01 of 07
3005 University Ave.
The retro neon signage and distinctive stone building draw standing-room-only crowds after Badger games. Gone is much of the up-all-year holiday décor, sports collectibles, and miscellaneous oddities that were conversation starters for decades. Much of this eclectic décor was donated by customers.
No meal reservations are taken. Dinner begins with a relish tray, pickled beets, and the house-blended cottage cheese. Meat lovers who don't want beef can order thick pork chops.
02 of 07
116 S. Hamilton St.
Owner Henry Doane adds a classic supper club vibe to this downtown dining experience. That means wood-paneled walls, stiff Old Fashioned cocktails and hearty fare in generous portions.
Not in the mood for beef? Pork tenderloin and venison filet are additional specialties. Unconventional sides include Yorkshire pudding and Brussels sprouts.
03 of 07
130 S. Pinckney St.
This sleek, downtown Food Fight restaurant clatters with the chatter of government workers and others. It's hard to not think “gangster” because of the tough name and art deco design.
Entrees are presented as delicate art, and steaks are enhanced in all kinds of ways, from a wrap of smoked bacon to a crust of blue cheese. Another draw is the scotch menu (which includes a 21-year-old Glenfiddich).
04 of 07
3530 E. Washington Ave.
Hungry people who like control and cooking are a fine fit for this setting, especially when dining in groups. Partake of the salad bar, then choose a cut of meat (or seafood) from a cooler and prepare it on huge charcoal grills.
It's not unusual to see somebody with tongs nursing a beer or glass of wine while debating proper grilling technique. Add Texas toast (to the grill, if you'd like) and a baked potato. The communal dining experience is an all-you-can-eat deal.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
222 E. Olin Ave.
This unusual-looking building of bricks and curves houses a proud history as a temporary refuge for the Chicago mafia in the 1920s. What used to be on the outskirts of Madison today is near the Alliant Energy Center Coliseum, which draws some of the city's biggest concert and event crowds.
Add a “loaded wedge”—chunk of iceberg lettuce topped with bacon, tomato, and French roquefortto — 23-ounce “cowboy steak” (ribeye). The Chicago Chop arrives with an apple-herb stuffing.
06 of 07
449 Grand Canyon Dr.
Jim Delaney's west-side business opened in 1975, and servers still deliver Angus cuts that are aged at least one month, then seasoned with a proprietary spice blend and charcoal grilled.
Photos of a much younger Madison surround diners, who are seated in one of six homey rooms. Expect a fat wine list and, before the steaks, savor house-made sourdough bread.
07 of 07
5339 Lighthouse Bay Dr.
This family-owned waterfront restaurant is a sunset favorite, especially during summer, when customers nurse cocktails outdoors, steps from Lake Mendota. Some diners arrive by boat; others begin a Betty Lou Cruises tour or meal from this point.
Mariner's opened in 1966, and most of the meat comes from Neesvig's, a local business with family ties and around since 1913. Chef specialties include the whiskey peppercorn sauce. The hash browns and au gratin potatoes draw raves.