Learn why these 10 restaurants are tops.
With more deliciousness around town than ever before, editing this list down to 10 was a tough job. But our intrepid dining editor, Ann Christenson, performed due diligence, searching beyond the beaten path (Delafield!) and tasting all types of dishes (fried pig’s ear with fish sauce!) to compile this group of winners (which are numbered but not ranked). The results are served up for you on the following pages, along with some informative add-ons, including what dishes chefs like to eat, upcoming openings, food trends and more. Dig in!
320 E. Mason St., 414-276-2720 ◆ Downtown ◆ German
Perhaps no opening in the first half of 2016 was as highly anticipated as the revamping of a German institution that dates to 1904. When c.1880’s Thomas Hauck bought the restaurant, he also found himself knee deep in tchotchkes, priceless and otherwise. While Patrick and Libby Castro of LP/w Design Studios worked on streamlining the interior, keeping the aura of tradition, Hauck was poring over old menus and recipes and deciding just how traditional to be – well, quite. It’s great to see a new owner-chef holding the reins, because this monolith needed freshening, but one doesn’t want to stray too far from established custom. Sauerbraten, liver dumpling soup, Usinger sausages – these are the sorts of specialties Deutschlanders want back. They get those classics and then some. Although early visits were marred by wobbly service, just as it took time to rifle through the remnants of Ratzsch’s past, it may simply take a little time to get it back up to speed. Thrilled to have you back, Ratzsch’s!
Try this: smoked salmon with potato pancakes and sour cream; crackling pork shank (served impaled by a knife) with spaetzle; pork schnitzel with anchovy, capers and egg; goose shank with wild rice and pickled cabbage; bienenstich (bee-sting cake)
240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., 414-645-0240 ◆ Fifth Ward ◆ New American
When Andrew Miller left Mequon’s Salotto Zarletti, it was for the promised land of Downtown, where you can barely drive a few blocks without running into construction. Drawn to the energy in and just south of Downtown. Miller and his partners took over the old Moct bar, whose most striking detail is its all-season garage-door windows – perfect for summer and offering plenty of warm natural light in colder months. It’s not easy getting through the first year of business, especially a long Milwaukee winter, but Miller understands that one of the keys is to focus on what you do best. Merriment’s diverse menu offers something for the small-plate lover (an ever-changing dim sum cart), the burger worshipper and the seafood connoisseur (from seasonal soft-shell crab to halibut). This open, airy former warehouse has more warmth than it has had in years.
Try this: pork buns (bao), BBQ short ribs with peanut dressing, baked spicy ranch cheese curds, charbroiled oysters, Merriment burger
Delafield Hotel, 415 Genesee St., 262-646-1600 ◆ Delafield ◆ Small Plates
The 10-year-old Delafield Hotel’s sale to a new owner in 2015 preceded – and prompted – a complete aesthetic and culinary overhaul of the restaurant formerly known as Andrew’s. Where it was once separated into quiet, antiques-laden rooms, the new incarnation named I.d. is modern, lofty and lively, with seating options that include a counter facing the open kitchen. Head chef Jonna Froelich, who’s held the reins of Andrew’s kitchen for the last three-plus years of its life, led the collaborative effort to transform the menu to a crack mix of snacks (roasted stuffed dates, Cuban fritters) and small plates. Froelich’s varied interests (she holds a master’s in British lit) led her to work in restaurants from Telluride, Colo. to Evanston, Ill. She has no intention of keeping I.d.’s menu stagnant and plans to change it often and not according to a schedule, thus giving the menu its tagline “randomly inspired.” There are plenty of spirited choices here, along with bright flavors and seasonal touches.
Try this: beef tongue (any preparation); grilled halibut collar with hominy, pineapple and jicama; wood-grilled octopus; Moroccan lamb kofta; pancetta and artichoke trofie pasta with lemon, hazelnut and eggs; cheese-charcuterie platter; desserts like the butterscotch pot
Shorecrest Hotel, 1962 N. Prospect Ave., 414-509-6074
◆ East Side ◆ New American Supper Club
Several restaurants have cycled through this still-lovely art deco space, but the spectre of the late Snug’s – where mafia don Frank Balistrieri reportedly conducted business – hovers. The location’s legacy continued with the drama factory that was Savoy Room, run by the mob-connected Sally Papia. These dark, elegant digs have history to spare. Craving an “old-style” way of dining, Wolf Peach’s Gina Gruenewald took on this venture and hired Erik Hansen to run the kitchen. A great modern chef who admittedly didn’t have much experience with supper clubs, Hansen divided the menu into classics and modern interpretations that are a bit lighter. The classics are especially easy to lean into on Supper’s Sunday prix-fixe menu, featuring oven-roasted ham with scalloped potatoes and others. Now, a half-year after its debut, the storied venue is starting to hit its stride. I’m rooting for it. After all, a supper club in an old mob hangout should be the cat’s meow.
Try this: Lazy Susan, oysters Rockefeller, trout amandine, veal Holstein, pan-seared duck breast
2165 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-800-7329 ◆ Bay View ◆ Ibero-American
On a muggy night, co-owner Karlos Soriano tells a customer nursing a pisco sour that he’s converting part of the parking lot into a patio. Great idea. Everything goes down easier with a lake breeze. Despite this retreat’s name, cured fish is only one part of the menu, which takes spicy and subtle turns. The owners also know how to set the tone for a lively experience: It’s the mix of cocktails and Latin food that’s approachable and just unusual enough.
Try this: seafood ceviche, esquites (Mexican street corn), lomo saltado (beef stir fry), churrasco (Argentinean grilled beef)
735 E. Center St., 414-930- 0909 ◆ Riverwest ◆ Multi-Influenced Brewery-restaurant
As owner/brewmaster George Bregar keeps the beer tanks at Company in very active use, chef Rosy Rodriguez holds up the back of the house, showing her Puerto Rican heritage with things like fried pig’s ear and plantains. For extra fun and foam, Tuesday’s burger special comes with a token good for a tap beer. Bregar – who started home-brewing when he was director of coffee at Colectivo roaster – has been on fire with his brews, including a German sour beer brewed with whole oysters.
Try this: fried pig’s ear with fish sauce, Company burger, house-made lamb merguez with warm white bean salad, roasted pork shoulder with Puerto Rican rice, whole roasted branzino
Iron Grate BBQ
4177 S. Howell Ave., 414-455-1776 ◆ South Side ◆ Barbecue
Promotional material for this South Side Q joint spotlights “Edna,” the 500-gallon hand-built smoker that blows the marvelous smell of smoked meats down Howell Avenue. Not bad advertising. Aaron Patin – a zealot of meats smoked and cooked outdoors – cohabits a building with Hawthorne Coffee Roasters. They share the ambiance in this open, homey room where you can order “Meat-and-3s” and a cappuccino. Iron Grate’s pièce de résistance is what Patin calls the Milwaukee Rib, a succulent cut from the pork belly. This chef isn’t trying to mimic any regional Q. It’s about the smoky skills of Edna. Patin’s tangy tomato-based sauce is served on the side. (A beer-wine license was in the works, at press time.) In a town not known for great barbecue, Iron Grate is a boon to Q fans.
Try this: the Milwaukee Rib (a cut from the pork belly), beef brisket, mac and cheese, baked beans, house pickles
315 E. Wisconsin Ave., 414-369- 3683 ◆ Downtown ◆ Spanish/Portuguese
Here’s a restaurant that almost didn’t open. In 2014, Gregory and Orry León were doing pop-ups and looking for a home to serve Spanish-Portuguese cuisine – dining reflective of Gregory’s Venezuelan upbringing. One day as the couple were on their way Downtown, a city bus dropped them off near an empty storefront. The building was bare-bones, but lo and behold, it had a kitchen hood. After months of renovation, they opened intimate, vibrant Amilinda, where Gregory can see his diners from his post in the tiny kitchen. The chef isn’t afraid to be bold with his rich menu (sometimes featuring handmade blood sausage), editing it every week. That makes a meal here almost always a happy surprise, as well as a dining experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Try this: asparagus paté with fermented ginger carrots and beauty heart radishes; seared beef and watercress salad; lamb T-bone with onion jam on golden lentils, dried apricots and toasted pistachios
Bass Bay Brewhouse
S79W15851 Aud Mar Dr., Muskego, 414-377-9449 ◆ Muskego ◆ American Comfort Food
A half-hour from the city is this serene white structure overlooking Bass Bay. Ryan Oschmann, whose past-tense The Eatery had an East Side following, partnered with pastry chef Kurt Fogle to bring dining back to the Aud-Mar Supper Club, which now looks the part of a casual, wood-beamed brewpub. Despite Fogle’s classic training and years making edible art, he might seem the least likely candidate for a fried chicken sandwich obsession. Not so fast. Bass Bay makes home cooking as welcome as a deck chair in the shade on a 90-degree day. Muskego’s gain is well worth the drive from Downtown.
Try this: fried curds, oysters Rockefeller, hangover burger, wedge salad, chicken fried chicken, pot roast, bone-in pork chop with mustard spaetzle
1230 W. Brady St., 414-226- 6640 ◆ East Side ◆ Small Plates
The owners of the Thai-namite restaurants sought to open a place that’s “not in their wheelhouse,” says manager Todd Hasselbacher. They accomplished it, opening an international small-plates venue in the location of a former competitor (Mai Thai). The physical contrast to Easy Tyger’s predecessor is marked – where Mai Thai was reticent and calming, the successor is colorful and buzzy. Chef Evan Greenhalgh keeps a spring in the restaurant’s step, too. In addition to the regular dinner menu of 15 choices, Greenhalgh weaves in a nightly special (grilled NY strip with morels and ramp butter, for instance). The place is certainly working to incentivize visits with Monday’s all-night happy hour, featuring a half-dozen discounted small plates, and a Sunday brunch that will have you at “house-made doughnuts.” The name suggests a playful attitude it truly lives up to.
Try this: suppli (fried risotto balls), char siu brisket steamed buns, jerk pork, halloumi (Greek grilled cheese) with roasted beets, pig-ear nachos
Openings that missed the cutoff
These new restaurants can’t come soon enough.
Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, 200 N. Broadway
It’s hard to believe the Third Ward’s cachet could grow more than it has in the last decade but with the opening of this high-profile hotel, it’s inevitable. Chicago chef Heather Terhune (of “Top Chef” fame) was tapped to run this Mediterranean restaurant with rooftop patio dining.
Third Coast Provisions
724 N. Milwaukee St.
This summer of 2016 opener promises fish and oysters in the old home of Carnevor steakhouse (which moved nearby). Other details about it have been shrouded in secrecy. Co-owner/chef Andrew Miller is also busy keeping the kitchen in full stride at Merriment Social.
833 E. Michigan St.
Besides a primo menu of aged beef, the restaurant showpiece of the new 833 East building offers an outdoor patio – essential for gazing at movers-and-shakers.
360 E. Erie St.
Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite left their respective jobs (Hinterland and Odd Duck) to cook Chinese cuisine, only not in the style of the great chefs of Hong Kong. The duo have been cagey about their menu, but look for takes on potstickers and char siu pork.
Good City Brewing
2108 N. Farwell Ave.
One summer ago, Crank Daddy’s sold bikes and gadgets for cyclists. A huge conversion project has been underway since March to turn this garage-like space into an urban brewery, taproom and eatery. Australia native Guy Davies left The Rumpus Room to bring a foamy edge to the menu.
823 E. Hamilton Ave.
Like Minds – co-owned by Sanford’s Justin Aprahamian – almost didn’t get the OK to open here (owing to a Wisco beer law prohibiting resto operators from getting a brewery permit). After jumping that hurdle, Aprahamian and partner John Lavelle secured the lease on the former Hamilton bar, now home of their MKE brewing facility and kitchen. Expect casual, beer-friendly food.