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Restaurants in Milwaukee

Poor Milwaukee. The close proximity to Chicago means it often gets overshadowed by its bigger cousin to the South, and the same is true of the restaurant scene. And that’s a crying shame, because Milwaukee restaurants have plenty to offer Midwestern foodies beyond beer and cheese (though, seriously, if you’re in Milwaukee… get some beer and cheese). But don’t take our word for it: Milwaukee was recently named one of the Most Underrated Foodie Cities in America by the website Tasting Table. To help you discover all the delicious secrets the city has to offer, we put together this list of the best Milwaukee restaurants—we recommend booking your tables now before word gets out!

 

  • Ardent. This spot by James Beard-nominated chef Justin Carlisle is widely considered one of the very best restaurants in Milwaukee, as well as one of the best in the country. Expect show-stopping dishes like tender game hen with sunflower risotto or glazed red beets with camembert ice cream to grace the 10-course tasting menu.

 

  • Harbor House. If you’re looking for great seafood in Milwaukee, this is your spot. Not only will you find impeccably fresh lobster, oysters, and king crab legs, but you’ll be treated to excellent views of the lake and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
  • Tess. A cozy garden patio with a location inside a quaint Victorian house would be enough to recommend Tess alone. Plus the food, which is seasonal, local, and always inventive. Where else might you find red currant bbq ribs?
  • HobNob Restaurant. Wisconsin is famous for its supper clubs, and luckily, one of the best and oldest is located just outside of Milwaukee in nearby Racine. Order the prime rib and a brandy old fashioned, and then bask in the preserved 1950s atmosphere (and the free relish tray).
  • Amilinda. You could be forgiven for thinking Milwaukee restaurants have little beyond steakhouses and German-American fare (mostly because they do those two things so well), but Amilinda proves they can deliver on the Spanish-Venezuelan-Portuguese fusion front too.

Try It: Brandy Old Fashioned

 

You may be familiar with the old fashioned cocktail, typically made with either bourbon or rye, plus sugar, bitters, and an orange-slice-and-cherry garnish. But in Milwaukee, brandy is the spirit of choice in the popular cocktail. Why?

 

Thank (or blame?) the 1893 World’s Fair, which was held in Milwaukee and featured a new brandy from California-based distiller Korbel. Wisconsin fairgoers loved the Korbel, so much so that Wisconsin bars rushed to stock up on the stuff. The old fashioned cocktails popular in big cities like New York were just starting to gain popularity in the Midwest and bartenders weren’t beholden to a specific recipe (the first official recipe for an old fashioned wasn’t printed until 1895), so they took liberties and swapped out the traditional whiskey for brandy, thus creating what would eventually become the unofficial official cocktail of Milwaukee.

 

Learn more about the cocktail here.

 

Pro-Tip: Order it “sweet,” which lets the bartender know to add a splash of lemon-lime soda.


Considering brandy’s relative unpopularity among younger drinkers these days, you’re unlikely to find brandy old fashioneds at the city’s modern craft cocktail bars. But, if you look, you can still find plenty of Milwaukee restaurants proudly serving the drink to die-hard fans. Hint: look for it in the supper clubs and the dive bars.

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  • Solly’s Grill. Most midwestern burger historians agree that the first butter burger likely came off the grill at Solly’s sometime around 1936. The burgers arrive in a clarified golden pool of the good stuff, so you may as well load some cheese onto that to round out the color scheme.
  • Culver’s. Yes, Culver’s is a chain, but it’s menu is Wisconsin through and through. Plus, we like to think its burgers—made from fresh, never frozen Midwest beef, cooked-to-order, and topped with Wisconsin American cheese—is an example of what a good, fast-food burger could and should be.

 

  • Mazos. Since 1934, Mazos’ cooks have ground their beef fresh every single day before forming it into gigantic patties. Why do they take so much pride in a simple burger? Well, besides a few soups and sides, burgers are basically all they serve, so they better do it up right.
  • Meraki. Two words: secret burger. You won’t find the sandwich on the official menu here, but if you approach the bar and ask very nicely, you’ll be presented with a masterpiece made with Kettle Range Meats beef, 5-year cheddar, onion, and a made-in-house bun.

Try It: Frozen Custard

 

Everyone screams for ice cream… except in Wisconsin, where they clamor for a different type of treat: frozen custard. Made with a higher butter-fat content and a whole lot of egg yolks, frozen custard has a richer, silkier texture than ice cream, somewhere between gelato and soft serve.

 

Editor’s Pick: Leon’s Frozen Custard

 

This spot has been a Milwaukee institution since 1942 and is actually considered a landmark in the city. The menu only includes three flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan), but there are infinite ways to customize your custard, from adding syrups and toppings, to whipping it into a shake or malt.

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Milwaukee is a city that loves its beer, as evidenced by the fact that it named its baseball team the “Brewers”. In fact, you can pretty much throw a rock anywhere in this city and expect to at least get close to hitting a brewery. So which ones are worth a visit? Here are our picks for the best Milwaukee breweries:

 

  • Lakefront Brewery. Though it technically overlooks the Milwaukee River, Lakefront Brewery’s location does have a lovely view, which you can enjoy before or after your tour. However, you might be too busy sampling beer flights in the spacious German-style beer hall.
  • Pabst Brewery. If you think Pabst only has PBR to offer, prepare to have your mind blown. This is actually one of the oldest breweries in American and is responsible for producing more than 80 well-known brands of beer, not to mention its own experimental brews, which you can sample in the tap room.
  • MobCraft Beer and Tap Room. MobCraft lets its fans vote on which of its new beer ideas actually get made and, if you visit, you can even submit your own beer idea to see if it catches on. After a tour and visit to the tap room, head to the game room for some foosball and ping-pong to burn all those hoppy calories away.
  • Miller Brewing Company. If you’ve got the time… they’ve got the tour. All jokes aside, the Miller tour is exceptional since it gives you an up-close look at the historic caves where beer was once stored to keep it cool. A beer tour and history tour all in one!

Try It: Milwaukee-Style Pizza

 

Did you know Milwaukee has its own signature style of pizza? While it may not be as famous as the fold-n-go slices of New York or the deep-dish monstrosities of Chicago, Milwaukee pizza is distinctive and much-loved throughout the city. Expect a cracker-thin crust on your party cut (that’s squares, for the uninitiated) pie, plus cheese and toppings that are applied with an extra-heavy hand.

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