Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, some restaurants get to reveal their best perk yet: outdoor seating. For some, this is a slew of bistro-style tables along the sidewalk in an urban corridor. But for others, the view deepens if the lake or a sweet piece of real estate is right outside the restaurant. From tapas to oysters, here are the 10 best Milwaukee restaurants with outdoor patios.
The Vibe: Coastal-chic and romantic, the outdoor patio hugs the waterfront and boasts a view of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s soaring wings, designed by Santiago Calatrava.
On the Menu: Riffing off its waterfront setting, where a mix of Adirondack chairs and table sets comprise the outdoor patio, the menu features raw-bar items (among the city’s best selection) and a happy hour (4 p.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays) that slashes drink prices to $4-$6 and oysters to $.89 each, plus baskets of garlic-parmesan fries. A $19.95 prix-fixe lunch expands to greater options at dinner, such as whole-roasted branzino or Alaskan king crab legs for entrees.
The Vibe: Behind the restaurant, a patio snakes along the Milwaukee River, with tables set up against the riverside.
On the Menu: While the thrust is salads, sandwiches and shareable starters, the options are eclectic, including lobster-fennel fritters and BBQ chicken mac ‘n’ cheese. On a hot day, items like the blackened-salmon-caesar salad or a cobb salad are refreshing. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday, from the locally famous “unlimited mimosa brunch” to indulgent dishes like Elvis French Toast (bruleed bananas, chocolate ganache and peanut butter).
The Vibe: More Florida Keys than the Midwest, this beach-shack-type spot along the Milwaukee River is hard to find as it’s tucked into a boat yard—and that’s part of the charm.
On the Menu: Nightly specials range from BBQ ribs (Tuesday) to grouper tacos (Monday). Cocktails are poured into glass jars and it’s not uncommon to see a boat or yacht float up to a slip. Seafood is the name of the game here with tropical-inspired baskets (served with coleslaw, fries and rye bread) that include coconut shrimp and fried grouper. Cap off your meal with a slice of key-lime pie. Oysters run a bargain price of $2 each ($1.50 on Tuesdays).
The Vibe: Just like a pub in the Netherlands—from which this café gets its inspiration—there’s plenty of outdoor seating, in bistro-type chairs like ones you’d find in France.
On the Menu: Open all day for brunch, lunch and dinner, the fare spans burgers (seven signature burgers), salads, egg dishes (like omelets), mussels with locally famous frites and comfort-foods like a four-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese and meatloaf. Beer options cover Wisconsin and Belgium. Much of the ingredients are sourced from local farms that are called out on the menu.
The Vibe: Like a secret garden, the patio is behind the dining room in this neighborhood’s industrial corridor. Walled off from the street noise, it’s a romantic oasis, too.
On the Menu: With a tapas-style menu that changes daily (based on what’s in season), options at lunch and dinner represent global eclecticism. Owner Peter Sandroni is a fan of culling from Wisconsin’s farms and Milwaukee food producers and that shows in selections like Colombian empanadas stuffed with Sauve Terre squash, or a seasonal tart folding in Clock Shadow Creamery quark-cheese from down the street.
The Vibe: Right along busy Humboldt Avenue—near the border of the East Side and Riverwest—this taco-focused eatery, which is the first Bel Air Cantina location, flaunts a patio as spacious as its dining room and hugging the Milwaukee River.
On the Menu: Filled with gluten-free and vegetarian options, the lunch and dinner menu expands to brunch items like scrambled eggs mixed with diced chorizo and mozzarella cheese, or chilaquiles verdes. Tacos and other Mexican eats are more upscale than your typical Latin-themed eatery, with lobster tostada and a Korean-beef burrito just two options. Eleven signature margaritas join $2 taps on Tuesday and Thursday. But be warned: Taco Tuesday is wildly popular, so you’ll want to arrive early (or late) for dinner on that date.
The Vibe: A double-decker patio off the back of the restaurant overlooks the Milwaukee River and a popular waterway for yachts, boats and dinner cruises.
On the Menu: Gastropub-type fare rules the menu, including salads, sandwiches, burgers and comfort-food dishes (like mac ‘n’ cheese and bacon-wrapped meat loaf). Naturally, given its name, beer is a popular drink order and most of the selections stem from the ale house’s Milwaukee Brewing Co. Perfect for a group are shareable starters like cheese curds or Ale House’s signature wings.
The Vibe: In the far east point of the Third Ward, this modern-décor restaurant has a two-sided patio perched just above the Milwaukee River.
On the Menu: Mostly seafood, the dishes include items like smoked-salmon bruschetta as a small plate or lobster-stuffed ravioli as an entree. Salads are inventive, such as the Asian Sesame Tuna (seared sesame Ahi tuna tossed with rice noodles, mandarin oranges, scallions, mixed greens, wonton strips and teriyaki vinaigrette); and sandwiches and burgers are varied enough to please a group (from po’ boys to a burger topped with smoked gouda cheese and root-beer demi-glaze). The restaurant is open for lunch (Tuesday through Sunday only) and dinner (nightly).
The Vibe: Boasting one of Milwaukee’s largest patios, patrons sit on sectional sofas or at bar-height tables, shielded from the sun by sails.
On the Menu: Food stems from the hotel’s restaurant (Smyth) and is a mix of farm-to-table fare (such as the chef-inspired vegetable entrée, based on what’s in season) and Milwaukee classics (like a fish fry). The menus for lunch and dinner are organized by Starters, Garden, Pasture, Ocean and Sweets. Drinks are wildly inventive and also classic, with options like a twist on the Old Fashioned, Pisco Sour and The Eastwood Man[hattan].
The Vibe: Tucked behind the restaurant’s perch along busy KK Ave., bright-red chairs, small tables, a pergola and plant-scaping create a cozy oasis.
On the Menu: This upscale Mexican spot is a favored place by vegans and vegetarians; there's a section on the menu dedicated to the dietary requirements, as well innovative substitutions available for almost any dish, like soy chorizo, sautéed vegetables or herb tofu. Most of the ingredients are sourced from the owner’s farm near Milwaukee and the result is colorful, Insta-worthy plating. Lunch is served weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and brunch on Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.