The Milwaukee River runs through the heart of downtown Milwaukee and the Third Ward, pulsing by dozens of restaurants. Fortunately, some restaurateurs have heeded the call and positioned tables along the RiverWalk, a 2-mile stretch of the Milwaukee River. From this position, you can view dinner-boats, kayakers, sailboats and other floating evidence that the city’s water scene is thriving.
This chain’s wrap-around seating is among the RiverWalk’s best, with craft beer to boot. Beer packaged under the Rock Bottom label skews outside of Wisconsin into the Pacific Northwest, with hops culled from Yakima Valley, Washington. Food-wise, options range from shareable bar food (from bacon-jalapeño poppers to “ball-park pretzels”) to health-minded, entrée-sized salads. For more hearty fare, try their inventive burgers, entrées and steaks. Save room for a Mason jar-dessert (Bourbon pecan pie or salted-caramel toffee?).
Part of Brew City’s recent craft-beer boom, Madison import Ale Asylum opened a second taproom along the RiverWalk about two years ago. Beer is the main draw, with rotating guest beers from very-local nano breweries (in other words, you’re not going to find these anywhere else) as well as taps that span a variety of styles, from a Belgian IPA (Bedlam!) to an English Porter (Contorter). Wash down your beer with starters like Poutine, Slow Roasted Pork Nachos or Chili Lime Deviled Eggs, or linger longer with dishes such as hot chicken and waffles or jambalaya.
Open in the former Port of Call space since last year, Pier 106 Seafood Tavern boasts a patio snug on the RiverWalk. While some of the dishes are what you expect to find at a seafood eatery (cue New England clam chowder), the menu also features distinctly different dishes like Pretzel Crusted Walleye. Happy-hour specials between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays make this a popular after-work stop.
An institution when it comes to RiverWalk dining — as it’s been open since 1997 — at the Milwaukee Ale House you can also tie up your kayak or boat at one of six slips, should you be arriving by water. The two-level outdoor seating perched above the river is prime real estate on a hot summer day. Brewski options are plentiful on tap—mostly from Milwaukee Brewing Company. Lunch and dinner fare is rooted in comfort foods, including stout pot roast (braised in Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s Sheepshead Stout), and a surf-and-turf flatbread.
As bright, open and airy as its interior is, Riverfront Pizzeria Bar & Grill‘s patio along the Milwaukee River is the best spot. In this far eastern edge of the Third Ward, it’s less crowded and noisy—and the river’s boat scene is still in full view. Open for lunch and dinner, pizza is the main thrust—and the signature pies quite unique, whether you opt for the Thai Chicken or Cheeseburger pizzas—yet there are also pasta dishes, burgers, sandwiches, piadina (popular Italian street-food flatbread) and a Friday fish fry.
As suggested by its name, Milwaukee Sail Loft embraces a maritime theme with two-sided dining just above the river’s edge in the eastern section of Third Ward. Sailors unlock access to drink discounts on Wednesday when they bring in a key float and there are many seafood entrees to select from on the menu, including Sauteed Mussels, Panko Crusted Sea Bass and Roasted Creole Mahi Mahi.
In a quieter corner of Walker’s Point, just off East Pittsburgh Avenue, this sushi spot’s dining area includes a wide strip along the riverfront, near where many yachts and boats dock. On the lunch and dinner menus, naturally, are dozens of sushi choices, although the menu also dips into other Japanese fare such as poke and tempura, plus summertime-perfect salads (grilled orange-hoisin-glazed salmon topping greens and drizzled with sesame vinaigrette is one). Nine different bento boxes on the lunch menu are a nice sampler when you don’t want to choose just one item.