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Photograph: Courtesy of Jon Elliott

A guide to Milwaukee: Where to eat, drink, play and stay

Looking to escape to the Cream City? These are all the places you’ll want to bookmark for your excursion to Milwaukee.

Ari Bendersky
Written by
Ari Bendersky

Ah Milwaukee. Mill-e-wah-kay. The Cream City. Home of the Bucks.

Some Chicagoans might question why they’d want to travel a couple of hours north when they can stay put right here at home. It’s time to change that outlook. Milwaukee has been undergoing a resurgence over the last few years. Sure, the Bucks' great run has something to do with that, but there’s so much more going on. From newer farm-to-table restaurants, classic and innovative bars, an incredible art museum—not to mention the hype it’ll get when the new season of Top Chef, which filmed in Milwaukee, Madison and other parts of Wisconsin, debuts in March—the time to visit Milwaukee is now.

What to do while you’re there? We could have made an exhaustive list, but it may have gone longer than you’d want to scroll. So we've pared things down and curated a a nice taste of what to expect in the Cream City and allow you room to explore.

RECOMMENDED: Discover the best weekend getaways from Chicago

Where to eat

Is it a market with artisan foodstuffs? A butcher shop? A full-service restaurant. Yes, yes and yes. James Beard Award-nominated chef/owner Karen Bell moved her 10-year-old restaurant to the historic Third Ward in 2022. The menu is Midwestern at heart with global influences. Start with jamón Ibérico or chicken liver mousse. Throw in smoked trout deviled eggs and potato-crusted octopus with shishitos and chorizo aioli. At lunch, dig into the array of sandwiches (pork belly banh mi or muffuletta anyone?). Dinner offers more composed plates like red snapper with celeriac and mung beans or gnocchi with delicata squash and a lamb ragu. And do we have to even remind you to not forget those beef fat fries?

217 N Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202

This spot is a true labor of love. Chef Dane Baldwin, who won the Best Chef: Midwest James Beard Award in 2022, has worked in hospitality since he was 15. He and his wife, Anna, opened this intimate restaurant in 2017 and have quietly garnered all the accolades for his humble yet flavorful fare. The seasonal menu changes frequently, but a familiarity runs through the dishes. Whether it's Baldwin’s take on a Big Mac (like, the best you’ll ever have); a lake trout with a bright wintry salad of grapefruit, kohlrabi and radish; or New York strip with shallot puree and king trumpet mushrooms, you can pair it all with a selection from the global wine list and settle in.

815 E Brady St, Milwaukee, WI 53202


Yes, you can get classic Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken, escovitch kingfish bites and braised bone-in oxtail with scotch bonnet peppers and sweet carrots. But chef/owner Dwight Jackson adds a modern twist to a few. You can find jerk chicken egg rolls, jerk salmon sandwiches and chef’s choice dishes like Jackson’s spiced brown stew chicken and his Dem Gwan Talk Bout It Steak, a smoked marinated chimichurri-topped tenderloin served with coconut mashed potatoes and asparagus. Want to explore more jerk chicken in Milwaukee? Check out the Jerk Chicken Trail.

2215 N Doctor M.L.K. Jr Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53212

Named for both the spicy Sichuan noodle dish and the two chef/owners, DanDan delivers Chinese soul with Midwestern sensibilities. The restaurant pulls from the Dans’ (Jacobs, who will compete on the 21st season of Top Chef, and Van Rite) childhoods and adds some heat, literally. Start with the five spice chicken wings and scallion pancakes with housemade hoisin sauce. Don’t skip dumplings—either the Sichuan pork or short rib and foie gras. Absolutely get the lipsmackingly spicy namesake dandan noodles and then some silken mapo tofu. If you’re really hungry, call a day ahead to order the three-course $85 Peking duck service for three.

360 E Erie St, Milwaukee, WI 53202


The hidden finer-dining restaurant within DanDan, which has earned six James Beard Foundation Awards nominations, will come out of the shadows and into its own space in the Bay View neighborhood later this year. It’ll also go from an eight-course, $125 tasting menu the Dans nostalgically create based on memories of their great-grandmothers’ cooking to a four-course, $65 menu to open it up to more people. Look for this to open in the spring of 2024 and yes, the caviar tater tot is making the move, too.

2165 S. Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

Who wouldn’t want to eat breakfast within the cozy confines of a classic tavern vibe? This daily breakfast and brunch spot elevates your requisite dishes. You can get the Big Wolf Breakfast (eggs, potatoes, choice of meat) or go even heartier for the breakfast poutine with rich sausage gravy; a stack of Johnny cakes; ube toast crunch oatmeal; a savory latke waffle (yes, that’s a potato waffle!) or a juicy patty melt. And yes, you can get all the brunch cocktails and even non-alcoholic tipples.

234 E Vine St, Milwaukee, WI 53212


This family-owned Laotian and Thai quick-serve noodle shop has been drawing crowds for more than 20 years. The casual, simple storefront in the Silver City neighborhood has food that’s anything but casual. Dishes pop with color and spice, and both flavor and heat. You’ll find typical options like pad Thai and pho, but also oxtail khoa poun (rice noodles in red curry with galangal and coconut milk); banh quan (barbecue pork filled crepes; and traditional Laotian fish salad with various herbs, greens and spices.

3422 W National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53215

Opened in 2021, Birch set a course for all things fresh—something that might feel impossible in the upper Midwest. But chef/owner Kyle Knall makes the most of seasonal produce and product from local farms to incorporate a shot of freshness year round in the modern, bright and airy dining room. Get a feel for everything through the seasonal tasting menu or go a la carte for dishes like steelhead crudo with daikon and honeycrisp apple; wood-roasted pork chop with spaetzle and red cabbage; and ricotta and rutabaga-filled pasta with black trumpet mushroom. Add in a truly eclectic wine list with a focus on less common varietals and you have a winner.

459 E Pleasant St, Milwaukee, WI 53202


When you want a one-stop shop for a variety of eats from startup-minded food entrepreneurs, this is a great option. From the flagship Tavern to Ruby’s Bagels (“Milwaukee style”) to Modern Maki (sushi and ramen) to Hot Box Pizza MKE and more, this food truck park is a must hit. And you might think, “A food truck park, in winter?!” Well, it also offers super cute heated huts you can reserve so you can eat without your fingers freezing.

636 S 6th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204

Celebrating 20 years this year, Bacchus is consistently one of Milwaukee’s best restaurants. This Bartolotta group spot, which underwent a renovation in 2020, is refined and playful at the same time. With a massive, award-winning wine list to pair with multi-course tasting menus boasting classics like chilled king crab, filet mignon with a horseradish cream, pork bolognese and chocolate truffle, this is a definite special occasion spot.

925 E Wells St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Where to drink

When you want a truly unique cocktailing experience, there’s no better place in town than Bryant’s. Mixing up drinks and clever conversation since 1938, this no-reservations spot has a seriously deep catalog of cocktails (we’re talking north of 400) and is known for, among many others, its Wisconsin brandy Old Fashioned and array of ice cream cocktails, like the Pink Squirrel, which was created here. This dark and swanky spot takes you back to a simpler place in time with a focus squarely on enjoying cocktails. Go for happy hour Sunday through Thursday for $5 specials. Then go visit sibling bars At Random and The Estate.

1579 S 9th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204

The brewery, which actually sits on the Milwaukee River and not Lake Michigan a few blocks away, has been pouring some of the city’s best brews since 1987. Go by for a pint, a meal and a tour, which lasts 45 minutes and includes four eight-ounce pours. In warmer months, grab a table outside along the water. This organic-certified brewery offers a Friday fish fry—polka included.

1872 N Commerce St, Milwaukee, WI 53212


Goodkind has been leading Milwaukee’s modern cocktail charge since 2015 and its ever-changing drink list, which often highlights seasonal Midwestern ingredients, is as interesting and diverse as its dining menu. Belly up to the long wood bar set below a vintage tin ceiling for the classic spicy crab pasta or smoked whitefish tartine. Wash those down with a glass of the winter sangria, a mushroom Mai Tai or a Quebec cocktail with Four Roses bourbon, Rittenhouse rye, Fernet, maple syrup and lemon. It's like a cozy hug in a glass.

2457 S Wentworth Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

From the team behind Bittercube Bitters, Mosler’s is an intimate speakeasy cocktail bar housed inside the former United Federal Savings & Loan bank vault—a property dating back to 1949. Soak up the history with a rotating and creative cocktail list featuring spirits ranging from barrel-proof Puerto Rican rum to a house blanco tequila blend, and eclectic ingredients like celery syrup, tamari and Bittercube’s host of bitters.

5900 W North Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53208

Best things to do

This is the city’s premier museum and the wow factor starts before you even enter the building overlooking Lake Michigan. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the modern white concrete and glass building sprouts wings at various points throughout the day, which is truly a sight to behold. The collection includes 25,000 works of art by the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Rodin, Degas, Monet, Warhol, Picasso, Miró and many more dating back to the 15th century.

700 N Art Museum Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53202

With four main themes set across the museum—remembrance, resistance, redemption, reconciliation—the museum aims to highlight the often-dark history of Black people in America. The ABHM covers historical events stretching from the African slave trade through modern times and tells stories of injustices, redemption and forgiveness. The museum now sits in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood following the 2022 reopening after it received a $10 million anonymous donation. The museum also hosts a 3,200-page virtual museum to continue the journey long after your visit.

401 W North Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53212


Set across 10 blocks, the Historic Third Ward is Milwaukee’s arts district with galleries, shops, restaurants and entertainment. Plan a day to meander and browse and be sure to include a chunk of time to wander through the Public Market. This vast hall, which opened in 2005, features numerous independent stalls offering everything from wine, barbecue, poke and smoothies to coffee, seafood, baked goods and meats and cheeses. Retail shops throughout the Third Ward include local men’s and women’s boutiques, housewares, specialty stores and more. In addition to wandering about the historic buildings, the Third Ward also sits adjacent to the Riverwalk and Lakeshore State Park.

400 N Water St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

If you’re a fan of the open road and classic hogs, this is a must stop when you visit the Cream City. Harley-Davidson started in Milwaukee in 1903 and quickly became an iconic American brand. The museum showcases hundreds of motorcycles, even dating back to the earliest days. You’ll see classic bikes and even one that survived a ride across the Pacific Ocean following a tsunami in Japan that swept it away. With bikes, memorabilia, signage and more, this is a one-of-a-kind experience for a Harley lover.

400 W Canal St, Milwaukee, WI 53201


Before you pop in for a meal at The Diplomat, pad in an extra 20 minutes (or more) to browse this fantastic Italian market, which has operated in the area since 1946. You can get fresh and dried pasta, gorgeous charcuterie, imported olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, risotto, dried herbs, chocolates, sauces, Italian wine and so much more. Even if you don’t buy anything (which, frankly, why wouldn’t you?), it’s just a cool place to browse the beautiful products. If you’re in the mood to broaden your culinary skills, Glorioso’s offers classes to teach you how to make pizza, steaks, shrimp scampi, chicken marsala, ravioli and more. 

1011 E Brady St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Where to stay

Steps from the Harley-Davidson museum, this 100-year-old, dog-friendly, loft-like property is a motorcycle fan's dream. The oversized suite-sized guest rooms have a rebel edge with leather-covered headboards and benches, exposed brick and wood beams. And while you will want to explore the city’s vibrant dining scene, you almost don’t have to leave the property. From the hearth-driven Ash (with a four-course wagyu beef tasting menu) to lobby pub Branded to the seasonal outdoor Yard, options abound here. On-site motorcycle parking included, of course.

500 W Florida St, Milwaukee, WI 53204

There’s no better way to experience the Historic Third Ward than by staying right in the heart of it. This modern nine-floor, pet-friendly boutique hotel has 158 guest rooms and suites with views stretching out over the city. Rooms are outfitted with plush bedding with Frette linens, local artwork, yoga mats and modern bathrooms boasting walk-in showers and free-standing tubs, and some have living areas with deep lush couches. The common areas feature fireplaces and plenty of cozy seating to kick back. Want an even better view? Pop upstairs to rooftop bar The Outsider for cocktails no matter the weather. Or book a meal at Tre Rivali for Mediterranean-inspired fare.

310 E Chicago St, Milwaukee, WI 53202


Stepping into the centrally located theater district property (with a complimentary glass of bubbles, of course), you’ll wonder if you walked into a modern art museum complete with rotating exhibits or if this really is your uber-cool hotel. With contemporary art throughout the public spaces and guest rooms, this property is a gallery within itself. The Saint Kate offers 219 apartment-like rooms, including four specialty suites designed by local artists, and comfortable pet-friendly accommodations. Music plays an almost equal importance, with turntables and a selection of vinyl and ukuleles in each room. So spin a disc and kick back in your living area after pampering yourself in the oversized walk-in showers with spa-style products.

The hotel boasts five on-site restaurants and bars: the ground-level Proof for Neapolitan-styles pizza; The Bar, off the lobby, for all-day dining and drinking; the contemporary American Aria with attached Champagne and wine bar, Giggly, on the second floor; and the supper club-vibed The Dark Room, bookable for private events up to 25 people. When it comes to chic, unique hotels, it doesn’t get better than this.

139 E Kilbourn Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202

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