Milwaukee Neighborhood Guide: Lower East Side

East of the Milwaukee River, one can find a dizzying array of food and culture.

I’m saving the Lower East Side’s Brady Street for an upcoming feature, but for now, consider a walk up and down Prospect Avenue and Farwell Avenue — tucked in between the apartment buildings and condos, historic homes and duplexes — for an array of eclectic dining options and a diverse range of art galleries and theatres.

Eclectic Fare

The Lower East Side offers everything from Korean to Japanese (Red Light Ramen and Fushimi Sushi & Seafood Buffet) to Thai and Laotian dining experiences (EE-Sane Thai-Laos Cuisine and The Elephant Cafe). While one can also find the ever-popular Beans & Barley, Koppa’s Fulbeli Deli and multiple pizzerias (Zaffiro’s Pizza, Ian’s Pizza, Jet’s Pizza, Toppers and Pizza Shuttle), these twelve restaurants truly speak to the flavor of the Lower East Side.

Leo & Shop at Rice N Roll

→ Ethiopian Cottage Restaurant

Where: 1824 N. Farwell Ave.

If you’ve never used your fingers to scoop up a spicy wat stew with a piece of spongy, crepe-like injera, you don’t know what you’re missing. Ethiopian Cottage is the place to try dozens of wats and other traditional dishes with beef, chicken, lamb, seafood or vegetables.

→ Strange Town

Where: 2101 N. Prospect Ave.

The menu at Strange Town is 100% plant-based, with small plates that could include heart of palm crudo and larger plates like eggplant involtini and arancini (stuffed fried rice balls) with smoked cashew cheese. The space is open, airy and intimate.

→ Maharaja

Where: 1550 N. Farwell Ave.

You’ll feel like royalty when you take a tour of India at Maharaja: sample samosas and pakoras, paneer and naan, curries and any one of their succulent tandoor delicacies. And save room for gulab jamun donuts with cardamom and syrup.

→ Ardent

Where: 1751 N. Farwell Ave.

Intimate and contemporary, Ardent offers a tasting menu that can also be accompanied by drink pairings. Expect to go all in and spend a relaxing (and surprising) evening. Past menu items have included celeriac, white chocolate and trout roe and spaghetti with white clam sauce and seaweed.

→ Pho 43

Where: 1814 N. Farwell Ave.

Priding itself on “healthy and authentic Vietnamese cuisine,” Pho 43 offers ten different pho soups but also many other noodle options, including Singapore Curry Noodles and Vermicelli with Egg Rolls. The family got its inspiration from a Saigon street-side pho vendor’s unique recipes.

→ Simple Cafe

Where: 2124 N. Farwell Ave.

The interior is modern, spacious and simple but the menu at Simple Cafe is anything but (unless by “simple” they mean fresh, local ingredients). Try inspired items like the Mashed Potato Omelet with bacon and green onion, the Korean BBQ Breakfast Bowl or the Lemongrass Turkey Meatball Banh Mi.

Simple Cafe

→ Rice N Roll Bistro

Where:  1952 N. Farwell Ave.

Rice N Roll could be called Rock N Roll, because that’s what your taste buds will do with every bite — and not just with the sushi. Savory curry puffs, a crunchy crab salad and one of the best Pad Thais in the city are only a few menu highlights. And don’t pass up one of the unique Chef’s Winter Specials like the Softshell Shrimp Karaage, a fun take on Japanese fried chicken.

→ Good City Brewing

Where: 2108 N. Farwell Ave.

You’ll find lots of good at Good City Brewing (motto: “Seek the Good”), with eight year-round beers and nine seasonal varieties, plus an upscale bar menu featuring their tasty curry fries, barramundi po’ boy, Salade Nicoise and an incredible smoked tempeh gnocchi that’s to die for.

→ Stone Bowl Grill

Where: 1958 N. Farwell Ave.

First-timers should try one of Stone Bowl Grill‘s specialties: a bibimbop (literally “mixed rice”) hot stone bowl filled with vegetables and beef, tofu, squid or kimchi cheese. Once you’ve mastered the bibimbop, try barbecuing a Seoul Bulgogi or Chadol-bagi brisket or boiling thinly sliced beef and vegetables — all at your table.

→ Comet Cafe

Where: 1947 N. Farwell Ave.

Their kitchen is open until midnight every day, so there’s no excuse not to grab a table at Comet Cafe and try the famous open-faced meatloaf, the pork chop sammie or a full-on Benedictator with bacon, avocado, poached eggs and jalapeno hollandaise. If there’s a long line, it’s definitely worth the wait.

→ Sip & Purr Cat Cafe

Where: 2021 E. Ivanhoe Pl.

You’ll have to wait until early summer 2018 to visit this “purrfect” (their pun) space to enjoy coffee, wine and beer in the cafe area and the separate Cat Lounge, where you can enjoy the company of happy purrers — and maybe even adopt one, since Lakeland Animal Shelter is Sip & Purr Cat Cafe‘s number one partner.

→ Von Trier

Where: 2235 N. Farwell Ave.

It’s such a beloved landmark that the community recently helped save Von Trier from closing and rebranding after almost 40 years. Recently reopened after renovations, this popular bar will remain German-centric, with a new food menu that promises sharable items like spätzle and pretzels, salads and Wurst.

Arts & Culture

Lower East Side stalwarts like the Oriental Theatre (opened in 1927 and soon to be operated by Milwaukee Film) and the Charles Allis Art Museum (over a century old) have been joined by new arts destinations like the Black Cat Mural Alley (almost a year-and-a-half old).  The following six institutions, too, offer something for everyone, from visual art and music to theater and history.

The Green Gallery

→ Gallerie Kenilworth

Where: 1500 N. Farwell Ave.

Until Mar. 2, Gallerie Kenilworth is exhibiting “Goodhopehouse” (a translation of the German Gutehoffnungshütte, a German steel manufacturer known for its ubiquitous I-beams), a collection of abstract work from seven Berlin artists.

→ The Green Gallery

Where: 1500 N. Farwell Ave.

Until Feb. 24, the powerhouse that is The Green Gallery is exhibiting works by nationally known Jamaican-born artist Paul Anthony Smith in its unassuming little space that used to be a pizza place. Look for the large green rectangle.

→ MOWA on the Lake

Where: 1800 N. Prospect Ave. 

The Museum of Wisconsin Art‘s satellite gallery at Saint John’s On the Lake retirement location features four exhibits a year. Pat Kroth’s “High Thread Count: Art Quilts” uses found objects to create pattern, texture, and meaning and runs from Feb. 15-May 14.

→ Jewish Museum Milwaukee

Where: 1360 N. Prospect Ave.

In addition to its core exhibit exploring Jewish life and culture in Wisconsin, the Jewish Museum Milwaukee is currently featuring a fascinating exhibit as part of the “200 Nights of Freedom” commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Open Housing Marches. Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rights can be experienced through Mar. 25.

→ Shank Hall

Where: 1434 N. Farwell Ave.

If it’s music you’re craving, Shank Hall has been serving up a diverse group of acts since 1989. Upcoming shows include Cory Branan’s country punk (Mar. 8), the Pundamonium pun slam (Apr. 6) and New Wave Fest (Apr. 21).

→ Theatre Gigante

Where: 1925 E. Kenilworth Pl. 

The innovative “theatre of big ideas” will serve up Slovenian playwright Rok Vilčnik’s “TARZAN: An Exotic Drama” — featuring middle-aged Tarzan and Jane and the fate of the world — from Mar. 16-24. Theatre Gigante turned 30 last year.