Looking for new spots to try? During Dining Month, Lori Fredrich dished out must-tries in 21 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between.
Miss a few? Here's a list of all the categories, beginning with new restaurants and proceeding from there in alphabetical order.
1. New Restaurants
Staring down a list of new restaurants – and trying to determine which one to try next – is often a daunting prospect. But my hope is that this short list of promising spots makes your journey a bit easier. [Get the full list]
Need more choices? Check out the full list of restaurants that have opened so far in 2023. Don't forget to be kind, patient and tip well!
People often ask me: What’s the best barbeque in the city? I’m more than happy to answer that question based on the quality of the meat used, combined with technique and execution.
Here, in my list of must-trys, I'm showcasing a couple of the distinctive BBQ styles you can find in Milwaukee, all of them executed with a high level of technique and attention to detail. It might be useful to note that my baseline for judging a BBQ spot is always its brisket. It's a cut that requires time, patience and (due to variables like the size of the brisket and the weather), a true knack for the craft. [Get the list]
For some folks, brunch is all about the day drinking. For others, it’s about enjoying a feast of deliciously indulgent dishes. If you ask me, a great brunch requires both, plus the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely late morning or afternoon of catching up with friends (possibly followed by an afternoon nap).
However you decide to brunch, these five spots are sure to hit all the right notes. [Get the list]
What's in a great burger? It starts with high quality ingredients (scrimp on your beef or toppings and it shows). From there, it's about creating a balanced flavor profile and ensuring that the execution of that burger (from the toast on the bun to the sear on the burger) is on point.
Does it matter if the burger is fancy? Or if it has a thin or thick patty? No. In fact, if I've learned anything over my past four years on the Burger Trail, it's that a great burger takes as much thought as a dish on a fine dining menu.
Here are 10 spots (in a range of styles) that take their burgers seriously. [Get the list]
5. Coffee Shops
A great coffee shop is like a home away from home (with better coffee). But the best of them also have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you want to return again and again.
This list contains five of those very special places. [Get the list]
6. Dining Institutions
What’s a Milwaukee institution? It's nearly always a place that has a long history. It’s a venue where memories have been made (and continue to be made). It’s a spot that’s beloved (and sometimes polarizing), but which adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the landscape. It’s a venue which helps to define what Milwaukee was, what it is and what it’s becoming.
Yes, there are absolutely more than four such places in greater Milwaukee. But if you’re looking for a taste of some of the spots that have shaped the city and surrounding area (and keep them around for another 30, 50 or 100 years), considering a visit to any one of these a good place to start. [Get the list]
7. Fish Fry
As the fall winds blow in, the idea of a Friday night fish fry sounds better than ever. But what makes up a great fish fry? It starts with high-quality fish that’s been hand-breaded or battered on premise; but it also extends to the accompaniments, including fresh crisp cole slaw.
It’s growing harder and harder to find them; but my ideal fish fry also includes housemade potato pancakes (frozen potato patties don’t cut it) made with nicely seasoned shredded potatoes that are crisped to perfection. A close second might be a good house-made potato salad, a crispy-skinned baked potato or (in a pinch) a good batch of thin, crispy fries. I’m also delighted when I can find a hand-muddled (!) old fashioned to enjoy alongside. It's a shame how few truly good ones there are out there these days.
And now, after all that, here are five spots that are well worth a try! [Get the list]
8. Food Trucks
While I love a relaxed dinner at a full-service restaurant, there’s also a certain charm about grabbing a quick bite from a local food truck to eat al fresco or take back to the office. And I’ve grown increasingly impressed by the quality of fare that’s being served by mobile operations in recent years.
It's definitely tough to narrow down the list of great food trucks to only five, but I’ve given it my best effort. In the end, these trucks showcase not only the diversity of cuisines you can find on the move, but also the quality and ingenuity of their intrepid entrepreneurial owners. [Get the list]
9. Indian & Pakistani
Cumin, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, garam masala. The warming spices that define the Indian and Pakistani canon are also part of what makes the cuisine stand out from the crowd. In fact, if it’s flavor you’re looking for, its tough to go wrong with a comforting meal of butter chicken, chana masala and saag.
That said, if you love Indian fare, you've also likely noticed that those dishes (all from Punjab in Northern India) show up on nearly every menu. Most venues in Milwaukee feature large menus showcasing a broad swath of popular dishes, rather than taking a deeper dive into the cuisine of the owners' hometowns and regions. If I had my way, I'd love for us to have more of the latter.
That said, these restaurants were chosen because they've made an effort to showcase dishes that hint at the diversity found in the cuisines of India and Pakistan. And yes, their food is delicious! [Get the list]
Milwaukee has never lacked Italian restaurants, although – for a long while – it was difficult to find much diversity represented in the cuisine. Fortunately, things are changing. A focus on regional dishes combined with an emphasis on housemade pasta and fresh seasonal offerings have brought an uplift to the cuisine’s local showing.
For the purpose of narrowing this list, I’ve left off many of the classic, comforting “red sauce joints,” as well as restaurants where pizza is the primary offering (watch for list of top spots for pizza on Sunday). Yes, I love them too; but I needed to narrow the field somehow.
However, if you are looking for a place to enjoy a special Italian meal, I think you’ll be pleased with any one of the venues on this list. Each one offers memorable dishes, solid (if not excellent) service and an atmosphere to match. Buon appetito![Get the list]
11. Levantine/Middle Eastern
Milwaukee has far to go when it comes to culinary representation from the diverse set of countries so often unfairly homogenized by terms like "Middle Eastern" or "Mediterranean." Fortunately, recent years have brought an increasing buffet of regional specialties from countries including Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Iran; and I have high hopes that more will follow.
In the meantime, here are five spots that offer a delicious peek at the regionally distinctive cuisines often disguised by the use of more generic nomenclature. [Get the list]
12. Mexican / Latin American
The fare of Latin America – a term that spans an impressive 31 nations – is so varied that one could spend a lifetime exploring its diversity. Even Mexican fare, a cuisine with which most Americans are at least marginally familiar, offers a wide range of regional cuisines that extend far beyond what is showcased in local restaurants. But the Latin American canon in Milwaukee is growing, making it a cuisine that's as fun to explore as it is delicious to eat.
Here are five venues worthy of exploring (and yes, this list could easily be far longer; so it was nearly impossible to narrow it down), which include a mix of staples along with newer venues on the scene. [Get the list]
Milwaukee is home to a throng of amazing patio spaces, from cozy hidden gems and sky-high rooftop oases to beautifully landscaped outdoor dining rooms that offer a blissful retreat from the daily grind. Some are even equipped with elements that assist in extending the season.
Here are five gorgeous spaces that could use a bit more breaking in! [Get the list]
People are passionate about pizza. But pizza isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. That’s proven by the sheer number of pizza joints you’ll find across the city, as well as the diversity in styles, which range from “Milwaukee style” thin crust to Neapolitan, pan and deep dish. Some are baked in convection ovens; others are fired at high heat in gas or wood-fired ovens. As a result, each has its own unique character, which is further enhanced by the flavor of its sauce and the quality, and combination of, its toppings.
That said, when it comes to a must-try pizza, the pie must not only be delicious, but balanced in its flavor profile. The crust should be flavorful in its own right and have a texture that aligns with the benchmarks for its style. Perhaps most importantly, the venue needs to demonstrate consistency in the delivery of a pie with all of the above characteristics.
With that said, here are eight distinctive pizzas that excel in their given categories. If you haven’t had the pleasure, put them on your must-try list! [Get the list]
There's a chill in the air, which means it's the perfect time for a hot bowl of ramen. But where should you go? There are a good many choices these days, thanks to the ramen boom which kicked off in 2014 with spots like Red Light Ramen (RIP) and Tochi (which is worth the trek to Sheboygan!); but the scene has only grown from there, producing spots that truly capture the spirit of the Japanese dish.
What you'll find on this list is a combination of some of the best traditional bowls in the city (full disclosure: I'm a big fan of tonkotsu, so that generally guides my palate), plus a couple of spots that do an amazing job of getting creative while still delivering on the savory umami flavors that make ramen such an amazing dish. [Get the list]
16. Regional Chinese
If you’re ready to delve beyond the confines of American Chinese food and explore regional Chinese fare from places like Guangdong (Cantonese), Sichuan, Shanghai and Dongbei, then you are in the right place.
These spots are repping some of the best traditional fare in the city. [Get the list]
Some days nothing hits the spot like a really great sandwich. But what makes that sandwich great? The best of the best (even the simple ones) are as well thought-out as a fine dining dish.
It starts with high quality ingredients; and that applies from the bread right down to the condiments. It’s also about balance. A badly built sandwich offers little in the way of texture; its flavors are muddy and it provides little in the way of a true "wow" factor.
Fortunately, Milwaukee’s sandwich game is pretty solid. And these five spots serve up hand-held treasures that are more than just good. [Get the list]
These days, enjoying fresh, high quality seafood in the Midwest is far easier than in the past. That’s good news for seafood lovers (including me) who want to enjoy great fish and shellfish dishes in between trips to the coast. That said, sourcing matters; and it comes at a cost (as the adage states: “You get what you pay for). Fortunately, if you choose well, your experience will be well worth the splurge.
Here are five local restaurants that take care to deliver some of the best of the sea. [Get the list]
19. Soul Food
Sometimes you need a bit of Southern comfort in your life. But, let’s be clear. Soul food isn’t a term that describes just any Southern fare. It’s an expression that specifically describes and celebrates the culinary traditions of Black Americans in the deep South. It is immigrant cuisine that reflects the culinary traditions of West Africa, Western Europe, and the Americas. It is the product of ingenuity and culinary expertise which has been passed down through the generations. And it is delicious.
If you’ve never supported a soul food eatery, consider this your invitation to explore, support and try something new. Here are a number of solid places to start. [Get the list]
What makes great sushi? It's definitely about the freshness and quality of the fish; but it's also about the way it's cut. It's about the rice, the grains of which should be smooth and shiny, with grains that are distinct. It's also about balance; the fish should be the star of the show, with the ingredients (however creative) complementing its delicate flavor. As a result, great sushi tends to be pricier, and for good reason.
These five spots are worth your while. [Get the list]
21. Thai & Lao Fare
Most people recognize Thai staples: Jasmine rice, green curry, tom yum soup and pad thai. But what about Lao fare? Fresh herbs, hearty soups, grilled meats and signature sticky rice are just a few of the hallmarks of a cuisine which has – for many years – taken a back seat to Thai food. But that's no longer the case.
In fact, if you want to learn about either cuisine, you need only to look to the new crop of young chefs who are proudly cooking up dishes that represent both Lao and Thai food culture.
If you always order pad thai or volcano chicken, consider this an invitation to branch out and try something new. [Get the list]
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.