Best of Milwaukee 2018

A guide to what’s great now in this city we all love.

Here’s what MilMag readers deem to be the best of the best in our fair city, plus a few picks from our staff to round out the group. In all, we’ve got more than 60 winners in a wide range of categories, from burger to barber, financial adviser to veterinarian. It’s an amazing, inspiring list of things to eat, drink, experience and appreciate.

Dig In!

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Best Instagram account


James Price, community leader for the account, offers up some solid advice for taking great food photos.



1. PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHTING. Restaurants are often low-light situations. Find a spot where there’s a window or some other light source.

2. LEARN ABOUT YOUR CAMERA. You don’t need to use a professional camera, but spend time learning the capabilities of your phone camera. You can play with the settings, mess around with the filters, set the contrast. It has a lot of capabilities.

3. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE SEEING. It’s OK to get some background – like, if it’s a food truck, get that in the background. Consider the angle. Maybe you want to get up close, or maybe you want an overhead shot, or maybe you want to get a few dishes into the shot. And look at how the food is arranged on the plate. Presentation is huge.

Best brunch

Blue’s Egg

Multiple locations

Best vegetarian restaurant

Beans & Barley

1901 E. North Ave.

Best for special occasions

Lake Park Bistro

3133 E. Newberry Blvd

Best New Restaurant

Birch + Butcher

459 E. Pleasant St.

Best Burger

Kopp’s Frozen Custard

Multiple locations

Best Pizza

Pizza Man

Multiple locations

Best Fish Fry

Lakefront Bewery

1872 N. Commerce St.

Best Hotel Restaurant

Mason Street Grill

(Pfister), 425 E. Mason St.

Best Food Trend

Small Plates

sharing is trendy



Your Best Day Ever!

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1) Listen to Bob & Brian, voted Best Morning Show. 5:30 to 10:15 a.m. weekdays on 102.9, WHQG-FM, The Hog.

2) Grab a mug of Colectivo, the Best Coffee in town. Multiple locations.

3)Work out at the Wisconsin Athletic Club, voted Best Gym. Multiple locations.

Milwaukee Athletic Club. Photo by Nick Collura.

4) Listen to the latest tunes on the Best Radio Station, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

5) Lunch time! What are you in the mood for? Taqueria Buenavista and Falafel Guys share first-place honors as Best Food Truck.

6) See a show at the Best Concert Venue, the Pabst Theater. 144 E. Wells St.

7) Have a nightcap at the Best Place for a Date Night: BLU. Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave.

8) Retire for the night to St. John’s On The Lake, voted Best Retirement Community. 1840 N. Prospect Ave.[/toggler]

Best Sounds

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Best Local Musician

Willy Porter

Best Music Club

The Jazz Estate

2423 N. Murray Ave.

Photo by Max Thomsen
Nearly three decades into his professional music career, Mequon native Willy Porter is still captivating Wisconsinites and global fans alike with his signature mix of folk, blues and rock, coupled with prodigious guitar skills. After our Readers’ Choice poll named him Best Local Musician, Porter spoke with Milwaukee Magazine to discuss his roots, his career so far and what he’s still learning about life and music.

Q: Congratulations! What does winning Milwaukee Magazine’s Best Local Musician mean to you? I grew up in Mequon, I live in Milwaukee now, and my wife is from Menomonee Falls. It’s a real honor. I am eternally grateful that I am still playing music 28, 29 years into doing this as a full-time profession. To still have an audience that wants to hear what I’m doing and comes out to support me, I can’t thank people enough for that, really.

Three decades in, what keeps you excited about making music? I think the wonder of what music can do, what the world is going through right now and how human beings are responding, continues to be fascinating and inspiring for me. There’s always something to write about, that’s for sure. And there’s always something to be excited about in terms of the guitar – that just never stops with me. I always looked at it as though I would continue as a musician, whether I was successful or not. And making a living out of it is just sort of like winning the lottery.


Best Places to Shop

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Help Around The House

Best Decorating and Design Service

The Home Market

309 N. Water St.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST DESIGN TIP? Always start with neutral bases, like a great sofa in a neutral tone, and then you can add color and what-not from there. — Kate Kazlo, owner

Best Landscaper

David J. Frank Landscape Contracting

N120 W21350 Freistadt Rd., Germantown

Best Builder

Tim O’Brien Homes

N27 W24075 Paul Court, Suite 100, Pewaukee

Best Remodeling Contractor

Design Group Three

5050 N. Port Washington Rd., Glendale

DOES REMODELING EVER GO SMOOTHLY? It can be an emotional roller coaster. There will be times when you’re ecstatic and times when you bottom out. There will likely be bumps and surprises along the way. It’s not the surprise that’s the issue, it’s how the company deals with it. — Alan Freysinger, co-owner


Best Vintage Store

St. Vincent de Paul

Multiple locations

Best Home Furnishings Store

Restoration Hardware Outlet

224 E. Chicago St.

Best Women’s Boutique


Multiple locations

Best Wine Store

Ray’s Wine and Spirits

8930 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa

Best Eyewear

Metro Eye

325 E. Chicago St.

Best Liquor Store

Discount Liquor

Multiple locations

Best Men’s Store


3565 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood

TWO AWARDS: Best Place for Gifts & Best Grocery Store


Multiple locations


Best You

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Best Barbershop

Stag Barbershop

3061 S. Delaware Ave.

A predominantly female staff helps set Bay View’s Stag Barbershop apart from the crowd, and may have helped it edge ahead of the pack to win the top spot in its category. Here’s what owner and barber Jess Stern has to say about the business.

Photo of Jess Stern by Max Thomsen

Congratulations on your win! Why do you think readers chose Stag as the best barbershop in town? I think people voted for us because we o er something a little bit different. You come in and you’re greeted, you get a beverage, you get to hang out. It’s a warm, inviting setting. We have that old-school feel, with a little bit of an edge to it. The decor has a masculine feel, but at the same time we have a lot of females in the barbershop as a staff, and women can come in and hang out with their significant others. I think that it’s a place for everyone.

Why did you open a barbershop instead of a hair salon? I grew up with three brothers, and I started cutting their hair at home in the bathroom when I was 12 or 13 years old and developed a passion for men’s hair. When I went to beauty school I did women’s hair, but I really enjoyed cutting men’s hair. There’s a lot of precision that goes into it. Some people say men’s hair is easier than women’s hair [but] they both take a lot of skill.

What do you like about cutting hair in Milwaukee specifically? The community is so tightknit. When people come in here, there’s always going to be someone who knows someone. I find that really welcoming, not only for the customers, but also for us.

Best Acupuncture

Single Point Acupuncture

4601 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood

Best Esthetician

High Brow Waxing Boutique

5630 N. Lake Dr., Whitefish Bay

Best Yoga

Yoga One

Multiple locations

TWO AWARDS: Best Day Spa & Best Hair Salon


Multiple locations


Best Places to Go

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photo by Meghan Quadracci
Best Festival

Bastille Days

Cathedral Square

Best Place for Dancing

Mad Planet

533 E. Center St.

Photo by Joel Miller
Best Family Activity

Milwaukee County Zoo

10001 W. Bluemound Rd.

photo by Jon Mattrisch Photography
Best Art Experience

MAM After Dark

700 N. Art Museum Dr.

Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners

Lakefront Brewery Tour

1872 N. Commerce St.

Photo courtesy of UPAF
Best Local Charity Event

UPAF Ride for the Arts



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Photo by Max Thomson. From left to right: Melinda Wilke, Matheau Recht (owner of Luxe Events), Beth Jaworski, Dr. Jacob Odders, CEO (Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists)
Best Wealth Manager

Melinda Wilke

Northwestern Mutual, 5307 S. 92nd St., Hales Corners

Best Event Planner

Luxe Events

Pictured here: Matheau Recht, owner

Best Realtor

Beth Jaworski

Shorewest, 11622 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa

Best Veterinarian

Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists

Multiple locations

Best Place for Cocktails


1579 S. Ninth St.

Best Brewpub

City Lights

2200 W. Mt. Vernon Ave.

Best Dry Cleaner

Natural Cleaners

Multiple locations

THREE AWARDS: Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners & Best Craft Brewery & Best Fish Fry

Lakefront Brewery

1872 N. Commerce St.

Best Happy Hour & Best Hotel Restaurant

Mason Street Grill

425 E. Mason St.


Editors’ Picks

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Best addition to the skyline

The Coakley Brothers Mosaic Water Tower

Photo by Joe Mattrisch

400 S. Fifth St.

Approaching Milwaukee from the south on I-94, my heart leaps a little when I spot the kaleidoscopic colors of the water tower atop the Coakley Brothers building in Walker’s Point. Erected in late 2017, this plexiglass creation by New York-based artist Tom Fruin seems right at home in our skyline. Thank you, Peg Coakley, for gifting our city with some glittering eye candy. — Carole Niksin

Best Frenchie

Jean Pierre

MEET JEAN PIERRE, the French bulldog that won first place in Milwaukee Magazine’s Cutest Frenchie contest at this year’s Bastille Days. We sat down with Jean Pierre, along with Alison Bohnen, the woman he refers to as “mother,” and asked him how it feels to be a winner.

Photo by Ashley Doelger

What was your favorite part of the Cutest Frenchie contest? It was cool meeting other Frenchies, and tossing back some Champagne and baguettes.

Were you nervous on the day of in-person voting? I’m a pretty confident guy (I still have all my man parts, if you catch my drift) and I was feeling good that day. I had on my favorite jersey and my parents said their friends were there cheering me on.

You looked great in your Bucks shirt! I might be small but I’m a big Bucks fan and I have a huge crush on Mila, Giannis’ goldendoodle. I thought the jersey might help me meet her. Mila, if you’re reading this, let’s go to Camp Bar and check out a Bucks game together! Well, I have a big crush on Giannis, so maybe we can double-date!

What’s the best part about being a French bulldog? I bark with an accent. The ladies really dig it.

Most Welcoming Restaurant

Elsa’s on the Park

Downtown and the East Side have no shortage of places to eat out, but none makes the diner feel as plugged into the city as a whole as Elsa’s. On most evenings, the crowd reflects the real diversity of the city. And the burgers are pretty awesome, too. 833 N. Jefferson St. – Carole Nicksin

Best [Unofficial] Dog Park

County Grounds Park

Sure, there are plenty of dog parks in this area, but what sets the County Grounds apart for this human and his doggos is that it’s a full-on nature immersion, offering acres of scenic open prairie and sylvan woods – and mysterious remnants of the former asylum – all in close proximity to the city. Prepare for many furry-butt-sniff greetings. 9480 Watertown Plank Rd., WauwatosaChris Drosner

Best New Festival

5th Street Fest

A late-September addition to the summer festival circuit, the inaugural 5th Street Fest put its neighborhood’s diversity on center stage. With acts ranging from the dancers of Ballet Folkórico to the queens of Hamburger Mary’s, it’s a great alternative to the stalwarts of the festival scene. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for its second go-around. Saturday, Sept. 22, Fifth Street between Virginia and National avenuesRachel Stinebring

Best 414 Pride

Milwaukee Brewing’s MKE IPA

The People’s Flag remains unofficial, but I think it makes Milwaukee look damn good. And the stylized sun rising above water sure looks sharp on the bottles and cans of Milwaukee Brewing’s citrusy, not-too-bitter MKE IPA. Drink one, and feel proud to be a Milwaukeean. – Chris Drosner

Best Reason to Eat Plants

Strange Town

Melding vegan cuisine that’s more provocative than we’ve seen in this city with out-of-the-box cocktails and a vinyls-only playlist, Strange Town is as refreshing as it is adorably quirky. Frequently changing up the menu keeps it fresh, but I always look for a new seasonal salad; a great, focaccia-like Sicilian pizza of the day; and unexpectedly delicious creations using sea vegetables, mushrooms and leafy greens. 2101 N. Prospect Ave.Ann Christenson

Best Way to Create Change with Your Change

Key to Change Parking Meters

Seven meters stretching from Marquette to Downtown make it a little easier to make a difference, gathering funds for Milwaukee County Housing Division’s Housing First program. I’ll never hear change jingling in my pocket quite the same way. Wisconsin Avenue – Rachel Stinebring

Best Lunchtime Getaway


Ikea Oak Creak
Photo courtesy of Ikea Oak Creek

Sure, there might be better lunch fare out there, but where else can you enjoy Swedish meatballs, salmon filllet with lemon-dill sauce and Daim cake? The prices are a bargain, too – an entrée with two sides is typically $8.99 or less. Hop on I-94 and it’s just a 15-minute drive from Downtown Milwaukee. Tip: Avoid Fridays! 7500 S. Ikea Way, Oak Creek – Paul John Higgins

Best New Song for the Disillusioned Masses

WebsterX — “Feels”


For me, there’s no song that captures the ennui pervasive in our country right now better than “Feels.” WebsterX delivers a forceful, emotional reaction to the current cultural state that continues to haunt me long after the track ends. Released in June, the song is subtle and blunt, depressing and optimistic, and catchy as hell. Available on iTunes and SoundCloud. – Paul John Higgins

Best Reason to Spend A Day Indoors

Milwaukee Film’s Takeover of the Oriental Theatre

Seeing a movie on the big screen beneath the watchful eyes of the Buddhas was always a treat. But now that Milwaukee Film is in charge, there’s reason to believe the programming will be as exotic as the interior. 2230 N. Farwell Ave. – Brock Kaplan

Best New Theater Company

The Constructivists

As an overgrown drama kid, I’ve got a soft spot for scrappy storefront theater companies that manage to tackle weighty subject matter on lean budgets. And the Constructivists, who staged their first show earlier this year (Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries), have demonstrated that they can do that with aplomb. The Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave.Lindsey Anderson

Best Champion of Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth

Courage MKE

Former foster parents Brad and Nick Schlaikowski founded their nonprofit Courage MKE to help the growing problem of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. In late 2018, they hope to open the one-of-a-kind Courage House, a safe haven that will provide counseling, health care, identity-appreciation programs and help with job-hunting. – Ann Christenson

Photo courtesy of Courage MKE

“Best of Milwaukee” appears in the September 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning September 3, or buy a copy at

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