Madison, Wisconsin is the city taught me how to be a foodie. While I don’t live there anymore, I will forever be grateful for what I learned about food in Madison. My passion for delicious food started by working at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, blossoming from there into a full blown food obsession.
I’ve eaten at many of the great restaurants in the city, and have tried just about everywhere at least once. Madison has a blossoming food scene that is recognized throughout the Midwest as a cutting edge, ingredient focused town. There seems to be new (and great!) places opening up monthly. The best restaurants tend to cluster in the downtown Isthmus area, so it’s easy to explore many of them by foot or bicycle.
If you are a foodie visiting Madison, Wisconsin, these are the 17 quintessential Madison restaurants that you need to try!
Brunch + Breakfast
Lunch + Snacks
Tucked away on a quiet street off of State Street, Paul’s Pelmeni offers a unique option in Madison — Russian cuisine! Pelmenis are a Russian style dumplings that are typically filled with meat and paired with sour cream. The menu at Paul’s Pelmeni has choices like beef or potato dumplings which you can, and should, order with “The Works”. Your dumplings will show up topped with butter, curry powder, sweet chili sauce, cilantro, and sour cream on the side. They are piping hot and a perfect late night meal or quick lunch on the go!
Banzo, which started as a food truck, quickly turned into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2011 because the demand for their delicious Mediterranean food outpaced what they could supply from the cart. This place is so tasty that one of my close friend’s even had it at her wedding! I always wind up ordering the falafel, but the menu also has locally sourced lamb, sweet potato falafel and pillowy pita wraps.
One of my favorite new openings in Madison is the Heights on the near-west side of the city. Serving New American bistro cuisine, this daytime eatery is brought to you by Underground Food Collective of Forequarter and Underground Butcher. Its beautifully decorated interior is full of natural light and minimalist decor, but the star of the show is their spacious outdoor patio behind the restaurant. You can order food to eat in the restaurant, or you can pick up deli meat and fresh bread to take home.
My favorite spot on Monroe street, Brasserie V is a Belgian style restaurant with an incredible beer selection. Even though I’m not much of a drinker, the owner loves sour ales and packs his menu with them, so I’m always excited to try what’s new. He even has a special fridge to keep the sour ales at the right temperature! Their food is pretty top-notch as well, especially their traditional mussels and choose-your-own-cheese-board.
Serving up what I would argue is the best meal in Madison right now, Mint Mark was opened up by the team from Robin Room as their first foray into the dining arena in the Atwood neighborhood. Their constantly changing small plate menu offers creative takes on classic dishes, as well as out-of-box combinations that work every time. Brunch is a great option, but their chef’s table for dinner is where it is at. Their tropical Palm Springs-inspired decor is a refreshing change of pace from the normal “Madison” look, and their cocktail list is topnotch.
This is not the place to go if you are on a diet, and you will be reminded of it the second you walk in with their painted mural on the wall talking about all of their full-fat dairy and rich ingredients. The extra creamy ice cream at Chocolate Shoppe is WELL worth the extra calories, and their wide-ranging assortment of flavors is bound to please everyone in your group. Zanzamint, This sh*t just got serious and heaps of love are a few of my favorite flavors!
Very unassuming from the outside (and very sketchy from the website), Fugu serves up the most authentic and flavorful Chinese food I’ve had outside of mainland China. Dishes run quite spicy, so take it easy on your first visit. Dishes I love include the dandan noodles, eggplant in garlic sauce, pork dumplings, and sichuan beef.
This post was originally published in March 2015 and revised in August 2016 and September 2019.