Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or simply an occasion to celebrate the love you feel for your sweetie, a romantic meal out is in order. From intimate neighborhood spots on the East Side, Walker’s Point and Bay View to grand-and-glam downtown eateries, Milwaukee is filled with options that straddle classic cuisine but also ethnic and eclectic inspirations.
Here are 10 restaurants that cater to couples—and have good food, plus a line-up of craft cocktails and stellar wines to boot.
Chef-owner Justin Aprahamian is leading the second chapter in Sanford Restaurant (414-276-9608), which James Beard Award-winning chef Sandy d’Amato started inside his parents’ former grocery store on the East Side as a farm-to-table, fine-dining eatery. Small and cozy, with just 20 tables, the dining room signifies a reservation that’s hard to snag and continues to rank as one of Milwaukee’s top dining experiences for the quality and service, even if the price is a bit steep ($85, plus $40 for wine pairings, for a surprise tasting menu). It’s recommended you make reservations one year to the calendar date, says the restaurant.
Mason Street Grill
Within the Pfister Hotel is Mason Street Grill (414-298-3131), serving steaks and featuring live jazz in its bar area almost every night of the week (a perfect spot to meet your date for a martini pre-dinner). Despite being a steakhouse—with seven cuts of meat on the menu and comfort foods like chicken pot-pie—there are also quite a few seafood and vegetarian options for dinner, too, including blackened Atlantic swordfish. It’s recommended to order a trio of vegetable sides (like cream of corn and fire-roasted mushrooms) and share with your dining companion.
The Pasta Tree Restaurant & Wine Bar
The Pasta Tree Restaurant & Wine Bar (414-276-8867) is on busy Farwell Avenue just north of Ogden, where downtown meets the Lower East Side (look for the tan & black striped awning). Seating is in three separate rooms, making the space feel even more intimate: opt for the “Original” room, to the far right, if available. Banquette seating and small tables are both designed to help couples’ cuddle while dining. Chef-owner Suzzette Metcalfe has her own love affair with the restaurant: when the original owner retired, she—a former employee—bought the place. Dishes include shrimp pesto linguini and carbonara and it would be a crime to not share a slice of the Chocolate Nemesis cake.
Also downtown: Bacchus (414-765-1166), in the esteemed Bartolotta Restaurants family, on the ground floor of the Cudahy Building on North Prospect Avenue across from the Milwaukee Art Museum. On a clear night, you just might spot Lake Michigan and natural light abounds in the glass conservatory dining space. Or, settle into a cozy leather booth in the main dining room. Bacchus hosts one of Milwaukee’s most extensive and well-thought-out, wine lists and it’s recommended to sip a craft cocktail in the adjacent bar area before dining. Whether you order off the menu (Modern American cuisine) or spring for the tasting menu (there’s also an all-vegetarian tasting menu), know that James Beard Award-winning chef Adam Siegel is behind it, as corporate chef for the restaurant group.
Buckley's Restaurant & Bar
Just down the street is Buckley’s Restaurant and Bar (414-277-1111), which channels an urban and neighborhood-bistro vibe thanks to its corner location, small dining room and black-and-white striped awning. There are just two dining rooms; a corner bar where drinks are prepared is in one. Dinner fare includes starters such as mussels and Vietnamese chicken wings and entrees that include Moroccan spiced lamb shank or a 14-ounce hangar’s steak. There are also vegetarian options like pasta tossed with San Marzano tomatoes. Buckley’s is also open for lunch and Sunday brunch.
Another downtown must-eat spot is Zarletti (414-225-0000) which, as the name suggests, specializes in Italian cuisine. There’s a ‘big-city’ feel to the dining space given that it’s on a bustling street corner, where North Milwaukee Street meets East Mason Street and the menu encompasses all things Italian, from antipasti to dessert. Dinner choices cover surf and turf selections—such as fettuccine tossed with scallops, wild mushrooms and truffle oil; or pasta Bolognese—but also fold in vegetarian and meat-free choices like four-cheese ravioli and pistachio-encrusted halibut. Naturally, the wine list skews Italian, with sparkling Prosecco, Barolos and more.
In the Bay View neighborhood, Goodkind (414-763-4706) is a locals’ favorite, with a farm-to-table focus. It opened to much fanfare in 2014, serving dinner as well as Sunday brunch. While small and casual (think salvaged woods born into a wall, and an intimate space on the second floor of a former pizza joint), the wine list features quite a few gems (and the cocktail list is really spectacular)—plus, the food is of the same quality you’d get at a fine-dining restaurant. Examples are seaweed chips for a starter, followed by an entrée of leg of lamb (from a Wisconsin farm) rubbed with lavender and anchovy.
Tucked into Walker’s Point, which is an evolving food neighborhood in the last three years alone, with restaurants popping up here and there, Crazy Water (414-645-2606) is a legend. Chef-owner Peggy Magister has created a small-plates menu since opening in 2002, inside a former 19th Century feed store) It’s a space that feels like the dining room of an historic home. On the menu are dinner favorites like—for starters—buttermilk biscuits and smoked trout from Rushing Waters nearby—and entrees like branzino fish, Amish half chicken and diver scallops. It’s practically required to save room for dessert as the options include Door County cherry/chocolate chip bread pudding and three-layer chocolate terrine.
In Brewers Hill, which is a mostly residential neighborhood just north of downtown Milwaukee, Wolf Peach (414-374-8480)—open for Sunday brunch and nightly dinner—is a gorgeous building boasting views of the downtown-Milwaukee skyline and, when it’s warm out, tiered outdoor seating. Food selections are creative, such as smoked bone-marrow gratin or grass-fed New York strip with dinosaur kale and sunchoke cream. Many of the vegetables are grown at the owners’ farm.