Upscale Burgers | Late-Night Kitchen | Local Artwork
While You're Waiting: Admire the artwork lining the dining room walls. The collection rotates frequently to showcase the works of different local artists.
Inside Tip: Make a note, night owls: Elsa's kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. every day. The eatery's bartenders, meanwhile, keep pouring shots and lifting wine jugs over their heads to demonstrate their brute strength until at least 2 a.m.
When to Go: Head over on a Monday night, when Elsa's expands its normal menu to include 10 gourmet-chicken sandwiches, including versions that highlight Chinese, Mexican, and Italian flavors.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Ogle an extensive collection of ceramics made by Pablo Picasso at the David Barnett Gallery (1024 E. State Street).
After: Nurse a proper brandy old-fashioned while watching some live music at Swingin' Door Exchange (219 E. Michigan Street).
Though many of the dishes made in the Cynthia’s Restaurant kitchen are Mexican classics—there’s cheesy quesadillas, plump steak burritos, and meaty tacos—others were inspired by Italian and American cuisines. Chef Cynthia layers ciabatta with italian meats and tops wheat-berry bread with scoops of creamy tuna salad. She extends her culinary expertise to three different types of soup: poblano cream, cheeseburger chowder, and fondue with broccoli. .
Chili Lili’s serves immaculately prepared fresh-made chili and a menu of American fare and locally brewed liquid complements. Jay Schieck, Chili Lili’s Milwaukean owner, and Chef Andy Tenaglia gourmet-ify the hearty dish and offer a range of signature chilis in a bowl ($5), on a platter over garlic bread ($8), on a platter over corn bread ($8), or on a platter over mac 'n' cheese ($9). The spicy pizza chili includes bell peppers, pepperoni, garlic, and Italian sausage, whereas the vegetarian chili comes loaded with olive oil, oven-roasted portobellos, and eggplant. Chilified meals such as the flour-tortilla-encased chili burrito ($8) or the Kobe-beef chili burger ($12, add cheese for $1) save standard dinner fare from the throes of lack-of-bean-induced depression, and sandwiches such as the turkey burger ($8) and the double-cheesed black-bean burger ($8) offer the edible endurance necessary for sawing down view-obstructing trees using only a pizza cutter.
Fajitas Grill is a place where the staff envisions families creating new memories over plates of authentic Mexican cuisine. In the cheerful space, decorated with artwork and warm colors, the kitchen staff serves up the sizzling fajitas that the spot is named for. Each dish is loaded with ingredients such as grilled steak, garden veggies, and pork with roasted pineapple. These flavorful meats and vegetables also get piled onto handmade tortillas and rolled into enchiladas. Thirsty patrons can pair meals with a glass of wine or a margarita made with smooth, oak-aged tequila.
Even with the ambitious goal of trying a new variety every night, it would take months to sample every single beer at Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar. Not only are there 53 different drafts and an array of cellar reserve bottles, but the selection is constantly updated with new craft brews from Wisconsin and around the world. Beer-savvy bartenders make their own recommendations behind the circular center bar as servers deliver trays of imaginative gastropub dishes—crab-stuffed jalapeños, freshwater bluegill sliders, and the hefty burger lauded by reporters from A.V. Club Milwaukee as “drool-inducing.” When not toppling giant Jenga blocks or throwing darts, guests can gaze up at the flat-screen televisions and cheer when a hardened banker learns to love in a Lifetime movie. The massive wooden deck gives al fresco enthusiasts space to linger over bites of cod tacos and barbecue pork nachos.
International Small Plates | Ingredients from Local Farms | Vegetarian and Gluten-Free Selections | Seasonal Menu | Patio Seating
What's to Drink: A variety of craft sodas may be on tap thanks to schoolteacher-turned-pop-producer Larry Hanlon. He brews in small batches, which allows him to tinker with creative, housemade recipes. The result is a soda that highlights the flavor of all-natural ingredients rather than the sweetness of high-fructose corn syrup. "We should know what we're eating," he told OnMilwaukee.com, "and what we're eating should taste like what it's made from."
Inside Tip: Nearly all of the dishes are gluten-free, vegetarian, or both—and if it's not already, the kitchen will work to customize it to your dietary preferences.
Behind the Name: The literal translation of the Italian word la merenda is "snack." But La Merenda's owner, Peter Sandroni, sees his establishment as more than just a place to grab a quick bite. Rather, it's a spot for diners to share an experience, where they can relax in the moment instead of wolfing their food down.
Locavore: a person who seeks out locally produced food that's often fresh, sustainable, and natural.
Tapas: what started as Spanish appetizers and bar food now encompasses small plates of myriad techniques and cuisines. Typically, several tapas are ordered for the table to share, and the server staggers their delivery so there's always something to munch on.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Odd Duck (2352 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue) also serves up seasonal, globally inspired small plates created from local ingredients.