clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A plate of pappardelle with bits of meat and herbs Ristorante Bartolotta

The 38 Essential Milwaukee Restaurants

From polka-fueled Friday fish fries at a craft brewery to saucy vegan burgers at a weed-themed, plant-based joint, here’s where to eat in Wisconsin’s largest city

View as Map

“Cliffie, quick. Breath test. What do you smell when I do this?” asks Norm.

“Milwaukee,” Cliff responds.

The punchline from season four of Cheers, which aired in 1985, made a joke of a city that smelled like its breweries and wasn’t known for much else. Today the medium-sized city’s cultural industries work constantly to refute that sentiment, especially in the proudly cosmopolitan food scene. For every sneer that Milwaukee lives in the shadow of its Lake Michigan neighbor, Chicago, someone is serving up quiet, casual defiance with duck confit poutine, Thai barbecue pork noodle soup, chef-ified Big Macs, Andalusian salmorejo, lamb quesabirria, or buttermilk sorbet. For every dig that the city is a staid Rust Belt town of sausage and cheese and beer, there’s Nashville hot chicken sausage, goat cheese curds in chorizo cream sauce, and private chalet dinners at a third-wave craft brewer.

As Milwaukee inches back from the pandemic, and residents bask in the 54-foot Giannis Antetokounmpo mural honoring the Bucks’ 2021 championship, Milwaukee restaurants push forward too, finding new ways and reasons to celebrate a city that, yes, sometimes smells like beer — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Todd Lazarski Is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and the author of the new novel Spend It All.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Kopp’s Frozen Custard

Copy Link

Since 1950 Elsa Kopp’s frozen custard has been a local staple for creamy comfort. But it’s not simple sundaes that inspire treks to the three suburban locations. Their jumbo burgers have the charry-edged, beefy, buttery finish that all nouveau diner flattops yearn for. They are housed in a starchy soft bun, and draped in melty processed yellow cheese, but from there personalizations hold a mirror up to the eater. Do you like it simple with ketchup? Or do you need a thrill with hot sauce and jalapenos? Why not make it a double with bacon and bracingly stinky fried onions? However you order yours, eat it in your car with the radio turned to Bob Uecker covering a Brewers game. That is living your best Milwaukee life.

A hand holds a massive burger in front of a wall of foliage. The double burger is topped with cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce and pickles.
Double jumbo burger with lots of toppings
Kopp’s Frozen Custard/Facebook

Sherman Phoenix

Copy Link

Part social movement, part cultural hub, the Phoenix remains the beating heart of the Sherman Park neighborhood. After the civil unrest following a fatal police shooting in 2016, community leaders transformed a damaged BMO Harris Bank building into this sprawling collective of small businesses, most of them owned by people of color. Since then, it’s been host to a presidential campaign rally and nominated for a State Farm Building Blocks Award. On a quotidian level, it soothes with balms like gourmet popcorn, spring rolls, barbecue, chicken wings from Brooklyn-based Buffalo Boss, and a smattering of culture, wellness, and fashion tenants whose offerings range from art therapy to airbrushed sneakers.

Two restaurant workers in branded T-shirts stand behind a counter while a customer looks up at illuminated menus hanging from the ceiling behind the counter.
Ordering at the counter
Sherman Phoenix/Facebook

Lakefront Brewery

Copy Link

After the big boys that made Milwaukee famous, and before the boom of third-wave craft brewers sprouting up in the past decade, Lakefront was the most ubiquitous local beer of area bars and liquor stores. Nowadays you’re not really a Milwaukeean until you’ve taken one of their famous tours or tried their live polka-fueled Friday fish fry. They keep things fresh with stunts like a rotating weekly “curd of the day” and romantic private chalet dinners overlooking the fermentation cellar.

A row of small greenhouses fit with dining rooms along a riverfront
Private “hop house” outdoor dining pods
Lakefront Brewery [Official Photo]

From James Beard to Food & Wine, recognition for the East Side’s premiere fine dining establishment continues to validate Milwaukee as a serious gastronomic destination. Chef Justin Carlisle curates a seasonal, ever-changing menu of high-minded new American food with manicured small plates and tasting menus that bound between caviar, kohlrabi, and buttermilk sorbet. Despite the showmanship and lofty ambitions, Ardent stays humble. The dining room is intimate, Carlisle sources from his family’s farm, and the vibe remains ‘Sconnie proud and unpretentious. You might even find a beer cheese pretzel among the snack options.

A chef adds the finishing touch to a row of meringue like puffs in a long vegetale-looking tube dotted with various colorful garnishes on a long ceramic plate on a prep station
Tweezing on the final touches
Kevin J. Miyazaki

Speed Queen Bar-B-Q

Copy Link

Since 1975, this nondescript, low-slung, windowless Walnut Street spot has blown plumes of porky smoke over the near North Side, eliciting a Pavlovian response from anyone within nose-shot. The kitchen utilizes the recipes of Betty Gillespie, the originator of the restaurant’s name and meat matriarch who first started serving food at an old hay market in the mid-’50s. Today her son, Giovanni, oversees the sprawling open fire charcoal pit. The style is a marriage between Kansas City and Memphis, and acolytes prize pieces of pork shoulder and, if available, outside shoulder. The restaurant finishes every styrofoam-boxed bounty with a liberal pour of delightfully goopy, nearly fluorescent sauce that assures the meat will stick to your ribs. Speed Queen is ideal for game time, sobering up, family feasts, or any time you need to pig out. If you can’t make it to Bronzeville, the restaurant’s sauces are available in bottled form throughout much of Wisconsin.

The Diplomat

Copy Link

Chef-owner Dane Baldwin was named this year’s James Beard Award winner for best chef in the Midwest, a loud recognition of this quietly elegant East Side nook. True to its name, the restaurant strikes a diplomatic balance between classy and comfortable. The dining room welcomes couples on date nights with Negronis, chicken leg confit, and octopus with olive romesco, while also catering to simpler, lizard brain appetites with the infamous Diplomac, a pristinely chef-ified recreation of a Big Mac. Baldwin’s prestige has helped restore some of the luster to Brady Street, making it once again a beacon for grown-up dining.

Glorioso’s Italian Market

Copy Link

Glorioso’s is a microcosm of the evolution of Brady Street and the East Side Italian community. The grocery store, which opened in 1946, felt like a hangout in The Sopranos for much of its life, until it moved across the street in 2011 to a spot as bright and sprawling as a Whole Foods. Despite the shift in scene, you’re still properly covered for Italian specialties — guanciale, pecorino, giardiniera, endless olives — and sandwiches for the ride home: Italian beef, muffaletta, and something called the Human Torch, a ferocious battering ram of calabrese, capocollo, provolone, and hot pepper spread.

A free-standing display of wine bottles laid in wooden boxes in front of shelves filled with upright bottles of red and white wines
Italian wines on display
Glorioso’s Italian Market/Facebook

Sanford

Copy Link

Back when you had to have an actual book to know a restaurant’s Zagat score and a landline to make a dinner reservation, San-ford were the two syllables that spelled special occasion fine dining in Milwaukee. Along with his wife, Angie, CIA-trained Sandy D’Amato opened the restaurant tucked away in the Lower East Side in 1989, cornering the local market on white tablecloths, big city service, and finely tuned new American fare: seared foie gras, molasses-glazed quail, peperonata fennel-dusted duck breast, and ultra-rare $200 bottles of Goose Island. Since 2012, it’s been run by D’Amato’s longtime chef de cuisine, Justin Aprahamian, with his wife, Sarah. The couple continues the tradition of excellence, and they keep the city’s foremost fine dining destination cool and quiet.

A bowl of broth with a pile emerging of Gulf shrimp, squid, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and noodles
Seafood ramen with Gulf shrimp and squid
Sanford [Facebook]

Ristorante Bartolotta

Copy Link

You can pick a Bartolotta Restaurant Group spot for any upscale craving: contemporary new American (Bacchus), high-end French (Lake Park Bistro), dinner with a view (Harbor House), supper clubbing (Joey Gerard’s), steak (Mr. B’s), a rumpus (Rumpus Room). But for white tablecloth classicism and rustic Italian soul — hand-rolled pasta with almond pesto, bucatini, house-made ravioli, seafood stew, braised rabbit leg, tiramisu — the family’s Wauwatosa Village flagship has remained an inviting favorite for nearly 30 years.

A plate of pappardelle with bits of meat and herbs
Pappardelle with duck ragu
Ristorante Bartolotta

Triciclo Peru

Copy Link

As one-handable, self-contained protein pockets with endless variations, empanadas may be the perfect drinking snack. Triciclo banked on this theory, setting up shop for a residency at the Humboldt Park Beer Garden before launching a Washington Park-adjacent brick-and-mortar in late 2019. Now they can also be found at Zocalo Food Truck Park and the Crossroads Collective, and their menu has expanded to include pisco cocktails, ceviche, and Peruvian entrees like arroz con mariscos. Snag supplies for your next few meals from the welcoming bar on Vliet Street: take-and-bake packs of frozen empanadas in inspired flavors, from classic (shredded chicken, olive, raisin, boiled egg), to new age (soy chorizo), back to hometown (breakfast sausage, egg, Wisconsin cheddar). Don’t forget the cilantro sauce.

A tray of empanadas with dipping sauces and lime wedge
Empanadas
Triciclo [Official Photo]

San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana

Copy Link

Whether or not you place any stock in their VPN badge (Vera Pizza Napoletana, the official designation of “true Neapolitan pizza” by Naples-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), San Giorgio produces objectively satisfying wood-fired pizza. With airy, chewy crust, lightly charred undercarriage, proper leoparding around the edges, stretchy wet mozzarella, and bright San Marzano carnage for optimal pop on Instagram, any of the house pies might rank as the best in town. If possible, wait for your pickup at the pizza bar, where you can fall in love at first sight as your pizza emerges from the blaze of the 900-degree Stefano Ferrara oven.

A close up on two full pizza pies, one topped with arugula and the other topped with shaved meat and mushrooms, and glasses of beer and wine, all sitting on a marble bar
Pizzas on the marble bar
San Giorgio Pizzeria/Facebook

Zarletti

Copy Link

Before Milwaukee Street was a bastion of valet parking, special occasion dining, and well-heeled out-of-towners, there was Zarletti. From appetizers like crostini misti and housemade burrata, to the ravioli and ragu of the day, to the osso buco and classic Bolognese, chef Brian Zarletti has turned family recipes into a restaurant that is both classy and warm, refined and comfortable. It’s a corner spot from a Billy Joel song, reminding everyone that top shelf service doesn’t have to be stuffy, that a neighborhood vibe can still be found in trendy, striving downtown, and that there is no better dish than a well-made carbonara.

A plate of penne pasta coated in light tomato sauce topped with grated cheese and green garnish, with a sandwich blurred in the background
Pasta pomodoro
Zarletti/Facebook

Amilinda

Copy Link

All it took was dinner at Odd Duck. That’s the moment chef Gregory Leon credits as inspiration to leave his San Francisco kitchen post and make Milwaukee home. A James Beard nomination for best chef Midwest and this buzzy downtown nook of a restaurant is the result, with warm vibes, deep Spanish and Portuguese flavors, and a short, ever-changing menu that’s saucy and risky but still homey. A bistro filet comes with piquillo pepper steak sauce, a halibut with saffron tomato sauce, it’s maybe the only spot in town for salmorejo — an Andalusian puree of tomato and bread — and one of the few to take dessert as seriously as dinner (think chocolate and olive oil mousse).

A colorful arrangement of cook vegetables on green asparagus pate, garnished with mustard seeds and flowers
Asparagus pate with fennel, orange relish, and Roelli cheese
Amilinda [Official]

Alem Ethiopian Village

Copy Link

Alem has been slinging shareable Ethiopian entrees over spongy injera in the heart of downtown for over a decade. Vegetarian and carnivorous specialties include yemisir wot (slow-cooked lentils in red pepper sauce), steamed gomen, spicy doro wot with ayib (cottage cheese), and kitfo (steak tartare). African beers and wines, as well as ouzo-spiked tea, pair well with any convivial, family-style feast.

Cabbage, spinach, collards and red lentils on injera in a takeout container
Veggie combo packed for takeout
Alem Ethiopian Village [Official Photo]

Dairyland Old-Fashioned Frozen Custard & Hamburgers

Copy Link

The family tree of Wisconsin’s burger and custard tradition has many branches: Nite Owl offers American Graffiti charm, Culver’s has you covered in a hurry, Solly’s is for those who think butter is a topping, and Kopp’s is the city’s solid trunk. Dairyland is one of the tree’s newer branches, serving double-patty burgers on squishy sesame buns with oozing half-melted cheese and sauces that are mostly some variation of mustard, cheese, and ketchup. The restaurant applies just enough original spin — evident in the “flyover” sauce paired with immaculately structured onion rings — to add a dose of excitement to the old pants comfort of tradition. Save room for a scoop or a malt.

Sobelmans

Copy Link

Before you could get a solid burger everywhere, Sobelman’s set the town standard. With a buttery, glossy griddled bun, juicy patties, a blanket of three-cheese melt, fried onion, and diced jalapenos, the eponymous house burger is a consistent ideal. The Marquette campus-area bar is also a fine old-school option for curds, and for sampling Wisconsin’s most underrated cultural delicacy: a bombastic Bloody Mary, so chock full of garnishes it drinks like a meal, complete with a beer chaser.

Four plastic basket of burgers and fries, and a basket of fried fish with tater tots, along with sauces
Burgers at Sobelmans
Sobelmans [Facebook]

Donut Monster/Brute Pizza

Copy Link

Mornings at this unassuming cafeteria counter kiosk, in the lobby of the Third Ward’s Landmark Building, bring a rotating lineup of decadent pillowy doughnut pockets: luxuriant buttercream bombs, the trademark PB&J, buttermilk rings topped with sprinkles. In the evenings, the sweets give way to charry and chewy artisanal pizza. Sourdough crusts are teamed with San Marzano tomatoes and local cheeses, then finished in an 850-degree oven. Pies might feature Ezzo pepperoni, fennel sausage, or house mozz.

A close-up on two kinds of doughnuts, one a pink-glazed stuffed doughnut, the other a chocolate glazed and powdered ring.
Doughtnuts from Donut Monster.
Donut Monster

Bavette La Boucherie

Copy Link

When it opened in 2013, Bavette seemed unique, European, and pricey — the kind of place you’d find in Chicago, not Milwaukee. Now, on the heels of owner Karen Bell’s fifth James Beard nomination, this whole hog butcher shop and subtly sophisticated restaurant has come to feel more like an old friend. The lunch and dinner destination is fit for all levels of craving, from pimento and toast and the city’s best muffuletta to chicken liver mousse and pork tongue pastrami. In a fresh and expanded Third Ward home, Bavette’s growth feels indicative of the maturation of the city itself. 

From above, a table filled with dishes, including steak, a charcuterie board, carpaccio, octopus, a burger, and tartar.
A full spread at Bavette.
Bavette La Boucherie

Clock Shadow Creamery

Copy Link

While it’s near impossible to have bad cheese curds in Milwaukee — fried at a gastropub, on a Bloody Mary skewer from the nearest dive, out of a bag at any local gas station cooler — the boldest in town are made at this Walker’s Point urban cheese factory. Try the quark, the chevre, or a next level grilled cheese. Curds are served fresh Tuesday through Thursday, when they come out extra creamy and audibly squeaky between your teeth — the way God, and Wisconsin farmers, intended.

Zocalo Food Park

Copy Link

Options in this Walker’s Point food truck park run from tacos to arepas, pizza to bagels, burgers to sushi. Pop-ups have also featured Flour Girl & Flame wood-fired pizza and holiday libations from Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in mini, heated greenhouses. No matter the season or your appetite though, Zocalo offers harmonious, communal, laid back revelry. It’s an inspiring glimpse of restaurants working together and vivaciously co-existing.

Small glass dining pods decorated for the holidays with the Zocalo neon sign visible behind
Heated outdoor pods
Zócalo Food Park / Facebook

La Merenda

Copy Link

Before you could find a small plate on every corner of Walker’s Point, La Merenda was the quiet forerunner, slinging international tapas in a reservations-required dining room. Now owner Peter Sandroni offers worldly brunch dishes at the Barack Obama-approved Engine Company No. 3, but his flagship will always serve Milwaukee’s quintessential shareable goods: pork and shrimp tostadas, seared trout, empanadas, duck confit poutine. Chinese pork loin rubs shoulders copacetically with lamb bolognese, and goat cheese curds in chorizo cream sauce go with just about anything.

Three puff pastry shells filled with vegetables and shrimp topped with small piles of cream and shredded green garnish
Causa de camarones
La Merenda/Facebook

La Dama Milwaukee

Copy Link

It isn’t often, if ever, that one of the best, most beloved restaurants in town closes, reconceptualizes, and reopens with new focus and leadership. Formerly Crazy Water, La Dama now finds owner and chef Peggy Magister collaborating alongside longtime chef Emanuel Corona, who draws on flavors and techniques from his youth and roots around Puebla, Mexico City, and Oaxaca. One stomach won’t be sufficient for this gauntlet of food, beginning with tlayudas, albondigas, and oysters a las brazas. Then there are the tacos filled with duck carnitas and mole negro, tuna and avocado horseradish crema, seared cactus, or smoked pork belly with black garlic puree. Out with the old, in with the nopalito.

A hanger-like open-air space with tables and cane patio chairs
Outdoor patio at La Dama
La Dama / Facebook

Guadalajara Restaurant

Copy Link

Harkening back to the time when Walker’s Point was largely comprised of Latino families, this restaurant wears its years and peeling paint with pride, an excellent canvas for homestyle friendliness, classic Mexican cooking, and a whole lot of spice. Steaming bowls of menudo and pozole are hearty, fiery antidotes to your hangover or cold, respectively. The mole and birria simmer all day to produce deep, earthy flavors. Of special note is the bistec en chile de arbol, tender, scraggly scraps of steak in a scorching red sauce, which makes for a dangerous DIY taco mix. An arbol salsa is also available upon request to pro-level spice seekers, pleasing anyone with a penchant for fire.

A two-story shingled building with brownstone facade on the first floor and a large illustrated paper sign advertising the Guadalajara Restaurant
Outside Guadalajara
Guadalajara Restaurant/Facebook

Thai Bar-B-Que Restaurant

Copy Link

This sliver of Silver City is rife with far-reaching international soul. Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Laotian food, along with this Thai standout, populate a single intersection of National Avenue. The menu here is similarly expansive. You can bounce from fried quail or crispy chicken skewers to hot pots, larb, curries, or bowls of pho. The Thai barbecue pork noodle soup — served with jalapenos, chili garlic paste, and crushed dried peppers — is the all-star dish of any chilly Milwaukee night, its velvety, rich broth teeming with sunken treasures of pork. It’s hard to imagine a more sinus-singeing bowl of comfort.

Chef-owner Dave Swanson’s Braise has been at the forefront of all things hip since opening in 2011. It offers cooking classes ranging from beginner to 10-week bootcamp, private rooftop greenhouse dining, farm dinners, and locally and house-sourced groceries. It’s also just a restaurant where an ever-changing menu skips through pork buns, grilled asparagus arepas, and chicken coconut curry. There is such attention to detail that even the house-made ciabatta and whipped butter can feel transcendent. Braise is clearly Milwaukee’s infuriatingly talented overachiever.

Two back-to-back pork buns on a bed of chopped lettuce with crunchy fixings
Pork buns
Braise [Facebook]

Momo Mee

Copy Link

Szechuan spice and soup dumplings. Nary a diner exiting Momo Mee won’t mention one or the other, many finding themselves transfixed, even changed by the experience. The former comes through with fierce, tongue-numbing thrills, not just tasted but felt, in dry-rubbed chicken wings or pork wontons in chili oil. The latter, xiao long bao, appear as unparalleled packages of savory comfort, handcrafted steamed dough pockets yielding slurpable porky broth. There’s also ramen and oodles of noodles, but most anything else might seem benign next to the restaurant’s most spirited hits.

Various dishes on a table including mapo tofu, bao, noodles, and dumplings
Full spread at Momo Mee
Momo Mee [Official Photo]

Damascus Gate Restaurant

Copy Link

What began as a feel good story — a restaurant opened and operated by refugees of the Syrian civil war — has quickly morphed into the South Side’s go-to spot for Middle Eastern basics like hummus and kababs, everyday comforts like cheese pies and Turkish coffee, and signature Syrian dishes featuring chickpeas, bulgur, and the better part of a spice rack. Mujaddara and kibbeh are must-order highlights year round, while Ramadan usually brings orders of whole lambs, stuffed with rice or freekeh, enough to feed 40 lucky friends.

A top-down spread of falafel, kababs, hummus, and other Syrian specialties
Dinner at Damascus
Damascus Gate [Official Photo]

Flour Girl & Flame

Copy Link

Flour might come first in the name, but the wood flame is the real star of this semi-mobile pizza operation; the fire is housed in a 900-degree oven, a hellraiser from central Maine that imbues a smoky singe to everything it touches. From standard pepperoni pies, to over easy-topped breakfast numbers, to Wednesday-night-only Detroit-style specials with racing stripes of tomato sauce and scorched crust, every heavily blistered beauty feels readymade for the ‘gram. They recently opened a takeaway outpost in West Allis, where they grow their own herbs and make hot honey sourced from bees on the building’s roof.

Taqueria La Guelaguetza

Copy Link

While pastor can be found on most any Mexican menu in town, it’s rare to find a proper spinning trompo of marinated, pineapple-hatted pork, roasting and ready to be hand-carved for a ride in a warm corn tortilla. Seek out one of three Taqueria La Guelaguetza trucks, which billow fragrant smoke and inspire lines even in cold weather. The salty, crispy pig meat is ideal, especially draped with optional pickled onion and habanero, and coated with smoky red or creamy green salsa. Triple down on your enjoyment with an alambre: a mountainous combo plate that bonds pastor, asada, and bacon with peppers and stretchy, melting queso.

C-Viche

Copy Link

The Peruvian-centric Ibero-American menu at this chill Bay View post ranges from ceviche and tostadas with shredded chicken to beef heart skewers and a thrilling escabeche. Whichever route you choose, be sure to douse everything with the serrano pepper-spiked aji verde salsa, cut the fierce chile kick with a creamy pisco sour, and let the fatty pork beans ruin refrieds for you forever. A new Shorewood location is slated to open soon.

From above, a decorative plate with two large scallops on a chunky green sauce beside a large cut of pork belly and dabs of bright sauce
Scallops and pork belly
C-viche/Facebook

Carnitas Don Lucho

Copy Link

A large proportion of Milwaukee’s Mexican community trace their roots to Michoacan, including Jose Luis Mejia, owner of Carnitas Don Lucho. The restaurant, open only on weekends, rewards diners with its eponymous lard-fried pork dish, which regulars take away by the pound. But don’t mistake this as simply a carry-out spot. Perfectly spiced chorizo, barbacoa, haggis-like montalayo, house-made tortillas, and too many salsas to count make this a comfortable spot to sit and savor the delicious lull between Friday and Sunday.

Odd Duck

Copy Link

When it opened on Kinnickinnic Avenue in 2010, Odd Duck instantly became the beating heart and culinary conscience at the center of the coolest neighborhood in town. Now owners Ross Bachhuber and Melissa Buchholz have their own building in Walker’s Point and a new neighborhood to conquer with their perfectly married small-plate ingenuity, rough-hewn DIY aesthetics, and buzzy vibe. The knowledgeable waitstaff and craft (but unfussy) cocktails are the same in the new digs, powering dinners that might include lamb quesabirria, wood-fired octopus, or Szechuan egg noodles. Start with raw oysters or charcuterie, and then trust your server’s advice from there.

A bowl with a large hunk of sauced beef surrounded by chunks vegetables, shaved radish slices, and two folded tortillas
Mole de Olla with braised beef
Odd Duck/Facebook

Three Brothers

Copy Link

You’ll be hit by the homey mood at the door of this old Schlitz tavern,which smells like grandma’s house when she’s been cooking all day. Tucked away in a still-quiet nook of Bay View, the Serbian stalwart features cash-only dinners and 45-plus-minute waits for flaky bourek, both indicative of a night out in a different time. The flavors on the dinner menu run the gamut: Serbian salad, goulash, moussaka, chicken paprikash, roasted goose, chevapchichi (beef sausages). It’s meat-and-potato Eastern European fare for fighting off winter.

The Vanguard

Copy Link

Fatty old-world comfort meets modern technique and creativity at this sausage emporium that doubles as a laid-back watering hole. Eat like a glutton with style: duck and bacon sausage with hollandaise aioli, Nashville hot chicken sausage, pork belly and pimento sandwiches, outrageously lavish burgers made with sausage patties and Velveeta, multiple poutines, and fried curds with bacon aioli. To wash it down there are plenty of Midwestern brews and a bevy of signature house cocktails; the latter even come on draft, the embodiment of the Vanguard’s laidback spirit.

Two grilled sausages with deep cuts sit on a stir fry of broccoli, baby corn, and peanuts, with sauce and diced scallions for garnish, and a small pile of taro chips beside
Chinese pork and chicken liver sausage
The Vanguard/Facebook

Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company

Copy Link

While Colectivo boldy spreads its coffee-cupping tentacles toward Madison and Chicago, Anodyne continues to quiety fine-tune small batch single-source roasts in the quest to become the ideal neighborhood cafe with the perfect pour. Stockpile beans and homebrew accoutrement, sip a nitro-line cold-brew (arguably the best non-alcoholic beverage in town), or grab a wood fire-kissed Neapolitan pie out of the Stefano oven at the bustling Bay View outpost.

From above, a table filled with various pizzas in different states of deconstruction, a few small plates with individual slices, utensils and glasses of beer
Wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas
Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company/Facebook

Wioletta's Polish Market

Copy Link

Aside from the modern lighting and that new grocer sheen, it’s hard to believe this friendly South Side deli and butcher shop hasn’t existed for decades. You may need to work your way past a group rapping in Polish with the proprietors — wife-and-husband team Wioletta and Adam Bartoszek — to get at the goods: fresh kielbasa, pillowy paczki, golabki (stuffed cabbage), a plethora of pierogi varietals, and homemade soups that run the gamut from borsch to bigos. As the city’s original old world Polish offerings dwindle to a precarious few, Wioletta is a welcome bit of heritage reborn. Pick up a Polska track jacket before you check out.

A large powdered paczek on a napkin.
One of the pillowy paczki at Wioletta’s.
Todd Lazarski

Twisted Plants

Copy Link

“Plant-based” takes on a new, fun meaning at this weed-themed vegan burger joint that sprouted in a quiet corner of Cudahy and recently opened a second location amidst the bustle of Brady Street. You don’t have to smoke anything to feel lifted by the Superbad (onions, jalapenos, chipotle ranch), Pineapple Express (chipotle mayo, grilled pineapple), or the Up in Smoke (plant-based bacon and smokehouse sauce). The restaurant treats vegetarians (and pleasantly surprised carnivores) to soft pretzel buns, careful topping ratios, waffle fries, and skillful imposter burger patties, along with salads, cauliflower bites, and shakes.

Holy Land Grocery & Bakery

Copy Link

Pillowy pita, baked daily at Holy Land, would be worth the cruise out to Greenfield if it were served plain — but there’s so much to fill it with: crackly falafel, creamy hummus, musabaha. Let the experts behind the counter pack your carb pocket with a juicy kabob; there are vertical spits of both chicken and a lamb-beef combo spinning into infinity, begging to be doused in a creamy garlic sauce and eaten out of foil in your car. There are also a full halal butcher, aisles of Middle Eastern groceries, and thick Arabian coffee. Choose between the assorted baklavas lining the checkout counter, the cheesy, syrupy kanafeh, or another imported or homemade dessert. It all adds up to the most flavor per square foot in southeastern Wisconsin.

A mound of strips of roasted meat topped with sauce in a plastic takeout container with sides
Meat-packed takeout from Holy Land
Holy Land Grocery & Bakery [Facebook]

Kopp’s Frozen Custard

A hand holds a massive burger in front of a wall of foliage. The double burger is topped with cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce and pickles.
Double jumbo burger with lots of toppings
Kopp’s Frozen Custard/Facebook

Since 1950 Elsa Kopp’s frozen custard has been a local staple for creamy comfort. But it’s not simple sundaes that inspire treks to the three suburban locations. Their jumbo burgers have the charry-edged, beefy, buttery finish that all nouveau diner flattops yearn for. They are housed in a starchy soft bun, and draped in melty processed yellow cheese, but from there personalizations hold a mirror up to the eater. Do you like it simple with ketchup? Or do you need a thrill with hot sauce and jalapenos? Why not make it a double with bacon and bracingly stinky fried onions? However you order yours, eat it in your car with the radio turned to Bob Uecker covering a Brewers game. That is living your best Milwaukee life.

A hand holds a massive burger in front of a wall of foliage. The double burger is topped with cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce and pickles.
Double jumbo burger with lots of toppings
Kopp’s Frozen Custard/Facebook

Sherman Phoenix

Two restaurant workers in branded T-shirts stand behind a counter while a customer looks up at illuminated menus hanging from the ceiling behind the counter.
Ordering at the counter
Sherman Phoenix/Facebook

Part social movement, part cultural hub, the Phoenix remains the beating heart of the Sherman Park neighborhood. After the civil unrest following a fatal police shooting in 2016, community leaders transformed a damaged BMO Harris Bank building into this sprawling collective of small businesses, most of them owned by people of color. Since then, it’s been host to a presidential campaign rally and nominated for a State Farm Building Blocks Award. On a quotidian level, it soothes with balms like gourmet popcorn, spring rolls, barbecue, chicken wings from Brooklyn-based Buffalo Boss, and a smattering of culture, wellness, and fashion tenants whose offerings range from art therapy to airbrushed sneakers.

Two restaurant workers in branded T-shirts stand behind a counter while a customer looks up at illuminated menus hanging from the ceiling behind the counter.
Ordering at the counter
Sherman Phoenix/Facebook

Lakefront Brewery