I was asked to create a list of what I’m craving right now. My initial reaction came in the form of a question, but rather than “Where do I begin?” it was, “Where do I end?”
There are simply so many great things to enjoy in this city, whether they’re culled from the menus of new additions to our ever-growing scene or established businesses. From the vintage camper trailer serving Liège-style waffles at farmers markets to a sophisticated Spanish-influenced steakhouse dry-aging its 32-ounce ribeye steaks.
The list includes some food-and-beverage trends (ramen, tiki cocktails, tuna poke bowls), as well as Milwaukee classics like the revered Friday beer-battered fish fry. Use this handy compendium to find just what you’re craving, much as our monthly dining reviews in Milwaukee Magazine act as a guide to help you make informed dining choices.
1. Dry-Aged Rib-Eye
The brightest spot in a visit to Hotel Madrid’s Bodegón is the 32-ounce, bone-in, dry-aged rib-eye, as juicy, tender and flavorful as a 32-ounce steak should be. Eat it slowly on a cushioned chair near a resplendent wall-mounted gaucho suit, and you’ll wonder what seat of elegance you walked into.
(600 S. Sixth St.)
L’Oreos from C. Adams Bakery are (inches) thicker, creamier and richer than the Nabisco milk dunkers. And yes, I might pull them in half and lick the cream filling off first. Priorities.
(Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St.)
3. Aebleskiver Pancakes
Not your typical weekend flapjacks, Goodkind’s aebleskiver pancakes are light but rich puffs of dough stuffed with grand cru cheese and served with grape jam. Not quite filling enough to be a main course, they’re a delicious sweet to share with a friend before diving deeper into Goodkind’s imaginative Sunday brunch menu.
(2457 S. Wentworth Ave.)
4. Crazy Flying Dragon Maki
Kyoto, a wildly popular strip-mall Japanese establishment in Greenfield, keeps the maki rolls flying out of the kitchen. My palate goes crazy when a certain rolled rice-fish-seaweed wrapper creation arrives at my table. It’s the Crazy Flying Dragon Maki, which uses spicy tuna, avocado and whole eel to sublime effect.
(7453 W. Layton Ave.)
There are certainly times I like a bargain, and I always am willing to share. The sizable appetizer platter of Italian meats, cheeses and Greek and Sicilian olives, pepperoncini and cherry peppers with grilled bread – called the Ciccio – at Nessun Dorma is a meal. One I like to share with a pal.
(2778 N. Weil St.)
6. Lobster Potholes
When Third Coast Provisions opened in late 2016, the menu showed some interesting twists and turns, particularly in the small plates. I homed in on one of the most decadent things on the menu – lobster potholes. It’s still my go-to there. The hunks of lobster and crab meat are submerged in herb butter. It’s meant to be scooped on the toasted sourdough bread that comes with it. You will not want to share!
(724 N. Milwaukee St.)
7. Seekh Kebab
The traditional Pakistani seekh kebab seems fairly simple – minced, skewered meat baked in a tandoor and served with chutneys (mint, tamarind) and basmati rice. The beef kebabs at Anmol have this delicate flavor profile, a heady mix of cumin, coriander, black pepper, garlic plus the heat of jalapeno peppers. Use caution, however, this dish is potentially addictive.
(711 W. Mitchell St.)
The combo of cheese curds and french fries drenched in meat gravy is the official dish of Canada. Bavette La Boucherie puts a colorful spin on poutine – which appears periodically on the menu – using mushroom gravy, pickled peppers, crispy sweet potato fries and whatever owner Karen Bell wants to feature as a protein – sausage, braised beef or a poached egg.
(330 E. Menomonee St.)
9. Wicked Garden
I wasn’t willing to let go of summer this year. But a certain sandwich helps me capture what I’m missing — color. Light but substantial, Comet Cafe’s Wicked Garden – of grilled beets, shredded carrots, arugula, walnuts, lemon-caper cream cheese and lemon-thyme vinaigrette on toasted multi-grain bread – knits together creamy and crunchy, tangy and pungent into a two-fister of deliciousness.
(1947 N. Farwell Ave.)
10. Pie Gram
This is what I would send to myself instead of flowers: Honeypie’s PieGram. The six-inch, scratch-made pies available in seasonal flavors might put Grandma’s baked goods to shame. A single, double or quadruple order can be shipped anywhere in the continental U.S. by the good old USPS. If any of the available flavors is raspberry Danish, do not hesitate.
(2643 S Kinnickinnic Ave.)
An advantage of a Naples-style wood-burning oven is that, at its high baking temperature, a puffy, lightly charred pizza can pop out in a little over a minute. The Paisano is one of the stars of the pie show at Santino’s Little Italy. Its toppings include tomato and pesto sauces, spicy sausage, two cheeses and cherry tomatoes.
(352 E. Stewart St.)
12. Fish Fry
If you’ve never been to Fritz’s Pub, you just have to change that. It’s open just three days a week, famously on Fridays for its fish fry, which arrives at your modest bar-top place setting as hot and crisp as it should – the fish is mostly beer-battered haddock, sometimes cod. It comes with great seasoned potato wedges, homemade rye, tartar sauce and slaw. A meal sure to yield a good Friday night snooze.
(3086 S. 20th St.)
13. Mai Tai
Some people call it escapism. But retreating to a full-fledged tiki bar – and it doesn’t get any more honest-to-tiki than Foundation – works some magic on the psyche. Not only is the bar’s mai tai (rum, orange Curaçao, orgeat syrup and lime) a classic, perfectly balanced cocktail, the dark, otherworldly setting will transport you to a different place and time. All in moderation, folks.
(2718 N. Bremen St.)
14. Belgian Liège-Style Waffles
Food historians believe the Belgian Liège-style waffle – a crisp-tender iron-baked cake mixed with pieces of pearl sugar – evolved from the 18th century version of brioche. All other waffles must bow to the Liège dominance. It’s an incredible waffle served plain, but the Press MKE pop-up trailer people are creative with their toppings. I love the tangy, savory-sweetness of honey goat cheese and candied bacon.
15. Spicy Crab Bucatini
From my Rolodex of classics, Goodkind’s pasta, which, besides hunks of Dungeness crab, offers an Italian broccoli called rapini and ghost pepperoni (seasoned with ghost chile powder). The bucatini is tossed with San Marzano tomato sauce and a little basil oil. This is the perfect any-day pasta.
(2457 S. Wentworth Ave.)
16. Kimchi Burger
All the things I didn’t know I needed on a burger until I realized I needed them – kimchi, cabbage slaw, spicy mayo, American cheese and Korean BBQ glaze. That’s what Crave Cafe puts on their juicy, smothery-delicious Korean burger. This marvel starts with a third-pound of Black Angus beef and ends with a shiny, sturdy egg-washed bun.
(3592 N. Oakland Ave., 414-204-8778)
17. Moroccan Roasted Carrot Salad
Sans the customary salad greens, Hello Falafel’s Moroccan roasted carrot salad combines high-definition flavor (thanks to ingredients such as dates, charred eggplant and pistachios) with filling Israeli couscous to make an unexpected light meal.
(2301 S. Howell Ave.)
The new restaurant at Pabst MKE Brewery – which opened earlier this year in a restored 144-year-old church on the Pabst grounds – makes some fine contributions to brewpub fare. That includes the polished brat-in-a-blanket, a mild, juicy sausage from Manitowoc’s Ney’s Big Sky farm, wrapped in light, flaky croissant dough and baked. It comes with house kraut, sweet onion marmalade and pickled mustard seeds – add as much as you like. I like a lot!
(1037 W. Juneau Ave.)
19. Hot Pot
Hot pot is the Chinese equivalent of fondue – a communal pot of broth set on a portable burner at the table, ready to cook everything from meat to mushrooms. Huan Xi took the leap to hot pot last year (and karaoke, which you can do after hot-potting!). Don’t be intimidated by the nine soup bases and 100 ingredients offered here. You can’t order wrong if you aim for a mix of protein, vegetables and carbs. A great meal to share with friends.
(2428 N. Murray Ave.)
20. Spicy Tuna Bowl
When the day is gray, Freshfin Poké’s spicy tuna bowl is a cloud break and sun pouring through. This is what healthy eating should look like. If you don’t want much starch in your bowl, substitute mixed greens or blanched kale for white or brown rice. After first gravitating to a signature tuna or salmon bowl, I started building my own with free add-ins and toppings (various veggies, toasted coconut, wasabi, pickled ginger) and mixing sauces like classic soy and spicy ginger. The beauty is in the eye of the bowl builder.
(1806 E. North Ave., and soon at 316 N. Milwaukee St.)
21. Soy Chorizo Taco
Soy chorizo is not just for plant eaters. (Yes, you heard me.) When the tofu’s texture is firm and meaty and chile-seasoned (and colored, with annatto oil), similarly to pork chorizo, meat lovers will jump on board a soy chorizo taco. Café Corazón uses a really tasty product that makes its tacos pop. The sharpness of the radish and creaminess of the queso also help.
(3129 N. Bremen St., 2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)
22. Mint Meltaways
Ring up Jim Fetzer of Northen Chocolate Company and beg him to make your day by opening his door and selling you some meltaways. They will melt the coldest heart.
(2036 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., 414-372-1885)
When Chinese eggplant meets a clay pot, wonderful things happen. Stir-fried with leeks, jalapenos and red pepper, the spongy innards of the fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) absorb the flavors of cooking liquids (soy, fish sauce), the skin softens and the eggplant achieves a silky (not mushy) texture. This is everything that’s great about the spicy house special eggplant in a clay pot at Asian Fusion.
(1609 E. North Ave. Suite C)
24. Tonkotsu Ramen
In this tiny, red-walled, spray paint-blotched room, the Red Light Ramen crew enhances the lusciously fatty broth of their tonkotsu ramen with sliced pork belly, green onions, mushrooms, soy egg (the best!), fermented bamboo shoots, a fish cake called narutomaki and sheets of nori (seaweed). This is deep soul satisfaction, friends. (1749 N. Farwell Ave.)
25. Lobster Mac and Cheese
Side dish or main event – I’d go with the latter, it’s that ample – the lobster mac and cheese at Rare Steakhouse combines copious chunks of meaty, tender lobster tail with creamy cavatappi pasta and browned breadcrumbs.
(833 E. Michigan St.)