert of lemon cream with toasted meringue. You could always toast the restaurant with its deep selection of Italian wines. Twenty-five years look good on you, Ristorante. You’re still the standard-bearer of traditional Italian cuisine.
Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5:30-10 p.m. Friday; 5-10 p.m. Saturday; 5-8 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Entrées, $24-$40. Reservations: Recommended; they can be made through the website.
9. Lake Park Bistro
Chef de cuisine John Raymond is serving powerfully delicious French-inflected plates these days, like an appetizer of scallops over beech mushrooms and corn puree, enriched with roasted-lemon butter. Seafood such as sea bream with chickpea fries is prepared with a sure hand, and one of the best steaks outside of a steakhouse is Lake Park Bistro’s bone-in rib-eye. Desserts are about as lovely as the restaurant’s setting within view of Lake Michigan; the view on my plate was of baked Alaska, a round of apricot sorbet at the center of almond ice cream under browned meringue.
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday, 5-8:30 p.m. Sunday; brunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Dinner entrées, $22-$55. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; they can be made through the website.
One look at the plates and you’ll know you’re not in a traditional American Chinese restaurant: the swoosh of kale puree with a tofu-noodle dish, the space left when sour-sausage salad is arranged neatly to one side of a plate. The three-course Peking duck for two (or more) is unlike any other, with its foie gras and truffled broth. The restaurant, operated by chefs Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite and led in the kitchen by chef de cuisine Kristen Schwab, takes a modern approach to its food, and that extends to the well-made cocktails, the fun desserts (like mandarin curd with ginger cake, white chocolate crunchy bits and raspberry sorbet) and a dining room that’s like one big party on the weekends.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $12-$69 (Peking duck for two to four); most are less than $20. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday and for large parties; can be made through the website.
REVIEW, 2016: Dandan, a new kind of Chinese restaurant
Chef-owner Jonathan Manyo’s Morel is a dream come true for meat lovers. Oh, vegetables more than get their due, in a silky daily soup, for instance, or in sturdy salads. But the kitchen works with whole animals, so diners might see an appetizer of delicate lamb carpaccio, perhaps with smoked paprika aioli and wisps of crunchy toast, and then farther down the menu, seared, rosy lamb leg paired with lamb sausage, potato puree and green and wax beans. Manyo in the fall was sharpening the restaurant’s focus to one of sustainability: buying ingredients, including seafood, with that in mind, and installing an underground tank to manage up to 10,000 gallons of stormwater. It will be beneath a 32-seat patio Morel is building for spring.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $20-$32. Reservations: Recommended; they can be made through the website; call the restaurant for parties of five or more.
Hmm, where to go when the mood strikes for something Italian, Georgian, Indian and Korean all at once? Oh, yes, Odd Duck. The restaurant’s creative folks, including chef and co-owner Ross Bachhuber and chef de cuisine Samuel Ek, continually change the menu of shareable plates (the top-notch cocktail list is seasonal, too). But sometimes the inspiration, like the ingredients, comes from closer to home; the springtime plate of chicken-fried quail with cornbread-chorizo stuffing, cheddar grits and pickled okra sure was fun while it lasted. Odd Duck lately is taking a more creative turn with its desserts, as well, a development as welcome as the chocolate ganache cake with caramel, coconut foam and pistachio praline dust was.
Hours: Dinner, 5-10 p.m. daily; the bar opens at 3 p.m. and closes at midnight. Prices: Small plates, $4-$17. Reservations: Recommended; make them by phone. Parties for up to 25 seated or 40 mingling can be reserved at Little Duck Kitchen nearby.
Local-foods proponent Braise practices not just nose-to-tail cooking, but root-to-leaf, too, as the menu notes. Take a recent dish of young carrots glazed in sorghum, placed over citrus quark with roasted dates and lemon-preserved turnip tops. Turnip tops become perfectly delicious in the hands of chef-owner David Swanson and chef de cuisine Matt Plummer.
Dinner at Braise can be shareable plates in moderate sizes, or diners can go big with family-style plates. Items like the plump tea-smoked chicken with peach chutney and carrot curry broth are for two (I’d say four could enjoy that chicken, especially with an a la carte side dish like sweet corn polenta, made extra savory with mushrooms braised with pork). Besides an appealing wine list dotted with less-common varietals and growing regions, Braise keeps four wines, a hard cider and several local beers on tap.
Hours: Dinner, 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: Small plates, $6-$14; family-style portion, $18-$38. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; can be made through the website.
Goodkind chefs Paul Zerkel and Lisa Kirkpatrick always find fresh ways with their dishes, like carrot farfalle with little veal meatballs, baby carrots, leeks and Wisconsin’s Anabasque cheese, a pasta dish that was right for some cozy sharing. You can tell what the season is by looking at the plates, small or large: fresh plums on foie gras mousseline, served with hazelnut shortbread and vanilla vinaigrette? That’s late summer and a bit of luxury at this unassuming restaurant on a quiet Bay View corner. A lot of very good chicken is being served in town these days, but none finer than the crisp-skinned, juicy and well-seasoned half birds from Goodkind’s rotisserie. Not only does Goodkind have some of the very best cocktails in town, the craft beer list is a dandy one, and the selection of wines is fun, too.
Hours: Kitchen open 5 p.m.-1 a.m. daily; the bar is open 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Prices: Small to large shareable plates, $8-$30. Reservations: Recommended for peak hours and large parties; taken by phone. Bar seating first come, first served.
At this combination restaurant and whole-animal butcher shop, the meaty sandwiches gussied up with vegetables or fruit have always stood out, but chef-owner Karen Bell’s plates and salads are something to talk about this year.
The best octopus in Milwaukee? It was at Bavette, strikingly tender but crisped. The plate held all things delicious: chorizo, heirloom tomato, a sauce made of sweet corn and, beneath it all, a bed of brandade, the salt-cod spread. A great dish, but not the only one. Roasted carrot salad evoked Mediterranean flavors with baba ghannouj, cured olives, dates, feta and chickpeas, and pistachio dukkah to season it. Bold flavors continued at dessert in a now-common pairing of sweet corn (pudding) with blueberry (roasted, in compote), punctuated with whipped cream and a dusting of graham cracker crumble. More common, sure, but Bavette does it better than most.
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Prices: Snacks and shared plates, $6-$28; sandwiches and salads, $10.75-$14. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; they can be made online.
925 E. Wells St., in the Cudahy Tower
With its ivory-colored walls and tufted leather banquettes, Bacchus means a posh night out, a white-tablecloth setting for stylish plates. Chef Nick Wirth crafts excellent examples of the Italian dishes associated with the Bartolotta group, like delicate veal ravioli with spinach, pine nuts and butter sauce. But he casts a wide net, pulling in world flavors, such as Middle-Eastern-leaning lamb loin with charred-eggplant puree and parsley-cucumber salad. And the restaurant has one of the most comprehensive wine lists in the city, a long list of covetable bottles with a special emphasis on France, Spain and California.
Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $33-$44, plus market price for a chef’s cut for two. Five-course tasting menu, $75, and optional beverage pairings, $40; seven-course tasting, $95, beverage pairings, $55. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; they can be made through the website.
200 N. Broadway, in the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel
The sprawling Mediterranean is home base for the menu at light-filled Tre Rivali. That means pastas and pizzas as well as small and large plates with flavors that extend to the Middle East. Chef Heather Terhune’s menu makes familiar dishes feel fresh: paper-thin pickled beets and orange zest perk up a salad of roasted beets garnished with cumin yogurt and pistachios (orange zest on everything, please, and thank you). Meanwhile, coriander crust on whole, roasted branzino gives the fish another dimension. The wine list is a fine match for the menu, and appealing drinks include Spanish gin and tonics and cocktails with bitter and herbaceous notes.
Hours: Breakfast, 7-10 a.m. Monday-Friday; lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; snacks, pizza and burgers at the bar, 2-5 p.m.; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; brunch, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Tapas and other smaller, shareable plates, $6-$19; pizza and pasta, $17-$19; large plates, $25-$45. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; they can be made through the website.
REVIEW, 2016: Taste of the Mediterranean at Tre Rivali
Chef-owner Peter Sandroni’s convivial La Merenda was an early adopter of international small plates, and he and chef de cuisine Brian Brown keep the menu fresh with regular updates and daily, seasonal specials. Ingredients do come from close to home, but the menu items range far afield. Your meal might span Turkey (braised lamb and chickpeas with yogurt-cucumber sauce and house flatbread), Spain (shrimp in olive oil, garlic, chile flakes and parsley), Colombia (corn-dough empanadas filled with vegetables or beef) and the American South (not saltwater fish but very-Wisconsin freshwater trout Creole, with the corn dish maque choux plus house andouille and a fried cornmeal cake). I ate very well, thank you, at prices that were refreshingly moderate.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. The bar opens at 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday, and stays open later. Prices: Small plates, $5.50-$16. Reservations: Recommended; can be made through the website.
Two of the reasons I look forward to dinner at chef Gregory León’s Amilinda is to see which dishes from Spain or Portugal (or their onetime colonies) might shape the menu, and how the season’s produce will tie in. In June, for instance, the flatbread called Catalan coca was topped with fresh sheep’s milk cheese, pea tendrils, dried figs and apricots. Here we are in Wisconsin, so an airy rhubarb fool (garnished with a rhubarb macaron) was dessert. Dinner starts with complimentary bread, butter and vegetable spread, and it ends with a gift from the kitchen, a little sweet to eat there and then.
And how Amilinda looks is so fitting for what it does: one part dreamy Old World, one part modern. Leon’s co-owner and husband, Orry León, has assembled a fine list of Spanish and Portuguese wines, plus delicious cocktails often built on the countries’ Port, sherry, Madeira or Cava, or on Spain’s favored gin.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, happy hour 4-6 Tuesday-Friday, with happy hour menu at bar and chef’s counter only. Prices: Entrées, $20-$26. Reservations: Recommended; can be made through the website.
Chef Chad Meier’s Meraki, snuggled into a low-profile midcentury building in Walker’s Point, has made some smart changes of late. The menu seems a bit more streamlined, and entrées now are available in half portions. Meier is seeking out excellent meats; one of the best things to eat in the city is Meraki’s smoked heritage-breed pork chop, served with crunchy shoestring potatoes, onion butter and jicama-apple slaw. And wild boar is served over celery root puree, its richness tempered with pickled mustard and arugula. Happy hour is a deal, when the signature craft cocktails are $5 off; have one with a discounted bar bite, like the hot cheesy puffs or a savory hand pie.
Hours: Dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; happy hour 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Prices: Small plates, $7-$12; entrées, $18-$30; culinary adventure (shareable tasting menu), $35, $50 and $65 a person. Reservations: Can be made through the website or Facebook.
Remember when Walker’s Point really started booming with stylish restaurants, in 2011? Crazy Water had already been there for nine years at that point, putting down roots in what had been a popular corner tavern. Chef-owner Peggy Magister has been serving updated plates all that time, periodically refreshing the restaurant. Its current look is elegant black and white, down to the photos adorning the walls, with sparkly chandeliers and silvery mirrors catching the light. It makes the dishes stand out all the more, like the colorful salad of tomato and peach at peak ripeness, with burrata cheese, basil and prosciutto to capture the season on a plate. For dinner, a marvelous bone-in rib-eye and a grilled whole branzino (with patty pan squash, heirloom potatoes and a sauce of olive oil, lemon and chopped tomato) were the very pictures of a soul-satisfying dinner.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5-8 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Entrées, $26-$45 (a burger, $14, is served Monday-Thursday). Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; can be made on OpenTable.com.
Chef-owner AJ Dixon’s mother was the inspiration for her restaurant, so of course the food is meant to be shared family-style. Give the lazy Susans (atop the tables for four) a spin to send the plates your way. Dishes tap into cuisines from faraway places or channel family dinners while keeping ingredients seasonal and close to home. A salad of julienned squash, tomatoes, feta and arugula was bright with lemon dressing, and chicken of the woods mushrooms met herb gravy over piecrust “fries.” Lazy Susan, with its moderate prices, is a good deal any day, but especially on Wednesdays when dinner for two costs $40 for three courses.
Hours: Dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Happy hour, 5-7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. Prices: Small to large plates, $5-$26. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday.
17001 W. Greenfield Ave., New Berlin
Lagniappe has the feel of a relaxed, cozy farmhouse, where the food by chef-owner Andrew Tenaglia is built on classic technique and, in the growing season, incorporates ingredients from area farms and the restaurant’s own garden. Wisconsin producers are well-represented on Lagniappe’s changing menu, including meats such as bison for a juicy rib-eye steak. At dessert, there might be a rarely seen classic, like a sugar cage that’s placed over panna cotta. Lagniappe is a value besides, especially considering that dinner includes house bread with butter, olive oil and chicken liver mousse; soup or salad; and the special little bite that starts the meal, the lagniappe, a gift from the kitchen.
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: Dinner entrées, $17-$33. Reservations: Recommended Thursday-Saturday.
2414 S. St. Clair St.
Three Brothers Serbian restaurant is like the favorite relation who wraps you in a bear hug — just before urging you to eat a little something. The entire menu at cozy Three Brothers, located in what used to be a Schlitz tavern, is an enduring testament to the deliciousness of classic Serbian dishes. Food here is made from scratch, from the dark bread served with tangy, buttery kajmak to the pickled cabbage leaves that are stuffed for the sarma. Besides new cocktails and imported beers, Three Brothers pours fruit brandies — plum, pear, cherry and quince — and Serbia’s own version of the bitter herbal liqueurs that are so popular among bartenders these days.
Now diners can sit at Three Brothers’ bar (tables previously bumped right up to it). So much of Three Brothers just feels like home, so it’s fitting that Milunka Radecivic said the original bar stools that were her grandfather’s have been refurbished and, in effect, are back home.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday, 4-10 p.m. Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Entrées, $14.50-$22.50. Reservations: Recommended on weekends. Note: Payment is by cash or check only.
Some of the steakhouse classics at Carnevor, that swanky modern temple to red meat, get modern interpretations. Take an appetizer of shrimp scampi, traditionally butter, garlic and white wine; chef Mario Giuliani enhances it with preserved lemon, sweet-hot peppers and tomato, flavors that fairly crackle. Steaks are deeply beefy, and a selection of them are dry-aged for even more profound flavor. The restaurant’s wine director, Josh Steiner, has built quite the list, with a special focus on big California reds; there are more than 750 wines by the bottle, and more than 35 by the glass (including one that was $112 for a pour). An over-the-top dinner deserves a fitting ending — maybe a slab of carrot cake that requires a small platter for transport, layered with cream cheese mousse and garnished with carrot “confetti” for the table to share.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 5-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Entrées, $36-$76 (rib-eye for two, $120; Japanese Wagyu, $161). Reservations: Recommended; can be made through the website.
21445 W. Gumina Road, Pewaukee
Jake Replogle Jr.’s restaurant has been known for decades as a steakhouse — justifiably so, considering its gorgeous steaks — but notable nightly specials make the most of the season’s ingredients. Sweet corn starred in dishes like velvety corn soup poured over charred kernels and Oaxaca cheese, or as the bed under seared scallops. And look for cocktails to change seasonally, as well, beginning this fall as Jake’s ramps up its drinks list and wines.
It’s not just the rustic setting, constructed from a 19th-century barn, that makes the restaurant feel so very Wisconsin; Jake’s is a place to find state classics done very well, especially its roasted duck with wild rice.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday; 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5-9:30 p.m. Saturday. Happy hour 4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Prices: Entrées, $18 (the burger)-$79.90 (36-ounce Porterhouse for two). Reservations: Recommended Mondays and Friday-Saturday; they can be made through the website.
Do you love dumplings? OK, better question: Who doesn’t love dumplings? Easy Tyger has evolved since its opening as a global street-food restaurant in 2016, settling into its identity as, more specifically, an Asian gastropub. Chef Evan Greenhalgh takes delicious liberties with that role, serving pan-fried pork dumplings with fennel puree, apple kimchi and chorizo-chive vinaigrette. There with the duck dumplings were fried sage, pickled plums, a sauce made with foie gras, and miso sweet potato puree. Fantastic. Fried brussels sprouts got a little Korean heat, dressed in gochujang vinaigrette; the sauce with scallops was chimichurri with a citrusy spice. Unconventional bao buns might hold char siu beef brisket or crunchy fried chicken with miso ranch dressing. And the restaurant serves ramen, too, with more varieties on the horizon. It’s all so delicious, and it’s a blast.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. (A late-night happy hour was in the works.) Prices: $4.50-$16 for buns, small plates and ramen. Reservations: Can be made online; parties larger than 12 are asked to call the restaurant.
411 E. Mason St. at Hotel Metro. (414) 214-3624 (call or text)
4313 W. River Lane, Brown Deer. (414) 354-1995
Think of French restaurants, and you might think of pate, onion soup and cassoulet, all of which Pastiche does particularly well (along with top-flight duck breast, the skin scored and crisp). But think of the two Pastiche locations when it comes to fresh fish specials, too; the fish is exceptional and delivered every day but Sunday. Chef Rachael Karr’s downtown kitchen served a bright bouillabaisse stocked with mussels, prawns and walleye in tomato, fennel and garlic; chef Michael Engel’s Brown Deer restaurant offered meaty walleye in browned-butter sauce that let the fish shine.
This year, the Brown Deer Pastiche added to its bar a casual menu (with a burger), an oyster bar and a TV. The two locations have somewhat different menus and different specials, and downtown additionally serves breakfast, but both deliver satisfying meals with a French accent.
Brown Deer hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, dinner 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Downtown hours: Breakfast 6:30-11 a.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. Prices: Dinner entrées, $14-$32 in Brown Deer, $15-$32 downtown; extended Tuesday tapas menu, about $6-$12. Reservations: Can be made on the Pastiche mobile app and online.
From the door to the table, hospitality is a hallmark of Sebastian’s. Does the food taste even better when you’re made to feel at home? Could be. I know I think fondly of the grilled duck breast, scented with ground fennel, and of the potato-crusted halibut, with its crisp exterior and moist fillet (fresh fish is a strong suit at Sebastian’s). I can picture a low-impact, easy-on-the-wallet weeknight dinner, too, of sliders and a shared salad. OK, maybe the frites. And fellow bargain lovers should check out the three-course special on Fridays — a different main dish weekly with soup or salad and dessert. For wine lovers, the restaurant explores wines with special dinners on the third Thursday of each month.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday- Saturday. Prices: Entrees, $19-$48. Three-course menu Fridays, $22.95. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday; they can be made through the website.
30. The Union House
S42-W31320 Highway 83, Genesee Depot
Creamy dauphinoise potatoes aren’t the only reason to look forward to visiting the Union House, but they certainly don’t hurt. They’re served alongside filet, and they’re also available a la carte, and that’s not a bad idea at all. Chef John Mollett serves perfectly prepared steaks, chops and seafood along with a long list of daily specials, including wild game such as venison, and fish such as wild salmon. I always expect a pitch-perfect dinner when I go to the Union House, and I haven’t been proved wrong yet. It’s as steady as they come.
Since the restaurant feels like a slice of classic Wisconsin, occupying a building dating to the 1860s, consider ending the meal with an ice cream drink or strawberry schaum torte from the list of house-made desserts to complete a classic picture.
Hours: 4:30-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $24-$44. Reservations: Recommended; they can be made through the website. Parties of six or more are asked to call.
And the final 20, in alphabetical order:
The soups, salads and sandwiches at Amaranth feel so wholesome that it’s easy to justify dessert. The two daily soups are chockablock with vegetables; some, like pumpkin-corn chowder with Italian sausage, carry a little heat. Sandwiches are assembled on and sliced from a big round bread, or a small round of brioche carries savory toppings like mushroom, hazelnut, Parmesan and sage. Salads, such as millet with black bean, corn and finely cut bell peppers in a bright vinaigrette, are enticing, too. Amaranth’s Stephanie Shipley seeks out organic and local flours and organic sugar for her breads and lineup of sweets, which often includes hazelnut macaroons glossed in dark chocolate. Nutella is good, but these are better.
Hours: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: About $5 for a cup of soup and a roll and $11 for a bowl of soup and a side. Reservations: Not taken; counter service
It’s called Asian Fusion because it serves a few Japanese, Korean and American Chinese plates, but most of the extensive menu is traditional Chinese fare — so traditional that it draws the international students studying in Milwaukee who are seeking a taste of home. The food by chef Paul Chen should appeal to anyone, though, and daily specials stand out: Lamb drumsticks, the shanks Frenched, were roasted until tender and seasoned liberally with chile flakes; a whole fish, braised in beer, was kept hot over a flame at the table and showered in red and green peppers and cilantro. The dining room is modern but casual, and the restaurant now offers beer in addition to bubble milk tea and fruit tea.
Hours: Noon-10 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $8.95-$24.95. Reservations: Recommended at peak times on the weekend and always for parties of five or more.
3900 W. Brown Deer Road, Suite 110, in Kildeer Court
AppeThai has so many appealing appetizers that I want to make a meal of them: citrusy Thai pork sausages, chicken satay, plump fried squid, minced-pork fried meatballs, and fresh spring rolls in miniature, all the better for sampling. The trouble is, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in the main dishes, too, like the nua toon, braised beef brisket with sour-spicy dipping sauce and lettuce leaves. That’s a dish that chef-owner Bang Tongkumbunjong said he grew up with, and he made it a priority to include on his menu. Heat lovers should note the unforgiving pad ped moo pah, stir-fried wild boar, in the section straightforwardly labeled “We dare you.” Tongkumbunjong presents his delicious food stylishly, in a dining room to match. It’s charming for an easygoing date night.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; dinner, 4:30-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Prices: Dinner entrées, $12-$27. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday, any time for parties of five or more.
REVIEW, 2017: Name is punny, but AppeThai is serious about food
Ah, the weekend, when we have all the time in the world. But don’t think you have all the time in the world to get to Carnitas Don Lucho. The Friday-to-Sunday restaurant sometimes can sell out of food as early as noon, especially on Sundays. Its savory meats, hand-made tortillas and complex salsas — which summon the flavors of the state of Michoacán in central-western Mexico — are that popular. The restaurant, operated by Jose Luis Mejia and his family, added a dozen seats to the dining room in the past year, bringing in tables made in Mexico, and it now sells packages of its tortillas to go ($4.25 for a dozen). Dine in or head to the takeout counter at the back for rich pork, roast lamb and gently spiced chorizo to take home by the pound.
Hours: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays (carnitas only); full menu 4 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Tacos, $2.99; meals for 3-4 served family style, $14.99-$19.99; takeout by the pound, $7.99-$9.99. Reservations: Not taken.
The growth of this Nepalese-American restaurant since its opening in 2014 is quite something. It’s so popular, and the seating in such demand, that owners Jesse and Barkha Daily enclosed the deck to extend its season; this year, the Cheel opened a beer garden behind the restaurant with its own menu (including a snappy pork sausage seasoned with makrut lime and chile).
The charming restaurant in a Victorian landmark offers a compelling taste of the Himalayas. It comes in traditional dishes small and large. Momo — beloved dumplings stuffed with goat, lamb or vegetables — are served with the lively dipping sauces called aachar; lamb shank is scented with warm spices. And new plates were on the horizon for fall. Nepalese and neighboring flavors influence the Cheel’s American plates, too, like the addition of saffron to cheesecake. Delicious food isn’t the only draw; the Cheel offers well-made cocktails and, on Wednesdays and Fridays, live music.
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Monday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Prices: Small plates, $8-$13; entrées, $10-$49. Reservations: For parties of eight or more, Monday-Thursday only.
6821 W. Lincoln Ave., West Allis
You might think the best thing about the weekend is the not-working part, but it’s actually the specials at Chilango Express, especially the roast lamb the restaurant sells by the pound with fresh, handmade tortillas (and lamb broth stocked with chickpeas and carrots, if you ask for it). The everyday menu is delicious, too. Take the quesadillas made from fresh corn dough and filled with a choice of meat or vegetable (the sautéed pumpkin flowers give it an herbal flavor). Satisfying cooking, for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Juan and Guadalupe Ortiz in late fall plan to move their restaurant from its humble storefront attached to a gas station into its own, bigger location just a few blocks away, at 7030 W. Lincoln Ave.
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Prices: $1.75-$8.50, $13 for roast lamb meal with soup (feeds 2-4). Reservations: Not taken.
Engine Company No. 3
Chef Peter Sandroni’s brunch spot, where Gil Petrovic is chef de cuisine, bears more than a passing resemblance to Sandroni’s La Merenda: Local ingredients are favored for flavors that go global. Consider the Basque breakfast that combines Spanish-style chorizo made in Port Washington with seared sirloin from Wisconsin Meadows, adobo-seasoned fries and eggs from Three Brothers Farm in Oconomowoc for eggs fried Spanish-style, in olive oil. This year, Engine Company opened a secluded, tree-shaded patio with its own bar, easing the seating crunch in the warm months; the second floor opens for brunchers the rest of the year. Still, it’s best to make reservations; Engine Company is a Walker’s Point favorite.
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Prices: $7.50-$15. Reservations: Recommended. They can be made online, but parties of seven to 12 should instead call the restaurant.
The platter that’s brought to the table, bearing the large sourdough flatbread that’s topped with entrées, looks like an artist’s palette. Look, there’s the brick red of doro wat, a chicken drumstick simmered in the berbere spice blend, and the white of a hard-cooked egg; the brilliant red of kitfo, Ethiopian steak tartare, gloriously seasoned and dabbed with house-made soft cheese; the green of what might be the best collard greens in town; the gold of shiro, a seasoned porridge of chickpea flour and onion. But every diner at Yigletu Debebe and Almaz Bekele’s Ethiopian Cottage is his or her own artist, picking whichever entrées will dot and color the injera. The spice blends are so compelling that even a simple salad of tomato, lentils, onion and jalapeño becomes something craveable.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 12:30-10 p.m. Saturday, 1-9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Individual entrées, $10.50-$14.75; combinations from $18.75 for one person, $32.75 for two. Reservations: They can be made by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
2755 W. Ramsey Ave., Greenfield, inside Holyland Grocery
I think of Holyland’s takeout counter when I want a quick, delicious sandwich, like falafel, or beef-and-lamb shawarma. But after a celebratory meal in the tiny deli, I think of Holyland for feasts, too. The Holyland combo heaps a platter with many of the menu items: remarkably juicy grilled, skewered meats (chunks of chicken, and ground-beef-and-lamb kifta kebabs) and shawarma from the rotisserie, too; tomato grilled until soft; charred onion; and seasoned rice, all showered with slivered almonds and chopped parsley. Oh, and it’s served with hummus, baba ghannouj, bread and fresh salad besides. It’s described as being for four or five people; four or five football players, maybe, or six or so people with regular appetites.
Save room for dessert: Holyland has opened a bakery, Holyland Sweets, in the same little plaza, so you can pick up Middle Eastern baked goods for dessert, such as syrup-drenched baklava filled with walnuts, cashews or pistachios
Hours: Deli, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday (the store is open an hour later). Bakery, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Prices: $3.99-$10.99 for deli items. Combo platter for five-seven people is $54.99. Reservations: Not taken; counter service.
7237 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
Cameroon-born Yollande Deacon opened her stylish little restaurant to serve the foods of Africa and of Jamaica, where her husband’s family is from. So the menu varies by days of the week, African some days, Jamaican others, and some of each on Saturdays. The African stews are beguiling, steeped in spices and rounded in their flavors: West African egusi, a stew made with pumpkin seeds, smothers chicken in its creamy sauce. It’s served with a choice of rice or fufu, made with white sweet potato on the night I had it. The fufu, used to pick up the stew or just to mix into it, is pure comfort. Look for African and Jamaican flavors in Irie Zulu’s cocktails, too, namely hibiscus and ginger juices.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday (African menu); 5-9 p.m. Thursday and 3-10 p.m. Friday (Jamaican menu); 3-10 p.m. Saturday (African and Jamaican); happy hour 5-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Prices: Entrées, $17-$25, market price for fish. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday.
Iron Grate has grown so much that this year chef Aaron Patin got a new smoker, named Hank. At 1,000 gallons, it’s twice the size of the original all-wood smoker, Edna. That doesn’t mean Edna’s sidelined; she smokes hams that are sliced and sold by the pound Sunday mornings (with Texas toast instead of rolls) at the restaurant’s takeout window, and Iron Grate recently branched out to Sunday breakfast sandwiches.The smoked meats are as good as ever — the brisket is juicy, the chicken crisp-skinned. It seems like the side dishes have only gotten better; all of them have some element of smoke worked in, like the smoked tomatoes in the macaroni and cheese.
Besides its south side location, Iron Grate now has two food trucks that park at bars and events, and it this year became a concessionaire at Fiserv Forum, the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks. More barbecue for the people.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Walk-up window for takeout ham 8-11 a.m. Sunday. Prices: Entrées, $17-$32 (for three meats and three sides, serving two); meats by the pound, $12-$18. Reservations: Not taken; counter service.
Kim’s Thai Restaurant
The long menu at Kim’s Thai has all your Thai favorites — plus some dishes that could become favorites, if only you try them. They’ve become mine: plates like fried whole red snapper, mild, flaky fish with toppings such as bell peppers and onions, or ground pork with ginger; ma mee hak, thin egg noodles with chicken, pork or beef, peanuts, cilantro, onion and bean sprouts, in a lightly sweet sauce; and stuffed chicken wings, crisp and brown, a delicious feat of engineering that replaces bones with a filling of seasoned glass noodles. A highlight of any meal is a bit of banter at the table with Kim Paneboune, when the busy owner and chef has time between orders.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 5-9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Entrées, $8.95-$17.95. Reservations: Call the restaurant for parties larger than 10 people.
REVIEW, 2016: Kim’s Thai opens new spot with same delicious stuffed chicken wings
2128 Silvernail Road, Pewaukee, in the Silvernail Plaza
I brake for shopping-plaza restaurants, and Mr. Wok is a good reason why. This little storefront spot serves Chinese, Thai and other dishes, but the pull of the Malaysian fare at Jian and C.S. Tan’s restaurant is strong. There’s nasi lemak, for one, marked by its coconut scented rice; it’s served with rich beef, sambal chile sauce, hard-cooked egg slices and fried peanuts tossed with tiny dried anchovies.
You can find Hainanese chicken rice, a dish that has a following on the coasts: It’s slowly poached, meaty chicken, a half or a whole, that’s cut into pieces cleanly through the bones and utterly juicy and silky. It’s served cool, with pale, jellied skin. Beside it, rice cooked in chicken broth, and plain rice, too, plus cucumber slices and three condiments: soy sauce, sweet chile sauce and ginger chopped fine with green onion. It’s a dish perfect for sweltering summer days but delicious any time of year (order it a day in advance). A half bird with sides, a mere $14.95, was more than enough for two.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4-9 p.m. Saturday; lunch buffet 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Prices: Entrées, $6.95-$14.95. Reservations: Accepted for more than six people.
I almost gasped when I walked into the perpetually crowded Noble on a Friday and saw there was a table (singular) to be had, no waiting. Then I remembered it was very early, and the cool kids weren’t out yet. You’ll want to follow the same strategy if you don’t want to wait. But I find the waits for a table part of the Noble’s quirky charm, along with the bookshelf under the bar, the antiques-shop decor and the cheek-by-jowl intimacy of the place.
In a way, the food by chef-owner David Kressin reminds me of good home cookin’, provided the home were on the fancy side. Think perfectly rosy bistro steak with vibrant chimichurri and mounds of green beans and mashed potatoes, or swordfish that was juicy and tender, as it too rarely is, draped in creamy crab sauce (both nightly specials). Portions would satisfy a longshoreman. Another of the Noble’s charms is that many of the cocktails can be made nonalcoholic and still hold your attention.
Hours: Dinner, 5-10:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. Prices: Entrées, $17-$30. Reservations: Not taken.
Plenty of restaurants serve ramen now, but no one serves it quite like chef Justin Carlisle’s tiny Red Light Ramen does, with its underground feel and old-school hip-hop soundtrack. The tonkotsu noodle bowl is slurpy excellence, and Japanese beef curry served in a donabe pot shouldn’t be missed. Snacks share a certain dedication to excellence with sister restaurant Ardent, as in a plate combining corn with black garlic, abalone and lardo. Dried sting ray, which diners grill over a flame to soften and brown, is accompanied by kohlrabi, masago mayonnaise and ponzu sauce. To drink, there’s a lineup of sake, beer, a few cool wines, tea and soft drinks, but Red Light is known for its adult slushies — brandy Old Fashioned and a flavor of the week.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Prices: $7-$12 for snacks, $13-$14 for ramen, $16 for beef curry. Reservations: Not taken.
REVIEW, 2016: Flavor by the bowl at Red Light Ramen
Strange Town is what a cozy corner tavern looks like in 2018. Some of the cocktails are sessionable, built on lighter spirits like vermouth so it’s easier to linger longer; beers are craft or imported; the wine list (winner, Best Wine Notes) carries natural and biodynamic wines. I want to try every one of them, and the by-the-glass options and moderate prices make that an achievable goal. Music is an integral part of Strange Town, where the soundtrack is vintage records, often soul.
And the menu of snacky dishes by Mia LeTendre and Andy Noble (share two or three plates to make a meal) is plant-based and widely appealing. Ideas for dishes are global, like Peruvian tacu tacu, a bean and rice cake embellished with poblano sauce, avocado salad and tortilla chip “dust”; some of the ingredients come from nearby, like puffball mushroom on the ever-changing sfinzione, squares of puffy, tender Sicilian-style pizza. Recently, Strange Town added lunchtime hours when it’s a “hummuseria,” serving five variations on its creamy hummus, plus salads, samosas and a lineup of cafe drinks (including jet-black lemonade, made with activated charcoal).
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday. From 11 a.m.-3:30, it serves an abbreviated cafe menu. The kitchen is open again from 5-10 p.m. Prices: Light snacks, $4, most plates $7-$12. Reservations: Recommended for this small dining room; they can be made through the website.
REVIEW, 2018: Plant-loving Strange Town on Milwaukee’s east side has appeal beyond vegan
818 S. Water St., off E. National Ave., on Boone & Crockett bar’s patio
Chef Mitch Ciohon’s Taco Moto food truck has a new name and a new location after picking up and moving to the Harbor District along with symbiotic buddy Boone & Crockett bar. But it has the same endearing attitude (One of the tacos is called Enemy of Quality, “any meat with cheese ‘cause you don’t like stuff.”) and the same delicious way with untraditional tacos. A new item demonstrates Ciohon’s “Why not?” philosophy and creative flair for the delicious: lox and tostada, brilliant-red, beet-cured salmon on a tostada with spicy cream cheese, topped with sesame, poppy and pumpkin seeds, “like an everything bagel.” The Dr Pepper-braised pork shoulder taco and grilled chicken with pickled peppers and feta are as delicious as ever. Get your tacos at the truck and enjoy them at a table in Boone & Crockett’s new bar with an expertly made cocktail or craft beer.
Hours: Noon to midnight Monday-Thursday, noon-1 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday. Prices: $4 to $7 for tacos and tostada; sides and desserts, $3-$4. Reservations: Not taken; counter service.
1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
One of the joys of visiting a restaurant over time is seeing it really come into its own. The Tandem, which opened last year on the north side, is rocking now and settling nicely into its specialty of made-from-scratch homey and Southern favorites. One of this year’s unexpected delights was a robust cube steak smothered in mushrooms, onion and gravy with mashed potatoes; throwback grape-jelly meatballs made a welcome, shareable showing among the appetizers. Chef Caitlin Cullen’s restaurant is justifiably known for its crunchy fried chicken and hefty burger (served with the rare crinkle-cut fries worth eating), but it should be renowned for its main dish salads, too, served at lunch and dinner.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (last seating 9 p.m.); brunch, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Prices: Entrées, $10-$15; whole chicken with three sides, $36; whole chicken alone, $26. Reservations: Recommended Friday-Saturday nights.
REVIEW, 2017: The Tandem brings charm (and chicken) to the table
The Vanguard is such a natural for this sausage-besotted city: Take a tavern, stock it with compelling tap cocktails, more bourbons than you can shake a rocks glass at, and a strong selection of craft and imported beers. Now, throw in classic and creative sausages the restaurant makes itself with care, and watch the customers stream in.
Lunch or dinner can be (seemingly) as simple as a wonderfully snappy all-beef hot dog. (Note that vegan sausages are not given short shrift here.) Or a diner could choose one of the classic sausages dressed with an American city’s favorite toppings, like Pittsburgh’s fries, vinegar slaw and ranch dressing. And then there are the styled sausages, where chef Patrick Joyce delves into flavor combinations like the smoky chicken and beer sausage in the Mouth of the South, topped with fried okra, pickled red onion and pimento cheese. The weisswurst, veal flavored with lemon and parsley and served on a pretzel roll with grilled onions and sweet mustard, is exceptional.
Hours: Kitchen is open from 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; brunch items and the full menu served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Bar is open until 2 a.m. nightly. Prices: $5-$10. Reservations: Not taken; counter service.
The pies by James Durawa at Wy’east Pizza are distinctive: bigger, like New York style, but with many of the qualities of Neapolitan pizzas. A long rest develops the flavor of the dough, which bubbles and forms interior crannies in baking. The rim and underside are spotted with char from the super-hot oven for more flavor.
And then there are the toppings, smart combinations like abundant fresh garlic, coarse black pepper and sausage on the Cape Blanco, one of the white, sauceless pizzas. The creative monthly special makes use of what’s in season; in September, the Mattercorn was strewn with sweet corn, peppers, Pecorino Romano and pesto made of almond, cilantro and roasted poblano. If you haven’t had corn on your pizza, you haven’t lived. Stylish little Wy’east keeps a brief but well-chosen list of craft beers (tap, bottles and cans) and wines to go with whatever pie catches your fancy, plus not-your-usual soft drinks, as well.
Hours: 4:30-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 3:30-8 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Pizzas, $14-$22. Reservations: Not taken; counter service. Takeout orders can be called in.
REVIEW, 2016: Wy’east makes pizzas at their peak
RELATED, 2017: The Milwaukee 50, with Milwaukee’s Top 30 restaurants, ranked
This content was originally published here.