This indispensable and (we say) indisputable resource will hook you up with just the eating and drinking vibe you're looking for — from the ideal alfresco table to the most succulent street food.
The sky is high, the breezes warm and the evenings glowing. Now it’s time to eat every meal outdoors and make street fare an official food group.
Here, we knit together the best in open-air dining with obsession-inducing seasonal cocktails and places that simply need a side of steamy heat or a perfect summer sunset to complete. Make it your goal to experience it all by summer’s end. Starting now!
Map It Out
In these walkable neighborhoods – Bay View, the East Side and Walker’s Point – spend an evening patio-hopping. Start with a cocktail at one spot, followed by dinner, and finally a nightcap and dessert under the stars.
Cozy, intimate and courtyard-like, the feel is of a small beer garden in Amsterdam. The Happy Departures menu (Mon-Thurs, 3-6 p.m.) features half-priced curated beers, bar snacks and an arepa (corn cake) of the week.
2306 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.,
The cheerful, pergola-topped backyard patio at the younger of Corazon’s two locations is as festive as can be, with flowery oilcloth-covered tables and red chairs. Duck in on Taco Tuesday for the $5 tart-sweet margaritas and $2 tacos.
2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.,
When LuLu’s owners Cam Roberts and Sarah Jonas added a second storefront in 2004, they installed window-doors that open so that even when you’re seated inside, the air breezes through the room. And if you can snag one of seven sidewalk tables, it’s prime people-watching territory here. Settle in with your shiitake burger or summer beet & blue salad.
- Includes a dog-friendly patio
2261-2265 S. Howell Ave.,
Picnic tables mimic the casual indoor tone of this counter-service bar, where the sausage in all forms (vegan, too) is god. The enclosed yard is pure chill, tree-shaded, with strings of twinkly white lights.
“Best hipster picnic vibe”
2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.,
The deck at this fish shack next to the KK River is everything. Dotted with picnic tables and umbrella-topped seats, it’s close enough to the city that you can see our “skyscrapers” and far enough that you feel you’re on a maritime island. Skip the so-so food and just drink.
1955 S. Hilbert St.,
This quiet, fenced yard has rocked the patio dining world since long before the cozy corner spot opened in 2002. It’s like being at an intimate backyard dinner party for two, romance building at a bistro table under the setting sun. The food menu has a Latin bent, courtesy of chef Martin Magana. Order the pepita-crusted sea bass or new Taiwanese three-cup chicken with jasmine rice.
2499 N. Bartlett Ave.,
This 1927 French Moorish building (home in the 1960s to a counterculture cafe called The Avant Garde) breathes charm – ambiance that this plant-based joint has captured inside and out. And out – the sidewalk patio, that is – means lots of fragrant herbs and edible fl owers. “We’re really going for garden vibes this year,” says co-owner Mia LeTendre. Soak up the diverse tunes on vinyl spilling through the screen door and sip a summer bev – a killer rosé or CBD kombucha on tap.
2101 N. Prospect Ave.,
Geared for summer noshing, the sidewalk structure at this new food hall is anchored by greenery and small trees and protected from the side street (Kenilworth Place) by noise-buffering wooden fencing. It keeps the feel urban and private at the same time. Seven vendors offer everything from fresh pasta to raw oysters to (awesome) BBQ brisket smoked in-house.
2238 N. Farwell Ave.,
Here the alfresco mojo has to do with the triangle-like shape of this patio where Downer and Hackett avenues meet. Young families, older couples and singles of every age shopping, walking, drinking their Starbucks. It’s easy-breezy and so close to the lake. Order a Belgian beer, some frites with dipping sauces and just chill.
2608 N. Downer Ave.,
ONE OF THE city’s buzziest areas for dining and nightlife, this edgy, industrial area spotlights bustling, funky Second Street, where restaurants and bars stir the melting pot of cuisines from small plates and immigrant fare to back-to-basics, Wisco-strong cuisine. The feast spreads east and west on National Avenue to Fifth Street and beyond. With doors open and patios beckoning, it’s the consummate time to explore.
It’s not just Harley riders who flock for Thursday Bike Nights, a vision of boots, chaps and tattoos. The casual, sophisticated new menu includes wings with smoked schmaltz (rendered fat) and scallops with peas and pickled rhubarb.
500 W. Florida St.,
The huge back patio is where Madrid hosts special cookouts (there’s an outdoor kitchen) and weekly paella nights. There’s seating under a pergola and at the new outdoor bar. Share the braised lamb empanadillas, roasted shishito peppers and chorizo meatballs.
600 S. Sixth St.,
Garage doors open to a concrete slab that o ers sunny benches and tables. It’s where you want to devour the Gatsby sandwich stuffed with bologna, sirloin and french fries.
630 S. Fifth St.,
A little “hidden” back patio enclosed by vine-covered fencing. Bypass the wings and fried curds and get the delish Brussels sprout grinder sandwich.
434 S. Second St.,
An arbor-covered side patio is open but hushed. The menu gets fancy-tasty with citrus-caper skate wing and bacon-brie filet mignon.
704 S. Second St.,
The covered deck features a lounge area in front of a brick fireplace, plus green space for mingling. From the small-plate menu, order the seafood polenta cakes with andouille, Colombian beef empanadas and Chinese pork-shrimp dumplings.
125 E. National Ave.,
Mirrors the higher-end bar menu served at the East Side location, and adds pizzas baked in a stone hearth. Doors made of floor-to-ceiling glass open to the breezy patio, which spreads out dozens of four-top tables all the way to the pedestrian plaza border. Useful fact: You can drink your Good City beer anywhere on the plaza.
333 W. Juneau Ave.,
This sports bar on steroids tries to mimic the experience of being at a live sports event. The facility’s beer garden is also on a grand scale, with a massive TV screen facing picnic-table seating, tap beers and a jazzed-up bar food menu created by former Hinterland chef Matt Kerley.
1134 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave.,
Two floors of deck-style patio (all told, 75 seats) facing the pedestrian plaza, which is an action-packed view to take in alongside your chicken-fried chicken, “sheet-load” of nachos and cocoa-dusted carnitas tacos.
1122 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave.,
What’s Your Scene
Enclosed by privacy fencing and often dotted with trees and foliage, yards offer an intimate tone, while sidewalk tables create a high-energy urban experience.
Head through the glass door inside the art deco diner out to the pretty ivy-covered courtyard, a hidden garden of sorts and serene spot to savor the breakfast-lunch-brunch menu’s avocado toast, Plaza scramble and lemon-poppyseed pancakes.
1007 N. Cass St.,
The aura of a secret space pervades the walled rear patio at this buzzy Shorewood social house serving great veggie-centric, non-bar food. Grab your beer or margarita and a po’ boy or buffalo fried cauliflower (it’s so good) and head back for some R&R under the stars.
4488 N. Oakland Ave.,
Brick-surfaced, with creeping vines on the brick buildings that surround it and a handsome trellis festooned with bicycle wheels, the comfortable enclosure offers patio pitcher specials for cocktails and beers, too. Sound sippers for the spicy Memphis fried chicken with slaw and hushpuppies you’re gonna order.
1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave.,
The handsome square wooden terrace welcomes diners to this beer hall eatery. It’s the first thing they see, and diners can spill right out the open window-doors to the 75 outdoor seats. Milwaukee Brewing, occupying part of Building 42 on the former Pabst brewery grounds, offers 10 beers on tap – just a fraction of the diverse sippers available here. Modern bar food is the menu drill, with real-good Korean fried chicken wings, disco fries and Buffalo sprouts. A rooftop patio seating 200 was to open in June.
1130 N. Ninth St.,
The owners – who operate adjacent Nepalese restaurant the Cheel – call this a beer garden, but it’s much more. The verdant, fenced garden offers ice cream drinks and its own menu of things like kaffir lime chile sausage, chickpea tofu veggie wrap and raisin slaw. Plus, live music!
107 Buntrock Ave., Thiensville
The Back Yard at View MKE
The former Wolf Peach in Brewers Hill retains the two-level patio, and the 100- seat main lower deck, (called The Back Yard) is maximized for skyline viewing and resting your backside on sofas, next to the outdoor bar and fire pits. Skip the pizzas and eat small plate style, such as smoked mushroom sopes and seafood ceviche.
1818 N. Hubbard St.,
This summer, these adjacent Tosa patio all-stars promise to be better – and busier. The pedestrian bridge that heads west in between the two restaurants (and overlooks the Menomonee River) has been expanded for a beer garden. This means more seats and richer river ambiance, plus charcuterie boards, fried brick cheese curds and frozen cocktails like frosé.
7677 W. State St., Wauwatosa
7700 Harwood Ave.,
On the Roam
MAGGIE REID AND BRYAN PHILLIPS have molded their FOXFIRE food truck into MKE’s mobile source for burgers and hot chicken sandwiches. And they’ve got a busy summer ahead. Base kitchen camp for them is Hawthorne Coffee Roasters (4177 S. Howell Ave.), where Wednesday through Saturday, they do a core menu of sandwiches like hot fried chicken and grilled kimcheese and vegan fried cauliflower, plus daily specials (burger Thursday, fried fish Friday, hot chicken and waffles Saturday). Other places you can find them include the NEWaukee Night Markets, once a month at Bay View’s Burnhearts bar and some Chill on the Hill Tuesdays. And in partnership news, Foxfire is making the gas station-inspired sandwiches served at Bay View’s new The Mothership bar, which offers the pre-made hot chicken (or egg, or vegan chickpea) salad creations in a grab-n-go cooler. Sweet, right?
Strategize your food truck experience
MAGGIE REID, one-half of Foxfire’s culinary team, keeps the line of customers moving as best she can and has some tricks for making it all run more smoothly from the diner side. Pocket this advice for all your street food adventures.
2. Grab silverware and napkins from the dispenser ahead of time. “Be conscious of what you need,” says Reid, which means being aware of the supply of napkins so there’s enough for everyone.
3. Just like you tip your server at a restaurant, tip your truck. Even just a buck per order “helps us get by,” says the small-business owner.
4. Use the trash can that’s available on the premises instead of the ground, a window well, etc. Be respectful of the space.
Zocalo Food Park was scheduled to debut in June in Walker’s Point (at 636 S. Sixth St.), offering four food trucks, a rotating seasonal food truck and incubator food truck program. Among the concepts are Bowl Cut (Asian rice bowls), Fontelle’s burgers, Scratch Ice Cream and Mazorca tacos. Jesus Gonzalez, owner of Mazorca Tacos, is one of the partners in this venture, which also includes Zocalo’s Tavern, which offers curated craft cocktails and beer. To find out about pop-ups and events, follow @ZocaloFoodPark on Instagram and facebook.com/ZocaloFoodPark.
Find your fast feasts
From pops-on-pedals to arepas-by-truck, the mobile dining options are vast. Here are five faves:
If you can’t visit this truck’s home base at 1125 N. Ninth St. (on the former Pabst brewery grounds), look for its super Filipino specialties like adobo bowl with slow-cooked pork, meat stix and the thin-noodle/cabbage dish called pancit at farmers markets and special events.
Plant-based cooking has gone mainstream, and this funky new mobile restaurant represents a different, very welcome vegan voice. Jack O’Grady and Chase Roldan, who fused two names from their families to form their business moniker, offer plant-based versions of Latin and Filipino dishes (reflecting their ancestral backgrounds). Examples include inasal bahn mi (crispy seitan, in place of chicken), Sonoran cheesesteak on a roll or with chips (carnitas made with jackfruit), steamed dumplings called sio pao and vegan lumpia, which are Filipino egg rolls. They spent spring doing truck takeovers at Taco Moto and will occupy summer with pop-ups at Lost Whale bar in Bay View, Riverwest Gardeners Market on Sundays and other events TBA.
Follow: Instagram @maya.ophelias
Pedal-powered popsicles hit the spot on a warm day. These rad bikes chill out at their destinations stocked with six to eight flavors, such as ginger peach, roasted plum cream and chocolate-covered peanut butter banana. Venues include West Allis Farmers Market on Saturdays and Riverwest Gardeners Market on Sundays.
Follow: Instagram @chillwaukeepops
Some of the best street foods are small, handheld creations you can eat while on a walkabout. Pedro’s nails that definition with its arepas (stuffed and/or topped savory corn cakes), which come with chicken, raja style (peppers) and as a loaded version. The tamales and build-your-own tacos are great, too. Owner Pedro Tejada sets up shop at Schlitz Park (Tuesdays), Milwaukee County Courthouse (Thursdays) and Red Arrow Park (Fridays).
When Bay View’s Boone & Crockett moved to a space at the Cooperage, a special event site in the Harbor District, Taco Moto went along with it. There, you can get your fill of Mitchell Ciohon’s (he’s also co-owner of Snack Boys) bougie tacos while watching the sun set over the Hoan Bridge. New options include the Cuban, fried beet, tofu and fresh fish tacos and an “expensive-cheese quesadilla” that Ciohon calls a … well, we’ll call it a “WTF-adilla.”
Follow: Instagram @tacomotomke
Choose your view
Great people-watching is one thing. Being seated on a rooftop patio, where somehow you feel close to touching the clouds, or a table next to a body of water, the surface glistening and rippling, creates a beyond-memorable visit. Here’s a collection of the best.
You can get swept away just gazing at the sailboats floating near and far on Lake Michigan. This is perhaps the most serene patio in town, with a perfect view of the Calatrava’s wings and the sleek new Northwestern Mutual skyscraper. A salad niçoise and fresh zucchini pasta are among the light summer options. Pair with the Harbor Mist sangria. Music on the HH patio happens Sundays and Mondays (from 3 p.m.) through mid-September.
550 N. Harbor Dr.
With the goal to ensnare land lubbers and sailors, the patio tables have been rearranged to inspire more spirited convo and relaxing nights near the fire pit. “Open-road”-inspired comfort food is the theme, so dig into brisket nachos, wings or a pulled pork sandwich. Kayakers can dock at the patio, too.
Harley-Davidson Museum, 401 W. Canal St.
Wherever you are on the 94-seat multi-level patio (which also includes tables on the main RiverWalk), the Milwaukee River never looked more peaceful or inviting. Explore the massive tequila menu and new summer cocktails, including a mezcal-based piña colada. From the “global” taco menu, there are unusual flavors from chicken shawarma to curry cauliflower. There’s even a seasonal bao bun.
249 N. Water St.
Shaded or not, under the radiant MKE summer sun or nighttime’s twinkly white lights, Benelux’s dreamy roof is always busy. Linger in that comfy rattan patio chair – tables are spaced far enough apart to allow for a little intimacy while still feeling like you’re part of the crowd. If you’re brunching, try the duck confit “wafflebrown” and new Benelux breakfast salad.
346 N. Broadway
The barnwood-lined deck is not only tailor-made for humans to sup intimately (just 18 seats), it’s a green roof with resident bees (the honey, used in various dishes) and edible plant life. Watch the colors change in the Walker’s Point sky while having Braise’s great steamed pork buns, honey-roasted golden beets with couscous and warm chevre en croute. (Dogs welcome on sidewalk patio only.)
1101 S. Second St.
Hop the elevator to the ninth floor, to the indoor/outdoor playground known as The Outsider. Plush cabana-style seating, games and fire pits beckon you outside; repartee with the bartenders and air-conditioned comfort pull you to the comfy inside space. Nosh on blistered shishito peppers, duck-fat steak fries and mini tuna tartare tostadas with a frosé (frozen rosé and Giffard grapefruit liqueur) or a rosé sangria.
The lush Outsider patio serves a cocktail-friendly menu of bites, including beef empanadas, deviled eggs, mini tuna tartare tostadas and pork belly tacos
Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, 310 E. Chicago St.
The garage-door-style sidewalk patio is a sweet spot to sit on Farwell Avenue, to be sure, but you can escape from the traffic cacophony on the partially shaded, beer-garden-style rooftop. Order the chicken laksa (a great Malaysian curry), the Brew Burger with Russian dressing or the niçoise salad with ahi tuna. Good eats to pair with a Good City beer.
2108 N. Farwell Ave.
Drinks and Plates of Summer
ODD DUCK uses numbers, not names, for its cocktails. From left: #19, the fruity, juicy Barsol pisco with Bolivian singani brandy and a lily pad garnish; #26, a light-but-tart mix of gin, Saint Germain, grapefruit, lemon and fresh thyme; and #65, a blend of potent rums and sweet kiwi puree, garnished with fresh mint.
The Golden Pineapple at DANDAN has a sweet, smooth tropical vibe, blending Bali Hai Tiki Gold rum with homemade pineapple shrub, Ancho Reyes, Orgeat almond liqueur, fresh lime and chili spritz. Polynesian pizzazz.
360 E. Erie St., Third Ward
Delicately balancing savory and sweet, GOODKIND’S Crown Shyness merges the complexity of green pepper-infused agave syrup, sweet, full-bodied pineapple amaro and Wollersheim Winery’s white vermouth. Mucho refreshing!
2457 S. Wentworth Ave., Bay View
MERRIMENT SOCIAL’S Millennial Falcon captures the wonderfully lazy, relaxed feel of sipping (or patio-pounding) cocktails. The strawberries, blueberries and fresh lime temper the effects of the organic cucumber vodka – until you’ve had a few.
240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., Walker’s Point
Here are two more seasonal additions:
2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
939 S. Second St.