Even though I’m on my way out of Madison, this city taught me how to be a foodie, and I will forever be grateful for that. It started by working at the farmer’s market, blossoming from there into a full blown food obsession. For this, I at least owe the heart of Wisconsin a blog post (and a few pounds on my waist).
I’ve eaten a many of the great restaurants in the city, and have tried just about everywhere at least once. Madison has a booming food scene, and there seems to be new (and great!) places opening up monthly. The best places are largely in the downtown Isthmus area, so it’s easy to explore many of them by foot or bicycle. There are few on the outskirts of town, but the city center is a great place to start your Midwest culinary adventure.
I’m not going to claim expertise in the food field, but I’ve certainly got opinions on my favorite spots. Here is my Top 10 list of the best places to eat in Madison, Wisconsin:
10) Old Fashioned — I’ve got to admit, I feel a little shameful putting this one on the list. The Old Fashioned is a Madison staple that is usually packed with tourists and out-of-towners, so not my normal scene. Their menu rarely changes, but it is a quintessential Wisconsin place. If you want a taste of the state, this is where you should go. And no exaggeration, their fried cheese curds are the best, especially with their bevy of dipping sauces. I also have a soft spot in my heart for their overly salty beer cheese soup.
9) Heritage Tavern — A great spot for cocktails and late night, Heritage Tavern is the brain child of Dan Fox. He dishes up a creative menu featuring unique combinations and flavor profiles. If you’re drinking, definitely order the Angostura Sour. By far my favorite. For late night snacks, I like the ham sandwich, grilled cheese or waygu burger.
8) Brasserie V — My favorite spot on Monroe street, Brasserie V is a Belgian style restaurant with an incredible beer selection. Even though I’m not much of a drinker, the owner loves sour ales and packs his menu with them, so I’m always excited to try what’s new. He even has a special fridge to keep the sour ales at the right temperature! Their food is pretty top-notch as well, especially their traditional mussels and choose-your-own-cheese-board.
7) Osteria Papavero — Honestly, I forget about this place a lot. It’s location is a little odd and off the beaten trail, but it’s well worth a visit. They offer rustic and authentic Italian food with an elevated approach. The restaurant is small but the dishes pack a punch. I highly recommend ordering their charcuterie board, and the rest is up to you. The dishes are all delicious! Try going for lunch if you can’t get a dinner reservation.
6) Sardine (brunch) — Sardine offers hands down the best brunch around, so expect to wait or make a reservation in advance. The ambiance in this restaurant is to die for, and it’s easy to let the hours slip away here while sipping on drinks with friends. I’m in love with the crab cakes and I order them every time. But I’ve also heard awesome things about the omelettes (especially the one with brie) and the baked eggs.
5) Fugu — Very unassuming from the outside, Fugu serves up the most authentic and flavorful Chinese food I’ve had outside of mainland China. You’ll find that you might be the only non-Asian person in the place, which tells you how good it is! Things run spicy, so take it easy on your first visit. Dishes I love include the dandan noodles, eggplant in garlic sauce, pork dumplings, and sichuan beef.
4) Salvatore’s Tomato Pies — Easily the best pizza in the city, this cozy eatery is a laid back place for a date or an excellent option for take out. They use only the best local ingredients and hand make and toss their crusts. Plus you can order half and half! I love the forza and forestiere, but the carbonara is also pretty bangin’.
3) Red Sushi — This is another spot that me and Sam frequent. They offer the best sushi in Madison, hands down (sorry Muramoto). The roll combinations are super creative and unlike any I’ve had before. There’s always a wait, even on Sunday nights after 9, so be prepared to wait. I personally love sitting at the bar. For simple rolls, my favorite is the Amigo and Negi-toro. For the specialty rolls, well where do I begin– red & black, crunchy tuna, and firecracker top my list.
A Tory Miller establishment, this is a new edition to the food scene. And I’ve already managed to go there 5 times. I love the Asian fusion inspired dishes and the airy vibe makes it a great place to enjoy a meal. I’ve only ever had noodle dishes there, but they are all incredible! I’m all about the DanDan noodles, but I’ve also had the Japchae which was delicious (and really unique!)
Oh man, this place. This is me and Sam’s date place. It’s usually for special occasions because Chef Dan cooks up some rich dishes, but it is so worth the calories. This is by far my favorite restaurant in the city. The small and cozy atmosphere combined with the friendly and approachable staff makes this foodie mecca’s pork inspired dishes go down that much easier. The menu changes fairly frequently based on the season, but you can’t really go wrong with any of the dishes. I’ve literally never had anything bad there. A few favorites are the lamb carpacchio, oxtail ragout and the duck egg ravioli.