Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

When we were in Milwaukee last weekend visiting family, food was never far from our minds. This could be because we are food people, or because Milwaukee has more great food than you can imagine, or a lovely confluence of the two. We were “researching” an article on great eating in Milwaukee for i8tonite.com - my Cheat Sheet to Eating in Milwaukee, and had great difficulty narrowing down the recommendations. So consider this your expanded edition of the Cheat Sheet to Eating in Milwaukee – a dozen excellent recommendations. Might I suggest you spend longer in this foodie town? There’s much to discover…

Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

The "Polish Moon" - a famous Milwaukee landmark by Allen-Bradley - also immortalized in beer (of course)

Purple Door Ice Cream

Love ice cream in a land of custard? Never fear – Purple Door Ice Cream is here. Purple Door started in wholesale, and has expanded into retail – so you can get your ice cream fix whenever they’re open. This is locally made ice cream (Wisconsin cows, local ingredients), with extraordinary flavors. Think whisky, beer, chai with pink peppercorn, lemon cardamom, cinnamon, raspberry green tea, brandy vanilla, ginger, espresso, malted chocolate chunk – and, of course, chocolate, vanilla, peppermint, salted caramel, and other standard flavors. The focus is on great, interesting, and tasty flavors – 20 a day to choose from, and seasonal ones, like basil or butternut squash, make an appearance in time. Can’t decide? Don’t worry – you can get a flight of ice cream (4 different flavors) for $6. Even better: Purple Door notes, “Every purchase of Purple Door Ice Cream supports our community. Purple Door’s Milk for Milwaukee program works with area homeless shelters to provide fresh milk for the residents.” 

205 S. 2nd Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204 • (414) 988-2521

http://www.purpledooricecream.com/

Purple Door Ice Cream. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Purple Door Ice Cream. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Delicious photos: Purple Door Ice Cream

Benji’s Deli and Restaurant

A Milwaukee East Side staple since the 1963, Benji’s serves up authentic Jewish deli food that keeps people coming back. Must orders: the matzo ball soup and, of course, the corned beef sandwich. The seating (and parking) is limited, so try to eat outside of the busiest hours – or take your meal away from the deli at any time. They also have egg creams! If you’re there for breakfast, try the Hoppel Poppel. Or the tomato soup and grilled cheese. Or the blintzes. Or matzo bri. Or the latkes…. 

Benji’s Deli and Restaurant. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Benji’s Deli and Restaurant. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Hunger-inducing photos: Benji’s Deli and Restaurant

4156 N Oakland Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53211 • (414) 332-7777
http://www.benjisdeliandrestaurant.com/

El Rey

This is a grocery store with a taqueria inside. (Double bonus – eat, and then shop!) Here, you can find burritos, tortas, tacos made to order, tamales, carnitas, menudo, and the best barbacoa in town. They also have great fish tacos (try one!), as well as traditional beverages like horchata and agua fresca. El Rey has 4 locations – the best is on Cesar Chavez, the original neighborhood. Family owned and operated since 1978, El Rey has adapted their offerings to accommodate the wide range of the Hispanic diaspora in Wisconsin, including Mexican, Central American, and South American. Their grocery selection of salsas, guacamole, and queso is wide and delicious. Of note: El Rey makes their own tortilla chips.

El Rey. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Scrumptious tacos! Photo: Mark Yee 

El Rey. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Colorful photos (above and below): El Rey

El Rey. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee
Be sure to stop by the bakery to check out their desserts, including a tres leche cake or a raspberry cake roll from the bakery to take home – you’ll thank me.

916 South Cesar E. Chavez Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53204 • 414-643-1640
http://www.elreyfoods.com/?lang=en

Kegel’s Inn

Kegel’s serves both German and American cuisine in a family-friendly, old world restaurant, complete with murals of Germany, dark wood, and beautiful lighting. But let’s be honest: you’re here because it’s the best German beer hall and restaurant in the area, some say the last of its kind. However – it’s also the best Friday fish fry in the metro area, and that’s saying something. There are several types of fish available, in two portion sizes. Kegel’s takes reservations, which is unusual for a Friday fish fry. Don’t miss out on the beer – you’ve got the best of both worlds here – German and Milwaukee. 

Kegel’s Inn. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

A slice of Germany photo: Kegel’s Inn

Kegel’s Inn. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Fish Fry! Photo: Mark Yee

5901 W National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53214 • (414) 257-9999
http://www.kegelsinn.com/

Anodyne

This is, frankly, one of the most inviting coffee shops I’ve ever been to. The quirky, industrial atmosphere, complete with mirrors and glass and high ceilings tempered with reclaimed wood, conveys a warm, cozy feeling that is perfect for a coffee date, gathering of friends, study group, workspace, and more – it would be a perfect place for a wedding or other special event. Add to this the extraordinary, on-site roasted coffee (the kind one dreams of, where the scents waft around you and wrap you in coffee goodness), and you’ve got a place to return to, again and again (and get coffee from, to take home). I love the Ethiopian Guji Nefas Farm and the Guatemala San Pedro La Laguna, but any of the freshly roasted coffee will make you happy – their decaf fool’s gold is incredibly delicious. If they don’t have what you want to purchase out front, just ask – they’ll go look in back for some freshly roasted beans that might not have been bagged up yet.
The baristas are friendly and talented. I love the pour over, but you can also get brewed to go, lattes and cappuccinos, a honey bee (honey latte with milk), a my buddy (almond and vanilla cappuccino), mochas (including additions of frosty and turtle – mint and caramel, respectively), espresso, Americano, red eyes, and seasonal apple cider.  Save room for ordering a slice of cake to go with your coffee – Anodyne carries desserts from the Cake Lady, well known throughout the area for her delicious cakes with real buttercream.

While there are several locations, the Walker’s Point facility is where the coffee is roasted. The original location in Bayview now offers Southern Italian style pizza from a woodburning oven, if you’re looking for some food to go with your coffee.  

Anodyne Coffee. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Anodyne Coffee. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Anodyne Coffee. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

I'm ready to go back now photos: Wandering Educators

Other roasters of note to get your caffeine fix in town: Valentine Coffee Roasters and Kickapoo

Locations:

Walker's Point Roastery
224 W. Bruce Street | 414.276.8081

Bay View Cafe and Pizza
2920 S. Kinnickinnic | 414.489.0765

Milwaukee Public Market
400 N. Water St. | 262.888.3642

https://anodynecoffee.com/

Leon’s Frozen Custard

Wisconsin = frozen custard. Have you had it before? If not, there are many great places for frozen custard in town, but Leon’s is special. Founded in 1942, Leon’s has that Happy Days vibe and is still run by the family that started it! You walk up to the counter and order – year round. Yes, even in winter, in snowstorms, Milwaukeeans love their custard. With a small, refined list of custard flavors, you’ll get the best of the best. The butter pecan is outstanding – the pecans are crunchy and flavorful. The malts and rootbeer floats are so good – and served with a traditional red spoon. Open until midnight for your late night cravings. Cash only. 

Leon’s Frozen Custard. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

50s vibe photo: Leon's

3131 S 27th St, Milwaukee, WI 53215 • (414) 383-1784
http://leonsfrozencustard.us/

La Merenda Bar and International Tapas

If you love global cuisine, this is the place to go. With small plates and a seasonal menu, La Merenda sources local ingredients and offers a casual, eclectic environment. Nowhere else can you travel the globe in one meal, hitting Italy, Wisconsin, Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Peru, Indonesia, India, Spain, Vietnam, Argentina, France, and Malaysia in one menu. Go with a group, and try as much as you can. It’s delicious – and might inspire your food travels, whether around the globe or coming back to La Merenda for more.

La Merenda Bar and International Tapas. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

La Merenda Bar and International Tapas. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Luscious photos: La Merenda Bar and International Tapas

La Merenda Bar and International Tapas. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Let them eat cake. Photo: Mark Yee

125 E National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53204 • (414) 389-0125
http://www.lamerenda125.com/

St. Paul Fish Company

Located inside the Milwaukee Public Market, St Paul Fish Company offers wholesale fish, a retail counter, and a casual restaurant with under a dozen tables and some counter stools, so skip busy times (or get takeout). While they are famous for their oysters, there are other dishes of note, including the seared tuna sandwich, clam chowder, and best of all, the lobster roll. Imagine: chunky pieces of lobster overflowing a buttered grilled roll. Yes. 

Look at that lobster roll! St. Paul Fish Company. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Look at that lobster roll! Photo: Sharon Yee

St. Paul Fish Company. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

How fun is this place? Photo: St Paul Fish Company

400 N Water St, Milwaukee, WI 53202 • (414) 220-8383
http://www.stpaulfish.com/

Maharaja 

This is a fresh hot $9 lunch buffet with a wide variety of Indian cuisine from the many regions of India. Don’t worry if you don’t do hot (like me) – the dishes aren’t all spicy, and if you do do hot, there are accoutrements to spice it up. The Sunday buffet ($18) doubles the dishes available to 40 (!) and offers complimentary drinks, so if you’re in town then, make plans to visit. 

Maharaja. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Maharaja. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Enticing photos: Maharaja

1550 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202 • (414) 276-2250
http://www.maharajarestaurants.com/

Bunzel’s Meats and Catering

This is a fourth-generation, family owned meat market/butcher shop that continually wins awards for their flavorful beef jerky and homemade sausages. It’s a typical Milwaukee market, with teeny rows of groceries. And then there’s the deli – every day there are a delicious variety of specials – sandwiches, sausages, soups, and hot meals for takeout. In the summer, you can get fresh grilled sausages outside. 

Bunzel’s Meats and Catering. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Award-winning jerky photo: Bunzel’s Meats and Catering

8415 W Burleigh St, Milwaukee, WI 53222 • (414) 873-7960
http://www.bunzels.com/

Story Hill BKC

As the name indicates, Story Hill Bottle Kitchen Cocktail offers a fine selection of wine, beer, and cocktails – they won the 2015 Wine Spectator award for excellence – but the real standout, for me (a non-drinker) is the menu. The emphasis here is Midwestern cuisine, revamped and elevated. 

 Story Hill BKC. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

The warm and friendly ambiance adds to the joy of eating here. It’s a perfect brunch place – try the many varieties of crepes (the House Special offers smoked Berkshire loin bacon, Clock Shadow Creamery quark, baby kale, onion marmalade, and baked eggs; the crep-urrito consists of scrambled eggs, Saxony Alpine cheese, jalapeno mayo, cumin-spiced tomato sauce, and roasted marble potatoes) or the house-made cinnamon rolls along with locally roasted Valentine coffee, or a Back Pocket Cocktail (Grand Marnier, Valetine coffee, brown sugar simple syrup, vanilla egg crème, whipped cream) or other delicious beverage. 

An Irishman in the Cold – Irishman Irish Cream and Whiskey, Honey, Valentine Espresso, Cinnamon, Milk, Whipped Cream cocktail.  Story Hill BKC. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Swoon-worthy An Irishman in the Cold – Irishman Irish Cream and Whiskey, Honey, Valentine Espresso, Cinnamon, Milk, Whipped Cream cocktail. Photo: Story Hill BKC

Return for dinner, which consists of dishes ranging from small plates to entrée-sized portions. Tip: go with a group so you can order more and sample a wide variety of the menu –the food is brought out as it is ready, not in courses. Try fresh baked butter flake rolls – aptly named, as they are the most buttery and flaky butter rolls you’ve ever tasted. Swoon. Recommended dishes include the Pork country spareribs, roasted beets, the salads, the Wisconsin-focused cheese plate, or the Milwaukee beef tartare, which comes with aioli and whitefish caviar. 

 Story Hill BKC. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Crispy Pork Shank with turnip confit, creamy wild rice, pickled cherry and Abrasive gastriqueWhy yes, please. Photo: Story Hill BKC

Note: the restaurant accommodates diners with allergies with grace and creativity. Bravo!

5100 W Bluemound Rd, Milwaukee, WI 53208 • (414) 539-4424
http://storyhillbkc.com/

Glorioso’s

A family-owned Italian grocery store that opened in 1946, Glorioso’s is a local treasure. The family aspect of ownership really shows in their customer service, because everyone is so friendly and nice. They have a wide selection of Italian groceries, including a large cheese section, but the highlight is the fresh meat and sausage section. There’s also a bakery, which offers an assortment of Italian cakes, cookies, and gelato (!!!). Glorioso’s has both whole tortes and cakes and single servings, if you can’t decide. There are two options for the fresh meals - you can order your items and eat in the small seating area, or take it out. There are salads, pasta, pizza, and more (all from family recipes), but look at the sandwich section – these are custom made to order, or you can pick from the number of specialty sandwiches. Try the human torch: calabrese, capacollo, provolone, hot pepper spread, and hot muffalatta. The sandwiches are loaded with ingredients – the fillings spill out, they are so generous. Tip: order two and then split them if you go with someone. Honestly? Eat on-site – it will be too hard to wait even one minute to dig in. Note: Glorioso’s is one of the few places that still sell hot ham and rolls – a weekend tradition in the Milwaukee.

Glorioso’s. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Glorioso’s. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

Glorioso’s. From Advice from a Local: 12 Best Places to Eat in Milwaukee

No stolen cheese, deliciousness has landed photos: Glorioso's

1011 E Brady St, Milwaukee, WI 53202 • (414) 272-0540
https://www.gloriosos.com/store/menus/

Do you have a great place to add? Where do you love to eat in Milwaukee?

 

 

 

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