This post was originally published in March 2015 and revised in Sept 2019 and August 2021 after return visits to Madison.
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 visiting Madison, Wisconsin, these are the quintessential foodie 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.
Ahan is a fairly new opening on Madison’s eastside restaurant scene, offering a unique selection of Laos and Southeast Asian cuisine. It is located inside a music venue, but also has a spacious patio on the side. The menu fuses Madison’s dedication to local produce and ingredients with traditional Laotian cooking techniques, giving you a deeply delicious and healthy taste of Asia. I love how many of their menu optiosn are vegan + vegetarian friendly, along with allergy compliant.
For a traditional Wisconsin steak house or supper club experience, Tornado Room can’t be beat. This is a restaurant that I regularly go back to when I visit Madison because the vibe is just so good! The warm red lighting, the cozy round booths, the traditional yet delicious menu — all of it is perfect. The menu features everything you’d expect from a steakhouse, from choose your own cut options of prime beef to a bevy of indulgent sides. Don’t miss the escargot!
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.
A great spot for cocktails and late night, Heritage Tavern is the brain child of Dan Fox. He dishes up a creative menu featuring unique combinations and flavor profiles. If you’re drinking, definitely order the Angostura Sour. By far my favorite. For late night snacks, I like the ham sandwich, grilled cheese or waygu burger.
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.
Take Out + Dessert
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!