Milwaukee’s dining scene continues to evolve, weaving in traditional farm-to-table meals that capitalize on the state’s rich agricultural belt as well as fusion spins on ethnic cuisine. The options range from fine dining in upscale hotels to casual eateries where you order at the counter. Regardless of the ambiance, these options are all undeniably delicious.
Many of Milwaukee's hottest restaurants are scattered around the metropolitan area, as far north as Shorewood and all the way down to Bay View neighborhood, with a greater concentration around downtown. Whatever area of Milwaukee you find yourself in, delicious food isn't far away.
Type of cuisine: Italian
Location: East Town
Stella Van Buren—on the third floor of The Westin Milwaukee—is further evidence that hotels are a rising force in cutting-edge culinary trends. Served in a sprawling glass-walled dining space, the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices aren't traditional Italian fare, but the inspiration is clear. Think dishes like bruschetta topped with goat cheese, truffle honey, and strawberries as a starter before easing into heartier meals such as pesto butter and toasted pine nut cheese ravioli. Also, meat lovers take note: this is a sweet spot for a steak.
The brunch menu is pure indulgence with unique Italian-inspired creations such as lemon ricotta pancakes, the prosciutto and egg sandwich, or country-style chicken parmesan. If you enjoy a boozy brunch, the limoncello mimosas or strawberry Aperol spritz are obligatory.
Type of cuisine: Vegetarian, vegan, and health-minded
Healthy and delicious, a meal from Bowl is exactly what you need when your body is craving something fresh and wholesome. Bowl has a variety of prepared meals that are made only from local and high-quality ingredients, split into grain bowls, green bowls, or smoothie bowls. The savory bowls are filled with rice, quinoa, soba noodles, or salad greens as a base, and topped with grass-fed beef, free-range chicken meat, sushi-grade ahi tuna, or a satisfying mixture of vegetables for vegetarians.
The smoothie bowls, on the other hand, contain a blend of fruits and vegetables with açai, sweetened with local unfiltered honey or coconut sugar. If you're looking for something even sweeter, the chia pudding bowls are like eating naturally flavored ice cream sundaes, without the guilty feeling that comes after.
Bowl is casual dining at its best: nutritious, quick, and tasty.
Type of Cuisine: New American
Snazzing up downtown Shorewood as part of an overall trend in this village north of downtown Milwaukee is Cloud Red. The menu shifts nightly based on what ingredients are available and in season, and the casual vibe makes it feel like more of a gathering place—there are board games to play with friends or neighbors—than a fine-dining restaurant. Food options might include grilled pork nachos, shrimp tacos, grilled-steak sandwich with chimichurri, or fresh spring rolls. Nightly specials include Taco Tuesday and Wine Wednesday (you can't beat half-price bottles). It also has a weeknight happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the bar with deals on craft beers, cocktails, and glasses of wine.
The restaurant has a small, cozy feel and does not take reservations.
Type of cuisine: Southern comfort and burgers
Location: Bay View
Crafty Cow is most known for its signature hamburgers, where each patty is stuffed with a different type of cheese that oozes out every time you bite into it. The burger topping options could be considered adventurous—cream cheese, peanut butter, tater tots—but these unique creations are all delicious. A side of fried Wisconsin cheese curds is a decadent way to round out your meal.
Apart from the burgers, Crafty Cow absorbed another popular Milwaukee restaurant, Hot Head Fried Chicken, and serves their full menu as well. Apart from the eponymous fried chicken, enjoy typical southern sides, like mac and cheese, pork belly collard greens, or cheddar grits, along with some not-so-typically southern dishes, like cheese curd poutine or Vietnamese Brussels sprouts.
Type of cuisine: New American
Location: Lower East Side
The Diplomat is home to contemporary twists on old favorites, like the New York strip steak with kohlrabi puree and red wine cocoa nib sauce, or the triple blanched Diplomat fries served with garlic mayonnaise. The menu includes some southern inspiration—collard greens with baked apple or corn grits and pancetta—as well as items with a European flair, such as the baby octopus with Sicilian olives or Medjool date carpaccio.
Be sure to save room for dessert as the sweet selections definitely don’t disappoint, such as peanut butter pie or olive oil cake. Many ingredients are sourced from local farms and reflect what's truly fresh and in season.
Type of cuisine: New American
Location: Avenues West
The Fitz is located inside the 1920s-era Ambassador Hotel, with an Art Deco themed interior and a menu that includes contemporary takes on classic dishes. The Fitz serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The menu includes salads, sandwiches, and burgers, but using creative and locally-sourced ingredients (for example the pork loin sandwich with apple fennel slaw or turkey ciabatta with Wisconsin white cheddar). A typical dinner might begin with a bowl of the fresh soup of the day, later easing into dishes such as chicken Madeira or harissa cauliflower steak.
After dinner, enjoy a drink in the cocktail bar next door by the same owners, Gin Rickey. Their menu includes an eclectic mix of drinks and pays homage to Prohibition-era speakeasies.