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Madison, WI dining


Elizabeth Ann
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So sorry to hear about your mom.

Here are a few notes I made in 1999. Most of these places are still around, I think:

+++

The cast of characters: Maddy, a geologist and childhood friend of Ellen, provided us with accommodations in Madison. Like all good houseguests, we came at the worst possible time--to wit, we came on Thursday and Maddy has to defend her Ph.D dissertation on Saturday. Karine, a Frenchwoman who Ellen met on a park bench in New York (long story) also managed to be in Madison (she used to teach French at the University, but doesn't anymore, but was in town anyway) to welcome us.

Madison is primarily a college town, although, being the capital, it also serves a government function. The University population, about 40,000 strong, definitely sets the tone for the city and the restaurants.

The campus itself is right on the lake, and our culinary tour of Madison begins at the University of Wisconsin Student Union. Ice cream, made on campus at the dairy department, is available at the Dairy Bar (the other local favorite frozen dessert spot is the off-campus Michael's Custard), and beer is served in mass quantities at Rathskeller. Outside on the Terrace, you can (as we did) enjoy live music overlooking the water. Right near campus, at the foot of State Street (the head end of State Street is at the Capitol building), are several food carts. Most people, Karine included, say the best one is Buraka, where a gentleman named Markos (who has a business degree but prefers to cook) presides over the best East African kitchen I've experienced. If you've ever been disappointed by the greasy, heavy, overspiced glop that passes for Ethiopian food in New York, this is the antidote. Markos turns out light, carefully spiced food with great depth of flavor. We chatted with Markos for a while and were soon joined by his friend Solomon, a career counselor at the University, who constitutes the other half of the Ethiopian community in Madison. We were then introduced, in turn, to their mathematician friend from Somalia and their Nigerian friend who works in the University bookstore and somehow (perhaps provoked by me) a debate ensued about the virtues of goat milk versus camel milk.

There's a fine dining establishment in Madison called L'Etoile (which we didn't visit), but I can't believe the cuisine there could be any better than that dished out by chef Betsy at the French House. The French House, a University-affiliated French-language dorm, is perhaps the most civilized college-living facility on the planet. We had a tour, courtesy of Karine (who used to live there, but doesn't anymore, but was staying there anyway), and we were blown away by the salon overlooking the lake, the kitchen (larger--and perhaps better--than most restaurant kitchens) and the first-class amenities (air conditioning, etc.) you wouldn't normally expect to find in university housing. If you're about to matriculate at the University of Wisconsin, I strongly suggest you learn French (or just lie and say you know some) and choose this place as your residence.

We had good (and filling--they say Wisconsin is the "heaviest" state) meals at two local institutions: Dotty Dumpling's Dowry and Mickies Dairy Bar. Dotty Dumpling's is a burger joint that serves first-rate charbroiled burgers (USA Today's readers say best in America, but that's an exaggeration) and fries, plus a local specialty: Deep-fried cheese curds (that's the curds, as in curds-and-whey, after they're separated from the whey but before they're molded into actual cheese). Mickies Dairy Bar is a breakfast spot with immense portions of good-but-not-great pancakes, omelets and the like (large portions conceal a multitude of sins in the eyes of many Madisonians). Amy's Cafe is a fun local hangout and Karine's favorite place to eat--Amy's essentially serves bar food, but on a higher level. At the lowest level of the food-chain is State Street Brats, a disgusting college dive bar complete with beer-encrusted floors (and stools), which is probably the most popular spot for the the reigning local delicacy: Bratwurst. Connoisseurs insist, however, that the best bratwurst come from Regent Market Coop, which sells bratwurst made (as a hobby) by one of the professors at the University (the owner of the market, Jay Rath, is also an accomplished cartoonist--I'm not making this up). Also recommended for bratwurst specifically, German food generally, and Friday-night polka (where we're headed now) is Essen Haus. The recommended bratwurst cooking procedure is to smoke them (this is usually done prior to purchase), boil them in beer and then grill them.

Finally, thanks to the University influence, State Street contains an eclectic mix of Asian restaurants--everything from Thai to Nepali. There are, in fact, two Nepali restaurants (virtually next door to one another) competing for that market segment (as far as I know, New York has no Nepali restaurants, although we do have several Tibetan restaurants and, as far as I can tell from the menus at the two types of restaurants and the first-hand accounts I've received from my wife, the cuisines are so similar that one could in good conscience lump them together as "Himalayan," at least for restaurant purposes). We ate at Himal Chuli, the more highly recommended and less expensive of the two, and it was good but not as good as Tibet Shambhala in New York. The portions were small, probably explaining the near-complete absence of native Wisconsin clientele. The most valuable part of the meal was that we got to meet and interrogate Maddy's friends, Cricket and Phil, who turned out to be the definitive foodie information-sources in the region. Many thanks to them, and to Janet Lafler and Daphne Matalene for their e-mail mission-briefings regarding the local food scene.

Buraka East African Food, at the foot of State Street (campus end)

Dotty Dumpling's Dowry, 116 N. Fairchild, 608-255-3175

Mickies Dairy Bar, 1511 Monroe, 608-256-9476

U. of Wisconsin Student Union (includes Rathskeller, Terrace and Dairy Bar), on campus

Himal Chuli, 318 State St., 608-251-9225

Amy's Cafe, 414 W. Gilman, 608-255-8172

State Street Brats, 603 State St., 608-255-5544

Michael's Frozen Custard, locations throughout the area

Regent Market Coop, 2136 Regent, 608-233-4329

Essen Haus, 514 E. Wilson, 608-255-4674

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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L'Etoile.  Odessa Piper's restaurant on the square surrounding the capitol.

Take a good map with you if you plan a meal at L'Etoile. I tried to get there on my last trip through Madison. All the streets around the Capitol look exactly alike. I must have circled around for forty-five minutes, never getting any closer, it seemed. Finally I gave up and went to a Mexican restaurant.

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L'Etoile.  Odessa Piper's restaurant on the square surrounding the capitol.

Take a good map with you if you plan a meal at L'Etoile. I tried to get there on my last trip through Madison. All the streets around the Capitol look exactly alike. I must have circled around for forty-five minutes, never getting any closer, it seemed. Finally I gave up and went to a Mexican restaurant.

For geographical reference, L'Etoile is on the north side of the Square. Park on Mifflin.

I lived in Madison for eight years prior to moving to Chicago, and the Fat Guy's dining guide is quite sound.

A few side notes:

The student population hovers just under 42,000 total. When I started there in 1984, it was 45,000, and that increased every year that I attended, then enrollment was reduced. That was prior to the expansion of the law school, the business school, and the construction of several new dormitories. Now it looks as if enrollment is back on the rise.

Culinary alumnus of note: Charlie Trotter '82 (BA in Political Science and Philosophy)

The State of Wisconsin is on a rotation for the title of "Heaviest State" that includes Indiana, and Iowa.

The largest lecture hall on campus seats about 400 people.

If you lie about your French as a way of getting into the French House, you will be revealed and evicted. They were nice to the Fat Guy because he was a visitor. One of the rules is that French is the only language spoken, especially at meals. Potential residents are given written and verbal tests prior to acceptance. If you've got no game in the language department, don't even try it.

With regard to the ice cream that is sold on the UW campus, you can go to the student unions (there are two: Memorial Union and Union South), but you should go directly to Babcock Hall, the actual source of the ice cream and one of the most visited spots on campus. It is very close to University Hospital (it is a campus building, and they sell the ice cream there, too).

If you spend any more time on the campus, you must go to Memorial Union (800 N. Langdon) and hang out in der Rathskellar. That is the campus place for drinking beer. If you are a student, it is the place for drinking beer and blowing off classes. There is a beautifull terrace that looks out on Lake Mendota. This is the time of year when it is the most beautiful and enjoyable.

Mickie's Dairy Bar

Michael's Ice Cream

Doty Dumpling's Dowry

Himal Chuli (get the chili chicken if it's still on the menu)

Amy's Cafe (when my mom attended it was a hippy hang-out called the Penny U)

Essen Haus

L'Etoile (describing Odessa Piper as the Alice Waters of Wisconsin is not an exaggeration)

All really good. With the exception of L'Etoile, all were among my favorite student haunts. L'Etoile was for when the parents came to town.

Also, check out:

The Fess Hotel (near the Capitol)

White Horse Inn

Ovens of Brittany

Non culinary note: The Soap Opera sells everything that is related to luxurious bathing, smelling good and having healthy skin. It is owned by two gentlemen named Chuck (Charles Bauer and Charles Beckwith) They have a devoted core crew that has been with them for over 20 years. The wall of fragrant oils--used as perfume, or to scent lotions, body oils, etc.--is incredible. You can easily find a nice gift for your mother, and they will gladly help you. It's across the street from Himal Chuli.

I'm sorry to hear about your mother. All the best!

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Thank you so much for all the suggestions. Yesterday I drove my father up to Madison and passed him the list of good eating places. My sister is there and my mom seemed to be doing well. I only had time for a nice burger at Michael's and had to head for home (have a 95 year old grandmother and two kids). Things went from bad to worse. About 3/4 of the way home, my sister called and informed me that my father was having a heart attack! Now they are both in the same hospital. This morning I'm headed back to Madison. I hope to have a good dinner tonight. Thanks again.

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Sorry to hear the additional bad news. We'll continue to think of you and do what we can to help on the culinary end.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Everyone is back home now and recovering. I did get the opportunity to eat at L'Etoile and at Essen Haus. I did have some difficulty getting around, even with a map. Thanks for all the well wishes.

You even made it to Essen Haus? I know you weren't necessarily there for happy times, but did you play the boot game? If you didn't play the boot game, did you see people there who were playing?

Yes, please elaborate on you meal at L'Etoile, especially the vegetable selections. A friend of mine did a stint there as a line cook.

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  • 11 months later...

An associate from Madison recommends:

Takara Japanese Restaurant at 315 State St. is one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in the world. The sushi is delicious and beautiful, and the hibachi chefs are highly talented. My order almost always includes the rainbow roll, and if I’m at the hibachi table I go for whatever seafood strikes my fancy since it’s always all good! I usually spend about $50 for a huge meal of hibachi and sushi. Reservations recommended for dinner, 608 268 0188.

Ginza of Tokyo 6734 Odana Rd. is my second choice for Japanese food, since they serve a few items that Takara doesn’t have. My favorite of these is the kogani lobster. kogani is a buttery sauce similar to hollandaise, and the lobster tails are cooked in the shell on the hibachi, covered in the kogani mixture. It is one of the richest foods you will find in a Japanese restaurant, so be prepared. They also have a spicy mustard sauce for dipping, but you have to ask for it since it’s not on the menu. Prices are similar to Takara, costing about $50 for a fabulous dinner. Reservations recommended 608 833 8282. I have not visited Ginza’s new location at 4802 E. Washington Avenue, but I have heard that it’s pretty much the same, 608 661 8890.

Maharaja restaurant at 6713 Odana Rd. is a fabulously delicious Indian restaurant. I love Indian food and I seek it out everywhere I go. Maharaja is one of the finest anywhere. Better than anything I’ve had in any of the big U.S. cities. Their lunch buffet (11-3 weekdays) is my favorite lunch anywhere. Their fish vindaloo is spicy and robust, the chicken tikka masala is perfectly balanced, and the tandoori mixed grill is wonderful. Maharaja has a second location at 1707 Thierer rd. and one in milwaukee which are equal in every way.

Ella's Deli at 2902 E. Washington Av. is a must see Madison institution. Their kosher style deli foods are legendary, and almost as interesting as their collection of mechanical toys and music machines. They also have world famous ice cream. Bring the kids for a ride on the carousel! (In season)

Wah Kee Noodle Co. at 600 Williamson St. is

Madison’s finest Chinese restaurant. Famous for their tong mein and lo mein, they serve Cantonese as well as Hunan and Szechwan specialties. I frequently order the Kung pao tofu, shrimp in lobster sauce, or the yeung chow fried rice. Wah kee is an excellent value with most entrees under $10.

Michaels Frozen Custard is a Madison tradition. The custard itself is richer and creamier than any ice cream. They also serve great burgers and sandwiches in the tradition of the old American roadside drive-ins. There are three Madison locations including 2531 Monroe St, 3826 Atwood Ave., and 5602 Schroeder Rd.

Lazy Jane's Cafe at 1358 Williamson St. is my favorite breakfast place in the Mad City (since Bev’s diner and the original Cleveland’s Lunch closed ). Egg specials, juices, teas and homemade scones anchor the menu. My standard order is ‘the works’ which consists of eggs any style, potatoes, toast and their thick smoky bacon. The service is wait your own and bus your own, with the cook yelling out your name when your order is done. Deelishus!

American Table is located at 1201N. Sherman Ave. in the Madison East shopping center. This is a fine American family style restaurant, with all the usual amenities thereof. Kid’s menu, senior citizen specials, grilled sandwiches, daily dinner specials and pasta specialties all come together for the perfect Midwestern family restaurant experience.

Jamerica is a small Jamaican restaurant at 1236 Williamson St. More like a mom & pop grocery store with a kitchen and a few tables, Jamerica is small on choice, but BIG on flavor. The home style Jerk chicken is almost always my choice, with rice, beans, vegetables and gravy, I rarely finish it all.

Mediterranean Café at 625 State St. is my favorite place for falafel or hummus, and their chicken kofta is perfectly spiced. ‘The Med’ is small and inexpensive, but rich in flavor and value.

The Avenue Bar at 1128 E. Washington Ave. is a favorite hangout of local politicians and celebrities (I have had dinner next to senators, U.S. rep’s, the governor, TV news anchors, etc.) More a restaurant than a bar, they serve great steaks and prime rib, daily dinner and lunch specials, and the best fish boil (a Wisconsin tradition) outside of Door County. On weekends they serve a great brunch with egg specials, and the finest waffles in town. Note: the brunch service is slow, so don’t go if you’re in a hurry, or better yet, bring grandma and the kids and spend some quality time with the family. Reservations recommended for dinner, 608 257 6877

Essen Haus is Madison’s favorite German beer hall. Complete with polka bands, dirndls and boots of beer. All the standard German fare is present, including spaetzle, sauerbraten, Wiener schnitzel, and fresh pretzels & mustard, and it’s all fabulous. Essen Haus is at 514 E. Wilson St. 608 255 4674. Reservations suggested.

El Pastor Mexican restaurant, located at 2010 S. Park St. is my favorite Madison Taqueria. With excellent tacos, tortas, enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, and wonderful fajitas, it can be hard to choose. Also available are mexican beers and sodas, plus their recently opened full bar.

Lao Laan Xang, at 1146 Williamson St. serves Asian food with a Laotian flavor. Madison’s most interesting curry dish IMHO is their Gang Galli, with elements of Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian cooking coming together in one dish.

White Horse Inn at 202 N. Henry St. serves some of Madison’s best steaks, chops, and game meats, and they are perpetually in Idine. I prefer their prime rib over any other in Mad Town. Reservations recommended, 608 255 9933

Monty's Blue Plate Diner at 2089 Atwood Ave. serves traditional diner favorites with a twist. My favorite was always the T.L.T. (tempeh, lettuce and tomato) sandwich with waffle fries and a cup of soup. The desert case here is possibly the best in Madison, with cakes, pies, tarts, cheesecakes, brownies, and a ‘Death by Chocolate’ that nearly lives up to it’s name!

Fyfe's Corner Bistro at 1344 E Washington Ave. is an upscale, eclectic restaurant and bar, serving Wisconsin favorites, with a style bordering on ‘California cuisine’. I love the broiled sea scallops, and the lobster with pasta and cream sauce. The steaks and chops are excellent too. Reservations recommended, 608 251 8700

Mother Fools Coffee House at 1101 Williamson St. is a funky coffeehouse in the tradition of beat poets and bohemian artists. Also an art gallery with changing monthly exhibits, including a graffiti mural on an outside wall, and a music venue attracting local to international artists, but the coffee’s the thing here. Their Mother Fools House Blend was once judged the ‘best brewed coffee in the known world’. Try the cold brewed iced coffee, and the vegan pastries!

Jenifer Street Market at 2038 Jenifer St. is a neighborhood grocery store, with great produce (much of it organic and locally grown), excellent butcher counter and deli, and a small hot lunch counter with soups salads and homestyle entrees made from ingredients in the store. I often go there for things like roast pork with mashed potatoes or rice, gravy, green beans, and a roll with butter, or sliced beef with scalloped potatoes, peas and pearl onions, and Italian bread with butter. Their bin of imported cheeses is also fantastic.

Wisconsin Farmer's Market happens every Saturday morning at the state capitol. You can find everything from small farm meats and cheeses to homegrown honey, from baked goods to edible plants, and it’s all made and grown in Wisconsin. Fantastic home made pies, sausages, jerky, and jams are just a few of the one of a kind, hand crafted food items I have found here.

La Paella, a great Spanish restaurant on Fish Hatchery Rd heading south of Madison. They have a very nice wine bar with a ton of hot and cold tapss to choose from. Very good atmosphere and the paella is served with a nice portion of seafood. If you order one of their trademark dishes (such as the paella), then it's personally dished to your plate by the owner--great touch! Prices are reasonable $15 to $30 for what's considered upscale dining. You could easily make a meal just at the wine bar with the tapas, something I'm going to do on my next visit.

a potential place in Madison I read about:

quote:

...self-described Indonesian restaurant is in Madison, Wisconsin, the Bandung Restaurant. I've never been, but I have read a lot of reviews of the place in Wisconsin papers, and it sounds pretty good. They seem to offer a rijsttafel about once a month, and appear to be an average $10-a-plate Indonesian restaurant otherwise. Check their website for details: http://www.bandungrestaurant.com

"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"
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  • 4 months later...

Hi

I'm coming to Madison for 4 days for a job interview. I'd love to check out the best of what you all have to offer, especially since I'm considering a move. So, what are your dinner suggestions (any type of food, so long as it's high quality)?

Thanks.

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Hi

I'm coming to Madison for 4 days for a job interview. I'd love to check out the best of what you all have to offer, especially since I'm considering a move. So, what are your dinner suggestions (any type of food, so long as it's high quality)?

Thanks.

I went to grad school in Madison - haven't been back in a few years, but I loved it there. Lots to do, very green city, friendly people, unbelievable farmer's market. If only it weren't so cold....

I always enjoyed Monty's Blue Plate, which is a 50s-style diner with a more modern/less traditional menu. And for Afghan food I like Kabul on State Street. Both of these are pretty casual places.

For something fancier, there's L'Etoile (Odessa Piper's restaurant - she's known for her use of local, seasonal ingredients). You can get a good steak at Tornado downtown.

Good luck on the interview!

allison

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An associate from Madison recommends:

Takara Japanese Restaurant at 315 State St. is one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in the world. The sushi is delicious and beautiful, and the hibachi chefs are highly talented. My order almost always includes the rainbow roll, and if I’m at the hibachi table I go for whatever seafood strikes my fancy since it’s always all good! I usually spend about $50 for a huge meal of hibachi and sushi. Reservations recommended for dinner, 608 268 0188.

Ginza of Tokyo 6734 Odana Rd. is my second choice for Japanese food, since they serve a few items that Takara doesn’t have. My favorite of these is the kogani lobster. kogani is a buttery sauce similar to hollandaise, and the lobster tails are cooked in the shell on the hibachi, covered in the kogani mixture. It is one of the richest foods you will find in a Japanese restaurant, so be prepared. They also have a spicy mustard sauce for dipping, but you have to ask for it since it’s not on the menu. Prices are similar to Takara, costing about $50 for a fabulous dinner. Reservations recommended 608 833 8282. I have not visited Ginza’s new location at 4802 E. Washington Avenue, but I have heard that it’s pretty much the same, 608 661 8890.

Maharaja restaurant at 6713 Odana Rd. is a fabulously delicious Indian restaurant. I love Indian food and I seek it out everywhere I go. Maharaja is one of the finest anywhere. Better than anything I’ve had in any of the big U.S. cities. Their lunch buffet (11-3 weekdays) is my favorite lunch anywhere. Their fish vindaloo is spicy and robust, the chicken tikka masala is perfectly balanced, and the tandoori mixed grill is wonderful. Maharaja has a second location at 1707 Thierer rd. and one in milwaukee which are equal in every way.

Ella's Deli at 2902 E. Washington Av. is a must see Madison institution. Their kosher style deli foods are legendary, and almost as interesting as their collection of mechanical toys and music machines. They also have world famous ice cream. Bring the kids for a ride on the carousel! (In season)

Wah Kee Noodle Co. at 600 Williamson St. is

Madison’s finest Chinese restaurant. Famous for their tong mein and lo mein, they serve Cantonese as well as Hunan and Szechwan specialties. I frequently order the Kung pao tofu, shrimp in lobster sauce, or the yeung chow fried rice. Wah kee is an excellent value with most entrees under $10.

Michaels Frozen Custard is a Madison tradition. The custard itself is richer and creamier than any ice cream. They also serve great burgers and sandwiches in the tradition of the old American roadside drive-ins. There are three Madison locations including 2531 Monroe St, 3826 Atwood Ave., and 5602 Schroeder Rd.

Lazy Jane's Cafe at 1358 Williamson St. is my favorite breakfast place in the Mad City (since Bev’s diner and the original Cleveland’s Lunch closed ). Egg specials, juices, teas and homemade scones anchor the menu. My standard order is ‘the works’ which consists of eggs any style, potatoes, toast and their thick smoky bacon. The service is wait your own and bus your own, with the cook yelling out your name when your order is done. Deelishus!

American Table is located at 1201N. Sherman Ave. in the Madison East shopping center. This is a fine American family style restaurant, with all the usual amenities thereof. Kid’s menu, senior citizen specials, grilled sandwiches, daily dinner specials and pasta specialties all come together for the perfect Midwestern family restaurant experience.

Jamerica is a small Jamaican restaurant at 1236 Williamson St. More like a mom & pop grocery store with a kitchen and a few tables, Jamerica is small on choice, but BIG on flavor. The home style Jerk chicken is almost always my choice, with rice, beans, vegetables and gravy, I rarely finish it all.

Mediterranean Café at 625 State St. is my favorite place for falafel or hummus, and their chicken kofta is perfectly spiced. ‘The Med’ is small and inexpensive, but rich in flavor and value.

The Avenue Bar at 1128 E. Washington Ave. is a favorite hangout of local politicians and celebrities (I have had dinner next to senators, U.S. rep’s, the governor, TV news anchors, etc.) More a restaurant than a bar, they serve great steaks and prime rib, daily dinner and lunch specials, and the best fish boil (a Wisconsin tradition) outside of Door County. On weekends they serve a great brunch with egg specials, and the finest waffles in town. Note: the brunch service is slow, so don’t go if you’re in a hurry, or better yet, bring grandma and the kids and spend some quality time with the family. Reservations recommended for dinner, 608 257 6877

Essen Haus is Madison’s favorite German beer hall. Complete with polka bands, dirndls and boots of beer. All the standard German fare is present, including spaetzle, sauerbraten, Wiener schnitzel, and fresh pretzels & mustard, and it’s all fabulous. Essen Haus is at 514 E. Wilson St. 608 255 4674. Reservations suggested.

El Pastor Mexican restaurant, located at 2010 S. Park St. is my favorite Madison Taqueria. With excellent tacos, tortas, enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, and wonderful fajitas, it can be hard to choose. Also available are mexican beers and sodas, plus their recently opened full bar.

Lao Laan Xang, at 1146 Williamson St. serves Asian food with a Laotian flavor. Madison’s most interesting curry dish IMHO is their Gang Galli, with elements of Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian cooking coming together in one dish.

White Horse Inn at 202 N. Henry St. serves some of Madison’s best steaks, chops, and game meats, and they are perpetually in Idine. I prefer their prime rib over any other in Mad Town. Reservations recommended, 608 255 9933

Monty's Blue Plate Diner at 2089 Atwood Ave. serves traditional diner favorites with a twist. My favorite was always the T.L.T. (tempeh, lettuce and tomato) sandwich with waffle fries and a cup of soup. The desert case here is possibly the best in Madison, with cakes, pies, tarts, cheesecakes, brownies, and a ‘Death by Chocolate’ that nearly lives up to it’s name!

Fyfe's Corner Bistro at 1344 E Washington Ave. is an upscale, eclectic restaurant and bar, serving Wisconsin favorites, with a style bordering on ‘California cuisine’. I love the broiled sea scallops, and the lobster with pasta and cream sauce. The steaks and chops are excellent too. Reservations recommended, 608 251 8700

Mother Fools Coffee House at 1101 Williamson St. is a funky coffeehouse in the tradition of beat poets and bohemian artists. Also an art gallery with changing monthly exhibits, including a graffiti mural on an outside wall, and a music venue attracting local to international artists, but the coffee’s the thing here. Their Mother Fools House Blend was once judged the ‘best brewed coffee in the known world’. Try the cold brewed iced coffee, and the vegan pastries!

Jenifer Street Market at 2038 Jenifer St. is a neighborhood grocery store, with great produce (much of it organic and locally grown), excellent butcher counter and deli, and a small hot lunch counter with soups salads and homestyle entrees made from ingredients in the store. I often go there for things like roast pork with mashed potatoes or rice, gravy, green beans, and a roll with butter, or sliced beef with scalloped potatoes, peas and pearl onions, and Italian bread with butter. Their bin of imported cheeses is also fantastic.

Wisconsin Farmer's Market happens every Saturday morning at the state capitol. You can find everything from small farm meats and cheeses to homegrown honey, from baked goods to edible plants, and it’s all made and grown in Wisconsin. Fantastic home made pies, sausages, jerky, and jams are just a few of the one of a kind, hand crafted food items I have found here.

La Paella, a great Spanish restaurant on Fish Hatchery Rd heading south of Madison. They have a very nice wine bar with a ton of hot and cold tapss to choose from. Very good atmosphere and the paella is served with a nice portion of seafood. If you order one of their trademark dishes (such as the paella), then it's personally dished to your plate by the owner--great touch! Prices are reasonable $15 to $30 for what's considered upscale dining. You could easily make a meal just at the wine bar with the tapas, something I'm going to do on my next visit.

a potential place in Madison I read about:

quote:

...self-described Indonesian restaurant is in Madison, Wisconsin, the Bandung Restaurant. I've never been, but I have read a lot of reviews of the place in Wisconsin papers, and it sounds pretty good. They seem to offer a rijsttafel about once a month, and appear to be an average $10-a-plate Indonesian restaurant otherwise. Check their website for details: http://www.bandungrestaurant.com

"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"
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I am apparently being taken to dinner at the Cafe Continental one night...anyone been? How is it? Entree suggestions?

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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By all means, Bandung. Indnosian food which is rare in the Midwest! It has a website for info. Great quality food, really great staff and mellow atmosphere. Do NOT miss this place!!

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.

I had dinners at Kabul (quite good Afghan food, spicy, cheap), Cafe Continental (great wine list but otherwise totally missable, other than the wonderful ice cream), and L'Etoile (wonderful wine, great service, loved the bone marrow ravioli and the cheese plate). Had lunch at Michael's and really enjoyed the cheeseburger and the custard (cookie dough--YUM). And had several lousy breakfasts at the place in the HoJo (oh well, convenience was the main factor). I also had a nice brew at some pub with Angel in the name--a Devils Dopper or something.

Anyways, I was definitely impressed with the diverse food scene in Madison, and more importantly the lovely town and nice folks. If I get the job, I'll surely be back for more advice!

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi

Well, I got the job offer! So, fellow Egulleteer LiamDC (my boyfriend) and I will be returning to Madison this Thursday for 2 days to make a decision...I need to sell Liam on the place, so what are your top suggestions for restaurants? Thus far I know we'll hit L'Etoile for one dinner, and Michael's for one lunch. That leaves one breakfast and one dinner to fill in...

thanks!

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Absolutely agree that L'Etoile is a great place for convincing someone to move to Madison. Ask him to envision the Capitol square lined with vendors on Saturday mornings in the summer for a spectacular farmers' market. Oh, and if you like German white wines be sure to strike up a conversation with the server about the wine list. The Owner of the restaurant is married to a well-respected wine importer specializing in German and Austrian whites.

I think that Madison's charm lies in the downtown area so my recommendations below stay reasonably close into downtown. I'm not sure if you will have a car. If your hotel is downtown, you could walk to any of these but if it is chilly, you may not relish a 15 block walk through unfamiliar territory. If you have a car, all will be easy to get to but you may have trouble parking,

Breakfast

I think that Sophia's is the best breakfast restaurant in Madison. The place is small, cramped, and crunchy. The service is...well...there really isn't any. That said, the baked goods, waffles, omelettes and all are phenomenal. Even the lowly blueberry muffin is so good you will want seconds.

[831 E Johnson, 10 block walk from the Capitol]

Marigold Kitchen is a very good breakfast place for egg dishes, pancakes, etc. The room is a tad more comfortable than Sophia's but missing the hippie charm.

[118 S Pinkney, first block south from Capitol]

If you are near the square and looking for really good coffee, try Ancora. This is the flagship retail store of some coffee roasters who really know their stuff. Seems like everyone else is so obsessed with the coffee drinks that a decent cup of black coffee is hard to find anymore. Ancora has it and I stop whenever I'm in town. Pass on the baked goods, they are only OK.

[112 King Street, first block southeast from the Capitol]

Dinner

Restaurant Magnus is a fine choice and a great value. The setting is quiet and elegant although if the restaurant is full it can be a tad loud. I believe they have live music (jazz or latin jazz) on weekends in the bar. The food leans to flavors from South America. They do very well with fish. Don't miss the spanish cheese plate.

[120 E Wilson, close to Pinkney St intersection, 608-258-8787]

People rave about the Tornado Club for steaks. I'm not a fan of steaks so I've only been there once. The setting is sort of supper club (one of the old-guard of Madison supper clubs was in the building) with a young-ish, hip-ish crowd. I do remember that their bartenders were some of the best around with old-school cocktails.

[116 S Hamilton, first block from Capitol going west, 608-256-3570]

Harvest is probably too close to L'Etoile for a recommendation, although the food is quite good. They have a pretty good wine list as well.

If you want something less spendy but with the 'feel' of what you are getting into by moving to Madison there is Himal Chuli. Nepalese food that is expertly prepared in a crunchy storefront. There is another Himalayan place down State Street one block but I can't think of the name right now. It is a bit fancier.

[318 State, third block from the Capitol, no need for a reservation]

Another less expensive place that is, perhaps, my favorite madison restaurant is Lao Laan Xang. Laotian food with very bright, clean flavors. The spring rolls are amazing. The garlic shrimp is nicely spiced with strong garlic and black pepper flavors. The coconut milk curries aren't as good as their dishes with sauces based on fish sauce.

[1146 Williamson St, a 15 block walk east from the Capitol, 608-280-0104]

Another selling point if the weather is warm (although if you will be there this week, that's probably a pipe dream) is to sit for a few minutes on 'the Terrace' on the lake side of the Memorial Union. One of the last student unions that serves beer and the terrace is a great place to meet friends if you will be working on campus.

[Corner of Langdon St and Park St].

Hope that helps, hope you have a great trip, and hope the sales pitch is successful.

Edit: removed clunkiness, added format

Edited by slbunge (log)

Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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Breakfast

I think that Sophia's is the best breakfast restaurant in Madison.  The place is small, cramped, and crunchy.  The service is...well...there really isn't any.  That said, the baked goods, waffles, omelettes and all are phenomenal.  Even the lowly blueberry muffin is so good you will want seconds.

[831 E Johnson, 10 block walk from the Capitol]

I used to live around the corner from Sophia's...I heartily second slbunge's recommendation!

allison

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Hi

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at L'Etoile, a perfectly decent dinner at Tornado Club, and a delicious inexpensive breakfast at Lazy Janes. I even got to try french blue--and it's edible!! Plus we had some great coffee at Ancora, and Michael's Custard. It was over a cup of lemon meringue custard that I decided to accept the job. I'll be moving to Madison in August, and look forward to meeting fellow Egulleteers there. :biggrin:

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Congratulations!

Madison is a terrific city and August is a great month to move so you can get to know the downtown and the campus before the students arrive in force.

Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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  • 4 months later...

Recently got back from my once-a-year visit to Mad City. Food highlights and opinions:

Dinner #1 at L'Etoile. We haven't been back to this locally-sourced, Chez Panisse-style restaurant for a few years, and were glad we returned. A bit taken aback by the $20-30 entrees, it was a wonderful meal with one glaring exception.

Food was centerred around what was in the market at the time, including a juicy locally farmed Trout prepared perfectly. Items were intensely flavored, well-prepared, bread was good. They even run a cafe/bakery on Saturday mornings that makes rather good croissants. My only problem is that the decor is stuck in the 70's - dark wood, copper pipes, chairs that would seem appropriate in a middle school library. Still, we'd return.

Dinner #2 was at Harvest, next door. Slightly lower prices, similar seasonal menu, excellent food, though slightly less superb than their neighbor, nice contemporary decor. Besides their food being quite nice instead of outstanding, their staff seem far less educated on the food and wine. Of the 4 times we've been there, only 2 of the servers could answer questions about the menu.

Highlights there included a cream of garlic soup with a plop of caramelized onions scented with rosemary and vanilla. The night we were at L'Etoile they had a sold out Garlic Menu event, which sounded very interesting!

Breakfast at Marigold Cafe, which we've been to now twice. It rated a mention in one of the food mags recently, but we were underwhelmed again. Eggs and potatoes fried in that fake-butter-flavored oil, nice salads, mediocre baked goods. Endless decent coffee, however. We liked Sunporch much better, which has a central location as well as their Whitney Way spot, though didn't go to either on this trip.

Other breakfast(s): Cafe Mariah...yuck. We thought we remembered something about this that piqued our interest last year, something about the owner loving food, going to school, opening this place. But the food was terrible. Or healthy, maybe. Scones sans butter flavor (or perhaps butter?), left uneaten. Unseasoned, bland omelet, bland potates fried or baked without any oil or salt, mostly left uneaten.

Walked across the street to Monty's Blue Plate Diner and had a better set of omelettes and muffin. Not fantastic, but better. Beyond Sunporch (and it's been 2 years), we haven't really fallen in love with a breakfast place here.

Smaller bites:

Himal Chuli on State serves good, inexpensive Himalayan food, much better than its neighbor, another Himalayan spot that starts with Ch..? HC has interesting dumplings and a really great whole wheat and butter pita-like bread.

The Farmers Market is sensational, one of the best in the country, and an all morning affair. Quaffing the decent selection of beers on the U of W terrace while watching the sun set is also a great tradition.

Finally, Barriques Wine Cave is a great little wine bar/store. They have a wall of $10-or-under wines, some of them great finds. And you get get about 12 wines by the glass, from about $3-7. Such a find for a Chicagoan. Supposedly their Fitchburg location is large, and includes cheeses, oils and salami. There's one on Monroe and a 3rd in Middleton.

They say Madison has more restaurants per capita than something or another, but that's because so many of them are mediocre, IMHO. These were a few repeat winners.

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