Restaurants in Madison

Just because it’s a college town, doesn’t mean that Madison restaurants are anything to snooze at. Many downtown Madison restaurants are on a par with those in larger cities, and on State Street Madison restaurant seekers will find lots of options. Even beyond these areas, you’ll find something to eat that you’ll love.

Best Italian Restaurants, Madison WI


Naples 15

Chef Salvatore Di Scala calls himself a monzu, roughly translated as a chef-artist, and as a native of Naples, Italy, he uses his meals to take his diners on a trip. He’s built a menu around authentic Neapolitan cuisine, naming pizzas after beloved Italian songs and treating seafood dishes with tender, loving care.



Each ravioli is folded and pinched by hand and each pizza is fired carefully in a wood-burning oven at this restaurant where the staff employs both Old World traditions and modern techniques. The open kitchen invites diners to watch the cooks at work, as they put finishing flourishes on dishes made with seafood and slow-roasted meats, as well as local and Italian ingredients.


Porta Bella

Since 1968, Porta Bella has sated cravings with traditional Italian cuisine served in a romantic setting of intimate booths and polished wood walls. Diners can also choose to eat in the restaurant’s wine cellar, where they can pick from 40 different wines, as well as signature cocktails such as the Wiscomo, a shaken blend of Door County Distillery Cherry Brandy, Clockwork Orange liqueur, and cranberry and lime juice.

Spotlight on: Six Facts About Italian Food

Italian food goes beyond the two Ps—pizza and pasta—way beyond. Here are six facts that might have you thinking differently about Italian cuisine.


It’s okay to put butter on your bread.

Though many believe that an authentic Italian restaurant will serve bread only with olive oil, the truth is that the preference for olive oil is characteristic of southern Italy. In northern Italy, it’s much more common to find bread served with butter and lard.


Apple strudel is a legit Italian dessert.

In the north, the cuisine is influenced by the neighboring Austria; thus, dishes such as sausage, sauerkraut, and spaetzle are popular there. Along these lines, apple strudel and other Austrian-style desserts are common throughout some northern regions, according to cooking academy Academia Barilla, one of the foremost authorities on regional Italian cuisine.


Pasta isn’t the only thing.

Though Italians from all regions eat pasta, in the north, diners are more likely to choose rice or polenta, while in the south—particular in Sicily—couscous is popular.


Sicily is influenced by other Mediterranean cuisines.

Throughout history, Sicily was invaded by many of its neighboring countries, among them Greece, Spain, French, and Arabic nations. And its cuisine reflects this, incorporating ingredients such as apricots, saffron, fava beans, and cinnamon. Arancini, a dish of fried rice balls made with cheese and beef, has Arabic origins, and pasta dishes might arrive bearing currants and almonds.


Real Italians eat fish.

Many Americans don’t consider fish to be particularly Italian, even though a love of seafood unites many Italian natives—15 of the country’s 20 regions have some sort of coastline. So for an authentic Italian experience, go beyond the frutti di mare or fried calamari, and try the whole-cooked fish.


Tomato sauce is (sort of) modern Italian.

According to some historians, the first Italian tomato sauces were more of a preference for Italian immigrants in 20th century America, rather than native Italians. It wasn’t until then that the tomato sauce and pasta dinner was born. Part of the reason was that for a long time people believed that tomatoes, because they were part of the nightshade family, were poisonous. Soon, though, the demand for Italian tomatoes grew. Today, chefs widely regard san marzano tomatoes (grown in the Campania region) as some of the finest tomatoes in the world.

Best Mexican Restaurants, Madison, WI


Taqueria Guadalajara

Fragrant tamales wrapped tightly in corn husks, burritos doused in salsa, guacamole, and crema—Taqueria Guadalajara is an ideal place for traditional Mexican favorites. Still, don’t sleep on the house specialities, such as pollo en mole, smothered in a rich sauce made from chiles, tomatoes, nuts, and raisins.


Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant

In this casual, comfortable setting, this cocina serves up sizzling plates of fajitas and crisp chimichangas—all made from scratch. Sip one of the house special margaritas as you nosh—the traditional or one made with mango or blue curacao. And to finish, make sure you try the dessert chimichanga, a Snickers bar wrapped in a tortilla, then deep fried.


La Bamba

If all you want is a burrito, you can’t go wrong at La Bamba, where they say the burritos are “as big as your head.” But delve deeper than that gimmick, and you’ll find tortillas made in house and secret recipe salsa to support your meal.

Try It: Mexican Desserts

While you may be familiar with tacos, burritos, and other savory dishes, Mexican cuisine has a secret weapon in its arsenal that’s just as devastating to hunger pangs—dessert. Here are five you must try:



One of Mexico’s best-known desserts, it’s a custard with a thin layer of caramel on top, best for after a spicy meal.



Tubes of dough deep-fried until the exterior crunches, these addictive desserts can be served simply with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top, or filled with dulce de leche or fruit flavors.


Mexican wedding cookies

Akin to a sugar cookie, but denser and more moist, these petite, sugar-rolled confections are made with pecans, cinnamon, and plenty of butter.


Tres leches cake

Made with heavy milk, evaporated, milk and heavy cream, this cake is ultra-moist and ultra decadent.



A specialty of Guanajuato, it’s a thick syrup made from caramelized goat milk that tastes like caramel sauce with a tang. You can eat it on its own with a spoon, but it’s typically used as a dip, filling, or topping.

Best Steakhouse Restaurants in Madison


Rare Steakhouse

When they’re located right on State Street, Madison restaurants are typically some of the best, and Rare Steakhouse is no exception. Featuring house-aged USDA prime steaks, the restaurant strives for the classic steakhouse experience.


Tornado Steakhouse

White linen tablecloths, moody lighting, and plush banquettes serve to create a swanky supper club ambience. Diners will find no surprises on this ultra-traditional menu, with specialties such as filet au poivre and rack of lamb, except that everything is made with lots of attention and great care.


Wonder Bar Steakhouse

Originally run by a Chicago mafia man on the run, Wonder Bar Steakhouse has been serving customers since its inception as a tavern in 1929. And though it’s been reinvented many times over, it’s always been known for great steaks, served in a warm and comfortable setting.

Spotlight on Steak Cuts

You most likely don’t know the intricacies of the different types of steak cuts, unless you happen to be a butcher. We’re here to save the day with a cheat sheet of the five most popular cuts of steak.


Rib Eye

Because it’s cut from along the cow’s spine, the rib eye boasts some of the richest marbling —the term for the fat deposits that weave like veins in marble. This cut is tender and best suited to the pan or broiler rather than the grill—and cooked to at least medium.


Strip Steak aka Kansas City Steak or New York Strip

This well-balanced cut, with thin rivulets of fat throughout, makes it equally great whether cooked medium rare or medium well.


Filet Mignon

Also known as the tenderloin and one of the most supple and least marbled cuts, its low fat content means it’s best served rare or medium rare.



This is the strip and tenderloin in one cut, separated by a T-shaped bone; it offers a unique challenge to chefs, as they have to make sure the (larger) strip portion cooks longer than the tenderloin.



While it looks like a T-bone and is cut from the same area, the porterhouse is larger and cut from the back end of the loin. And because it’s so big, many offer it as a “steak for two.”


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