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Best of Milwaukee 2016 Winners: Dining Out

Jan. 18, 2017
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African Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Irie Zulu
7237 W. North Ave.
414-509-6014
IrieZulu.com

Irie means a connection to the environment and your deeper self. Zulu references the strong, vibrant and beautiful South African tribe. This restaurant meshes the two concepts into complex and explosive flavors with spices that tempt and warm you to your core. Irie Zulu blends African and Jamaican cuisines into a delectable, homey and healthy dining experience using fresh ingredients. Their red snapper is grilled whole for flavor, the oxtail rich and satisfying. Traditional cookery is used to create their colorful fusion cuisine. Each dining experience is a trek through textures and flavors not soon to be forgotten. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Alem Ethiopian Village
Blue Star Café
Ethiopian Cottage

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Barbecue

FIRST PLACE:
Smoke Shack
multiple locations
HospitalityDemocracy.com/Smoke-Shack

The Joan of Arc Chapel on Marquette’s campus was built around 1420 in southeastern France. In the early 1960s it was disassembled, shipped to Milwaukee and put back together stone by stone. The Smoke Shack has a similar transplanted quality—as if a wealthy and pious lover of barbecue had a rural joint brought plank by plank to the Third Ward. Featuring five house-made sauces representing different regional styles, ethically sourced meats and a slew of sides, the Smoke Shack has something to offer barbecue lovers of all geographic origins and dietary restrictions (even vegetarians!). (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
Double B’s BBQ
Sandra’s on the Park
Speed Queen Bar-B-Q

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Bar Food

FIRST PLACE:
Three Lions Pub
4515 N. Oakland Ave.
414-763-6992
ThreeLionsPub.com

The Three Lions Pub wants to be an extension of your living room, so they offer the kind of homey, comfort food you crave. Scour the menu, and you’ll uncover some treats. The sausage roll, a savory appetizer of pastry-wrapped pork, or Scotch eggs, deep-fried sausage-wrapped eggs, are tasty alternatives to the usual bar fare. The curry is warmly spiced and satisfying—served with chips, it’s the perfect bar snack. The huge Lion’s Pretzel is baked golden and delicious. With so many things to try, you’ll have to make several trips…not a bad thing in my book. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Miller Time Pub & Grill
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
Red Lion Pub

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Breakfast

FIRST PLACE:
Blue’s Egg
317 N. 76th St.
414-299-3180
BluesEgg.com

For several years, Blue’s Egg has been a constant favorite breakfast and brunch place in Milwaukee. Serving up a solid menu of classics as well as several signature dishes, Blue’s Egg will satisfy even the most discriminating palate. Standout dishes that keep customers returning again and again include Blue’s stuffed hash browns, an amazing eggs benedict, fresh and gooey monkey bread, perfectly poached eggs and their signature brunch cocktails. As you may expect, the popularity of Blue’s Egg may come with a lengthy wait at peak breakfast times. Trust me, it’s worth it! (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Comet Café
Mad Rooster Café
West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe

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Brew Pub

FIRST PLACE:
Lakefront Brewery
1872 N. Commerce St.
414-372-8800
LakefrontBrewery.com

Lakefront’s dining menu reflects their Wisconsin pride, using local foods like cheese curds from Clockshadow Creamery, sausages from Johnsonville, Usinger’s and Klements, as well as several dishes featuring their own beers. On Friday, diners flock in for a traditional Milwaukee fish fry with all of the fixings and a pint of delicious Lakefront beer. If you haven’t yet taken the Lakefront Brewery tour, do so immediately. For $10 you get four six-ounce samples, a free pint glass and a humorous, yet informative, tour. It’s a great way to sample several different craft brews at once. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Company Brewing
Milwaukee Ale House
Water Street Brewery

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Brunch

FIRST PLACE:
Blue’s Egg
317 N. 76th St.
414-299-3180
BluesEgg.com

For several years, Blue’s Egg has been a constant favorite breakfast and brunch place in Milwaukee. Serving up a solid menu of classics as well as several signature dishes, Blue’s Egg will satisfy even the most discriminating palate. Standout dishes that keep customers returning again and again include Blue’s stuffed hash browns, an amazing eggs benedict, fresh and gooey monkey bread, perfectly poached eggs and their signature brunch cocktails. As you may expect, the popularity of Blue’s Egg may come with a lengthy wait at peak breakfast times. Trust me, it’s worth it! (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Café Hollander
Comet Café
Wolf Peach

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Buffet

FIRST PLACE:
Casablanca
728 E. Brady St.
414-271-6000
CasablancaOnBrady.com

Now served on the second floor overlooking Brady Street, Casablanca’s Middle Eastern buffet is a vegetarian delight with hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and numerous salads and vegetable dishes. Meat can be added with a slight surcharge. It’s also a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the cuisine and a just-like-home experience for those who grew up with it—whether you call it Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. Menu options include excellent chicken and lamb dishes. Hookahs are available in the downstairs bar area. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Café India
India Garden
Maharaja

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Burgers

FIRST PLACE:
Kopp’s Frozen Custard
multiple locations
Kopps.com

Let’s be clear: There’s really no such thing as bad custard, since any desert with such a high butterfat content is bound to be delicious. Kopp’s custard, though, is among the creamiest, fattiest and most decadent custard in the city, and the local chain’s flare for pricey ingredients—think macadamia nuts—makes a good thing even better. What really sets Kopp’s apart, though, are their massive burgers: perfect, nearly Frisbee-sized patties kissed with butter (make sure to order yours with fried onions). And while the burgers tend to get all the attention, Kopp’s savory chicken sandwich gives them a legitimate run for their money. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
AJ Bombers
Camino
Sobelmans Pub & Grill

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Burrito

FIRST PLACE:
Café Corazón
multiple locations
CorazonMilwaukee.com

Nestled away on a quiet Riverwest street, Café Corazón gained a loyal following due to the outstanding quality of their food and service. In fact, their popularity increased so much that in 2016 they expanded to Bay View. At both locations you’ll find your favorite Mexican dishes, but none may be as filling as their delicious burritos. It’s hard to put your finger on what sets one burrito apart from another, but in the case of Café Corazón, it may just be the superior freshness of the ingredients. Quench your thirst with a deceptively simple house Margarita or extra tasty Corazón punch. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
BelAir Cantina
Taqueria Buenavista
Taqueria Los Comales

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Caribbean Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Cubanitas
728 N. Milwaukee St.
414-225-1760
GetBianchini.com/Cubanitas-Restaurant.html

If you want a taste of the tropics without leaving Milwaukee, a trip to Cubanitas should be in your future. When I go there, I must have yucca con mojo or yucca frita—because why settle for boring potatoes—and a caipirinha or Pisco sour. Then, I build my meal from there. No matter what you try, you’ll experience tender pork, beef, chicken or seafood, the juices of the tropics, coconut, the spices of the islands and a distinct Spanish influence. Begin your dining excursion, and you’ll be in a vacation frame of mind. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Irie Palace
Irie Zulu
La Caribeña

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Central/South American Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Cubanitas
728 N. Milwaukee St.
414-225-1760
GetBianchini.com/Cubanitas-Restaurant.html

If you want a taste of the tropics without leaving Milwaukee, a trip to Cubanitas should be in your future. When I go there, I must have yucca con mojo or yucca frita—because why settle for boring potatoes—and a caipirinha or Pisco sour. Then, I build my meal from there. No matter what you try, you’ll experience tender pork, beef, chicken or seafood, the juices of the tropics, coconut, the spices of the islands and a distinct Spanish influence. Begin your dining excursion, and you’ll be in a vacation frame of mind. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Chef Paz Restaurant
C-Viche
El Salvador Restaurant

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Cheap Eats

FIRST PLACE:
Conejito’s Place
539 W. Virginia St.
414-278-9106
Conejitos-Place.com

There is literally no food item on the Conejito’s menu that will run you more than $5 and a full meal costs less than a typical chain restaurant Margarita. Founded by butcher and bartender José “Conejito” Garza as a South Side tavern in 1972, he eventually began to serve tacos and other traditional Mexican fare and expanded the place to its present size in the ’90s. Legendary for its great food (served on paper plates) and its homey décor, Conejito’s remains a staple of its rapidly changing neighborhood. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
BelAir Cantina
Chubby’s Cheesesteaks/The Drive-Thru
Oakland Gyros

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Chicken Wings

FIRST PLACE:
Points East Pub
1501 N. Jackson St.
414-277-0122
ThePointsEastPub.com

Open since 1994, Points East Pub has become the premier destination for grilled chicken wings in Milwaukee and beyond. The simple, no-frills pub atmosphere aligns perfectly with the menu. While many local and national wing purveyors pride themselves on a laundry list of different sauces, dry rubs and comically off-the-wall flavors, this pub’s simple, smoky and grilled take on the usually deep-fried and sauce-soaked bar food is more than welcome. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Double B’s BBQ
Steny’s Tavern & Grill
TomKen’s

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Child Friendly Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Organ Piper Pizza
4353 S. 108th St.
414-529-1177
OrganPiperPizza.com

It’s not often you can find a place to entertain the young and the young at heart. You’ll find that rare balance at Organ Piper Pizza where the music is just as important as the food. The highly talented organists playing the pipe “Theater Organ” earn as much applause as the thin-crust pizza does. The best thing, and kids can be really entertaining, is watching the children bop around to the Beer Barrel Polka or shake a tail feather during the Chicken Dance; you’re guaranteed to smile. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Mozzaluna
The Original Pancake House
Tre Rivali

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Chinese Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Emperor of China
1010 E. Brady St.
414-271-8889
EmperorOfChinaRestaurant.com

You’ll get a sense of the history of the Shepherd Express’ Best of Milwaukee awards from the many, many plaques on display in the foyer of this welcoming restaurant. Emperor of China was an oasis for me at a difficult time in my life—a place for nurturing conversations with friends over delicious meals eaten slowly in a quiet, beautiful room. It remains my favorite place for carryout. Very generous helpings of every loveable Chinese entrée and appetizer are available homemade at very inexpensive prices in a family-owned and -operated place that’s the antithesis of corporate. (John Schneider)

RUNNERS-UP:
Huan Xi
Jing’s
No. 1 Chinese

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Coffee Shop

FIRST PLACE:
Colectivo
multiple locations
ColectivoCoffee.com

Colectivo is to Milwaukeeans what Central Perk was on “Friends”—a place to gather and gab, to congregate and caffeinate. With locations in nearly every neighborhood, Colectivo has long been the default choice for business meetings, blind dates, dissertation writing and many other activities of day-to-day life. The coffee is beyond reproach, the pastries tasty, the meals healthy and hearty…but why am I telling you? Odds are you’re already reading this in a Colectivo. (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company
Brewed Café
Stone Creek Coffee

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Delivery Menu

FIRST PLACE:
Pizza Shuttle
1827 N. Farwell Ave.
414-289-9993
PizzaShuttle.com

In more than 30 years of business, Pizza Shuttle has built a brand out of being the go-to late-night stop for East Siders on their way home after a night out. But don’t pigeonhole Pizza Shuttle as just an inebriated last stop before begrudgingly returning home on a Saturday night. The doughy pan crust and liberally placed toppings make for a good meal any time of the day. The restaurant’s décor, which includes multiple arcade games and a photo booth, creates an intoxicatingly playful environment. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Buddha Lounge
Chubby’s Cheesesteaks/The Drive-Thru
Rice N Roll

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Donuts

FIRST PLACE:
Cranky Al’s
6901 W. North Ave.
414-258-5282
CrankyAls.com

Doughnuts from national chains can be very tasty, but they don’t hold a candle to the incredible doughnuts at Cranky Al’s. You’ll find all of your classic favorites, in addition to plenty of creative, unique varieties like Gummy Bear or yummy Maple Bacon. One thing you can be sure of, all of Cranky Al’s doughnuts will have that perfect, fresh doughnut texture—delicately fried to a crisp outside and fluffy inside. Just make sure you get there early for the best selection, especially important on weekends! (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Aggie’s Bakery & Cake Shop
Chubby’s Cheesesteaks/The Drive-Thru
Holey Moley Coffee + Doughnuts

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Farm-to-Table Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Odd Duck (also won in Gourmet category)
2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
414-763-5881
OddDuckRestaurant.com

The menu changes quite often, and the reason why is the ingredients. Odd Duck is a restaurant focusing on local ingredients—inspired and driven by them. Some ingredients available in fall won’t be available in spring, summer or winter. They want to capture the essence of the ingredients at their peak, and it works. The chefs of Odd Duck are able to create some wonderfully unique, even magical, dishes (bonito flakes dancing on a hot pancake) that truly celebrate the ingredients. World cuisine on small plates will sate your cravings and appetite. The service is spot on so you’re not rushed, their wine and beer list impressive, and their craft cocktails thoughtfully concocted and quite tasty. It’s a real treat. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Braise
Honeypie
Wolf Peach

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Fish Fry

FIRST PLACE:
Lakefront Brewery
1872 N. Commerce St.
414-372-8800
LakefrontBrewery.com

Lakefront’s dining menu reflects their Wisconsin pride, using local foods like cheese curds from Clockshadow Creamery, sausages from Johnsonville, Usinger’s and Klements, as well as several dishes featuring their own beers. On Friday, diners flock in for a traditional Milwaukee fish fry with all of the fixings and a pint of delicious Lakefront beer. If you haven’t yet taken the Lakefront Brewery tour, do so immediately. For $10 you get four six-ounce samples, a free pint glass and a humorous, yet informative, tour. It’s a great way to sample several different craft brews at once. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Laura’s DBC Bar & Grill
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
Sandra’s on the Park

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French Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Le Rêve Patisserie and Café
7610 Harwood Ave.
414-778-3333
LeReveCafe.com

Le Rêve is a French patisserie and café in Wauwatosa, and its glass cases are filled with baked goods. Some of the items are so beautiful that they seem criminal to eat. Le Rêve is a long, narrow space suggesting restaurants on the continent and the sidewalk in front becomes a café come summer. The menu includes selections for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner and, of course, there is a thoughtful wine list. (Morton Shlabotnik)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
Coquette Café

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Frozen Yogurt Shop

FIRST PLACE:
Yo Mama!
multiple locations
YoMamaGoodness.com

Frozen yogurt is a dessert that lends itself to the justifications of an uneasy conscience. “All the flavors are low fat,” we remind ourselves, “and just think of all those probiotic cultures.” There’s also an added D.I.Y. pleasure to the froyo’s preparation: With 35 toppings and 10 flavors (including a no-sugar option and dairy-free sorbet), Yo Mama! lets you customize dessert to the peculiarities of your taste buds. Sweetening the deal, so to speak, the locally owned Yo Mama! supports the Milwaukee community with in-store events and “Mama Earth” with recycled materials and environmentally friendly products. (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
Daddy Yo’s Frozen Yogurt
MyYoMy Frozen Yogurt
Yo Factory

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Gelato Shop

FIRST PLACE:
Glorioso’s Italian Market
1011 E. Brady St.
414-272-0540
Gloriosos.com

This big, busy grocery store and deli rich with Italian imports and local artisan foods is, along with Peter Sciortino’s Bakery down the street (whose cookies and breads are also sold here), the great surviving testament to the Italian immigrant history of the neighborhood it anchors. Imaginative gelatos—whiskey cream, pistachio, Italian cookie, Venetian tiramisu, Tahitian vanilla—come in scoops, cones and cartons. Aisles and aisles of cheeses, olive oils, wines and sweets lead to an expansive deli offering sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, calzones, paninis, flatbreads, salads—some exotic, all authentic, all fresh. There’s ample indoor seating and even more outdoors. (John Schneider)

RUNNERS-UP:
Divino Gelato Café
La Coppa Artisan Gelato
Whole Foods Market

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German Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Mader’s
1041 N. Old World Third St.
414-271-3377
MadersRestaurant.com

In 1902, an ambitious young man from Germany, Charles Mader, poured every penny he had into a restaurant in Downtown Milwaukee. Though it moved (once) since, Mader’s has not only been a Milwaukee landmark and cultural cornerstone but can boast a national reputation as one of the finest German restaurants in the U.S. In addition to the restaurant itself, there’s the Knight’s Bar and famous second-floor gift shop filled with imported beer steins and collectable Hummel figurines. The menu is echte Deutsch: Wienerschnitzel, Kasseler rippchen, sauerbraten, duck strudel, rouladen, sausages galore and much more. (John Jahn)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bavarian Bierhaus
Karl Ratzsch
Kegel’s Inn

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Gourmet Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Odd Duck (also won in Farm-to-Table category)
2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
414-763-5881
OddDuckRestaurant.com

The menu changes quite often, and the reason why is the ingredients. Odd Duck is a restaurant focusing on local ingredients—inspired and driven by them. Some ingredients available in fall won’t be available in spring, summer or winter. They want to capture the essence of the ingredients at their peak, and it works. The chefs of Odd Duck are able to create some wonderfully unique, even magical, dishes (bonito flakes dancing on a hot pancake) that truly celebrate the ingredients. World cuisine on small plates will sate your cravings and appetite. The service is spot on so you’re not rushed, their wine and beer list impressive, and their craft cocktails thoughtfully concocted and quite tasty. It’s a real treat. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
Old Town Serbian Gourmet House
Sanford

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Greek Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Oakland Gyros
multiple locations

The original East Side location has long been popular with UW-Milwaukee students and Shepherd Express readers and the South Side venue keeps the concept intact. One of Milwaukee’s favorite counter-service restaurants, Oakland Gyros offers gyros and shish-kebob sandwiches, spinach pie, Greek salads and even plain old cheeseburgers. The leg of lamb combo features a large piece of tender, flavorful meat in a brown sauce, served with warm pita, black olives, feta and choice of fries or salad. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Apollo Café
Golden Gyros
Ouzo Café

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Hot Dog

FIRST PLACE:
The Dogg Haus
multiple locations
TheDoggHaus.com

The Dogg Haus has expanded to five locations in the 11 years since they opened their first storefront on Brady Street. The expansion has allowed them to cater to various demographics in the city as a late-night favorite, lunchtime hub or a casual dinner option. While rapid growth can affect a restaurant’s menu in a multitude of ways, The Dogg Haus has remained committed to what they do best: delicious, highly customizable Vienna beef dogs wrapped in a steamed poppy seed bun. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Martino’s
Sammy’s Taste of Chicago
The Vanguard

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Hotel Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Mason Street Grill (Pfister Hotel)
425 E. Mason St.
414-298-3131
MasonStreetGrill.com

The Mason Street Grill is a fine representative of the high-class quality exuded by the Pfister Hotel. Whether you come from the hotel or off the street, diners at Mason Street Grill will be treated to top-notch service, a posh yet comfortable dining space and delicious, well-prepared food. Perfectly cooked steaks, fresh seafood and classic comfort foods are all on offer. Live music Monday through Saturday, happy hour specials and a separate bar menu could make the Mason Street Grill into an evening-long, one-stop destination. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Café at the Plaza (Plaza Hotel)
Pastiche (Hotel Metro)
Tre Rivali (Kimpton Journeyman Hotel)

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Ice Cream/Custard Stand

FIRST PLACE:
Kopp’s Frozen Custard
multiple locations
Kopps.com

Let’s be clear: There’s really no such thing as bad custard, since any desert with such a high butterfat content is bound to be delicious. Kopp’s custard, though, is among the creamiest, fattiest and most decadent custard in the city, and the local chain’s flare for pricey ingredients—think macadamia nuts—makes a good thing even better. What really sets Kopp’s apart, though, are their massive burgers: perfect, nearly Frisbee-sized patties kissed with butter (make sure to order yours with fried onions). And while the burgers tend to get all the attention, Kopp’s savory chicken sandwich gives them a legitimate run for their money. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Gilles Frozen Custard
Leon’s Frozen Custard
Oscar’s Frozen Custard

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Indian/Pakistani Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Maharaja
1550 N. Farwell Ave.
414-276-2250
MaharajaRestaurants.com

One of the most popular weekday lunch spots on Milwaukee’s East Side (and a perennial Best-of winner) is Maharaja. Its dining rooms are nearly always crowded for the daily buffet. While the vegetarian-friendly buffet with tandoori and many chicken items offers a good spread, ordering off the menu is also a great way to experience Indian cuisine. (Morton Shlabotnik)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bollywood Grill
Café India
India Garden

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Italian Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Tenuta’s Italian Restaurant
2995 S. Clement Ave.
414-431-1014
TenutasItalian.com

The old-fashioned Italian restaurant with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths will always have its place, but the Bay View hidden treasure Tenuta’s offers a cozier, more modern spin on the traditional neighborhood spaghetti factory. The warm, relaxed ambiance here is as much a draw as the heaping bowls of pasta and piping hot pizzas—especially during the blustery winter, it’s the type of place you don’t want to leave after your check arrives. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Carini’s La Conca d’Ora
Mozzaluna
Papa Luigi’s Pizza

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Japanese Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Kiku
202 W. Wisconsin Ave.
414-270-1988
KikuMilwaukee.com

A sleek and stylish staple of Westown dining since it opened in 2009, Kiku offers a wide variety of Japanese and sushi entrées. The sushi is a particular favorite here, with its artful presentation another part of the place’s overall vibe. Kiku has racked up multiple wins in the sushi category in the BOM and regains their Best Japanese Restaurant title after the East Side favorite, Izumi’s, took the prize in ’15. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Fujiyama
Izumi’s
Rice N Roll

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Jewish/Kosher-Style Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Benji’s Deli
4156 N. Oakland Ave. 414-332-7777
8683 N. Port Washington Road 414-228-5130
BenjisDeliAndRestaurant.com

Some of the servers have been with Benji’s for some 30 years—and some of the regulars have been coming to the original Shorewood location for longer than that, even as new generations fill the booths. Since 1963, Benji’s has been a great place for coffee and a casual meal, a popular spot for carryout and, along with Jake’s Deli, a mainstay for Jewish American comfort food. The chicken soup and borscht are warm and hearty, corned beef is served on several sandwiches and the “Son of a Brisket Melt” on challa bread will stick to the ribs. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Jake’s Deli
The Kosher Market
Rubenstein Family Kosher Oasis

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Kitchen Open After 10 P.M.

FIRST PLACE:
Oakland Gyros
multiple locations

The original East Side location has long been popular with UW-Milwaukee students and Shepherd Express readers and the South Side venue keeps the concept intact. One of Milwaukee’s favorite counter-service restaurants, Oakland Gyros offers gyros and shish-kebob sandwiches, spinach pie, Greek salads and even plain old cheeseburgers. The leg of lamb combo features a large piece of tender, flavorful meat in a brown sauce, served with warm pita, black olives, feta and choice of fries or salad. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Buddha Lounge
Goodkind
Red Light Ramen

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Korean Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Lucky Ginger
221 N. Water St.
LuckyGingerMKE.com

Lucky Ginger celebrated its first birthday this fall and its winning the Shepherd’s award for Best Korean Restaurant is testament to the young establishment’s quality and charm. Lucky Ginger offers Asian cuisine and contemporary fusion; although Thai dishes dominate, if you’re committed to sampling Milwaukee’s growing Korean offerings, try the short ribs, which come with a fried egg, rice and kimchi. Also available are pocketbook-friendly appetizers and great lunch specials as well as a few import beers. The relaxed, elegant ambiance and friendly, knowledgeable service make Lucky Ginger a great choice for any occasion. (Selena Milewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Buddha Lounge
Seoul Korean Restaurant
Stone Bowl Grill

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Louisiana/Southern Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Maxie’s
6732 W. Fairview Ave.
414-292-3969
Maxies.com/milwaukee

Drawing inspiration from a wide spectrum of Southern cooking traditions, including Creole, Cajun, Southern barbecue and the low country cooking of the Carolinas, Maxie’s has become the go-to destination for Southern and soul food in the Milwaukee area. The menu covers all of the basics—jambalaya, catfish, shrimp, grits, pulled pork, ribs—but caters to more progressive palates with barbecued organic tofu and tofu “wings.” These personalized takes on Southern and soul food make Maxie’s a must-try for anyone who appreciates down-home comfort food. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Crawdaddy’s
Palomino Bar
The Brass Alley

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Mediterranean Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Casablanca
728 E. Brady St.
414-271-6000
CasablancaOnBrady.com

Now served on the second floor overlooking Brady Street, Casablanca’s Middle Eastern buffet is a vegetarian delight with hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and numerous salads and vegetable dishes. Meat can be added with a slight surcharge. It’s also a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the cuisine and a just-like-home experience for those who grew up with it—whether you call it Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. Menu options include excellent chicken and lamb dishes. Hookahs are available in the downstairs bar area. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Apollo Café
Baba Ghanouj
Hello Falafel

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Mexican Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Café Corazón
multiple locations
CorazonMilwaukee.com

Nestled away on a quiet Riverwest street, Café Corazón gained a loyal following due to the outstanding quality of their food and service. In fact, their popularity increased so much that in 2016 they expanded to Bay View. At both locations you’ll find your favorite Mexican dishes, but none may be as filling as their delicious burritos. It’s hard to put your finger on what sets one burrito apart from another, but in the case of Café Corazón, it may just be the superior freshness of the ingredients. Quench your thirst with a deceptively simple house Margarita or extra tasty Corazón punch. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
BelAir Cantina
Botanas
Guanajuato

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Middle Eastern Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Casablanca
728 E. Brady St.
414-271-6000
CasablancaOnBrady.com

Now served on the second floor overlooking Brady Street, Casablanca’s Middle Eastern buffet is a vegetarian delight with hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and numerous salads and vegetable dishes. Meat can be added with a slight surcharge. It’s also a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the cuisine and a just-like-home experience for those who grew up with it—whether you call it Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. Menu options include excellent chicken and lamb dishes. Hookahs are available in the downstairs bar area. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Baba Ghanouj
Shawarma House
Shahrazad Restaurant

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National Chain Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Cheesecake Factory
multiple locations

With a wide variety of breakfast, salads, sandwiches, entrées, pizzas and “glamburgers,” it’s hard not to find something to like at the Cheesecake Factory. And with their legendarily generous portions, it might be just as hard to make it back to your car afterwards. Even if it doesn’t impress the foodie crowd, their two Milwaukee-area locations (Bayshore Town Center and Mayfair Mall) come out on top among national chain eateries. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Applebee’s
Chili’s
Olive Garden

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New Restaurant (Opened In 2016)

FIRST PLACE:
DanDan
360 E. Erie St.
414-488-8036
DanDanMKE.com

While DanDan may be new in 2016, chef-owners Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite have been cooking around Milwaukee for a few years already. DanDan (named for the owners as well as for a Chinese Szechwan noodle dish) is not your typical Chinese restaurant. Instead, it is an excellent blend of American and Chinese cuisine with a farm-to-table sensibility. DanDan re-imagines the dishes we’ve come to expect from a Chinese restaurant and presents diners with a familiar, yet brand new, experience. Try the amazing Schmaltz Fried Rice or the General Tso’s Cauliflower, and I think you’ll understand. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Durbar Restaurant & Lounge
In the Nick of Time
Rare Steakhouse

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Outdoor Dining

FIRST PLACE:
Barnacle Bud’s
1955 S. Hilbert St.
414-481-9974
Barnacle-Buds.com

Barnacle Bud’s, nestled along the Kinnickinnic River just east of the KK Bridge, is a place hidden so deeply within Milwaukee it feels like you aren’t in the city at all. Bud’s patio is a great place to slurp cold beer and enjoy a great seafood lunch while the squares of this world are stuck behind a desk. The great view of the river and its wooded banks is interrupted only by the occasional passing cement ship and provides the perfect background for your dining experience. God help us, it might even make you want to listen to Jimmy Buffet. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Café Benelux
Café Hollander
Sandra’s on the Park

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Pizzeria

FIRST PLACE:
Zaffiro’s Pizza
1724 N. Farwell Ave.
414-289-8776
ZaffirosPizza.com

You don’t need to look any further than the neon sign above the door and the red-and-white-checked tablecloths in the dining room to know that Zaffiro’s Pizza is an old-school, no-nonsense pizzeria. A staple of Milwaukee’s East Side since 1956, Zaffiro’s specializes in thin-crust classic pies. You won’t find macaroni and cheese, French fries or any other gimmicky toppings on a pizza at Zaffiro’s, and that’s just fine. A pizza this good doesn’t need to change to fit the flavor of the day. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Papa Luigi’s
Pizza Man
Transfer Pizzeria Café

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Ramen

FIRST PLACE:
Red Light Ramen
1749 N. Farwell Ave.
414-837-5107
RedLightRamen.com

The ever-popular, late-night foodie favorite, Red Light Ramen got a little more accessible this summer when Ardent owner and executive chef Justin Carlisle announced an expansion into a weekly mobile ramen kitchen, open from noon to 1 a.m. Saturday at Central Craft Distillery, 613 S. Second St. Carlisle cited a desire to service more customers, Ardent’s space constraints and the proximity to neighborhoods south of Downtown as reasons to open the mobile kitchen. Red Light Ramen continues their regular hours of 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday at Ardent. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Izumi’s
Stone Bowl Grill
Tochi Ramen

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Restaurant Service

FIRST PLACE:
Odd Duck
2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
414-763-5881
OddDuckRestaurant.com

Friendly staff greets you at Odd Duck. Sit at the bar and an attentive and knowledgeable bartender will answer any of your questions about their craft cocktails—inventive and mixed to perfection—or the wine and beer list. When you dine here, the servers are available to answer questions about ingredients, drinks, or food and drink pairings. Being small-plate dining, they allow you to try one or two things at once, so as not to crowd the table or palate. They are on-hand, though, ready with your next dish or when you want to place another order. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Goodkind
Movida
Rare Steakhouse

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Restaurant With A View

FIRST PLACE:
Harbor House
550 N. Harbor Drive
414-395-4900
HarborHouseMKE.com

The beautiful lake view from Harbor House is unmatched among Milwaukee restaurants, partially because the state constitution prohibits using filled lakebed (on which Harbor House sits) for private use. The restaurant’s lease ends with the city in 2018 and seafood lovers all over the area are hoping that the situation can be amicably resolved. In addition to the stunning view, Harbor House offers one of Milwaukee’s best “raw bars,” featuring fresh oysters, clams and shrimp. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
Screaming Tuna
Wolf Peach

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Romantic Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
3133 E. Newberry Blvd.
414-952-6300
LakeParkBistro.com

How could Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro fail to be a romantic venue to dine in? It’s ensconced in Milwaukee’s gorgeous, Frederick Law Olmstead-designed Lake Park atop a bluff with a scenic view of Lake Michigan. In addition to a physical setting that’s hard to beat, there is the French-focused menu to add even more charm to a romantic dinner for two. Not the hoity-toity kind of high cuisine, necessarily, but the less intimidating rustic varieties. It’s also a place with many menu options, making return visits all the more inviting. Arrive with your sweetie hungry enough to jointly partake of all the pleasurable courses. (John Jahn)

RUNNERS-UP:
Elsa’s on the Park
Harbor House
Movida

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Sandwich

FIRST PLACE:
Kopp’s Frozen Custard
multiple locations
Kopps.com

Let’s be clear: There’s really no such thing as bad custard, since any desert with such a high butterfat content is bound to be delicious. Kopp’s custard, though, is among the creamiest, fattiest and most decadent custard in the city, and the local chain’s flare for pricey ingredients—think macadamia nuts—makes a good thing even better. What really sets Kopp’s apart, though, are their massive burgers: perfect, nearly Frisbee-sized patties kissed with butter (make sure to order yours with fried onions). And while the burgers tend to get all the attention, Kopp’s savory chicken sandwich gives them a legitimate run for their money. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Chubby’s Cheesesteaks/The Drive-Thru
Cousins Subs
West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe

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Seafood Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Harbor House
550 N. Harbor Drive
414-395-4900
HarborHouseMKE.com

The beautiful lake view from Harbor House is unmatched among Milwaukee restaurants, partially because the state constitution prohibits using filled lakebed (on which Harbor House sits) for private use. The restaurant’s lease ends with the city in 2018 and seafood lovers all over the area are hoping that the situation can be amicably resolved. In addition to the stunning view, Harbor House offers one of Milwaukee’s best “raw bars,” featuring fresh oysters, clams and shrimp. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Maxie’s
Milwaukee Sail Loft
St. Paul Fish Market

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Soul Food

FIRST PLACE:
Maxie’s
6732 W. Fairview Ave.
414-292-3969
Maxies.com/milwaukee

Drawing inspiration from a wide spectrum of Southern cooking traditions, including Creole, Cajun, Southern barbecue and the low country cooking of the Carolinas, Maxie’s has become the go-to destination for Southern and soul food in the Milwaukee area. The menu covers all of the basics—jambalaya, catfish, shrimp, grits, pulled pork, ribs—but caters to more progressive palates with barbecued organic tofu and tofu “wings.” These personalized takes on Southern and soul food make Maxie’s a must-try for anyone who appreciates down-home comfort food. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Ashley’s Que
Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille
In the Nick of Time

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Soup

FIRST PLACE:
The Soup Market
multiple locations
TheSoupMarket.com

What better way to warm up during a bitter Milwaukee winter than with a delicious bowl of soup? Now 12 years old, The Soup Market boasts five locations: Bay View, Hales Corners, Vliet Street, the Milwaukee Center and the charming “Soup and Stock Market” in the Milwaukee Public Market. Every day guarantees chicken noodle, chicken dumpling, a variant of chili and three to six featured soups. Also available are a great selection of deli sandwiches, salads, desserts and the delicious vanilla-infused Haley and Annabelle’s Root Beer, named for founder Dave Jurena’s daughters with proceeds supporting their college funds. (Selena Milewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Soup Bros.
The Soup House
The Soup Otzie’s

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Steakhouse

FIRST PLACE:
Five O’Clock Steakhouse
2416 W. State St.
414-342-3553
FiveOClockSteakhouse.com

Between its retro décor and quirky ordering system, the Five O’Clock Steakhouse offers a unique dining experience. Diners order at the bar while enjoying a pre-meal drink. When they arrive at their table, their salad will be waiting for them, along with fresh sourdough bread and a full relish tray. Though the menu offers seafood, lamb and pork, the steaks are the no-brainer choice here. They’re cooked on high heat so even the rarest orders develop a phenomenal char that seals in the juices, then topped with butter-sautéed mushrooms. The décor may be outdated, but these steaks are timeless. (Evan Rytlewski.)

RUNNERS-UP:
Carnevor
Mason Street Grill
Rare Steakhouse

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Street Food Vendor/Food Truck

FIRST PLACE:
Gypsy Taco
2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Facebook.com/GypsyTaco

With its comfy seating and rustic, Southern décor, Bay View’s Boone and Crockett has one of the best outdoor patios of any bar in the city, but it’s the built-in taco truck that really puts it over the top. For the price of fast food, Gypsy Taco offers proudly haute, proudly inauthentic tacos topped with garnishes like kale, radish and sunflower seeds. To order the Dr. Pepper-braised pork taco is to feel like you’ve gotten away with something: Food this elegant has no business being this cheap. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Gouda Girls
Marco Pollo
Streetza Pizza

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Supper Club

FIRST PLACE:
Five O’Clock Steakhouse
2416 W. State St.
414-342-3553
FiveOClockSteakhouse.com

Between its retro décor and quirky ordering system, the Five O’Clock Steakhouse offers a unique dining experience. Diners order at the bar while enjoying a pre-meal drink. When they arrive at their table, their salad will be waiting for them, along with fresh sourdough bread and a full relish tray. Though the menu offers seafood, lamb and pork, the steaks are the no-brainer choice here. They’re cooked on high heat so even the rarest orders develop a phenomenal char that seals in the juices, then topped with butter-sautéed mushrooms. The décor may be outdated, but these steaks are timeless. (Evan Rytlewski.)

RUNNERS-UP:
Jackson Grill
Joey Gerard’s
Sandra’s on the Park

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Sushi

FIRST PLACE:
Kiku
202 W. Wisconsin Ave.
414-270-1988
KikuMilwaukee.com

A sleek and stylish staple of Westown dining since it opened in 2009, Kiku offers a wide variety of Japanese and sushi entrées. The sushi is a particular favorite here, with its artful presentation another part of the place’s overall vibe. Kiku has racked up multiple wins in the sushi category in the BOM and regains their Best Japanese Restaurant title after the East Side favorite, Izumi’s, took the prize in ’15. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Izumi’s
Rice N Roll
Screaming Tuna

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Taco

FIRST PLACE:
BelAir Cantina
multiple locations
BelAirCantina.com

All you need to do is to try walking in and getting a table on a Tuesday or Thursday night if you want to know how much people love BelAir’s tacos. The neighboring bars of each of the four (soon to be five) California-style Mexican restaurants have made a killing over the years on people willing to wait 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half for the expansive, adventurous $2 taco menu. From a simple carne asada to the jam-packed Zihuatanejo shrimp, if BelAir doesn’t have a taco you like, you must not like tacos. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Café Corazon
Gypsy Taco
Taqueria Los Comales

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Tapas (Small Plates)

FIRST PLACE:
La Merenda
128 E. National Ave.
414-389-0125
LaMerenda125.com

When La Merenda opened in 2007, small-plate dining was unfamiliar to most Milwaukeeans, but the cozy Walker’s Point restaurant soon took the lead in exposing the city to the delights of tapas. The menu evolves seasonally, draws from a host of Wisconsin ingredients and includes vegetarian, seafood, poultry and red meat selections. With its colorfully mismatched tables and chairs and friendly but unobtrusive service, La Merenda is the perfect place for an unhurried meal among friends. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
C-Viche
Movida
Odd Duck

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Thai Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Thai-Namite
multiple locations
Facebook.com/thainamite

It’s easy to imagine how Thai-Namite has been able to expand into a space at the Milwaukee Public Market and a full storefront in Wauwatosa since opening their original restaurant on Brady Street in 2010. Their casual, accessible approach to Thai cuisine and hip, modern décor inside their restaurants make for an enjoyable dining experience on any occasion. Four types of curries and a number of different noodle dishes offer a wide variety of Thai cuisine that is palatable for anyone. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Buddha Lounge
EE-Sane
Rice N Roll

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Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Beans & Barley
1901 E. North Ave.
414-278-7878
BeansAndBarley.com

Healthy eating doesn’t mean sacrificing pleasure. Milwaukee wasn’t vegetarian friendly when Beans & Barley opened in 1979, but it immediately carved a niche in the city, growing over time from a natural foods deli-grocery with a few tables into a full-service restaurant with dining room and lunch counter. The coffee is strong, the desserts are sweet and everything in between is flavorful, nutritious and attractively served. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Beerline Café
Café Manna
Casablanca

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Vietnamese Restaurant

FIRST PLACE:
Hué
multiple locations
HueRestaurants.com

A sure sign of success when it comes to the restaurant business is expansion—not just of a menu or the seating area or addition of a bar, but in terms of entire new locations being added. Such has been the case for the hippest of the burgeoning number of Vietnamese restaurants in our area, Hué. They now have two locations: Bay View and Wauwatosa. Both offer a full menu of Vietnamese favorites—from fresh spring rolls to lemongrass-and-garlic-marinated beef skewers and from chicken, seafood and vegetable curries to that great staple, pho. Hué’s adjective-heavy menus are especially eater-friendly for those not familiar with this type of cuisine. (John Jahn)

RUNNERS-UP:
Pho 43
Pho Cali
Xankia

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Wine List

FIRST PLACE:
Balzac
1617 N. Arlington Place
414-755-0099
BalzacWineBar.com

The look, atmosphere, food, drink, staff, patrons, prices, patio and sidewalk seating—everything about this bar and small-plate restaurant is appealing. It’s been my go-to place for meetings and conversations since it opened years ago. Good beers and cocktails are happily served and wine is the specialty. Balzac fights the stereotype that wine is a snob drink for rich people. The place takes pride in serving a great variety of delicious wines by the bottle, the glass and on tap at extremely affordable prices. The staff is kind and knows how to talk about wine in a helpful way. (John Schneider)

RUNNERS-UP:
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
Goodkind
Pizza Man

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