Downtown Milwaukee has a great food scene that tempts both locals and visitors to the area with a wide variety of cuisine and ambiance. Whether you're looking for a place to dine before an event, searching for a suitable spot to take out-of-town guests, or you want to try a new restaurant in the area, here are some of the city's best dining options.
Type of cuisine: Steakhouse
Part of the new wave of steakhouses cropping up in downtown Milwaukee, the decor at Carnevor is as indulgent as the cuts of meat. A dim, cave-like atmosphere features stone walls and recessed lighting. Even the salads are a main event (like the Carnevor steak salad, with filet-mignon tips on top of local spring greens and haystack onions). Steaks are divided into Prime Cuts and Reserve Cuts (such as Japanese Wagyu). Those looking for more surf than turf can opt for entrees like South African lobster tail or Alaskan king-crab legs.
Mason Street Grill
Type of cuisine: Steakhouse
Part of The Pfister hotel, this glam steakhouse hosts live jazz in its bar nearly every night of the week. The idea is to share vegetable side dishes (like creamed corn and black-truffle creamed spinach) family-style, paired with steaks and seafood entrees. Vegetarians can find great options with the flatbreads as well as entree-sized salads (like butternut squash and kale).
Type of cuisine: Spanish
Tucked into a long, narrow storefront on East Wisconsin Avenue, chef-owner Gregory Leon cooks a love letter to Spain and Portugal at Amilinda, using many locally sourced ingredients. Try the starter of dumplings in caper and tomato sauce followed by an entree of lamb meatballs or striped bass for an eclectic, delicious meal. Wines skew Spanish, and there is a nightly vegetarian entree.
Type of cuisine: Burgers
After appearing on the Travel Channel's "Food Wars" show—competing against Milwaukee's own Sobelman's and snagging first place for its cheeseburger—this burger joint catapulted into fame. The apps are fun, such as "frickles" (fried pickles) and poutine (a Montreal import), and each of the seven quarter-pound patty options is a signature take on burgers (like the Medusa, with pepper-jack cheese, Nueske's bacon and Cajun spices). There's even three meatless options for vegetarians.
Type of cuisine: Cuban
A perennial favorite on what has become known as Milwaukee's Restaurant Row, Cubanitas is the city's only Cuban restaurant, led by chef-owner Marta Bianchini, who grew up in Cuba. On the menu are traditional Cuban eats like empanadas, sandwich Cubano, and nightly specials that include Cuban baby-back ribs on Tuesdays. Fish entrees are plentiful and carry a Cuban twist, such as plantain-encrusted salmon and ropa vieja (shredded flank steak with tomato sauce).
The Rumpus Room
Type of cuisine: Gastropub
The Bartolotta Group's casual member—sister restaurants include Bacchus and Lake Park Bistro—is known for its craft cocktails and wide beer selection, but the food is just as artisan-focused, ranging from a Scotch egg or bacon-and-cheese-curd flatbread as a starter to pork schnitzel and duck-confit mac-and-cheese as entrees.
Type of cuisine: Italian
Skewing modern in nature, the Italian dishes at Zarletti are inspired by recipes from chef-owner Brian C. Zarletti's Italian grandmother. Starting with antipasti (shareable items like char-grilled, pancetta-wrapped shrimp), the menu is comfort food at its finest, whether it's a bowl of zuppa or pasta fruitti di Mare.
The King & I Restaurant
Type of cuisine: Thai
An institution for Thai dining in downtown Milwaukee, The King & I Restaurant features signature eats like "Volcano Chicken" and "Drunk Man Noodles," plus Thai classics like mango curry, Pad Thai, and crispy duck.