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A taco being dipped in consomme
Birria taco from Chucho’s
Chucho’s Tacos / Facebook

The 38 Essential Milwaukee Restaurants

From a taste of Tijuana-style birria to a beer-battered fish fry in a private heated greenhouse, here’s where and what to eat in Milwaukee right now.

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Birria taco from Chucho’s
| Chucho’s Tacos / Facebook

“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. That era seems worlds away from 2019, when cranes dotted the city’s burgeoning skyline and civic leaders pondered how many new hotels they needed before the expected Democratic National Convention, when a communal feeling took hold that Milwaukee could be a big deal, could be more than the residence of the Bronze Fonz.

Looking back, both perspectives seem a bit naive. If 2020 taught Milwaukee anything — aside from the importance of comfy pants — it was to be grateful for what the city already had, including all of its amazing food: the empanadas, injera, pork belly tacos, stacked Bloody Marys, carbonara, cheese curds, small-batch coffee, stuffed cabbage, Neapolitan pizza, Southern-style barbecue, food halls, food truck parks, and yes, even breweries. With so much to eat and drink, who cares if the city smells a little bit like beer?

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

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Kopp's Frozen Custard

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5373 N Port Washington Rd
Glendale, WI 53217
(414) 961-3288
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Since 1950, Elsa Kopp’s frozen custard has been a local institution of creamy family comfort. But it’s not just the sundaes that inspire treks to the three suburban locations. The jumbo burgers have the charry-edged, beefy, buttery finish that all nouveau diner flattops yearn for. It’s draped in melty processed yellow cheese and swaddled in a starchy soft bun, 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 a 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

2. Sherman Phoenix

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3536 W Fond Du Lac Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53216
(262) 228-6021
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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, pizza, Purple Door ice cream, chicken wings from the Brooklyn-based Buffalo Boss, and a smattering of culture, wellness, and fashion tenants whose offerings range from yoga classes 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

3. Good City Brewing

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2108 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 539-4343
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While there are plenty of breweries about town to keep the home bar stocked, Good City may be the most prominent player in the new wave of Milwaukee’s ever-expanding scene, with offerings that range from usual suspects, like porter and pils, to big-deal special releases, like an imperial stout aged in antique Weller barrels. Or go directly to the source and whet your appetite for quality pub grub, including a burger topped with Sriracha Russian dressing, on Good City’s East Side rooftop patio. The second location, a sprawling brew emporium next door to Fiserv Forum, is an ideal spot for a tipple pre- or post-Bucks game.

Burger with egg seeping out and knife in top of bun
Brunch burger topped with bacon and an egg
Good City Brewing/Facebook

4. Lakefront Brewery

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1872 N Commerce St
Milwaukee, WI 53212
(414) 372-8800
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After the big boys that made Milwaukee famous, and before the craft beer boom that has seen dozens of third-wave options sprout up in the past few years, Lakefront became the most ubiquitous local beer of area bars and liquor stores. Nowadays you’re not really a Milwaukeean until you’ve taken a brewery tour here or tried the Friday fish fry, when you can dine on beer-battered cod, listen to live polka, and even eat in a wood-floored greenhouse complete with river views.

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

5. Ardent

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1751 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 897-7022
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From James Beard to Food & Wine, recognition for the East Side’s premier 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 with such revelations as bone marrow, kohlrabi, and olive oil sorbet. Somehow, despite all the culinary 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

6. Speed Queen Bar-B-Q

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1130 W Walnut St
Milwaukee, WI 53205
(414) 265-2900
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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 a 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; acolytes prize pieces of pork shoulder and, if available, outside shoulder. Every styrofoam-boxed bounty is finished 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.

7. Glorioso's Italian Market

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1011 E Brady St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 272-0540
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Glorioso’s is a microcosm of the evolution of Brady Street and the East Side Italian community. For much of its life, the grocery store, which opened in 1946, felt like a hangout in The Sopranos. But in 2011 it moved across the street 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

8. Sanford

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1547 N Jackson St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 276-9608
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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, fennel-dusted beef tenderloin, 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. Since the pandemic (when the couple pivoted to takeout-only fare, with cocktail kits and quarts of ramen), the restaurant has reopened with tasting menus featuring classic dishes from the past alongside new hits in the making. You don’t need a book to tell you Sanford is on track to reclaim its position as Milwaukee’s ultimate fine dining destination.

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]

9. Ristorante Bartolotta

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7616 W State St
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 771-7910
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You can pick a Bartolotta Restaurant Group spot for any craving: contemporary new American (Bacchus), upscale French (Lake Park Bistro), dinner with a view (Harbor House), supper clubbing (Joey Gerard’s), steak (Mr. B’s). But for white tablecloth classicism and rustic Italian soul — fried artichokes, creamy polenta, handmade gnocchi with rabbit ragu, seafood stew, wood-roasted filet, tiramisu — the family’s Wauwatosa village flagship has remained an inviting favorite for 25 years running.

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

10. Wy'east Pizza

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5601 W Vliet St
Milwaukee, WI 53208
(414) 943-3278
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While Milwaukee-style pizza has its acolytes, who fill endless classic spots, and the Neapolitan wave continues to gain momentum, Wy’east quietly asserted itself five years ago as the town vanguard of the artisanal ’za scene. What began as a pizza truck in Portland, Oregon, has come to embody a more innovative, creative approach to the super-hot-oven, old-country techniques. Ann Brock and James Durawa seemingly constructed this tiny Washington Heights corner spot around their Forno Bravo gas-fired 800-degree domed beast. Long-fermented, hand-stretched dough goes in and emerges with toothsome, chewy body and charry cornicione. It’s a thick, satisfying vessel for transporting pepperoni with fresh garlic and sweet hot peppers, or soppressata and nicoise olives.

A full pizza on a wire stand, sitting on a table beside glasses of beer
Mushroom-topped pizza
Wy’east [Official Photo]

11. Triciclo Peru

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3801 W Vliet St
Milwaukee, WI 53208
(414) 239-8388
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As one-handable, self-contained protein pockets with endless variations, empanadas may be the perfect drinking snack. The folks at Triciclo banked on this theory, setting up shop for a brief residency at the Humboldt Park Beer Garden. From there they launched a Washington Park-adjacent brick-and-mortar in late 2019, expanding the menu 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).

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

12. San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana

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838 N Old World 3rd St
Milwaukee, WI 53203
(414) 276-2876
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Whether or not you place any stock in its 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 an 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

13. Zarletti

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741 N Milwaukee St #1
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 225-0000
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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 house-made burrata to the ravioli and ragu of the day — not to mention the osso buco and classic Bolognese — chef Brian Zarletti has brought family recipes to a restaurant that is both classy and warm, refined and casual. It’s a corner spot from a Billy Joel song, reminding us all that top-shelf service doesn’t have to be stuffy, that a neighborhood vibe can still be found in a 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

14. Amilinda

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315 E Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 369-3683
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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 his home. This buzzy downtown nook of a joint is the result, with warm vibes, deep Spanish and Portuguese flavors, and a short, ever-changing menu that’s long on aspirations. Spicy chicken piri piri comes with piquillo peppers and fried plantains, bacalao comes with pickled piparra peppers, and you’re likely to see monkfish or rabbit meatballs. It’s maybe the only spot in town for salmorejo, an Andalusian puree of tomato and bread. It’s also 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]

15. Alem Ethiopian Village

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307 E Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 224-5324
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Alem has been slinging shareable Ethiopian entrees over spongy injera in the heart of downtown for over a decade. Vegetarian and carnivorous specialties include slow-cooked lentils in red pepper sauce, steamed collard greens, spicy chicken with homemade cottage cheese, and Ethiopian steak tartare. African beer and wine, 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]

16. Sobelmans

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1900 W St Paul Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(414) 931-1919
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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. Located near the Marquette campus, the bar is also a fine old-school option for curds, and also for sampling Wisconsin’s most underrated cultural delicacy: a bombastic Bloody Mary so chock-full of garnishes that 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]

17. Clock Shadow Creamery

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138 W Bruce St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 273-9711
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While it’s nearly 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 best around town are made at this Walker’s Point urban cheese factory. Try the quark, the queso blanco, or the truly adult grilled cheese. Curds are served fresh on Wednesdays and Fridays. They’re creamy, addictive, and audibly squeaky between your teeth — the way God, and Wisconsin farmers, intended. [$]

18. Zocalo Food Park

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636 S 6th St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 433-9747
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Salon once dubbed Milwaukee “the new Portland.” Now that the city has its very own, very hip food truck park, the comparison seems a bit more apt. Food options in the Walker’s Point collective run from tacos to arepas, hot chicken to bagels, burgers to sushi. Pop-ups have also featured Flour Girl & Flame wood-fired pizza and Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge holiday libations in rentable heated mini-greenhouses. Whatever the season or your appetite, though, Zocalo offers a vibe of harmonious, communal, laid-back revelry. It’s an inspiring glimpse of restaurants working together, like family, helping one another simply by coexisting.

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

19. La Merenda

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125 E National Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 389-0125
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Before you could find a small plate on every corner of Walker’s Point, La Merenda was the quiet forerunner, slinging international tapas in the reservations-required dining room. Now owner Peter Sandroni offers worldly brunch dishes at the 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, and — arguably one of the town’s finest bites — goat cheese curds with chorizo cream sauce. Try any of the usual suspects on one of the chillest patios in town. 

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

20. La Dama Milwaukee

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839 S 2nd St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 645-2606
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It isn’t often, if ever, that one of the best, most beloved restaurants in town closes, reconceptualizes, rebrands, 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, tostadas de pulpo, 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

21. Guadalajara Restaurant

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901 S 10th St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 647-2266
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Harkening back to the time when Walker’s Point largely comprised Latino families, this restaurant wears its years and peeling paint with pride, a first-rate 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 and 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

22. Thai Bar-B-Que Restaurant

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3417 W National Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53215
(414) 647-0812
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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 on 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, chile 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.

23. Braise

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1101 S 2nd St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 212-8843
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Chef and 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 a 10-week boot camp, seats diners in private domes and a greenhouse for rooftop dining, operates a roving food truck, and sends out food kits and groceries. It’s also just a restaurant, where an ever-changing menu skips through pork buns, roasted ramp tarts, and chili-garlic chicken. There is such attention to detail that even the homemade ciabatta and whipped butter can feel transcendent. Braise is clearly Milwaukee’s pesky overachiever — which is what makes it so good.

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

24. Momo Mee

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110 E Greenfield Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 316-9003
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Szechuan spice and soup dumplings. Nary a diner exiting Momo Mee won’t mention one or the other, many finding themselves transfixed and 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 almost anything else might seem benign next to the restaurant’s more spirited hits.

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

25. Damascus Gate Restaurant

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807 W Historic Mitchell St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 810-3561
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What began as a feel-good story — a restaurant opened and operated by refugees of the Syrian civil war — has quickly morphed into a success story. This is 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 a busy hand at the spice rack. Mujaddara and kebbeh are must-order highlights year-round, while Ramadan usually brings orders of whole lamb 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]

26. Taqueria La Guelaguetza

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1844 S 15th St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 839-3779
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While pastor can be found on just about 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 draw lines of customers 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 sinfully bonds pastor, asada, and bacon with peppers and stretchy, melting queso.

27. C-Viche

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2165 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 800-7329
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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-spiked aji verde salsa. Then cut the fierce chile kick with a foamy pisco sour and let the fatty pork beans ruin refrieds for you forever. A new Shorewood location is due to open this summer.

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

28. Carnitas Don Lucho

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565 W Lincoln Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 643-1744
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Many in 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 takeout spot. Perfectly spiced chorizo, barbacoa, the 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.

29. Odd Duck

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2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 763-5881
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Since opening on Kinnickinnic Avenue in 2010, Odd Duck has become the beating heart and culinary conscience at the center of the coolest neighborhood in town. Owners Ross Bachhuber and Melissa Buchholz perfectly marry small-plate ingenuity, rough-hewn DIY aesthetics, and buzzy vibe. A knowledgeable waitstaff and craft (but unfussy) cocktails color dinners that could include beer-braised short ribs, house egg noodles, and grilled beets.

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

30. Three Brothers

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2414 S St Clair St
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 481-7530
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You’ll be hit by the homey mood at the door of this old Schlitz tavern — it smells like your grandma’s house when she’s been cooking all day. Tucked away in a still-quiet nook of Bay View, this Serbian stalwart features cash-only dinners and 45-plus-minute waits for the 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, and chevapchichi (beef sausages). It is meat-and-potato Eastern European fare fit for fighting off winter.

31. Palomino Bar

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2491 S Superior St
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 747-1007
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Since undergoing an extensive facelift eight years ago, Bay View’s iconic corner bar has become less a place to watch the Packers with a High Life and more a destination for serious Southern comfort. Curds are especially soothing, featuring a sheeny, batter-fried shell, the insides piping with liquefied Clock Shadow curd magma. It’s the best version of the dish in town, but maybe just the second best appetizer on the menu. Try the hot fried chicken poutine and see if you don’t ruin your appetite — or your shirt. Also of note is a crackly, crispy chicken thigh sandwich with zingy house hot sauce on a brioche bun. And, of course, there’s a burger: ground brisket, American cheese, just the right amount of “special sauce.” It’s still a good spot to watch the Packers too, or anything other than your diet.

A metal bowl overflowing with cheese curds
Fried cheese curds
Palomino Bar [Facebook]

32. The Vanguard

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2659 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 539-3593
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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: a duck-and-bacon sausage with hollandaise aioli, a Nashville hot chicken sausage, a house kimchi dog, an outrageously lavish burger made with a sausage patty and Velveeta, multiple poutines, and fried curds with bacon aioli. To wash it down, choose from plenty of Midwestern brews or a bevy of signature house cocktails. The latter even come on draft — the perfect metaphor for the we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously spirit of the place.

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

33. Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company

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2920 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 489-0765
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While Colectivo boldly spreads its coffee-cupping tentacles toward Madison and Chicago, Anodyne continues to quietly fine-tune small-batch single-source roasts in its quest to become the ideal neighborhood cafe with the perfect pour. Stockpile beans and home-brew accoutrements, sip a nitro line cold brew (arguably the best nonalcoholic beverage in town), or grab a wood-fire-kissed Neapolitan pie out of the Stefano oven at this 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

34. Polonez Restaurant

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4016 S Packard Ave
St Francis, WI 53235
(414) 482-0080
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Milwaukee has America’s fourth largest Polish population, making this aging, overlooked St. Francis restaurant undeniably essential. For brunch or dinner, the only way to approach the restaurant’s Eastern European specialties is with belt-loosening fervor: pierogies, herring, tripe, fried Polish cheese, deviled eggs, stuffed cabbage, veal schnitzel, and the sauerkraut and meat stew known as bigos. Polonez is the last Polish sit-down place in town; it’s also for sale.

A table with dishes including beef roulade, Polish sausage, pierogi, cucumber salad, mushroom soup, green beans, mashed potatoes, cheesecake and apple cake
A spread featuring beef roulade, Polish sausage, and pierogi
Polonez Restaurant [Facebook]

35. FoxFire Food Truck

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4177 S Howell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207

Whether parked at a festival, planted behind Hawthorne Coffee Roasters on the South Side, or stationed outside Burnhearts (Milwaukee’s coolest beer bar), this is the food truck to track down by any social media stalking necessary. Now with a second, seasonal location in Zocalo Food Park, FoxFire continues to marry a drunken munchie aesthetic with cheffy destination-worthy craft. The hot chicken sandwich — crispy, crackly, with an oily, fiery crimson finish — put it on the map. But frequent menu updates — an andouille po’ boy, grilled kimcheese, a brisket burger — keep the truck popping. A recent offering, the roast pork with Swiss, horseradish mayo, and side of au jus, might be the most soulful ham ’n’ cheese you’ll ever try.

A fried fish sandwich in a plastic basket with fries, cabbage slaw, chile-dusted lemon, and small cup of sauce
Hot fried fish sandwich with fries
FoxFire Food Truck/Facebook

36. Chucho's Red Tacos

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4511 S 6th St
Milwaukee, WI 53221
(414) 419-0000

By any food-minded Instagram feed’s estimation, Tijuana-style birria is having a moment. From Boyle Heights to Queens, it’s hard to escape shots of red-sauced tortillas, sizzling lasciviously on a flattop, melding queso to dark-brown hunks of stewed meat, the entire package destined to be dunked in earthy consomme. But a thousand pictures aren’t worth a single bite. Chucho’s lineup of crispy tacos, quesitacos, and mulitas — melted cheese, birria, cilantro, and onions between two crispy tortillas — all yield rich, cheesy, beefy decadence. Alongside birria de res (beef), there are pollo and jamaica (hibiscus flower) versions of the slow-cooked taco filling. There’s even birria ramen.

37. Nite Owl Drive In

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830 E Layton Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 483-2524
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When the NFL looked to film a melodramatic Super Bowl commercial highlighting Lombardi machismo, they did well to cast the iconic, retro neon signage of Nite Owl. That nostalgic flair comes through in the flavors at the beloved South Side burger joint too. The seasonal, cash-only, airport-adjacent diner serves cheap, beefy, buttery, smooshed-bun, grease-heavy old-school burgers alongside sundaes and floats. From March to October-ish, long lines of devoted regulars angle for the takeout window or a spot inside the tile-floored room that looks straight out of American Graffiti. A wait is often necessary, and when the hand-ground beef runs out for the day, disappointed customers and tired employees are sent back into the mean, modern world.

A large, two-piece neon sign on top of a restaurant roof
The iconic Nite Owl sign
Nite Owl Drive In [Facebook]

38. Holy Land Grocery & Bakery

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2755 W Ramsey Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53221
(414) 817-1959
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The pillowy, daily-baked pita alone is worth the cruise out to Greenfield. But there’s also much here to fill it with: crackly falafel, creamy hummus, musabaha. Or let the experts behind the counter pack your lunch carb pocket with a kabob bursting with juice. 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 is 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]

1. Kopp's Frozen Custard

5373 N Port Washington Rd, Glendale, WI 53217
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 institution of creamy family comfort. But it’s not just the sundaes that inspire treks to the three suburban locations. The jumbo burgers have the charry-edged, beefy, buttery finish that all nouveau diner flattops yearn for. It’s draped in melty processed yellow cheese and swaddled in a starchy soft bun, 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 a best Milwaukee life.

5373 N Port Washington Rd
Glendale, WI 53217

2. Sherman Phoenix

3536 W Fond Du Lac Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53216
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, pizza, Purple Door ice cream, chicken wings from the Brooklyn-based Buffalo Boss, and a smattering of culture, wellness, and fashion tenants whose offerings range from yoga classes to airbrushed sneakers.

3536 W Fond Du Lac Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53216

3. Good City Brewing

2108 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Burger with egg seeping out and knife in top of bun
Brunch burger topped with bacon and an egg
Good City Brewing/Facebook

While there are plenty of breweries about town to keep the home bar stocked, Good City may be the most prominent player in the new wave of Milwaukee’s ever-expanding scene, with offerings that range from usual suspects, like porter and pils, to big-deal special releases, like an imperial stout aged in antique Weller barrels. Or go directly to the source and whet your appetite for quality pub grub, including a burger topped with Sriracha Russian dressing, on Good City’s East Side rooftop patio. The second location, a sprawling brew emporium next door to Fiserv Forum, is an ideal spot for a tipple pre- or post-Bucks game.

2108 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202

4. Lakefront Brewery

1872 N Commerce St, Milwaukee, WI 53212
A row of small greenhouses fit with dining rooms along a riverfront
Private “hop house” outdoor dining pods
Lakefront Brewery [Official Photo]

After the big boys that made Milwaukee famous, and before the craft beer boom that has seen dozens of third-wave options sprout up in the past few years, Lakefront became the most ubiquitous local beer of area bars and liquor stores. Nowadays you’re not really a Milwaukeean until you’ve taken a brewery tour here or tried the Friday fish fry, when you can dine on beer-battered cod, listen to live polka, and even eat in a wood-floored greenhouse complete with river views.

1872 N Commerce St
Milwaukee, WI 53212

5. Ardent

1751 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202