If you only have one time of year to come to Milwaukee, consider visiting between late June through early July. Not only does this coincide with Summerfest—the world’s largest music festival (pulling in big-name acts like The Chainsmokers and Paul Simon this year) at Henry Maier Festival Park—it’s an opportunity to try all of Milwaukee’s best foods in one location. Many of the food vendors at Summerfest are off-shoots of Milwaukee restaurants, serving everything from corn-on-the-cob to cannoli. You could visit Summerfest four days in a row and still not have tried everything. And, just like State-Fair cuisine, the idea is to eat stuff that’s fried, on a stick or can be eaten on-the-go (although you will find some seating options throughout the grounds).
Here are your 10 must-eats for Summerfest.
Corn on the Cob
It’s not a proper summer festival without roasted ears of corn, no? These are sold at locations around the park: just keep your nose peeled for the aroma! Vendor names are Robby's Roasted Corn and Anderson's Roasted Corn.
During Summerfest, the neighborhood surrounding the festival carries a distinct aroma of brats, a link back to Milwaukee’s German heritage. Usinger’s is a hometown favorite with a retail shop in downtown Milwaukee, but if you’re at the festival and want to bite into a brat stuffed into a bun, there are many options. Among them are Mader’s, Water Street Brewery, Martino’s and Major Goolsby’s—all restaurants based in the Milwaukee area.
Venice Club’s Fried Eggplant Strips
This is, hands down, Summerfest’s most beloved food, with a line snaking from the stand. It’s worth the wait, however. Breaded, deep-fried, and served with a side of marinara sauce, these will be the tastiest eggplant strips you’ve ever had. Venice Club operated in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield until it closed in 2014 — even more reason to dash over to Summerfest for your fix.
Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que Ribs
Yes, Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que is a national restaurant chain, with a Milwaukee-area location in Greenfield, but what kind of outdoor event in July would not have ribs?
La Perla's Mexican food
Fans of Mexican food shed a tear when this Walker’s Point restaurant announced last year it was closing. Fortunately you can still enjoy the cuisine at Summerfest. Just like you might at any Mexican restaurant, order an entrée — burrito, taco, chimichanga, tamale, etc. — with choice of beans and rice (or both). The stand is located near the Northwestern Mutual Children’s Area.
Saz's Cheese Curds
You simply cannot go home (whether that's in Milwaukee or your hometown) without trying cheese curds from Saz's, a restaurant on West State Street in West Milwaukee. While this is what they are called on the menu, know that they are breaded and deep-fried. Bonus: Saz’s are battered in Leinenkugel’s brew (a Wisconsin beer). Saz’s has locations on the Summerfest grounds near Northwestern Mutual Children’s Area, Miller Lite Oasis and BMO Harris Pavilion. The cheese curds are served at all three.
AJ Bombers' Bacon-Cheeseburgers
Known for its uber-competitve burgers (they faced off—and won—against Sobelman’s Pub & Grill on “Food Wars” back in 2010), Milwaukee’s own AJ Bombers grills and serves its famous bacon-cheeseburger on the Summerfest grounds in the Northwestern Mutual Children’s Area.
Peter Sciortino Bakery’s Cannoli
This Italian bakery has been in business since the middle of last century and is a staple in the Italian-immigrant neighborhood. There are two stands on the Summerfest grounds: near the Miller Lite stage (bakery plus hot-ham sandwiches) and BMO Harris Pavilion (only sells bakery). Wash down your cannoli with a frappe.
Sil's Mini Donuts
Locals will remember when this donut-maker had a stand on East North Avenue on Milwaukee’s East Side. Now you have to enter Summerfest to get the goods. But at least these little sacks of deep-fried, warm miniature-sized donuts dusted with sugar haven’t gone away for good!
Trinity Three Irish Pubs's Deep South Twister Dog
This Milwaukee restaurant is known for going above and beyond typical Irish fare, with selections like Irish Nachos and Deep South Twister Dog. While you can get both at Summerfest, the dog is more festival-friendly; it’s a smoked sausage from Milwaukee’s own Usinger’s wrapped with twisted sweet potato and packed into a pretzel bun, then deep-fried. It’s also new to the Summerfest food line-up this year. Recommended toppings: pimento-cheese sauce and chipotle ketchup for some heat.