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.
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.
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.
2015 was a bit of a strange year in the world of restaurants. We’ve seen pop-ups and food trucks go brick and mortar to great success. We’ve seen old bus stations and garages recreated as dining destinations. And we’ve seen the more casual siblings of highly acclaimed restaurants potentially shine more than their brothers.
I want to say this is a transitional year, but I’m not sure what that transition is to. Fancy, luxe restaurants (even recreations of ones from the ’80s) seem just as en vogue as pop-ups out of the backs of gas stations. The upscale comfort food trend of a few years ago has shifted, so it’s less about upscale takes on lowbrow food and more about lowbrow takes on upscale food. Or maybe it isn’t! IT’S SO HARD TO TELL RIGHT NOW. But what we’ve seen more than anything is that the best restaurants — no matter what the theme, scale, or size — seem to be focused. Focused on doing simple things in a great way. Focused on a particular type of food no one else is thinking about. Focused on small menus where no item can or should be ignored. It’d be easy to say people are doing more with less, but that’s not quite right. Maybe they’re just realizing you can use less to do more?
Anyway, as with every year, Liz and I pick these restaurants in consultation with our editors all over the country. If we didn’t dine there, someone we trust very, very much did. And now we want you to go too.