Just as Thomas Edison stumbled through useless prototypes of light bulbs and movie cameras before perfecting the phonograph, the alchemists at Qdoba Mexican Grill took 47 attempts before landing on the franchise's signature blend of three cheeses, known simply as queso. That attention to detail still pervades every aspect of the menu, as employees spend hours each day chopping, dicing, and simmering the fresh ingredients that find their way into burritos, taco salads, and grilled quesadillas. Beyond the marinated bites of chicken, beef, and pork and hand-crafted tortillas, cooks protect their ripe, fragile avocados from harm by smashing them into batches of fluffy guacamole.
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.
Floor-to-ceiling wood panels frame School Yard Bar & Grill, an East Side hangout that doles out beer and burgers in equal measure. The menu features half-pound Wisconsin beef sandwiches named after prototypical high-school characters such as the Bully—cheddar, bacon, roasted-garlic mayo, and a fried egg—and the Principal, which is accompanied by swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, and a stern letter to your parents. Patrons can dig into these and other pub dishes, including wings, mozzarella sticks, and tacos, while drinking in views of overhead TVs and domestic drafts at the bar.
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.
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).
In an interview with Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel, the owner of Solly's Grille divulged the secret of making his famous butter burger. That secret is simple: all you need are "two products that come from that fabulous cow." The first is sirloin, delivered daily to the restaurant by a local butcher. The second is a generous dollop of butter from a Wisconsin creamery. The butter is slathered onto the top bun, where it melts with house-made stewed onions and seared beef to create a decadent sandwich beloved by the state and America at-large. As evidence of the burger's popularity, Solly's Grille has been featured multiple times by the national media, including USA Today, the film and book Hamburger America by George Motz, Food Network Magazine, and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's hit series No Reservations.
All that fame is even more impressive considering that the recipe for Solly's butter burger is more than 78 years old. Kenneth "Solly" Salmon founded the restaurant in 1936, and its menu still reflects these classic roots. The cherry pie is homemade with Door County cherries, complementing the roster of time-honored breakfasts and other great sandwiches. That's not to say that Solly's has resisted progress, however. Its fries, onion rings, and hand-breaded Alaskan Cod get their crispiness from cholesterol-free oil, and veggie burgers and gluten-free buns are available for those with dietary restrictions.