As most of you all know, I made (another) cross-country move – this time to Connecticut. The move came out of the blue with a job offer I couldn’t pass up, and I’ve always wanted to live on the East Coast so here I am in Hartford, CT. While I’m excited to start exploring all things New England, I spent my last couple of weeks in the Midwest thinking of all the things I had done and wanted to do there.
The last two years have been an array and blur of me foraging (literally eating everything) in Milwaukee, and yet I still feel like I had a lot more to see and do, or rather taste. But that’s why airlines have frequent flier miles – to revisit old friends, see familiar places and continuously try new restaurants, right? I’m certain my #MKEbucketlist will always be ongoing, just like my #ATLbucketlist never ceases to end. Maybe that speaks to the caliber of food scenes I’ve been afforded the opportunity to live in. While Milwaukee still has a lot of catching up to do on the likes of Atlanta, the uniqueness of the MKE food scene is just that – unique. There’s a pride to local ingredients like none other, there’s a desire to stick to Midwestern roots and, of course, there are foods that have made the city & state what it is today (yes, I’m talking beer, cheese and brats). If you were to ask me what food items inherently went hand-in-hand with Atlanta, I would say maybe fried chicken, biscuits and grits but that’s generally every southern city. Other than disappointing sports losses and Chick-fil-a, a specific food item is not home grown specifically in ATL. Which makes Milwaukee very cool in my opinion.
With all that being said … now on to the real topic of this post, the Best of MELwaukee (a term coined by my friend Alex). This is essentially a list of my favorite places in Milwaukee, and these are all my personal opinions. We all have different taste buds so I’m sure you won’t agree with all of these, but hopefully you will at least try the establishment and see for yourself if they’d be worthy of your “best of” list.
Best Taco: Gypsy Taco
Gypsy Taco is a permanent food truck situated in a super hip bar reminiscent of some of my favorite pit stops in Tennessee. Boone & Crockett’s back patio couldn’t be more perfect for the eclectic group that is Gypsy Taco. The tacos are a unique take on street tacos and they are absolutely fabulous.
Best Burger: Kopp’s
This one was a hard one to settle on because Milwaukee has a ton of fantastic burgers – from Solly’s to Oscar’s, Sobelman’s to Merriment Social, AJ Bombers to Crafty Cow, the options are seriously endless. But I ultimately landed on Kopp’s. It’s fast food but dear god is it heavenly. It’s classic Americana, and the custard is to die for too.
Best Vegan Restaurant: Urban Beets
Okay, so Urban Beets Juice & Eatery is more than just a great vegan restaurant to me. It became a part of my weekly, and even daily, routine in Milwaukee. I love the options for smoothies, juices, smoothie bowls, and overnight oats among a ton of healthy, conscious food options.
Best Cocktails: Hotel Madrid
The Stand Eat Drink folks really know how to combine atmosphere, cocktails and food for an all-encompassing dining experience. Movida was my go-to eat-by-yourself-at-the-bar restaurant when I first moved to Milwaukee and this Hotel Madrid concept was on my radar since day one. I love the idea of bringing Spain to the Midwest. The decor is flawless and the cocktail menu is on fire. Sunday funday also took on a new twist with their all night happy hour at the bar.
Best Late Night: Red Light Ramen
It’s not your typical “late night” grub (i.e. Ian’s Pizza or Dog Haus), however the hours do go past midnight so for me I consider it late night. Red Light Ramen was a unique concept in the beginning, sprawling out of Ardent as a pop-up on Friday and Saturday nights. Red Light has always been big time, and once they opened their own stand-alone shop I knew they would forever be big time. This place is at the top of my list for ramen joints across the country – so y’all best go and get in line for a bowl of the Tonkatsu ASAP.
Best Date Night with Mom: Harbor House
Harbor House is classically chic, offers spectacular views of the city and has a crazy good happy hour special. On a crisp autumn day, it was the perfect spot to take my mom and one of her favorite places we dined at together. We sat on the patio sipping specialty cocktails and eating oysters off the half shell, both of which are a steal at the happy hour prices. It’s not often you find yourself in the heart of America with good seafood, but the fare and atmosphere here at Harbor House brought all the feels of New England to the Midwest.
Best Brewery: Good City Brewing
I’m not a beer girl. Simply put, I like my gin and red wine. But while in Milwaukee I found myself in many situations where the only option was beer. Ahem, breweries. I loved Good City Brewing because they had a ton of options on tap that fit with the style of beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike. I also fully appreciated that they served food – like not just bar snacks, but damn good full-on meals. From the pretzel to the burger to the brat, all of the food was delicious and perfectly complimented each pour of craft beer.
Best Cheese Curds: Lakefront Brewery
You can’t get away with doing a “best of” list in Wisconsin without mentioning cheese curds. I honestly had never had a cheese curd until I moved to Milwaukee. In college we had these things called cheese bings at the local tavern (which were fantastic btw), but fried cheese curds paired with garlic ranch rocked my world in Wisco. Lakefront Brewery has the best by far in my opinion. The ooey-gooey locally-sourced cheese curd is battered and fried to golden perfection. The batter isn’t too thick, which is key, and has a nice balance of texture. Plus, the beer here is great too and the tours are phenomenal. I went on a total of six tours in my two years in Milwaukee because I took every visitor I had to Lakefront.
Best Coffee: Kickapoo
I’m not a coffee connoisseur by any means, but I know what I like. I love a good pour-over, and I feel like the coffee at Kickapoo was designed for small batch brewing. The coffee is bold and never too acidic. The cafe itself also deserves some recognition. The open air feel and clean lines comprised of whites and blue hues make for a serene environment to chill, catch-up or work. The large windows offer a ton of natural light which is always great during the more dreary winter months.
Best Brunch: The Noble
Mondays have never been more appealing thanks to The Noble. If you don’t know the Noble then let me fill you in quick – it’s a small, charming spot located in Walker’s Point that opens its doors for dinner service at 5pm, posting their dinner menu on Facebook daily in the hours prior. They change their specials every night to coincide with what’s on hand and what’s in season. On Mondays while most of us are starting the work week, the folks at The Noble are serving an oh so popular brunch for industry folks who have busted their asses all weekend. Like dinner service, the menu and specials are constantly changing – it’s a fantastic concept. Pretty sure I took a PTO day to enjoy this brunch and it was worth all 8 hours of my vacation.
Best Food Truck: Yellow Bellies
Yellow Bellies specializes in sandwiches made from pulled rotisserie chicken meat. The options they have are endless – from an Asian twist to BBQ, there is something that will satisfy your taste buds. I also fully appreciate their side serving (or sometimes whole serving) of fries and sweet potato fries. They’re hand-cut and tossed in garlic parmesan, and damn they are good.
Best Italian: Centro Cafe
The coziest Italian restaurant in the area finds itself in Riverwest. The space and food transport you into a New York City vibe – with its narrow entry way, small seating area and glowing lighting, it has all the charm of a locals-only NYC eatery. The menu has all the classic Italian dishes you can expect to find and all the pastas are handmade. Ingredients are sourced locally, and to compliment your meal is a robust Italian wine list (perfetto!).
Best Sausage: The Vanguard
An iconic establishment in the heart of Bay View focusing on housemade sausages, The Vanguard is everything Wisconsin in one stop. The variation of sausages and menu items gives it a more trendy feel and the food is just so damn Instagram-worthy. The poutine, fries and curds are all winners in my book as well. The atmosphere is playful and I love the chef’s outside-the-box thinking – who knew you could style a sausage with flavors from Jamaica, Thailand or Italy?!
Best Diner: Comet Cafe
Diners are all about the comfort food right? At least they are to me. I’m not trying to hit up a diner for a kale salad – give me something loaded with cheese, butter and carbs. Alas, Milwaukeeans are so fortunate to have the Comet Cafe. A retro-like diner serving up all the best comfort foods on the East Side for both breakfast, lunch and dinner. I realize breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I’m going to branch out and say I like dinner at Comet best. I mean, who doesn’t love a hearty meatloaf wrapped in bacon or some good old fashioned mac-n-cheese?
So cheers to you Milwaukee – thank you for a very tasty two years 🙂