In 1963, Sal Barbiere founded his eponymous Italian Inn on the principles of “Family, Superb Food, and Quality Ingredients,” according to the restaurant's website. So it was no surprise that he decided to keep the eatery in the family, passing Barbiere's to his son Steve when he retired. And when, 34 years later, Steve was ready to retire in his turn, he also passed the mantle to someone trustworthy: employee Mark Dempsey, who is himself nearly family—he has been working at the restaurant since he was 16 years old.
Today, Dempsey has expanded the restaurant to two locations, both still serving Sal's signature garlic bread and other tried-and-true Italian dishes. Chefs in his kitchens prepare pans of lasagna and spaghetti with meat or meatless sauce. Baked-to-order pizzas feature an array of topping choices including italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes. Grand Marnier from the full bar fortifies pitchers of housemade red sangria, which enhance the food's bold, Italian flavors as well as boring white napkins that definitely look better in tie-dye.
Recognized as one of Milwaukee's best Mexican eateries by WISN’s A-List, The Azteca Restaurant upholds its title by simmering meats and seafood in homemade chili sauces and blanketing tender tortillas in melted cheese. Most of the menu's bean- and rice-heaped platters come with sides of from-scratch guacamole, which chefs perk up with tomatoes, cilantro, and a single cactus tear. Within the restaurant’s vibrant adobe-colored exterior, desert murals span the walls and stimulate diners’ thirsts, which can be quenched by seven flavors of fruity margaritas, Mexican beers, and creamy homemade horchata.
Within the cream-colored brick exterior of a century-old city building, Papa Luigi’s II marries an Italian restaurant with a bowling alley. Amid the wood paneling, wine-red carpet, and chandeliers of the dining room, taste buds can warm up with the house’s favorite appetizer—sicilian eggplant lathered in Papa’s special marinara sauce. Thin-n-crispy pizzas, which Papa Luigi’s II has been perfecting for 23 years, come loaded with canadian bacon or shrimp.
After meals, guests can adjourn to the newly remodeled, smoke-free bowling alley. Here, shining orbs hurtle down 10 lanes whose automatic bumpers forgive shaky aim, and an automatic scoring system lets bowlers tuck their personal mathematicians back into the trunks of their cars. Between rounds, players can refuel at a pub-style bar by tipping back chilled mugs brimming with imported tap beers and gazing at a trio of plasma televisions. Those seeking a new arena for competition can drop by the game room or rent the upstairs gym for shooting hoops.
You'll never find canned tomatoes or a pre-made pizza crust in the kitchen at Valentina's Pizzeria, where the staff prides itself on the ingredients it makes in-house every day, from the freshly grated cheese to the sauce mixed with herbs straight from the garden. Owner Greg Steele oversees the crafting of a menu filled with a selection of pizzas, calzones, and subs as well as sides such as eggplant fries and cheese bread.
The Landing Food & Spirits likes to boast that they’re so great that the state built an airport next to them. Regardless of why it actually happened, the restaurant is a haven for casual nights out in the shadow of small planes. Gaggles of friends settle onto red and wooden barstools or surround tables to grab slices of pizza or dive into beer-side nibbles of sour cream and chive fries. Along the walls, pinball machines, a foosball table, and video arcade games fire up healthy competition as the occasional live band croons from a small stage in the corner. Guests match wits during Monday-night trivia, and feast at the Friday-night fish fry—a great way to entertain visiting relatives or pet grizzly bears.