Milwaukee’s restaurant boom shows no signs of letting up, especially considering the last 6 months or so. Daytime-only restaurants keep springing up to satisfy what appears to be a never-ending thirst for Bloody Marys and brunch, and international cuisines are still a big hit. We also got our very own food hall with a dizzying array of choices, and a new spot that could contend with some of the All-Time Best high-end restaurants. So whether you’re hoping to try something new or want to revisit a classic MKE stalwart (just the click the button to jump to that section), check out these stellar restaurants.
Brunch. It’s a ubiquitous weekend treat. But the tradition gets even sweeter when a restaurant that doesn’t normally serve brunch gets in on the fun.
The other day we stopped by the Spanish- and Portuguese-inspired restaurant, Amilinda, 315 E. Wisconsin Ave., to hear from Orry León about why everyone should try sherry this summer.
You may think that sherry is only used for cooking, but León is here to prove otherwise. It’s actually a delicious drink that’s high in alcohol content and ranges in levels of sweetness. From fino to cream sherry, head to Amilinda to grab a glass and have a chat with León.
Happy hour is Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Check out the video below for the live tasting.
Where to have a first dinner date is an important question, because it might lead to another important question — where to have dinner for the anniversary.
For a first dinner date, a certain kind of place, where the mood is light, might be more important than how fancy it is. That’s how I feel about it, anyway.
A restaurant that’s buzzing might be essential, too. It gives dinner an undercurrent of energy and, if the date is a dud and the place is loud enough, cover. (“What? Sorry, can’t hear a word you’re saying!”) It helps if the restaurant has some visual interest, too; it’s something to talk about when all else fails.
Anniversaries call for settings that are more romantic, and most of the ones listed here are lower in decibels. (Any of these spots would also be ideal for a Valentine’s Day dinner.)
This list focuses on Milwaukee restaurants, in case the night also calls for live music or another event in the city, and they range from more budget-minded choices to splurges.
Gregory León, chef and co-owner of Amilinda, drew his Spanish-Portuguese menu from his travels. He is one the most approachable restaurateurs in the biz. Everything at Amilinda from tiles, exposed Cream City brick walls, paintings or the brightly colored rooster sitting on the chef’s counter (aka bar) has a story he is willing to share. However, this story doesn’t end with the décor, but carries over to a creative and thoughtful menu. Bravo to León for doing fewer menu items, doing them well and changing them daily (menu prices fluctuate based on market prices). León works with local farmers, taking what is in season and creating an abbreviated menu that doesn’t have so many choices it makes your head spin. Almost everything is made in house (Alisa Malavenda)
Chef Gregory Leon combines the many roots of his existence—Oklahoma, Venezuela, San Francisco, a deep love of the food of Spain and Portugal—into a singular, precise, limited-menu vision in his first full restaurant. There are really only a few things to eat on any given night, so it is with a certain amount of trust that a diner must embark upon the hip Wisconsin Ave eatery. Yet just one meal can teach you to believe in his artistic yet comforting flair. There are the simple fall time pleasures of a smoked trout salad; a skirt steak, plopped in romesco sauce, pepped by shishitos; a pork chop, the tender hunk bathing in adobo sauce, sided with broccoli raab, and, because Leon clearly wants us to be happy, linguica. It’s a buzzy, sceney spot to spend a night downtown, and Amilinda reminds that that can sometimes still be a soulful thing.
Orry León, co-owner of the Spanish- and Portuguese-inspired restaurant Amilinda downtown, said half of the wine drinkers at Amilinda love Spanish wines and are thrilled they’re on Amilinda’s menu, while the others are completely unfamiliar with them.
That’s where servers step in to ask, “What do you usually drink?” Then they can suggest a Spanish wine that will appeal to diners.
But what León really likes is when customers try the wine that’s their server’s favorite — which varies from server to server.
“It’s just like when you’re traveling,” he said. “You go to the bartender and ask, ‘What’s good here?’ ”
It’s not the restaurant trying to sell a more expensive bottle, he said, it’s just helping the customer try something new. “We enjoy it; we want you to enjoy it,” he said.
Amilinda carries at least 30 types of Spanish wines, on a list of up to 55 bottles (the rest are Portuguese). Any bottle is available by the glass, thanks to the Coravin.
“Before you buy that $100 bottle of wine, I can give you a taste,” León said.
If you’re like me, you get into a surprising number of silly disagreements with your significant other over where to eat… not because you want to go to different places, but because neither of you wants to make a decision. Now that winter is finally over in MKE, there’s an even larger pool of drink and dining options to waffle on, so we’re here to help you make those harder-than-they-should-be choices. Here are the best restaurants in MKE right now, including the best patios, barbecue, and beer gardens for summer fun.
Candles hanging from the brick walls and vintage tiles underfoot give this downtown restaurant an Old World feel, but the oversize prints and red, blue and yellow accents make it feel contemporary. Perfect, really, for chef and co-owner Gregory León’s modern dishes influenced by Spain and Portugal.
Chef Gregory Leon has grown Amilinda from a sporadic pop-up restaurant, to a weekly pop-up restaurant, to a permanent restaurant. The demand from diners for spots at the pop-ups was so high that finding a permanent home was the only next logical step. Now diners can get a taste of Leon’s small, constantly changing menu any day they like. Leon spent his childhood in Venezuela and worked in Spain, lending those cuisines to the menu, along with a hefty dash of Portugal.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced going from a pop-up to a permanent restaurant?
I would say the only challenge we really faced was getting customers to the correct location. After operating as a pop-up for so long at The National Cafe, people seemed to think that was our permanent home–It took a few months for the word to get out.
Do you find that customers are familiar with the Portuguese and Spanish food on your menu, or is it new to them?
I find that when it comes to the Portuguese influenced dishes on our menus our new guests are completely unfamiliar at times with them (our regulars have become more knowledgeable as time has gone by and they have visit us more frequently). As for the Spanish inspired dishes, our biggest challenge was the diners’ expectations of finding tapas and paella. I think–and this is just my opinion–that most Americans really just equate Spanish cuisine to those two elements of the Spanish culinary culture. We really have had to teach them that there is a whole other world of Spanish cooking out there.
Your kitchen is very open to diners. Was that something that was important to you when you were designing the restaurant?
It was always something we really wanted but was not a “must have.” Our approach was to work with whatever space we ended up finding and making it work for us. We were very lucky to not only have found a space that had the potential for an open kitchen but also was open to the street.
What was the biggest inspiration for your menu?
Mostly my travels through Spain and a lot of reading. I just concluded a ten day trip to Barcelona and came back with lots of great and new ideas we will be implementing in the coming months.
Are there any food or restaurant trends you wish to see more of in Milwaukee?
I’d like to see more ethnically diverse restaurants and cuisine. Also late night dining on days that are not the weekend would be great for those of us working in the industry.
Where do you like to eat on your off days?
Goodkind, DanDan and Bavette are always on the top of my list. The National Cafe is our favorite breakfast/brunch spot and for a special occasion it’s always Odd Duck.
What would we find in your fridge at home right now?
Ketchup, Port and lots of BBQ sauce along with a tub of bacon fat – Keep in mind I just got back from Barcelona.